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“Behold, The Arsonist Is Here”: How Donald Trump Turned Republicans’ Smoldering Resentments Into A Dumpster Fire

The Republican Party has long faced a simple yet vexing mathematical problem. While there are benefits that come with being the party that represents the interests of large corporations and the wealthy, executives and rich people won’t give you enough votes to win a majority come election day. So one of the ways the GOP has handled the problem is with a deflection of discontentment: There’s an elite you should resent, they tell ordinary people, but it isn’t the people who control the country’s economic life. Instead, it’s the cultural elite, those wine-sipping, brie-nibbling college professors, Hollywood liberals, and cosmopolitan multiculturalists who look down their noses at you and tell you your values are wrong. The best way to stand up for yourself and stick it to those elitists is to vote Republican.

It’s an argument that dates back to the 1960s, but for the first time since then the GOP has a presidential nominee who doesn’t quite get it. Not steeped in the subtleties of Republican rhetoric and the goals it’s meant to serve, Donald Trump is blasting in all different directions, even hitting some Republican sacred cows.

There’s nothing coherent about Trump’s arguments — he’ll say how terrible it is that wages haven’t grown, then say that we need to get rid of the federal minimum wage. But he has taken the core of the GOP’s trickle-down agenda — tax cuts for the wealthy and a drastic reduction in taxes and regulation on businesses — and tossed on top of it a garnish of protectionism, promising to impose tariffs on foreign competitors and initiate trade wars until other countries march right over here and give us back our jobs. He’s even feuding with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Trump’s offensive against international trade is apparently based on the theory that it will help win working-class white voters to his cause, particularly in Rust Belt states where manufacturing jobs have declined in recent decades. And this has his party very nervous.

“Mr. Trump wants to make Republicans into the Tariff Party,” laments The Wall Street Journal editorial page, house organ of America’s economic masters. “He’ll have a better chance of winning the economic debate if he focuses on the taxes, regulations, and monetary policy that are the real cause of our economic malaise.” In other words, stick to the stuff the people in the board rooms care about.

That’s not to say that Trump’s infantile ideas about trade would actually produce any benefit to working people — on that basic point, the Journal has it right. And there have been Republicans who advocated protectionism before; some of them even ran for president. But they lost. The party’s nominee always understood which side its economic bread was buttered on.

All the while, though, the audience for an explicitly economic anti-elitism remained in the party, a product of their success at bringing in whites of modest means with appeals to cultural and racial solidarity. Those downscale voters may have been told that upper-income tax cuts were the best path to prosperity for all, but they never quite bought it. One recent poll showed 54 percent of Republican voters supporting increasing taxes on those making over $250,000 a year, a result that’s enough to make Paul Ryan spit up his Gatorade.

There’s a way to handle that, which is to turn up the dial on cultural resentments. But it has to be done carefully in order to minimize the collateral damage. Republicans always knew that nativism and racial appeals had to be fed to these voters carefully, couched in dog-whistles and euphemisms. But Trump just hands them an overflowing glass of hate and tells them to tilt their heads back and chug. A secure border? Hell, we need to build a 20-foot high wall because Mexicans are rapists. Strong measures to stop terrorism? Just keep out all the Muslims.

Part of what has Republicans upset is that Trump’s nativism narrows the cultural argument down to ethnic and racial identity. They may have condemned “political correctness” to get people upset at liberal elitists telling you what to think, but in Trump’s version, rejecting it means indulging your ugliest impulses, taking every rancid thought about foreigners or minorities that pops into your head and vomiting it right out of your mouth in triumph.

Once you unleash that stuff, it’s hard to pretend that it’s anything other than what it is. So the Republican elites — who, let’s be honest, usually bear more of a cultural resemblance to the liberals against whom they whip up all those resentments than to the working-class whites whose votes they want — look on in horror as Trump ruins everything. He lays the GOP’s racial appeals bare so they can’t be denied, and he can’t even be trusted to keep faithful to all of the party’s economic agenda. If you can’t rely on an (alleged) billionaire to keep all that straight, what hope does your party have?

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, July 2, 2016

July 2, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP, White Working Class | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“He’ll Magically Make Us All Filthy Rich”: Donald Trump Is Selling American Workers A Scam

Some of our wisest political observers informed us that Brexit would be great news for Donald Trump, because it shows (somehow) that there may be more support here than expected for his nationalist message of restoring American greatness through restrictionist immigration policies and turning the clock back on globalization.

So it’s a bit surprising to see that a new Bloomberg/Morning Consult poll shows that Brexit will not influence the votes of a majority of Americans, and if anything, may benefit Hillary Clinton marginally more than Trump:

A majority of U.S. voters — 57 percent — say they don’t expect the U.K. verdict will influence their vote in the presidential election. For the roughly quarter who say it will, almost half say it will make them more likely to support Democrat Hillary Clinton, while 35 percent say Republican Donald Trump.

This is only one poll, so don’t place too much stock in it, but I wanted to highlight it to make a broader point: There is simply no reason to assume that the debate over globalization, which Trump joined with a big speech on trade yesterday, will automatically play in the Donald’s favor. Indeed, Trump is running a massive scam on American workers on many fronts, and the contrast between his positions and those of Hillary Clinton on trade and other economic matters may prove more important in the end than his blustery rhetoric.

Neil Irwin has a good piece this morning on Trump’s big trade speech, in which he pledged to rip up our trade deals with his large and powerful hands and to bring manufacturing roaring back. As Irwin notes, Trump is right to highlight the very real possibility that trade deals have badly harmed American workers, and that elites have in many respects let those workers down. (Bernie Sanders, too, is rightly calling on Democrats to fully reckon with this phenomenon.) But as Irwin also notes, Trump is selling American workers a highly simplistic, anachronistic tale that doesn’t level with them about the likelihood of reversing trends in globalization and automation that are partly responsible for workers’ current plight.

I would add an important point: Clinton is offering these workers substantially more than Trump is. Clinton has also pledged to renegotiate trade deals and to oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Whether or not you see that as opportunistic, Clinton has also outlined detailed plans for programs that would try to use tax credits and federal spending to make American workers and businesses more competitive in the global economy. I am not aware of any detailed plans from Trump to do this. Trump’s message is that through his manly prowess, he will kick the asses of other countries and parasitic illegal immigrants and make us all insanely rich again, not that he sees a specific, programmatic role for the federal government in boosting wages, promoting domestic manufacturing, and helping displaced workers.

While it’s true that Trump has promised to spend on infrastructure at home, Trump’s tax plan — which confers an enormous windfall on the rich — would result in a nearly $10 trillion decline in revenues over the next decade. In practice this likely means that, unlike Clinton, he would not try to get Congress to spend substantially on helping American workers. While Clinton has vowed to invest money in helping displaced coal miners, and to invest in clean energy, Trump vaguely promises to put all those coal miners back to work again, which isn’t going to happen. Meanwhile, Clinton supports raising the federal minimum wage to at least $12 per hour. But while Trump has vaguely said workers need higher wages, he has come out for eliminating the federal minimum. Again, all he’s really saying is that he’ll magically make us all so filthy rich that we won’t have to worry ourselves with difficult policy choices. The vow that mass deportations will make the American workforce great again is also a straight-up scam.

The choice is not necessarily between Trumpian turn-back-the-clock proctectionism and throw-workers-to-the-wolves free trade. Clinton is offering up detailed plans for spending and tax credits and economic regulations that would help workers amid large economic trends she believes can’t be reversed. There is no reason to presume that Trump’s simplistic tale will carry the day politically.

 

By: Greg Sargent, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, June 29, 2016

June 30, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Workers | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Really Dumb Politics”: The Stupidest Thing GOP Leaders Have Done Lately? Threaten To Take Away Middle Class Overtime Pay

Talk about a political tin ear! Wednesday, House Republican Leader Paul Ryan and Senate Leader Mitch McConnell threatened to take away middle class overtime pay.

Speaking as a Progressive Democrat my response is simple: go ahead — make our day. Talk about bad politics.

Here is the backstory. On Wednesday, the administration announced its final rule revising the threshold used to define who is automatically required to be paid time and a half for overtime when they work more than 40 hours per week.

The Wage and Hour Act that was passed in 1938 requires overtime be paid to almost all hourly workers. But there are exceptions for professional, managerial and executive personnel.

To prevent employers from declaring that people who do ordinary jobs are professional, managerial or executive personnel, the law required the Labor Department to set a pay threshold. If a worker makes less than that threshold, he or she cannot be categorized as a professional, manager or executive, no matter what his or her “duties.”

Three decades ago, when the wage threshold was set, 62 percent of all workers made less than that threshold and qualified for automatic overtime, no matter their job classification.

But the threshold has not been materially increased for 30 years. As a result, only 8 percent of all employees now qualify for automatic overtime. And, not surprisingly, many companies have driven a Mack truck right through the “professional, executive and managerial” loophole. As a result many employees, like some who spend most of their days making sandwiches at Subway, are classified as “managers” and required to work 50- or 60-hour weeks with no overtime pay. In fact, they are often put on fixed — if tiny — “salaries” so they get no pay for overtime at all.

The disappearance of overtime protections is precisely one of the rules of the economic game that has been rigged by the CEO class to assure that virtually all of the new income growth in America has gone to the top one percent.

So Wednesday, Labor Secretary Tom Perez, Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Sherrod Brown went to Columbus, Ohio to announce that the threshold would be raised from $23,000 — where it has been stuck for years — to $47,500.

This is a huge victory for the middle class and all ordinary workers, and it is likely to benefit more than 12 million American families. It will once again make certain that workers are actually paid for their overtime.

But to hear the Republicans, this was a gigantic Obama overreach that will stifle job growth and hurt small businesses. This is the same thing they say whenever we increase the minimum wage or take other steps to make certain that ordinary people get to keep a bigger share of economic growth that they themselves create. But Republican predictions of doom never turn out to be true.

Of course the reason it never turns out to be true is that economic growth — and with it, job growth — is actually fueled by putting more money into consumer pockets rather than in the offshore accounts of corporate CEOs.

But putting the economics of the case aside — for the GOP this is really dumb politics. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or political guru to tell you that trying to take away the overtime pay of ordinary voters will not make them happy — no matter how happy it makes the GOP’s corporate givers.

If there is one thing that this election season has made crystal clear: ordinary voters are plenty unhappy about the fact that their incomes have flatlined at the same time CEO salaries and bonuses have soared. It makes no sense to them that per capita Gross Domestic Product has shot up 48 percent over the last 30 years and yet their incomes have stagnated. And they are figuring out who is to blame — the .01 percent that rigged the rules of the economic game so they could keep virtually all of that gain for themselves.

But Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell have convinced their rank and file that they are better off being dragged around by their noses by corporate bigwigs who give them money than they are by paying attention to the needs of ordinary voters.

Newsflash: want to know why the GOP rank and file has turned on the GOP elite? It’s because they have time and time again failed to deliver for the white working class men who they have used as cannon fodder in their quest to give more tax breaks for the rich.

So now this brilliant GOP leadership has threatened to use the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to pass resolutions overturning the new overtime rule — and in effect take away people’s overtime pay. But when they do, President Obama will veto their resolution, and there is no way Democrats will give the GOP the votes to override his veto of this very popular new regulation.

Instead, Democrats plan to have a field day reminding voters that their GOP representative voted to take away their overtime pay.

Sometimes, as the famous organizer Saul Alinski once said: you can count on your enemy. This time, the Republican’s blind allegiance to corporate orthodoxy and rightwing ideology will lead them into a bloody political ambush. It couldn’t happen to a more deserving crew.

 

By: Robert J. Creamer, The Blog, The Huffington Post, May 20, 2016

May 23, 2016 Posted by | Middle Class, Mitch Mc Connell, Overtime Pay, Paul Ryan | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Deep Irony At Work”: Forget What You’ve Heard. Donald Trump Isn’t Really Challenging Conservative Orthodoxy

There used to be a standard operating procedure for Republican presidential candidates when they got asked about the Supreme Court. Avoid talking about specific issues you hope the Court will decide, don’t mention any specific people you want to put on the bench, and just offer some vague principles that sound good to everybody but are actually meant as dog-whistles to reassure your conservative supporters that they’ll get the kind of appointments they want. Your model justice would be an advocate of “judicial restraint,” who “won’t legislate from the bench” and who “respects the intent of the Founders.”

But as in so many things, Donald Trump doesn’t play by those rules. Instead, he just released a list of 11 judges from whom he says he’ll choose his Supreme Court picks.

In doing so, Trump demonstrated to conservatives why there’s almost no reason for them not to get behind him.

But that’s not because the list shows that he shares their perspective or will be ideologically reliable. It’s because it’s yet more evidence that when it comes to the things conservatives think are important, Donald Trump just doesn’t care one way or the other. And that means they can get almost everything they want out of a Trump presidency.

As our reporters Jenna Johnson and Robert Barnes wrote, “Trump’s picks looked more like a wish list of the nation’s conservative legal elite than the product of a political revolutionary.” And that’s because, I promise you, Trump just told somebody to put together a list, looked at it, and said it seems fine. He had previously said he’d let the Heritage Foundation assemble his list, while this one has some of their picks and a few others. But I’ll bet that if you asked him today who’s on his list, he couldn’t give you more than one or two names. Even though, as I’ve been arguing for the last couple of years, the Supreme Court may be the single most important issue in this election, there’s nothing to suggest that Trump much cares about who he puts on it. Which means conservatives get what they want.

Some people, myself included, argue that we focus way too much on personality in the presidential campaign (as interesting as personalities are), because what matters more than anything is the basic ideological distinctions between the parties. Yes, the individual characteristics each president brings to the office can make a difference; for instance, Barack Obama is extremely cautious about foreign entanglements, while Hillary Clinton is likely to be more aggressive when it comes to getting involved in hotspots around the globe. But on the vast majority of issues, what matters is whether there’s a Republican or a Democrat in the Oval Office. Any Republican will pursue basically the same set of policies as any other Republican, and the same is true of Democrats. Furthermore, they’re going to have to fill all those thousands of executive branch positions from the same pool of people. Each party has its own government-in-waiting when it’s out of power, cooling its heels in think tanks and advocacy groups and lobbying firms, waiting to move back into government when they win, no matter which contender from their party gets the nomination.

But there’s a deep irony at work with Donald Trump. He’s the least ideologically committed candidate we’ve seen in a very long time, at least since Eisenhower and maybe even before. To the broad public, he offers a Great Man theory of the presidency: don’t worry about issues, because with my huge brain, superhuman deal-making skills, and overall personal tremendousness, I will solve all our problems. Yet precisely because Trump doesn’t care in the least about any policy issues, conservatives may have no more to reason to fear that he’d betray them on policy than they would with a committed conservative like Ted Cruz.

How are things likely to proceed in his presidency? On the Supreme Court, he just takes a list from conservative activists. When Republicans in Congress craft legislation, is he going to stay up late at night going over each sub-section to make sure they reflect his beliefs? Of course not — they’ll pass it, he’ll sign it, and he won’t bother reading more than the title. Is he going to worry about who all his undersecretaries and deputy secretaries are, and make sure he agrees with the policy decisions they make? Not on your life. He’ll say, “Get me some fabulous people, really top-notch, the best” — and the Republicans around him will put the same people in those positions who would have served in any Republican administration.

Trump has said many things during the campaign that contradict conservative dogma. So what? If you’re a conservative worried about some policy stance Trump took today, you can just wait until the next time he gets asked about the same topic, and he’ll say something completely different. That may mean he isn’t committed to your position deep in his heart, but that doesn’t matter. If on a particular day as president he takes some policy stance that runs counter to conservative ideology, is he really going to care enough to pursue it, especially when the people around him are objecting? Or is he more likely to say, “Eh, whatever — what else is going on today?”

This has already been made clear on specific issues. As this blog has previously detailed, no matter how many times media outlets say otherwise, Trump did not actually signal that he might raise taxes on the rich or raise the minimum wage. All he has done was signal general vagueness born mostly of disinterest or lack of appreciation of policy detail, followed by clarifications that he would cut taxes on the rich and opposes the existence of any federal minimum.

There are a couple of exceptions, particularly trade, where conservatives are generally advocates of free trade and Trump seems determined to start a trade war with China. But even on what may be the issue most important to him, it’s hard to tell how his bombastic rhetoric would translate into actual policy decisions. So there too, the Republicans around him would have plenty of room to shape policy in their preferred direction. And yes, the fact that he’s so ignorant and erratic could have consequences that range from the problematic to the catastrophic. But that’s not an ideological question.

So if you’re a conservative, you can refuse to support Trump because he’s such a raging buffoon that there’s no telling what kind of damage he could do to the country. That’s more than enough reason to oppose him. But if what really matters to you is the substance of conservative ideology, you probably have nothing to worry about.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, May 19, 2016

May 23, 2016 Posted by | Conservatives, Donald Trump, GOP | , , , , , , , | 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

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