When Barack Obama was running for the Presidency in 2008 he said he might agree to meet with America’s foes, like Kim Jong Un of North Korea or (at that time) Ahmad Ahmadinejad of Iran. He was trounced on by Republican hawks for weakness – these are our enemies, why give them stature by talking with them? In the end, Obama did not, though he did use massive international pressure to force Iran to a verifiable nuclear arms agreement.
President Trump’s summit with Kim Jong Un of North Korea is astounding in what it did and did not do. It did not yield any kind of verifiable agreement – or any kind of agreement at all – for North Korea to give up nuclear weapons. The US made concessions, North Korea made none. Most importantly, the US gave North Korea a propaganda coup – Kim is on stage as a world leader, called “talented” by the US President. Indeed, Trump praised Kim’s leadership saying that when he talks “his people” are at full attention, listening to him. “I wish my people would do that,” Trump noted wistfully.
That is surreal enough – that an American President would give North Korea so much in return for so little, and with right wing Republicans cheering it on. Trump makes Neville Chamberlain look savvy and skeptical.
But it gets worse. President Trump, and top members of his administration, lambasted Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for being – understandably and justifiably – angry about US tariffs put on Canadian goods for “national security” reasons.
One aide said there was “a special place in hell” for “back stabbers” like Trudeau. Trump attacked him via twitter. Yet polls show most Americans back Trudeau over Trump in this spat.
So the US President praises the dictator of the most ruthless country in the planet, one dead last in human rights, despite not getting anything in return. Way to negotiate, Donny! Then he attacks our most important ally with vicious condemnation, even though Trudeau is a democratically elected leader with an excellent human rights record. What gives?
It’s not that the meeting with Kim did any good for the US. Indeed, China and Russia benefit most from this racheting down of pressure in exchange for, well, nothing. If Trump really was a Russian plant, this is exactly the kind of thing he’d be doing.
Indeed, not only is he giving gifts to cold blooded Communist dictators, but he’s undermining the American led free trade regime put in place after World War II with the Bretton Woods system and GATT (now the WTO). The US has consistently promoted free trade and warned against tariffs and trade wars – Trump is blowing that all up, putting millions of jobs at risk.
It gets even worse. Given high US debt and deficit spending, if foreign countries decided to punish the US by not buying our bonds (or dumping those they have), it could be a disaster – perhaps a collapse of the dollar. The US deficit had been going down steadily under Obama. Trump’s tax cuts to the wealthy, not likely to help the economy, have ballooned the deficit to record numbers. We need other country’s money just to pay our bills – even as we alienate those same countries.
This is surreal, it’s like a farce, a bizarre twist of reality that can’t really be happening…but it is. A President banging out inane Twitter insults, attacking American institutions, and preening for dictators, all while working to undermine global economic stability.
I can imagine Trump meeting with Putin down the line. “Mission accomplished,” he’ll say, as we watch the western economy lurch into crisis. Then Trump will jet to North Korea and party with Kim, sipping cognac with a man he can relate to, and who has loyalty from his own people that Trump craves. Perverse.
No, I don’t mean the end of the world, the end of American democracy or the other dire predictions of many who fear Trump. I seriously believe that we may be seeing the Trump Presidency moving into it’s final stage. Moreover, there’s a good chance he’ll be done in by those who have tolerated him up until now: the Republican establishment in Washington.
Since I posted my last post on Trump, critical stories have broke. Most dramatic, but perhaps least important, is the James Comey book that rips Trump and paints him to be a rather pathetic fool. More important is the raid on the personal attorney of the President, Michael Cohen. This could be a game changer.
Cohen is Trump’s “fixer.” The guy who comes in and makes problems go away – such as by paying Stormy Daniels $130,000, then perhaps having her threatened (though he denies being involved in that). More ominously for Trump, Cohen’s services reach into Trump’s business world, a world that many believe often operates on the wrong side of the law. At the very least, Cohen could be involved with dubious deals and pay outs, all of which might put Trump Enterprises at legal risk.
Moreover, this is not an investigation that Trump can stop by firing Rosenstein or Mueller. Insiders in the White House acknowledge that the Cohen case may be far more dangerous to the President than anything Mueller is looking at (though the Mueller case was instrumental in bringing Cohen’s misdeeds to light).
Reports from sources close to the White House claim that the President is “increasingly unhinged,” angry, fuming, “ready to blow.” He’s feeling persecuted, mistreated, and threatened in ways he is not used to. As a wealthy private citizen he could use his money and attorneys to cover up, threaten, manipulate and control. As President everything he touches is under public scrutiny, and his usual tools (threatening law suits, etc.) are unavailable. By assuming this job, he has endangered himself and his business in ways he couldn’t have imagined.
He tweeted that raiding Cohen’s house is an “attack on America” even though legal rules were followed to the letter. He realizes that all of this is out of his control, and instead of being the “boss” like he imagined, he’s more liked a caged animal. To be sure, it’s a gilded cage, but all the tweets and Presidential perks won’t stop the relentless investigation into Trump, Cohen, and their business dealings.
So what’s the end game? I suspect Republicans in DC are in meetings, trying to figure out the best way to get them out of this mess. The end of Trump’s Presidency would be a disaster for Trump, but not for the GOP. Many believe a President Pence could be in position to win in 2020, and perhaps turn around the poisonous atmosphere Republicans face in the mid terms. They’ve tolerated Trump, few actually support him.
If Trump starts looking less like a successful businessman and more like a figurehead atop a operation run by his lawyer, Donald Jr. and even Ivanka, then charges of corruption and bribery in his businesses could destroy whatever reputation Donald has as a clever deal maker. That could be an opening for the GOP to themselves cut a deal – perhaps Pence will pardon him if he agrees to resign, or maybe Trump will himself decide that the job is not worth it.
Of course, investigations take time, and Trump could resist all efforts to push him aside. Yet somehow the revelations of the past week feel different – the legal problems facing the President have morphed from being a nuisance to being a real threat to his Presidency. We’re entering a new and perhaps final stage of this administration.
In 2016 the Republican party had a chance to put in place their agenda of less government spending, lower taxes, an embrace of freer trade, and economic competence. Part of it was good timing – the recession’s impact had waned, and the economy looked to do well regardless of who was in charge. Also, many saw Hillary Clinton as burdened by the past. A good number of Americans felt it was time to give the GOP a chance.
An undercurrent of all this, of course, was the seething discontent of the lower middle class. These are people harmed by out-sourcing, earning less than their parents, and seeing few opportunities. For twenty years this class has grown. Disproportionately white and uneducated, they had done well in the post-WWII economy. After 1945 life was good for well trained professionals, business leaders, and uneducated workers willing to put in the effort. Indeed income disparities became less from 1945 to 1980, as unions represented the interests of these workers.
Since 1980 the economy has shifted against the working class. Unions have dissipated, hated by even those whom they served. The educated “elite” – professionals at all levels – have managed to maintain their standard of living. Working class folk have not; jobs have left the country and despite low cost goods from China, a kind of hopelessness has spread. The Republicans hoped they could be the solution.
The argument: Democrats no longer represent the workers. Instead they represent special interests – minorities, immigrants who take the few jobs remaining, and the professional elite of educators, bureaucrats and white color workers. The GOP would now be the party of the workers by bringing back jobs, and shifting power away from the professionals and back to the workers. It was a seductive message, inducing many long time Democratic voters in places like Michigan and Wisconsin to shift their allegiances.
Donald Trump seemed a flawed but effective face of this movement, speaking to working class concerns while eschewing the angst of politically correct discourse. He’d be crude and offensive, but that was what the masses wanted – someone to thumb their nose at the way in which the culture had shifted in the last 30 years. Republicans like Jeff Sessions of Alabama saw in Trump a vehicle to undermine the culture shift of the past generation, to wrestle power from the professional elite and give it back to both workers and the conservative base of the GOP. Sure, Trump would have to be controlled, but he represented the kind of change that mainstream Republicans had been unable to generate.
That now lays in tatters.
The marriage of Republican policy to working class concerns was always a stretch. While talking the talk of defending workers, the party has historically sided with big business and big money. Trump, like Pat Buchanan twenty years earlier, shifted the rhetoric, but couldn’t shift the party.
The Trump Presidency, however, has proven deadly to the Republican party. Unless something changes they could lose their majority in both houses (no small feat, given how few Republicans are up for re-election in the Senate) and set up a 2020 election that might be a tidal shift to the Democrats. What happened?
Simply: Donald Trump proved be far more volatile, uncontrollable and erratic than most Republicans expected. They thought that the “never-Trump” rhetoric was a bit over the top, that once in office the desire to succeed would lead Trump to listen and follow their lead. Instead, he battled from the beginning with his own party, including early supporters like Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Instead of being a Ronald Reagan like icon of a new era of GOP activism, Trump became poison even to the GOP agenda. Free trade was replaced by tariffs, tax cuts were not accompanied by spending cuts, creating a massive increase in the federal deficit. Obamacare was neither repealed nor replaced, and as we head to the 2018 election the news of of scandals – collusion with Russia, affairs (including one with a porn star while his child was young) – fly about. Add to this a drama about the future of the special prosecutor which finds Democrats gleefully watching as Republicans attack each other, and no one can say the GOP is in good shape.
Paul Ryan’s retirement is more than a canary in a coal mine. It is a screeching alarm.
Unless the Republican party decides to exorcise this failed President from their party, they will go down with him, and the hope of showing Americans a new path based on limited government and fiscal responsibility will be seen as a rhetorical pipe-dream. Sure, they ran on that, but they never intended to do it. Unless the Republican party rises up against their leader – who is really an usurper damaging the GOP as well as the country – the Democrats look set to have two of their best election cycles ever.
Since I tend to support Democrats, one might think that this would please me. It doesn’t. We need two strong parties with viable differences to allow us to debate, discuss, experiment and compromise. When one party’s best visions are blighted by an incompetent leader, it hurts all of us.
Maine’s political landscape received a shock Sunday as Governor Paul LePage held a rare early morning press conference to announce his plan to assume the Presidency of the University of Maine at Farmington when President Kate Foster leaves this summer.
Dr. James Melcher, a political scientist at UMF, said he was originally annoyed when he was called on to come to Farmington for the morning announcement. “It’s Easter, I was supposed to be in Church. Why would I be called in on Easter Sunday?”
LePage defended the timing, saying that he wanted to avoid the news coming out through the rumor mill.
At 10:00 AM the Governor addressed a small crowd out on the warm spring morning. “It’s the first of April, the start of a new month, and a new era for UMF and for me,” LePage noted. “I have accomplished everything I set out to do as Governor, despite some treason within my own party. If Republicans in the state house had stood 100% behind me, we could have done much more.
“However, with elections coming up in November, I’m already a lame duck. I don’t enjoy that. When I heard about the opening at UMF – Congratulations to President Foster, on her appointment as President of the University of New Jersey. I’ll make sure to introduce her to my good friend Chris Christie – I realized that I could still make a difference by helping young people get a quality education.
“My priorities at UMF are simple. First, we’ll ditch the ‘liberal arts education’ thing. Yeah, I know ‘liberal’ here isn’t meant politically, but it’s a loaded term. Rural Maine is working class Maine, and we’ll promote ‘working class education,’ with an emphasis on things that will get you a job. We’ll be looking to make cuts in non-essential programs like the Humanities, Social Sciences, and the Arts. And with all due to respect to Professor Melcher, who has worked closely with Amy Fried, one of the most biased and dishonest voices in the Maine Media, to write on a book that mocked me and other ‘tea party’ governors, well, Political Science is an oxymoron. It doesn’t belong as a subject of study. Also the name ‘UMF’ needs to go.”
Chancellor James Page, reached by phone, was brief. “I’m about to have my Easter dinner,” he said. “The Governor has the power to name himself – it’s a little known and never used part of the University of Maine system charter. I’ll have more to say next week. Happy Easter,” Page stated, sighing heavily before hanging up.
Sabine Klein, President of AFUM, the NEA-affiliated union representing faculty, said LePage will be in for a fight if he tries to disrupt UMF. “The faculty are unified, and ready to strike,” she said. Faculty President Scott Erb, standing next to her, took a more conciliatory tone, “well, we’ll see what happens…I have a sabbatical next spring and I don’t want anything to mess that up.” An annoyed Klein walked away muttering, “what a selfish asshole.”
Student response was muted. “Everyone is just sick,” one student noted. A reporter responded with the question “Because of Le Page coming to UMF?”
“Huh? No, no, no…Those of us not going home for Easter had a huge party last night, smoked a lot of weed and drink mass quantities of cheap vodka. We’re literally, like, throwing up all over the place. Excuse me….” The student, who did not want her name to be used, ran away holding her hand over her mouth.
“Students will like me,” Le Page said. “Yeah, I’ll clamp down on marijuana use – it’s still a federal crime – and students will have to work. I’m going to lay off the custodial staff – students can clean their own dorms and class rooms. We’ll save a lot of money and tuition will drop dramatically.”
Farmington firebrand and ideologue Pency Norter was beside herself with joy. “Finally, we’ll get those stuck up academics put in their place. Governor Le Page won’t put up with that horseshit. Cut their salaries, and make students do their assignments in cursive. These spoiled snowflakes are too dependent on technology. Make them work!”
Le Page finished his comments with thoughts on the future, “I’m looking forward to making UMF a model university, showing that instead of ridiculous ivory tower bullshit like ‘literary criticism, deconstruction, and constructivism,’ we’ll be focusing on business and science. We’ll also have zero tolerance of any political speech on campus. There will be no safe zones, if someone is ‘transgendered,’ we’ll just call them confused idiots. Damn snowflakes need a dose of reality, if they’re acting like spoiled pricks that’s what we’ll call them! And…” Le Page smiled, laughing slightly, “oh, man, I have a surprise that will thrill everyone. My friend, President Donald Trump, has agreed to come speak at graduation. It’ll be a great introduction to the new TUF campus – Trump University at Farmington!”
When The Selling of the President by Joe McGinniss was published, it raised eyebrows and concerns. The Nixon campaign of 1968 was less an effort to persuade the American people that Nixon would be a good President than a marketing campaign.
What would happen if the politics of the country became no better than the competition between Coke and Pepsi? What if instead of reasoned debate we simply had glitzy ad campaigns, with substance irrelevant? Democracy requires an engaged and reasonably knowledgable citizenry. Marketing campaigns do not.
The Trump Presidency has been marketing on steroids. When he falsely claimed his State of the Union address was the most watched in US history, few were outraged. Trump is a shameless self-promoter, and lies so often that people seem not to care. But perhaps the most telling – and dangerous – is the controversy over the memo put forward by Devin Nunes, Chair of the House Intelligence Committee. On its face it’s just another political game; in reality to cuts to the core of what we are as a nation.
The facts are straightforward. President Trump and people around him are under investigation for collusion with Russia to impact the 2016 election. Trump hates this investigation. He fired James Comey, the last FBI director, for pursuing the issue. He has attacked and bitterly condemned Robert Mueller, who was chosen to head the investigation.
The Trump team are worried. While existing practice makes it unlikely the President will be indicted for any crime, people close to the President may be implicated (some already have) and there is a potential to severely weaken an already embattled President. So like good marketers, without regard to truth, they have decided it’s best to try to discredit the investigation, which means attacking Mueller, the FBI and the Justice Department.
That’s huge – the White House is virtually at war with its own justice department. Trump is reportedly fuming that “his” people can’t simply stop this investigation. It’s the “Trump Justice Department” after all! And in corrupt countries, that would happen – the power of the leader trumps rule of law.
The US has a long tradition of putting law first, and the FBI and Mueller have refused to back down. Enter Nunes. He decided to take information available from a variety of sources and cherry pick anything that might lead one to question the FBI’s actions, and put them into one memo with the sole purpose of discrediting the FBI investigation.
Stop here. This is astounding. The Head of the House Intelligence committee creating an overtly political “memo” based on cherry picking claims and interpreting them in a way to make the FBI look bad (while ignoring the majority of evidence) is NOT something one expects in a country governed by rule of law. It is an effort to undermine trust in law enforcement in order to politically protect the President. So much for Congress checking Presidential power!
This is surreal. It is absurd. It upends traditional practice and the sense that after an investigation we let the facts speak, without turning it into a political circus.
President Nixon fired Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox in 1973, the so-called Saturday Night massacre. He asked the Attorney General, Elliot Richardson, to fire Cox. Richardson refused and resigned Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelhaus also refused and was fired. Solicitor General Robert Bork finally accepted the the task to fire Cox.
But that was a bombshell that shocked the political establishment and helped lead to Nixon’s demise. Here Congress is actively trying to find cover for the President to halt the investigation, directly attacking American law enforcement in so doing.
If the memo is released, it will pressure FBI Director Christopher Wray to resign – he has strongly opposed releasing a flawed and overtly partisan “memo.” It will challenge Republicans to think hard about the cost of politicizing this investigation to the point of attacking the FBI.
Democracies usually don’t collapse, often one compromise against rule of law starts a cascade until it seems normal to simply do what is necessary to keep or gain power. If this memo is released, the strength of our democratic system will be tested. If this derails the investigation and puts the FBI on the defensive, then there is a chink in the armor of our democratic institutions. As surreal as the spectacle might be, the reality is that democracy and rule of law are at stake.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel took her usual stoic approach to the collapse of coalition talks to form a new government. Negotiations ended, she said “an einem wirklich, ich würde fast sagen historischen Tag.” “On really what I would almost call an historical day.”
It is. Since the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1949, every election has yielded a functioning coalition.
This could be the beginning of the end for Angela Merkel, who is widely seen as a force for stability in both Germany and the EU. She came to power in 2005, when tension between the US and Europe over the Iraq war was still intense. She dominated the scene in EU negotiations over the economic crises of 2008-09, as much of the world predicted the demise of the Euro. The Euro emerged stronger, the EU survived the crisis, and Merkel’s Germany became a beacon of stability.
Now she faces her greatest challenge. Germany is a parliamentary system, meaning that the government is led by the Chancellor (in some countries called the Prime Minister) who leads both the legislative and executive branches of government. Voting for parliament is by party, with each party getting seats representing the proportion of votes they receive. For one party to get a majority, it would have to get about 50% of the vote. The only time that happened in Germany was in 1959.
The 2013 elections yielded a grand coalition, including the CDU/CSU (Merkel’s party) and SPD. The SPD refused to continue the grand coalition, and for good reason. It is the main left of center party, while Merkel leads the main right of center party. When the two “big tent” parties govern together, it automatically strengthens the smaller parties, which become the only opposition. The SPD couldn’t really run against CDU government policies in 2017, since the SPD was itself part of the government the last four years. The result was a catastrophic loss of support and their worst result since before WWII.
The usual coalition partner for the CDU/CSU is the FDP, but together they’d have only 326 seats, well short of the 355 required. The Left party is too far left to make a coalition with the conservatives possible, while the AfD is a right wing nationalist party with views anathema to Merkel and most conservatives. That leaves only the Greens as a potential third coalition partner – the so called “Jamaica coalition,” as the colors of the parties (black, yellow and green) match the Jamaican flag.
The reason this is so difficult is the emergence of the AfD, a populist nationalist anti-immigrant anti-EU party with neo-nazi overtones. They emerged with 12.6% of the vote, the third largest party. A million of their voters came from the conservative Christian Democrats, but another two million came from people who hadn’t voted in the last election, or had voted for other (presumably right wing) parties. Merkel does not want a coalition with AfD because that could legitimize them. An alternative right wing party would be competition for the Christian Democrats – and Merkel and her party have a history of being pro-EU and in favor of helping refugees and others suffering war and hardship.
So what next? Perhaps the most likely possibility is new elections. Germans are loathe to go that route, as the stability of the Federal Republic is something prized – they recall how instability in the Weimar Republic helped create chaos and bring Hitler to power. For that reason pressure is on the SPD to reprise their role as partner in a grand coalition. But the SPD’s vote share of 20.5% was catastrophically bad, and most believe it would be political suicide to join Merkel in another coalition.
If there are new elections, there is no guarantee the results will be any different. This time, the Greens and the CDU/CSU were close to an agreement on contentious issues, but the FDP (a centrist pro-business party) choose to drop out of negotiations. 55% of Germans blame the FDP for the failure of the negotiations.
The fear is that this will strengthen the AfD, though many polls show them at the peak of their strength. If the results of new elections are basically the same, the pressure to make either a grand coalition or a Jamaica coalition work will be immense. But it’s also possible that new elections could help Merkel.
Merkel’s strength is her ability to stay cool under pressure and handle difficult situations. A quantum chemist by training – a real scientist – Merkel is also the first East German to become Chancellor since reunification in 1990. Many Germans fearing chaos might turn to the woman affectionately none as “Mutti” (mom). She lost some popularity due to her willingness to accept Syrian refugees in 2015, but her ability to stay cool and calm and weather storms makes her still the most admired German politician.
So this may be Merkel’s most important moment. Can she navigate the German political scene, including the possibility of new elections, and avoid on going political crisis? The potential collapse of the Euro and the Greek economy in 2009 was a crisis few thought anyone could handle, but she deftly built alliances and pushed for a solution grudgingly accepted by all sides. If anyone can handle this with grace under pressure, it’s Angela Merkel.
I am a fan of Al Franken. He is not only extremely intelligent, but as a Senator his quick thinking has led to many memorable moments as he burned officials testifying to Senate committees with incisive and well informed questions, exposing bull shit and lies. Before today if I had to choose who I wanted to be the Democratic standard bearer in 2020, I’d have said Al Franken.
Heck, he’s from St. Louis Park, Minnesota – a suburb of Minneapolis. I not only was born in Minneapolis and did my Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota, but I belonged to a fitness club in St. Louis Park. I’m a Twins, Vikings and Timberwolves fan (meh to the Wild, I can’t get into hockey). I celebrated when Franken won his razor tight initial election for the Senate in 2008. Calling on him to resign is personally painful to me.
I’ve heard many objections. Unlike Judge Roy Moore, who paints himself as a holier than thou religious zealot, Franken did not assault under age women. Moore has scores of accusers, and there is even a story of how he was banned from an Alabama mall in the 80’s due to his creepiness around young girls. Moreover, Franken has apologized and accepts an ethics investigation. Moore has lawyered up and doubled down, trying to personally attack and discredit his accusers.
The allegations against Franken pale to those against Donald Trump, who has also been accused by multiple women of improper behavior, and has the infamous “grab them by the pussy” statement caught on video. President Clinton survived despite accusations of impropriety from multiple women, and a relationship with an intern. (For the record, I also called for Clinton’s resignation when the Lewinsky scandal broke).
So why on earth would I call on Franken to resign?
Here’s a statement I made on Facebook: I believe Al Franken, who is a brilliant Senator, was trying to be funny as he says. I also believe he should set a positive example for Roy Moore and choose to resign his Senate seat. Even if this isn’t an underage woman, he should recognize that his actions reflect a culture where men thought it OK to steal a grope or a kiss…”no big deal.” He should recognize that such ideas are part of an outdated patriarchal world view and use his resignation to make that point.
Simply, Franken should take the initiative and do the right thing for the right reason. He should recognize that his fall from grace, along with Moore, Stallone, Weinstein, Spacey, and others, reflects a change in our cultural tolerance of abusive and disrespectful behavior of men towards women.
The idea that “boys will be boys,” and “stealing a kiss” isn’t just fun and harmless. If there is no consent, a kiss, a caress, or a touch of the breast is assault. Even if it does no physical harm, it is a violation of another person in a way that is not only demeaning, but reflects a power differential that shows itself in how women are treated across the board.
I believe in forgiveness, and I think that if people admit and apologize rather than lie and obfuscate, we can move on.
Franken resigning, and saying that he’s doing so because he recognizes that his behavior was part of accepted cultural norms that we can no longer tolerate, would be a step in the right direction. It will also be welcome example of decency in the face of people like Trump and Moore, who want to save their own hide, whatever the cost.
We as a society can choose to stop the patriarchal view of society that continues to see men as dominant and women as subservient. We’ve come a long way from the suffrage movement and getting women into the work place. We’re at a cultural tipping point. We need men, especially men who have engaged in such behavior, to own up to it, apologize, and support cultural change.