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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority


President Obama’s Farewell Address

President Obama’s farewell address to the nation at McCormick Place in Chicago on Tuesday (full text is available here):

Galston Warns of Growing Threat of ‘Illiberal Democracy’

Many Americans are understandably concerned about the future of a democracy in which the candidate who lost the popular vote wins the presidency twice in 16 years. But what may be even more alarming than America’s weakening of the principle of majority rule, is the erosion of the values that make our diverse, pluralistic society governable.

William A. Galston’s Wall St. Journal column on “The Growing Threat of ‘Illiberal Democracy’: What happens when rule by the people conflicts with individual rights?” reports on a frightening trend of minority-bashing in Eastern Europe, particularly in Hungary, where the ruling regime is encouraging vicious, Nazi-like rhetoric attacking minorities, particularly Jews, but also the Roma people. In Hungary, writes Galston,

Hungary’s Order of Merit, its second highest state honor, recognizes individuals who have demonstrated excellence in service to Hungary and the promotion of “universal human values.” Last August, Mr. Orban’s government gave this award to journalist Zsolt Bayer.

Here is how Mr. Bayer has promoted these values:

Writing in 2008 about the “Jewish journalists of Budapest,” he said that “their very existence justifies anti-Semitism.” In February and March of 2016, he published an 18-part op-ed series on the origins of anti-Semitism in Hungary, asserting that it was a natural reaction to actions by Jews against non-Jews.

Writing in 2013 about the Roma, a disparate collection of ethnic minorities, Mr. Bayer said that “These animals shouldn’t be allowed to exist,” adding that “this needs to be solved—immediately and by any means necessary.” At a public rally in Budapest in 2015, he described the Syrian refugee crisis as a weapon guided by a hidden conspiracy against the “white race.”

Is this what illiberal democracy portends—state-endorsed hostility toward historically persecuted minorities, endorsed by the state? Are we facing a future in which national majorities may act without restraint, whatever the human costs?

It’s not just Hungary. Galston also notes that cotempt for liberal democracy seems to be spreading to Poland:

Mr. Orban’s approach is gaining ground. As early as 2011, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of Poland’s then-minority Law and Justice party, said that he would “bring Budapest to Warsaw.” Today, a majority government led by his party is doing what he promised, starting with an attack on Poland’s constitutional court before moving to restraints on the public media, public prosecutor, and freedom of assembly.

Political observers have also noted the worrisome rise of intolerance of minorities in political movements gaining ground in Austria and France. In the U.S., rising intolerance also threatens foundational democratic values protecting minorities, as Galston notes,

There are signs of impatience with liberal democratic restraints even in the U.S., where constitutionalism and the rule of law are more deeply entrenched than in the newer European democracies. A June 2016 survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute found 49% of voters agreed that “because things have gotten so far off track in this country, we need a leader who is willing to break some rules if that’s what it takes to set things right.” This figure included 57% of Republicans, 60% of white working-class voters, 72% of Trump supporters, and—tellingly—59% of those who felt that the American way of life needs protection from foreign influences.

Even more worrying than the attack on liberal democratic institutions is the relegitimation of long-suppressed antipathies to ethnic and religious minorities.
When Donald Trump whipped up hostility to Muslims and Mexicans in the U.S., he not only encouraged  intolerance and bigotry; he also undermined the values of liberal democracy that have undergirded  America’s freedom. If further drift toward ‘illiberal democracy’ can be stopped, it’s clear that Democrats have to provide the leadership.

GOP’s Ethics Stumble, Walkback Opens Opportunity for Dems

Don’t put too much stock in the meme being parroted by President-elect Trump’s minons that his tweet prevented a Republican attempt to weaken the power of the Office of Congressional Ethics. Here’s  “What really changed the GOP’s mind,” a CNN post by Lee Drutman, senior fellow in the Political Reform Program at New America and author of “The Business of America is Lobbying”

Less than 24 hours after both traditional and social media lit up with outrage over House Republicans’ plans to severely weaken the Office of Congressional Ethics, House Republicans decided that maybe this wasn’t the brand image they wanted to start 2017 with. So Republicans reversed themselves: The Office of Congressional Ethics will remain independent and therefore powerful, not a silenced fiefdom of the member-controlled House Ethics Committee, as the original GOP rules package had proposed.

…Republicans who supported the seemingly obscure changes must have figured hardly anybody would notice, and even fewer people would care. Perhaps, some members concluded, given what President-elect Donald Trump has been getting away with, norms really had changed. Why should members of Congress have to suffer?

…To be sure, there may be some who give Trump’s Twitter account credit for the course correction. But though it surely had an impact on some of the members, Trump’s tweets merely rode the crest of public opinion against the changes, rather than leading it. It is a mistake to give Trump too much credit, just as it is a mistake to take his Drain the Swamp plan seriously.

At times some Democrats have been hostile to the Office of Congressional Ethics, as Drutman notes. But this time it was the House Republican’s baby, and the press coverage was very tough, which is a good thing. As Drutman puts it,

The successful fight to preserve the Office of Congressional Ethics is an encouraging development. The media was on the story quickly, organizations mobilized, the public responded and Congress heard the outrage loud and clear. This is how democratic accountability is supposed to work. Hopefully this is a sign of more good fights to come. It’s a promising sign that a sustained and well-organized call for Trump to divest from his business conflicts might have an impact, too.

It’s important to commend the media when they do a good job, and it’s encouraging that the public outcry was part of the incentive to prevent the weakening of the OCE.

It’s equally-important, however, for Democrats to seize the mantle of leadership on congressional ethics. While some Democrats have been implicated in ethics violations over the years, the record shows that Republicans in congress have a much longer, more problematic ethics rap sheet. With oil barons, billionaires and Wall Street tycoons dominating Trump’s cabinet nominees, along with Trump’s web of shady business dealings and hidden taxes, and with congressional Republicans cozying up with lobbyists,  Democrats are going to have to work overtime just to remain vigilant in monitoring Republican ethics violations.

It’s worth it. By relentlessly exposing Republican ethics violations — and every indication suggests there will be plenty more coming in the new congress and the Trump Administration — and by enhancing the Democratic Party’s capacity for self-policing on ethics, Democrats have an excellent chance to self-brand as the only party that fights for clean government and transparency. Supported by effective messaging, that’s a brand that will produce electoral gains.

Krugman: Trump’s Phony Populism Screws Working-Class Supporters

From Paul Krugman’s syndicated column, “Working-class voters duped by Trump’s ‘populism‘”:

Authoritarians with an animus against ethnic minorities are on the march across the Western world. They control governments in Hungary and Poland, and will soon take power in the United States. And they’re organizing across borders: Austria’s Freedom Party, founded by former Nazis, has signed an agreement with Russia’s ruling party — and met with Donald Trump’s choice for national security adviser.

But what should we call these groups? Many reporters are using the term ‘‘populist,’’ which seems inadequate and misleading. I guess racism can be considered populist in the sense that it represents the views of some non-elite people. But are the other shared features of this movement — addiction to conspiracy theories, indifference to the rule of law, a penchant for punishing critics — really captured by the ‘‘populist’’ label?

Political writers in the U.S. have struggled with the term “populism” for a long time, since it encompasses both pro-worker and racist movements. But they use it more frequently nowadays to describe the more authoritarian, racist movements that have emerged on both sides of the Atlantic. But Krugman pinpoints the crucial distinction between ‘populist’ movements in the U.S. and those in Europe.

…The European members of this emerging alliance have offered some real benefits to workers. Hungary’s Fidesz party has provided mortgage relief and pushed down utility prices. Poland’s Law and Justice party has increased child benefits, raised the minimum wage and reduced the retirement age. France’s National Front is running as a defender of that nation’s extensive welfare state — but only for the right people.

Trumpism is, however, different. The campaign rhetoric might have included promises to keep Medicare and Social Security intact and replace Obamacare with something ‘‘terrific.’’ But the emerging policy agenda is anything but populist.

All indications are that we’re looking at huge windfalls for billionaires combined with savage cuts in programs that serve not just the poor but also the middle class. And the white working class, which provided much of the 46 percent Trump vote share, is shaping up as the biggest loser.

For those who may be wondering why European populist movements deliver some benefits to the working-class, while the U.S. versions never produce any such reforms, the answer is the stronger labor unions in Europe, particularly in north Europe. Racist leaders in Europe know they have to defend and expand worker benefits to survive in a unionized economy. And so they do, even as the whip up xenophobic attacks on their immigrant workers, who are mostly from predominantly Muslim nations.

In the U.S., however, Trump’s cabinet picks and other actions so far have more in common with an all-out war on his white-working-class supporters, than an effort to improve their lives. As Krugman explains:

Both his pick as budget director and his choice to head Health and Human Services want to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and privatize Medicare. His choice as labor secretary is a fast-food tycoon who has been a vociferous opponent of Obamacare and of minimum wage hikes. And House Republicans have submitted plans for drastic cuts in Social Security, including a sharp rise in the retirement age.

What would these policies do? Obamacare led to big declines in the number of the uninsured in regions that voted Trump this year, and repealing it would undo all those gains. The nonpartisan Urban Institute estimates that repeal would cause 30 million Americans — 16 million of them non-Hispanic whites — to lose health coverage…And no, there won’t be a ‘‘terrific’’ replacement: Republican plans would cover only a fraction as many people as the law they would displace, and they’d be different people — younger, healthier and richer.

Converting Medicare into a voucher system would also amount to a severe benefit cut, partly because it would lead to lower government spending, partly because a significant fraction of spending would be diverted into the overhead and profits of private insurance companies. And raising the retirement age for Social Security would hit especially hard among Americans whose life expectancy has stagnated or declined, or who have disabilities that make it hard for them to continue working — problems that are strongly correlated with Trump votes.

“European populism is at least partly real,” wrties Krugman, “while Trumpist populism is turning out to be entirely fake, a scam sold to working-class voters who are in for a rude awakening.” Krugman warns that Trump’s supporters will try to blame President Obama and the Democrats for Trump’s failure to deliver any benefits to working families. They will also roll out media distractions and stunts and international confrontations to deflect accountability for  Trump’s failures.

For Democrats, the challenge is to stay focused on the core issues of economic opportunity and refuse to let Trump and the Republicans off the hook. “Above all,” concludes Krugman, Democrats “shouldn’t let themselves be sucked into cooperation that leaves them sharing part of the blame. The perpetrators of this scam should be forced to own it.”

Russo: Bellwether Ohio Leads Political Realignment

The following article, John Russo, former co-director of the Center for Working-Class Studies, coordinator of the Labor Studies Program at Youngstown State University and visiting scholar at the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and Working Poor at Georgetown University, is cross-posted from Moyers & Company:

This year’s election has led some to predict a realignment of the two-party system in the US. We can see early signs of this in Ohio, where both parties are facing internal divisions.

The Republicans

As we are beginning to see in Congress and at Trump Tower (think about the embarrassingly public debate over Mitt Romney), the divide is all about loyalty to Donald Trump on the GOP side. Ohio Republican Party Chair Matt Borges faces a challenge over lukewarm support of the president-elect. Jane Timken, vice chair of the Stark County Republican Party and wife of Tim Timken, a major Trump fundraiser and chief executive of TimkenSteel Corp., wants Borges’ job. In a letter to the GOPs State Central Committee that in January will decide on the next state chairperson, Timken wrote:

Once the nomination was settled, Chairman Borges had the obligation to fully support the nominee and his campaign. He did not, and his actions have divided the state party leadership. This was his choice.

Borges’ arm’s-length relationship with the Trump campaign is just the beginning of the extraordinary situation in Ohio: The state’s two top Republican elected officials publicly repudiated their nominee.

Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, who won his own re-election Nov. 8 with more than 200,000 more votes than Trump got in the Buckeye State, initially offered tepid support for the Republican presidential nominee; then, after the infamous Access Hollywoodtape was released, he refused to vote for Trump. Portman said he would write in Mike Pence’s name for president. Even more strident in his opposition: Republican Gov. John Kasich, who said he wrote in John McCain on his November ballot. Such resistance on the part of Ohio Republican leaders led Trump and his loyalists to cut ties with the state Republican Party.

Whether the challenge to Borges is the beginning of a civil war, as some have suggested, is uncertain. While both wings of the Ohio GOP have kept the fight largely under wraps, it could prove more an internal battle over positioning future candidates and political spoils of a successful presidential victory rather than a fight over the ideological direction of the party.

The Democrats

Even trickier to settle are the conflicts within the Ohio Democratic Party. Its leaders and regulars largely supported Clinton. Bernie Sanders supporters were clearly underrepresented in leadership ranks, though Sanders won 43 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary. Also absent in the post-election discussions: the many Democrats statewide who crossed party lines to register as Republicans this year. These two groups will not likely return to the party if the leadership remains the same.

Meanwhile, factions within the Ohio Democratic Party are blaming each other for Hillary Clinton’s loss. The questions being raised in this debate mirror those the party must confront on a national level about whether the party was too quick to write off its once-loyal blue-collar base and questions about whether enough effort went into mobilizing voters in what the party views as its new strongholds: big cities and minority communities.

Harsh public criticism of both Ohio party leaders and Clinton’s Ohio campaign came in the form of:

  • An open letter circulated by party activists that pointed to a series of humiliating defeats and questioned the party’s commitment to its working class voters;
  • report issued by Strategic Resources on anemic African-American turnout in 2016. Strategic Resources is an Ohio-based consulting firm that has worked for Rep. Marcia Fudge, an Ohio Democrat and former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and that, according to Federal Election Commission records, did work for the Clinton campaign early in 2016.

After issuing a boastful public relations blast in the spring that mocked their Republican counterparts for disarray, Ohio Democrats suffered losses this year that were nothing short of catastrophic. In a state that was once a political battleground, not only did Trump trounce Clinton, but Ted Strickland — hand-picked to increase Democratic turnout — went down to a crushing 21-point defeat to Sen. Rob Portman, who was once seen as vulnerable.

It’s the latest in a series of Democratic Party defeats over the past two decades, as Youngstown political reporter David Skolnick recently pointed out: Ohio Republicans have a 12 to 4 advantage in the US House of Representatives; Democrats hold only nine seats in the 33-seat Ohio Senate General Assembly and only 33 of 99 seats in the Ohio House; and except for 2006, Democrats have not held a single executive branch seat in Ohio since 1990. Skolnick also suggests that Ohio Democrats’ failures have put Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) in danger of losing his next re-election bid in 2018.

This is not unlike the situation facing the party nationally: Barack Obama’s back-to-back election triumphs masked the fact that Democrats have been steadily losing ground in state legislative and congressional elections.

It also mirrors what’s happening in the party nationally in other ways. As in the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, critics of the Ohio Democratic party leadership are now calling for changes — especially in the symbiotic relationship practices between state Democratic Party and campaign officials. But an Ohio Democratic Party executive committee meeting ended earlier this month with state Chairman David Peppers still at the helm.

One example of Democratic denial came in a post-election forum, in which Aaron Pickrell, the senior adviser for the Clinton and Strickland campaigns in Ohio, defended the campaign by saying that it had the infrastructure and funding to win, and noted that urban areas garnered large victory margins as expected. “I don’t know what we would have done differently in Ohio,” he said. “I don’t know how we could have swung it, because of the national narrative.”

But in the aforementioned open letter to state Democratic Party leaders, which was discussed at the executive committee meeting, critics provided overwhelming evidence that these claims had no foundation. While they agreed the Clinton campaign had sufficient resources, they said they weren’t used properly. They argued that the campaign took African-American and urban voters for granted, a failure reflected in voting tallies: Clinton won fewer votes than Obama had in 2012 in 8 out of 10 urban counties, and her total vote count in those areas was 184,228 less than Obama won in 2012.

The suggestion that part of the blame lies with Rust Belt countiesthat usually bring out strong support for Democrats only raises questions about why Democrats did nothing about a crisis they had to know was brewing. Internal memos that appeared in The Washington Post, reveal county party leaders delivered early warnings to the state Democratic Party and Clinton campaign that Trump was gaining traction among core Democratic voters. Those local Democrats’ pleas for action to counter Trump’s appeal were never heeded. Now the party — and the — must live with the consequences.

Molyneux: How Dems Can Win Enough Moderate White Working-Class Voters

Guy Molyneux, partner and senior vice president at Peter Hart Research Associates, probes the political attitudes of moderates in the white working-class at The American Prospect. Molyneux, who also directs the trade union research division of Hart Research, argues that Democrats can connect with this pivotal constituency in substantial ways.

Molyneux writes that “Progressives must recognize that the white working class is not a monolith, but contains a wide diversity of political views.” He acknowledges that “About half of non-college-educated whites identify as conservatives, and nearly all of them have become reliable Republican voters.” But he also notes that the white working-class includes “a small group of liberals, who regularly vote for Democrats.” In addition, however,

In between is a critically important subset of potentially persuadable voters, the white working-class moderates, or “WWCMs.” About 35 percent of working-class whites have moderate or “middle of the road” political views, which means WWCMs represent about 15 percent of the overall electorate, or approximately 23 million registered voters. While Trump won the working class conservatives by an overwhelming 85 points (Clinton got a mere 6 percent), he had a much smaller 26-point margin among the WWCMs. That margin is double Mitt Romney’s 13-point edge in 2012, and this swing had a decisive impact. If Clinton had performed as well as Obama with those moderates, it would have doubled her national popular vote margin from 2 percent to 4 percent. Even if she had just lost ground among these voters at the same rate she did among white working-class conservatives, she would almost certainly have won Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania.

On behalf of Americans for a Fair Deal, Molyneux conducted “a deep study of these moderate working-class white voters,” including focus groups in Montgomery, Alabama; Nashville, Tennessee; Appleton, Wisconsin; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. “Rather than focusing on the presidential candidates,” writes Molyneux, “we held broader discussions about the nation and its political system, and explored both the barriers and opportunities that progressives face in working-class communities.” Molyneux reports that the study’s findings confirmed “that progressives could make inroads with these voters in the future, and take an important first step forward in identifying strategies for reaching them.” Further,

…White working-class moderates do perceive a decline of moral values in our nation, but the values these working people fear losing include progressive values as well as conservative ones. Many are disturbed by what they perceive as a rise in selfishness and lack of concern for others, calling for more “compassion” and more support for those who need it, especially veterans and the disabled.

…White working-class voters do not perceive progressives (or Democrats) to better represent their economic concerns. Polling showed that voters overall divided fairly evenly on whether Donald Trump (46 percent) or Hillary Clinton (42 percent) would do a better job of dealing with the economy, yet Trump enjoyed a 27-point advantage (57 percent to 30 percent) on this question among non-college whites, and an enormous 42-point advantage among non-college white men. This result cannot be explained by Trump’s intermittent economic populism. In 2015, by 73 percent to 27 percent, white working-class voters said that the federal government, far from helping them, had made it harder for them to achieve their goals, and by a 4-to-1 ratio said that the federal government’s economic impact was negative.

…we saw no evidence that these voters have rejected a progressive economic policy agenda. As confirmed in numerous polls, many elements of that agenda—higher taxes on the wealthy, reining in Wall Street, ensuring paid leave for workers—are popular. But these voters’ somewhat abstract desire for more progressive economic policies is undercut and overwhelmed by their deeply negative view of government, which includes a strong aversion to spending and government intervention in the economy. While they are economic progressives, in important respects they are also fiscal conservatives.

“To a disturbing extent,” continues Molyneux, “these working-class voters have rejected politics as a meaningful way of improving their communities or nation…It would be hard to overstate the disconnect WWCMs feel from current politicians, whom they see not only as greedy and self-interested, but also as out of touch with the people they are supposed to represent. The principal political division perceived by these working-class voters is not between Democrats and Republicans, but between politicians and ordinary people.” He adds:

They see Democrats as working on behalf of a series of interest groups rather than the public interest. In their view, the allocation of government benefits reflects political calculation, not any moral or economic principles, with both parties lavishing benefits on their respective constituencies. The GOP version (handouts for the wealthy) may be less attractive, but from the white working-class perspective both stories translate into “not for me.”

And Democrats emphatically do not have to “win” the majority of the white working-class. “Boosting white non-college moderates’ support for Clinton by just 5 percent or 6 percent would have delivered her the presidency,” notes Molyneux. “Democrats can lose the votes of every one of the 36 percent who are uneasy with America’s increasing diversity, and still make the progress required to win elections.

But Democrats have to get smarter about how to reach working-class moderates. As Molyneux puts it, “Community organizations and non-elected community leaders must be the “tip of the spear” as progressives seek to engage white working-class communities.” While proposals to make college more afordable and community colleges tuition-free are popular, Molyneux argues,

Many working-class voters (and others) worry that public schools focus exclusively on preparing students for college, while neglecting the equally important task of preparing non-college-bound students for successful transitions into the workforce. They enthusiastically endorse proposals to provide quality vocational education, apprenticeships, and other programs that would expand opportunities for young Americans—including many of their own children and grandchildren—who are unlikely to pursue a four-year degree after high school.

Going forward, Democratic candidates must pay more attention to the concerns of working-class moderates. Molyneux concludes that “we did find clear openings that give progressives a chance for productive dialogue and engagement with the white working class…If progressives are willing to engage them in a smart and targeted way, they will make significant gains within white working-class communities in the years ahead.”

Where Trump Voters Want More Federal Spending, Protection and Cuts

From The Hill, Nikita Vladimirov presents interesting data from a new Glover Park Group (GPG) poll conducted by Morning Consult, which indicates Trump voters want to see a lot more federal spending than do traditional conservatives. Among the Findings:

…A majority of Trump voters said that they believe in keeping the power of numerous federal agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Departments of Education, Agriculture and Health and Human Services.

“This poll shows that the coalition that supported President-elect Trump values and has distinct priorities for the role of government, and isn’t making the same demands as traditional conservatives for across-the-board cuts,” said the senior vice president of research at GPG, Katie Cissel.

The poll found that Trump voters also support increases in government spending on immigration enforcement, the military, homeland security, infrastructure and Social Security, while supporting decreases in foreign aid and welfare…They also express support for maintaining the spending levels of the current administration in the environment, healthcare and public education,” Cissel noted.

Of particular interest to progressives who want a mjor investment in infrastructure improvement: “A majority of Trump voters, 53 percent, also expressed support for his proposed $1 trillion investment in infrastructure, with 20 percent saying that the sum is too large and 11 percent stating that it is too low.”

Where Republicans are uflagging champions of deregulation, Trump voters, as a whole, take a more measureds approach. “The poll found that 76 percent support forcing manufacturers to produce more energy efficient appliances, 84 percent are in favor of drinking water regulations, 78 percent are supportive of air pollution restrictions and 61 percent are in favor of mandatory carbon emissions regulations for businesses.”

It would appear, from, this data, that Trump’s cabinet picks are completely antagonistic to the political attitudes of Trump voters towards public safety regulations and consumer protection. This suggests a potentially-productive opening for Democrats in blocking the Trump cabinet’s plan to unravel the social reforms of the last half-century. Democrats who take a strong stand for consumer protection and public safety regulations will have significant public support, even among Trump voters.

After Trump is inaugurated and the new congress is sworn-in, the Republicans are going to play the de-regulation card as fiercely as they can; that has been as much of a unifying principle for them as anything, other than tax cuts for the rich. But the Morning Consult/Glover Park Group poll clearly demonstrates that the public, including Trump voters, is highly skeptical about deregulation and its effects on public safety and consumer protection. This is going to be a very tough sell for them — provided Democrats take a firm stand, and in the words of Democratic strategist James Carville, “expose and educate” relentlessly until the message that the GOP’s deregulation project poses a dire threat to the health and well-being of American families is broadly-understood.

Bipartisan Cooperation with Trump on Infrastructure Looks Like a Bad Bet

Now that the “we can stop Trump in the Electoral College” fantasy has been exhausted, the debate in the Democratic Party now centers on how much faith Dems should have in the possibilities for bipartisan cooperation with Trump. At The New Republic Graham Vyse takes a hard line in his article, “Democrats Should Stop Talking About Bipartisanship and Start Fighting” and argues:

There are innumerable reasons for Democrats to adopt the exact same strategy congressional Republicans took on day one of Barack Obama’s presidency, denying him any bipartisan support for signature initiatives. Trump is far less popular than Obama was in late 2008, so an opposition strategy based on refusal and obstruction wouldn’t carry much political risk. And given Trump’s utter moral bankruptcy, he’s also far less deserving of their comity and collaboration.

There’s another benefit to this approach: We know, thanks to the Republicans, that it works.

Some Democratic leaders believe that Trump’s statements favoring infrastructure investment open the door to possible collaboration. William A. Galston, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, “said he’s “heard from people quite close” to House Speaker Paul Ryan that greater public investment in infrastructure might be negotiable.” Further,

“If the Trump administration proposes something that, with negotiation, can be made consistent with the public interest, we ought to negotiate,” Galston said. “When its ideas are bad, we should reject them and propose better ones, and when its actions threaten basic constitutional norms and institutions, we should resist by all means possible.”

It’s a reasonable approach, provided a strong emphasis on consistency with the public interest, proposing  better approaches and “resisting by all means possible,” when necessary. However, warns Vyse,

In a normal political environment, with a normal president-elect, this kind of open-minded posture would be laudable. But it looks impractical in the current environment. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already put Trump on notice about public infrastructure spending, saying “I hope we avoid a trillion-dollar stimulus,” and there’s every indication the president-elect will defer to congressional conservatives on policy details. Besides, if McConnell is this quick to push back on Trump from the right, why would he let Schumer shift policy to the left? Nothing about this transition period suggests Republicans are amenable to compromise with Democrats—not Trump’s appointments and nominations, not the GOP’s behavior in Congress, and certainly not all of the crowing from the likes of Gingrich.

In his post, “Collaborating With Donald Trump Is Doomed to Fail” at New York Magazine, Jonathan Chait put it in even stronger terms:

…The entire last eight years have been a Republican social-science experiment dedicated to proving that they can be as partisan, crazy, dangerous, and racist as they want without adverse political effect. What this tells Democrats is that working with Trump is the surest way to help him win reelection and his party to maintain its control of Congress.

In reality, his administration is a bonanza for economic elites. The Democratic Party should be repeating every word of this Ben White story in Politico, which reports, “Wall Street bankers and their Washington lobbyists are quietly celebrating.” Trump’s administration is stuffed with Wall Street bankers, and it is poised to shower them with tax breaks and lax regulation. What’s more, Trump himself is engaging in unprecedented levels of corruption by intermingling his public office and the continuation of his business. He and his family are almost certainly going to enrich themselves through power, and their nondisclosure policy will mean the public will have no accountability. The only actual accountability mechanism for this dangerous kleptocracy is an opposition party that hammers every Trump decision as potential self-dealing. The correct infrastructure strategy, for instance, is to define an opposing pro-infrastructure plan while lambasting Trump’s as a crooked giveaway that will make his rich business pals richer without much of anything to repair infrastructure. This attack line appeals to intuitive cynicism about politicians, and also happens to be accurate.

Winning on economic populism means blowing up Trump’s reputation as the friend of the little guy. To accommodate his claim to help the working class, by legitimizing his plans for infrastructure or child care, is to surrender. Again, there may be vital substantive or humanitarian cases where the Democrats should sacrifice their political interest in order to cooperate with Trump. But the idea that cooperating will help their party is simply wrong.

Collaborating with Trump in some ways might make sense for Democrats, if his cabinet picks had indicated a reaching out to Democrats, instead of an “in-your-face, progressives” attitude. Democrats have no choice now, other than perceiving Trump’s cabinet as designed for scorched-earth warfare to repeal and undermine all of the social programs from the New Deal forward. Indeed, Trump, Ryan, McConnell and other Repubican leaders have argued that infrastructure investments should be funded by budget cuts elsewhere, which most likely includes putting Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other safety net programs on the chopping block. Democrats who go along with that are inviting further disaster.

Moyers and Winship: The Cost of Putin’s Meddling in Our Elections

In their post, “Trumped by Putin: There are lots of reasons why Hillary Clinton lost and Donald Trump won, but the hacking of our election by Russia’s Vladimir Putin is the most frightening” Michael Winship and Bill Moyers sound an alarm at Moyers & Company, which the Electoral College ought to consider before casting their votes:

As we all know, The Washington Post and The New York Times recently reported just how deeply Russian hackers invaded the computers of the Democratic Party, a move intended to confuse voters with leaked excerpts of emails and other documents and thus throw a monkey wrench into the election. Now The Post reports that the CIA believes the Russian meddling was deliberately intended to help sway the vote in Trump’s favor. And NBC News says it was Putin himself who “personally directed” those leaks

….It is, in the words of former acting CIA Director Michael Morell, who briefed George W. Bush on 9/11 but supported Hillary Clinton this year, “an attack on our very democracy. It’s an attack on who we are as a people. A foreign government messing around in our elections is, I think, an existential threat to our way of life. To me, and this is to me not an overstatement, this is the political equivalent of 9/11.”

Nancy LeTourneau notes at Washington Monthly’s Political Animal blog, “To understand what is happening here, it is important to reject the old Cold War frame about a contest between capitalism and communism. Russia has long since ceased to be a country built on the teachings of Karl Marx and has evolved into a right-wing ethno-nationalist plutocracy.”

So why did Putin do it? The most important reason, accoding to Michael McFaul, the former American ambassador to Russia: “He wants to discredit American democracy and make us weaker in terms of leading the liberal democratic order. And most certainly he likes President-elect Trump’s views on Russia.” According to former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson it may be “the largest intelligence coup since the cracking of the Enigma code during World War II.” Further, Moyers and Winship write:

Did Trump or members of his staff know what was going on? Probably. Remember that Trump’s first campaign manager Paul Manafort — the “King of K Street” lobbyists — had pro-Russian factions as clients; his name with multimillion amounts beside it was found in a log of financial transactions after he had helped Putin’s friends in the Ukraine. When word began to spread of these ties, Manafort left the campaign. He is now back in Trump’s graces and, according to Bloomberg Businessweek, positioned to reap the  harvest of his relationship with Trump and his merry band of crony capitalists. It could be most revealing to hear what Manafort would say, under oath, about his intercession between Trump and Putin.

And just how extensive are our president-elect’s ties to Russian oligarchs? How much does he owe Russian banks? Now we may know more exactly why Trump has refused to release his tax returns; they could be full of clues about his foreign creditors. We’d learn more if he’d divest his business interests, too, but he won’t. We do know that Trump’s son, Donald Jr., told a real estate conference in 2008: “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets… We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.” And there’s more to come as Putin and Trump mix and mingle Russian oligarchs with American plutocrats.

“Not only does this increasingly seem like yet another step in Putin’s worldwide subversion of liberal democratic beliefs and Trump’s desire to enrich his family and cronies by surrounding himself with multimillionaires and billionaires known for their predatory appetites,” write Moyers and Winship, “it is one more step to a planet dominated by international oligarchs and kleptocrats…”

These are sobering insights to add to the fact that Hillary Clinton received 2.8 million more votes for President than did Trump. On Monday the electors have a patriotic duty to give them serious consideration before deciding whether or not they want to become accomplices to thwarting the will of the people.

Lux: Why the Darkness Will Pass and Progressive Populism Will Light the Way Forward

The following article by Democratic strategist Mike Lux, author of  “The Progressive Revolution: How the Best in America Came to Be,” is cross-posted from HuffPo:

I have been thinking a lot about the song Pete Seeger wrote in 1969 called “Quite Early Morning” where he sings, “You know it’s darkest before the dawn and it’s this thought that keeps me moving on…”

1969 was a pretty rough year for American progressives. 1968 had seen the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy, and the election of arguably the most appalling man ever elected president of these United States, Richard Nixon — up until the 2016 election anyway. The Vietnam War was at its worst moment. Riots raged in the streets of America, frequently instigated by FBI and CIA domestic spies trying to discredit the peace and civil rights movements.

Seeger, who a generation before had seen his and many of his friends’ careers almost destroyed by McCarthyism, knew a thing or two about darkness. He wrote this song at that awful moment, and over the next five years, his hope was proven true: Nixon destroyed himself in an orgy of corruption unseen before in American history; the peace movement finally forced an end to the Vietnam War; the environmental movement blossomed and made the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the EPA a reality; and the feminist movement blossomed as well, bringing about profound changes in the lives of women.

This darkest-before-the-dawn pattern is a recurrent theme in American history, as some of our worst periods in history have directly preceded some of our biggest progressive change moments. The decade before the abolition of slavery and three of the most profoundly progressive amendments to the U.S. Constitution saw the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and the Dred Scott decision, three of the most dreadful, slavery-promoting actions our government had ever taken.

The Robber Baron era and the height of Social Darwinism in the 1880s and 1890s came immediately before the Progressive Era in American history which ended child labor; created the National Park System; advanced food and consumer safety; and resulted in the right to vote for women. The 1920s, which brought the crushing of unions and rampant corruption and speculation in an unchecked stock market, were followed immediately by FDR’s New Deal and economic reforms that created 40 years of economic stability and prosperity for the largest middle class in the history of the world. In the decade before the civil rights breakthroughs and the passage of Medicare and Medicaid in the mid-1960s, we had McCarthyism and rising anti-civil rights violence in the South.

Just a decade ago, we got another example. After the 2004 re-election of George W. Bush and Republican control of both houses of Congress, Karl Rove was bragging confidently about the permanent Republican majority they were creating. In great part due to GOP overreach on Social Security and the Iraq war, Democrats came back in 2006 to take over both houses of Congress, and in 2008 gained more seats in both and the presidency of Barack Obama as well.

Today, we are at another profoundly dark and frightening moment in American history. Trump’s administration full of bigots, right-wing generals, and big business barons is confirming all of progressives’ worst fears about what we face in the next four years. An enormous amount of damage will be done in the years ahead. The biggest question being discussed among Democrats and progressive movement leaders today is whether this nation’s democratic institutions of checks and balances will be strong enough to withstand the authoritarianism that is at the heart of Trumpism. This is a truly scary time.

Trump’s presidency will be the ultimate test of progressives and progressivism: do we have the courage, the vision, the creativity, the solidarity, and the passion to stick together and keep our worst fears from happening? But I also believe that if we can work together and forge a strategy that meets the moment, we could easily come out of the Trump years stronger than ever before and ready for another moment of great progress in American history. Think about the following:

1. Trump is going to make a lot of mistakes. Trump is a clever communicator, but he is too narcissistic, too petty, and too shortsighted to not mess up a whole lot. It’s not like he ran a flawless campaign — he veered off the track at many different moments and had the biggest negatives of any presidential candidate in history.

2. The economy is going to run into some trouble. This economic expansion has been the longest expansion by far in modern history, and just the business cycle alone will likely slow this economy down. Add to that Trump’s erratic Twitter habits and off-the-cuff statements that will almost certainly spook investors on a semi-regular basis and will make long-term investment less likely. His general economic and budget policies will be a contradictory mess of mostly bad things; rampant corruption and cronyism that we are already seeing will corrode markets; and the likely deregulation of the financial industry will result in more risk than we have seen since the financial panic of 2008-9. The bottom line is that we are likely to see a very troubled economy in Trump’s first term in office.

3. Populism on both the right and the left is growing in political strength. On the right, sadly, it has produced Donald Trump, but the better version of populism opens the door for strong progressive populists to run and win for offices at every level. With Trump creating an administration full of billionaire CEO types, that kind of progressive-style populism will be on the rise in the next four years.

4. Underneath the current wave of people kissing the victor’s ring, the Republican Party remains as deeply divided today as it ever has been, with Trump-style populists, corporate establishment types, neo-conservatives, and Tea Party radicals all still jockeying for power and openly opposing each other on all kinds of issues. If Trump is indeed making lots of mistakes and politically weakening himself, other Republicans won’t mind sticking the knife in and twisting.

Look, let’s be clear about something: Trump’s presidency will be the most unpredictable of any in American history. With this guy, we just don’t know what will happen next, and we’ve all been imagining some pretty bleak scenarios. I take nothing off the table in terms of what’s possible in the next four years, including Trump turning out to be a very successful president or calling a state of emergency. Maybe he will call off all future elections, and jail dissidents like me in a gulag. But it is also quite possible this country reacts to Trump the way it has reacted to other terrible turns to the right in our history: that we foment a rebellion on the other side and successfully turn the tide.

Here’s a scenario I think is entirely possible: Trump and the Republicans overreach on their far right and unpopular agenda, which includes cutting and restructuring programs the older, blue collar base of their party counts on like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security; Trump is involved in a series of running controversies that weaken him over time; the economy starts to weaken; Trump gets more and more defensive and irritable. In this rapidly souring environment, Democrats have a very big wave election in 2018.

With this as the backdrop, Democrats enter the 2020 cycle with arguably the most wide open presidential nominating fight since 1992 and some strong progressive populists as viable potential candidates. In fact, I think 2020 is the best chance progressive populists have had in modern political history. In the past, we have had populist protest candidates with little chance of winning the nomination like Jesse Jackson and Dennis Kucinch; or candidates like John Edwards who ran as a DLC moderate the first time he ran and took on faux populism because he thought it might work.

In 2016, Bernie Sanders shocked the political world when he switched political parties and came out of nowhere to come close to winning the nomination against an overwhelming frontrunner with all the endorsements, name ID, money, branding, and experience in the world. In 2020, with Trump having almost certainly spent his entire term in service to the big business, trickle-down agenda, voters in both the Democratic primary and the general election are going to be in a feisty populist mood. We could certainly see a candidate such as Elizabeth Warren fire up the Democratic base; appeal to working class swing voters; and sweep to a big victory.

And don’t forget that 2020 is the election before redistricting. If a candidate with a powerful populist message and brand is leading the Democratic Party to a big win that year (and we do well in 2018 as well), Democrats could end up dominating the re-districting process. That would build the Democratic Party with progressive candidates in both Congress and state legislatures all over the country.

So here’s my message: assume nothing; work your ass off for the greater good; but always, always keep hope alive. Our beloved nation has schizophrenia built into its DNA — I guess that’s what happens when the man who wrote our country’s founding document declaring that we are all created equal and endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness was also a slaveholder.

The same government that handed down Dred Scott emancipated the slaves six years later. The most pro-corporate trust president ever elected (McKinley) had his VP (Teddy Roosevelt) follow him in office and launch a trust-busting campaign. The president who signed into law the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, Medicare, Medicaid, and the War on Poverty took us deep into Vietnam. And now our first black president, the one with the Muslim immigrant’s name, will be succeeded by Donald J Trump.

Maybe it takes acting on our worst instincts to make our best instincts flower into progress. The next four years are going to be as ugly as hell, but keep hope alive, my friends. You can’t organize other people to do good when you are depressed. We may well come out of the Trump years and have a new birth of freedom.