Politics, et Cetera
A publication from The Political Forum, LLC
Tuesday, January 9, 2018
They Said It:
America is a strong country. She has survived Presidents like Grant and Eisenhower, whose level of intelligence in civilian affairs was what one would expect of Generals, and it has survived a President like Harding, who did not even have the excuse of being a General. It has had the strength to survive paranoiacs like Huey Long, Forrestal, and McCarthy, who achieved such great power and influence in political life that they were seriously considered for the Presidency, and it has survived totalitarian, semi-secret, quasi-military groups like the Ku Klux Klan, the Nazi Bund, and the Communist Party. But now, for the first time in her history. America is facing an awesome combination of all three threats. In Goldwater’s candidacy on a major party ticket, she faces the possibility of electing a President whose grasp of international affairs matches Harding’s, whose personality traits are reminiscent of Forrestal’s and McCarthy’s, and who is backed by a well-organized, blindly ruthless, totalitarian, secretive, and powerful movement.
It is the very combination of these facts that makes an investigation into the mental condition of the Republican candidate so crucial…
Mr. Goldwater’s illness is not just an emotional maladjustment, or a mild neurosis, or a queerness. As emphatically stated by many of the leading psychiatrists in this country (see page 24 of this issue), the pattern of his behavior is ominous. From his sadistic childhood pranks to his cruel practical jokes today, from his nervous breakdowns under pressure in his twenties to his present-day withdrawals escapes in time of crisis, from his obsessive pre occupation with firearms in his youth to his present fantasies about brandishing nuclear weapons to scare his enemies, from his conviction that he is surrounded by deadly enemies at home — whether Reuther, Rockefeller, the American Press, or Someone Who is Out to Kill Him — to his belief that every Russian ballerina is a spy, he shows unmistakable symptoms of paranoia…. Clearly, paranoia is not just any mental disease. In a leader who commands the most powerful nation and the most destructive arsenal in history, it constitutes nothing short of mortal danger to mankind. A little over 30 years ago a paranoiac with a charismatic effect on his audiences, supported by an extremist, highly patriotic group, was democratically elected to the highest executive position in the government of his country. His name was Adolf Hitler.
Ralph Ginzburg, Editor and Publisher of Fact Magazine, “Goldwater: The Man and the Menace,” Fact, September/October, 1964.
DOMESTIC POLITICS 2018: YEAR TWO OF TRUMP VS. THE RESISTANCE.
Those of you of a certain age or of a certain educational predisposition will undoubtedly recall the name Andrei Sakharov – and for good reason. Sakharov was a hero, a dissident, a brilliant man who paid an enormous price for his convictions. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975. The European Parliament honored him for his bravery and sacrifice by naming its coveted human rights award after him. He was, in short, a very impressive human being.
But before he became a brilliant human rights and peace activist, Sakharov was a brilliant physicist, one of the most brilliant of the twentieth century. And it was this scientific brilliance that made his activism so damaging to the government of his home country, the Soviet Union. Biography.com provides the details:
In 1945, Andrei Sakharov entered the Lebedev Institute of Physics and in 1948 was recruited by nuclear physicist Igor Tamm to work on the Soviet nuclear program. At age 32, Sakharov became the youngest person elected to the Soviet Academy of Sciences. Between 1953 and 1968, Sakharov conducted top-secret research on thermonuclear weapons and played a key role in the first Soviet hydrogen bomb. For this work, he was named the “Hero of Socialist Labor” in 1953, 1956 and 1962.
During this time, however, Sakharov developed a deep awareness of the dangers of nuclear testing and the irreversible consequences of nuclear war. He began writing letters to Soviet leaders urging them to stop nuclear testing. In 1957, he wrote articles in Soviet scientific journals about the biological hazards of nuclear testing and the effects of radiation. Many of these articles found their way into the Western press.
Between 1966 and 1968, Andrei Sakharov began to openly push for greater civil liberties in the Soviet Union. In 1968, while still working on the Soviet nuclear weapons program, Sakharov wrote the essay, “Reflections on Progress, Peaceful Coexistence and Intellectual Freedom,” urging greater cooperation between the United States and the Soviet Union, expansion of civil liberties in the USSR and an end to the arms race. A copy was smuggled out of the country and published in the New York Times.
Quickly, Soviet officials removed Andrei Sakharov from the Soviet Atomic Energy Commission. For a time, his international prestige and deep knowledge of the Soviet Union’s nuclear weapons program prevented his arrest. In 1975, Sakharov was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on nuclear disarmament and promoting human rights. However, he was not permitted to leave the country to collect his prize. His criticism of the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan led officials to banish Sakharov and his new wife, Yelena Bonner (whom he had married in 1972), to Gorky, a city located about 250 miles east of Moscow that was closed to foreigners and journalists for security reasons.
But there’s something important here that the folks at Biography.com (and its parent company, the A&E Network) left out of the Sakharov story – wittingly or not. Andrei Sakharov wasn’t just exiled or “banished.” And he was never “arrested.” Rather, he was removed from the proximity to power for what the Brezhnev regime called “his own good.” On December 9, 1983, The New York Times explained precisely what that meant:
A prominent Soviet official implied at a news conference today that Andrei D. Sakharov, the physicist and human rights campaigner, was mentally disturbed. The official, Vitaly P. Ruben, who is chairman of one of the two houses of the Supreme Soviet, the nominal Parliament, called Dr. Sakharov ‘‘a talented but sick man’’ and said an article the physicist published in the West earlier this year had invited an American nuclear strike on the Soviet Union.
“A sane person would not say such things,” Mr. Ruben said, tapping his head with his forefinger in a gesture suggesting mental trouble….
Mr. Ruben, a former Premier and President of the Soviet Latvian republic, is chairman of the Soviet of Nationalities, one of the two chambers of Parliament. He said the order to exile Dr. Sakharov to Gorky stemmed from “humane considerations” involving his health. Those who issued the order “sought to help a sick person,” he said, and were concerned “mainly for his peace of mind.”…
Mr. Ruben said that, apart from being confined to the city of Gorky, Dr. Sakharov lived “a normal life” and was able to continue his research. The official also referred to medical treatment that he said the physicist was receiving. “The Soviet doctors are taking all necessary measures to restore his health,” he said. “They are treating him at home.”
Sakharov, you see, was diagnosed in absentia with “sluggish schizophrenia,” a condition identified and articulated (i.e. “made up”) by the founding father of Soviet psychiatry, Andrei Snezhnevsky. Like so many others in the Soviet Union, Sakharov ran afoul of the powers that be. And, as a result, he was labeled by those powers as “mentally unfit.” He was never diagnosed of any mental illness in person. Indeed, he was never even examined in person (hence the in absentia bit). He was never treated for anything other than having a contradictory political predisposition. The cold, hard truth is that Andrei Sakharov was punished by the Soviet regime for being a threat. And the regime couched this threat and punishment in terms of mental illness and treatment.
Why do we think you should care about any of this, especially since this is supposed to our domestic policy forecast?
Well, as some of you may have guessed already, we think that the above story of Andrei Sakharov provides a useful backdrop against which to make our forecasts. The authoritarian mindset not only punishes those who dare to be different, but also earnestly believes that anyone who takes that dare, anyone who behaves differently, is, in some sense, truly mentally ill. One of the primary characteristics of a person diagnosed by Snezhnevsky with sluggish schizophrenia was the precondition known as “delusion of reformism,” which is to say that anyone who thought the regime was in need of reform was, by definition, crazy. Having doubts about the Soviet ruling class was a de facto admission of mental instability.
Which brings us (at long last) to….
Forecast #1: Year Two of the Trump presidency – just like Year One of the Trump presidency – will be dominated by those who wish to portray the President as illegitimate. This year, rather than focusing its collective attention on Russian collusion and other (likely mythical) shenanigans, the opposition – which is comprised of the actual political opposition, the media opposition, the entertainment industry opposition, the NeverTrump opposition, the academic opposition, and Gaia knows who else – will spend the year insisting that Trump is “unfit” for office.
Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you probably know that the effort to label Trump “unfit” effort is well underway already. Year Two of the Trump presidency doesn’t officially begin for another couple of weeks, but the “opposition” has already gotten a nice head start on the long year ahead.
The big story these days – maybe the only story these days – is, of course, THE BOOK, which was hastily published last week, apparently, in order to capitalize on something or another. Said book, titled Fire and Fury and written by the serial fabulist Michael Wolff, is an instant bestseller and a classic of its genre. The only problem is that no one knows what genre that is. Is it political science? Is it gossipy tell-all? Is it books so poorly edited that the word “pubic” appears in the place of “public” on more than one occasion? Is it non-fiction? Is it a novel? No one knows!
Of course, no one cares either. Wolff tells a story that many want to believe. And so they’re going to believe it, evidence be damned! Tony Blair, the center-Left former Prime Minister of Great Britain calls the portion of the book dealing with him and the British government “a complete fabrication.” The panel of “experts” on ABC’s This Week, which is hosted by the former Clinton shill George Stephanopoulos, determined that the book was probably not all true, but it was close enough for them, since it confirmed their preconceived notions. In a shocking display of honesty, the Los Angeles Times ran a column by somebody called Virginia Heffernan under the headline, “Why believe Michael Wolff? Because, for now, this stuff is too good not to,” which nicely summarizes “the opposition’s” take on the man and his book.
The takeaway from the book, apparently, is that Trump is “unfit for office” and should therefore be removed – for his own good! He’s dumb. He’s lazy. And, most of all, he’s crazy. You don’t have to know anything about the man or his mental state. He is who he is, and who he is is a lunatic and a narcissist, a danger to himself and others.
Now, if this were an isolated incident, we would probably dismiss it as the usual mainstream media/political opposition desperation. But it’s not an isolated incident. Last month, an obsessed and overwrought professor of psychology made a trip to Washington, which played right into the opposition’s hands. This professor, Brandy Lee of Yale, has made quite a name for herself by violating the standards and practices of her profession. In a piece published last week, Peter Hasson of the Daily Caller explained both Lee’s history and the role she has played in riling up the eminently excitable opposition. To wit:
Establishment media outlets including CNN and MSNBC have helped mainstream a conspiracy theory claiming President Donald Trump is mentally ill. At the center of the conspiracy theory is Yale psychiatry professor Bandy Lee, who for over a year has claimed that Trump is mentally impaired and unfit to serve, pointing at his tweets as evidence.
During Trump’s presidential campaign, Lee flouted industry norms against publicly diagnosing a patient without his consent or an in-person examination. She justified doing so on the grounds that she is “obligated to break them in times of emergency.” She continued her campaign after the election, earning a book deal in the process.
Lee told New York Magazine in April last year that she was a “pariah” at her department because of her campaign about the president’s mental health, which now includes the book ”The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President.” Lee’s book, which came out Oct. 3, argued that psychiatrists have a “duty to warn” the country about President Trump.
Three days after Lee’s book came out, the APA issued a statement reaffirming the importance of the Goldwater Rule, which instructs physicians “not to provide professional opinions in the media about the mental health of someone they have not personally examined and without patient consent or other legal authority.”
The APA directly rebuked Lee’s “duty to warn” argument. “The APA would also like to dispel a common misconception about the so-called ‘Duty to Warn.’ The duty to warn is a legal concept which varies from state to state, but which generally requires psychiatrists to breach the confidentiality of the therapeutic session when a risk of danger to others becomes known during treatment of the patient. It does not apply if there is no physician-patient relationship,” the APA stated.
Despite the APA’s rebuke, Democratic lawmakers have attempted to legitimize and promote the pariah professor’s accusations. BuzzFeed reported in October that six different Democrats in Congress reached out to Lee regarding her claims about Trump’s mental health. Last month, Lee briefed a handful of congressional Democrats on her arguments over two days, Politico reported on Wednesday. Lee, who has neither met nor examined Trump, told the Democratic congressmen that the president is “unraveling.”
The mainstream media picked up on the story of Lee’s visit. Like the book, that visit confirmed their biases. And the rest, as they say, is history. Now every Tom, Stephanopoulos, and Harry thinks that the “mental fitness” of the president is an appropriate, even vital, topic of discussion. The guy is crazy, you see. He thinks we’re all full of sh*t. He even says so, publicly! And to borrow a phrase from Vitaly Ruben, “a sane person would not say such things!”
All of this, we warn you, is just the beginning. Until they find another dead horse to beat, the opposition will spend its days ruminating on Donald Trump’s mental fitness, on the threat his “illness” poses to the entire world, and on the brilliance of the 25th Amendment.
For the record, Brandy Lee, thinks that this matter is so important that she and her colleagues should physically restrain the president and compel him to submit to an examination. She is worried, however, that this might look to the rest of the country like a coup. She’s right, of course, but one wonders why she should have this breakthrough in self-awareness only now?
All of this leads us to…
Forecast #2: While Trump governs, the opposition – a.k.a. “The Resistance” – will continue to embarrass itself, continue to congratulate itself for the wonderful things it has done, and continue to alienate normal, everyday Americans who would otherwise NOT be inclined to be particularly sympathetic to the president.
Last week, Keith Ellison, a Congressman from Minnesota, created a bit of a stir, which we think highlights the problems that the opposition/Resistance is having as it tries to deal with President Trump. Ellison – who is also the Vice Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, the only Muslim member of the House of Representatives, and a former supporter of the rabidly anti-Semitic Louis Farrakhan – tweeted a picture of himself, smiling, holding a copy of Antifa: The Antifascist Handbook. Along with the picture, he wrote: “At @MoonPalaceBooks and I just found the book that strike [sic] fear in the heart of @realDonaldTrump.”
Just to refresh your memory, “Antifa” is the left-wing terrorist organization that sees itself as the defenders of all that is right and good against “the fascists,” a group that, as you might have guessed, includes everyone to the right of Bernie Sanders. Antifa advocates violence in pursuit of its goals and believes that silencing its ideological opponents by any means necessary is an absolute imperative. In short, they call themselves anti-fascists, yet they behave much like the Brownshirts.
And last week, the VICE CHAIRMAN OF THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY cheerfully endorsed their “field manual” because it would scare the President of the United States.
But that’s not where the story ends. When Twitter erupted in response to Ellison’s tweet – and his implicit, if not explicit endorsement of left-wing political violence – the mainstream media rushed to his defense. And when we say that, we don’t really mean to say that they defended him. Rather, they attacked his critics. Newsweek, for example, responded thusly:
The deputy head of the Democratic National Committee is under fire — again — from far-right activists after he posed with a copy of a “antifa” book and suggested anti-fascist activism is President Donald Trump’s worst nightmare.
Congressman Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) has been a lightning rod for conservatives for his support for Senator Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign, for his race and for his Islamic faith, but his tweet on Wednesday of a picture of himself holding up up Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook by Mark Bray, enraged his opponents again….
Opponents jumped on the tweet, with Fox News and other conservative outlets like Gateway Pundit and Alex Jones’s InfoWars covering it, and running anti-Muslim comments underneath the articles. “A Muslim promoting terrorism is not news,” commenter Supah Cisgender wrote on Gateway Pundit.
Other comments labeled the representative a “terrorist.”
You see, for Newsweek, the real news wasn’t the Deputy Chairman of the DNC aligning himself with domestic terrorists. No, the real news was the response of some commenters on some web sites. Or as Newsweek tweeted: “A Keith Ellison tweet mentioning ‘antifa’ has spurred an Islamaphobic backlash across the alt-right.”
If we hadn’t just railed against armchair psychiatrists who label their opponents crazy, we’d call all of these people nuts. Of course, in a retail political sense, we don’t have to call them nuts, the voters – the normal, everyday Americans mentioned above – think they’re all nuts without us saying anything. As even the tired, hackneyed Leftist intellectual Noam Chomsky realized last August, Antifa is “a major gift to the Right.” And so, for that matter, are its defenders and fellow travelers in the media and the Resistance. Normal people see the members of the Resistance as crazy people – starting riots, attacking Trump supporters, walking around Washington dressed like Vaginas. And much to their chagrin, these antics will actually drive people toward Trump, rather than away from him.
Forecast #3: While the Resistance Rages on, Donald Trump will prove to be the most conservative president since Reagan – maybe since Coolidge.
We understand all of the arguments made by conservatives against Donald trump and his presidency. We even agree with some of them. We’ve long made the case that character counts in politics and that the truth matters. Given this, we feel for those pundits who tie themselves in knots about Trump’s character (or lack thereof) and his penchant for seeing truth as a malleable tool to be used in pursuit of an agenda. We get it.
At the same time, we also get that Trump is doing things that are remarkable in this day and age. His agenda has been solidly conservative and solidly small-government. In a recent piece for the libertarian magazine Reason, Matt Welch noted the following:
“Trump’s Deregulatory Binge Makes the Bush Years Look Like Stalinist Russia,” runs the headline in The Daily Banter, a website that was “started in 2007 when Editor in Chief Ben Cohen got fed up with watching the corporate news not doing its job properly,” and that further claims “not do viral content” or “trick readers with misleading headlines.” (Cohen’s misleading subhed, by the way, begins: “The Bush years were characterized by a deregulatory binge that saw deep cuts to virtually all aspects of government with little to no reasoning behind them,” despite the fact that people who actually study this stuff will inform you that Bush increased the reach, budget, and staffing of the administrative state — including on financial regulation — at a far greater clip than his Democratic predecessor, while overseeing an eight-year government spending bender.)
An infinitely better reported, yet ultimately even more unintentionally amusing effort came in Monday’s New York Times, which contained plenty of now-hold-on-there sentences like “The evidence is weak that regulation actually reduces economic activity or that deregulation stimulates it,” and “There is little historical evidence tying regulation levels to growth,” and “Regulatory proponents say, in fact, that those rules can have positive economic effects in the long run, saving companies from violations that could cost them both financially and reputationally.”
Why is that funny? Because much of the rest of the article is composed of quotes and data from actual business humans about why they’re investing so much more money during the Trump presidency. Stuff like, “That [regulatory] burden has slowed down economic growth, it’s slowed down investment in infrastructure [in the past]. And what we’ve seen over the last year is a big deregulatory environment.” The preponderance of feel-good evidence is such that the Times headlined the piece “The Trump Effect,” and began it with these two almost startlingly upbeat paragraphs:
A wave of optimism has swept over American business leaders, and it is beginning to translate into the sort of investment in new plants, equipment and factory upgrades that bolsters economic growth, spurs job creation — and may finally raise wages significantly.
While business leaders are eager for the tax cuts that take effect this year, the newfound confidence was initially inspired by the Trump administration’s regulatory pullback, not so much because deregulation is saving companies money but because the administration has instilled a faith in business executives that new regulations are not coming….
As the year closed out last week, the deregulators over at the Competitive Enterprise Institute took a look at the final page- and regulation-count in the 2017 Federal Register. This is what they found:
The calendar year concluded with 61,950 pages in the Federal Register […]
This is the lowest count since 1993’s 61,166 pages. That was Bill Clinton’s first year, and his own lowest-ever count.
A year ago, Obama set the all-time Federal Register page record with 95,894 pages.
Trump’s Federal Register is a 35 percent drop from Obama’s record, set last year.
Bush and Reagan had lower Federal Register page counts than Trump; but every president since has easily outstripped Trump. […]
[T]he Federal Register closed out with 3,281 final rules within its pages.
This is the lowest count since records began being kept in the mid-1970s.
This doesn’t tell the whole story, obviously, but it’s good stuff. And more to the point, it’s good news. We won’t bore you with another rant about regulation and bureaucracy in the administrative state, but it should suffice to say that the less of both, the better. And that’s what Trump is delivering. Tax cuts. Less regulation. Withdrawal from UNESCO. Warranted caution on global climate treaties. Support for Israel. Support for Iranian protesters. Defiance of Kim Jong Un. Aggressive action against terror-sponsor states like Pakistan, etc. etc. And that’s just the first year.
We get that Trump is a less-than-ideal messenger for the conservative message. But from our perspective, it’s hard to imagine a more effective one.
Forecast #4: While most of the Resistance will prove futile and disquieting, at least one aspect will change the nation for the better.
Last year, we spent a great deal of time thinking and discussing the growing and seemingly irreconcilable differences between “Red” and “Blue” America. Indeed, we wrote a handful of pieces on the subject, the first of which appeared in these pages almost a full year ago. We believed then – and believe even more strongly today – that the major theme of 21st century American politics will be determined in large part by the same forces that determined the theme of mid-19th century American politics, namely states’ rights. In a February 14 piece titled “The New New Paradigm,” we put it this way:
For more than 150 years now, the idea that states have rights and that the federal government has infringed too far on those rights has been associated with racism and slavery. That’s understandable, but it’s also unfortunate. To this day, the Left insists that Ronald Reagan was a closet racist who blew “dog whistles” for the white supremacists, based solely on the fact that he ran for president advocating “states’ rights” and urging that the federal government be restrained in its powers. The irony is that Reagan had served as governor of California and had seen firsthand how important it was for a state that unique, that important, and that creative to have some autonomy both from Washington and from the rest of the country. Today, Reagan’s ideas are coming round full circle, only at the urging of the political Left.
Federalism may well have been the Founders’ most brilliant idea for maintaining peace between the states while restraining the power of a potential tyrant and protecting the rights of the people. It was designed to ensure that a diverse people with diverse values could nevertheless coexist under one overarching worldview. Or, as President Reagan’s Domestic Policy Council Working Group on Federalism states: it is a “constitutionally based, structural theory of government designed to ensure political freedom and responsive, democratic government in a large and diverse society.”
We have long believed and have long written that the inevitable outcome of the clash between moral codes would be an ongoing and perhaps disastrous bifurcation of the nation, with “red” and “blue” distancing themselves from one another. We continue to believe that the bifurcation is inevitable, but we are no longer convinced that it will be disastrous. What we didn’t foresee – what NO ONE could have foreseen – is the effect that Donald Trump would have on the blue states, the rebirth of federalist sentiments as an antidote to a right-wing populist.
On January 1 of this year, the state of California began pushing this federalist envelope further than it had ever been pushed before. The nation’s greatest bastion of Leftism not only legalized the sale and use of marijuana, it also declared itself a “sanctuary state,” which is to say that it is now official California state policy not to cooperate with the federal government in the enforcement of federal immigration laws.
Some on the Right – including, most notably, Michael Walsh – think that this is all a prelude to de facto and then de jure secession by California. Walsh et al. argue that the state and its unhappy liberals are following precisely in the footsteps of John C. Calhoun and the Confederate seditionists.
Walsh and others may be right about this. And it strikes us that the California sanctuary law is likely to earn the state a solid rebuke from the courts. All of that said, though, conservatives shouldn’t overlook the value in what California is doing, policy differences notwithstanding. Federalism is precisely what the Right has been demanding since the 1960s. And now, in part because of Donald Trump and in part because of the solidification of the differences between Red and Blue, the Left is giving the Right precisely what it wants.
We should note here that President Trump’s tax law, which caps the deduction for state and local taxes, will encourage this trend. Already, high-tax Blue states like California and New York are trying to figure out how they can skirt the law and still collect the money that they consider rightfully theirs. They won’t succeed, of course, but the impulse behind the effort will advance the notion of federalism even further.
Power is devolving from centralized governments all over the world, as any EU-rocrat in Brussels would sadly tell you. This is a good thing, and Americans will continue to embrace the new federalism.
Forecast #5: The recent trend of bad midterm elections for the president’s party will continue, as the GOP will lose control of the House of Representatives. Or…maybe not.
Regular readers know that we started predicting the collapse of the Congressional GOP as long ago as this past summer. The party is in disarray. It doesn’t know what it wants or how to go about getting it. Moreover, the Democrats seem energized by their opposition to Donald Trump and appear to have the motivation necessary to flip the suddenly volatile House majority.
In the few months since we first made this prediction, it has become the Washington conventional wisdom. The Republicans are doomed, we read almost every day, and the Democrats will soon regain what is rightfully theirs, a permanent ruling majority. Ironically enough, as the conventional wisdom coalesces around our original forecast, we have begun to question it. We still think there is great risk for the GOP, but we also think that much of that risk can be mitigated.
To hear the mainstream pundits tell the story, the Democrats are on the advance, surging and unified behind their opposition to the president. But this is pure fantasy. The Democratic Party is as big a disaster as the Republican Party, maybe bigger. There is no unity. There is no sense of collective purpose. And there is no money. The party is struggling mightily to raise funds, even in these days of “Resistance.”
The simple truth of the matter is that control of the House of Representatives will be determined not by the Democrats, but by the Republicans. The majority’s fate is in its own hands. In a piece we wrote for The Daily Caller last month, we put it this way:
Barack Obama ran for president in 2008 as the harbinger of “hope and change.” By promising nothing and everything at once, he was a polymorphic shapeshifter who offered nothing more specific than to stop the rise of the oceans and heal a damaged planet. In the Democratic primary, he ran against the inevitable and “supremely qualified” policy wonk, Hillary Clinton, whom he destroyed handily with his ephemeral nothingness.
Once in office, though, Obama and the Democratic Congress passed legislation that would radically alter the political landscape — a massive stimulus bill, health care reform, financial services reform, etc. The candidate who promised nothing quickly became the president who delivered everything, or at least a great many of his progressive base’s deepest desires. When voters heartily rejected his party in the 2010 midterm, they did so because they bristled at and detested the legislative actions they had taken. Obama had charisma enough to survive the electorate’s rejection of his agenda, but his fellow partisans did not.
By contrast, Donald Trump ran for president on a very specific and very aggressive agenda. He promised to build a wall and halt illegal immigration. He promised to cut taxes and regulations dramatically. He promised to repeal Obamacare and to reform the health care system using market principles.
Once in office, though, Trump’s agenda was stymied by his own party. Unlike the Democratic Congress, which provided the charisma-rich, policy-free president with an unpopular agenda, the Republican Congress took their president’s popular agenda and replaced it with … well … nothing. No wall. No repeal. No tax cuts (not officially, not yet). Zip. Zero. Squadoosh.
If you want to know why Mitch McConnell is to blame for the stunning loss in Alabama, all you have to do is look at what the Congress has accomplished this year. It’s not about funding or lack of support for a fellow Republican. It’s about the fact that the American people gave the GOP control of ALL of the levers of power in Washington, and the Republicans did nothing with that control. In 2008 and 2012, the American people voted for Barack Obama because they wanted “change.” In 2016, the American people voted for Donald Trump because they wanted it to “change back.” And the Republicans in Congress ignored their mandate and sat on their hands.
Since we wrote those words, the Republicans actually did something. They passed the tax bill. And they saw that it was good. If the Republicans understand the value in a conservative agenda and can manage to enact more of that agenda over the next ten months, then they will retain control of both houses of Congress. If, however, they revert to form and behave as they did for the majority of last year, then they will lose. And they will lose badly.
We know it’s sort of a copout to say that we don’t know who will win the midterm elections this November, but the fact of the matter is that this is an open question. The Republicans have a choice. They can win or they can lose.
Forecast #6, Our Out-of-Left-Field Prediction: Over the next year, some pretty strange people will announce their intention to run for President of the United States in 2020. And no, we don’t mean Oprah.
Regular readers know that we are haunted by and somewhat fixated on a short but powerful paragraph that came near the end of a piece written by our old friend Angelo Codevilla just before the 2016 election. It reads as follows:
We have stepped over the threshold of a revolution. It is difficult to imagine how we might step back, and futile to speculate where it will end. Our ruling class’s malfeasance, combined with insult, brought it about. Donald Trump did not cause it and is by no means its ultimate manifestation. Regardless of who wins in 2016, this revolution’s sentiments will grow in volume and intensity, and are sure to empower politicians likely to make Americans nostalgic for Donald Trump’s moderation.
We think he’s right. And given the events of the last few weeks, we are starting to see how this might play out. Or to put it another way, we think Steve Bannon is already running for president in 2020. This may sound crazy, but bear with us a moment.
Steve Bannon thinks of himself as the harbinger of the Trump revolution. He thinks he created the revolution and that he saw it through to its glorious conclusion. Without him, there would be no Trump. And therefore he his bigger and better and more important than Trump will ever be. At the risk of sounding blasphemous here, Bannon is the inverse John the Baptist. He sees himself as the voice crying out in the wilderness, “make straight the way of the Lord.” Unlike John, though, Bannon does not see himself as unfit to untie the sandal-straps of the one who is to come after him. Rather, he’s sees the one to come after him as a fraud, a pretender to his rightful throne.
Now, we know that Bannon kinda-sorta apologized last week for his role in the aforementioned Michael Wolff book. But that apology was pro forma at best and designed to keep his financial supporters from abandoning him entirely. Watch him carefully. If Trump fails to deliver on his campaign promises; if, for example, he reaches a deal on the “Dreamers” or fails to construct “a wall,” Steve Bannon will be right behind him, shouting to the world that Trump has abandoned the cause, that he has been sucked into the swamp. It’s a discomfiting thought, we know. But then, that’s why Codevilla’s words haunt us so.
Happy 2018, everybody – or did we say that already?
Copyright 2018. The Political Forum. 3350 Longview Ct., Lincoln NE 68506, tel. 402-261-3175, fax 402-261-3175. All rights reserved. Information contained herein is based on data obtained from recognized services, issuer reports or communications, or other sources believed to be reliable. However, such information has not been verified by us, and we do not make any representations as to its accuracy or completeness, and we are not responsible for typographical errors. Any statements nonfactual in nature constitute only current opinions which are subject to change without notice.