It may be that in 2016, it was not Sanders who consolidated the anti-Clinton sentiment, but Clinton who consolidated the anti-Sanders sentiment. As the primaries went on voters who found Sanders too far left, did not like his inability and seeming unwillingnessto connect to non-white voters, or chafed at the sexism of many in his campaign, had nowhere to go but to Clinton. In 2020, according to this view, the vote that went to Clinton will be dispersed among all the other candidates while Sanders will hold his base. If that happens, Sanders will be in a very good position to win the nomination.
For decades, one America’s most valuable assets in the economic, security and foreign policy sectors, was its stability. This is why the dollar became the most trusted currency in the world and why the US was able to lead the way in crafting alliances and relationships that benefited our allies as well as ourselves. Trump has destroyed that stability. Today our European allies look at the Trump administration and recognize if the US can elect somebody like him once, it can do it again. The forces in American society that elected Trump are unlikely to go away simply because a Democrat wins an election in 2020. Those forces have been cultivated and activated by this administration and in the 2016 campaign, but they are here to stay. As long as that is true, the trans-Atlantic alliance is under threat and America can never be trusted the way it once was to honor its word and fulfill its commitments to its allies.
While recent events are a reminder that racism and anti-Semitism are problems that do not know partisan boundaries, the faux earnest concern about anti-Semitism from Republican leaders who have quietly sat through the festival of intolerance that is the Trump administration are not just hypocritical, but offensive. Those who see the anti-Semitism in Omar’s Tweets, but not in actions, associates and messages of the Trump administration, care about settling political scores, not about ridding America of this ancient, but sadly persistent, hatred.
During the past few weeks, two American billionaires have floated their name as presidential candidates. Howard Schultz, the founder of Starbucks, has indicated his interests in running an independent candidacy in 2020, while Michael Bloomberg, the former Mayor of New York City, has suggested he may run in the Democratic primary. At first glance, these two men seem to have a lot in common. Both of these men, who have built extremely successful businesses, are offering a message that their business skills make them uniquely poised to solve the problems facing the US while presenting a vision of fiscal conservatism and social liberalism that is popular among some segments of the educated elite, but has no traction beyond that. Additionally, both have attacked the more economically progressive elements within today’s Democratic Party. Lastly, they are both very unlikely to ever be President.
This means that rather than turning to our attention to who might win Iowa, which candidate is racking up the most endorsements, the latest great speech, gaffe or negative story about a candidate, we might be better off paying attention to a different set of issues. The question of whether or not the 2020 election is likely to be conducted freely, fairly and democratically is much more central to the future of our country than whether Kirsten Gillibrand or Corey Booker is in third place in Iowa or other such inside baseball campaign dynamics. The questions of which states are passing more restrictive voting laws, which of these laws are being upheld in the courts, why the federal government continues to do nothing to protect our elections from further Russian interference like what we saw in 2016, and the extent to which major media outlets traffic in lies and fear-mongeringare among the much extremely critical issues that too easily get overlooked as we all handicap the Democratic primary.
The impeachment hope rests on the belief that Mueller will find something out that is so extraordinarily bad about the President that almost half of the Republicans in the Senate will vote to remove Trump from office. To hold out hope that will happen is to believe that Republicans in positions of leadership do not already know about Trump’s involvement in Russia and will be shocked when they find out, but given the last two years that is not plausible. The only way Republican senators will vote to remove Trump is if their constituents demand it, but many Republican senators come from strongly red states where Trump is still quite popular.
As Donald Trump’s presidency careens into its third year leaving a wake of avarice, cruelty and enduring damage to American democracy and America’s standing in the world in its wake, it is still difficult for many Americans to believe this can go on much longer. Some hold out for Robert Mueller III to be a deus ex machina whose findings will lead to impeachment and removal from office for the President, but that is very unlikely. Others believe that the Donald Trump will tire of the office and the ongoing investigations and resign after securing a promise of a pardon from Mike Pence, who as vice-president would assume the presidency in such a circumstance, but that ignores the likelihood that Trump would then face legal problems from state Attorneys General, particularly in New York. Still others believe that Trump will lose the 2020 election. That is a real likelihood, but there is no certainty that Trump would leave office even if he loses. Despite all this, Trump will not be President forever. Ultimately, an election defeat in 2020 could push him out of office. Similarly, if he is reelected, he would probably leave after his second term. Moreover, Trump is a man in his mid-seventies who is overweight, eats a poor diet and rarely exercises. There are some actuarial realities in that area that cannot be ignored.
For the second time in twenty years, a major national election outcome hangs in the balance as election officials in Florida count votes, bicker over the counting of the votesand, in some cases, try to prevent the counting of the votes. The stakes are different in 2018 from what they were in 2000. Eighteen years ago, the presidency itself would be determined by whether George W. Bush or Al Gore was awarded Florida’s electoral votes. Now a US Senate seat and the governorship are being contested. That is not the same as the presidency, but with the GOP likely to have a slim majority in the Senate, the difference of one seat there will make a difference. Additionally, given the history of voter suppression in Florida and the potential challenges around the recently passed Amendment Four, which returns voting rights to many felons who have served their time, the difference between a pro-voting rights Democrat and a voter suppression oriented Republican as governor could have a big impact in the 2020 when Florida will again be the country’s biggest swing state.
The turnout assertion is also intellectually lazy and, if believed, unhelpful for democracy. Focusing too much on turnout suggests that nothing else is important. If everything comes down to turnout, then there is no need to probe issues, look at why some voters are undecided or even to campaign outside of a party’s political base.
The murder of eleven people at the Tree of Life Synagogue was horrific. The were killed by a vicious anti-Semite who had proclaimed that “all Jews must die.” These killings are a terrible blew to the Squirrel Hill community in Pittsburgh, all Jewish Americans, and indeed our entire country. It also feels like a turning point for American Jews and for the slowly unfolding civil conflict in the US. The killings came only days after bombs were sent to several high profile critics of President Trump by a deranged supporter of the President. More importantly, it comes following weeks of Republican candidates, pundits and propaganda organizations warning the American people that a shady Jewish billionaire is funding caravans of brown people to invade our country. It also occurred during the presidency of a man who, despite his hawkish support for Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu campaigned on ancient anti-Semitic themes, has surrounded himself with anti-Semitic advisors and has never spoken out against the anti-Semites who are among his supporters.
With the midterm elections only two weeks away, we have seen Donald Trump return to his message that Democrats are committing widespread vote fraud, primarily through allowing non-citizens to vote in large numbers. For example, on October 20th, Trump Tweeted “All levels of government and Law Enforcement are watching carefully for VOTER FRAUD, including during EARLY VOTING. Cheat at your own peril. Violators will be subject to maximum penalties, both civil and criminal!” He has also riffed on this theme, which dovetails with Republican fear mongering around immigration in recent speeches. We should remember that implicit in all the right wing talk about caravans crossing the border, although not the border into the US, are that those people will come here and cast illegal votes for the Democratic Party.
Although the midterm election is almost upon us, many pundits have already begun to look towards the 2020 election. Correspondingly, something of a cottage industry has developed around earnest warnings that Donald Trump is in a good position to get reelected in 2020. These warnings are better understood as conservative talking points, or pundits enjoying sparking debate, rather than rigorous political analysis. While it is extremely unlikely that 2020 will be a Democratic landslide, the Democratic nominee, whoever that may be, will likely be in a much stronger position that these warnings indicate.
A good midterm for the Democrats is necessary for the future of democracy, but it will not solve all, or really virtually any, of our problems. A Democratic victory will bring some modest change, slow down the damage being done to our country and allow advocates for democracy to, metaphorically speaking, live to fight another day, but a Republican sweep will strengthen the emerging cult of Trump and perhaps take American democracy to a tipping point from which it cannot recover.
At the core of this very revealing, and for many upsetting, hearing was the radically different approaches the two parties take to knowledge. The Democratic Senators seemed comfortable is the realm of science and the reality that human memory is complex and that some moments remain deeply imprinted while others may fade away. The Republicans pursued a different course, one that was more grounded in a subjective sense of Kavanaugh’s character and honesty.
If Trump is able to succeed in creating a legal buffer by curtailing the Mueller investigation and getting Kavanaugh on to the Supreme Court it will be with strong assistance from the Republican controlled Congress. Republican Senators could have urged Trump not to nominate Kavanaugh, but to choose a conservative with a different view of presidential power and immunity, as that is not yet a partisan or ideological issue. Similarly, at any time in the last 20 months, either House of Congress could have begun a real investigation into Trump’s relationship with the Kremlin or passed laws seeking to protect the Mueller investigation. Their failure to do that only solidified their role as co-conspirators with regards to Russia, but also to the corruption that has defined this administration.
Kavanaugh is a smart and very well educated man who has for several decades chosen to use his intellect and education to ensure that his class retains its wealth and privilege and that those born into less fortunate circumstances do not threaten that wealth or privilege. A smart man can only do that if he believes in his own righteousness and pushes out all ideas that threaten the assumptions of righteousness, and rightness, around which he has built his life and his ideology.
When Brett Kavanaugh gets confirmed, which barring extraordinary and unforeseen circumstances will happen, and Donald Trump is given a get out of jail free card from the Supreme Court we should remember that it was Republican Senators, not Donald Trump, who voted to confirm him, shepherded Kavanaugh through a Senate hearing and withheld important documents about Kavanaugh from Senate Democrats and the American people. For anybody who has been paying attention during the last few months, years or decades this is not exactly a shock, but it is nonetheless significant. We now must recognize that there is no scenario where the GOP would act to rein in an erratic and dangerous President. The depths of their complicity grows with each passing week, but last week was a big one.
If the last three years or so have taught us anything it is that there are no turning points, crossing of Rubicons, or other dividing lines in the unfolding of the Trumpian assault on our democracy. Manafort’s conviction has faded into the background, just as Woodward’s book will in a few weeks. However, the media, even the progressive media, cannot get away from this narrative. The fundamental problem with this approach is that if everything is a turning point, then nothing is a turning point. If everything is signal and not noise than ultimately everything is just noise. Because what we are experiencing is without precedent in American history, we keep grasping at straws that might bring us back to the familiar and less frightening terrain of more normal American politics. This is natural, but is also, at its core, denial about just how grave a threat the Trump administration, and the political party that now supports him, represent.
While Wolf’s comments may have been more offensive than any similar speech in the past, they are also a reminder that gatherings of the media political tribes, where animus can be put aside for an evening, like the White House Correspondents Dinner, no longer have a space in Donald Trump’s divided, hyperpartisan and mean spirited America. For those in conservative media who have always tried to keep one foot in mainstream respectability, Wolf’s speech is a reminder that is no longer possible. Spokespeople like Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and more importantly media enablers of Trump’s viciousness and democratic rollback from previously respectable or semi-respectable media outlets and even those from more moderate media outlets who simply profit from the fight, will no longer be given a free pass. For the huge majority of Americans who were not at the dinner and who don’t make their living talking about Trump (I do it on a volunteer basis), this is very good news.
A big Democratic win in November will slow down the decline of American democracy, but unless the broader questions of how to create a new narrative about our society and economy that does not perpetually pit us against each other, how to create political and electoral laws and institutions that are consistent with contemporary realities of democracy, how to reinvigorate news outlets that have a somewhat more than tenuous relationship to the truth and how to train a population that has been addled by Fox News, Twitter and hyper-partisanship to distinguish between fact and fantasy are addressed, the downward spiral of American democracy will continue.