Point of View Columns

A New Year like No Other

As 2017 lurches to an unseemly close, tradition dictates both a ritual retrospective as well as some vision of what the New Year might be. The only problem with this tradition is that 2017 may be seen as one of the worst non-war/non-depression years in American history and there is no way to put lipstick on that particular pig. Nevertheless, 2018 comes to us as a blank slate for the moment, despite our well-founded fears and trepidation.

Twelve months ago we knew that Donald Trump was going to be the 45th President of the United States. The fact was sinking in that Hillary Clinton could run a campaign that was so bad that she could actually lose to an admitted sexual predator who also doubled as a gilt-edge scam artist and who was an uncloseted misogynist and racist to boot. And twelve months ago we knew that the New Year was going to be bad because, despite his virtually infinite number of faults, Donald Trump was known to actually keep his promises on occasion.

It was clear that Trump’s dystopian vision of Making America Great again, in large part meant making America safe and comfortable for white Americans who had not been feeling safe and comfortable. And so, we saw a presidential cabinet that looked like the result of a White Billionaire Employment Program, with Betsy DeVos, Elaine Chao and Ben Carson thrown into the mix to add some faux diversity. And by taking even the briefest look at his appointees, it was also clear that Donald Tinyhands intended to do his level best to dismantle the legacy of the Obama Administration, not realizing that while programs can be dismantled and executive orders can be rescinded, the historical legacy of Barack Obama will always be out of the reach of his tiny hands.

And so, we have seen a year where the White House seems like some kind of Gilbert and Sullivanesque farce, with Donald Trump pretending to be a president who abhors information, intelligence or the truth while the president’s team seems to have arrived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in a motorcade of clown cars. We have seen what can happen when ignorance and malevolence are combined and the results have ranged from the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Environmental Accords, to reigniting the ongoing conflagration in the Middle East to engaging in puerile spitball fights with the unbalanced leader of North Korea (who just so happens to have nuclear weapons) to eviscerating virtually every protection for consumers of financial services and the air we breathe and the water we drink.

Last week, virtually every nation on Earth, save nine, voted to condemn the Trump decision to announce that the American embassy would be moving to Jerusalem. The response of the Trump administration was to “take names”, an epic statement for the history books uttered by Ambassador Nikki Haley, a Trump appointee who is so far out of her league that she would need a ladder to get to the minor leagues of global diplomacy.

Last year at this time we wondered how bad the Trump presidency could be, and that was before Trump fired the FBI Director thereby letting the whole world know that there was something in the Trumpworld – Russia relationship that had to be wrong. And, of course, this was before Donald Trump appointed some Goodfella wannabe named Scaramucci to slither across the White House stage for a few moments of vulgar vainglory.

Last year at this time we faced the unknown and feared it. This year, at this time, we know how bad Trump really is, and we even have a pretty good idea of how bad 2018 can be with Donald Trump still pretending to be the President of Twitter, living in a fantasy world that terrorizes most Americans and most of the world.

It is said that every cloud has a silver lining. In this case, the silver lining around the Cloud That Is Trump is that there are limits to the damage that his infantile behavior can inflict. The silver lining is that good people of good will have begun to find their voice and their strength, like a race of sleeping giants that is finally awakening. The silver lining is that we are all better than Donald J. Trump, and that we have always have been better than him and will always be better than him. The silver lining is that people of decency and good will who are guided by the angels of their better nature will prevail and that the legacy of Donald Tinyhands, as horrific as it seems today, will one day soon be a forgotten figment of the national imagination.

Happy New Year!

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Point of View Columns

The Alabama Mirage

There are many Democrats, progressives and run of the mill Trump resisters, who are wildly celebrating the recent victory of Democrat Doug Jones over accused pedophile and proven proto-fascist Roy Moore in the Alabama senate race. Indeed, some overheated commentary have viewed this election as the first step in the inevitable Fall of the House of Trump.

While many might wish that this were true, a strong dose of reality is in order. First and foremost, the number 48.9 comes to mind. That number represents the percentage of Alabama voters who voted for Roy Moore despite the multiple accusations of child molestation and predatory sexual conduct. It must be kept in mind that 48.9% of Alabama voters were prepared to have Roy Moore represent them in Washington despite his stated belief that America was “great” during the times of slavery, that there should be a religious test for American citizens seeking to hold office and that the Supreme Court of the United States could be defied with impunity.

Roy Moore and Doug Jones were separated by 1.5% which means that with the movement of a few votes Roy Moore would be the next United States Senator from Alabama and then there would be no joy in Democratic Mudville. Further, the fact that a Democratic candidate could beat such a damaged opponent by less than 2% should be a cause for real concern, not a reason to celebrate.

Indeed, Doug Jones has already indicated that he is prepared to vote with the Republican majority in the Senate. It may turn out that the only thing to celebrate about Doug Jones victory is that he is not Roy Moore.

And last week’s Alabama returns point out the serious flaw in Democratic political strategy. By treating Donald Trump as an anomaly, a virtual outlier that can be defeated and obliterated from history in 2020, Democrats are missing the big picture. Donald Trump and the Republicans won in 2016 because the Republicans have been working at the local and state levels for over a decade, filling seats in city council, state legislatures, state houses and Congressional seats and then cementing their victories with the mortar of gerrymandering.

Of course Hillary Clinton’s sclerotic and disastrous presidential campaign did not help matters, but the race should never have been close enough for her to lose, not with a candidate like Donald Trump.  But without a coherent message, with too much emphasis on analytics and not enough attention to the basic mechanics of politics – message=turnout=victory – in hindsight the loss in 2016 was predictable, if not inevitable.

There may be glimpses of a new Democratic day, episodes where progressive forces seem poised to make America truly great for the first time. But if there is to be something more than episodic victories followed by long stretches of defeat or hollow victories (see Alabama 2017) there needs to be serious focus on the development of a coherent message and greater concentration on retaining the base of Democratic voters.

The recent tax bill proposed by Republicans is only an opening act in a true tragedy that holds no comic relief for the American people. Enriching the rich, dismantling the social service safety net and further marginalizing those who are already on the margin are part of the Brave New America that Republicans and their supporters envision. Democrats simply must have a response and be able to articulate an alternate vision.

This Democratic message has to include a narrative that goes beyond how bad Donald Tinyhands is and how mean the Republicans are. The alternate vision must not only be inclusive, it must be a vision that is relevant to the men and women who vote in this country and are not inspired by Democrats even as they are repulsed by much of the Republican vision of today and tomorrow.

The lesson of Alabama is that the Doug Jones victory over Roy Moore is not the dawning of a new day. And those who believe differently embrace that mirage at their own peril.

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