Restoring political stability in the US depends on defeating individual Republicans at the ballot box in states. As long as Trump remains at large and the Republican Party remains his instrument, the rest of us who care about the survival of self-government must join together to defeat candidates still loyal to the so-called Republican brand. Continue reading
Some new years open on indeterminacy, the shape of the future vague enough to warrant a complacent optimism. “Happy New Year!” Not 2020. The United States, though still the planet’s most powerful nation, is in the thick of a political metamorphosis, and what character of government will emerge from it is anyone’s guess. Bickering parties, an out-of-control president, a resentful populace, oceans of Russian disinformation, even a tech-driven epistemological crisis: such are the forces pushing the American republic ever closer to a great collapse—or paralysis. Even if it isn’t curtains for the US, this is surely one of its most inglorious periods, its government full of cowardly and mediocre people.
Between the president’s pending impeachment and the certainty of a presidential election come November, what is possible, probable, and inevitable in this new year? Here are a few prognostications.
The possible: Democratic nominees
Although the field of Democratic presidential candidates remains broad and, as yet, no votes have been cast, only two of the candidates have a shot at becoming president: Bernie Sanders and Michael Bloomberg.
If Sanders retains his current support, his chief progressive rival, Elizabeth Warren, will have to drop out. Her voters will gravitate to him, giving him a strong lead over all the Democratic field. In a general election, Sanders would repel moderates and capitalists, giving a victory to the incumbent, President Trump.
None of the more moderate candidates—whether Joe Biden, Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg, Cory Booker, or Tom Steyer—can attract a majority of Democratic support: if they could, that majority would have gravitated to them from other candidates already, and the attraction would have registered in public opinion polls.
As moderate candidates drop out, the moderate “frontrunner” Joe Biden will not necessarily get stronger. Pete Buttigieg will be limited in that he comes across as a product of entitlement. Michael Bloomberg, a wealthy and capable latecomer, could, however, draw enough support from among moderate and independent voters to come to dominate this weak and wide field. In a general election, Bloomberg would stand a fine chance of beating Trump.
The possible: a fair Senate impeachment trial
It is still possible, though not probable, that the US Senate will decide to conduct a thorough impeachment trial of the president, one that impartially explores the charges against Trump that the House has formally brought. That Senate Republicans have stood firm as a group and only faintly objected to the fawning proclamations of Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and vocal Trump loyalist Lindsey Graham makes me doubt that the Republicans will ever do anything but fall on their swords in defense of their man.
More evidence could come out against Trump, however, of a nature impossible to defend, tolerate, or ignore. As long as Nancy Pelosi holds on to the impeachment charges, and as long as there is a chance of a major witness coming over from the administration to testify, there is a chance that a fair and full trial, with live-witness testimony, will be held.
The Senate is intent on stonewalling and preventing a fair trial, because, if a fair trial were held, the Senators would be compelled to find the president guilty and remove him from office. In that case, we could see a President Pence in 2020.
[Hours after this post appeared, John Bolton, a key player in the White House during the Ukrainian controversy, announced that he would be willing to comply with a Senate subpoena and testify.]
The probable: a show trial in the Senate
More probable is that the Senate trial will be a superficial affair, with a vote to acquit the president. That would leave him free to run for reelection. Regardless of the lip service constantly paid to Trump’s base, his erratic conduct and the controversy it engenders is weakening the Republicans. The unusually large number of Republican lawmakers leaving Congress instead of running for reelection is one sign of the party’s critical condition. It is rare for humans give up power unless they must.
The probable: a very close presidential vote but a loss for Trump
Americans who don’t approve of Trump outnumber those who do by about 10 percentage points. Trump’s victory in 2016 rested on electoral votes, while the loser Hillary Clinton dominated the popular vote, winning nearly 2.9 million votes more than he. According to the Washington Post, “Of the more than 120 million votes cast . . . , 107,000 votes in three states effectively decided the election.” The three states were Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. Trump also won Iowa and Ohio, which Obama had carried previously. In all, margins of less than two percent decided the outcome in six states.
I don’t want to underestimate the Democrats’ ability to choose an unelectable candidate or run an undisciplined presidential campaign, but with the right candidate and a smart strategy, the Democrats could defeat Trump fair and square. In truth, this would be better for the country than removing him from office, which would embitter many of his supporters.
The inevitable: dangerously fierce partisan rancor
Here’s the problem with extreme partisanship. The parties end up competing for power, rather than tailoring their identities around ideas or the needs of the people. The government grows unresponsive and ineffectual, increasing discontent and cynicism among citizens. The bland, stale character of the parties largely accounts for the rise of Trump, a dangerous figure.
Unfortunately, unless a third party emerges to disrupt the existing balance of power between the two parties, or unless the parties reform themselves from within, American politics is likely to go on being nasty, vengeful, and mediocre.
The overall decline in the quality of American governance is not just wasteful and embarrassing; it is a real threat to our well-being, domestic tranquillity, and security. Yet it appears inevitable that party warfare will continue and perhaps even intensify in 2020. It won’t be unprecedented, but it will be both scary and a betrayal of the people’s trust.
Image: A 1993 Jack Boucher photograph of a close view of the Statue of Freedom
normally atop the United States Capitol,
from this source.
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The conclusion of the Mueller investigation presents leading Democrats with a fateful choice: whether to continue digging into the past in hopes of hobbling or delegitimizing Trump’s presidency, or to concentrate on the present and the future, when all their ingenuity will be needed to beat Trump and deny him a second term.
Though the latter would be better for the party and nation, turning away from the special investigation requires fortitude. The Mueller report hasn’t been made public, and the pundits and pols who are against Trump aren’t satisfied with Attorney General William Barr’s disclosures and conclusions. The Democrats want more information. This desire, as reasonable as it is, distinguishes them from the mass of American citizens who are really tired of this subtle affair and who are dying for evidence that the government is still capable of . . . . GOVERNING.
If the Democrats want someone new in the White House in 2020, they need to persuade voters that their nominee and their vision will be better for the nation than what Trump offers. Yet they are so far from presenting this impression that one can scarcely imagine their unifying around a tenable candidate and winning.
Democrats are procrastinating. They are shirking the hard work that follows from acknowledging that Trump won office legitimately. He enjoys an authority that is foolish to argue with: In 2016, he understood the rules of the electoral game and exploited them more effectively than did Hillary Clinton. He won the electoral votes he needed by persuading enough citizens to go to the polls and vote for him in key states. Two years later, most of the president’s opponents have yet to reckon with this reality, even though any political strategy leading to Trump’s defeat must be designed with this geography in mind. To defeat Trump, Democrats must peel away moderate and independent voters in states fed up with stale Democratic memes. The Dems face an uphill battle, even with teamwork, ideological innovation, and the right nominee.
And where is Democratic rage when it comes to the real bogeyman, Russia–the real villain who prejudiced American voters against Hillary by waging a campaign of misinformation, who smeared her and deployed assets to promote Trump, a candidate who, for various reasons, Russia wanted instead? What is Congress doing to ensure that foreign nations don’t infiltrate and corrupt American political discourse in the future?
While real danger looms over American democracy, one wonders whether the Democrats will ever look up from their game of Clue and do something.
Image: Screen shot of leading Democrats attending Trump’s inauguration in January 2017.
© 2019 American Inguiry
The struggle over the future of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), popularly known as Obamacare, ended a crucial round last month, when, in the Senate, three Republicans–Susan Collins, John McCain, and Lisa Murkowski–joined Democrats in voting down the so-called “skinny repeal.” Despite Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, and despite the president’s scornful goading, the GOP has at long last stopped in its tracks: it has heard, from far off in the hinterland, the howl of the people. To repeal the Affordable Care Act, to discontinue its hallmark features, has become politically unacceptable in the US.
Partisan representations of the bill notwithstanding, the guarantee of affordable medical coverage for all, which is at the heart of “Obamacare,” has become a grail to the American people. Kate Zernike and Abby Goodnough of the New York Times co-authored a fascinating article describing how a sea-change in popular sentiment, running increasingly in support of the ACA, has occurred along with its threatened repeal. First-hand understanding of the bill’s provisions and benefits are driving Americans to an acceptance of universal coverage that makes the GOP’s top-down rhetoric a tougher sell. Americans do not want to return to the “bad old days” when insurers could turn sick or at-risk customers away. They do not want millions of Americans who are now insured to lose the benefits guaranteed them under the ACA.
Politically, then, the President and the GOP face the issue of how to Affordable Care their own. (After all, it has the makings of a smashing success!) During the presidential campaign, then-candidate Trump wasn’t at the forefront of those calling for the ACA’s repeal. He was the reasonable candidate then, wanting to find solutions that would remedy the defects of the legislation. During the debates, he suggested eliminating state-level restrictions to allow insurers to create pools across state lines. Ironically, President Trump has since decided that scapegoating others is essential to his popularity, a conviction that has led him away from an approach to health care that was more constructive and reasoned. Has the President never heard the saying, “Revenge is a dish that is best served cold”?
Were I a Republican, I would vow never to utter the word “Obamacare” again. Members of the Republican Party stand to become heroes by repairing the Affordable Care Act and re-branding it to heighten its associations with compassion and inclusion. Forget about wreaking revenge on Obama. Listen to the people. Collaborate with Democrats. Deliver a shared triumph to the nation. It will matter far more than any partisan loss.
Two years ago, I wrote of Illinois, “The state’s deepening fiscal crisis will end when an ordinary citizen, who is not a public employee, successfully challenges the Illinois constitution’s ‘pension-protection clause’ in a federal court.” Curiously, something along these lines is happening. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit will soon consider the case of Bargo v. Bruce Rauner, et.al. which argues that the state’s ironclad protection of public-employee pensions is unfair to the other residents of Illinois.
The petitioner, Michael E. Bargo, Jr., is appealing the decision of a district court, which dismissed his case in May. The brief Bargo filed in the lower court argued that the Illinois constitution’s pension-protection clause violates the equal protection clause of the US Constitution. A single sentence makes up Article 13, Section 5, of the state constitution (the pension-protection clause), which reads: “PENSION AND RETIREMENT RIGHTS: Membership in any pension or retirement system of the State, any unit of local government or school district, or any agency or instrumentality thereof, shall be an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired.”
This provision inviolably protects the the pensions of every public employee, setting up a privileged class of Illinoisans with a “retirement right” that no one else in Illinois enjoys. The arrangement appears to violate the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, which declares: “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the Unites States . . . nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
Much of Bargo’s brief concerns how the pension-protection clause affects Illinois taxpayers and the governments within Illinois. Collectively, state and local governments are groaning under the weight of unfunded pension obligations totaling some $250 billion. Meanwhile, Illinois sanctions several funding mechanisms that benefit the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund (IMRF, the state’s largest pension fund) without regard to the needs and wishes of local populations. These mechanisms allow the IMRF to seize state grants allocated to communities throughout the state without restriction and to seize revenue from county treasuries. They empower IMRF to sue in circuit courts throughout the State.
Bargo seeks to demonstrate how the obligation to fund public pensions goes hand-in-hand with taxation that fails to benefit taxepayers, diverting funds away from public purposes. As taxes are levied and engrossed for the sake of public employees, the general welfare of Illinois is suffering. Pensions claim an ever larger share of the tuition that students pay at Illinois’ public universities. School systems and social services throughout the state are suffering as a larger share of taxes must go to pension obligations. As Illinois faces mounting financial embarrassment, its citizens must acquiesce in a system that transfers wealth from the general population and the State itself to one class of people, thanks to the superior protection the Illinois constitution affords public employees.
The pension-protection clause, which stipulates that a benefit once given to a public worker can never be reduced or taken away, robs government of the discretion to curb or modify pension provisions that are being abused or that are unduly generous to the point of being unaffordable. The state’s courts have repeatedly cited the pension-protection clause in striking down pension-reform proposals, including several that the unions themselves have agreed to. Unfortunately, Article 13, section 5, creates a class interest within the public sector that stacks the deck against ordinary Illinois citizens, making an appeal to the federal courts necessary.
Bargo v. Rauner, et. al., puts the pressure on the state’s most powerful officials to defend a principle gradually strangling once-vigorous Illinois.