Archive for April, 2018
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!”