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“Fear And Racism Taking The Place Of Policy”: Donald Trump; The Epitome Of Post-Policy Nihilism

Fair warning: over the next six months you’re not likely to find me writing much about Donald Trump’s proposed “policies.” Over the last few days there has been a lot of talk about whether or not the presumptive Republican nominee does/doesn’t support raising the minimum wage and lower taxes on the uber-wealthy. Remember that time when he said that women who get abortions should be punished? In less than 24 hours he had reversed course. Now he’s saying that his proposal to ban all Muslims from entering the United States was just a “suggestion.” And one of his advisors said that he will consider changes to Medicare and Social Security. Next thing you know, that whole border wall that Mexico is going to pay for will be nothing more than a distant memory.

All of this was pretty well explained by something an anonymous source told Politico.

“He doesn’t want to waste time on policy and thinks it would make him less effective on the stump,” the Trump source said. “It won’t be until after he is elected but before he’s inaugurated that he will figure out exactly what he is going to do and who he is going to try to hire.”

None of this has anything to do with Trump pivoting towards the center for the general election. Way back in January he told Bill O’Reilly, “The voters want unpredictability.”

There are two things that Donald Trump knows really well: (1) how to play the media in order to get maximum exposure (these flip-flops generate tons of coverage), and (2) what his base of supporters want to hear. I’ll give you a clue…it’s not about policies.

Back in 2013, Steve Benen came up with the perfect way to describe the current iteration of Republicanism: post-policy nihilism. After the disastrous Bush administration, it was demonstrated that Republican policies – both foreign and domestic – were complete and utter failures. In response, rather than re-think those policies, conservative leaders drafted a plan of total obstruction to anything President Obama and the Democrats attempted to do. In order to get their base on board with that plan, they fanned the flames of fear and racism…that is what took the place of actual policies.

It should therefore come as no surprise to anyone that the current presumptive Republican presidential nominee is running a post-policy campaign based on fear and racism. It is why none of the other contenders for the Republican nomination could ever lay a hand on him. Their choice was to either defend the failed policies of the Bush administration or challenge the fear and racism that animated his supporters – either option was doomed to fail.

What we’ll be witnessing in this election is someone running to be the leader of the free world who is the epitome of post-policy nihilism. That’s why I wrote yesterday that his response to a question about whether or not he regretted saying that John McCain wasn’t a war hero was so revealing. At first he flip-flopped on what he’d said previously. Then came this:

You do things and you say things. And what I said, frankly, is what I said. And some people like what I said, if you want to know the truth. There are many people that like what I said. You know after I said that, my poll numbers went up seven points.

Over the next six months Donald Trump will ensure that journalists who attempt to take what he says about policy seriously are sent running around in circles. Proposing actual policies is not the game he is playing – and neither are his supporters.

 

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

May 13, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Fearmongering, GOP, Racism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Trump Is Performing A Kind Of Straddle-Pander”: Why Donald Trump Is Happily Uttering Conservative Heresies

Reince Priebus, the long-suffering chairman of the Republican National Committee, has now resorted to pleading with Donald Trump not to rewrite the party’s platform. “All that anxiety, just take it off the table,” Priebus said on a radio show Monday. “Tell people that, that you don’t want to rewrite, you appreciate and agree with the platform the way it is.” I’m sure Trump will oblige, since it’s not like he cares one way or another what’s contained in some document he’s never going to bother to read, let alone feel bound by. Meanwhile, Trump will continue to utter heresies against conservative dogma whenever the mood strikes him.

So it was that on Sunday, Trump not only said that taxes for the wealthy might go up when he’s president, but came out as minimum wage increase-curious. Don’t wait for him to actually advocate an increase in the federal minimum, though. Appearing on Meet the Press on Sunday, Trump expressed both support and opposition to an increase. “I don’t know how people make it on $7.25 an hour,” he said. “I would like to see an increase of some magnitude. But I’d rather leave it to the states. Let the states decide.”

The fact that Trump didn’t actually advocate an increase will be little comfort to Republicans watching him trod all over their cherished beliefs. Because even if he didn’t say the federal minimum should be raised, he expressed support for the idea that $7.25 an hour isn’t enough to live on, even if you aren’t in the market for solid gold toilets and faux-Versailles furnishings. That cuts against the rhetorical underpinnings of Republican opposition to an increase, which include the ideas that minimum wage jobs are only held by teenagers anyway, and the government shouldn’t be saying what is and isn’t enough for anyone to live on. Worst of all, Trump expressed sympathy for the working poor and entertained the idea that government should help them.

Saying “Let the states decide” provides no ideological safe harbor — though Trump probably doesn’t understand this. The truth is that despite their rhetoric about federalism, Republicans — just like Democrats — are fans of federal power when the federal government is doing something they want, and fans of state power when the states are doing something they want. Republicans want states to be able to slash Medicaid benefits, but don’t like it when states legalize marijuana. They talk about how the best government is closest to the people, but when a local government passes a non-discrimination ordinance or increases its minimum wage, they’ll pass a preemption law forbidding any local government in the state from creating a more liberal environment than the Republican legislature wants.

So once again, because Trump didn’t rise up through the political system and because he just doesn’t care all that much about issues, he doesn’t have a firm grasp on the combination of moral and practical arguments that provide the foundation for the conservative position on the issue at hand. It isn’t just that he doesn’t get what he’s supposed to believe, it’s that he doesn’t get why he’s supposed to believe it.

And truth be told, Republicans would rather not talk about the minimum wage at all, since this is one of the most unpopular positions they hold. Polls regularly show 70 percent of the public supporting an increase. That’s the biggest reason Democrats always bring the topic up, but it’s also an economic policy that’s simple to understand, and one where government can have a direct and immediate effect on people’s lives.

Unlike other proposals candidates might make, a minimum wage isn’t something you’d have to wait for. It’s not like the tax cuts Republicans say will eventually trickle down to ordinary people, and it’s not like the infrastructure investments Democrats say will produce more sustained economic growth in the long run. Everyone knows what it means to get a raise.

So Trump is performing a kind of straddle-pander, trying to show he’s on the right side of the issue while not actually taking a position in opposition to his party. But this comes at a time when those favoring an increase in the minimum are on the offensive. California and New York have recently passed laws hiking the minimum to $15 an hour (phased in over a period of years), and multiple states will have increases on their ballots in November. Chances are most or all of those measures will succeed (minimum wage initiatives usually do), and Republicans will be even more eager to change the subject.

Conservatives will take Trump’s squishiness on this issue as yet more proof that he isn’t a true conservative, and they’ll be right. But he also seems to have an intuitive sense, at least some of the time, of what people want to hear. Despite all the voters he’s alienated by taking Republican ideas and cranking them up to 11, Trump has also rejected some of the most unpopular positions his party has, on things like cutting Social Security or defunding Planned Parenthood.

That doesn’t mean voters will buy that he’s some kind of man of the people. But by speaking favorably about a higher minimum wage, Trump is once again making the rest of his party look bad.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect;  Contributor, The Week, May 10, 2016

May 12, 2016 Posted by | Conservatives, Donald Trump, Reince Priebus, Republican National Convention | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Ahistorical”: Trump And Clinton Are Telling Two Radically Different Stories About The Economy. Only One Is Based In Reality

In this weekend’s New York Times Magazine, there’s an interview with President Obama in which he assesses his economic legacy, and as you might expect, he has a complicated view of things. He thinks his administration did an excellent job pulling us out of the Great Recession: “I actually compare our economic performance to how, historically, countries that have wrenching financial crises perform. By that measure, we probably managed this better than any large economy on Earth in modern history.” But he wishes he had been able to pass more infrastructure spending: “it was the perfect time to do it; low interest rates, construction industry is still on its heels, massive need.”

Obama also makes an argument about what Republicans propose to do on the economy that gets directly to the competing stories that the two parties are going to be presenting to the American public this fall.

Even if a contest between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton may be more focused on personality than your typical presidential campaign, it’s still the case that the outcome of the election will be determined in significant part by which of these economic stories the voting public finds more persuasive. And each story has two parts: a description of the American economy as it is now, and a proposal for what the candidate would like to do and how that plan will change things. Here’s Obama’s assessment of the Republicans’ second part:

“If you look at the platforms, the economic platforms of the current Republican candidates for president, they don’t simply defy logic and any known economic theories, they are fantasy,” Obama said. “Slashing taxes particularly for those at the very top, dismantling regulatory regimes that protect our air and our environment and then projecting that this is going to lead to 5 percent or 7 percent growth, and claiming that they’ll do all this while balancing the budget. Nobody would even, with the most rudimentary knowledge of economics, think that any of those things are plausible.”

You won’t be surprised to hear that I happen to agree with him on this, though I’d describe how ridiculous it is in somewhat stronger terms. I can’t stress this enough: Republicans argue that if we just cut taxes on the wealthy and reduce regulations on corporations, then the economy will explode in a supernova of prosperity for all. You can call this belief ahistorical, or unsupported by facts, or baseless or implausible, but if you want to be frank you’d have to say that it’s absolutely lunatic.

But let’s put this in context of the stories the two candidates will be telling. Here’s Donald Trump’s economic story:

The economy is an absolute nightmare. Americans are living in such misery that they’re practically eating their own shoes in order to survive. If we cut taxes on the wealthy, reduce regulations on corporations, renegotiate trade agreements, and deport all illegal immigrants, then our economy will be spectacular and working people will experience American greatness again.

And here’s Hillary Clinton’s economic story:

The economy is doing pretty well, and a lot better than it was eight years ago when the Republicans were in charge, but it could be even better. If we pass some worker-focused measures like increasing the minimum wage, stronger overtime protections and guaranteeing equal pay, and make infrastructure investments, then our economy will improve for everyone.

Trump’s story is the same one other Republicans tell, with the addition of the idea that “bad deals” on trade have had a crippling effect on the country. For the moment we’ll put aside the merits of Trump’s claim that imposing enormous tariffs on Chinese goods will cause all those jobs sewing clothing and assembling electronics to come pouring into the United States, but the political question around Trump’s story is whether people will believe his over-the-top description of both what’s happening now and the transformation he will be able to produce.

We’ve known for some time that voters’ perceptions of the economy are colored by partisanship: to simplify a bit, when there’s a Democrat in the White House, Republican voters will say that the economy is doing poorly and Democratic voters will say it’s doing great; when there’s a Republican president, the opposite is true.

For instance, in 2012 when Barack Obama was running for reelection, 49 percent of Democrats told the National Election Studies that the economy had gotten better in the previous year, while only 17 percent said it had gotten worse. On the other hand, nine percent of Republicans said it had gotten better, while 56 percent said it had gotten worse. Go back to 2004 when George W. Bush was running for reelection, and we see the reverse: 43 percent of Republicans said the economy had gotten better and 22 percent said it had gotten worse, while only 10 percent of Democrats said it had gotten better and 63 percent said it had gotten worse.

So obviously, people aren’t just reacting in an objective way to what they see around them. At the same time, there is a reality that can eventually poke its way through the veil partisans place over their eyes. In 2008, when the economy was in a catastrophic decline, everyone in both parties agreed on what was happening (94 percent of Democrats and 88 percent of Republicans said it had gotten worse).

Times like 2008 are rare, though. Today, the objective reality is a lot closer to the way Democrats describe it, in large part because they aren’t offering an extreme version of their truth. If Obama and Clinton were more rhetorically similar to Donald Trump, they’d be saying that this is the greatest economy in the history of human civilization, everybody has a terrific job, and there’s so much prosperity that the only question any American has is whether to spend their money on everything they could ever want or just roll around in it like Scrooge McDuck.

But they aren’t saying that. Instead, they’re attempting the tricky balancing act of emphasizing the progress Obama has made while acknowledging the long-term weaknesses in the economy. Both of those things are real. Since the bottom of the Great Recession early in Obama’s first term, the economy has added 14 million jobs, and unemployment is now at 5 percent. On the other hand, income growth has been concentrated at the top and Americans still feel uncertain about their economic futures.

Donald Trump has chosen to pretend that the good things about the American economy don’t exist, and weave a laughable fantasy about what his policies will produce (“I will be the greatest jobs president that God ever created”). Can he convince voters — particularly those in the middle who might be persuaded to vote for either candidate — to believe it? I guess we’ll see.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, April 28, 2016

April 29, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Economy, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Thanks For Asking”: How Do You Make Change Happen? Show Up

In my travels and conversations this year, I’ve been encouraged that grassroots people of all progressive stripes (populist, labor, liberal, environmental, women, civil libertarian, et al.) are well aware of the slipperiness of “victory” and want Washington to get it right this time. So over and over, Question No. 1 that I encounter is some variation of this: What should we do!?! How do we make Washington govern for all the people? What specific things can my group or I do now?

Thanks for asking. The first thing you can do to bring about change is show up. Think of showing up as a sort of civic action, where you get to choose something that fits your temperament, personal level of activism, available time and energy, etc. The point here is that every one of us can do something — and every bit helps.

Simply being there matters. While progressives have shown up for elections in winning numbers, our movement then tends to fade politely into the shadows, leaving public officials (even those we put in office) free to ignore us and capitulate to ever-present, ever-insistent corporate interests. No more. Grassroots progressives — as individuals and through our groups — must get in the face of power and stay there.

This doesn’t require a trip to Washington, though it can. It can be done right where you live — in personal meetings, on the phone, via email and letters, through social media (tweet at the twits!), on petitions, and any additional ways of communication that you and other creative people can invent. Hey, we’re citizens, voters, constituents — so we should not hesitate to request in-person appointments to chat with officials back home (these need not be confrontational), attend forums where they’ll be (local hearings, town hall sessions, speeches, meet & greets, parades, ribbon-cuttings, receptions, etc). They generally post their public schedules on their websites. Go to their meetings, ask questions, or at least say hello, introduce yourself, and try to achieve this: MAKE THEM LEARN YOUR NAME.

OK, you’re too busy to show up at all this stuff, but try one, then think of going to one every month or two. And you don’t have to go alone — get a family member, a couple of friends, a few members of the groups you’re in to join you. Make it an excursion, rewarding yourselves with a nice glass of wine or a beer and some laughs afterward.

Then there are times (“in the course of human events,” as Jefferson put it) when citizens have to come together in big numbers to protest, to insist on being heard. Lobbyists are able to meet with officials in quiet rooms, but when we’re shut out, a higher form of patriotism demands that ordinary folks surround a public official’s district office or a high-dollar fundraising event to deliver a noisy message about the people’s needs.

This is especially necessary for officials who get a substantial or even majority vote from progressive constituencies… but still stiff us on such major needs as increasing the minimum wage, overturning Citizens United, endorsing a Robin Hood Tax on Wall Street speculators, and prohibiting the outrage of voter suppression. We have a right to expect them to respect our vote, and stand with us on the big issues. We’ve been too quiet, too indulgent with such office holders, and they won’t change until we start confronting them publicly.

Both in terms of having your own say and in demonstrating the strength of the grassroots numbers behind the policy changes we want, you and I are going to have to get noisier, more demonstrative, more out-front in demanding that elected officials really pay heed to those who elected them. Let’s make 2016 the year of reintroducing ourselves and our expectations to policymakers. At their every turn, we should be there, becoming a personal human presence (even an irritant) they cannot ignore.

 

By: Jim Hightower, Featured Post, The National Memo, April 13, 2016

April 14, 2016 Posted by | Democracy, Elected Officials, Progressives | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Real Incremental Progress Is Happening In Blue States”: State Legislatures,The Primary Vehicles For Real Progressive Action

It’s often easy to become discouraged at the state of national politics. Given Republican control of the House, there’s very little chance of either Clinton’s or Sanders’ policy priorities going anywhere. But that doesn’t mean that progress isn’t happening in blue states around the country.

Consider again the example of California, where rules finally went into effect allowing women to get birth control without a prescription:

Women in California of any age can now obtain birth control without a doctor’s prescription from any pharmacy in the state. Under the new rules finally in effect, any woman merely has to fill out a questionnaire at the pharmacy to get access to a variety of contraceptive measures, according to KABC. Though the new rules were technically passed by the state legislature in 2013, the law was tied up in regulatory discussions until Friday. Under the law, any woman can get self-administered hormonal birth control.

California is not the first to put this into place; Washington and Oregon already have similar laws.

This also, of course, comes on the heels of $15 minimum wages being passed in California and New York as well. California alone has a wide bevy of new progressive laws ranging from automatic voter registration to air quality standards, wage theft, sexual consent and much else. Blue states continue to be the successful laboratories of democracy where Republicans in Congress are failing to act, even as the red state economic model is being proven a failure in places like Kansas and Louisiana.

Until the 2020 census makes it easier to change control of Congress, it will remain the case that state legislatures are the primary vehicles for real progressive action. One can only hope that those seeking a political revolution will remain engaged regardless of the result of the Democratic primary, and get involved in making their states as progressive as possible until the demographic tide makes a national change in direction inevitable.

 

By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 10, 2016

April 11, 2016 Posted by | Blue States, California, Progressive Action, State Legislatures | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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