Thursday, January 26, 2017

As I see it

We are a week into the Trump Presidency, and it is taking shape more rapidly than any since Franklin Roosevelt's.  That is no accident: both men took office in the midst of a great crisis or Fourth Turning, as described and predicted by Bill Strauss and Neil Howe about 25 years ago.  Both represent the death of an old political order and both are determined fundamentally to reshape America.  This has excited some Americans and worried a great many others, especially in the blue states.  As usual, I find my own feelings to be quite different from those of many others.  We are just beginning the rule of Trump, but I would lay to lay the groundwork for future analyses with some observations.

1.  Talk that Trump "is not my President" is silly--unless one wants to secede from the union.  Whatever your politics, if you are an American citizen you have one and one president at all times, and right now, he is it.  He was clearly elected, albeit without a plurality of the popular vote.  (We have no idea, by the way, how he and Clinton would have done if they had actually been competing for the popular vote of the whole nation, and we never will.)  He is legally exercising the powers of his office, which are indeed very broad.  He also disposes of friendly Congressional majorities, just as Obama did in 2009.

Now the Republicans clearly intend to undo as much as they can of the last 85 years of American government.  Much of the New Deal is already gone.  The SEC does not effectively regulate markets and the NLRB has not been able to protect the rights of labor for some time.  Antitrust laws, which the New Deal vigorously enforced, have been a dead letter for quite a while, and the government is not an employer of last resort.  Social Security (which was significantly increased under Nixon) and Medicare, which is 50 years old, may be severely modified.  The Republicans have announced plans to eliminate agencies such as the National Endowment of the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, which, frankly, serve Democratic constituencies.  There is also talk of abolishing the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, although I am pretty sure that was established by law in the 1950s and I can't imagine that even this Congress would abolish it by law.  They also plan a new round of budget-busting tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy.

Now like it or not--and I certainly don't--the Republicans have used our Democratic processes to reach the position from which they can actually make these things happen.  It is characteristic of fourth turnings that engaged people stop caring about process and start caring about outcomes.  Lincoln used implied war powers to do unprecedented things during the Civil War.  FDR was prepared if necessary to proclaim a dictatorship when he took office, and said so in his inaugural address.  He was also ready, at one key point, to defy a Supreme Court decision if it did not go his way.  On the other side, the Confederacy, of course, took up arms to defy the Constitution of the US, and many elements of American society viewed FDR as anathema.  Those of us who still believe in our democracy, however--it seems to me--must not deny the Republicans the right to put their beliefs into practice.  That is how democracy is supposed to work, and that is how I hope new Democratic leadership will make it work when and if they have secured majorities.  Like Richard Nixon and George W. Bush, Trump will probably try to stretch executive power beyond the law, but the courts and Congress successfully restrained those men, and they still provide legal rccourse now.  But much of what Trump wants to do--including, sadly, the deportation of immigrants--is well within our legal traditions, and ardently supported by large parts of our populaton.

And let's be frank: the Democratic side of the fence is particular vulnerable because it has won some of its greatest victories in the last 70 years or so not through the legislative process, but through the courts.  Brown vs. Board of Education, Roe v. Wade, and Oberkfell v. Hodges were three decisions that reshaped important areas of American life without consulting the electorate or the national legislature.  Now I happen to believe that the legal case at least for Brown and Oberkfell was very strong--even if I would have preferred to see Oberkfell decided on equal protection grounds--but at least the first two of those decisions have probably mobilized more voters in opposition to them than on their behalf.  And that is a big reason for the political mess in which we find ourselves today. 
"The only cure for the ills of democracy," a great governor of the early twentieth century frequently said, "is more democracy," and I agree.  In blue America, in academia, and in the major media the principles behind tehse decisions are regarded as sacrosanct and unchallengeable.  But the inhabitants of the red states are citizens too, and they have elected leaders who have never accepted some or all of those decisions.

2.  Partly because of the attitudes I discussed in (1), the breakup of the country, or violence between the federal government and local authorities, has now become a possibility.  Immigration is the flash point here.  It is, of course, disgraceful that Republicans have for so long refused to do anything to legalize the status of millions of immigrants who are actively contributing to our society and who have lived here for at least a generation.  Yet if we believe in the rule of law, and in the supremacy clause of our Constitution, I do not think it is in the power of big-city mayors to shield illegal immigrants from action by the federal government, any more than it was in the power of southern governments to stop integration.  Already President Trump is also threatening to exceed his own powers with respect to this conflict.  He has warned of cutting off all federal aid to "sanctuary cities," even though the Supreme Court in 2012 ruled that the federal government could only punish local authorities for infractions in this way by withholding money specifically related to those infractions.  In my opinion, it's entirely possible that Steve Bannon, in particular, would be glad to unleash an armed conflict against liberal municipal authorities.  Those authorities must ponder their courses of action carefully and try to enlist Congress in solving a very real problem.

3.  Finally, as I indicated last week, another problem of a different character faces us.  Like William II of Germany, Donald Trump may rather quickly turn out to be intellectually and emotionally unfit to be President of the United States.  His decision to push for an investigation of non-existent massive vote fraud suggests that he is counting on the federal government to act out his irresponsible fantasies.  The ABC interview that will screen this evening is not reassuring.   If serious bipartisan opposition to Trump emerges, I think it will be on those grounds.  But if Democrats want civic virtue to prevail over partisanship among Republicans, they had better set a good example.


Brian said...

Or is Bannon behind #3 also? Hard to say, but it could be a cover story to implement draconian voter suppression in 2018 and beyond.

RJ said...

Great post, Dr. Kaiser. I am concerned that even a Trump failure will only exacerbate the partisan tensions and severe distrust in our institutions. If the Democrats, media, and opposition Republicans do not handle this well, we will not self-correct but rather self destruct.

It will take patience and good judgment to allow this experiment to play out. You are spot-on that this is the time to demonstrate the better angels of our nature.

Bozon said...

Great, level headed, discussion of the domestic situation as it seems to stand.
Although domestic unrest is a real possibililty, I worry more about the international scene. He is worrisome to me on that front, based on what he has said about an aggressive foreign policy on trade and on domestic industrial rejuvenation.

It is hardly that I wouldn't like to see industrial rejuvenation here, but that, in my judgment, that is now a utopian objective that can only, if aggressively pursued, embroil us in further really big conflicts, including military ones, on a very wide scale.

I will talk about that on my blog, and not burden this post with them.

All the best

cian said...

> Now like it or not--and I certainly don't--the Republicans have used our Democratic processes to reach the position from which they can actually make these things happen.

I think this is profoundly wrong. The Republicans have used the political and institutional processes to reach this position (sometimes legally, sometimes not), which is a very different thing. Something I find very frustrating about US political discourse is the very easy way people treat politics and democracy as synomynous. Which they're not. You can have politics in a dictatorship, or even a monarchy. There was certainly politics operating in totalitarian societies. And while Putin has reduced the level of democracy in Russia, I don't think anyone who knows would argue he's reduced the amount of politicking.

What's worse, at least for people on the left, is that it seems to result in paralysis of will. Something that should be very obvious by now is that the US political process has become deeply undemocratic. Not just in the obvious ways (political funding, gerrymandering, supression of voters, the electoral college, low turnout) - but also in unobvious ways through the legal barriers to third parties, control of the central banks, the supreme court, the barriers faced by poor voters on polling day, the lack of political choices.

Given this there is no reason to accept, as you seem to be suggesting, the outcome of a deeply undemocratic system. This is a deeply unpopular president presiding over a deeply unpopular congress.

> But if Democrats want civic virtue to prevail over partisanship among Republicans, they had better set a good example.

We've had 8 years of partisanship among Republicans. At this point anyone arguing that Democrats can influence Republican behavior needs to provide extraordinary evidence. This liberal belief that civic virtue can prevail seems as delusional at this point.

ed boyle said...

This is an analysis of how US manufacturing has turned into ' rent extractive profit machines' who don't make anything anymore but manage widespread global production. Skills sets, jobs have disappeared and a disturbance in one small factory in an unstable location could bring global manufacturing to a standstill, a manufacturing Lehman style collapse is inevitable.

That is result of globalism in manufacturing. We saw results in banking sector in 2008.

Most recent news is that californians want secession. 32% favor it. 600,000 signatures seem likely to put it on the ballot.

Here we see two opposing forces, globalization against regionalism. Californians, a coastal state are pro globalist, typical for coastal areas being open to change historically. Small town USA has lost manufacturing base due to export of factories. Service economy only brings jobs, as I have read, in metropolitan areas or large megalopolises like california. Small towns, factory towns, lack dynamic. So coasts, big towns have not suffered yet completely under deindustrialzation of America. They managed it and took on other jobs. However those skill sets are also easily exported if GM, GE and co. become foreign companies with seat in shanghai or Bombay managing their global factory base. America, they could argue, is in decline anyway so the rats should abandon ship while they can. If the stronger US regions can make a go of it as independent states is a good question. Can multinationals be controlled? Are they more powerful than nation states? Supply chains are fragile so they can be held hostage by hostile regimes or terrorists like boko haram.

Further I have read that Dalas pension fund crisis is just the start. Chicago, Illinois, california etc. all face
bankruptcy. Lack of industrial and tax base kills blue and red state tax bases. Lack of taxes means lack of infrastructure and services like schools, roads, policing. USA turns 3rd world decade by decade as rent extractive enterprises control through lobbying political process to pay zero taxes,move abroad.

Financial crisis comes from egoistic sociopathic behaviour and culminates in political crisis at end of 4 generations. Everyone wants a plush desk job, university degree, foreign travel, to pay nothing for goods and services. So there is no loyalty to place, products, family or pride of work or connection to any particular value set. So nobody identifies with anybody else. This phenomenon was exploited since 80s by socopaths to extract rent, manipulate, divide and conquer.. Result is collapse of identity of what is an American postt war. Under trump identity will bereestablished or destroyed.