The Warlike Posture

Nothing changed. Republicans gained Senate seats deep in red America, but in the House of Representatives, that other place, Democrats won seat after seat in urban and suburban America, and swept to a majority, and brought an end to the Republican monopoly on power. This was a blue victory deep in red America. This was a victory in urban and suburban America. But Republicans held the Senate. Both sides won. Neither side won. NBC’s First Read said this wasn’t a wave, this was a realignment:

We are living in extremely volatile and divided times. And what we are seeing is a further realignment of our politics – with urban/suburban going Democratic, and with rural and red areas going more Republican.

There are two sides – two tribes – each with its specific values and its specific geography. Ten years ago, in Greensboro, North Carolina, Sarah Palin said this – “We believe that the best of America is in these small towns that we get to visit, and in these wonderful little pockets of what I call the real America, being here with all of you hard working very patriotic, um, very, um, pro-America areas of this great nation. This is where we find the kindness and the goodness and the courage of everyday Americans.”

She got in trouble for that. She apologized. Cities are the real America too. So are suburbs. So is Hollywood – although she didn’t go THAT far in her apology – and then the dustup was over. It didn’t matter much. Politics is a tribal thing and Republicans appealing to the tribalism of their supporters wasn’t that horrible or that surprising. Now that tribalism is a bit more severe, but Kevin Drum argues that only one tribe won this time:

Democrats ran on health care and won. Several red states passed Medicaid expansion. The GOP’s lies about pre-existing conditions obviously didn’t stick. And Obamacare itself is now safe for another two years from Republican attempts to repeal it. I hesitate to say this since I’ve said it before, but I think this is the final hoorah. By 2020, Obamacare will be six years old. Republicans will have tried multiple times to repeal it and failed. They will have taken on pre-existing conditions and pre-existing conditions will have walloped them.

By 2020 Obamacare will be just a standard part of the social safety net, available to anyone who loses a job or simply can’t afford free-market insurance. There will be no more juice in opposing it. Obamacare is here to stay.

Drum was right – Republicans Abandon the Fight to Repeal and Replace Obama’s Health Care Law – and he notes this too:

Trump ran on racism and lost. He ran on the wall. He ran on the caravan. He ran on nationalism. He ran on hate and xenophobia and bigotry. He turned the volume up to 11 and became increasingly desperate as the campaign neared its end. The rest of the Republican Party either joined in or held their tongues, but they knew: in the suburbs of America, where Republicans once ruled, they were losing votes. In 2016, after eight years of Barack Obama and Fox News, a lot of suburbanites were willing to tolerate just a little more racism than they normally would, and Trump won. In 2018, with Obama long gone and two years of relentless racial ugliness fresh in their minds, their tolerance was gone. They voted against the racism and the hate, and Trump lost.

Republicans have now learned that there really is a limit to how far that can take you in the 21st century. They’ve now hit that limit, and if they want to win national elections in the future they’re going to have to rely on something else.

Perhaps so, but the New York Times sees tribal geography at play:

In New Jersey, voters slashed the number of Republicans in Congress from five down to two, and possibly only one. In New York, Democrats declared victory in three congressional races in President Trump’s home state, ejecting the last remaining Republican from New York City. And in the six other states in the Northeast, the lone remaining Republican congressman, Representative Bruce Poliquin of Maine, was clinging to his seat on Wednesday, his fate to be decided by the second choices of third-party voters through ranked-choice voting.

If the country delivered a mixed verdict nationally on Mr. Trump and his brand of unrepentant nationalism and white-hot rhetoric on immigration in the 2018 midterms – Democrats seized the House and ceded ground in the Senate, and the two parties split key governorships – the results were far clearer in a region that once defined moderate Republicanism in America.

There was no more of that because Trump had pulled a Palin on them:

From a tax bill that penalized high-tax blue states to a message far more attuned to the ears of rural America than the cities and educated suburbs that dominate the Northeast, Mr. Trump accelerated and hardened a regional realignment that has been underway for years. Almost no Republicans appeared immune to the region’s shifting political winds, no matter how they positioned themselves.

They were in the wrong place. Another tribe had moved in:

Nowhere was the fracture with the Trump-led Republican Party more potent than in a swath of wealthy suburban enclaves in the northeastern part of New Jersey, where Mikie Sherrill, a former Navy helicopter pilot and federal prosecutor, defeated her Republican opponent by more than 12 percentage points. It was a stunning margin in a seat that had been held for 24 years by Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen, a genteel, moderate Republican deal maker who rose to become the powerful chairman of the Appropriations Committee. The district had not elected a Democrat since President Ronald Reagan’s administration.

Even a fine moderate Republican didn’t stand a chance there, but Adam Serwer isn’t so sure about all this:

It’s fashionable in the Donald Trump era to decry political “tribalism,” especially if you’re a conservative attempting to criticize Trump without incurring the wrath of his supporters. House Speaker Paul Ryan has lamented the “tribalism” of American politics. Arizona Senator Jeff Flake has said that “tribalism is ruining us.” Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse has written a book warning that “partisan tribalism is statistically higher than at any point since the Civil War.”

In the fallout from Tuesday’s midterm elections, many political analysts have concluded that blue America and red America are ever more divided, ever more at each other’s throats.

But calling this “tribalism” is misleading, because only one side of this divide remotely resembles a coalition based on ethnic and religious lines, and only one side has committed itself to a political strategy that relies on stoking hatred and fear of the other. By diagnosing America’s problem as tribalism, chin-stroking pundits and their sorrowful semi-Trumpist counterparts in Congress have hidden the actual problem in American politics behind a weird euphemism.

Something else is going on:

In New York’s Nineteenth Congressional District, the Democrat Antonio Delgado, a Harvard-educated, African American Rhodes scholar, defeated the incumbent Republican John Faso in a district that is 84 percent white, despite Faso caricaturing Delgado as a “big-city rapper.” In Georgia, the Republican Brian Kemp appears to have defeated the Democrat Stacey Abrams after using his position as secretary of state to weaken the power of the black vote in the state and tying his opponent to the New Black Panther Party. In Florida, the Republican Ron DeSantis defeated the Democrat Andrew Gillum after a campaign in which DeSantis’s supporters made racist remarks about Gillum. The Republican Duncan Hunter, who is under indictment, won after running a campaign falsely tying his Democratic opponent, Ammar Campa-Najjar, who is of Latino and Arab descent, to terrorism. In North Dakota, Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp lost reelection after Republicans adopted a voter-ID law designed to disenfranchise the Native American voters who powered her upset win in 2012. President Trump spent weeks claiming that a caravan of migrants in Latin America headed for the United States poses a grave threat to national security, an assessment the Pentagon disagrees with. In Illinois on Tuesday, thousands of Republicans voted for a longtime Nazi who now prefers to describe himself as a “white racialist”; in Virginia, more than a million cast ballots for a neo-Confederate running for Senate…

Those opponents cannot be said to belong to a “tribe.” No common ethnic or religious ties bind Heitkamp, Campa-Najjar, Delgado, or the constituencies that elected them. It was their Republican opponents who turned to “tribalism,” painting them as scary or dangerous, and working to disenfranchise their supporters.

There are two different approaches here:

The core of the GOP agenda – slashing the social safety net and reducing taxes on the wealthy – is deeply unpopular. Progressive ballot initiatives, including the expansion of Medicaid, anti-gerrymandering measures, and the restoration of voting rights for formerly incarcerated people, succeeded even in red states. If Republicans ran on their policy agenda alone, they would be at a disadvantage. So they have turned to a destructive politics of white identity, one that seeks a path to power by deliberately dividing the country along racial and sectarian lines. They portray the nation as the birthright of white, heterosexual Christians, and label the growing population of those who don’t fit that mold or reject that moral framework as dangerous usurpers.

The Democratic Party, reliant as it is on a diverse coalition of voters, cannot afford to engage in this kind of politics. There are no blue states where Democrats have sought to make it harder for white men without a college education to vote, even though that demographic typically votes Republican. Democratic candidates did not attack their white male opponents as dangerous because four white men carried out deadly acts of right-wing terrorism in the two weeks prior to the election. Democratic candidates for statewide office did not appeal to voters in blue states by trashing other parts of the country considered to be conservative…

When a party’s viability is dependent on a diverse coalition of voters, that party will necessarily stand for pluralism and equal rights, because its survival depends on it. And when a party is not diverse, it will rely on demonizing those who are different, because no constituency exists within that party to prevent it from doing so, or to show its members that they have nothing to fear.

So there you have it:

In the Trump era, America finds itself with two political parties: one that’s growing more reliant on the nation’s diversity, and one that sees its path to power in stoking fear and rage toward those who are different.

America doesn’t have a “tribalism” problem. It has a racism problem. And the parties are not equally responsible.

And one party did do well this time, considering the first six items on Martin Longman’s list of Fifty Things That Went Well on Election Day:

The Democrats will take control of the U.S. House of Representatives next year for the first time since January 2011.

The Democrats flipped the House and Senate in New Hampshire, and the Senate in Colorado, Maine, and New York.

The Democrats won the Trifecta (controlling the governor’s office and both chambers of the legislature) in Colorado, Illinois, Maine, New Mexico, Nevada, and New York. In Oregon and Nevada, they won supermajorities in both chambers.

The Republicans lost their Trifectas in Kansas and Michigan.

The Republicans lost their supermajorities in the North Carolina legislature.

The deep red states of Idaho, Utah, and Nebraska used the ballot to expand Medicaid.

And as Noah Bierman reports, that did not sit well with the chief of the other tribe:

President George W. Bush would blow off steam by clearing brush from his ranch. President Obama would sneak a soupcon of almonds or a cigarette. President Trump’s happy place: duking it out with a roomful of pestering reporters.

Trump turned his post-election news conference on Wednesday – normally an occasion for presidents to lick wounds and move on after midterm losses – into a nearly 90-minute political tour de force for the president who loves as much as anything to put on a pugilistic performance.

He took no blame for the type of humbling losses that Bush called a “thumpin'” in 2006 or Obama acknowledged as a “shellacking” in 2010, when they similarly presided over their party’s loss of at least one house of Congress.

Instead, Trump hailed “a great victory,” against the electoral evidence otherwise.

And that meant it was time to attack the press again:

The president told a black reporter, who asked whether his calling himself a “nationalist” was emboldening white nationalists, that she was asking “a racist question.” He taunted Republican House members who lost their seats after refusing his “embrace,” saying, “Too bad. Sorry about that.” He mocked Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a close ally, with an aside to a Japanese reporter, “Say hello to Shinzo. I’m sure he’s happy about tariffs on his cars.”

Above all, Trump suggested that his primary opponent for the next two years will not be Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco – for whom he had nothing but kind words – or any other Democrats angling for their party’s 2020 presidential nomination, or even the special counsel’s office that is investigating him, his company and his 2016 campaign. Instead, Trump showed he’s running against the news media. And some reporters played willing foils by interrupting the president, shouting and refusing to yield the floor.

“I tell you what, CNN should be ashamed of itself having you working for them,” Trump told CNN’s Jim Acosta, after the correspondent refused to defer to another reporter or hand the microphone to a White House intern tasked by Trump to take it from him. “You are a rude, terrible person,” he further admonished Acosta. “You shouldn’t be working for CNN.”

When the waiting reporter, NBC’s Peter Alexander, defended Acosta for his diligence as a reporter, Trump pounced on Alexander. “Well, I’m not a big fan of yours, either, so you know.”

His base loves that. The rest of the country hates that. He was having fun:

Trump told three reporters with foreign accents that he could not understand them, even as he fended off questions about whether his campaign rhetoric had been xenophobic. He barked “Sit down!” six times to reporters. “Quiet, quiet, quiet,” he told another, raising his voice.

As he fought with questioners, he just as often avoided answering their questions. NBC’s Kristen Welker asked Trump twice about the rise of anti-Semitic attacks and hate crimes since his election. The first time, Trump replied with an extended boast about his relations with Israel. The second time, he went on a tangent about trade and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

“I think I am a great moral leader and I love our country,” Trump said finally, offering no elaboration, after she pressed a third time.

No one else will say that so he’ll say that, because that means those who love him will love him even more:

The sparring with reporters served as a message to Trump’s base, that he will not stop fighting. While critics saw a petulant, un-presidential performance, many in Trump’s thrall saw a ravenous and disrespectful media always out to get the president.

When Acosta protested that CNN employees had been targeted by the recent mailing of pipe bombs, allegedly by a Trump supporter, after such rhetoric, the president showed no sense of responsibility, let alone remorse.

“When you report fake news – which CNN does a lot – you are the enemy of the people,” Trump said.

Hours later the White House, in a rare move, said that it was suspending Acosta’s press credential, falsely claiming he physically mistreated the female intern who tried to take his microphone as he persisted in questioning Trump.

There are two things there. The first is clean enough. When you report fake news you are the enemy of the people, and that means that one or more of “the people” may take you out with a bomb or whatever, as a natural consequence of what you keep doing. That will happen sooner or later, that’s going to happen sooner or later, and that’s not his fault, that’s CNN’s fault. The second is clear too. Ask too many questions, or ask them the wrong way, and no more press credentials for anything. That was a warning to all reporters. Don’t make this man angry. Make this man angry and you’re gone – go find another career.

But that wasn’t all:

While reporters were Trump’s primary targets in the East Room, they were not the only ones. The president went out of his way to lambaste fellow Republicans who had kept their distance or even criticized him during their campaigns, given his unpopularity in their districts or states.

“You had some that decided to, ‘Let’s stay away. Let’s stay away,'” Trump said, shaking his head. “They did very poorly.”

“I’m not sure that I should be happy or sad, but I feel just fine about it,” he continued, before reeling off the names of vanquished Republicans from Florida, Colorado, Minnesota, Virginia, Illinois, New York, New Jersey and Utah.

They didn’t “embrace” him and now they’re out in the cold, alone, their political lives over. That was a warning too. The Republican Party is “him” now. Embrace him or die – at least politically.

And as Philip Rucker and his Washington Post team reports, the casting out of heretics began:

Washington plunged into political war on Wednesday in the wake of a split decision by voters in the midterm elections, with President Trump ousting his attorney general and threatening to retaliate against Democrats if they launch investigations into his personal conduct and possible corruption in the administration.

The rapid shift to battle stations signaled the start of what is likely to be two years of unremitting political combat as Trump positions himself for reelection. For the first time, Trump will be forced to navigate divided government as Democrats who won the House pledge to be a check on his power and face pressure from their liberal base to block him at every turn.

That is the situation:

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), who is poised to lead the new Democratic majority as speaker, said her caucus would use its subpoena authority to pursue sweeping oversight of the Trump administration.

“We will have a responsibility to honor our oversight responsibilities, and that’s the path that we will go down,” she told reporters. But, she added, Democrats would do so in the interest of “trying to unify our country.”

Trump didn’t seem to care:

Trump spun his own reality by claiming “very close to complete victory.”

Trump said in a wide-ranging and often sharp-tongued news conference that any hope for bipartisan deals would evaporate if House Democrats use their new power to investigate him or his administration. Such efforts, he said bluntly, would precipitate “a warlike posture.”

House Democrats have said they plan to begin a series of investigations of the president, including issuing a subpoena for his tax returns, which he has for years refused to release. Trump said he would respond by using the Republican-controlled Senate as a cudgel, instructing his allies there to investigate alleged misconduct by Democrats.

“They can play that game, but we can play it better, because we have a thing called the United States Senate,” Trump said. “They can look at us, then we can look at them and it’ll go back and forth. And it’ll probably be very good for me politically… because I think I’m better at that game than they are, actually.”

So it’s war now:

After demonizing Democrats in apocalyptic terms and attacking Pelosi on the campaign trail, Trump said Wednesday, “The election’s over. Now everybody is in love.”

But Trump drowned out his own call for unity within hours by announcing via Twitter the sudden ouster of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who said in his resignation letter that the president had directed him to resign.

The two parties plunged into a fierce disagreement over whether the president was obstructing justice by replacing Sessions with acting attorney general Matthew G. Whitaker, who immediately assumed control over special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. The inquiry had previously been overseen by Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein.

And so it begins:

Democrats indicated that the firing of Sessions would be one of their top investigation targets – and warned of a constitutional crisis. Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), who is set to take over as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement that the Mueller probe was in “new and immediate peril.”

“Interference with the special counsel’s investigation would cause a constitutional crisis and undermine the rule of law,” Schiff said. “If the president seeks to interfere in the impartial administration of justice, the Congress must stop him. No one is above the law.”

The elections settled nothing. Everyone voted and then the two tribes dug in for a long war. It’s diverse and curious urban-suburban blue America at war with the white and profoundly incurious rural and red America. Nothing changed. It just got nastier.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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One Response to The Warlike Posture

  1. barney says:

    Great read. Thank you.

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