Wednesday, February 7, 2018

More Time With the Family

A new year, like a new broom, sweeps clean, at least for a while. Before and after the start of this still minty-fresh jaunt around the sun called 2018, several Republican lawmakers have decided not to seek re-election. The rush for the out doors will include the retirements of relative newcomers to Congress and an institutional lion of the Senate.

These exits, the ones that came before, and those likely to follow in the months between now and November have dire implications for a Republican party struggling to find its future stars amid an increasingly depleted cast of existing characters. ...

Retirements from Congress are hardly party-specific, of course. Democrats in Congress have been dropping out, for reasons of exhaustion with the partisan atmosphere, and in response to various allegations of wrongdoing (Sen. Al Franken and Rep. John Conyers among the two most prominent Dems to be caught up in sexual harassment charges).

But if you sense there’s a louder, more populated Republican sprint to the exits, you’re right. Going away. ...

Read more at The Swamp

Image credits: Swamp logo: © 2018 Jerrick Ventures LLC.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Trump's State of the Union: A tale of two GOPs

IT WAS A juxtaposition whose irony was cruel, unusual and inescapable: Hours before President* Donald Trump made nice across the aisle at the 2018 State of the Union address, proposing to govern in a new spirit of bipartisanship and commonality, a Republican senator called for the arrest of any DREAMers who dared to attend ... the State of the Union address.

Politico reported that, before the SOTU speech, Paul Gosar, Republican congressman from Arizona, tweeted that “Of all the places where the Rule of Law needs to be enforced, it should be in the hallowed halls of Congress. Any illegal aliens attempting to go through security, under any pretext of invitation or otherwise, should be arrested and deported."

When Gosar acted as an apprentice to the tweeter-in-chief, he was setting the stage for a State of the Union address that had more news in it than usual. Some of that was the address itself; more of what made it news will have to do with whether it marks a turning point for a reliably mercurial chief executive, or merely sets a pattern of behavior in stone. There’s a lot to suggest the status quo will have the upper hand.

Or not. The true character of today’s Republican party, and the party of the inescapable future, is caught up in navigating that existential dilemma: Which is the real GOP? Which one will Donald Trump serve? And which one will serve Donald Trump?

◊ ◊ ◊

He began with the fat, uplifting topic sentences: “Less than 1 year has passed since I first stood at this podium, in this majestic chamber, to speak on behalf of the American People — and to address their concerns, their hopes, and their dreams. That night, our new Administration had already taken swift action. A new tide of optimism was already sweeping across our land.

“Each day since, we have gone forward with a clear vision and a righteous mission — to make America great again for all Americans.

Much of the speech’s early going was not an overarching vision of the country’s direction, but was punctuated by Trump name-checking people in the gallery, picking them out for truly deserved recognition for their roles in various major events: the volunteers of the “Cajun Navy,” who rescued scores during Hurricane Harvey. A Coast Guard officer who performed admirably during the same Gulf storm, saving dozens of people.

A firefighter who braved one of the recent California wildfires to rescue some 60 people. A married couple running a small business in Ohio. One of that business’ more stellar workers. An Army staff sergeant who valiantly worked to save the life of a fellow soldier in Raqqa. Those who helped shield victims of gunfire from country music fans on the Las Vegas Strip. And a shoutout to Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalice, the congressman gravely wounded in June 2017 by a shooter at a baseball field in Alexandria, Va.

◊ ◊ ◊

It was a cherry-picking of the national mosaic that led to Trump’s calls for unity: “Tonight, I call upon all of us to set aside our differences, to seek out common ground, and to summon the unity we need to deliver for the people we were elected to serve. ...

“This is our new American moment. There has never been a better time to start living the American Dream.

“So to every citizen watching at home tonight — no matter where you have been, or where you come from, this is your time. If you work hard, if you believe in yourself, if you believe in America, then you can dream anything, you can be anything, and together, we can achieve anything. ...

“[T]onight, I am extending an open hand to work with members of both parties — Democrats and Republicans — to protect our citizens of every background, color, religion, and creed.”

◊ ◊ ◊

HIS SPEECH sounded as close to full-on presidential as anything he’s said in the last year and ten days in office. While a lot of it wasn’t Trump so much as the stagecraft, the affect, the trappings that made Trump look presidential almost by default, he talked a good game, hit all the anodyne, ameliorative notes we’ve come to expect from any modern president delivering a SOTU in prime-time.

A State of the Union address, properly delivered, isn’t just a laundry list of objectives or an honor’s list of accomplishments. The best SOTU speeches are acts of smart rhetorical weaving, combining the factual, the granular and the unabashedly aspirational, statements of where we’ve been joined with those containing some bigger, broader objective sense of where we hope to go as a nation.

                       State of the Union 2018: The transcript   |   The speech

Trump accomplished much of this, performing, in some ways, better than this observer thought he would or could. But the man can’t help himself. Trump wasn’t above taking shots here and there, at adversaries real and imagined: North Korea, terrorists, immigrants ... his usual targets of opportunity.

◊ ◊ ◊

He of course mentioned the economy’s 2.4 million new jobs, a figure that, whether Trump thinks so or not, has a lot to do with programs and policies created and executed in the administration of his predecessor, Barack Obama. Trump mentioned increasing new highs on the stock market, again, a manifestation of momentum from the Obama years. There’s no denying the advances the market’s made in the past year; there’s also no denying the origins of that financial velocity, a product of the past eight years. On that basis, Obama could have taken as many as bows as Trump just did.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

House Trump: Hearing footsteps in the new year

WHEN IN THE COURSE of human events you’re faced with so many events in a short time that you don’t know where to begin ... you don’t begin.

That’s the challenge facing yours truly and every political analyst, blogger and opinionated American with the dawn of this new year — not just any new year. For me it started late in 2017: creatively frozen, trapped in an interminable funk fed by the ongoing series of wildfires in California; the baffling inanities and geopolitically provocative tweets from the White House; and a general malaise I’m led to believe was an expression of the current collective unconscious. Christmas felt forced, vacant, bereft. New Year’s Eve at midnight was spent howling “HAPPY NEW YEAR!” at the drivers passing my house in East Hollywood, waving a bottle of cold duck. More than a few honked or shouted in agreement as they drove by.

Not surprised. Understatement of the decade: We’ve been eager to turn the page on 2017. Any year that could usher out Chuck Berry, Walter Becker, Charles Bradley, Fats Domino, Glen Campbell and Tom Petty, and usher in the quasi-presidency of the most dangerous carnival barker in history is a year that deserves to be forgotten, asterisked, if not for the upheaval that occurred in that 365 days we just got out of, a little more than three weeks ago.

◊ ◊ ◊

But now it gets interesting. On a number of political fronts, last year was a building prelude to the storm that’s about to be unleashed at the White House, the Justice Department and on Capitol Hill. Florsheims have been dropping for months now, not just in Washington but in places and with results that will have an impact on Washington, from now to the election less than eleven months away.

The biggest chicken roosting this election year will rest on the head of the beast that is the Republican Party. Years of gridlock – not just the interparty gridlock we’ve come to expect, but also the philosophical gridlock within the party, the conflict that’s typified the GOP since at least the Tea Party’s rise in 2009 – are about to yield, ironically, the kind of painful, forced evolution required when a voluntary evolution apparently isn’t possible.

The Republican Party is about to be dragged kicking and screaming into a future it’s been haplessly designing, and denying, for years.

◊ ◊ ◊

THE PROBLEM for the GOP begins with a White House on a vendetta. From the jump, Donald Trump made it clear that his Job #1 was to undo as much of the eight years of the legislative and political legacy of Barack Obama as possible. He maybe never actually said it, word for word, but he never had to. With a flurry of executive actions and tweets, Trump set his intentions in motion and began rolling back various Obama-era initiatives and policies.

The Trump White House thus defined its own first year in the White House by the metrics of its able predecessor. For that reason, there’s been little or nothing affirmative about House Trump a year in. Trying to undo that predecessor’s work has negated Trump’s own agenda. To the extent he ever had one.

Michael Caputo, a Republican operative and another veteran of Trump’s presidential run, blamed Congress for inaction on the Trump first-year “agenda.” “I think we all trusted the Congress too much,” he told The Daily Beast in November. “Today we know leaders of both houses have not been able, or even willing, to deliver on the President's agenda. If I knew we would have so many problems on Capitol Hill, I would have urged the president to move immediately on tax cuts and infrastructure after the Inaugural.”

Trump apologist/mouthpiece/cheerleader Scottie Nell Hughes said much the same thing to The Daily Beast on Nov. 8: “President Trump and his team should have been ready to introduce and push for the vote almost immediately of his top three campaign promises,” Hughes added. “Tax reform, repeal and replace AHCA & legislation to build the wall (in that order) should have been ready, introduced and voted on before the opposition could organize against. Instead, this administration lost their focus in the fog of the swamp and was swallowed up by the status quo.”

This underscores a major problem for the Trump administration. Leaders of both houses haven’t followed through on the Trump agenda because, strictly speaking, there isn’t one.

◊ ◊ ◊

From Trump’s efforts to marginalize Muslims and immigrants to his monstrous “shithole countries” comment about Haitians, Salvadoreans and people from African nations; from actions rolling back environmental protections to breathtaking contradictions and inconsistencies in dealing with other countries, the transactional, small-hearted actions taken since last Jan. 20 — spasmodic treacheries, callous deceits — don’t qualify as an agenda. They barely qualify as “actions.”

Yes, Trump scored a much-needed win with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act — his signature piece of legislation to this point. But with that exception — and we still don't know who'll really benefit from that besides the smitten multinational corporations, and their CEOs — there’s been nothing ennobling and pragmatic from House Trump, no throughline to most of his works in the Oval Office except the mercurial rage of their author, and his punitive intent. It’s all been very angry and small.

Trump, careening from lane to lane since before day one, doesn’t really have an agenda. The central reason why he has no agenda? He may not really want one.

In his 2016 campaign, Trump presented himself as a true maverick, a hothouse carnivore, a seat-of-the pants outlier whose promised willingness to improvise in office wasn’t just a quirk or a bullet point; it was central to the ethos of the Trump campaign. Inimical to the traditions of the presidency, the outsider got inside and started doing things His Way. The last thing a man wants to do, after vowing to “drain the swamp,” is to adopt the swamp-dweller's language.

An agenda of his own, a doctrinal overview in the classic political sense, a granular platform thoroughly defining his vision, his worldview, his picture of the United States and its interaction with the evolving college of the world’s nations .... well, doing that, in his mind, might mean breaking a campaign promise to not think and talk like the pointy-heads on the Potomac. OK, that last part's over the top. It might be that much long-attention-span orderliness is just beyond him, something outside his emotional and intellectual bandwidths.

◊ ◊ ◊

THE CLOSEST thing we have to that overview — Trump’s national security statement, released on Dec. 17 — leaves a lot to be desired. Intended to showcase a return to pragmatism, hard-nosed diplomatic overtures, and the conclusively persuasive powers of the world’s pre-eminent military force, the statement promulgates a national security framework that is, according to people in a position to know, a Trump policy in name only.

We might, for example, thank national security adviser H.R. McMaster for putting his spin on the events. A military man, McMaster reportedly characterized the summary statement by invoking a phrase from the Reagan days of yore: “Peace Through Strength.” His fingers certainly aren't the only ones deep in this pie.

Friday, January 19, 2018

The year of living very dangerously

“Trump is at war with the central ideal of the Republic — a vision of strength through inclusion and equality that makes our country special and exceptional.”
                                                                 — Michael Gerson, The Washington Post

SOMETHING about anniversaries. For all the attention we give the attainment of a certain milestone on a Certain Date, the mood and tone and tenor of the thing itself are usually established well in advance. An anniversary is a train, or a train wreck, you can see coming from a long way off.

Well, we’re just shy of the official one-year anniversary of the Donald Trump White House experiment, and it doesn’t get much worse for him than this. With a relative handful of events in a compressed period of time, it’s been possible to grasp the gravity of the disaster unfolding, for the Trump White House and a sadly fractionalized Republican Party in particular, and a deeply wounded nation in general. A snapshot of some recent events distills how we got to where we are:

On Monday, Jan. 8, Trump walked onto the field of the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, where the NCAA championship football game in Atlanta was played. Trump faced a withering blast of jeers and curses from people in the stadium. The Daily Beast reported that “protesters projected the message ‘Fuck Trump’ on the front of the stadium. Trump’s appearance at the game — where he took the field to sing ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’— also triggered scorn from Alabama running back Bo Scarbrough, who appeared to yell ‘Fuck Trump’ ahead of the high-stakes game against Georgia.”

“The president stuck around long enough to sing along to part of the national anthem, though footage showed him apparently singing the wrong words,” The Beast reported.

◊ ◊ ◊

On Tuesday, Jan. 9, discussing with reporters the possibility of a presidential run by Oprah Winfrey in 2020, the braggadcious chief executive said he’d beat her in a head-to-head matchup. “Yeah, I’ll beat Oprah. Oprah would be a lot of fun,” he said.

Then, employing some novel linguistic gymnastics, Trump added: “You know, I did one of her last shows. She had Donald Trump—this was before politics—her last week. And she had Donald Trump and my family. It was very nice,” Trump said, not explaining, or probably even noticing, how he spoke of himself in the first person (“I did one of her last shows”) before switching to the second third person (“Donald Trump”) before switching back to the first person (“my family”).

On Tuesday, Republican Rep. Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he would not seek reelection in 2018. On Wednesday, Jan. 10, Royce’s fellow southern Californian, Rep. Darrell Issa, former once-feared chairman of the House Oversight Committee, announced his retirement, after nine terms. “I am forever grateful to the people of San Diego, Orange and Riverside counties for their support and affording me the honor of serving them all these years,” he said in a statement. Issa’s retirement makes him the 31st Republican to bail on seeking re-election in 2018.

◊ ◊ ◊

ALSO WEDNESDAY, a new Quinnipiac Poll had nothing but bad news for Trump. Sixty-nine percent of respondents said Trump is not level-headed, and only 28 percent said he is, according to the poll. Sixty-five percent of Republicans said he is level-headed, 32 percent would beg to differ. Some 93 percent of Democrats said he’s not level-headed, which pretty much dovetails with long-held expectations.

Most people, 57 percent, said Trump is not “fit to serve as president.” The current occupant of the White House now lays claim to “the lowest approval ratings of any modern president at this point in his presidency, despite a thriving economy and record stock market numbers,” the poll reports.
Grading Trump's first year in office, 39 percent of voters responding to the poll give him an “F,” while 17 percent give him a “D.” Trump got an “A” from 16 percent of voters, a “B” from another 16 percent and a “C” from 11 percent.

Of course as of Thursday afternoon, Jan. 11, all letter grades for the presidency* of Donald Trump went sideways. That was when, in a candid immigration-related meeting with aides and others in the Oval Office, Trump said the following, in an angry, brief but corrosive hypothetical heard ‘round the world: “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” Trump said in reference to people from Haiti, El Salvador and some African countries. Jaws have been dropping internationally ever since.

◊ ◊ ◊

If you’re looking for one way to distill the last year at the White House, a year of living very dangerously at the highest level, any of these events should suffice. Michael Gerson at The Washington Post recently tried to put the immigration debate under Trump into perspective: “Trump’s ping-ponging from dealmaking to feuding, from elation to fury, has come to define the contentious immigration talks between the White House and Congress, perplexing members of both parties as they navigate the president’s vulgarities, his combativeness and his willingness to suddenly change his position.”

Those things have come to define more than that. They define an administration that can’t think straight, one at cross-purposes with reality, one that seems to lurch from decision to decision with little consistency or relationship with what’s been promised in the past.

Another classic example: The United States' signing of the nuclear non-proliferation deal with Iran, something Trump (doing the full transactional) called a terrible deal for the United States during the 2016 campaign. Fast forward to Thursday, Jan. 11, and the news that Trump had rolled over, waiving sanctions and extending for a third time the same nuclear deal with Iran that he bitterly opposed, foaming at the mouth, on the campaign trail.

◊ ◊ ◊

TRUMP INSISTS he won’t do this again absent some permanent way to keep nukes out of Tehran’s hands. But despite the ostensibly high-minded rationale and the threats of what’s next, you can’t get away from the first-blush perception: Trump the campaign-trail blowhard reluctantly faces his comeuppance at the hands of geopolitical reality — and saving face remains of paramount importance.

Gerson, writing Jan. 15th, in The Post, framed the Trumpian cult of personality in the context of those sad loyalists who drank the Kool-Aid: “The perfunctory criticisms, self-indicting silences, half-hearted defenses and obvious lies provided by most elected Republicans have been embarrassing and discrediting. Loyalty to Trump now consists of defending the indefensible. His advocates are becoming desensitized to moral corruption. They are losing the ability to believe in anything, even in their own courage.”

Welcome to the freshman presidential legacy of Donald Trump. This is the story of House Trump’s Year Zero.

◊ ◊ ◊

On Saturday, we mark the first anniversary of Trump’s inauguration, a benchmark of our government, our history and our culture that people on either side of a great national divide will greet with celebration or (most of us) with a deep, abiding dread.

Some of these Americans will be there in the gallery of the House of Representatives on Jan. 30, 10 days from now, when Trump makes his first State of the Union address.

Many more of these Americans will be in the streets across the United States in the morning, about 10 hours from now, as the 2018 Women’s March steps off in numerous U.S. cities and towns.

A year ago the Women’s March was naturally about anticipating what would likely be coming — what Draconian cuts in services, what preposterous advances in rationale for sexist rhetoric and policy — under House Trump. Today, a year later ... now we know.

We know we have elected to the presidency a man we do not know, and entrusted him with the care and well-being of people he does not care for, people whose wounds and frailties disgust him, people whose life stories amuse him, people whose fears and doubts are finally, for him, of no consequence whatsoever.

Image credits: Trump: © 2018 Getty Images. Issa: ABC News. Quinnipiac University logo: ©2018 Quinnipiac Uniersity. S**t for Brains front page: © 2018 New York Daily News. Washingtgon Post nameplate: © 2018 The Washington Post Company. Trump inauguration: Pool feed.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Wild West Revisited

“PROHIBITION ENDS AT LAST!” screams the cover of the latest LA Weekly, the one dated Jan. 1, 2018 — 84 years after the end of the genuine article, in December 1933. The cover of the popular alt-weekly was a bit over the top; Californians have been finding ways around restrictive marijuana laws for years — even as the country incrementally evolved its own position on recreational use. Like the original from the 1930s, the pot prohibition that ended with the year 2017 was, practically speaking, never much of a “prohibition” in the first place.

But there’s no denying that California, the Avatar State, is entering its own truly uncharted territory, a realm of civic experience that will change the cultural, economic and political landscape of the state that lays claim to the sixth-largest economy in the world.

Call it the Golden Rush: Like that first heady bloom of a high-potency hybrid, Cali is a bit ... staggered right now by all this. The patchwork of laws and regulations, and the slow speed of city and state lawmakers to get things done have helped make the post-Jan. 1 period what we should have already known it would be: A process and not an event.

Recreational smokers in California (and everywhere in the country, for that matter) have always worked around that, like a weed that winds its way through a fence. But coming in the wake of serial historic wildfires, the availability and affordability of recreational herb in California will ultimately have as much to do with the land as with the law. ...

Read the rest at Potent

Image credits: Potent logo: © 2018 Jerrick Ventures LLC.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Here's Looking at Us, Kids

Refugees in frantic, desperate motion. Bellicose leaders bristling with weapons and eager for confrontation. A world driven by conflicts and war. The emerging spectre of Nazis and extremism. We’re talking about the world of 2017, of course. Or are we? The chaos of the world of three generations ago — 1942, to be precise — tragically and capably stands in for our own.

If it weren’t such an obvious period piece from the era of World War II, the Warner Bros. movie Casablanca would be speaking its eloquent volumes about fractured, fractious life in the 21st century. As it is, the film, which marks its 75th anniversary this month, maintains its grip on the popular imagination largely because of the simple strength of its story, a tale of modern good and evil — irresistible force and immovable object — that resonates in our world today.

The Michael Curtiz film premiered at the Hollywood Theater in New York City on Nov. 26, 1942, a date intended to coincide with the capture of the Moroccan port city by Allied forces after the invasion of North Africa. Its general release, on Jan. 23, 1943, dovetailed with the Casablanca Conference, at which President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill hashed out plans for the next phase of the Allied efforts to win the war. ...

Read the rest at The Swamp

Image credits: Swamp logo: © 2018 Jerrick Ventures LLC.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Flagging the Wave: The 2017 election

Russia voted last November. Last night, America voted.”
           —  @stevesilberman

A TRUISM of the human condition (and our equally human tendency toward impatience) has it that “good things come to those who wait.” The results of Tuesday’s various elections throughout the United States are a notable exception.

Democrats, 10 months tired of what passes for an agenda from what passes for a president and a Republican Congress, aggressively reasserted their identity and their demographic backbone on Tuesday, courting everyday people where they live and letting House Trump whet its appetite for self-destriuction.

The result — an Election Day of panoramic victory — may well be a sign of things to come, sooner and later.

◊ ◊ ◊

Where to begin? Let’s start in Hoboken, N.J., where Ravinder Bhalla, a Sikh American, was elected mayor of this small, progressive city across the Hudson river from Manhattan. “Given how much we’ve endured in this country, and frankly the fact that we have been here for more than a century now in the U.S. and have felt largely ignored and neglected as a minority community, this is for us a signal shift, where we feel like we’re getting on the map. This is a major development for us,” Simran Jeet Singh, a religion fellow at the Sikh Coalition, told The Washington Post.

In Philadelphia, Larry Krasner, a civil rights attorney who over the years sued that city's police department for various civil rights abuses, was elected the top prosecutor in Philly. Krasner, who was called “completely unelectable” by opposing forces just days before the vote, defeated Beth Grossman, a game Republican challenger.

Krasner’s soon to be in a position to change decades-old practices — cash bail, criminal asset forfeiture, the death penalty — seen as affecting minority communities more and harder than anyone else. “He has fought and continues to fight the racist nonstop police brutality epidemic,” Attorney Michael Coard wrote in the Philadelphia Tribune. “He is the blackest white guy I know.”

The Los Angeles Times reported: “His lack of experience as a prosecutor will be taken as something of a thumb in the eye of the 300 lawyers in the office he will soon lead. His numerous lawsuits against the Philadelphia Police Department will most certainly be viewed disfavorably by cops, with whom his prosecutors must work. His election, though, is a message from voters that they want to move more quickly down the road toward a sweeping overhaul of the justice system.”

◊ ◊ ◊

In Georgia, Democratic candidates flipped three statehouse seats in Pantone-red congressional districts. Deborah Gonzalez and Jonathan Wallace won election outright; Democrats Jaha Howard and Jen Jordan will contest for a seat representing the Atlanta area in a run-off election in December, The Hill reported.

Similarly seismic were events on Long Island, where Democrat Laura Gillen won a contest for Hempstead Town supervisor, defeating her Republican rival, incumbent Anthony Santino, and becoming the first Dem in the office in 100 years. Gillen ran a strong race, and capitalized on local GOP infighting that’s a microcosm of what the party’s going through nationally.

“Hempstead is typically a GOP stronghold, but the party has been rocked by recent infighting on the town board and the indictment of Councilman Edward Ambrosino on federal wire fraud and tax evasion charges. Fellow Republicans and town board members Erin King Sweeney and Bruce Blakeman have been publicly feuding with Santino over their call for ethics reform,” Newsday reported Wednesday.

Seattle elected Jenny Durkan, former federal prosecutor, as its first lesbian mayor, and the first woman mayor since Bertha Knight Landes wqas elected in 1926. Durkan handily defeated challenger Cary Moon, with more than 60 percent of the vote. Charlotte, N.C., St. Paul, Minn., and five other cities elected their first African-American mayors. One of those five was Helena, Montana.

◊ ◊ ◊

AND THEN there’s Virginia. The commonwealth on Tuesday took a deep pause in its long march toward cementing a conservative legislative identity. Democrat Ralph Northam won election as the next governor, trouncing bloviating conservative mouthpiece Ed Gillespie, whose unwise campaign was a mistake from the jump.

Virginia voters also elected the first Asian and Latino delegates in its history. The state elected its first Democratic Socialist delegate. And Virginia also elected Danica Roem to the House of Delegates — the second transgender statehouse legislator in the country’s history.

“This is our commonwealth too ... and we are stronger together,” Roem said on Election Night.

◊ ◊ ◊

So much for presidential coattails. Any hopes that Trump’s apparent triumph one year ago might have had collateral benefit in the downticket races were thoroughly dashed on Tuesday. The reason why has less to do with the candidates running in those races, and everything to do with the presumed standard-bearer of the Republican party.

With any number of actions and statements from the Oval Office, President* Trump and his selfish, tragically improvisational style of rule — you can't call it governance with a straight face — slowly toxified GOP prospects for the races that were just decided.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Anatomy of a Tragedy

“It’s never been so personal,” says Hana Barkowitz, an infectiously upbeat member of the Kent State College Democrats, in a frank assessment of the waging of the war of the 2016 presidential campaign, and what the outcome would mean to her on that night, one year ago today.

In the new documentary 11/8/16, now streaming on Netflix, the United States of America is on display as a true mosaic, a pointillist canvas whose diversity leads to all kinds of surprises, especially the one handed to the largely gob-smacked nation on Nov. 8, 2016, when, against all odds and most predictions, Donald Trump, billionaire reality TV action figure and walking advertisement for himself, attained the presidency of the United States.

The film is the chronicle of one day in the life of America, and how events affected 15 different people, widely dispersed physically and culturally, on the election day that bent the arc of America’s cultural and demographic destiny. If the country changed last year, this is the veritable tick-tock of that happening. ...

Read the full review at The Swamp

Image credit: Amrit Palsingh: Cinetic Media/Netflix. Swamp logo: © 2017 Jerrick Ventures LLC.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Bending the knee at House Trump

IT MAY BE a rule of electoral politics as much as one of human nature: Live with something you resist long enough and it becomes something you can live with. A byproduct of human adaptability is being adaptable to that which you can’t stand. Over time, we become inured, accustomed, almost indifferent — all the states of indolence that supporters of the Republican agenda according to the Trump White House are counting on.

That’s implicit in the reaction of some deep-red conservatives who have finally bent the knee at House Trump, having reckoned that the status quo in Washington, the devil they know, beats the devil they can’t see coming. That certainty’s led a number of presumed GOP thought leader pols to declare themselves in the tank for President* Trump body and soul.

That same certainty about what’s coming has also led some of the GOP’s more apparently humanist members on the Hill to abandon re-election hopes next year — liberating them to speak their minds about what, in their eyes, is the clear and present danger of Donald Trump.

◊ ◊ ◊

Nothing speaks to the curiously bifurcated state of the Republican Party in 2017 like these dueling realities: Mainstream Republicans are calling on each other to get behind a man that few of them trusted, or wanted in the White House — a man who couldn’t have been further from the party mainstream when he was a candidate.

The old guard of Republicans may be slowly passing in its influence; the new guard occasionally shows signs of a nasty streak of pragmatism that just won’t fly at all with the base voters, most of whom are ... the old guard of Republicans.

That’s occasionally. Most of the time, the new guard reads from the same hymnal as the old guard, an act of political xerography that doesn’t expand Republican prospects, or numbers, in the long term the party needs to survive. It’s a course of action imprisoned by its own illogic. Politically, it may be the first sign of a change to come a year from this November.

◊ ◊ ◊

ON OCT. 26, Jonathan Martin and Jeremy W. Peters of The New York Times wrote what amounted to an obituary for centrist Republican identity in a story that essentially said the Trumpian approach was gaining ground, against all odds. “Despite the fervor of President Trump’s Republican opponents,” they reported, “the president’s brand of hard-edge nationalism — with its gut-level cultural appeals and hard lines on trade and immigration — is taking root within his adopted party, and those uneasy with grievance politics are either giving in or giving up the fight.”

Martin and Peters reported that ”[t]he Grand Old Party risks a longer-term transformation into the Party of Trump,” but that’s already happened — that chameleon shift was ratified on Inauguration Day and it’s been solidifying in our politics and culture ever since. Leave it to Andy Surabian, a Republican Super PAC adviser, to reveal something central to the GOP’s dilemma. “There is zero appetite for the ‘Never Trump’ movement in the Republican Party of today,” Surabian told The Times. “This party is now defined by President Trump and his movement.”

And that’s precisely the problem. It’s a matter of identity. Trump’s pugnacious intransigence is a political liability he’s transformed into something close to an asset. True, it’s led to a following of fiercely partisan Trump loyalists who would gladly die on whatever hill Trump demands. But it’s also provoked the early career exits of several optically centrist Republicans, including Senators Bob Corker of Tennessee and Jeff Flake of Arizona; Representatives Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, and others from states likely to be battlegrounds in 2020.

◊ ◊ ◊

The GOP identity problem most recently surfaced after the 2012 presidential election, when the party, in full sackcloth and ashes mode, went into a period of reassessment and self-reflection, but preaching an Armageddon only it could believe in. One post-election website, White People Mourning Romney, documented in hundreds of images the dashed hopes of rank-and-file Republicans who’d been so sure that the lifeblood of the national identity, and the nation’s future, ran through their veins and theirs alone.

Certain politicians saw some kind of light; “We’ve got to stop being the stupid party,” Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal famously cautioned in 2013 (in a statement that struck a lot of people as a through-the-windshield credo that ignored everything in the rear-view mirror). “We’ve got to stop insulting the intelligence of voters,” he said. “We need to trust the smarts of the American people.” But the party’s re-examination of itself in a rapidly, demographically evolving America, didn’t last long.

By the 2014 midterms, party identity was again reconfiguring around its more reliable, politically combative reflexes. It was this repositioning that a certain candidate eventually exploited, expressed and channeled for the 2016 presidential campaign. An antagonism to cultural change was already there, simmering under the surface, dormant in the national zeitgeist. It just needed a wake-up call. It found a wake-up bomb in the person of Donald John Trump.

◊ ◊ ◊

NOW, THOUGH, that lightly rejiggered Republican Party faces the existential dilemma it was only starting to address almost five years ago: When what you stand for is rage and bluster, transactions and lines in the sand ... the next question is obvious: What else you got? What else are you? The Republican Party is in no mood for singing Kum Ba Yah across the aisle, not least of all because of something Democrats don’t have much to do with: Republicans are in no mood to sing Kum Ba Yah with each other.

During the deeply partisan debate over the Affordable Care Act, it was evident that some sources of that conflict, that partisanship, came from within the GOP itself. Trump’s prime directive — dismantle Obamacare — was frustrated in recent months by Republican Senators John McCain of Arizona, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and a handful of others that made the difference.

And just below the Oct. 26 page-one Times story that announced the death knell of GOP centrism, another story showed that the death of Republican in-fighting may be greatly exaggerated. Jim Tankersley and Thomas Kaplan of The Times wrote about the tax-cut battle in the House and how “discord grows” within a party “craving harmony.”

◊ ◊ ◊

The brewing conflict, they reported, highlights “the increased importance of the tax issue for a fractured party desperate for a legislative victory. The prospect of a once-in-a-generation bill to cut taxes on business and individuals increasingly appears to be the best hope for a party anxious to find common ground and advance an effort that it has long championed as the pinnacle of Republican orthodoxy. It is a bit like having a baby to save a failing marriage.”

Well ... whatever works. Few things, though, could be more obvious; the eagerness of the Republican party to put one in the Win column reveals the depth of the party’s schism, the internal divisions that make getting that victory so important.

Bending the knee at House Trump is a short-term pledge of allegiance. Any such quickie victory takes only small steps toward solving the GOP’s more enduring and foundational challenge: Deciding what it is and what it will be in the decades to come, and how — or whether — the party will matter to an American electorate that looks less and less like the party’s base with every passing year.

And every election.

Image creits: Trump: via @davidaxelrod. Corker: Talking Points memo, Obama wins tweet: White People Mourning Romney (2012).

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

American Carnage, Trump Edition

What happened Sunday night on the Las Vegas strip was perversely, singularly American. The nation’s sense of its size, its culture, its broad existential vistas, its romance with armada, its literal and spiritual wide-open spaces — all collided with its tragic irony as a nation whose pugnacious, futurist identity derives from the ballistics of 250 years ago. Sunday’s events were a malign form of so-called American exceptionalism: What took place outside the Mandalay Bay Hotel probably couldn’t have occurred in any other country in the world.

When self-described professional gambler Stephen Paddock shot from his 32nd-floor hotel window into a crowd of concertgoers at the Route 91 Harvest Festival, 500 yards from the hotel, he would kill 58 people and wound another 527 people with an arsenal that included .223-caliber and .308-caliber rifles, Daniel Defense DDM4 rifles, and FN-15 carbines built, according to the company website, to “withstand the varied and unrelentingly harsh conditions of battlefields around the world.” He would by accident also begin the unraveling of the rationale that weds guns to regional components of the national identity. ...

Read the full essay at The Swamp

Image credits: Running trio: David Becker/Getty Images. Swamp logo: © 2017 Jerrick Media Ventures LLC.
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