Handicapping the Democratic Presidential Challengers

The landscape has changed for presidential campaigns – everyone wants to be president now! Donald Trump has shown that:

  • You don’t have to work that hard
  • You don’t really have to know much, although pretending you do is A-OK
  • You don’t have to prepare for meetings or speeches
  • You can continue to enrich yourself, allowing your family and your companies to leverage your office
  • You can say anything
  • You can threaten anybody

And, really, you don’t have to be very smart or, you know, read books or anything like that.

Thus luminaries such as Oscar de la Hoya and Dwayne Johnson have declared their intent to seek the presidency.[1] Even a relatively sober captain of industry such as Jamie Dimon has decided he’s smarter than Trump and thus could beat him in an election[2]

An easy decision apparently, although Dimon has since claimed he was not actually running, but that he could.

And there’s a whole raft of contenders waiting in the wings – The Houseplant is here to help you make sense of them. If this was a monetized and/or commercial website we’d do it in Listicle format – you’d have to page through every single one of these guys and gals, accompanied by a huge stock photo, a tiny blurb, and endless ads and popups. At the Houseplant it’s all content, no filler ,no ads and no apologies either.

The list of luminaries below comes from an internet betting site and the odds listed come from that site. In other words you can make actual bets and get those odds. I am not picking them randomly, despite appearances to the contrary. I have not supplied the full list, however.

Let’s get started start with our 2 poster kid sports figures:

Oscar de la Hoya

Biggest Pro: Shoo-in for most of the Latino vote (we think)

Biggest Con: Not a shoo-in for most of the non-Latino vote

Salient Characteristic: Can beat up anyone on this list with the possible exception of Dwayne Johnson

Bonus Fun Fact: Earned a Grammy nomination in 2001

Odds: No line currently offered

Dwayne Johnson

Biggest Pro: Very affable and photogenic

Biggest Con: Film and television may interfere with campaigning and/or motivation

Salient Characteristic: Can beat up anyone on this list with the possible exception of Oscar de la Hoya

Bonus Fun Fact: Played in the Canadian Football League

Odds: No longer on the board

Chelsea Clinton

Biggest Pro: She’s a Clinton (and not Hillary)

Biggest Con: She’s a Clinton

Salient Characteristic: Politics is a ‘definite maybe’ for now

Bonus Fun Fact: Has written three children’s books

Odds: 100 / 1

George Clooney

Biggest Pro: See Dwayne Johnson

Biggest Con: Lifestyle would be degraded considerably by presidency, has young children

Salient Characteristic: Likes Italy much more than DC

Bonus Fun Fact: Had a pet pig that saved his life by waking him before an earthquake

Odds: 50 / 1

Howard Schultz

Biggest Pro: Wealthy enough to not be beholden to special interests

Biggest Con: We saw what that got us with Trump

Salient Characteristic: Upgrade in White House coffee quality

Bonus Fun Fact: The original Starbucks outlets were first named Il Giornale

Odds: 30 / 1

Michelle Obama

Biggest Pro: She’s an Obama, and how good does that look right now?

Biggest Con: A daytime talk show would be a much more attractive gig

Salient Characteristic: Can beat up anyone on this list with the exception of Oscar de la Hoya and Dwayne Johnson

Bonus Fun Fact: Tallest 1st lady in history (5’11”, tied with Eleanor Roosevelt)

Odds: 25 / 1

Cory Booker

Biggest Pro: Will attract large African-American voter turnout, considered pragmatic Obama-style successor

Biggest Con: Didn’t really do all that well in New Jersey. But who does? (even ‘future GOP nominee’ Christie ultimately crashed and burned)

Salient Characteristic: Not married (usually fatal for national candidates)

Bonus Fun Fact: Recent girlfriend is an Instagram poet (really) 19 years his junior

Odds: 15 / 1

Oprah Winfrey

Biggest Pro: Everyone loves her

Biggest Con: She’d like to keep it that way, despite contempt for Trump

Salient Characteristic: Moving from Santa Barbara to DC is a major downgrade

Bonus Fun Fact: Has done voices for several cartoon characters

Odds: 14.5 / 1

Joe Biden

Biggest Pro: An actual professional politician with a track record and clear positions on major issues

Biggest Con: See biggest Pro

Salient Characteristic: Will be 78 in 2020

Bonus Fun Fact: Elected to the senate at age 29 (sworn in at 30, the minimum age requirement)

Odds: 6.5 / 1

Jerry Brown

Biggest Pro: Has successfully governed largest state in the USA

Biggest Con: That state is resented by many swing state voters

Salient Characteristic: Even older than Biden

Bonus Fun Fact: His rogue presidential run in 1980 was a pivotal early factor in dooming Jimmy Carter’s re-election campaign

Odds: 37.5 / 1

Eric Garcetti

Biggest Pro: Well-spoken and successful mayor of a mega-city whose metro area has a higher population than 46 other states

Biggest Con: See Jerry Brown

Salient Characteristic: No one has ever gone directly from being mayor to president although several have tried

Bonus Fun Fact: Is a very good jazz pianist

Odds: 23.5 / 1

Tim Kaine

Biggest Pro: Anodyne enough for independent voters

Biggest Con: Too anodyne for other voters?

Salient Characteristic: The very picture of centrist Democrat competence i.e. pure Virginia

Bonus Fun Fact: Was quoted thusly: “I am boring. But boring is the fastest growing demographic in this country.”

Odds: 37.5 / 1

Al Franken

Biggest Pro: Successfully remade himself as a serious and thoughtful politician

Biggest Con: The gropey thing seems to play better in the GOP

Salient Characteristic: Was forced out for 2 groping incidents despite being one of the top women’s advocates in the senate

Bonus Fun Fact: Widely rumored to be planning a return to politics

Odds: 47.5 / 1

Tulsi Gabbard

Biggest Pro: Fresh face with pro-military (but anti foreign interventionist) and centrist views

Biggest Con: Seems to be a cult member, the Hindu affiliation may be an albatross

Salient Characteristic:  Very cozy with rabid anti-Muslim Indian leader Modi, to the point of being an apologist for continuing attacks on Muslims in India

Bonus Fun Fact: South Carolina GOP senator Trey Gowdy has publicly referred to her as ‘cute’

Odds: 26.5 / 1

Mark Zuckerberg

Biggest Pro: Will introduce t-shirts as standard attire for White House staff meetings

Biggest Con: Thankfully does not seem to want the job at all

Salient Characteristic: Possibly the shadiest and most opaque “tech titan”

Bonus Fun Fact: Probably the most gifted developer (back when they were developers) among the tech titans

Odds: 30 / 1

Michael Avenatti

Biggest Pro: Hates Trump

Biggest Con: Acts like Trump

Salient Characteristic: Loves to bait Trump, governing ability probably also equivalent to Trumps (roughly zero)

Bonus Fun Fact: Ran Tully’s Coffee into the ground, including multiple allegations of fraud, tax evasion, etc. (see: Biggest con above. Double entendre intended)

Odds: 22.5 / 1

Hillary Clinton

Biggest Pro: Please

Biggest Con: Make

Salient Characteristic: it

Bonus Fun Fact: Stop

Odds: 32.5 / 1

Kamala Harris

Biggest Pro: Asian / Black ethnicity will bring those groups out to vote

Biggest Con: But will it bring the Hispanics?

Salient Characteristic: Current frontrunner on the betting line but still a fairly large underdog against the field

Bonus Fun Fact: Obama called her “the best looking attorney general in the country.”

Odds: 3.5 / 1

Elizabeth Warren

Biggest Pro: Will go the distance to take down Trump

Biggest Con: Probably better at that in the senate

Salient Characteristic: Is now open about ‘considering’ a 2020 presidential run

Bonus Fun Fact: Her presence in the field will keep Trump’s dull-witted racism front and center

Odds: 5.25 / 1

Bernie Sanders

Biggest Pro: Sincere, passionate, speaks for disenfranchised Americans

Biggest Con: Seems to feel Denmark (population: 5,700,000) is a role model for future US domestic policy

Salient Characteristic: Probably would have beaten Clinton without DNC intervention in 2016

Bonus Fun Fact: Probably would have beaten Trump without DNC intervention in 2016

Odds: 6.75 / 1

Gavin Newsom

Biggest Pro: Photogenic future governor of largest state, fairly effective mayor of a city that punches well above its demographic weight

Biggest Con: See Jerry Brown and Eric Garcetti, admitted adulterer (the adultery things plays better in the GOP these days, as we well know)

Salient Characteristic: Something of a Democratic Paul Ryan born with a silver spoon, well-connected (and even better funded), has not faced much political adversity

Bonus Fun Fact: Newsom’s grandfather was a strategist for Pat Brown and godfather of Jerry Brown’s sister Kathleen. Newsom’s father was appointed to the appellate court by Jerry Brown. Did we say connected?

Odds: 9.5 / 1

Your Humble Narrator

Biggest Pro: Super-Smart

Biggest Con: Too Smart

Salient Characteristic: Kind of a Smart-ass

Bonus Fun Fact: Thinks he’s smarter than Trump. Like everyone else does

Odds: ∞

  1. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/oscar-de-la-hoya-says-he-wants-to-run-for-president/ https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2018/07/the-rock-dwayne-johnson-skyscraper-president-2020Duane Johnson still wants to run, just not in 2020 apparently
  2. https://www.cnn.com/2018/09/12/politics/jamie-dimon-donald-trump/index.html

 

The Conversion of Donald Trump

During the 2016 presidential campaign it was repeatedly asserted by various parties that a ‘presidential pivot’ would occur if and when Trump was presented with the awesome responsibility of being president. The petulant and incessant tweeting would stop, the insults that would embarrass a half-bright 12 year old would cease, and Donald Trump, a vain and foolish man who probably did not even want the job, would suddenly become a sober, if not particularly wise, statesman.[1]

The idea of ‘Statesman Trump’ remains an abstract fiction that was never taken too seriously, even by his allies (a main part of his appeal continues to be that he is the opposite of a statesman, aka. a politician). It’s bad enough to continue to hear about ‘Master Negotiator’ Trump and ‘Business Genius’ Trump, two fairy tales that continue to retain traction among the faithful.

As we all learned, and have been witnessing ever since, Trump the narcissistic sociopath has eclipsed any version that might attempt at least a modicum of comity or respect. He has taken advantage of his new, larger (that would be largest) stage to reinforce and continue the United States’ latest experiment in democracy: what would happen if a spoiled teenage boy became president and decided he was king?[2]

In any case, belaboring the lack of the presidential pivot is old and tiresome news. But there is a presidential pivot that has occurred: the fond embrace between Donald Trump and the hyper-politicized Evangelical movement in the United States.

Evangelical support for the Republican Party is by now common knowledge. The worm turned permanently in the 1980 election when Ronald Reagan, a former actor not known for his piousness, was the overwhelming choice of the Evangelical movement over Jimmy Carter, an actual evangelical.

Jimmy Carter represents a now severely diminished branch of the American Evangelical movement commonly referred to as Progressive Evangelicalism, a movement focused on social reform and a rather socialistic view of wealth redistribution, e.g., “military restraint, a less imperial foreign policy, human rights, racial reconciliation, affordable healthcare, and equal rights for women.”[3]

For various reasons, mainly a tanking economy and the foreign policy disaster in Iran, Carter was largely unable to pursue these issues. It is important to note that Carter was swept into the office by a huge evangelical turnout, embracing his “born-again” proclamations and reveling in their nascent political power.

There are disparate views over the wholesale Evangelical rush over to Reagan and the GOP in 1980. One viewpoint claims that the ‘States’ Rights idea Reagan harped on endlessly (and far more frequently than anything like outlawing abortion or suppressing gay rights) was a green light towards continued segregation of religious academies.[4] There are other points of view that claim that, like a jilted lover, the Religious Right was sorely disappointed in “President Carter’s failure to actively oppose legalized abortion, homosexual rights, and the Equal Rights Amendment”.[5]

I would offer a third hypothesis: Carter was going down, Reagan was going to win. Not only was the Religious Right eager to embrace a winner, Reagan was willing to say whatever they wanted to hear. He claimed to be born again and repeatedly stressed his “new relationship with God”[6] Hey, everything’s good. Despite the fact that being previously divorced was formerly a deal breaker in Evangelical circles, little details like that could now be overlooked in the larger scheme. [7]

Thus the moral component of political evangelism was shunted aside and the GOP and the Evangelical movement now went hand in hand. And they still do.

As the current mutation of the bankruptcy of “faith-based politics”, Donald Trump has found religion. Or more accurately, he has found religious allies. The Trump cabinet has a huge Evangelical quotient, including rather radical believers such as Mike Pence, Mike Pompeo and Betsy DeVos, all of whom seek to bring a “Christian” perspective to national policy. What is ironic about all of this is they are in service to a leader whose personal ethics would seem to be contrary to any sort of Christian beliefs. Trump himself has played up his (nascent) Christianity, proclaiming “The Art of the Deal was his “second favourite book” after the Bible.”[8] Silliness like that has been offset by his clear unfamiliarity with basic tenets of Christianity. Nevertheless, there have been awkward attempt to put Trump firmly in the camp of what is referred to as prosperity theology – in a nutshell, if you’re rich and prosperous it means you are a good person, and if you are a ‘loser’, well, I guess that’s evidence of a lack of Godliness.[9]

Well, alright then. We’ve now reached the pinnacle; it seems, of the intermingling of the Religious Right. Trump, on his part, has aggressively nominated[10] extreme right wing federal judges to any and all vacancies, a process that has delighted even the doubters in his own party. Concomitant to the various judicial appointments (mostly Appeals court vacancies for now) is the current nomination of Brett Kavanaugh – by many accounts Kavanaugh was selected primarily for his views on “religious liberty” – one of those euphemisms that doesn’t not mean quite what it implies. In our current environment it primarily means erosion of the separation of church and state, or as one article put it: “Kavanaugh’s alleged emphasis on religious liberty is a political wet kiss for Trump. It shows Trump’s base that they were right in voting for him[11]

It is probably true that Trump has no qualms about accepting support from most any group that will give it to him (see: White Supremacists), and an opportunity to beat his chest in front of yet another gaggle of adorers is not to be underestimated. Yet there is a certain cynicism at work here that supersedes even the earlier twisted relationships between the Religious Right and the GOP. By now the mild pretensions to progressive thought that marked (some of) the pre-Reagan Evangelical movements have disintegrated and the alliance of Religion and State has become fully politicized, with no relevance to either morality or constitutional law.

  1. Even Barack Obama assumed Trump would moderate his loose approach to facts and truthfulness and moderate his attitude once in office http://fortune.com/2016/11/15/president-obama-donald-trump-wake-up-call-temperament/ Surprise!
  2. Alexis de Tocqueville wrote about the ‘American Experiment’ in Democracy in America, but I wonder if he saw this phase coming?
  3. https://www.christiancentury.org/blogs/archive/2014-05/jimmy-carter-and-demise-progressive-evangelicalism
  4. It seems quaint and outdated today but the furor over racially segregated Christian academies was a sensational item at one time. Bob Jones University was the poster child for the fundamentalist outrage over the IRS crackdown on “segregation academies” (including Jerry Falwell’s), ironically initiated by Richard Nixon. https://newrepublic.com/minutes/140724/bob-jones-university-probably-like-forget-banned-interracial-dating
  5. https://www.csmonitor.com/1980/0625/062555.html
  6. See previous reference
  7. Ronald Regan was the first divorced politician widely endorsed for national office by Evangelicals http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2012/05/5216/
  8. https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/5085318/donald-trump-religion-president-jewish/
  9. http://www.beliefnet.com/news/politics/the-strange-faith-of-donald-trump.aspx Despite harping on this for some degree, this article does briefly note that the main religion for Trump is money (and power), and that his appeal to Evangelicals and rural voters is his promise to sprinkle some cash their way
  10. In these divisive and bipartisan times, a nomination by Trump is a de facto appointment to office.
  11. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2018/09/07/to-trump-kavanaughs-testimony-about-religious-liberty-made-him-worth-the-pick/?utm_term=.0d6947e877f1 For more article on the current meaning of Religious Liberty please also see http://www.rightwingwatch.org/topics/religious-liberty/

The USA will be Minority White by Mid-Century

Census population projections as of March 2018 predict the whites will become a minority in the USA around 2045[1]. This issue has been raised (and buried) repeatedly within the Republican Party.

And that means we can take a short break from my droning on, and instead let the RNC drone on for a bit. The excerpts a few paragraphs down are taken from the document entitled the Growth and Opportunity Project but routinely referred to as the RNC-Autopsy of 2013, referring to Mitt Romney’s election loss and how the GOP could retake the presidency[2]

The RNC document is fairly frank, as these things. Most RNC documents read as little more than vague cheerleading exercises for the Republican ‘brand’[3] and endless generalizations of the Democrats’ dismantling of the American Dream.

The ‘RNC Autopsy’ (this became the report’s de-facto name) takes a fairly candid look at why and how Mitt Romney lost, as well as various ideological and logistic challenges for the party going forward. Most of these are fairly banal, despite their critical importance (fundraising, advertising strategies, etc.). The section that got the most play was the short Introduction to Messaging essay. I would recommend reading all of it. Briefly, it stressed that Democrats had won the popular vote in 4 of the last 6 elections (make that 5 out of 7 now) and that the Republican message was going largely unheard by large swaths of the populations, particularly by an economically stagnant middle class, those living in poverty (at last count over 40,000,000 people) and most minorities, especially younger ones.

This theme continued throughout the piece, including the following astonishing (for Republicans) tidbits:

We should speak out when CEOs receive tens of millions of dollars in retirement packages but middle-class workers have not had a meaningful raise in years

One of the contributors to this problem is that while Democrats tend to talk about people, Republicans tend to talk about policy. Our ideas can sound distant and removed from people’s lives. Instead of connecting with voters’ concerns, we too often sound like bookkeepers

As Ada Fisher, the Republican National Committeewoman from North Carolina told us, “There are some people who need the government.”

We have to blow the whistle at corporate malfeasance and attack corporate welfare

Honestly, most of this essay could have come from a Democrat candidate’s policy speech.

These plot points were followed by the America Looks Different section, which outlines what everyone knows: that the United States is becoming more Hispanic and less White (with a capital ‘W’). The words ‘ethnic’ and Hispanic are used interchangeably in this section. The sole obsession as of that writing was claiming more Hispanic voters: Blacks, Asians and any other ethnicities, minorities, ‘races’, etc. were ignored. This makes for realistic, if not especially admirable, policy: it is the Hispanic population that is growing dynamically and which frequently holds the balance of power in some western states.

As most anyone is aware the current administration has not worked very hard to implement these recommendations[4]. In fact, alienation and harassment of Hispanics has been one of the faces of the New Normal, and it has become an increasingly ugly face indeed.[5]

The Republicans, like anyone else whose business relates to politics or demographics, are keenly aware of this ongoing shift in the makeup of the populace. At this point in time it does not appear that actually adjusting policy or candidate makeup will be part of the strategy.[6]

Naturally, there is always the chance that the Republican party will modify its platform and policies to focus on demographic realities, focusing on outreach to Hispanic (and other ethnic) communities, revisiting soon-to-be dormant or dead affirmative action programs, make a conscious effort to field minority candidates, etc. And there is certainly a chance that the Hispanic community will wholeheartedly embrace the GOP in the future, forgiving the noxious and insulting attitudes towards minorities that define official federal (and Republican in general) policy at the moment.

There is also the chance that you are laughing too hard to continue reading. Let’s pause for a moment while the laughter dies down …

I believe the strategy will come from a different place, one that is already being implemented, and will continue to be to a much greater extent. Before getting too deeply into this lets return to yours and my favorite document: yes, the notorious RNC Autopsy.

One of the most interesting little digressions in the mea culpa i.e.’ we blew it with minorities and Millennials’ section is the assertion that the Republican party was a superstar on the state level; it was only national elections that were troublesome and needed a rethink. To wit:

Republican governors are America’s reformers in chief. They continue to deliver on conservative promises of reducing the size of government while making people’s lives better. They routinely win a much larger share of the minority vote than GOP presidential candidates, demonstrating an appeal that goes beyond the base of the Party.

It is time for Republicans on the federal level to learn from successful Republicans on the state level.

Well, OK. The nature of the reform and making ‘people’s lives better’ is certainly up for debate, as it mostly involves ongoing attempts to destroy trade unions, suppress minority voting and redistribute wealth upwards, but I am more concerned with the last sentence I quoted. [7]

It’s time to take a look at Texas (I promised we’d get there eventually, if you’re reading the footnotes), a state where whites are now a clear minority. Both Hispanics and Whites comprise roughly 40% of the population, with other ethnic groups (most notably African-Americans) making up the rest. [8] The Texas Demographic Center (a division of the U.S. Census Bureau) agrees with this estimate as well; the projections found there show the Hispanic population becoming the plurality ethnic group by 2024.[9]

Texas is the great Purple Pumpkin for the Democratic Party. Flip Texas and it is pretty much game over as far as national elections go.[10] Both California and Texas have similar demographics, and surprisingly Texas (with 23%) trails only New Mexico in the percentage of Latino legislators, with Arizona and California close behind.[11] Commendable as it seems, 23% is considerably less than the 40% Hispanic population of Texas.

To get the point, Texas is run by white people, the agenda is set by white people, and it’s always been this way. There is no need to get into the history of discrimination and suppression of Hispanics in Texas but suffice to say it has been an ugly and consistent part of its history. This has never really changed, and the Texas legislature is not only dominated by whites, but by exceptionally right-wing white Republicans.

There are several mechanisms available to promulgate (white) minority rule in Texas and the United States. In Texas, gerrymandering has been pursued to such an extreme extent that the city of Austin (by far the most Democratic and liberal area in the state) has been spread around 6 voting districts: five of them are held by Republicans and city residents are a minority in each one[12] The hyper-aggressive and racially-based gerrymandering has just been upheld by the Supreme Court[13]

In response to both the 2016 election and the ever starker ethnic divides in the United States, Texas has passed a number of laws targeting Hispanics. The most notorious is currently the “Sanctuary Cities” bill that allows anyone pulled over or detained to be asked (or would that be interrogated?) about their immigration status.[14] This is sadly in keeping with Texas’s shameful history of Latino harassment, but it must be noted that this kind of action comes with the explicit blessing of the Republican ruling class. This parallels the inhumane and counterproductive ICE policies currently on display at the California border.

There is now an excellent chance that the Supreme Court will have a majority for a very long time. After Trump’s appointment there will be a hardcore right wing majority in place, and by the way, Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 85 years old. Thus, reversing the out of control gerrymandering seems unlikely in the near future, despite the clear violations of the Voting Rights Act. Oh, and speaking of the Voting Rights Act, it is gradually being diluted in any case. [15]

Ah, voting. The gerrymandering is an old and time-honored way to manipulate elections (and it should be noted that the Democrats do their share as well)[16]

A more recent entrant to the voting dilution challenge is Voter Fraud. According to various (entirely Republican) players, voter fraud is endemic and must be stopped. The president himself has claimed repeatedly that he won the popular vote but that “millions” of votes were cast illegally. Now of course, Donald Trump will lie about anything and everything, and this particular rant should be classified with any of the others, but it is an idea that has gained tremendous traction among the predictable factions. There are eight states that have now implemented more rigorous voter ID requirements, usually citing voter fraud, and generally citing between aero and one example as justification.[17]

Ending voter fraud is certainly not the goal these pillars of democratic values are aiming for. Any additional mechanisms to dilute or contain ‘ethnic’ (i.e. non-Republican) votes will be created and used. The justification is dead simple: the numbers do not favor Republicans in most cases. Thus, rigorous ID checks in selected (did someone say ethnic?) areas will depress not only voting but turnout. If Hispanic voters are ‘carefully’ checked up and down, back and forth for their adherence to every little detail of these new statutes, well, that will certainly slow down the process, wont it? You might have to wait in line for a while. And while you’re there, maybe some friendly Texas or ICE (or whoever else gets to enforce this stuff in the future) agents will ask for your bona fide citizenship credentials. Not exactly a recipe for increased minority voting activity.

Not to put too cynical a spin on it, but the United States is (rapidly in some cases, very slowly in others) evolving towards a neo-apartheid state, where a shrinking but empowered and moneyed minority will control a growing, economically stagnant majority. It has long been explicit Republican policy to enrich a tiny minority, usually masquerading as pro-growth tax policy.[18] While employment is at almost record levels today, middle class wages have been stagnant in real terms for 20 years or more.[19]

In the meantime the United States has developed into one of the most lopsided examples of wage inequality in the world.[20] This may be the marketplace in action according to GOP dogma but make no mistake: it is by careful and ongoing design.

Will the inevitable growth of non-white ethnicities (as well as Millennials and other disenfranchised groups who have been left out of the economic “boom”) result in a rearrangement of voting patterns and elected leaders. Or will the United States hurtle further towards an oligarchy[21] that, statistically, is already in place? I am not certain the answer to both can be yes. If I had to bet I would choose the latter.[22]

  1. https://www.brookings.edu/blog/the-avenue/2018/03/14/the-us-will-become-minority-white-in-2045-census-projects/
  2. You can read the whole thing here: https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/624581-rnc-autopsy.html
  3. The most notorious is of course the Republican Platform every four years, with typical blather about American Exceptionalism, lots of freedom talk and of course scolding those bad Democrats. https://prod-cdn-static.gop.com/media/documents/DRAFT_12_FINAL[1]-ben_1468872234.pdf Looking back ironically (easy to do I know) this section of the introduction ‘Our standing in world affairs has declined significantly — our enemies no longer fear us and our friends no long trust us. People want and expect an America that is the most powerful and respected country on the face of the earth.’ seems especially mordant, considering Trump’s popularity worldwide compared to Obama’s (although esteemed statesmen Duterte and Modi seem to prefer Trump, in Modi’s case at least at first). The chapter entitled A Rebirth of Constitutional Government also offers excellent comedic elements.
  4. Call him what you will (and we like to here), Donald Trump is not a hypocrite. When the RNC Autopsy was released he was very harsh in his assessment: http://www.businessinsider.com/donald-trump-gop-autopsy-report-2016-3
  5. There is no need to belabor this rather obvious fact – the images of children separated from parents at the border will surely becoming an enduring legacy of Trump’s ‘America First’ blather. It is also sad that the state of Texas, where nearly 40% of American citizens are of Hispanic descent, has continued to implement laws and policy that disenfranchise those ethnic groups, surely as at least a partial result of the 2016 election. More on Texas further down.
  6. You can see the notorious 2016 photo of Paul Ryan proudly posing with the incoming Republican interns here: http://college.usatoday.com/2016/07/18/internssowhite-paul-ryans-instagram-post-goes-viral/. There seem to be over 80 interns in the shot, every last one of them white (later scruitny revealed a single black women in the back)
  7. Although GOP gubernatorial policies as a whole are without the scope of this little essay, the recent experiment in Kansas shows how effective the ‘supply side’ idea is when you don’t have the ability to print money and your bond issues are not, shall we say, the most attractive available at the moment. https://www.npr.org/2017/10/25/560040131/as-trump-proposes-tax-cuts-kansas-deals-with-aftermath-of-experiment
  8. The 2010 census declares that Whites comprised 70.4% of the population of Texas. This is widely considered a fictitious number, and most sources from all sides point to there being roughly 1 million or so more whites than Hispanics in 2017. There is little debate any longer about whether whites are a minority in the state. https://www.statista.com/statistics/306044/texas-population-ethnicity-race/
  9. http://txsdc.utsa.edu/Data/TPEPP/Projections/
  10. The next domino to fall would be Florida, but that is a different discussion.
  11. New Mexico:37% , Texas:23% , Arizona: 21%, California: 19% http://www.ncsl.org/research/about-state-legislatures/latino-legislators.aspx
  12. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/07/10/americas-future-is-texas This essay offers a good overview of the disconnect between the realities of Texas and the strange obsessions of its legislature.
  13. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/25/us/politics/supreme-court-texas-gerrymandering.html
  14. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2017/05/03/texas-sanctuary-cities-bill-immigration-status-police/101268244/ Texas has no sanctuary cities, if you were wondering, but the ever vigilant legislature is thinking in ahead
  15. https://www.propublica.org/article/voting-rights-by-state-map
  16. http://election.princeton.edu/2012/12/30/gerrymanders-part-1-busting-the-both-sides-do-it-myth/ Many political scholars (far from all), consider the republicans far more egregious and extreme than the Democrats as this practice is currently constituted. See also https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/4/2/17173158/democrats-gerrymander-segregation
  17. https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/elections/states-push-new-voter-requirements-fueled-trump-n780611
  18. Government Regulatory Agencies are also popular for shifting resources upwards, both financially and in the form of decreased protections and safety nets for citizens they are ‘protecting’. There have been many studies and opinions of this. Start with a Wikipedia page https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regulatory_capture and then perhaps go on to https://www.claremont.org/crb/article/our-corrupt-government/ Of course no regulation at all probably is no the answer either: https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/07/only-government-intervention-can-stop-corrupt-capitalism/259687/
  19. There are several useful chats here: https://www.epi.org/publication/charting-wage-stagnation/ This is not a radical viewpoint, and I could cite many more sources but this article and group of charts sums it up nicely.
  20. The US is actually fourth in the world among developed nations as of 2015, according to this article. The top five in income inequality also have the 5 highest poverty rates (the UK is number 6 in income inequality but number 13 in poverty rate, presumably due to a highly functional safety net) https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/05/29/countries-rich-poor-gap_n_7471214.html
  21. And a little afterwordAs long as we’re veering off into election strategies, it must be noted that trade unions have been squarely in GOP sights for decades now (with occasional exceptions, such as certain Teamster factions). The unions represent a twin bogeyman: not only does collective bargaining (this battleground has shifted from the manufacturing sector to public employees in most cases) present a challenge to the hegemony of the Republican donor class, but concomitant with that, unions are instrumental in promoting democratic candidates and providing logistical support for Democratic voting efforts, from voter drives to candidate forums, even to the point of organizing transport for union members to polling places. The Supreme Court decision to overturn a law requiring non-union workers to pay fees applied toward collective bargaining has dealt a body blow to the union movement’s fundraising ability. See https://www.cnn.com/2018/06/27/politics/supreme-court-union-fees-decision/index.htmlThis is just the tip of the iceberg. Recent Koch Brothers efforts have explicitly gone towards “defunding the political left”. Yes, that would mean unions, most specifically government unions. Hey, that government money if for the donor class! The “defund the left” slogan has been around at least since the Reagan era. See also: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/aug/30/rightwing-alliance-unions-defund-defang With the Supreme Court rubber- stamping any anti-union initiatives, these efforts will accelerate markedly.

    As a final sighing coda to the oligarchy theme, it must be noted that the primary engine of the growth and prosperity of the American middle class was the Labor Union movement. Their decline has run parallel with wage stagnation and perpetual diminishment of the American middle class.

 

Goodbye to Paul Ryan

Paul Ryan will be retiring from congress this November. He is unlikely to return, despite being a shoo-in for (re)election in the future. The landscape is different now than anything he ever envisioned, with a blustering, ignorant demagogue barking orders at anyone and everyone in sight. Or insults of course. Paul Ryan was not made for these times. He is fading away quickly.[1]

John Boehner resigned from the House after years of futility trying to wrangle the Freedom Caucus into line with mainstream GOP policy. He is by all accounts a happier person today; occasionally surfacing to proffer his opinions on his old buddies seems to sufficiently satisfy any remaining politics jones[2]. Thus Paul Ryan, wunderkind and future face of the GOP was handed the thankless task of Speaker of the House in 2015.

Although it is not inconceivable that dealing with luminaries such as Jim Jordan and his flock would be enough to force Ryan (and everyone else) to flee to the nearest golf course, it is clear that the tipping point in the abrupt cessation of Ryan’s once bright political future is Trump, and Trumpism.

It is important to understand that Paul Ryan has had just 2 employers in his adult life: his family’s business and the federal government.[3] Ryan is essentially a career politician, propelled to easy electoral victories by his family’s dominance of private and public life in Janesville, his hometown in Wisconsin. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it hasn’t been that rough a road to head of the House for young Paul. And that is the most ironic part of the whole equation: the ride was going to stay smooth, as the party was bending over backward to hand him the GOP presidential nomination in 2016. Had he announced his candidacy he would have been the prohibitive favorite. Alas, it was a nomination he did not want in the slightest.

In 2012, running with deeply flawed and out of touch Mitt Romney, Ryan got a taste of what national politics were like. Although largely (not entirely) insulated from the anything goes rough and tumble of a national run, Ryan got full exposure to the way insults, invective and completely unfounded ‘rumors’ and ‘theories’ were flung back and forth. Unlike inside operators like the Clintons and Bushes, or gifted orators such as Reagan and Obama who relished the public forum, or even a borderline sociopath like Donald Trump, who needs a constant stream of real or imagined enemies to rant against while various cronies and bandwaggoneers cheer him on, Paul Ryan does not have the stomach for public conflict.

Compared to oily, ambition-addled ideologues like Ted Cruz or plodding career hacks like Jeb Bush, Ryan was a breath of fresh air. And he certainly looks better too. The problem is, not only was his ambition remarkably lacking compared to his peers, so were his goals. Despite perpetual mumbling about Entitlement Reform, and pointing to the ridiculous, deficit-swelling 2017 tax cut as a signature career accomplishment (coming in the wake of the continuous humiliation of failing to kill off the evil socialist Obamacare, among other conspicuous legislative non-starters), it is hard to pinpoint any real core beliefs belonging to Paul Ryan, outside of a deep commitment to transferring wealth and resources from poor to rich. The House was simply a natural stop for a wealthy and popular ‘businessman’ who has never had to look for a job.

Ryan naturally inherited opportunities that staunch Republican standard-bearers such as Lindsay Graham and Marco Rubio have worked their whole careers to get a sniff of. The Vice-presidential nomination was handed to him with no lobbying on his part; it is still uncertain whether his heart was in it. Certainly his campaigning in 2012, despite the familiar half-smile and easygoing manner, was lackluster. Even so, Ryan escaped the election with his reputation as the GOP’s brightest new star intact. The 2016 nomination was his to lose. But …he wanted no part of it. He was out before anyone could put him in.

What Ryan enjoyed were his wonky closed door GOP policy meetings, where he and his various spreadsheets could outline his case for ‘Entitlement Reform’, the impending Social Security crisis, and various other arguments in favor of increasing income and wealth inequality. The obeisance to graphs and policy papers contributed heavily to Ryan’s burgeoning reputation as the intellectual stalwart of the Republican Party, the face of the future and the moral underpinning for basing government policy on Ayn Rand novels.

After a while these sessions invariably induced both eye-rolling and complete ennui among his colleagues. The donor class was going to get paid with or without his spreadsheets, and his ‘proof’ that only funneling more resources to the rich would avert financial disaster was eventually met with indifference. Well of course – no math calculations needed here, Paul.

In the age of Trump, no one (certainly not Trump), has any interest in spreadsheets, or in calculations or premeditated policy of any kind. Ryan waffled for some time before endorsing Trump, but endorse him he did. After a few months where Ryan played “will he or won’t he”, he not only endorsed Trump but remained increasingly silent as his party pivoted overtly to one openly driven by racism and demagoguery. With nary a spreadsheet in sight. And Ryan has gradually been retreating from any skirmish at all with the new normal. The Trump cabal’s and the Freedom Caucus’ repeated attacks on Ryan were enough writing on the wall for him.[4] A golf date with John Boehner looks better all the time.

  1. In a modern slice of ignominy, typing “Paul” into a browser search field reveals the following suggestions for last names: George, D (“Pauly D’), Rudd, Walker, Patton (‘Paula Patton’), Simon, Bettany, Getty, Shore and Newman. No suggestions for Ryan. The list includes 3 dead people.
  2. In May 2017 Boehner notoriously was quoted that “Everything he’s <Trump> done (in office) has been a complete disaster <with the exception of foreign policy>” https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/05/john-boehner-calls-trump-a-complete-disaster See also https://www.cbsnews.com/news/john-boehner-says-there-is-no-republican-party-theres-a-trump-party/ for the latest.
  3. Strictly speaking this is not true, but realistically Ryan’s political career was launched by his and his wife’s various professional networks and contacts. The only job he has held outside of politics since college was briefly with Ryan Inc. Central, a road grading company that is part of his extended family’s construction empire. http://articles.latimes.com/2012/aug/25/nation/la-na-ryan-assets-20120826
  4. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/steve-bannon-paul-ryan-breitbart-trump_us_596dfdfce4b0b95f893e00b0https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/02/paul-ryan-freedom-caucus-meadows/553922/

 

Let’s Relive those Great 80’s Attitudes

Much has been made of Donald Trump’s crassness, bigotry and astounding mendacity. In addition his willful ignorance and eagerness to pursue the smallest real or imagined slight with threats, insults and a whipped cream topping of vulgarity are well-documented and essentially offered up daily and weekly.

Yes, well no need to run through all of that right here – you can get that anywhere (including the great man’s twitter account of course). What is more interesting to me at this precise point in time (which will ideally last for at least the duration of spewing out this essay), is the idea of the Trump administration as both a symptom and a tortured death rattle of 80’s Man-in-Charge. And like it or not, that is where the current version of the Republican party finds itself: firmly looking backwards, and deeply distrustful of a future where widespread gun ownership, casual bigotry and white male dominance might be considered faded symbols of a vanished time.

As a brief digression, there clearly is no real Trump administration. It is quickly morphing into a constellation of sycophants and talking heads (now mostly culled from Fox News’ stable of right-wing commentators and ‘experts’) revolving around Trump as executive policy (subject to change without notice) careens down whatever path looks ripest when the day begins. Soon the last ‘adults’ will be purged (they have been marginalized already) and it will just be the mad king and his court, desperate and eager to anticipate and proactively react to future whims.

So that sort of nonsense is fairly unique* to our grand experiment in Reality Show government. But there is a bit more to the story.

Let’s back up again, to those seemingly long ago days of the Obama presidency. Obama was not a democratic president, of course. He was a black president. In the world populated by 1980s white man, blacks do not run things, most notably the country. Sports and Entertainment? OK. A congressman or CEO here and there? Hey, ‘they’re’ making progress. What a country! And so on. Thus we simultaneously had a Birther movement and the rise of the Tea Party faction, a twin challenge to this Brave New World, a world which shocked the traditional order down to its toes.

Harping on the Birther movement, where Trump got much of his original political notoriety (and popularity among white supremacists) hinged on a central belief: if there’s a black president, it’s due to a con, a crime, a pack of lies and so forth. The Tea Party is a bit more broadly focused but also originated as an arch-conservative reaction to the Obama presidency; at last glance the percentage of minorities in the Tea Party and Birther movements are in the low single digits, to the point where any African-Americans in these groups are newsworthy.**

My generation, the one I very generally refer to as 80’s White Man (and, ahem, woman I guess) was quite possibly the first one that overtly frowned upon racist attitudes. It is very important to note some aspects of (again speaking very broadly) my ‘generation’ (aaargh, just kill me now). One very noteworthy aspect of a difference I have observed repeatedly in casual conversation between the geezers and Millennials is that ethnicity (and in some cases, Jewish identity, real or imagined***) is always noted. In other words, if someone new was hired at work, if there was a new postman, teacher, bus driver, whatever, there was blackness was noted. The whiteness was implied; otherwise the footnote (a black guy, woman, etc.) was expected. In the absence of this qualifier it was assumed to be a white person. Similarly a mixed race couple was very noteworthy and in fact cause for whispers and gossip, even in the so called liberal circles I ran in. Naturally, when no one is referenced without their ethnicity being noted , certain generalizations and perhaps prejudices are noted and/or reinforced****.

I have found that today’s narrative (at least much of it) does not focus on racial***** and ethnic identity. ‘Black’ or “mixed Race Couple’ are not adjectives heard in polite society (mostly …) and my general impression of Millennial and younger attitudes is that there is a comfort level with ethnic diversity that did not really exist in generations prior. I can offer considerable evidence of my boomer peers who honestly did not foster what I would normally call racist attitudes but were generally unable to relate to other ethnicities (mostly African-Americans of course), and in some cases were fearful in doing so and harbored fears (some subliminal in some cases) of the ‘other’, especially if the other were represented by young men, especially young men in groups. In fact a successful encounter with the other side was, instead of being routine, cause for celebration and a path to some greater degree of enlightenment that was desirable in a certain broad sense.******

The whites of Trump’s generation are acutely aware of these changes. Trump himself is someone who came, more or less, of age in the 1980’s, where your ethnicity mattered a great deal, and when the notion of an African-American man as president was absurd, where ethnicity was always noted. Trump is a man who does not read, is obsessed with watching Television and does not even use email, which 80 year old grandmothers use with ease nowadays. His comments and values give him away as a near-relic of a fading era, such as when he mocked the Academy for its low ratings (traditional television is dying and ‘ratings’ concerns have been superseded by content streaming strategies), his obsession with 20th century icons like the steel and coal industries and of course his appalling misogyny and casual, relentless bigotry. Naturally denial of climate science and obeisance to Evangelical religious movements are part of that package (the Evangelical movement has decided that Trump is a perfect exemplar of their ‘moral issues’) *******

All of these areas strike a chord with white people of a certain age, who are afraid that what they believe is slowly being replaced by the ‘other’. And well they should be: It is hard to imagine in America of the 2050’s still in thrall to Evangelical Christianity, still denying even the most obvious and measurable examples of climate changes, still clinging to cretinous energy policies that favor petroleum and coal (!!) over solar. And of course still restricting any positions of power to, essentially, white boomer males (they’ll be long gone of course). Will it be too late by then?

Yes, probably.

After Obama’s reelection in 2012, the now notorious Growth and Opportunity Project ******** (aka the RNC Autopsy Report) was very clear on the GOP’s need to engage younger people, minorities and women, with the only alternative being increased marginalization. And yet the Republicans gained more than 1000 state and federal seats during the Obama presidency. And suddenly the GOP, with notable but sparse exceptions, has become cheerleaders for Trump’s particularly noxious brand of populism*********. Naturally this is mostly political expediency as privately Trump is mostly an embarrassing presence to even the most ‘down home’ GOP hack, but to a large extent Trump is a culmination of GOP obstinacy over race relations, climate change and common sense environmental regulation over the years. They will cast their lot with the fading, frightened Boomer generation for now.

***********

*Of course we can look back to equally unqualified presidents and administrations such as US Grant, the entire Harding experience or even a drunk Nixon threatening to atom bomb Vietnam, but somehow the stakes seem much higher now, and the consequences of foolish action more dire. Perhaps it’s just me.

**E.G. https://www.theroot.com/black-tea-partiers-speak-1790879398

***Disclosure – your humble narrator is Jewish and I recently discovered an active undercurrent of (admittedly mild) anti-Semitic sentiment in a company where I was a software developer, circa 2011-2013.

****This of course continues to go both ways. If a white athlete in a predominantly black sport (basketball being the obvious example) performs remarkably, their whiteness tends to follow them around as an ongoing adjective in the narrative. Sadly, white basketball players were at one time considered to be ‘smarter’ and more ‘savvy’ than their black counterparts, who achieved their superior results strictly through ‘natural’ athletic ability. There is a good essay on these attitudes here: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/af8c/7601909d40abb63221729fa45d9c31a60b6d.pdf

*****I recognize that ‘race’ is an invented notion used to promulgate segregationist policies but I’m using it anyway to get from A to B more quickly. Sorry.

******To myself a classic, and somewhat sad example of this, is illustrated in this essay by Chris Offut, one of my favorite writers, but clearly a man not that comfortable around the ‘others’: https://www.oxfordamerican.org/magazine/item/550-trash-food Ironically Offut is using himself (who is knowledgeable about ‘trash food’) as someone equally reviled by Southern white men as African Americans are, but it is clear at the end of the essay that actually relating to an African American man is not a routine event for him, and cause for (misplaced, I think) elation.

******* https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/feb/18/donald-trump-evangelicals-code-of-ethics

******** http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2013/03/republican_party_autopsy_the_gop_s_report_favors_the_wisdom_of_political.html

********* It should be pointed out that Congress is increasingly ignoring much of what Trump is asking for. The hopelessly vague demands for ‘Infrastructure’ or ’Immigration Reform’ have gone nowhere

********** Sorry for all the asterisky footnotes

The 4 Rs of the GOP Part 4

Reaganism

As previously discussed, the GOP adheres fervently to its core values: namely a reactionary mindset in terms of fondly looking back to a time when middle aged white men could rule the land unfettered by messy disruptions by women, minorities and other distractions, a perpetually bubbling undercurrent of full-on racism that has now reached full bloom with Trump’s overt embrace of white supremacist thinking (now coming mainstream) as well as random deportations and of course regressive taxation. The latter is the lynchpin that holds it all together and enables the donor class to continue to profit handsomely; ironically most of this strata are probably holding their nose whilst the messy populism stuff happens (certainly luminaries like the Koch brothers would not allow a mob of Middle Americans wearing ‘Make America Great Again’ hats anywhere near their glittery Manhattan fund raisers.)

The great sage, who now looms over the party (and lets be fair, over much of the USA) as more of a mythical figure than an actual president with a well-documented track record that even in the most favorable light is strictly a mixed bag, is Ronald Reagan. While JFK has also ascended to mythical status, especially among Democrats* pining for the good old days when they were young and cute, thus Reagan has become a similar shining symbol for the Republicans. And it can probably be fair to say that the best grade you could give JFK is an incomplete.

Ronald Reagan is fondly remembered as the perhaps the peak of the GOP in the 20th century, a winking, charming unifier. To this day the search for another Reagan is an ongoing obsession (do a web search on ‘the search for the next Reagan’ – you can spend the rest of the day reading all about it).

But what is Reaganism? Is it strictly style points, a friendlier version of Trump’s noxious populism, Paul Ryan’s crude, ill-formed diatribes on entitlement reform, the overt racism and religious intolerance of the current administration and its concomitantly acquiescent Republican leadership?

Yes and no. It was Reagan who seriously introduced the idea of trickle-down economics (a fringe idea that suddenly gained credence with the ascension of Reaganism), and which continues to hold sway. Every Republican budget negotiation has repeatedly linked lower federal deficits with lower taxes, not higher ones. While this sure sounds great (the Trump budget assumes 3% a year growth, due presumable to tax cuts). It is useful to note that deficits have always worsened as a result of tax cuts, and that the resultant economic growth seems to happen (or not happen) independent of tax rates. Another useful aside is that more, not less direct government spending generally results in greater employment and concomitant economic growth.

Thus Reagan ushered in the new normal of permanent huge federal deficits, promulgated forever without any serious regard for balancing the budget (this trend was interrupted briefly during the Clinton administration). This has been taken to fresh extremes by the Trump tax cut, which does not even really paper over the problem of huge deficits – it’s just a fact of life now, and most GOP leaders don’t even bother to lodge any objections whatsoever.**

Another new normal is states’ rights, conveniently used for allowing rather sketchy state policies which include institutional racism, continuing erosion of the church-state divide and various other policies such as ever more permissive gun laws (Open Carry, ‘Stand your Ground’, etc). It should not be forgotten that Reagan made his now-notorious kick off campaign speech in 1980 espousing states’ rights in Neshoba County, site of the notorious murders of 3 civil rights workers 16 years earlier. This was not a coincidence. And Reagan continued to practice what he preached throughout his presidency, all in the name of states’ rights. States’ rights continues to be code for ‘we will not interfere in your local dealings with blacks. We’re with you’.

It is deeply ironic that both Reagan and Trump, two men who could not be classified as religious in any meaningful respect, have become heroes to evangelical America. Reagan’s election ushered in the overt GOP love affair with the Christian Right and Evangelical America. Although Jimmy Carter was an actual born-again Christian, it was Reagan who publicly courted the Evangelical movement (Carter had by now become a ‘traitor’ to the various mores held dear by the Christian Right, such as prayer in schools, overt anti-gay policies, public funds for private exclusionary educational institutions, etc.). Once again, Reagan did not disappoint, and it is important to remember that as AIDS mushroomed into a full-blown medical crisis, the White House did and said nothing (many Evangelicals to this day are still fond of categorizing AIDS as God’s revenge upon gay culture). In fact, Reagan did not mention AIDS publicly until 1987. He certainly mentioned God many times before that, and the phrase ‘God Bless America’ became closely associated with Reagan. More importantly, it is now commonplace for conservative candidates to demonstrate obeisance to the Religious Right.

Thus Trump’s cabinet contains 9 (out of 15 total) evangelicals. We  have to come to a point where a twice divorced serial adulterer and habitual liar comes to be the champion of the Religious Right. Well, it’s all about power, isn’t it? The notion that Evangelicals have now surrendered the last bit of any real or imagined moral authority seems completely incidental and irrelevant to present day politics.

Thus the Search for Reagan continues for the Republicans, much as the Search for JFK (they might settle for (Mr.) Clinton at this point, or, for the next generation, Obama) continues on the other side. A well spoken, kindly gent with a twinkle in his eye, continuing those other three R’s of modern Republican policy.

Hmmm, and make sure you take care of the donor class, sir!

 

*Probably Democrats age 60 and above, to be brutally honest. I think in the next 20 to 30 years, failing a new Democratic superstar, Barack Obama has a good chance to be transformed into a bit of a mythical figure.

**One exception is the Freedom Caucus, many of whom continue to try to hold out for some semblance of deficit reduction. They are not averse to greater kickbacks to the wealthy of course, they just want to eliminate every vestige of the dreaded welfare state

The 4 Rs of the GOP Part 3

Regressive Taxation

Well, the new tax bill was just passed. Sp before getting too much into term paper mode (for which I apologize in advance), let’s just say:

Winners: Corporate shareholders, Pass-through corporations

Losers: er, everyone else?

Ironically, many fairly wealthy folks will get reamed, especially in those bad, bad (i.e. blue, blue) states like California and New York, which are losing a chunk (although not all, as previously considered) of their real-estate and property tax deductions.

The super-rich will do fine as we know – the shareholder class is the one that profits most directly from lower corporate taxes.

And don’t forget, the looming deficits will naturally revisit Paul Ryan’s favorite topic: Entitlement Reform! This is better referred to as increasingly the disparity between rich and poor in the USA, already the most acute of any industrialized country.*

It should be noted that this is a very complex topic. As is my wont, I will (over?) simplify it to make a simple point, and, you know, get on with things.

The period of time I am most concerned with begins with the Reagan era. Reaganism ushered in financial policies notoriously labeled ‘Voodoo Economics’ by candidate George H.W. Bush, in response to Reagan’s espousal of what would variously be referred to as Supply Side, Trickle Down, Laffer Curve, etc.

Here’s the gist of it: if you lower taxes, government revenues will rise. And lowering them for the top tax brackets will create the greatest economic windfalls, as lowering tax rates would lead to greater investment. A critical component of this policy is not just income tax, but capital gains taxes, which have always been taxed at lower rates than ordinary income.

Here is a brief overview of the capital gains argument: http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/briefing-book/what-effect-lower-tax-rate-capital-gains

It should be noted that the arguments for lowering taxes on higher incomes are roughly equivalent although not identical.

The right wing of the GOP (i.e. The Old Guard) has generally opposed most (i.e. federal) taxes, whether on income or property. In many respects this thinking (stemming from classic liberalism) is a forerunner of today’s GOP libertarian threads, although conspicuous exceptions are now made for categories such as defense spending, and police activities in general.

There is no real evidence that lower tax rates for the wealthy generate greater economic gains in general or, or, laughably, increase government revenues.** The question is, do the advocates of this policy really believe in it or is it a cynical ploy to simply reward the Republican donor class?

The answer is yes.

The current tax reform bill conforms to the supply side model, but focuses much more heavily on reducing the corporate tax rate. This is not particularly radical, as the difference between the effective and statutory rates in the US is quite broad, and simplifying the rate structure is a laudable goal***

Although it is generally conceded that reductions in effective corporate tax rates generally benefit shareholders (i.e. stock prices), the magic bullet in the tax plan is ‘pass-through’ taxes. These are scheduled to be reduced drastically, and it is widely expected that as a result many corporate entities will be converted to pass-throughs. ‘Surprisingly’, many of Trump’s businesses are set up as pass-through. An added surprise is that this is expected to disproportionately benefit the very top strata (by both wealth and income) of American individuals.

For more analysis of the pass-through and general tax plan ramifications there are many august analysts that will do better than this journal. Or you can read the thing yourself …

I am mostly trying to pivot to the fourth R of the modern GOP: Reaganism. Coming soon!

* Naturally Ryan does not see it this way – to most in the GOP, government dependence on government handouts is a self-sustaining cycle that need s to be broken forcefully and immediately. That the main champion of this viewpoint is a man who has only worked for his well-to-do family business and, yes, the federal business in his entire adult life can be viewed as somewhat ironic.

**This has never happened. Basically, lower taxes = higher deficits.

***Statutory means the rate based on gross the gross, or published, rate and effective refers to the net rate after deductions, expenditures, etc. The corporate tax rates in the US have gradually gone down since the mid-1960s, and corporate tax as a percentage of GDP stands at around 2^ today compared to 7%in the mid-1940’s. See https://www.npr.org/2017/08/07/541797699/fact-check-does-the-u-s-have-the-highest-corporate-tax-rate-in-the-world

The 4 Rs of the GOP Part 2

Racism

Continuing the theme of the transposition of Democrat and Republican roles (or at least public images), attitudes towards minorities are probably be the clearest indicator of this particular role reversal.

The Democrats were of course the favored in the South until at least the 1970s, an allegiance more or less related to ancient history rather than current attitudes. In 1970 the ‘Southern Strategy’ was explicitly described and espoused by Nixon speechwriter, although it can be argued that the strategy probably originated with Barry Goldwater in 1964. Per usual, this was related to states’ rights, an ongoing euphemism for allowing various forms of discrimination to flourish without those pesky feds getting in the way. By the 1970s the Southern strategy (interrupted by the 1976 election of native son Jimmy Carter) was a staple of Republican campaign tactics. Political campaigns became centered on racial divisiveness, with opposition to busing and the forever popular states’ rights leading the way. Starting with his 1976 campaign Ronald Reagan endlessly harped on the ‘welfare queen’ who drove a Cadillac.*

One of the stunning recent developments is how acceptable racism and bigotry has become. The Roy Moore saga is highlighted by his creepy predatory sexual behavior. No one is mentioning his various bigoted attitudes. To be fair to Moore (eek!) his notorious ‘yellow’s and ‘reds’ quote ( http://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/351194-roy-moore-refers-to-red-and-yellow-americans-in-campaign-speech ) quite possibly did refer to a biblical passage. Unfortunately during a Q & A at the same speech however he also praised the 19th century as the last period of greatness for the USA ‘even though we had slavery’ (Hmmm ….).

In a similar vein, Milo Yiannopoulos from Breitbart was a sexy new poster boy for the Brave New World of acceptable white supremacy (oops, alt-right) not until his crackpot racial views were exposed but until he espoused a fondness for boys as young as 13. He appears to be making a comeback, at least as far as being a quotable pretty boy goes.

It should not be overlooked that the sainted unifier Ronald Regan gave the speech announcing his 1980 candidacy at the Neshoba County Fair, 7 miles from Philadelphia, Mississippi. Philadelphia was the site of the Mississippi civil rights workers’ murders and Reagan harped on (surprise!) states’ rights throughout his remarks.

As a sign of things to come (or perhaps that everything old is new again) the recent election in Virginia (which was won by Democrats) featured mostly ads with racist overtones. Republican Ed Gillespie came out prominently in favor of preserving Confederate monuments (is this the new states’ rights?) and ran ads showing scary looking Latinos with the captions ‘Kill. Rape. Control’. This was tied to his opponents (falsely) alleged support for sanctuary cities, as an example of what happens when Latinos get to stay in the US.

Now, the Unites States has a deeply racist** past and much of this thinking has clearly never completely gone away, but the idea of a post-racial society has been so completely debunked that one can only be depressed by the deepening divisiveness to come. And it will get more divisive – in their mad rush to tie themselves to Trump (who has a history of racist behavior and has limited his federal appointments and nominations almost exclusively to white Christians) we will be seeing more of this.

*This person actually existed but of course the true story has much more to it than a Reagan sound bite (read about her here: http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/history/2013/12/linda_taylor_welfare_queen_ronald_reagan_made_her_a_notorious_american_villain.html ) but Reagan was clearly making a larger, and very unsubtle point.

**The idea of separate ‘races’ is in itself a racist invention

The 4 Rs of the GOP Part 1

1. Reactionary Thinking

In the most general terms, conservatives do not like to be labeled reactionaries. The distinction, which ranges from subtle to meaningless, is that a ‘conservative’ is resistant to change for change’s sake and wants a sober and measured approach to formation of laws, adoption of new mores, etc. A reactionary, by implication, wants to return to a time that is gone. In other words, an out of touch geezer pining for a golden era that has long since passed, and may have been considerably sugar-coated as the years have gone by.

Naturally there are huge degrees of reactionary and/or conservative thinking. It cannot be doubted that the reality of the current GOP’s leadership and political makeup is essentially comprised of middle aged white men. Is this reactionary or have the republicans always been thus constituted?

One of the strange trends we’re seeing is that the Democrats and Republicans are continuing to trade places. After World War II the Democrats were espousing a more domestic and inward oriented policy. In contrast Eisenhower, although certainly not a maverick in this regard, could safely be called an internationalist. Similarly, both Bushes could be described (with reservations) as internationalists, While Ronald Reagan could hardly be described as a beloved international statesman, his actions in Libya and Lebanon (and enthusiastic saber-rattling and commie-baiting) point to someone who subscribes to the ‘America is policeman of the world’ idea.

With the rise of the GOP’s libertarian wing (e.g. Rand Paul) and of course Tea Party (somewhat libertarian and arch-reactionary), these attitudes were frequently challenged and mitigated. However it is safe to say that the Republican elite (remember them?) were always staunchly in favor of free trade policies and an engaged (cynics might say warmongering) foreign policy. Concomitant with the advocacy of free movement of capital was severe hostility to the union movement and, by association, the working class. Labor unions (Teamsters excepted) were solidly in the Democratic camp and their ongoing opposition to free trade (i.e. imports. Exports are OK) put a (sometimes) brake on any democratic internationalist aspirations.

That being said, it should be (quickly I hope) noted that any internationalist tendencies in American foreign policy are recent (i.e. post WW 2). With the exception of Woodrow Wilson’s efforts circa WW I, Isolationism was the rule to the extent that the term did not originate until the 1930’s. And of course, the USA’s refusal to join the League of Nations after the war quickly sunk any ongoing American internationalist aspirations (and the league itself of course).*

Hmmm, guess what? With the populist revolution (or whatever it is), The Republican administration is now completely inward looking, backing out of trade agreements, advocating expulsion of 11,000,000 immigrants and ranting about other countries taking advantage of American largesse (I am not sure ‘largesse’ was the precise term used in the well-researched speeches and reports). But true to this new distorted populism, the working class is now solidly with the GOP. The Democrats are now seen as the urban, elitist party while the Republicans represent the ‘little guy’. The problem for said little guy is that while The Man is happy to let them keep their guns (and is happy to reinforce the view that ‘others’ have taken their jobs), any notion that they will get an increased piece of the pie is absurd. The new tax bill, (which I will not belabor) continue that magical flow of capital up up up and away (apologies to the 5th Dimension) from the lower and middle classes. By the way, did we mention you can keep your guns?

The truth is that the organized labor movement, for good or ill, is responsible for creating the American middle class in the industrial era. They are in their way out. And even greater degrees of inequality (already by far the most lopsided of any ‘Western’ country) continue to be the order of the day. These ‘values’ are the main appeal to the ‘base’, although frequently they are couched in rhetoric meant to display how these attitudes will result in economic well-being.

And, yes, it’s those nagging social issues (the culture wars! Mmmm ….) that really represent the reactionary side. The steady intent to move capital upward, although not a new idea (it’s as old as human history) but is really just a self-interested policy that allows the GOP to repay their donor class.

The populist movement has waxed and waned since its inception in the 19th century as an agrarian push for farmers to gain access to bank credit. One of its most salient features is a general anti-intellectualism – best epitomized in various Frank Capra movies where the ‘common man’ shows greater ingenuity and (yes) ‘common sense’ than the expert. This sort of nonsense has come to full bloom in Trump’s outlandish braggadocio regarding his expertise in… everything. From claiming he had the ‘secret’ solution to permanently defeating ISIS to a steady stream of clownish boasts about his intelligence and business acumen (a laughingstock amongst those who have experienced the Trump MO of bad faith and mendacity first hand), a lack of actual knowledge and experience is now seen as a plus. The outsiders don’t need no book learning.

And it’s all working out marvelously, as a bumbling fool stumbles through government pounding his chest about nonsense while GOP leaders smile beatifically and thank God that at least they passed a tax bill so the donors get paid.

*As far as attitudes towards immigration, it’s a much more checkered history. Nativism (the Nativists tend to prefer the term “patriots”) has had many flavors, veering from anti-Catholicism, to anti-German to anti-Chinese in the 19th century. In the 20th century, starting the in the 1920’s, much anti-immigration sentiment took on a racial tint, focusing on ethnic purity, dangers to the ‘white race’, etc. This bears a striking resemblance to the alt-rights attitudes in the present day, attitudes that have been somewhat mainstreamed after Trump’s election. The focus of the Tea Party also turned sharply away from fiscal austerity and deficit reduction and has become obsessively nativist.

Before we leave this exceedingly brief and superficial analysis (sorry!) of immigration attitudes I should mention that much, if not most of the anti-immigration movements over the years (including the current ones) is concerned with the threat to American jobs, an ongoing concern of both labor unions and various politicians. This has recently been a noteworthy sticking point between organized labor and their ostensibly close allies, the Democratic party