Many Americans View The Presidential Transition As Ominous

A large number of Americans are looking at the inauguration of Donald Trump with dread. Beyond ideological differences, there are concerns that Donald Trump does not respect the norms which have maintained our democracy.  E.J. Dionne calls this “the most ominous Inauguration Day in modern history.” He wrote, “Trump’s disdain for the democratic disposition we like our presidents to embrace was on display when he dressed down CNN’s Jim Acosta at that news conference last week. Trump’s tone, style and sheer rage (whether real or staged) brought to mind authoritarian leaders who brook no dissent.”

The Associated Press reports on how the presidency is about the change, also discussing Trump failure to respect established norms:

Polls over the past week show that Trump is poised to enter the White House as the least popular president in four decades. Democrats remain staunchly opposed to him, independents have not rallied behind him and even Republicans are less enthusiastic than might be expected, according to the surveys.

In his typical reaction to poll results he doesn’t like, Trump dismissed them as “rigged” in a Tuesday tweet.

It’s exactly that kind of tweet that worries governing experts, lawmakers and other critics, who argue that traditional practices of the presidency protect the health of the American democracy.

“With notable exceptions, we’ve had a political culture in which presidents largely respect a series of unwritten rules that help democracy and the rule of law flourish,” said Brendan Nyhan, a professor of government at Dartmouth College. “What’s striking about Trump is he flouts norms that have previously been respected by both parties on a daily basis. He calls things into question that have never been questioned before.”

Since winning the election, Trump has attacked Hollywood celebrities, civil rights icons and political rivals alike. He’s moved markets by going after some companies, while praising others.

He’s questioned the legitimacy of American institutions — appearing to trust the word of Russian President Vladimir Putin over the intelligence agencies he’ll soon oversee, engaging in personal fights with journalists as he assails the free press and questioning the results of the election, even though it put him in office.

With this backdrop, many Americans are more interested in the massive demonstrations expected for inauguration day than in seeing Donald Trump inaugurated. David Weigel points out that in the past, such as when George W. Bush was inaugurated, demonstrations were “dominated by the political fringe.” Now they being embraced by both the Democratic Party and the left:

Democrats and the broader left, recuperating from an election few of them thought they could lose, are organizing one of the broadest — and earliest — opposition campaigns ever to greet a new president. It began with protests in the hours after Trump’s victory, but it has become bolder since, marked most dramatically by nearly 70 Democratic members of Congress boycotting the inauguration itself…

This year, in his enhanced role as a messenger for congressional Democrats, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) successfully encouraged 70-odd rallies last weekend in support of the Affordable Care Act, organized on the ground by Democrats and labor groups. Local branches of the Working Families Party, which endorsed Sanders (and de Blasio) in 2016, have organized “Resist Trump Tuesdays,” in which activists have protested inside the offices of Republican legislators or filled the galleries of state legislatures. According to WFP spokesman Joe Dinkin, 450 community planning meetings took place the week before the inauguration.

Donald Trump has made many contradictory statements. While he has given reason to fear he might not respect our political norms, we really do not know yet what he will do. Adam Gopnik warns to be prepared for the worst possible scenario, and offers this advice:

What is to be done? In such a moment of continued emergency, the most important task may be to distinguish as rigorously as possible between new policies and programs that, however awful, are a reflection of the normal oscillation of power, natural in a mature democracy, and those that are not. To borrow from Woody Allen’s distinction between the miserable (something we all are) and the horrible (fortunately suffered by only a few), we must now distinguish resolutely between the sickening and the terrifying. Many programs and policies with which progressive-minded people passionately disagree will be put forward over the next few years. However much or strongly one opposes them, they are, like it or not, the actual agreed-on platform of a dominant national party. On the issue of gun control alone, we’ll get a Supreme Court that won’t reverse the bad decision of Heller, a legislature that will only further diminish sane controls on military weapons in private hands, likely an increase in open-carry laws, and all the murderous rest. All of this will cost kids’ lives and bring much misery.

One may oppose these things—and one should, passionately and permanently—but they are in no sense illegitimate. They are just wrong. They are also reversible by the same laws and rules and norms and judicial and, perhaps most of all, electoral processes that created them. If we want gun control, we need to get more people caring about it and more people in more places voting for it; we cannot complain because people who don’t want gun control don’t give it to us.

Assaults on free speech; the imprisoning of critics and dissidents; attempts, on the Russian model, likely to begin soon, to intimidate critics of the regime with fake charges and conjured-up allegations; the intimidation and intolerance of even mild dissidence (that “Apologize!” tweet directed at members of the “Hamilton” cast who dared to politely petition Mike Pence); not to mention mass deportations or attempts at discrimination by religion—all things that the Trump and his cohorts have openly contemplated or even promised—are not part of the normal oscillations of power and policy. They are unprecedented and, history tells us, likely to be almost impossible to reverse.

So we need to stiffen our spines and broaden our embrace, grasp tightly but reach out far. The conservatives who see Trump for what he is and are shocked by it—and there are many, though not as many as there should be—should be welcomed. We can postpone arguing about the true meaning of the Second Amendment while we band together to fight for the Constitution that precedes it…

The best way to be sure that 2017 is not 1934 is to act as though it were. We must learn and relearn that age’s necessary lessons: that meek submission is the most short-sighted of policies; that waiting for the other, more vulnerable group to protest first will only increase the isolation of us all. We must refuse to think that if we play nice and don’t make trouble, our group won’t be harmed. Calm but consistent opposition shared by a broad front of committed and constitutionally-minded protesters—it’s easy to say, fiendishly hard to do, and necessary to accomplish if we are to save the beautiful music of American democracy.

Polls: Approval For Trump Falls; Rises For Obama & Obamacare

A new CNN poll shows the same finding as a recent Gallup poll which found that Donald Trump has record low approval for modern presidents:

Donald Trump will become president Friday with an approval rating of just 40%, according to a new CNN/ORC Poll, the lowest of any recent president and 44 points below that of President Barack Obama, the 44th president.

Following a tumultuous transition period, approval ratings for Trump’s handling of the transition are more than 20 points below those for any of his three most recent predecessors. Obama took the oath in 2009 with an 84% approval rating, 67% approved of Clinton’s transition as of late December 1992 and 61% approved of George W. Bush’s transition just before he took office in January 2001.

An ABC News/Washington Post poll had similar findings. Donald Trump has tweeted the polls are rigged.

In contrast, Barack Obama is leaving office with a 58 percent favorability rating. While the news has been dominated by Republican plans to repeal Obamacare, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows that the Affordable Care Act is more popular than ever. This poll was conducted before today’s report from the Congressional Budget Office showing that repeal of Obamacare would result in millions of people losing their insurance and in increase in premiums:

  • The number of people who are uninsured would increase by 18 million in the first new plan year following enactment of the bill. Later, after the elimination of the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid eligibility and of subsidies for insurance purchased through the ACA marketplaces, that number would increase to 27 million, and then to 32 million in 2026.
  • Premiums in the nongroup market (for individual policies purchased through the marketplaces or directly from insurers) would increase by 20 percent to 25 percent—relative to projections under current law—in the first new plan year following enactment. The increase would reach about 50 percent in the year following the elimination of the Medicaid expansion and the marketplace subsidies, and premiums would about double by 2026.

Russian Journalist Warns Of Dangers To The Free Press Under Trump

Donald Trump’s confrontation with the press on Wednesday has reinforced the view among civil libertarians that Donald Trump’s election is a threat to the free press. In November, the Freedom of the Press Foundation pointed out that–

he has threatened to sue newspapers or journalists over a dozen times and said he will attempt to “open up libel laws” as president to make it easier to take newspapers to court. He has attacked and insulted members of the media almost daily and blacklisted countless news outlets over the course of his campaign. He has blamed “freedom of the press” for a terrorist attack in New York and has said the press has “too much protection” under the First Amendment.

While much of Trump’s behavior is unprecedented by American standards, Russian journalist Alexey Kovalev found this to be similar to what journalists face in Russia. He wrote:

Congratulations, US media! You’ve just covered your first press conference of an authoritarian leader with a massive ego and a deep disdain for your trade and everything you hold dear. We in Russia have been doing it for 12 years now …

  • Welcome to the era of bullshit.

Facts don’t matter. You can’t hurt this man with facts or reason. He’ll always outmaneuver you. He’ll always wriggle out of whatever carefully crafted verbal trap you lay for him. Whatever he says, you won’t be able to challenge him. He always comes with a bag of meaningless factoids (Putin likes to drown questions he doesn’t like in dull, unverifiable stats, figures and percentages), platitudes, false moral equivalences and straight, undiluted bullshit. He knows it’s a one-way communication, not an interview. You can’t follow up on your questions or challenge him. So he can throw whatever he wants at you in response, and you’ll just have to swallow it. Some journalists will try to preempt this by asking two questions at once, against the protests of their colleagues also vying for attention, but that also won’t work: he’ll answer the one he thinks is easier, and ignore the other. Others will use this opportunity to go on a long, rambling statement vaguely disguised as a question, but that’s also bad tactics. Non-questions invite non-answers. He’ll mock you for your nervous stuttering and if you’re raising a serious issue, respond with a vague, non-committal statement (“Mr President, what about these horrible human rights abuses in our country?” “Thank you, Miss. This is indeed a very serious issue. Everybody must respect the law. And by the way, don’t human rights abuses happen in other countries as well? Next question please”).

Kovalev had other warnings for the press, such as not to expect any camaraderie from other members of the press: ” It’s in this man’s best interests to pit you against each other, fighting over artificial scarcities like room space, mic time or, of course, his attention.”

While Kovalev addressed this to “my doomed colleagues in the American media,” fortunately the United States is not Russia. We have a tradition of supporting freedom of the press which Russia lacks. Trump might attack journalists, but he is not likely to have them killed as has become far too common in Russia. PolitiFact points out that “Russia currently ranks 180 out of 199 countries for press freedom, behind Iraq, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to the international watchdog Freedom House.”

Unlike Russia, elected government officials can be voted out of office, and public opinion has some effect on them. While it is common for winning presidential candidates to receive a positive bounce after being elected, Donald Trump is taking office with record low approval. The latest Gallup poll found:

In Gallup polling conducted two weeks before Inauguration Day, President-elect Donald Trump continues to garner historically low approval for his transition performance, with 51% of Americans disapproving of how he is handling the presidential transition and 44% approving. Last month, the public was split on this question, with 48% approving and 48% disapproving…

Trump’s 48% transition approval rating in December was already the lowest for any presidential transition Gallup has measured, starting with Bill Clinton’s in 1992-1993. Trump’s current rating only further separates him from his predecessors — particularly Barack Obama, who earned 83% approval for his handling of the transition process in January 2009, up from 75% in mid-December 2008….

The last president before Trump to win the election despite losing the national popular vote was George W. Bush in 2000. However, while Bush’s transition scores were lower than those of both his predecessor (Clinton) and his successor (Obama), his 61% approval rating in mid-January 2001 was nowhere near as low as Trump’s is today.

NSA Surveillance Data To Become Available To More Agencies

While civil liberties advocates worry about the incoming Trump administration, with some urging the Obama administration to curtail surveillance prior to Trump’s inauguration, The New York Times report that instead the NSA is being given increased latitude to share intercepted communications:

In its final days, the Obama administration has expanded the power of the National Security Agency to share globally intercepted personal communications with the government’s 16 other intelligence agencies before applying privacy protections.

The new rules significantly relax longstanding limits on what the N.S.A. may do with the information gathered by its most powerful surveillance operations, which are largely unregulated by American wiretapping laws. These include collecting satellite transmissions, phone calls and emails that cross network switches abroad, and messages between people abroad that cross domestic network switches.

The change means that far more officials will be searching through raw data. Essentially, the government is reducing the risk that the N.S.A. will fail to recognize that a piece of information would be valuable to another agency, but increasing the risk that officials will see private information about innocent people.

The American Civil Liberties Union did not accept the Obama administration’s justification for this change:

…Patrick Toomey, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, called the move an erosion of rules intended to protect the privacy of Americans when their messages are caught by the N.S.A.’s powerful global collection methods. He noted that domestic internet data was often routed or stored abroad, where it may get vacuumed up without court oversight.

“Rather than dramatically expanding government access to so much personal data, we need much stronger rules to protect the privacy of Americans,” Mr. Toomey said. “Seventeen different government agencies shouldn’t be rooting through Americans’ emails with family members, friends and colleagues, all without ever obtaining a warrant.”

Techdirt comments that “All of this means the NSA is now officially a domestic surveillance agency, even if a majority of its exploration of Americans’ data/communications is being done by proxy.”

The Verge adds:

The change also raises unavoidable privacy concerns. While the relevant data is collected overseas, it inevitably includes phone calls, emails, and other messages between US citizens. Without any form of filtering, the raw data includes everything that passed through a given network switch, without any form of reasonable suspicion or probable cause.

The new rule bears on all data collected under Executive Order 12333, which many believe to be responsible for the bulk of the NSA’s collection efforts. Issued by President Reagan, the order did not require a congressional vote, and has been subject to only minimal oversight by the legislature. Collection efforts under the order are not subject to court approval, as long as they occur outside the United States.

Presumably this is one executive order from Obama which Donald Trump will not reverse.

While I doubt he will take me up on this suggestion, as Obama is a centrist who often tries to please both sides, he should at least balance this by doing the right thing before leaving office and pardon Edward Snowden, who we have to thank for letting the American people know about the existence of this surveillance, and how the NSA had been breaking the law.

AMA Warns Of Risks Of Gutting Health Care Reform

With Republicans appearing to make abolishing Obamacare a top priority (following their failure to gut ethics oversight of Congress), the American Medical Association has weighed in with this letter (emphasis mine) stressing the importance of making coverage more affordable, providing greater choice, and increasing the number insured:

Dear Majority Leader McConnell, Leader Schumer, Speaker Ryan and Leader Pelosi:

On behalf of the physician and medical student members of the American Medical Association (AMA), I am writing regarding our ongoing commitment to reform of the health care system and potential legislative actions during the first months of the 115th Congress.

The AMA has long advocated for health insurance coverage for all Americans, as well as pluralism, freedom of choice, freedom of practice, and universal access for patients. These policy positions are guided by the actions of the AMA House of Delegates, composed of representatives of more than 190 state and national specialty medical associations, and they form the basis for AMA consideration of reforms to our health care system.

Health system reform is an ongoing quest for improvement. The AMA supported passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) because it was a significant improvement on the status quo at that time. We continue to embrace the primary goal of that law—to make high quality, affordable health care coverage accessible to all Americans. We also recognize that the ACA is imperfect and there a number of issues that need to be addressed. As such, we welcome proposals, consistent with the policies of our House of Delegates, to make coverage more affordable, provide greater choice, and increase the number of those insured.

In considering opportunities to make coverage more affordable and accessible to all Americans, it is essential that gains in the number of Americans with health insurance coverage be maintained.

Consistent with this core principle, we believe that before any action is taken through reconciliation or other means that would potentially alter coverage, policymakers should lay out for the American people, in reasonable detail, what will replace current policies. Patients and other stakeholders should be able to clearly compare current policy to new proposals so they can make informed decisions about whether it represents a step forward in the ongoing process of health reform.

We stand ready to work with you to continue the process of improving our health care system and ensuring that all Americans have access to high quality, affordable health care coverage.

Sincerely,
James L. Madara, MD

Medical groups and physicians have been conflicted regarding expected health care policy under Donald Trump. There was some early support for Tom Price to head Health and Human Services in the hope that he will work to reduce the regulatory burden, but many doctors have come out in opposition to him out of concern for reductions in coverage for many Americans.

While health care policy could likely a major impact of the all-Republican government, it received very little attention during the presidential campaign. This is partially due to the media’s preference to cover the horse race and scandal, Donald Trump making more noise on matters such as the Wall, and an extraordinarily poor campaign by Hillary Clinton which concentrated on stressing Trump’s negatives and avoiding issues. Democrats are now starting to speak out on health care. Chuck Schumer is trying to turn Trump’s slogan against him, warning that Republicans will “Make America Sick Again.” Hopefully they can provide a resistance beyond coming up with a slogan.

Democrats were successful in blocking George Bush when he attempted to partially privatize Social Security in his second term, and similarly have a chance of receiving public support in opposing Republican attempts to reduce health care coverage, including cuts in Medicare and Medicaid. Republicans are also getting jittery about health care legislation. They could safely please their constituents by voting to abolish Obamacare when Barack Obama was in office and they knew he would veto their efforts if it made it past a filibuster. Many now realize they will be held accountable for what happens, including if people lose coverage, and insurance costs continue to rise rapidly. The Committee For A Responsible Federal Budget, typically conservative on government  spending,  has outline the costs of repealing Obamacare, giving further reasons for Republicans to be cautious.

Donald Trump remains a huge wild care, having both promised to abolish Obamacare and to provide a plan to cover all Americans. So far he has given no meaningful specifics, talking primarily about health savings accounts and allowing insurance companies to sell insurance over state lines. Neither is a real plan. One point to Trump’s credit is that, while his major appointees have been from a very narrow group (primarily wealthy conservatives), he has spoken to a wider range of people. Zeke Emanuel, the architect of the Affordable Care Act, came out of a meeting with Trump expressing optimism, as reported by NPR. He believes Trump might seek to have a bipartisan bill after Republicans have complained about how Obamacare was passed by only Democrats. He also pointed out that some conservatives are pushing for “repeal and replace” as opposed to the currently discussed tactic of “repeal and delay” and discussed how legislation might be handled after an initial resolution (even if along party lines) to abolish the ACA utilizing budget reconciliation:

And so that you really do need to repeal and replace, and you need to do it in one bill. Otherwise, you’re really going to disrupt the individual insurance market in a very bad way, and you’ll be responsible for millions of people losing their coverage but also health insurance premiums going up. And I think that is not a scenario that a lot of Republicans really want…

So one possibility is that they pass a resolution saying that they will then come back and pass a bill that will repeal parts of the Affordable Care Act and at the same time have a replacement for those parts of the Affordable Care Act…

The resolution can be party lines, but the bill would then have to construct both the repeal part but simultaneously the replacement part. And I think if you do it that way, you could begin to negotiate with Democrats. If you just have a repeal and we’ll be back in three years and tell you how we’re going to fix it, then the Democrats are simply going to walk away. Chuck Schumer has made that clear.

And they should walk away because then it’s all – it’s the old pottery barn principle that Colin Powell made famous, which is, you break it; you have to fix it, and you take responsibility. And the Democrats will not want their fingerprints anywhere near the breaking of Obamacare and the disruption of the insurance industry in the United States…

The question is, what is the shape of that bill? Is it just a repeal bill, or is it a repeal with replacement? And that negotiation about that bill could take several months. My own estimate is if both sides come with good faith, they could probably hammer this out in about six months. It’s not a small item. I mean health care reform is big.

The question is, what are the gives and takes? I do think – again, one of the reasons I’m optimistic is that when you look at conservative and liberal health policy experts, there’s about 70 or 80 percent overlap between the two groups about the shape of the future and what you would need. And I think that’s, again, why I’m optimistic – because there aren’t that many ways of doing health care reform. They’re really limited.

Of course counting on the sanity of Republicans is a very risky bet.

Donald Trump Again Acts Like Hillary Clinton In New Year’s Message

While there is no question there are also major differences between the two, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton also have far more similarities than supporters of either are likely to admit. They both have problems with financial ties including a Foundation and involving family. Trump has acted like Clinton in avoiding press conferences. Policy wise, both will continue the warfare/surveillance state, both have a similar disdain for freedom of speech, and both were seen as a threat to freedom of the press.

Trump also reminded me of Clinton when he released this Tweet: “Happy New Year to all, including to my many enemies and those who have fought me and lost so badly they just don’t know what to do. Love!”

I have often noted similarities between Hillary Clinton and Richard Nixon. There is something rather Nixonian to this Tweet (along with Trump’s earlier talk of being the law-and-order candidate, a phrase also used by Bill Clinton). Trump referring to his “enemies” reminded me of Clinton dismissing half of Trump voters as “irredeemable” and fitting into a “basket of deplorables.” Clinton’s statement was foolish for alienating a large segment of the country when trying to attract voters, just as Trump’s tweet is foolish for alienating those who voted against him at a time when he should be seeking to unite the country around him as he prepares to take office.

It is debatable as to how accurate Clinton’s statement was about Trump supporters, while Trump’s statement is clearly wrong on the facts. He did win, but it was a narrow win. Perhaps trying to distract from his loss in the  popular vote, Trump has been falsely attributing it to illegal voters, and exaggerating the degree of his victory in the electoral college. Fact checkers including Factcheck.org and PolitiFact have debunked him on these claims.

He is also wrong in saying that those who fought him “just don’t know what to do.” There has been a tremendous increase in donations to progressive organizations, and organization to prepare to oppose Trump’s agenda. The good that could come from a Trump presidency as it stimulates progressive action:

Trump’s ascendancy is already calling forth social and political initiatives aimed at defending the achievements of the Obama years (particularly Obamacare), protecting the environment, standing up for immigrants and minorities, preserving civil liberties, civil rights and voting rights, and highlighting how Trump’s policies contradict his promises to working-class voters. Here is a bet that the mobilization against Trump will rival in size and influence the tea party uprising against Obama.

Another positive for the future: Trump’s campaign forced elites and the media to pay attention to the parts of the country that have been falling behind economically and to the despair that afflicts so many, particularly in rural and small-town America.

It should not have taken Trump (or Bernie Sanders) to bring their problems to the fore. If the powers that be had been paying more attention, the resentments and dissatisfactions that Trump exploited might not have been there for him to stoke.

Of course we would be in a completely different situation if the Democrats had listened to their base and nominated Sanders instead of Clinton.

While Dionne probably would not agree, I would extend his argument to pointing out that, rather than leading to such mobilization of progressives, a Clinton victory would have its dark consequences. Democrats would be split in pushing more liberal goals versus rationalizing and justifying Clinton’s conservative positions, as many did during the campaign, and as they ignore the negative aspects of Bill Clinton’s presidency.

Obama Announces Response To Russia, Avoids Doing “Stupid Stuff”

While I don’t always agree with Barack Obama, compared to the two candidates to replace him in 2017, he will be missed for his policy not doing “stupid stuff.” Hillary Clinton, who supported “stupid stuff” including in Iraq, Libya, and Syria, attacked Obama over the principle of “don’t do stupid stuff” sometime between leaving as Secretary of State and stupidly thinking it was a good idea to run for president by claiming to be running for a third Obama term. Donald Trump has been an endless source of stupid stuff since he decided to run for president. I was glad to see that Obama continued this principle in limiting his response to the alleged Russian meddling in the presidential election.

Obama has announced his response to Russia, described by The New York Times as “ejecting 35 Russian intelligence operatives from the United States and imposing sanctions on Russia’s two leading intelligence services.” The full statement is here. It was a response proportional to the alleged acts which avoids permanent harm to any attempts to repair relationships between the United States and Russia.

US intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia was involved in hacking email from top Democratic leaders. Others have questioned the evidence. Skeptics have compared this to how US intelligence agencies also concluded, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that Saddam threatened our security with weapons of mass destruction. It is certainly believable that Russia was spying on American political leaders. After all, the United States routinely does this in foreign countries, and has a long history of meddling in foreign elections.

Unfortunately this also reinforces the false narratives that Russia hacked our election to elect Donald Trump. Even if it is accepted as fact that Russia was involved in hacking the email of an American political party,  US intelligence and law enforcement agencies have been far from unanimous in taking this further to conclude that the Russians were doing so with the purpose of helping Donald Trump win. There is certainly no evidence of any coordination between Trump and Russia as Democrats such as Harry Reid have claimed. Julian Assange has denied that the information he released even came from Russia. Clinton supporters have used claims about Russia to deny responsibility for Clinton’s highly flawed campaign. Fivethirtyeight has shown how any argument that the Wilkleaks releases cost Clinton the election is “circumstantial.” To the degree that the leaked information hurt Clinton, it was because of confirming what her critics on the left already were well aware of, and providing factual information for the voters to consider. Russia did not hack voting machines or even harm Clinton with false information to alter the results of the election.

It appears that the Democratic National Committee fell for a rather simple phishing scheme, and compounded the error with miscommunication and possibly a typo. The best response to espionage which depends upon gaps in cyber-security is to improve cyber-security. Foreign governments, among others, are going to continue to spy on Americans, just as the United States is going to continue to spy on both allies and foes. If he feels like he must, Obama can expel some diplomats, but there is no point in risking more serious conflict over this. Similarly, there is no point for Democrats to continue to blame Russia for their loss after running such a poor campaign with a terrible candidate.

Why Obama, Or Sanders, Could Have Beaten Donald Trump

There has been a lot of playing “what if” after Donald Trump unexpectedly beat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election. Now Barack Obama has joined in, saying he could have beaten Donald Trump if he was able to run again:

“I am confident in this vision because I’m confident that if I — if I had run again and articulated it, I think I could’ve mobilized a majority of the American people to rally behind it,” Obama told his former senior adviser, David Axelrod, on the “Axe Files” podcast published Monday. “I know that in conversations that I’ve had with people around the country, even some people who disagreed with me, they would say the vision, the direction that you point towards is the right one.”

Full transcript of the interview is here.

I agree Obama would have probably won, but to say he would have won because of his vision alone is an over-simplification. There are many more specific reasons why I think Obama could have beaten Trump, even if Clinton could not.

While Clinton tried to run by winning the Obama coalition and running for Obama’s third term, she failed to understand that part of the Obama coalition came together in 2008 due to seeing Obama as the best shot at beating Hillary Clinton and keeping her out of the White House. We continued to oppose Clinton in 2016 for the same reasons we opposed Clinton in 2008, and opposed George W. Bush prior to that.

Clinton was about the worst possible candidate to put up against Donald Trump, and some of this could be seen in the differences between Clinton and Obama. While disappointed that we remain at war in Iraq and the region, at least Obama opposed the war from the start. He recognized that regime change in Libya, which Clinton was the primary proponent of, was the biggest mistake of his administration, while Clinton continued to defend her failed policy. Obama opposed escalating intervention in Syria which Clinton backed, often for rather absurd reasons.

Not only was listening to Clinton on  Libya the biggest foreign policy mistake of his administration, the domestic policy mistake which hurt Obama the most also involved accepting a Clinton policy position–accepting the individual mandate as part of the Affordable Care Act, after he had campaigned against Clinton on this point. While it would be necessary to make health care reform more complicated to avoid the free-rider problem, making the program mandatory in this manner was guaranteed to create considerable public opposition to the program.

Obama managed to keep his administration free of scandal–except for the actions by Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. This made her a much weaker candidate than Obama, and eliminated what would have been an advantage for Democrats on the conflicts of interest Trump faced. Clinton’s dishonesty, emphasized by both her dishonest campaign against Sanders and her frequent lies in response to the email scandal, also negated Trump’s negatives for his dishonesty.

Obama would have also done a far better job of campaigning. He had an approval rating far stronger than either Clinton or Trump. He wouldn’t have hidden from the press as Clinton often did. People would have turned out to see him, as they did with Trump but not with Clinton. Clinton was weak in the traditional battle ground states, among independents, and among young voters. Obama could have kept most of these voters. He might have lost an occasional state such as possibly Ohio, but not multiple states as Clinton did.

Of course similar arguments would have applied to other potential candidates. While Obama could not legally run again, the Democrats did have a strong alternative in Bernie Sanders. He did much better than Clinton in head to head polls against Trump and other Republicans during the nomination battle.  Sanders also could have turned out the voters which Clinton could not. He could have won in the rust belt states which Trump picked up. There would have been no FBI investigations, and no revelations of a crooked process for Wiikleaks to release if Sanders was the nominee.

Clinton Mistakes In Michigan Show Why She Lost, And Would Have Made A Poor President

Hindsight is easy, but in retrospect there were plenty of clues that Clinton would lose Michigan, and the general election. Before the primaries, I noticed an unusual amount of enthusiasm about Bernie Sanders, including from people who are not normally very vocal about politics. Sanders went on to upset Clinton. I saw no signs of enthusiasm for her campaign. I saw a lot of Sanders bumper stickers, a fair number of old Obama bumper stickers, and even a few old Kerry bumper stickers into November. I saw exactly one for Clinton, and that wasn’t until later in November after the election. I know of a street, and I mean one single street, which had a number of pro-Clinton yard signs around where I live. While I had signs up for Kerry and Obama in the past three elections, my yard sign from this election can be seen in the picture above.

My antipathy for both major party candidates was shared by others. An unusual number of patients started talking to me about voting for third party candidates (without first hearing of my plans). It was notable to see Clinton rush to Michigan in the final week of the campaign after she earlier had a double digit lead. I questioned her strategy when I saw her ads. Those which I saw solely concentrated on personal attacks (even if valid) against Donald Trump, in contrast to the ads from Trump making promises (regardless of their credibility) of jobs and a brighter future. If someone was already on the fence despite weeks of news about the vile things Trump had said, it was clear which ads had a better chance of sealing the deal.

Such anecdotal experiences are not enough to safely predict an election, but Politico reports on multiple errors by the Clinton campaign in Michigan. I fear that the same attitude seen by the campaign would have been reflected in the type of presidency we would have seen if Clinton had been elected. These included failing to listen to the views of others, and to utilize volunteers from the SEIU:

Turn that bus around, the Clinton team ordered SEIU. Those volunteers needed to stay in Iowa to fool Donald Trump into competing there, not drive to Michigan, where the Democrat’s models projected a 5-point win through the morning of Election Day.

Michigan organizers were shocked. It was the latest case of Brooklyn ignoring on-the-ground intel and pleas for help in a race that they felt slipping away at the end.

“They believed they were more experienced, which they were. They believed they were smarter, which they weren’t,” said Donnie Fowler, who was consulting for the Democratic National Committee during the final months of the campaign. “They believed they had better information, which they didn’t.”

The SEIU was not the only union which the Clinton campaign ignored. While the strength of labor in Michigan might have declined in recent years, to ignore the UAW in Michigan sounds like an inexcusable mistake:

Clinton never even stopped by a United Auto Workers union hall in Michigan, though a person involved with the campaign noted bitterly that the UAW flaked on GOTV commitments in the final days, and that AFSCME never even made any, despite months of appeals.

The anecdotes are different but the narrative is the same across battlegrounds, where Democratic operatives lament a one-size-fits-all approach drawn entirely from pre-selected data — operatives spit out “the model, the model,” as they complain about it — guiding Mook’s decisions on field, television, everything else. That’s the same data operation, of course, that predicted Clinton would win the Iowa caucuses by 6 percentage points (she scraped by with two-tenths of a point), and that predicted she’d beat Bernie Sanders in Michigan (he won by 1.5 points)…

Michigan operatives relay stories like one about an older woman in Flint who showed up at a Clinton campaign office, asking for a lawn sign and offering to canvass, being told these were not “scientifically” significant ways of increasing the vote, and leaving, never to return. A crew of building trade workers showed up at another office looking to canvass, but, confused after being told there was no literature to hand out like in most campaigns, also left and never looked back.

“There’s this illusion that the Clinton campaign had a ground game. The deal is that the Clinton campaign could have had a ground game,” said a former Obama operative in Michigan. “They had people in the states who were willing to do stuff. But they didn’t provide people anything to do until GOTV.”

The only metric that people involved in the operations say they ever heard headquarters interested in was how many volunteer shifts had been signed up — though the volunteers were never given the now-standard handheld devices to input the responses they got in the field, and Brooklyn mandated that they not worry about data entry. Operatives watched packets of real-time voter information piled up in bins at the coordinated campaign headquarters. The sheets were updated only when they got ripped, or soaked with coffee. Existing packets with notes from the volunteers, including highlighting how much Trump inclination there was among some of the white male union members the Clinton campaign was sure would be with her, were tossed in the garbage…

Most importantly, multiple operatives said, the Clinton campaign dismissed what’s known as in-person “persuasion” — no one was knocking on doors trying to drum up support for the Democratic nominee, which also meant no one was hearing directly from voters aside from voters they’d already assumed were likely Clinton voters, no one tracking how feelings about the race and the candidates were evolving. This left no information to check the polling models against — which might have, for example, showed the campaign that some of the white male union members they had expected to be likely Clinton voters actually veering toward Trump — and no early warning system that the race was turning against them in ways that their daily tracking polls weren’t picking up.

People involved in the Michigan campaign still can’t understand why Brooklyn stayed so sure of the numbers in a state that it also had projected Clinton would win in the primary.

“Especially given what happened in the primary,” said Michigan Democratic Party chairman Brandon Dillon. “We knew that there was going to have to be more attention.”

With Clinton’s team ignoring or rejecting requests, Democratic operatives in Michigan and other battleground states might have turned to the DNC. But they couldn’t; they weren’t allowed to ask for help.

State officials were banned from speaking directly to anyone at the DNC in Washington. (“Welcome to DNC HQ,” read a blue and white sign behind the reception desk in Brooklyn that appeared after the ouster of Debbie Wasserman Schultz just before the July convention)…

Nor did Brooklyn ask for help from some people who’d been expecting the call. Sanders threw himself into campaign appearances for Clinton throughout the fall, but familiar sources say the campaign never asked the Vermont senator’s campaign aides for help thinking through Michigan, Wisconsin or anywhere else where he had run strong. It was already November when the campaign finally reached out to the White House to get President Barack Obama into Michigan, a state that he’d worked hard and won by large margins in 2008 and 2012. On the Monday before Election Day, Obama added a stop in Ann Arbor, but that final weekend, the president had played golf on Saturday and made one stop in Orlando on Sunday, not having been asked to do anything else. Michigan senior adviser Steve Neuman had been asking for months to get Obama and the first lady on the ground there. People who asked for Vice President Joe Biden to come in were told that top Clinton aides weren’t clearing those trips…

“I think it’s true, they executed well. I think it’s true that the plan was accomplished,” said a former labor leader in the state. “But the plan was not the right plan.”

While they clearly failed to use the right plan to win in 2016, Clinton supporters are ignoring their mistakes and placing the blame on external factors such as James Comey and Russia. In a race which turned out so close, many factors could have change the result, but it makes far more sense to place the blame both having a flawed candidate and the many mistakes made during the campaign. The same close minded thought processes seen in the campaign could be seen in Hillary Clinton throughout her life, leading Clinton to having been wrong on virtually every major decision of her career. While his appointees and many statements from Donald Trump make me fear a very poor outcome from his presidency, this is still an open matter. Hopefully Bill Gates is right in his optimistic prediction. Clinton’s history of poor judgement, both on campaign strategy and public policy, makes it very doubtful she could have been a competent president.

Bernie Sanders and Spike Lee Discussed The Election

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The Guardian features a conversation between Bernie Sanders and Spike Lee about the election. Spike Lee started out by describing what Sanders was up against in running for the Democratic nomination:

SL I want to thank you, though. Because what you did is great. And reading this stuff that’s coming out – the revelations about Wasserman [Debbie Wasserman Schultz, former chair of the Democratic National Committee, who during the campaign leaked emails shown to be biased against Sanders in favour of Clinton] and Donna Brazile [interim DNC chair, who gave Clinton a heads-up on questions in advance of a CNN debate], whom I know. Cheating goes both ways, huh? [Laughs.]

BS Well, you know. We took on the entire establishment and that’s what happens. But we have some enormously difficult times now. We gotta go forward, and I look forward to working with you to make that happen.

They discussed how some people voted for Obama and then voted for Trump this year:

BS Well, I think a number of people who voted for Obama once, or twice, voted for Trump. And I think the issue is that there are millions of people in this country who voted for Trump but do not accept… I’m not going to deny for a second that there’s a lot of racism and xenophobia and sexism out there; there certainly is. But there are a whole lot of other people who are just really, really hurting. They’re working two or three jobs, they’re worried about their kids, they can’t afford to send them to childcare or to college. And Trump comes along and says, “I’m a champion of the working class.” And he’s a good showman and a good entertainer, and people believed him.

But our job now, it seems to me, is in three areas. Number one: to fight him tooth and nail in any movement toward racism, xenophobia, sexism, trying to divide our country up. And number two: if he is at all sincere – and we will see if he is – in developing programmes to create jobs and raise wages, I think we should work with him. But I’ll tell you what also concerns me, not just for this country but the planet, is this guy thinks that climate change is a hoax. Well, let me tell you, it ain’t a hoax. Climate change is real, and if we don’t transform our energy system, the planet we leave for our kids and grandchildren may not be a pretty place.

This led into how Clinton managed to lose the election. It came down to Clinton’s attitude of entitlement, and a failure to present a case as to why she should be president–or as Mark McKinnon put it at The Daily Beast, she failed to tell a story. She thought the election was hers, and tried to run out the clock:

SL Excuse me, if I may, sir; you know I love sports. I’ve seen it too many times, when a team thinks they’ve got it all won, just wrapped up, and you see players go down the sideline and start celebrating, and then they reach the goal line and fumble. The Clintons – and I’m not asking you for a comment; this is my opinion – thought they had it won. And what do the great coaches always say? Keep playing until there is no time on the clock! And it seems to me the Clintons were celebrating before the day was up.

BS [Mirthlessly.] Ha.

SL It was not Hillary Clinton’s birthright to be president of the United States of America! And Trump, he played it like he was going to keep going at this until the whistle blows, until time has run out.

BS Right. You’re right. Now, no one can deny that Trump was holding three or four rallies a day, he was running all over this country, working 20 hours a day. And that’s the truth. But I think that speaks to, Spike, something that goes beyond Hillary Clinton. It really goes to the very nature of the Democratic party.

SL The DNC!

BS That’s right. And it calls for the transformation of the Democratic party, and making it clear it’s going to be a party that brings together blacks and whites and Latinos and women and gays, and everyone else. But it’s also going to be a party…

SL Would you say that it’s a shambles, now, Senator – the DNC?

BS Yes. Yes. And I am supporting…

BS Yes. I think we need a house-cleaning. I think the DNC needs an entirely new direction. I think it needs leadership, and I think it needs to be very clear about the fact that it stands with working families and is prepared to take on the billionaire class and Wall Street, and corporate America, and the drug companies and the insurance companies. People are hurting. And we need a programme that stands with working families and brings people together.

SL Were you ever offered the VP position, sir?

BS No. Absolutely not.

SL Would you have taken it?

BS Er. Probably, yes. But that’s again looking through the rear-view mirror.

If Clinton had chosen Sanders to be her running mate she probably would have won as many of those who voted for Obama in the past but had stayed home, voted for Trump, or voted third party would have voted for a Clinton/Sanders ticket in the midwest states which Clinton narrowly lost. Instead, many saw the choice of Tim Kaine as further evidence that Clinton was sticking with the centrist/conservative DLC philosophy and was ignoring the left. Now that we do have Trump coming into the White House, the next question was about where we go next:

SL [Long silence.] Hmmm. This is a rhetorical question, but I just want readers to understand this, very clearly. Where do we go? Where is the hope?

BS OK, here is where the hope is. The hope is to understand that the Democratic party has stumbled very significantly in the last number of decades. It’s not just this election, Spike, as disastrous as it has been. It is the fact that the Republican party controls the Senate, controls the US House, controls something like two-thirds of the governor seats in this country, and that the Democrats have lost over 900 state legislature seats in the last eight years. What that tells me is that the Democratic party has got to very fundamentally rethink who it is and where it goes. It has to shed the current situation where it’s a party of the liberal elite, a party of wealthy people who give substantial sums – we can use that money, that’s fine, but it must reidentify itself as a party of working people. Whether you’re black, white, Latino, there are millions of people today who are working longer hours for lower wages, and they’re seeing almost all new income and wealth going to the top 1%. The Democratic party has got to say we are on the side of the 99%. Our party is not about having fancy fundraisers, it’s about going into union halls, veterans’ halls, farm communities, the inner cities. It has to bring people together around the progressive agenda and make government work for all of us and not the 1%. That’s why I’m supporting Keith Ellison [as prospective chair of the DNC].

SL Who?

BSKeith Ellison. Of Minnesota.

SL Oh, yes. He’s the Muslim brother, right?

BS Yes. He’s a very good guy, and he’s the co-chair of the house progressive caucus. Very progressive guy. And I think Keith understands that the future of the Democratic party is a grassroots party. So I’m going to be supporting him and shaking up the Democratic party.

SL Let me ask you another question. The coalition that Obama got, that put him in office – did the Clinton campaign think it would automatically win [those people] without having to work? I don’t understand it. Because I did not feel the energy there was for Obama – even for you – for Hillary Clinton. I respect the woman, but the enthusiasm wasn’t there.

BS I think nobody would argue with you on that. What we have seen is that in 2008 Obama ran a historical campaign where the turnout was extraordinarily high: enthusiasm in the minority community, strong support in the white working class, and that carried over in 2012. But in 2016, what we saw – I think your point is quite right – it would be hard to suggest that the people of this country were enthusiastic about the Clinton campaign. There was not the energy we have seen in the Obama campaign, and what ended up happening was voter turnout was low. She won the black community overwhelmingly, but turnout was low. She lost a lot of white, working-class people. That’s just the fact.

The Democrats have lost badly in 2010, 2014, and now in 2016 when they ran as Republican-lite. They will need to rebuild at the grassroots, and they will need to stand for something.