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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

It sure looks like Steve Bannon is pulling the Trump puppet strings these days, which is cause for particular concern with respect to national security issues, where expertise, experience and gravitas should be valued over ideological excess. As Karen DeYoung notes at The Post, “Bannon has no job experience in foreign policy…Bannon cemented his role as a champion of the alt-right, an anti-globalism movement that has attracted support from white supremacists and helped power Trump’s populist White House victory.”

The ‘Great Wall of Hate,’ or ‘Wall of Shame‘ and now ‘Wall of Ignorance.’ Looks like Trump is losing the image battle surrounding the branding of his biggest idea, and progressives are working it effectively. But the ‘Wall of Ignorance’ Paul Krugman is really writing about is more concerned with Trump’s ragged, backfiring trade pronouncements, most recently reflected in his spopkesman Sean Spicer’s declaration that the wall will be paid for by a 20 percent border tatariif on  Mexican exports to the U.S. “America is part of a system of agreements, ” writes Krugman, “a system we built — that sets rules for trade policy, and one of the key rules is that you can’t just unilaterally hike tariffs that were reduced in previous negotiations….The risk wouldn’t so much be one of retaliation — although that, too — as of emulation: If we treat the rules with contempt, so will everyone else. The whole trading system would start to unravel, with hugely disruptive effects everywhere, very much including U.S. manufacturing…So let’s sum it up: The White House press secretary created a diplomatic crisis while trying to protect the president from ridicule over his foolish boasting. In the process he demonstrated that nobody in authority understands basic economics. Then he tried to walk the whole thing back…All of this should be placed in the larger context of America’s quickly collapsing credibility.”

Don’t be surprised if  “chaos” increasingly dominates the ‘word cloud’ describing the Trump Administration’s policies, statements and actions. That’s certainly the case regarding Trump’s travel ban targeting predominantly Muslim countries, which appears to exempt nations where he has business interests, as Nancy Leung, Tim Langmaid and Deanna Hackney explain in their CNN Politics post “A travel ban that descended into chaos, protests: What we know.”

Democrats have mounted an energetic and comprehensive attack against Trump’s immigration measures, report Dave Weigel and Ed O’Keefe in their Power Post article,  “Democrats launch a full-scale opposition push against Trump’s executive order.” Their article describes an encouraging array of legislative, legal and citizen actions to stop Trump’s assault on immigrants, who he has ruthlessly exploited in his business practices, if the number of lawsuits from his contractors is any indication.

Miles Mogulescu’s HuffPo article “How Senate Democrats Can Muck Up the Trumpublican Blitzkrieg and The Resistance Can Make Them” offers this insight into the progressive strategy: “…If Senate Democrats filibuster all of Trump’s remaining Cabinet picks and most of his other appointments, they can block the Republican-controlled Senate from passing much other legislation for many months…Delay can mean victory for the majority of Americans who did not vote for Trump… Trumpublicans are trying to use the “Shock Doctrine” to roll back much of the New Deal and Great Society. As Naomi Klein pointed out in her book of the same title, only in times of economic or political crisis can oligarchic forces push through otherwise unpopular “free” market and neoliberal reforms—including massive cuts in the social safety net, tax cuts for the elites, privatization, and deregulation. In more normal times, their unpopularity make such measures unachievable…Moreover, by speaking out on the Senate floor against the anti-worker, anti-middle class agenda of Trump’s nominees, they can convince many of the “forgotten people” that Trump is a con artist who’s acting in the interests of the economic elites, not of ordinary Americans.”

You will have no trouble finding friends, as well as pundits, who make disparaging, even sneering remarks about the efficacy of marches, rallies and other forms of protest, even among self-described liberals. As Roderick M. Hills writes in his post, “Do Public Protests Matter in a Democracy? The “outside strategy” as a signal of support to judges and bureaucrats,” at Just Security, “In authoritarian regimes, “the Street” is a substitute for elections.  In a functioning electoral democracy, however, one might argue that the only march that counts is the march to the polling booth. Put more generally, what is the political value of mobilizing large numbers of protestors to parade around a city, apart from making the marchers feel good about themselves?” I would disagree in that many legislative reforms, including the transformative Civil Rights reforms of the 1960s, were  profoundly influenced by mass protest demonstrations. Hills does agree that mass protest helps secure reforms in the courts and governmewnt offices. “By throwing millions of demonstrators on the street, organizers of mass protests might be stiffening the spines of those unelected officials who may otherwise fear the pressure and vengeance of elected incumbents…Large demonstrations might send a message to judges and bureaucrats that a critical mass of voters have their back, because politicians will not have a strong stomach for a protracted showdown with the third and fourth branches….he recent legal victories in Massachusetts and New York, where judges Allison D. Burroughs, Judith G. Dein, and Ann Donnelly have, for now, put a stop to parts of Trump’s refugee and immigration bans, are the very type of decisions that public demonstrations help support.”

I hope Sen. Franken is here referring to something more comprehensive than the clock management thing, which is smart and interesting. But Franken’s assurance that “We have real discipline” indicates a needed change is underway.

At The New Yorker James Surowiecki explains “Why Trump’s Conflicts of Interest Won’t Hurt Him,” andnotes, “Likewise, Trump’s base, as the pollster Stanley Greenberg has written, believes that “politics has been corrupted and government has failed.” It’s not that they approve of self-dealing per se—a poll during the campaign found that ninety-nine per cent of Trump supporters cited corruption as a key issue of concern. But they’re less bothered by individual instances than by the sense that the whole system is rigged to favor élites. Trump’s apparent willingness to blow up the system matters far more to them than the possibility that he might feather his nest along the way…Furthermore, though voters claim that they worry about corruption, a lot depends on context. Partisanship plays a big role: Republicans cared a lot about the Clinton Foundation but gave Trump a pass. Besides, issues that the press and government reformers take very seriously often matter less to ordinary voters. A recent study of Berlusconi supporters found that the constant barrage of scandals simply increased their tolerance for corruption. The political scientist Arnold Heidenheimer draws a distinction between “black corruption”—things that just about everyone thinks are unacceptable, like outright bribery—and “gray corruption,” which appalls élites but elicits only shrugs from ordinary voters. Absent a clear quid pro quo, conflict of interest seems like a classic example of gray corruption.”

David Byler, elections analyst for RealClearPolitics, makes the case that a presidential candidate with  the better qualities of former Senator and presidential candidate John Edwards could provide the first real test of a candidate prepared to leverage the demographic dynamics of our times. An attractive, youthful and eloquent Democratic presidential candidate with a working-class background and an inclusive, progressive economic commitment could do well in presidential politics, argues Byler, — provided he or she remained squeeky-clean and refused to get distracted or off-message.

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