Politics as usual?

With Trump in the presidency and Republicans in control of both houses of Congress, liberals, or progressives, if you prefer, are apparently in a rout. We’re certainly behaving that way, with Democrats quibbling over the direction the party has to take in order to win everything back by the next election, temporary Democrats back in their old roles as independents or third party provocateurs, and the legions of newly, if vaguely, defined remnant left posting stern lectures on social media.

The gist of these last is that Democrats have lost control because they have drifted too far from their principles, and what is needed is retrenchment, a purge of whatever the self-appointed Guardians of the Left consider apostasy. They point to the Tea Party as a Republican movement back to the fundamentalist right, and see this purge as the reason for the party’s success in last year’s election. It worked for them, they say, so we should do the same.  Yet how many of us engaged in this lofty debate have actually read the 2016 Democratic Party Platform?  Certainly not those people claiming that there’s no difference between the two parties, the two candidates.

But is it even true that Republicans prevailed because of a purification of ideology? The truth is that most people couldn’t care less about ideology, or if they do, they fear it.  They are political pragmatists, and this explains the otherwise incomprehensible shift of many voters from Obama to Trump.

Today’s Republican party is actually a loose coalition of theocrats, libertarians, corporatists, and outright fascists. These groups have very little in common except a fear and hatred of the left, yet they voted, all of them holding their noses, for Donald Trump, a man who not only lacks a coherent ideology, but very likely doesn’t even know what the word means. A demand for ideological purity by any one of these constituencies would have resulted in a rout of Republicans instead of Democrats.

Yet, we hear from the Sanders wing of the Democratic party that that is exactly what we must do in order to win in the future, that what we need is to purge all that is not leftist dogma. Throw out the doubters, the apostates, go with an unabashedly socialist program, and “the People” will rally round.

It is not at all clear why “the People,” who went in unexpected numbers for the Republican party, would suddenly decide socialism was a great idea. Fear of socialism, or what they thought was socialism, was pretty much the glue that held the right-wing coalition together long enough to vote. We love to cite the fact that Clinton got over 3 million more votes than Trump to show the bankruptcy of the system, but neglect the obvious conclusion that the Democratic coalition, yes, the current Democratic coalition so abused by leftist purists, was sufficient to beat Trump if the vote had not had to be filtered through the electoral college.

If the United States were a parliamentarian democracy, like the vast majority of European nations, retrenchment would make sense; go with a pure (and therefore exclusionary) message, get as many votes as you can, then join a coalition to have a share of the governing system. But we’re not. Like it or not, the US is a kind of hybrid beast, a republic in which the executive and legislative branches are elected separately.  The only possible result of a less than plurality vote is a loss, and therefore coalitions must be made before the elections, not after.  If we want to prevail in the next elections, we have to find ways to draw in as many of the electorate as possible, not ways to exclude as many as possible.  And we have to find a common denominator for decent people to rally around, a glue.  Donald Trump is doing his level best to give us that.  Not only are his actions so far unacceptable to most Americans, but he’s exposing Republican cadres as spineless sycophants.  Let’s not sacrifice this gift on the altar of ideological fundamentalism.

Trumped up

So now it appears that Mr. Hyde is hidden, and Dr. Jekyll has come out.  It’s hard to know what to make of that.  Trump has completely reversed his opinion of both Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama, both of whom he’s warmly complimented in the last two days.  It is, of course, completely opposite what he has said about them during the campaign, but contradictions have not exactly been unusual for him.  In a way, it’s reminiscent of his meeting with  Enrique Peña Nieto, the president of Mexico, during which he was all smiles and conciliation; he seemed cowed by the presence of a head of state.  That didn’t last 24 hours; by that evening, back across the border, he was his old obstreperous self again, apparently to the extent of lying about what was discussed during the meeting.

Many people who supported Trump, and presumably voted for him, are holding out an olive branch, saying that what Trump said during the campaign was just rhetoric, and he’ll calm down now that he’s been elected.  I can’t help feeling that if we don’t fall in line, we will feel the sting of that olive branch, converted into a whip.

I caught the tail end of an interview on the radio with a CEO who supported Trump.  Her take was that, yes, Trump is a jerk, but he has a talent for hiring competent people to actually run his businesses, so his personality is irrelevant.  I’m not sure reducing his unprecedented gall to merely annoying is justifiable, but there is a ray of hope, albeit small and not very satisfying.  If Trump appoints normal Republicans to his administration, and goes off to play golf, his administration will only be a normal Republican disaster, that is, slightly mitigated rather than unmitigated.

The big question for the rest of us is, what next?  The Democratic Party is in disarray at the moment.  I doubt that will last, but we’re between the proverbial rock and a hard place.  Does the party move to the right, to try to accommodate moderate Republicans, or does it move left, and offer its own brand of populism?

I doubt very much that ideology played any part in the election of Donald J. Trump.  We brought, as they say, a knife to a gun fight, and now we’re licking our wounds and arguing about what kind of knife to bring to the next one.

There are almost as many reasons given for his victory as there are pundits, desperately trying to salvage their reputations, after failing miserably to predict almost everything about the election.  There is, however, one factor which I find the most disturbing.  NPR reported on All Things Considered yesterday on a new app-centric polling company called Brigade, which found in results from election day that as much as 40% of registered Democrats crossed over to vote for Trump.

In a campaign full of ingenious imagery, the one that sticks with me is that people just wanted someone who would tip over the table, reset the process to point zero.

We can only hope that Trump is a one-off, and when people see his policies in action, they will be disabused of their illusions, and we can pick it up from there.  Right now, I see neither hope nor despair, just a long wait.

The Republicare debate

The conservative fury over the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is disingenuous, at best, and outright fraudulent at worst.  The American public seems to have a memory limited to only a few months; almost no one remembers that the ideas forming the foundation of the ACA began life as the Republican alternative to the Clinton attempts to reform the system in 1993.  The alternative, introduced by John Chafee, and even the alternative to the alternative, submitted the following year by Don Nickles (that’s Nickles, not Rickles, although the confusion is understandable) contained most of the provisions of the bill that today is called Obamacare.  Most notable were provisions that mandated individuals to buy insurance, and the formation of exchanges.  Clinton’s efforts were, in any case, hounded out of contention by conservatives on both sides of the congressional aisle, and economic bombardment from the health insurance industry.

But because reforming health care was one of the major pillars of Obama’s campaign for the presidency, and because he won handily, Democrats began working on it soon after he was sworn in in 2009.  Most favored a single payer plan: in a nutshell, nationalized health care, like every other industrialized nation in the world, and a few who are not industrialized, enjoys.  It was immediately clear, however, that conservatives in Congress, Democrats as well as Republicans, would never go for it, due to their paranoia about socialism (which they don’t seem to understand, but we’ll set that aside).

Because most of the provisions of the earlier Republican alternative plans had been passed into law in Massachusetts in 2006, and because this law was not only very successful, but wildly popular among conservatives, who were beside themselves with praise for it, it was decided that this would form the basis of the new Democratic reform proposal, in order to ensure bipartisan support.

Unfirtunately, they forgot one small detail: soon after the election, Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell stated on the Senate floor that the number one priority of his party was to limit Obama to one term.  So much for bipartisanship.  It was clear that Republicans would do whatever they deemed necessary to achieve that goal, even to the point of directly contradicting their own position on the provisions of the health care reform they themselves had put forward a few years earlier.  In 1993, not one single Republican made the slightest whimper concerning the constitutionality of the insurance mandate.  In 2009, it suddenly became a constitutional crisis.  What had changed?  Certainly not the constitution; it was the matter of who would benefit politically if the bill passed.

It is often pointed out that no Republican in Congress voted for the final version of ACA.  That is certainly true.  Hardly anyone points out that it passed anyway, because voters had elected more Democrats than Republicans.  Remember majority rule?  Republicans don’t, except when they’re the majority.  GW and his congressional cronies lost no time gutting every Clinton program they legally could, many by executive decree, when it seemed unlikely it could pass Congress.  Now that Democrats control the Senate, Republicans moan about being left out, by which they mean the majority won’t immediately cave in to their demands.

All of this could be dismissed, with a lot of eye rolling,  as business as usual, but for two things:

First, the conservative Supreme Court has decided that corporations can spend as much as they please on political advertising.  Virtually all of political advertising these days is negative.  The end result is that people are daily bombarded with negativity about not only programs that corporations fear will affect their profits, but also about the government in general.  The strategy seems to be obstructionism from the political side, mitigated by a stream of “a-pox-on-both-their-houses” advertising from the corporate side.  Keep pounding that stuff, and people start to believe it.  Amazingly, in spite of this, Obama was reelected with a larger majority that his first term, in an election that was characterized in no uncertain terms by conservatives as a referendum on Obamacare.  They not only lost the presidential race, but also lost seats in both houses of Congress.  Suddenly, mysteriously, it turned out not to have been a referendum after all.

Second, since many state legislatures are controlled by conservatives, widespread gerrymandering all but guaranteed safe seats for conservative Republicans, effectively insulating them from blowback for their obstructionism.  We see the result every day.  Conservatives say the most outlandish things, and suffer no consequences.

What to do?  First of all, gerrymandering must be made illegal.  I am fully aware that Democrats are just as guilty of this, but that doesn’t make it any less dangerous.  Unfortunately, nothing will help much without reversal of Citizens United, the Supreme Court decision that opened the floodgates of corporate political money, much, if not most of it from multinationals with no particular loyalty to the United States.  You’d think that that, at least, would be unconstitutional.

At the very least, I hope I have set the record straight, although, to be honest, I know this little posting has about the effect of a blow dart in a hurricane.

Politics, huh!

I contributed a fair amount of money this last election cycle, in a few cases to elect someone I thought would be good, in most cases to defeat someone I thought would be a disaster.  Oh, well, c’est la guerre, I suppose.  The vast majority of the people I thought would be a disaster I didn’t even know; it was the keep the Other Side from ascendancy.

Politically, I’m liberal, ish.  But I have some experience with countries that have gone to extremes both left and right, and I’ve come to believe the real culprit is ideology itself, irrespective of which particular flavor.  Being pragmatic doesn’t mean, however, that there can’t be certain guidelines, and, for me, that mostly ends up siding with the party slightly left of right of center, the Democrats.  They used to be lined up against the party slightly right of right of center, the Republicans; they still are, but the Republicans lately made a strategic decision to appear as insane as possible, probably on the inexcusably cynical notion that most Americans would find that attractive.  It worked, for awhile.  I’ll leave it to you to figure out why this coincided with the tenure of our first African-American president, whom the Republicans quite clearly and explicitly vowed to expel from the government.  This personal vendetta was their highest priority in the most complex global environment in recent history, and it was this complete lack of perspective that drove me to contributional excesses.

Well, now it seems the Dems have decided to flatter the dickens out of the Republicans, if imitation be the sincerest form thereof.

It is, of course, understandable, if indefensible, that when you contribute money to an enterprise, the most immediate response is for them to deluge you with requests for even more money.  If you respond to that positively, they crank it up a notch or two.  At a certain point, the requests become more like demands, and the demands contain threats of dire consequences to the nation, indeed, to humanity itself, of you not personally forking over yet more.  I understand all of this.  It is deplorable, but the nature of the beast.

Here’s what I don’t like, and what is turning me completely off:  More and more, the stated primary goal of some campaign or another is simply to embarrass the opposition.

“If we get this amount of money, or if this bill passes/doesn’t pass,  Boehner will be furious!”  Or the Tea Party will be livid.  Or some other such nonsense.

What?  Since when is that of any importance?  What happened to the consequences of the bill in question as an issue?  It’s as if they’re saying that once your financial contributions reach some critical point, they can drop the pretense of any substance, and go after the real target, the Other Guy.

This is precisely the kind of BS from the Other Guy that prompted my concerns in the first place.  Now it seems that even ideology is irrelevant, except to the extent it can be used to pry more money from a gullible electorate.