The immediate news is tiresome – just another week of sentencing hearings in Washington. One Trump campaign official or advisor or another, or the general who was Trump’s first national security advisor, or just someone else who lied a lot, will get the bad news – a few years in jail, or a bit more. Trump hasn’t pardoned any of them yet, and there are too many of them now. Wholesale pardons always look bad and keep each of the scandals alive for a news cycle or two. Let it go. The public will eventually shrug. Who cares anymore?
It’s the same with the rest of the news. Trump still wants his wall. No one else does, not even most Republicans. He will declare an emergency so he can override Congress and spend billions on his wall – using money Congress appropriated, by law, for other things. He laughs at that. He can assume the powers of Congress anytime he wants – and they will vote to stop this. Republicans will vote with Democrats to stop this. He will veto whatever they pass, and they don’t have the votes to override a veto. So, he gets what he wants, and Congress is further neutered, as if they weren’t useless enough already. And nothing really changes.
The public tuned out long ago. This is old news. And we’ve defeated ISIS – or we haven’t – or Trump has fixed everything with North Korea – or he hasn’t. The news rolls on and on, but nothing much changes.
Let it be. Wait it out. Think about something else. Think about what happens after these immediate issues are settled, or forgotten. Things can’t go on like this – or they should and must go on like this. Think about the 2020 election. Trump wants to stay. Democrats want him gone. The present is locked in. How will the future work out?
That calls for a bit of planning, and CNN’s Zachary Wolf covers one thing Trump has planned:
President Donald Trump clearly thinks he has a winning argument against Democrats in 2020 and it comes straight out of his Baby Boomer childhood.
Trump and other Republicans have spent the past few weeks arguing that Democrats would rob Americans of consumer comforts like cars and hamburgers, using a definition of socialism that borrows from a time when that ideology – in the form of communism – posed an actual existential threat in a nuclear standoff with the Soviet Union.
Baby Boomers remember “duck and cover” – what to do in the elementary school classroom in 1957 when the giant atomic bomb goes off right overhead. That’s socialism at work, but that’s not quite what Trump sees:
“Just this week, more than 100 Democrats in Congress signed up for a socialist takeover of American health care.”
“America will never be a socialist country – ever.”
“If these socialist progressives had their way, they would put our Constitution through the paper shredder in a heartbeat.”
“We believe in the American Dream, not in the socialist nightmare.”
There’s no atomic bomb, but there is bad stuff, or as Wolf notes, there’s nothing to worry about at all:
Democrats are selling a softer socialism, leaning on government as the solution to soaring health care costs, widening inequality, and a new and more dangerous existential threat – climate change – that many fear is literally killing the earth.
Their audience is the portion of the electorate too young to remember the Cold War. This group’s view of socialism is in the happy social media dispatches from Northern Europe, where child care is free, almost everyone has a job, health care is provided for and retirement is guaranteed…
Americans coming of age today and even those who have been voting in recent elections are more likely to have encountered socialism not via Russian communism, which is long gone, but from China’s version, which is planted emphatically in the world marketplace, or from Northern Europe, where Bernie Sanders likes to points out the governments honor free markets but also take care of their citizens.
This is a generational thing, but the old farts have the young whippersnappers outnumbered:
In an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll out Monday, just 18% of Americans had a positive view of socialism, 50% had a negative view and 26% had a neutral view. Capitalism, meanwhile, was the mirror opposite: 50% had a positive view, 19% had a negative view and 25% had a neutral view.
And thus Trump will win the next election:
Most of the skepticism about socialism comes from older American generations. Trump’s Baby Boomers – he was born in 1946 at the beginning of the Baby Boom – grew up under fear of nuclear fallout and seeing the Soviet Union as the main existential threat to the US.
Now, it is their distrust of socialism that Trump is banking on, even as those Boomers embrace the twin US government safety nets of Social Security and Medicare.
Distrust of socialism is a winner – unless the Democrats hammer home that, if you’re an older Trump enthusiast, put you money where your mouth is and drop out of Social Security and Medicare, and call for both to be abolished. Short of that, you’re a socialist too. Get over it. That would make the 2020 election more interesting.
That won’t happen, but Wolf throws in this curiosity:
Only the very oldest voters might be old enough to remember 1920, the high-water-mark for American socialism, before the Cold War or the Soviet Union, when Eugene Debs, running outside the major party system, got 3.4% of the US presidential vote as a socialist.
Things weren’t always this nutty here, and the New York Times Roger Cohen, who has spent far too much time in France, points out that these issues were settled there long ago:
France has one of the world’s most elaborate social protection systems. The ratio of tax revenue to gross domestic product, at 46.2 percent, is the highest of all Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries. In the United States, that ratio is 27.1 percent. Look no further to grasp Franco-American differences.
But no one over there is throwing money away:
This French tax revenue is spent on programs – universal health care, lengthy paid maternity leave, unemployment benefits – designed to render society more cohesive and capitalism less cutthroat. Of the French Revolution’s three-pronged cry – “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité” – the first has proved most problematic, freedom being but a short step, in the French view, from the “Anglo-Saxon” free-market jungle. Socialist presidents have governed France for half of the past 38 years.
The country has paid a price for its social solidarity, particularly in high unemployment. But France has prospered. It has a vibrant private sector. It is a capitalist economy, among the world’s seven largest.
Its socialism is no European exception. The Continent decided after World War II that cushioning capitalism was a price worth paying to avoid the social fragmentation that had fed violence.
So they made their choice, and now we can make our choice:
The parties that produced Europe’s welfare states had different names, but they all embraced the balances – of the free market and the public sector, of enterprise and equity, of profit and protection – that socialism or its cousin social democracy (as opposed to communism) stood for. Socialism, a word reborn, has none of the Red Scare potency in Europe that it carries in the United States. It’s part of life. It’s not Venezuelan misery.
A 21st-century American election is about to be fought over socialism. Amazing!
And it will be a fight:
The charismatic voice of such sentiment in the United States is the Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the lightning rod of a new American politics.
“The definition of democratic socialism to me, again, is the fact that in a modern, moral and wealthy society, no American should be too poor to live,” Ocasio-Cortez tells NBC’s Chuck Todd. Like Britain’s leftist Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, she favors significant state intervention in the economy.
Trump, unerring in his instinct for the jugular, declares, “We believe in the American dream, not the socialist nightmare.”
So we get this:
The basic issue before the Democratic Party now is how far left to go. Bernie Sanders calls himself a socialist. Kamala Harris calls herself a progressive. John Hickenlooper, conciliator, says he can “get stuff done.”
Cohen doesn’t care because he sees what he thinks is inevitable:
The notion that American elections are won in the center was buried by Trump. The energy in the Democratic Party lies in the progressive camp. It stems from anger at a skewed economy and millennial disgust at the elitist turn that cost the Democrats their working-class base and much of small-town America. This opened the way for Trump. My own inclinations are centrist, but not a “centrism” that cares more for Goldman Sachs than the opioid crisis. I don’t see how the Democrats can eschew a new era’s left-leaning energy and win.
But there is the counterweight:
The United States was founded in contradistinction to, not as an extension of, Europe. Self-reliance is to America what fraternity is to France: part of its core. American space – so immense, so un-European – conjures in Americans a bristling independence of spirit that wants government out of their lives. Nations do not cast off their cultural essence.
Cohen reported this in 2004:
It is not going to be a pretty American election. Already the Bush administration has embarked on a campaign to portray John Kerry as a flip-flopping, tax-raising, European-educated wimp. The presumptive Democratic candidate has responded by describing the president as a job-destroying, budget-busting, alliance-breaking unilateralist.
But perhaps the surest indication that the looming political season will be ugly has come from repeated Republican suggestions that Kerry “looks French.”
That was enough, back then, and now Cohen says this:
The dirty secret of European welfare states is that they tend to be business-friendly. As Monica Prasad, a sociology professor at Northwestern University, has pointed out, Sweden has a lower corporate tax rate than the United States. The sweet spot for Democrats is getting business to buy into progressive reform. America can be nudged in a French direction without losing its self-renewing essence.
So do it:
France is also home to the yellow-vest protests from the marginalized. So much for social cohesion, you might say. But there’s a lesson. As James McAuley observed in The New York Review of Books, those vests reflect, above all, a “material demand to be seen.”
Socialism is no silver bullet. The basic requirement of any Democratic candidate is to make the forgotten, the struggling and the invisible of American society feel visible again.
In short, Trump may not want to raise this issue at all. Look, Venezuela! No, look – Sweden, Denmark, Norway, France, and so on and so forth! And of course the Democrats had better not nominate Kamala Harris – because when she was twelve her mother moved with the children to Montreal, where she had accepted a position doing research at Jewish General Hospital and teaching at McGill University. After graduating from Westmount High School in the Westmount suburb near downtown Montreal, her daughter, Kamala, was off to Howard University in Washington – but the damage was done. She speaks French. Of course she’s a socialist.
No one under sixty cares. The socialism thing may not work, but there is this:
To prevent leaks from Trump’s Friday night Mar-a-Lago speech to RNC donors, security guards made attendees put their cellphones in magnetized pouches that they carried around like purses until they left the club.
So leakers had to rely on their memories. Trump entered to Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to Be an American,” then launched into one of his trademark stream-of-consciousness speeches, according to three people who were there. They said the crowd roared with laughter throughout.
Some of his remarks raised eyebrows. Referring to the recent anti-Semitism controversies with Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar, Trump told the donors: “The Democrats hate Jewish people.”
Trump said he didn’t understand how any Jew could vote for a Democrat these days. Trump talked about how much he’d done for Israel, noting his historic decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
Trump said if he could run to be prime minister of Israel, he’d be at 98% in the polls, according to three sources who were there.
Democrats hate Jewish people? The (American) Jewish people (except for Sheldon Adelson and few others) are all Democrats – liberal civil-rightsf people big on social justice and fairness, who despise Netanyahu and the Likud party. This sort of messaging will thrill the evangelicals, who look forward to the coming End Times and the Conversion of the Jews and the Rapture and all the rest, but they were going to vote for Trump anyway. Trump won’t be converting any Jews here. He won’t win in 2020 by shouting, over and over, DEMOCRATS HATE JEWISH PEOPLE!
There has to be another plan, and the Washington Post reports that there is:
President Trump and his advisers are launching a behemoth 2020 campaign operation combining his raw populist message from 2016 with a massive data-gathering and get-out-the-vote push aimed at dwarfing any previous presidential reelection effort, according to campaign advisers, White House aides, Republican officials and others briefed on the emerging strategy.
Trump’s advisers also believe the Democratic Party’s recent shift to the left on a host of issues, from the push for Medicare-for-all to a proposed Green New Deal, will help the president and other Republicans focus on a Trumpian message of strong economic growth, nationalist border restrictions and “America First” trade policies.
Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan will become, in signs and rally chants, “Keep America Great!”
But this is more of the same, with the volume cranked up to eleven:
The president’s strategy relies on a risky and relatively narrow path for victory, hinged on demonizing Trump’s eventual opponent and juicing turnout among his most avid supporters in Florida, Pennsylvania and the Upper Midwest – the same areas that won him the White House but where his popularity has waned since he was elected. Some advisers are particularly concerned about the president’s persistent unpopularity among female and suburban voters, and fear it will be difficult to replicate the outcome of 2016 without former Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton as a foil.
He can try to lead the loud and endless “lock her up” chants, but now there’s another possible response out there. Who are we talking about again? Hillary Clinton can ruin Donald Trump’s life by staying at home and watering the plants. All she needs to do is step back:
Democrats – fresh off a wave midterm election that brought them control of the House – say Trump is a severely weakened incumbent with a tired anti-immigrant message who has alienated the female and suburban voters who will decide the election. They see his 2016 Electoral College victory as a fluke and his approval numbers, consistently stuck in the low 40s, as an opportunity. More than a dozen Democratic candidates are already competing for a chance to make him a one-term president.
“Trump is weak,” said Karine Jean-Pierre, a Democratic strategist and senior adviser at MoveOn. “And he’s doubling down on his shrinking base. Independents have left him, women have left him. I don’t think you would see this many people jumping in if they didn’t think Trump could be beat.”
Trump may know he could lose this thing:
Trump recently received an extensive slide-show briefing on the campaign effort in the White House residence and has taken intense interest in the details of the battle to come, advisers say. He regularly quizzes advisers about potential foes – such as Sens. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and former vice president Joe Biden – and about individual battleground states, such as Pennsylvania and Florida. He also has asked aides about the perceived popularity of his positions, such as his vow to remove troops from Syria, and is an avid consumer of polling data, advisers say.
And he has a plan:
Trump has sought to build a 2020 messaging campaign around the idea of “promises kept” – replacing his 2016 “Make America Great Again” slogan with “Keep America Great!” and telling his supporters to chant “Finish the wall” instead of “Build the wall,” even though no section of his promised border wall has actually been built.
They won’t know the difference. They trust him, but others aren’t so sure:
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican moderate who is considering a primary race against Trump, told CBS News last month that Trump looks “pretty weak in the general election.”
The RNC took the unusual step of voting unanimously to pledge its “undivided support” of Trump during its winter meeting in January, and party officials have been actively pointing to the president’s high poll numbers among Republican voters to scare off primary challengers.
Campaign officials are calling state party leaders across the country to ensure that the 2020 convention is an unimpeded coronation of Trump – and are seeking to install allies in delegate and chair roles. Campaign advisers say they have taken note of incumbent presidents who lost because they did not have the party machine fully behind them.
They want an unimpeded coronation of Trump as their candidate in the big election, the ultimate and one and only Republican of all time, but that may not be worth much:
Amy Walter, national editor of the Cook Political Report, said Trump will probably need to expand his support beyond his base and win back moderates and independent voters who sided with Democrats during last year’s midterms.
Focusing on divisive issues like immigration and his proposed border wall won’t help with that, she said, noting that Trump’s approval ratings have remained below 50 percent throughout his presidency. During the midterms, Trump frequently did not follow the urging of many Republicans that he focus on the growing economy; instead, he injected polarizing issues such as birthright citizenship into the debate.
“Why is he spending time leaning into an issue that has a 60 percent disapproval rate?” Walter said. “It’s a real lack of discipline.”
Who knows? That’s what he does:
President Trump on Monday will request at least $8.6 billion more in funding to build additional sections of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, setting up a fresh battle with Congress less than one month after he declared a national emergency.
In Trump’s annual budget request to Congress, he will request $5 billion in funding for the Department of Homeland Security to continue building sections of a wall, three people briefed on the request said. He will request an additional $3.6 billion for the Defense Department’s military construction budget to erect more sections of a wall.
No one wants this wall, but he’s not going to back down now, which is a bit odd:
Top Democrats reacted swiftly to reports that Trump was seeking more money for the wall, reflecting how they are girding for the fight and betting that public sentiment is on their side.
Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.), who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, said the request was “not even worth the paper it’s written on.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) added that Trump caused a government shutdown in December because he defied Congress and demanded a wall. They said lawmakers were prepared to block his demand this time as well.
“The same thing will repeat itself if he tries this again,” they said in a joint statement. “We hope he learned his lesson.”
He hasn’t, and he will end socialism too:
The request will come as part of a broader proposal to cut $2.7 trillion in spending over 10 years for programs including welfare assistance, environmental protection and foreign aid…
The budget would call for severe reductions at a number of federal agencies. It will propose a 12 percent cut at the Education Department, a 12 percent cut at the Department of Health and Human Services, an 11 percent cut at the Interior Department, a 23 percent cut at the State Department, a 32 percent cut at the Environmental Protection Agency and a 22 percent cut at the Transportation Department, according to the summary.
Almost all of the proposals would require congressional approval, and lawmakers have dismissed cuts of a similar size in Trump’s past budgets. Many Democratic leaders have said they will oppose the sweep of the White House’s proposed cuts, though administration officials have signaled they plan to fight over the budget much harder this year, saying it provides a sharp contrast between Democrats and Republicans heading into the final year of Trump’s first term.
That will provide a stark contrast. It’ll be the aging and angry white Baby Boomers on one side – fighting Soviet-era socialism and hating Mexicans and distrusting the French – versus just about everyone else. That’s what’s coming next. Things won’t get any less tiresome.