Thursday, June 30, 2016
An American Coup
Right from the start establishment politicians and pundits just never understand Trump. He was consistently derided as having no chance. First it was that his repeated insults against John McCain, Megyn Kelly and women, immigrants, or Muslims that would doom him. But with each insult his fame only grew. Then it was the claim that he could not win in Iowa but he did. Or that his loss in Wisconsin would doom him. Or that his tirades against the media, his name calling of Hillary Clinton, or even selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate would surely kill his campaign. Back in June of 2016 as stories mounted about how little money he had raised, or that Clinton had double digit leads in some polls, he was still dismissed. Nat Silver, the whiz kids of political money ball, said that Trump had barely a 20% chance of winning and who could doubt the person who had so brilliantly declared that Clinton was a cinch to win the Michigan primary .
Even as late as the July Republican convention, despite the riots and arrests outside and one final push by party elites to use the rules to oust him, some thought that Trump would not get the nomination. But he did.
Trump’s success was in exploiting fear, prejudice, and ignorance. These are the core elements of what most advertising does–appeal out our vanity insecurities, and fears. Trump as the consummate salesman understood that. But he also exploited the failures of the Republican and Democratic parties which for the last generation or more has sold the public on free trade, globalization, and open borders, saying that it would benefit us all. Somewhere along the way these promises did not add up and mainstream national journalists, living in New York City, socializing on the upper east side, and vacationing in the Hamptons, for some reason just did not realize that average people were not reaping the benefits of NAFTA and free trade. Perhaps they were too busy attending or covering the six figure speeches Hillary Clinton was giving to Wall Street to notice that most people were making less money now while working harder than they did twenty years ago. Yes as F Scott Fitzgerald once said, the rich are different–they do have more money–but with money comes attitude and Trump played on resentment toward them and the elitism that they, the media, and the Washington establishment all represented.
Trump also understood they way that politics and entertainment had converged. Politicians no longer campaigned and the media no longer covered politics–both were marketed. Trump understood the for-profit spectacle that politics had become and which the news industry wished to deny but depended on. He knew that CNN, MSNBC, and the rest could not resist a good headline and that if he dropped a comment–no matter how outrageous–the media would pick it up and it would fill the news cycle for an entire day. Trump thus understood how getting headlines for him also meant the media would get ratings. They were trapped, and forced to market the presidential elections on Trump’s terms.
But Trump also benefited from running against for many a hugely unpopular and uninspiring candidate who was the face of the establishment and status quo in a year where neither was a plus. Clinton struggled to win the Democratic nomination against an aging self-described socialist who never considered himself a Democrat until he decided to run for president. Clinton should have easily defeated him, but her difficulties revealed how poor of a candidate she was. She started a race with 70% approvals and a 50%+ lead over Sanders only to see it disappear. Some of it yes was sexism. No doubt there is about 30% of Americans who will never vote for a woman and thus Clinton faced problems from the start. But she also had many other problems they were not the result of sexism but self-inflicted.
At the end of the day Clinton had no narrative for her campaign. It was all about breaking the glass ceiling and being the first female president. That did not cut it with young people, including women, who preferred someone who shared their politics and not simply their gender. Additionally, whatever narrative Clinton had was one that was either too conservative for an emerging Millennial generation of voters, or one that harkened back to her husband. In so many ways she was still running, as she did in 2008, for Bill’s third term. Yet times had changed and what was once thought of as good public policy in the 90s was no long seen the same in 2016.
Hillary–a once youthful Republican turned New Democrat turned sort of progressive during the 2016 primaries and then back to a centrist Democrat who tried to appeal to Republican voters–was perplexed why no one trusted her. This perplexity was also shared by her core supporters–women over 40–who saw in every criticism of her sexism. Yet what was also perplexing in the campaign was why Democrats supported her, let alone women or even people of color. Clinton who supported the death penalty, fracking, TPP and globalization , and a militaristic foreign policy, (at least until the primaries), and in the past who supported welfare reform, her husband’s crime bill, and oppose marriage equality until recently, hardly seemed like someone who Democrat or women should support. Given her positions, it is wonder why she was a Democrat and why so many women who considered themselves progressives supported her beyond the fact that she was a woman. Clinton had a narrative problem along with an identity problem–voters did not trust her and did not like her for sexist and legitimate policy reasons.
Yet Clinton was supposed to win according to pundits and politicians. But she did not. She selected Tim Kaine from Virginia and played conventional politics in a year when the normal rules of politics changed. Similar to Frank Skeffington in the Last Hurrah who never understood how the New Deal had changed politics and therefore was clueless to how the old rules of campaigning had changed. Clinton campaigned like it was 1992 again, just like she did in 2008.
The election came down to a core of swing states again, with Ohio and Florida again decisive. The media and Clinton were distracted by Trump’s huge negatives and by how well she was doing in the popular vote and fund raising comparatively. She went toe-to-toe negative campaigning but in the end Trump was able to dig deeper, go nastier, and insult better than her. He knew fear, prejudice, and ignorance would make the difference. Benghazi, her e-mails, and all the other rumors around her stuck along with the image of Crooked Hillary. In the end, Clinton, like Gore in 2000, won the popular vote by racking up huge majorities in Democrat states, but she lost among swing voters in swing states, handing the Trump-Palin ticket an Electoral College victory.
Trump’s January 20, inauguration and swearing in were a made for TV event. The inauguration ball and swearing in was held at the Trump International Hotel at 1100 Pennsylvania Ave in Washington, newly remodeled and just down the street from the White House at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. The cost of doing both was billed to the taxpayers and Trump of course profited from it, serving also Trump champagne and steaks. At his swearing in he also announced that Air Force 1 would be sold to save tax payer money, replaced with a Trump charter jet that would be rented by the government from him.
Trump’s inaugural speech–or rant–was exactly what was expected from him. He said that his first order of business would be to expel all Muslims from the US, along with deporting all immigrants from Mexico. He also renounced NAFTA and all the free trade agreements with China and issued a 40% tariff on their goods. He issued orders suspending enforcement of Obamacare and declared all EPA orders null and void. Palin was put in charge of a special task force on energy and the environment, and he declared all federal lands open to mining and drilling for oil. Drill Baby Drill was now the official policy of America.
Trump thought he could simply push through want he wanted but with a Republican House and Senate that flipped to the Democrats, he found that they were less they willing to do his bidding. He insulted in bipartisan fashion but it did little good. As the economy began to tank Trump saw his approval rating slip more. Legal challenges to his orders and actions mounted, coming from both Congress and citizens. The cases began to choke the federal courts, necessitating Supreme Court review. But since the death of Scalia the Court was operating one justice shy and it did not look as if Trump was going to be able to get through his judicial appointments.
But whatever one can say about Trump he finally achieved the impossible–he got the Democrats and Republicans to agree on one thing–his impeachment. Fed up quickly with his presidency there was bipartisan agreement to impeach him. By the time Trump was to be impeached Palin had already resigned. Trump was without a vice-president and his impeachment was for self-dealing and disregarding the Constitution and the Supreme Court which had declared many of his act illegal. This left Paul Ryan as the successor. Except Trump refused to leave office, defying both the Congress and the Courts.
But Trump’s troubles did not stop there. Following up on comments he made during the campaign, he ordered th US out of NATO. He ordered troops out of Japan and South Korea, and he torn up the nuclear agreement with Iran. Early on much of the career diplomatic staff at the State Department had resigned, leaving the US with few trained officials. Trump named almost all of his friends as ambassadors, but they shared a common Trump trait–no diplomatic tact. Soon the US was rhetorically fighting with everyone–even Great Britain who elected their own Trump like figure after Brexit, and President Le Pen in France. Tensions escalated in the Middle East as reaction to the Muslim US ban kicked in and domestic and international terrorist attacks against the US mounted. Tensions with Iran, China, and North Korea reached a fever pitch, and finally Trump began talking about nuclear weapons to be used to resolve all these disputes.
Finally the day came, July 4, to be exact. Trump ordered the military leaders to act or face removal. With the Joint Chiefs of Staff worried about what Trump would do next, and seeing that Congress and the Courts were unable to restrain him, they did they only thing they thought patriotic to save the United States.