Preparing for President Trump

Trump - RNCThis week Donald J. Trump was formally declared to be the Republican nominee for President of the United States. In his acceptance speech Trump capitalized on fear, presenting a dystopian view of America, and blaming blacks, Hispanic migrants, Muslims, and foreign actors for America’s woes.

KKK leader David Duke claimed that he could not have said it any better. A fact check of Trump’s statements reveals nearly every one to be a distortion of the facts.  It is well worth reading.

Throughout his campaign for the presidency, Trump has promised to bring a grand solution to America’s problems without supplying any details and without providing any kind of roadmap for getting there. In his acceptance speech he presented himself as the “law and order” candidate, the strongman America needs in its hour of peril who will singlehandedly deliver America from its internal and external enemies.

His message was simple and direct: Trust me. I am the only one who can save America. “I am the only one who can do this.” trump-stagejpg-d661c16fd81ea8d7Against the massive backdrop of the stage – changed overnight from RNC silver to Trump gold – and with his name emblazoned bigger than anyone could imagine, the message was clear that this event marked the coronation of “King Trump.”

To be quite honest, I genuinely fear for America’s future. The fact that 40% or more of Americans polled say they actually support Donald Trump for president scares me. I still believe that he will not win the election. He is far too divisive, polarizing, narcissistic, bombastic, nasty, and erratic to win the confidence of the majority of Americans. (At least I fervently hope this is the case.)

Donald Trump-aBut Donald Trump has accomplished one very important thing. He has (likely permanently) changed ground rules of campaigning.

In making his statement that “we will not be politically correct” a near constant theme in his campaign (and in not being called out on it by a timid media),

Trump has succeeded in normalizing hate speech in American politics.

He has normalized lying and deception.

He has normalized scapegoating and personal attacks.

He has normalized demonizing one’s opponents.

He has normalized misogyny and xenophobia.

He has normalized fear mongering and physical attacks on other.

He has made all of these things “acceptable.”

We can expect to see these tactics employed again in future campaigns. I am not so much worried that Donald Trump will be able to use them to go all the way to the White House. I am worried about what a future, less abrasive and controversial candidate may do with these tools.

America has never been closer to embracing authoritarian fascist-like leadership than at this moment. I am not saying that Donald Trump is a fascist. I am not name-calling. I am merely pointing out, as others have before me [see here and here], that he has been using a standard set of tools from the fascist playbook from the very beginning. We have seen it played out before in the populist rise of Mussolini, Hitler, and Franco two generations ago.

The great battle on the world stage at that time was to defeat this right-wing authoritarian autocratic form of government known as fascism. Now, under the banner of “Make America Strong,” Americans seem willing to embrace it on their own soil. As Alan Gopnik recently warned in the New Yorker,

If Trump came to power, there is a decent chance that the American experiment would be over. This is not a hyperbolic prediction; it is not a hysterical prediction; it is simply a candid reading of what history tells us happens in countries with leaders like Trump. Countries don’t really recover from being taken over by unstable authoritarian nationalists of any political bent, left or right—not by Peróns or Castros or Putins or Francos or Lenins or fill in the blanks. The nation may survive, but the wound to hope and order will never fully heal. Ask Argentinians or Chileans or Venezuelans or Russians or Italians—or Germans. The national psyche never gets over learning that its institutions are that fragile and their ability to resist a dictator that weak. If he can rout the Republican Party in a week by having effectively secured the nomination, ask yourself what Trump could do with the American government if he had a mandate.

With the events of this last week, and the endorsement of Donald Trump for the presidency, I truly fear for America’s future. It has embarked on a very, very dark path from which it may be impossible to emerge.

Photo credits: Gus Chan / The Plain Dealer; Brian Snyder/Reuters/Landov

Fear and Loathing at the Republican National Convention

republican-national-conventionThis past week the Republican Party held its national convention in Cleveland, Ohio to confirm the nomination of Donald Trump as its candidate for the presidency. It did not go well.

During the extensive primary process of selecting delegates to the convention Trump had defeated 16 other Republican contenders and accumulated the required number of bound delegate votes to ensure his nomination. However a broad “Never Trump” movement of disaffected Republican leaders and delegates also emerged who were firmly committed to preventing Trump’s nomination at the convention.

Trump children at RNCDonald Trump personally orchestrated the convention’s theme, stage décor, and speaker list, which prominently featured his own family. Many prominent Republican leaders (including past presidents and presidential nominees) stayed away. In many ways it was more like a Trump family event than a RNC event. The convention was unlike any other in the history of the Republican Party.

The first and last day of the convention served as bookends to highlight the central message Trump wanted to present. Instead of Reagan’s memorable sunny “Morning in America” message, Trump’s message more on the order of “Be afraid; be very afraid.” According to Trump, we are in a time of crisis; everything is falling apart. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are to blame, and I am the only one who can save you.

The tone of the convention was orchestrated to generate a mood of fear, rage and loathing among the delegates.

makeamericasafeThe first day’s theme at the convention was “Make America Safe Again.” It featured the mother of one of the soldiers slain in the attack on Benghazi who blamed Hilary Clinton personally for the death of her son. This was followed by a video on the Benghazi attack (whose real purpose was to attack Hillary), followed by two former U.S. security contractors in Benghazi who falsely accused Hillary of watching the attacks live via drone feed and doing nothing.

Then the focus shifted to a lineup of speakers who talked about the tragic deaths of family members and the grave dangers posed to American lives by undocumented Hispanic immigrants. (The GOP strategist Steve Schmidt, called these presentations “the weaponization of grief.) Milwaukie County Sheriff David Clarke then launched an attack on Black Lives Matter and former New York mayor Rudi Guiliani whipped the crown into a frenzy by emphasizing the dangers posed by Islamic extremist terrorists and saying that Obama and Clinton would not be counted on to keep America safe. This led the way for Donald Trump to finally come on stage.

The convention theme on the second day was “Make America Work Again.” It was supposed to focus on jobs, but little was actually said about that. The real theme (echoing that of the previous day) was on how a Clinton presidency would put America in danger, featuring more attacks on Hillary’s character.

It was also on this day that Donald Trump became the official nominee of the Republican Party. However, rather than unifying the party around himself, dissention remained strongly in the air. Many delegates were still angry at the way the “Stop Trump” movement had been procedurally overruled by the platform committee and gavelled into defeat on the first day through a voice vote that was anything but decisive.

I remember as I heard the voice votes both yea and nay, how they sounded equally strong. If that many delegates at the convention were solidly opposed to Trump, I thought, it would take a lot of effort to mend fences. When speakers came to the mike to question the chair’s ruling, they were abruptly told to shut up and live with it. So much for mending fences.

On day three the theme was “Make America First Again,” but problems over party unity continued to surface. Ted Cruz was the only speaker of the day to present an actual conservative policy agenda; it was strangely lacking from the other speakers at the convention.

Ted Cruz at RNCBut Cruz was booed off stage when he refused to personally endorse Trump, instead encouraging delegates to “vote their conscience” in November. His wife Heidi had to have protection in leaving the arena. The next day Cruz explained that he could not support anyone who attacked his wife and his father the way Trump had done during the campaign. Trump, in turn, quickly doubled down on the story that Ted Cruz’ father was connected to John F. Kennedy’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald. He even cited the cover of the National Inquirer as proof!

But it did not end there. On Saturday Bloomberg reported that

Donald Trump plans to create and fund super-PACs specifically aimed at ending the political careers of Ted Cruz and John Kasich should either run for office again, after both snubbed the Republican nominee during his party’s convention this week.

Talk about a vindictive streak!

Hillary ClintonInstead of uniting around Trump, the only thing the delegates seemed to be united on was their manifest hatred of Hillary Clinton. At various points orchestrated chants of “Lock Her Up” echoed through the arena, and sales of T-shirts with the slogan “Hillary for Prison” were said to be brisk. Some supporters at the convention screamed that Hillary should be shot. West Virginia delegate Michael Folk tweeted that she should be “tried for treason, murder, and crimes against the U.S. Constitution … then hung on the Mall in Washington, D.C.” And Trump’s advisor on veterans issues, Al Baldasaro, also stated that Hillary Clinton should be put in a firing line and shot for treason.

This is astonishing! Donald Trump has gone from encouraging his supporters to “rough up” dissidents at his rallies to standing by while his supports call for his chief opponent’s execution! Michael Enright, reporting for the CBC, called the attacks on Hillary Clinton at the convention “venomous.” In a report for CBC News, he noted how this shatters the conventional political rules of behaviour, saying

In 1983, 241 U.S. Marines were killed in a terrorist attack in Beirut. The president at the time was Ronald Reagan, a Republican.

[The next year] Democrats held their national nominating convention in San Francisco. They chose Walter Mondale and his running mate Geraldine Ferraro. Had they chosen the low road, they could have blamed Ronald Reagan for the deaths of those 241 Marines.

They didn’t dare.

Trump acceptance speechTrump gave his “victory speech” on the final day of the convention. That, and reaction to it, will be the subject of my next blog.

 Photo credits: Getty Images; Washington Free Beacon; Jim Young/Reuters; Scott Applewhite/AP

The Demise of Moderate Republicans

A friend of mine recently stated that in their view,

There are many moderate Republicans in our government now. And there are also some conservatives. Some of them are running for president, but the majority in my opinion, are what I would call moderate.

As one who has extensively studied American political history, I would have to strongly disagree. Political ideology has moved further and further to the right over the decades. While moderate and even progressive views were once dominant in Republican circles, today they can scarcely be found.

The Progressive Republican Legacy

Teddy RooseveltA century ago the Republican Party had a vibrant progressive wing led by Theodore Roosevelt. After Roosevelt became president in 1901 following the assassination of President McKinley, he quickly established himself with his “Square Deal” platform as an avid trust-buster waging war on corporate power, and a committed conservationist.

Teddy Roosevelt served two terms as president, winning a strong majority in the 1904 election. When his successor, William Taft, elected in 1908, turned out to be not as progressive in his policies as Roosevelt had hoped, Roosevelt ran against him in 1912 on the “Bull Moose” ticket.

His party platform called for (among other things) strict limits on campaign contributions, a system of social insurance for the elderly, the unemployed and the disabled, minimum wage laws and an eight-hour work day, women’s suffrage, an inheritance tax, and a constitutional amendment to allow an income tax.

Woodrow Wilson was the Democratic nominee in 2012, and as Jules Whitcover reports in his book, Party of the People, “The campaign [soon] became a contest between the two [Roosevelt and Wilson] to claim the progressive mantle” (p. 308).

It seems remarkable to me that a century ago Republicans and Democrats were in an all-out contest to determine which had the most progressive policies. But that was then, and this is now.

The Progressive movement, which had split from the Republican Party, was quite widespread a century ago. Wikipedia reports that 21 Republican candidates ran as Progressives for state governorships in the 1912 campaign and over 200 Progressives ran for seats in the House of Representatives. A large number of candidates, many of them women, ran for House seats as Progressives in 1914, and again in 1916.

By 1918 the Progressives had rejoined the Republican Party seeking to influence it from within. It is a remarkable history, but one that seems totally foreign to the political landscape today.

The Moderate Republican Legacy

The socially progressive New Deal policies of president Franklin Delano Roosevelt (a distant relation to Teddy Roosevelt) helped America recover from the Great Depression in the 1930s, and the Democratic Party enjoyed overwhelming electoral success into the 1940s.

Thomas DeweyIn light of this reality, a platform of moderate policies represented the best foundation for Republicans to regain their influence in American politics. The Moderate Republican element was strongest in the Northeastern states, especially New York. Thomas E. Dewey, the Governor of New York from 1942 to 1954 was the Republican presidential nominee in 1944 and 1948.

Nelson RockefellerThe movement’s best-known representative, however, was Nelson Rockefeller, Governor of New York from 1959 to 1973, who sought the Republican presidential nomination in 1960, 1964 and 1968, and served as Vice-President from 1974 to 1977 under President Gerald Ford.

Moderate Republicans supported many of the existing New Deal programs, although they remained critical of how they were managed. Rather than seeking to rescind them, they promised to run them more efficiently. Moderate Republicans supported limited government regulation of business and labor union rights. They supported large-scale spending on national infrastructure projects, the environment, healthcare and education. They took a liberal position on many social issues, and supported civil and voting rights for minorities.

Dwight EisenhowerEven Dwight Eisenhower, as president, recognized that it was in the party’s interest not to oppose popular New Deal programs. In 1956 he stated privately to his brother Edgar,

Should any political party attempt to abolish social security and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history.

Other Moderate Republicans of note were

  • Michigan Governor George W. Romney (1963-1969) – the father of Mitt Romney – who ran for the Republican presidential nomination against Richard Nixon in 1968 and later served as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Nixon administration
  • Connecticut Senator Prescott Bush (1952-1963) – father of George H. W. Bush; and
  • Mark O. Hatfield, Governor of Oregon (1959-1967) and U.S. Senator from Oregon (1967-1997).

Decline of Moderate Republicanism

Barry GoldwaterModerate Republicans suffered a major defeat in the 1964 campaign when the “New Right” movement took over the Republican primary process through a well-orchestrated grassroots campaign and nominated Barry Goldwater as the Republican presidential candidate.

He was defeated in one of the largest Democratic landslides in American history. I reported on these events in some detail in my previous blog “The Republican Party’s Shift to the Right.

What happened after that? The following brief statement by historian Geoffrey Kabaservice summarizes it quite well:

[M]oderates had lost the fight for the soul of the Republican Party by the end of the 1960s. They couldn’t match the organizational power or ideological passion of the party’s conservatives. While moderate Republicans continued to hold office, their numbers dwindled rapidly. And the party’s conservatives not only grew in number but in ideological vigor. Midterm sweeps in 1994 and 2010 hastened this lurch to the right.

A few Moderate Republicans have continued to serve in elected office into the 21st century – most notably

  • Senator Olympia Snowe, who retired in 2013
  • Senator Susan Collins
  • Jim Jeffords, who left the Republican Party in 2001 to sit as an Independent
  • former Senator and current Governor of Rhode Island Lincoln Chafee, who left the Republican Party to sit as an Independent in 2007 and is now running for President as a Democrat.

The number of currently serving Moderate Republicans is exceedingly small. A recent article in the Washington Post calls moderate Republicans “an endangered species.”

The New Norm

According to historical standards, there are very few moderate Republicans serving in government now. One can’t simply look at all Republican members, see who stands in the middle of the pack, and label that person a “moderate.” The vast majority of Republicans today are grouped at the conservative to extreme conservative end of the spectrum.

Political scientists have measured the relative liberalism and conservatism of both Democratic and Republican members of Congress over many years. Here is their latest tally for the House membership:


This chart clearly shows that from the beginning of the 20th century through the mid 1970s the vast majority of both Democrats and Republicans in the House held moderate views. (Note the chart displays the percentage whose views were non-centrist; from the mid-1930s onward it was less than 10%). In fact, there was a great deal of overlap in their positions.

Then, in 1976, about the time that Richard Nixon began to implement his “Southern Strategy” to bring southern conservative white voters into the Republican tent, the number of Republican House members holding non-centrist views began to climb. It accelerated through the Reagan years and has continued upward ever since, while the number of Democrats holding non-centrist views has remained roughly the same.

According to this chart, today, nine out of ten Republican House members hold extreme rather than moderate views, while nine out of ten House Democrats still fall within the moderate camp. Remember, we are talking about what fits the historical norm of being moderate.

So how does one explain the broadly held notion that although some Republicans may hold extreme right-wing views, the vast majority are “moderates” holding centrist views? The answer lies in what has come to define the “new normal” for core Republican values.

These core values are frequently summarized as follows:

Standing for smaller government, lower taxes, a strong military, pro-life policies, and traditional family values.

What many people do not realize is that some of these core values are quite new to Republican ideology. During the 2012 presidential campaign Mark Fisher penned an excellent column in the Washington Post outlining the shifts in Republican Party policy over the decades.

He notes that

Republican Platform Convention ribbon 1950The Republican Party, viewed through its quadrennial platform documents, is consistently business-oriented and committed to a strong defence, but has morphed over the past half-century from a socially moderate, environmentally progressive and fiscally cautious group to a conservative party that is suspicious of government, allied against abortion and motivated by faith.

He adds that “Many positions Republicans often tout as traditionally conservative are actually relatively new to GOP ideology.” For example,

The quest for lower taxes does not define Republicanism until the 1980s, and matters of faith play almost no role in the GOP’s plank until the 1990s.

The platforms of 1980 and 1992, he says, mark the party’s big pivots. He points out that

Throughout the 1960s and ’70s, the GOP platform includes vigorous support for an equal-rights amendment to protect women. Then, in 1980, the party stalemates: “We acknowledge the legitimate efforts of those who support or oppose ratification.”

In the 1960s and ’70s, the party positions itself as a strong advocate for D.C. voting rights, in the Senate as well as the House. Then, in 1980, all mention of voting rights vanishes; the subject has not appeared since.

The first appearance of the abortion issue represents a party very much split between business-oriented moderates and religious conservatives: Abortion “is undoubtedly a moral and personal issue” on which Republicans disagree, the 1976 plank says. Four years later, the issue has been settled: The GOP seeks a constitutional amendment protecting “the right to life for unborn children.”

The watershed platform of 1980 introduces tax cuts and an increasingly critical attitude toward government. “The Republican Party declares war on government overregulation,” it says.

Antipathy toward high taxes strengthens, resulting in 1992 in an explanation of how lowering taxes on the wealthy would lead to job creation, adding a simple declaration: “We will oppose any attempt to increase taxes.”

By 1992, “family values” become a major theme. The platform states that, “the media, the entertainment industry, academia and the Democrat Party are waging a guerrilla war against American values.”

The ’92 plank [contains] the first to mention same-sex relationships, rejects any recognition of gay marriage or allowing same-sex couples to adopt children or become foster parents.

What is significant about 1980 and 1992 as “watershed” years for Republican policy?

reagan_revolution_pop_art_design_print-p228888510838619878tdcp_40021980, of course, marks the beginning of the “Reagan Revolution,” in which Ronald Reagan (building upon Nixon’s “Southern Strategy”) focused on appealing, not to the educated professional class of moderate Republicans in New England’s traditional Republican stronghold, but to a new coalition group. It brought together ethnic blue-collar workers in the industrial states, rural farmers and ranchers in the Mid-west and Western states, and especially southern white voters opposed to desegregation and recent civil rights legislation passed by the Democrats.

Guided by a detailed policy manual developed by the conservative Heritage Foundation (their Mandate for Leadership, 1980), Reagan began implementing a radically new agenda of “supply-side economics,” reduced taxes, increased privatization, deregulation, union busting, and small government. According to the Heritage Foundation, “Nearly two-thirds of the 2,000 recommendations contained in Mandate were adopted by the Reagan administration.”

Bush-Clinton debate1992 marked the election contest between the incumbent Republican president George H. W. Bush and the Democratic contender Bill Clinton. Strong conservative opposition to Bush’s re-nomination (his main opponents, Pat Buchanan, David Duke, and Ron Paul, were far to his right) forced the Republican Party to incorporate many socially conservative planks into the party platform with a strong emphasis on “family values,”

Other sections of the party platform called for a repeal of the tax increases Bush had approved during his first term, cuts to (and caps on) government spending, job creation and economic growth, and increased individual rights.

While these policies still comprise the main stay of Republican policy today (it shows which wing of the Republican Party has become dominant in recent years), I again emphasize that these is not traditional platform issues, historically speaking, for the Republicans.

I willingly grant that since this framework largely defines standard Republican ideology as it exists today, it does reflect the current Republican “center.” My objection is to calling it “moderate.”

Reaganism may still set the benchmark for Republican ideology. I don’t dispute that at all. It has definitely triumphed over other standards of traditional Republican values. In some quarters it has even acquired near ‘sacred’ status.

But let us be clear: it is not “moderate” by any means.

Guess Who’s Running for President

Republicanlogo.svgThere are now 10 Republicans who have announced their candidacy for president in 2016 and another 9 who whose announcements are pending, are exploring their candidacy or who have publicly expressed interest in running.

That number may grow in the weeks to come. It’s a “deep bench” and it will be interesting to see what will happen in the upcoming primary debates as they each try to convince voters that they are more right-wing in their views than their opponents.

DemocraticLogoOn the Democratic side there is now a total of 4 Democrats who have declared their candidacy for president: Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Martin O’Malley, and Lincoln Chafee.

Hillary Clinton is the uncontested front runner, and it remains to be seen whether O’Malley and Chafee can get any traction. They may just be positioning themselves for the 2020 elections. (Looking back over the history of both parties one sees how often the successful nominee in a given year was an ‘also-ran’ in the prior election. That’s the usual pattern.

As an aside, it’s interesting to note that Lincoln Chafee and Hillary Clinton were at one time both committed Republicans. I wonder what happened to make them go over to the other side. Was it that the Republican Party has no room for ‘moderates’ any more? Just asking.

Bernie Sanders2The Democratic candidate who continues to receive the most attention apart from Hillary Clinton is Bernie Sanders. He has been regularly speaking to packed houses at his public events.

Yet the mainstream media continues to cast him as a fringe candidate who has little credibility. The fact that he is a self-declared “democratic socialist” (along the Scandinavian model) seems to be enough to guarantee that he will be dismissed as a serious contender in the presidential campaign.

It is difficult to understand what is so “extreme” about democratic socialism. It exists as a practical option in many European countries where socialist, labor parties, and (gasp) Christian Socialists abound. Even in Canada, which shares a 4,000 mile long border with the U.S., the (pro-labor socialist) New Democratic Party forms the official opposition in government.

The fact that there is only one ”democratic socialist” to be found among the 535 members of the U.S. Congress speaks volumes. It shows just how far to the right American government is compared to other Western democratic nations.

Bernie Sanders’ ideas have been broadly dismissed as both “extreme” and impractical. He is said to be out of touch with the American populace. Yet how extreme are his views really?

Sanders says that he wants to get big money out of politics. The vast majority of Americans agree with this, and a good half of Americans are in favor of federally financed political campaigns (such as exist is several states) to level the playing field.

Sanders strongly criticizes the growing gap between the richest 1% and the rest of the population. Polls show that some 63% of Americans also view the current distribution of wealth in the US as unfair.

Sanders has proposed raising taxes on the ultra-rich to fund government programs that will reduce this wealth disparity; 52% of Americans agree with this idea.

Sanders wants to take action to alleviate high student debts and make college education more affordable. 79% of Americans agree that education beyond high school is not affordable for many people, and 57% of those under 30 see student debt as a serious problem.

Bernie Sanders warns of the dire effects of global warming and wants to take effective action to combat it; 71% of Americans agree that global warming is a fact, and 57% are convinced that human activity is causing it.

So much with Sanders’ ideas being “extreme” and “out of touch” with the American public.

Rick PerryMeanwhile, I see that the mainstream media has no trouble treating former Texas governor Rick Perry as a credible Republican candidate for the presidency.

Perry has denounced both Social Security and Medicaid as unconstitutional. He has also denounced Obamacare and other federal health programs as unconstitutional. He sees federal education programs as unconstitutional as well as federal clean air laws and federal laws protecting workers.

Yet somehow the mainstream media doesn’t see Perry’s views as “extreme” or dismiss him as being “out of touch” with the views of the average American.

This is utterly bizarre!

Wake up people! The dangerous fringe candidates are all on the right. The extremists are all in the Republican Party. Get to know your candidates. And take care when you cast your ballot.

photo credit: Win McNamee/Getty