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 was 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 the ever-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 now.

◊ ◊ ◊

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).
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