A Letter to My Elected Representatives

Senator Tim Kaine
Senator Mark Warner
Representative Robert Wittman

I am writing today to urge you as strongly as I possibly can to boycott Donald Trump’s inauguration later this month. The office of the presidency is being hijacked by someone without the experience or moral authority to govern in a democracy. Moreover, the legitimacy of a Trump presidency is questionable, at best, considering the totality of the circumstances surrounding it.

Normally, of course, it is desirable for opponents to close ranks after an election and then work together for the common good to the extent that it’s possible to do so. This election held in 2016, however, was anything but a normal election. As Democrats consider which responses to a Trump presidency are appropriate, it’s critically important that they do not for victim to their own best instincts. If the Democratic Party and its leaders have any hope of being effective in protecting the country over the next four years, they must appraise the threat and react to it as it actually exists, not as they were taught to behave in the theoretical confines of a Civics class.

For a variety of reasons, a Trump presidency is inherently illegitimate. If Democratic leaders like you want to respond to it in a way that’s consistent with their responsibilities to the country and their constituents, then they must not confer on Donald Trump a legitimacy that he has not earned. Failing to boycott the inauguration would legitimize and normalize the presidency of the most dangerous, least qualified president-elect that the country has ever seen.

It’s also important to note that during the entire term of Barack Obama’s presidency, the Republican Party did all it could to delegitimize a president for whom there was no rational reason to do so. Eight years ago, rather than graciously accepting their loss after the devastation of the Bush presidency, Mitch McConnell and his colleagues plotted to obstruct and undermine Obama’s term in office. Following that, there was a series of slights and roadblocks that were literally unprecedented in the history of the country. (Perhaps you remember John Boehner denying the House chamber to Obama for a State of the Union address?) I mention this not to suggest that Democrats sink to the level of McConnell and Boehner but rather to point out what should be obvious: The Democrats can never prevail if they continue their failure to respond proportionately to their opponents’ tactics.

The bottom line for me is that this is not normal. You do not do the country or your constituents a service if you pretend that it is. Again, I urge you as forcefully as I can to boycott Donald Trump’s inauguration. The GOP will howl, of course, but I am quite certain that history will respect and embrace those courageous politicians who take a stand in the face of this abomination.

What the Point of Tom Perez’s Candidacy Anyway?

I weighed in on the race for the DNC Chair a few days after the election (I support Ellison) and subsequent events haven’t caused me to change my mind. But I’ve got to say that the whole Perez candidacy strikes me as a bit bizarre. Sure, he doesn’t seem like a bad guy and, from a policy standpoint, there’s not much to argue with when you review his stated positions.

But it’s worth asking: What’s the raison d’etre for this candidacy? When Perez got into the race, Ellison had already secured the endorsements of Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Chuck Schumer, and American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) — two large unions that had endorsed Clinton in the primaries. He was emerging as a unity candidate behind who both faction of the party could unite.

Since Perez doesn’t seem to disagree with Ellison about all that much, what is the point of his getting into the race? Many people (myself included) believe that Perez’ candidacy is based solely on a desire of the DNC’s old guard to deny leadership to anyone who supported Sanders in the primaries. (This analysis of the race by Jeff Stein is worth reading in its entirety. It details the kinds of ugly tactics that don’t deserve to ever be rewarded in a party that purports to take the high road.)

If that’s the case then I hope the DNC is prepared for the inevitable backlash from the party’s most committed activists. That kind of political vindictiveness against Sanders supporters would be a horrible mistake and would represent a grievous unforced error in the battle for the country’s future.

Isn’t it clear that the folks who blew the race against Donald Trump have forfeited the mantle of leadership? Their brand of politics offers no value for progressives in 2018 or 2020.

Steve Jobs famously believed that everything in life could be described by either a Beatles song or a Bob Dylan song. As it turns out, our most recent Nobel Laureate described the Ellison/Perez race pretty well in 1964 when he wrote:

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly aging
Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand
Cause the times they are a-changing

The Depressing Predictability of Donald Trump

A little more than a week after the election, I weighed in with five predictions about what will happen as the new regime settles in after the inauguration. As it turns out, the Trump transition has already validated two of my predictions and there’s still almost a month before the winner of the election loser of the popular vote even takes office.

Prediction #1: I wrote that “After eight years of bleating and braying about the outrageous, unsustainable deficits that Barack Obama ran up (mostly paying for George W. Bush’s recession), Republicans will have an epiphany and realize that deficits really aren’t all that important, especially when they result from tax cuts.” According to Talking Points Memo, the House Freedom Caucus is already laying the groundwork for the new, improved GOP position on fiscal austerity. Check.

Prediction #2: I also wrote that “unattributed stories will make their way around right-wing media that the Obama team sabotaged the incoming Trump staffers through various nefarious means.” Well, the disinformation campaign is bypassing right-wing media altogether (popping up instead in The Washington Post) and the source is not exactly unattributed, but otherwise the whining has already begun. Check.

The 2016 election was wildly unpredictable but the pettiness and cynicism of the incoming Trump administration is something you could have seen coming from a mile away.

So, let me add one more prediction: The next four years are going to be far, far worse than most people imagine right now. We’ve flirted before with leaders who were unprincipled, unprepared, or otherwise unsuited for the office… and we’ve mostly gotten away with it. This time, however, I’m afraid we really screwed the pooch.

The Important Conversation We Never Seem to Have

Since the election, I’ve been consuming a lot of history. It’s oddly comforting to realize that the issues we’re wrestling with in 2016 are the same ones they were wrestling with a hundred years ago. The cast of characters continually changes but the ideological battle lines have remained substantially the same. There is an ebb and flow that plays out over generations and each one of us can only do his or her part and then pass the baton. (If you don’t believe me, check out Doris Kearns Goodwin’s The Bully Pulpit or Oliver Stone’s outstanding The Untold History of the United States which is currently available on Netflix.)

It seems to me, though, that the real issues we need to confront are not political or ideological. The conversation we really need to have is about values: What values do we embrace and how do we manifest those values in the world? If we get that conversation right, the politics and policies will (theoretically) happen much more easily. But, for the most part, we never seem to have that conversation. Our failure to do so explains why progress in other areas is so difficult to achieve or maintain.

To make the nature of the problem a little clearer, here are a couple of articles that crossed my desktop recently. The first is George Monbiot’s takedown of celebrity culture, “Celebrity isn’t just harmless fun – it’s the smiling face of the corporate machine.” The title says it all. As a culture, we’re awash in various flavors of Kim Kardashian. That doesn’t happen by accident and it’s important to understand how we got here. (Along the same lines, there’s an old question that’s well worth asking: “Cui bono?”)

The second one is an exploration of The Frankfurt School, a collection of philosophers, cultural critics, and sociologists that coalesced in 1938. They believed that mass culture, in all its forms, was a prop for totalitarian capitalism. The ideas were challenging and controversial but they fell out of favor during the generations long somnambulance that followed World War II. The ascendance of Donald Trump, however, has given them a whole new credence and relevance. (Believe me, this is more interesting reading than I make it sound.)

These articles do not, by themselves, represent the conversation about values that we so desperately need to have. They go a long way, though, towards explaining why we never seem to have it. I’d be interesting in hearing what you think.

The Most Dangerous Deficit We Face

I’ve written before about the perfect storm of factors that combined to create the result of this year’s presidential election but the ones I cited were mostly political and procedural. Here’s an outstanding analysis by Dr. Michael Bader, a psychologist and psychoanalyst in San Francisco with over 30 years of experience, that emphasizes the cultural/psychological factors that were involved. Specifically, Bader cites the long-term, ongoing decline in empathy in our society.

I strongly recommend reading the whole thing, especially if you’re a progressive (or even a Democrat). In the meantime, though, here’s a pull quote that I hope will pique your curiosity:

The failure of our institutions to empathize with the plight of the middle and working classes, to recognize their sacrifice and reward their hard work is traumatic. It is the same type of trauma that children experience when their caretakers are preoccupied or rejecting. The trauma erodes trust. It overwhelms systems that people have developed to deal with stress and creates psychological suffering and illness.

The future of the progressive movement lies in understanding and unequivocally embracing the fight of the working class, not as an electoral strategy but as a pillar of the values that drive us. Otherwise, the people who’d most benefit from progressive policies will find no reason to reject corporatism that masquerades as opportunity or bigotry that pretends to be populism. Our most destructive deficit isn’t in our budget. It’s the empathy deficit that makes us ripe targets for a cynical carnival barker like Donald Trump.

An Early Glimpse of the News from Spring, 2017

By the time pitchers and catchers report for spring training early next year, you’ll probably be devoting a lot more of your time time to emergency financial planning as the GOP rams an alarmingly right-wing agenda through congress and onto the desk of President Trump. As a public service, I’d like to save you time you’ll need then by letting you read about some of next spring’s big news stories today.

Deficits discovered to not matter anymore. After eight years of bleating and braying about the outrageous, unsustainable deficits that Barack Obama ran up (mostly paying for George W. Bush’s recession), Republicans will have an epiphany and realize that deficits really aren’t all that important, especially when they result from tax cuts. By early next year, it will be clear that Trump’s economic play will explode the deficit if the opinions of serious economists are considered. Those opinions will not make their way into very many news outlets.

Obama sabotaged the transition. As the Trump administration embarrasses itself with one misstep after another, unattributed stories will make their way around right-wing media that the Obama team sabotaged the incoming Trump staffers through various nefarious means. The Trump transition would have been flawless if Obama and his staff hadn’t undermined him at every turn.

The media kept Obama’s economic devastation unreported and secret. Trump’s team will announce that the president was correct when he said on the campaign trail that Obama was cooking the books to hide how terribly the economy has been performing. As everyone knows, corporate tax cuts are the obvious remedy but they need to be bigger and enacted more rapidly than anyone realized.

The Senate lurches rightward in the absence of the filibuster. When Republicans were in the minority in the Senate when Barack Obama was president, they deployed the filibuster relentlessly as part of their unabashed strategy of  obstructionism. With a majority in the Senate, President Trump, and the prospect of multiple Supreme Court vacancies, Republican senators jettison the filibuster rather than allow Democrats to obstruct Trump the way the GOP obstructed Obama.

Traditional media media are frozen out of the halls of power. After spending the entire presidential campaign unfairly reporting the things that Donald Trump has done and said, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and every television news organization besides FOX News has been excluded from White House events in favor of more reliable and cooperative outlets like Breitbart and Drudge.