What should be done about Trump and his personal constituencies?

Comic strip that should be here:

Trump is the most successful president ever
revised 30 Nov 2017

Donald Trump is the most successful president in history, by his own criterion: he dominates conversation all over the world all the time. He's already tweeted to more people than all previous presidents combined. Trump's mentor Roy Cohn would have been proud: any publicity is good publicity. Cohn is a good mentor if one's goal in life is to "die completely broke and owing millions to the IRS" and be remembered in the National Review as an "ice-cold sleaze." But perhaps the American people would prefer to remember a different kind of leader.

Trump may be succeeding at a cultural revolution comparable to the 1960's: but like other brilliant revolutionaries, he doesn't know and doesn't care what the final outcome will be. He's 71, so why would he care? His ratings are very low - and he hates low ratings - so he blames that on the media, even though when he needs to know what's really going on, he has to consult the Washington Post and NY Times just like educated people do.

I thought that the Syrian gas attack provoked a change in attitude in the Trump administration. Perhaps an outraged Trump wondered who in the world would avenge this atrocity, then looked around and saw that the whole world was staring at him - and at that moment realized what it means to be the leader of the free world and the leader of the last superpower. Tribal nationalism is for petty leaders of petty states, but Bashar Assad didn't change all that much; he just went back to using conventional weapons to murder beautiful children.

The other realization that might be sinking in is that all Trump's decisions will be unpopular, often on several fronts at once, because the president only gets to make the unpopular decisions among bad alternatives that nobody else can or wants to make. Indeed his response to Syria could well count as an unconstitutional making of war without Congressional advice and consent - consent that was already withheld from Obama in similar circumstances.

After his early reversals, maybe Trump can learn something after all from Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Stephen Skowronek fits Trump in the mold of Van Buren and Carter rather than Jackson and Reagan - the outsider disrupter who fails but sets the stage for somebody else's future success.

Even Warren Harding, whose two-and-a-half-year administration was mostly a failure, can take credit for something worthwhile: the world's first international disarmament conference and agreements. However, Trump does not do multilateral agreements, and no comparable accomplishment is in sight. So far it seems unlikely that Trump will be remembered more fondly or appreciated better over time. In contrast, Lyndon Johnson seemed to be the personification of evil to young people in the 1960's, but now one can recognize him as the southerner who finally broke the back of southern segregation by championing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Getting Sick of Winning: by disruption or by legislation?
revised 16 Nov 2017

Trump might not be criminal enough to be impeached nor mentally deficient enough for the 25th Amendment. His biggest flaw as president has been unwillingness or inability to expand his base of support, so that it is contracting toward its hard core of those who want him to shoot somebody on Fifth Ave so they can feel empowered to do the same thing, as he has already empowered them to ignore truth, logic, compassion, and politeness.

If Trump's intent were disruption, as Bannonites urged, then Trump could call that success. If Trump's intent were winning, as Trump often said, then Trump might have wanted to pay more attention to McConnell and Ryan about how to work with a narrow and unstable majority in the Senate, that has to do its work via what's called "reconciliation" since they refuse to actually reconcile with bipartisanship and produce bills that can attract 60 votes.

Right after the 2016 election, I donated to the Democratic Redistricting and House committees, but not the Senate, because I figured that was a lost cause in 2018 due to luck of the draw of which seats would be contested. Perhaps the Republican leadership thought that their initial setbacks would be rectifiable after the 2018 election fortified their chances. I have since donated, because...

How Roy Moore changed things! Moore is the best thing for Democratic electoral mobilization since Trump himself. But since the Bannonite goal is to sow disruption and prove that American democracy doesn't work, Moore would have been exactly the man for the job. Moore got 48% of the vote and carried six of Alabama's seven congressional districts; Moore might have won if he had been only slightly less repulsive. Moore is the Bannonites' biggest win, not their biggest mistake. Democrats will make sure that Republicans get sick of hearing about that win.

So where does that leave Trump? He can continue to win at disruption, or he can try to win at legislation. That would involve staying focussed and on message, never speaking ill of anybody who might be able to help, looking for ways in which Democrats could win some too... could he do it? Would he even want to?

Consider this piece about baseball as a parable about political tradition and disruption.

Get over the 2016 election - it's not the end
revised 31 March 2018

The 2016 election is done. What's going to happen next no matter what we do or don't do?

The same party rarely wins the White House for three consecutive terms, even when it retains control of Congress. It's happened twice in my lifetime - Bush Sr in 1988 and Truman in 1948. So the historical odds were against the Democrats winning again in 2016 and against the Republicans winning in 2020. Perhaps that's because casual voters who can't be bothered to deal with midterm elections can still hope that one person can change things somehow. One person can indeed make some difference, but 546 persons can make a much larger difference.

The current economic recovery is about 8 years old and will expire sometime in the next 8 years, no matter who is in the White House; the longest postwar recovery was 10 years. The current recovery has an expiration date on or before June, 2019. As always, the party in power will be blamed, even though nobody has been able to figure out how to defeat the business cycle. I think that's because it's ultimately a phenomenon of mass psychology rather than economics.

The next two years might seem to coast along well enough economically. But a recession is due sooner rather than later.

Politically, the next two years will be defined by the struggle within the Republican party to define what Republicans are FOR. They have been defined by and shown remarkable unity for eight years by being AGAINST whatever Obama was for (because he was black, though they didn't usually say that in public). Replacing ACA was the prototype for many more struggles - Republicans are all against it but they have no agreement even on the principles to consider in devising a replacement, and only a few are willing to risk the political fallout of repealing ACA with no replacement. The flat-earth Republicans in the Freedom Caucus that want repeal without replacement are not concerned with Trump's promises nor with Democrats in the 2018 general election, but with the flatter-earth Republicans they will face in the 2018 primaries. Roy Moore is the poster example; he took down the slightly less-flat Luther Strange.

Perhaps the Republicans will fragment like the Whigs in 1856 - the event that paradoxically gave rise to the original radical reform Republican party, which went conservative within twenty years, came briefly back to progressive life under Theodore Roosevelt, and then went reactionary in 1968, appropriating the Dixiecrats via the Southern Strategy - which can also be thought of as the Agnew suburban strategy.

This existential quandary of the Republicans is going to have to be resolved, no matter who is in the White House. Fareed Zakaria writes that the resolution has occurred: the Republicans are now the now the party of Trump. The party of Lincoln started to fade after Theodore Roosevelt and disappeared in 1968. The party of Reagan disappeared in 2016.

Some commentators complain that the modern Republican party no longer has a consistent conservative philosophy. They might be mistaken, and other commentators have pointed out the remarkable consistency of modern Republican political leaders from Trump on down, almost without exception. It's a simple matter of SAY and DO:

To preserve their Congressional majorities, the Republicans need both the votes and the dollars. Although the hard core of the Trump Republican base doesn't seem to care, recent Democratic victories in special elections to fill safe Republican seats suggest that at least part of the Republican voting base is starting to crack the code.

Now that the Republicans have failed repeatedly with Obamacare replace-and-repeal, one approach for the Democrats is to propose a bill that contains non-controversial improvements to ACA, throws in a few bad but not disastrous nuggets that the Republicans say they want (eliminating some of the taxes, increasing the cost spread between younger and older insureds), and adds statutory language to undo and prevent further sabotage of ACA by the Trump administration. They are already suggesting something like that. The Democrats could ask for Republican cosponsors, probably without success, and see how far they get before the Republicans shoot it down. Unlike the Republicans, the Democrats have nothing to lose by watching the Republicans shoot down a reasonable bill that makes some concessions to them. The Democrats would remind voters of that continuously until 2018. The Democrats could even call the revision Trumpcare and gild it, as a concession to his need to seem to win something.

A Democratic program for 2018
revised 12 Jan 2018

The Democratic program owes a lot to the Republican program of 2008-2016: think global, act local. That's the Tea Party lesson according to professional Democratic strategists. But since the next few years are going to be amateur hour in American politics, here's my amateur take on a Democratic program for the next two years:

Notes on a Democratic program

In Silicon Valley, we are well aware that the job of Sales is to tell the prospect what they want to hear, close the deal, take the money, and run to the next opportunity. Delivering what the customer ordered is the job of Engineering, not Sales. Making what the customer received actually solve the customer's problems is the job of Customer Support, not Sales. Although all presidents wear a Sales hat at times, most of them have at least some experience in creating and maintaining solutions, too. Trump is unique in his lack of experience in the back end of the sales cycle. He'll use that to his advantage when looking for scapegoats to explain why he didn't deliver on the bill of goods he sold his supporters.

Maybe Trump won't be impeachably bad. But recognizing that Trump will likely prove to be no Lincoln, nor even a Ford, but more likely a gilded Edsel, some people are already looking into impeachment. There seem to be many plausible grounds for impeachment. But it also seems plausible that the Republicans will pardon him in advance for any impeachable offenses; Newt Gingrich has already proposed that Trump pardon all his cabinet officers and executive staff in advance.

Congress might have the power to release Trump's tax returns to finally resolve questions of conflicts of interest.

Impeachment is a weighty matter because the president is head of state as well as chief politician, unlike most democracies. Stephen Fry suggest the US needs to separate those offices.

Resignation might be more likely than impeachment; I could imagine Trump announcing that his children had asked him to return to private life in order to manage their businesses. This might be news to his children, but by now they have learned to roll with his punches. Perhaps Trump, bored of being blamed for everything - part of every president's job description - resigns in order to get back to the more gratifying art of the deal. But what happens after Trump? David Brooks argues that Trump's most lasting effect will be to degrade American political life in the same way that Berlusconi has degraded Italian political life:

In office, Berlusconi did nothing to address Italy's core problems, but he did degrade public discourse with his speech, weaken the structures of government with his corruption and offend basic decency with his Bunga Bunga sex parties and his general priapic lewdness.

In short, Berlusconi, like Trump, did nothing to address the sources of public anger, but he did erase any restraints on the way it could be expressed.

Trump's permanent base of supporters love him because of his style, not his substance.
If you see Crooked Hill'ry, please tell her thanks a lot,
The recession that's due is going to give me quite a bad blot,
My cabinet is such losers, they can't even pass a single law,
And my best friend, if I had one, wouldn't even say where it is that I rot.

I started out with lock-her-up but soon switched to harder stuff,
Everybody said that they'd stand behind me when the game got rough,
But the joke was on me, there was noone there to even bluff,
I'm going back to Alabama, where they never seem to get enough.

  -- Just Like Don Trump's Blues

I started out with Muslim bans but soon switched to harder stuff...
I'm going back to New York City, I do believe I've had enough.
Immediately after the election, even the hint of a possible negative Trump tweet terrorized business executives and politicians. But the strikes against Trump started counting on the very next day: Though his tweets strike little fear now, Trump seems determined to stick it out.

If impeachment or resignation comes to pass anyway, Mike Pence would be able to take over if needed, since it seems that he will do most of the detail work of the presidency anyway - like going to intelligence briefings. It appears that unofficial president pro tem Pence is doing the intellectual work of figuring out what can pass Congress and be signed by Trump and not be invalidated by the Supreme Court, and then the personal work with Congress members and Trump to get it to actually happen, and take all the blame if it doesn't. Trump could sit in his tower watching tv and tweeting all the credit as usual, while commenting on popular culture and reliving his amazing landslide victory, running interference by distracting the all-too-easily-distractable media while Pence quietly enacted his reactionary agenda. That wouldn't be all that different, I suppose, from what I came to accept as the best possible outcome of the Hamilton Electors campaign - Pence as president, Trump as vice president. Was that somebody's real secret plan all along?

Stephen Rodrick lays out the case against President Pence while conceding the benefit that Pence is not Trump. Dana Milbank makes the case for Pence. Among the topics of non-discussion about President Pence:

There would be plenty of heated debate between Democrats and a Pence administration, but it might be less partisan and more principled.

Who's really calling the shots - Pence, Kushner, Putin? Their common thread is consistent flattery and loyalty to Trump, who never forgets a slight. They had the insight to recognize immediately that the best way to exploit Trump for their various purposes was to let him imagine that he was exploiting them for his various purposes. We can hope that Trump won't want to be too much like Putin, but that hope might be misplaced.

Although the Koch network epitomizes "one-dollar-one-vote," advocates complete repeal of ACA with no replacement, and likes Scott Pruitt, they really dislike the Trump administration and would prefer Pence in charge.

By the way, although there is a President Pro Tem of the Senate who is supposed to preside when the Vice President has better things to do, which is almost always unless there is a great crisis, I was surprised to learn that the President Pro Tem is almost never running the show. The daily work of the Senate is directed by President Pro Tem Pro Tems, junior members of the majority party that are enjoying a learning experience about how the Senate's unique brand of parliamentary procedure really works.

Trump operates as if each encounter each day were a unique isolated chance to make a brilliant one-on-one zero-sum deal performance, with no thought of ideological or theoretical consistency, historical context, future consequences, or international context; stateless and context-free. The Internet even invented a convention just for him: Unreliable Datagram Protocol. Trump's policies are like mules: sterile, with no pride of ancestry nor hope of progeny.

Even though no black hispanic Jewish gay disabled woman has yet been elected president, identity politics probably had already run its useful course with the election of Obama. Anybody who could have been converted to the Democratic cause by that line of policy has probably already been converted. Although some elements of the Democratic leadership built their careers on identify politics, now it's time to focus on issues of common concern to most of the 20% of the voters in the middle who decide elections, who don't support a party and might vote for either. Those folks don't follow politics on a daily basis and are pretty vague about foreign policy, but they are very aware of the effect of the economy on their daily lives.

The Hamilton Electors idea didn't work. I'm from Silicon Valley, though: failure is a learning opportunity, not a sin.

The Tea Partiers tried to shout down Congressional town halls, and that has been a model for some Resist groups. I think some discretion is required: don't enter a Representative's town hall if you are not a registered voter in that Representative's district; let the voters of that district in first. If there's room, get in and listen. Don't feed the myth that the noise is all due to outside agitators. But outside the town hall venue, make your noise and wave your signs in support of the local resistance.

Street demonstrations and direct action are tricky. There are plenty of agents provocateurs ready to incite violence to make sure the news coverage of the demonstration fits Trump's and the alt-right's narratives, which unsurprisingly aren't all that different from some anarchists' preferred narratives. They seemed to be in evidence on the fringes of Trump's inauguration, then apparently absent from the Women's Marches the next day, but back in force at Berkeley. I'd like to know who the organized masked armed rioters were, what their motivation, and whence their funding. They claim to be anarchists and anti-fascists, and organized anarchism (is that oxymoronic?) has been a recurring thread in American history, and also a recurring excuse for repression. But a recent study suggests that extreme protest tactics are counter-productive for building a mass movement.

Civil unrest will not be a problem for the Trump presidency. It will be a resource. -- David Frum

Trump and the Republicans are doing so many different things on parallel tracks, the news media and activists can't follow it all. This is by design. -- Newt Gingrich

The fake news ramifications of the "Swedish Immigrant Crisis" continue to multiply.

Tweets: participant self-restraint is an essential characteristic of a lasting democracy, whether direct or representative. Just because the man at the top can't restrain himself doesn't mean that everybody else should imitate him. If they do, he wins. They way they win is by focusing on his wrong acts, rather than letting themselves be distracted by his wrong speech.

A nuclear war renders all of this irrelevant. So let's not even pretend that this could be a plausible outcome. It might happen soon enough on its own, thanks to the inexorable march of technology, a great democratizer of opportunity to do good or ill.

Perhaps that's the reason we can't detect any other civilizations orbiting the billions of stars in the sky: if the same laws of evolution apply everywhere, then the competitive characteristics that allow one species to become dominant enough to discover the force-multiplier benefits of technology are the undoing of that species; the window between industrialization and self-extermination is too short to detect.

#MeToo - the political issue of the century?
revised 13 April 2018

It's difficult to exaggerate the potential significance of the #MeToo movement in politics, business, and society at large.

It's hard to think of any particular issue that resonates with every man that ever lived in every place and every time. Yet sexual harassment and abuse is something experienced by every woman that has ever lived. A nuisance for all and a horror for many, none of them need it explained.

So how should this powerfully raised consciousness be applied politically? Women's issues don't always translate into good law - suffragettes were powerful advocates of Prohibition as well as suffrage - the 18th amendment and 19th amendment were ratified a year apart.

I think the biggest mistake for progressives would be to think and speak of #MeToo as a leftist progressive issue. Remember that all women have endured minor or major sexual harassment, but all women do not have the exact same opinions on most other controversial political matters: abortion, immigration, guns, taxation... to name a few.

Trump holds one of his campaign rallies and hears the chants and thinks "The People are with me all the way!" when what is really true is that his shrunken hard core of supporters, who have no where else to go, are still with him. Fox News and the Republican party in general are painting themselves into the same corner where their best friends will be Infowars and David Duke and their billionaire donors.

Progressives should not make the same mistake as Trump and Trump supporters; preaching to the choir can deceive at progressive rallies too. The progressive cause is ill served by suggesting that all #MeToo voters should subscribe to a full progressive agenda, and ill served by insisting that Democrats should nominate full progressive candidates in every district whether or not they have any credible chance of winning in the general election. Progressives should be painting themselves out of corners and into the largest possible arena. Over time they might be able to make the point to conservative women that, for instance, the unequal power of money in politics is not so different from the unequal power of money in gender relations, and so help conservative women to think more progressively about some issues.

The recent special elections have been instructive. In most cases the margin of difference, that enabled Democratic candidates to succeed in Republican districts, was provided by educated suburban middle-class women who had voted for Trump in 2016 but then for a Democrat in 2017 or 2018. These were not Bernie Sanders supporters who, in 2016, had stayed home or voted Green out of spite.

Trumpist Republican candidates - and that's most Republican candidates - who uncritically support Trump are uncritically endorsing his antediluvian attitudes toward women, and saying that those attitudes and actions are acceptable in Republican candidates. That's the point that has to be hammered home whenever the issue arises. Even if the only outcome is to eventually purge the Republican party of the equivocators and apologists for sexual abuse, that's still a step forward for all women and thus for progressives, too. Then everybody can move on to the other great issues of our time.

That's a high-level effect of Trumpism. Now it's needs to work down to individual voters in individual precincts.

The low-level effect of Trumpism is different, too. The mechanisms of grass-roots women's new-found political activism, particularly among educated suburban middle-class women, reflects not just different ends, it's different means, that started shortly after the 2016 election, even before #NeToo took off, and the existing Democratic Party structure is not always tuned in to the different means, nor to the ideological diversity of the women involved.

At the lowest - individual - level, Petrzela and Whelan report an interesting study of the interplay between self-help and social movements. They trace the "self-help" thread in American culture - "it's your fault but you can fix yourself" - had value as far as it went, but failed to recognize that sometimes it's society as a whole that's broken, not just the individuals in it. No amount of self-help for women will change the power structures that encourage sexual abuse. But social change sometimes has to start with personal change.

Start working toward the 2018 election: initiative resolutions of no confidence

Why not circulate, qualify, and vote on initiative ballot measures expressing no confidence in the Trump administration and those Federal legislators that support it? approve-or-expel.net summarizes one approach: regular re-affirmations or un-affirmations of elected Federal officials. no-confidence-vote.net summarizes another approach: initiative resolutions of no confidence.

Such motions might not have an immediate concrete effect but serve as a reminder that Trump's triumph was not the greatest electoral landslide in history and may serve as an example to the rest of the country of how to actively contest his reality distortion zone. One pointed successful initiative is worth more than a million aimless tweets. To keep it simple, such an initiative should list three grounds of profound dissatisfaction appealing to the 20% of voters in the middle who decide elections. No preaching to the choir on the left or the right, but bread and butter economic issues affecting the middle classes of all identities, that voters with limited interest in politics can relate to, such as:

These are not Trump's most egregious shortcomings, and one could imagine a bill of particulars listing three ideological items for the Democratic base, three ideological items for the Republican base, and three bread-and-butter issues for the middle. But better not to distract the malleable middle from the essential economics by mentioning ideology that the middle might not endorse and sound government practices that the middle might not be interested in.

On his very first action of his very first day, Trump provided his very first proof of his real agenda. Now we know who the forgotten people are that he mentioned in his (actually Bannon's) inaugural address - they were the people he forgot as soon as he finished talking and started signing.

Jerry Brown has set the tone. It would be good if the state legislature passed a resolution of no confidence in the Trump administration soon, and then called for an initiative to let the people ratify it.

My first foray into writing to the editor was on this topic:

Date: Tue Nov 22 13:08:45 2016
To: letters@mercurynews.com
Subject: Letter to Editor:   How to keep voters engaged until 2018

How can California voters actively respond to a Donald Trump 
administration featuring Stephen Bannon and Jeff Sessions?  What might
keep voters engaged until the 2018 elections?  Encouraging Electors to
vote their conscience, and talking up secession, maintain engagement
even if they do not have much direct effect.

Why not take the next step with California's initiative process?
Circulate measures declaring the lack of confidence of the people of
California in the leadership of Donald Trump and in the Federal
legislators that support him.  Such votes of no confidence will not be
futile if they keep California voters engaged.  California's example
might lead voters in other states to likewise encourage their
politicians to do the right thing.  Just gathering enough signatures to
put such initiatives on the next state ballot will focus everybody's

What can be done about the first Trump constituency?

The causes of this [populist] movement are the scale, scope and speed of change.
 -- Tony Blair

The denizens of Trump country have borne too much of the disruption and too 
little of the benefit from innovation. 
But the redistribution-loving multicultural urban majority canít be 
blamed for the inadequacy of the safety net when the party of rural whites 
has fought for decades to roll it back...
Trump took 2,584 counties that together account for 36 percent of the 
nationís gross domestic product. Clinton won just 472 counties ó 
less than 20 percent of Trumpís take ó but those counties account for 
64 percent of GDP.

The welfare state shouldn't be the enemy.

 -- Will Wilkinson

Alienation can sometimes make for a powerful organizing principle for an 
electoral coalition. 
But it does not make for a natural organizing principle for a 
governing coalition.

 -- Yuval Levin

The Trump constituencies weren't quite as massive as he feels at his rallies - amounting to less than 80,000 votes in the right places, and an electoral college margin in the bottom quartile.

David Brooks refers to various taxonomies of American mythology described by George Packer and Michael Lind. Emily Ekins describes five types of Trump voters. But I am impressed by two main Trump constituencies that overlap somewhat in membership but are intellectually distinct.

The First Trump Constituency is those who feel left out of the economic recovery - particularly because of automation and free trade - such as the middle-aged high-school graduate men that used to make a good living in manufacturing or mining. They don't see any recovery in their lives. Many are willing to believe that elitism, immigration, and racism against whites are the cause of their problems. They are correct in inferring that the system is set up to increasingly concentrate wealth at the top and leave it there but the Democrats have failed to explain what they propose to do about it. Perhaps the most stunning difference between the Trump constituencies and the Democratic ones is cigarette smoking. When I asked myself years ago why cigarette smoking was so common in the third world, I concluded that it was because the incremental risk from smoking was inconsequential compared to the overall risk of being poor in the third world. Maybe that's how the Trump constituencies view life. Compared to opioids, tobacco isn't much to worry about.

Lots of rural Trump country is farm country. He won far more counties than Clinton, because most counties are sparsely-populated rural. But the trade war policies that Trump imagines will somehow revive rust-belt manufacturing are a disaster for farmers, for which free trade is essential.

But the economic recovery is going great elsewhere, as anybody who tries to commute to work in Silicon Valley is well aware. There are lots of jobs going begging out here - in two tiers:

What can be done for those left-behind workers who don't want or can't get either of those jobs? They voted for Obama because he promised change. They voted for Trump because he promised change. They hope to get their old standard of living, working at their old jobs, living in their old homes. But even Trump has not promised them that. He SAYS he will bring jobs back to America, but he doesn't say which jobs or where they will be or what the qualifications and compensation will be.

Perhaps SAYING one thing and DOING the opposite will undo the Trump Republican party as it has undone Paul Ryan.

In the experience of the first Trump constituency, no politician ever delivers on his explicit or implicit promises, but they hope Trump is different. But nothing can be done to undo automation.

To curb illegal immigration of adults seeking work, more cost-effectively than building a wall on the northern border of Mexico, invest in automation to eliminate minimum-wage unskilled labor. (However that won't address illegal immigration of children fleeing murderous economics and politics; if a wall is to be built, it should be on the southern border of Mexico.)

A $64,001 Question: What does society owe somebody who has learned a skill and is good at it and has made a decent living from it... but due to technology or climate change or foreign competition or other factors beyond workers' control, that skill is obsolete.

A $64,002 Question: What does society owe somebody who has spent a lifetime building a community or a business appropriate to that community, when that community suddenly changes due to external economic forces over which that community had no control? Silicon Valley wealth-driven gentrification has disrupted numerous communities in California: Mountain View, SF SOMA, Sonoma, Venice, destroying what was good in favor of something deemed better.

The foregoing examples are the free market at work. Society as a whole has probably benefited from the changes, by small amounts individually though large in the aggregate... but the former workers and businesses involved have suffered by large amounts individually, though small in the aggregate. The suffering is killing people.

Guaranteed minimum income is beginning to be touted by some Silicon Valley leaders. I wonder if Bernie Sanders and Gary Johnson could agree on a common set of principles for making the benefits of the economic recovery more widely felt, particularly among those left-behind workers who voted for Obama and then Trump. Apprenticeships are a good approach for new high school graduates, but I suspect that older workers supporting Trump are mostly uninterested in relocating or in higher education for a completely new career in which they would be competing with younger workers, so those unknown principles should probably be broader than that. Indeed, manufacturing jobs are going begging in some parts of the midwest. One analysis of the difference between the Trump supporters and the economic elite has to do with geography: Trump supporters are less likely to be willing to move where the jobs are; the economic elite is much more mobile and global.

Charles Peters argues that the Democrats need to find a way to reconnect with those people left behind. According to a recent poll, the ideology of the left-behind worker Trump supporters resembles neither traditional Republican nor Libertarian ideology, but is highly nationalist and socialist: they are against welfare and Obamacare, but they seem to believe that its ideological progenitors, Social Security and Medicare, should be expanded; they're not so much against massive Federal overreach as in favor of massive Federal infrastructure public works spending. So the philosophical principles to apply are not obvious - but maybe if the ideologues could come to some agreement, perhaps Congress could try to translate those principles into bipartisan legislation.

Geoffrey Kabaservice outlines a Republican New Deal that would actually address the issues of the left-behinds:

That much sounds pretty Democratic to me! In fact the Center for American Progress produced much the same list for the Democratic party; here are the details.

It seems that these are areas that could engender bipartisan support if the will were there. But the lack of will might be a necessary feature of a duopoly competition.

Kabaservice expects that the Republicans would continue some of their traditional practices in other areas, and would retain their megadonors by continuing to dismantle Federal regulation, and would retain their single-issue voters by nominating conservative Federal judges. So you could still tell the difference between the parties.

Kabaservice cites academic studies to support his thesis:

Could any of this actually happen despite the institutional duopoly resistance to compromise? It would have to happen without Trump's involvement, since he is most dogmatic about his worst ideas and most inept at getting his other ideas through Congress. And a large number of Republican legislators running in 2018 seem to define their ideology by whatever Trump is for, which means they are fully occupied trying to keep up with him instead of solving real problems for their base.


Not many restaurants can increase wages on their own and survive a brutal competitive environment. But if the minimum wage were increased, the playing field would still be level. That's the positive social upside of minimum wage laws. Although right now Silicon Valley restaurants are struggling with high rents and not enough workers, that can't be expected to be true much longer. The downside of minimum wages shows up in the next recession as businesses decide how many employees to cut.

But whether they get the minimum wage or not, low-end workers need to be aware that the future that the technologists mentioned above are inventing is a future with much less need for low-end workers. Robots powered by artificial intelligence can do many boring or dangerous low-skill tasks and some surprisingly complex ones; for instance, they're already getting close to being able to drive cars in heavy rush-hour traffic on dilapidated roads. Increasing the minimum wage makes those robots economical sooner. That's the other social downside of minimum wages.

So even if all environmental restraints on burning coal for electricity were removed - something that even China now realizes is literally suicide - and oil and gas and imported coal were taxed until domestic coal were economically competitive, that would just make it worthwhile for coal companies to invest in automation. Many existing coal companies are bankrupt and not coming back.

If we can take ISIS leaders out of Iraq with drones controlled in the Pentagon, we can take coal out of Kentucky with robots controlled wherever labor is cheapest. And not much labor at that. Automating out of existence dangerous back-breaking work is a good thing. One possible solution is to teach coal miners to code. Not all candidates might be able to make such a transition - maybe only those with IQ 130 and up. Maybe some folks can be trained or retrained for "new collar jobs."

But the coal country culture that its survivors so keenly miss is gone forever - just like the Native American culture that their forefathers displaced without much concern - and just like the business of RISC/Unix workstations where I spent my career. I have to keep reminding myself: don't be Norma Desmond.

Anyway, the loss of jobs in mining is dwarfed by the loss of jobs in brick-and-mortar retailing and in print journalism. Why don't all jobs matter? Because not all jobs benefit big Republican donors - the world doesn't need any more expensive American uranium or dirty coal, but Trump shrank Utah national monuments anyway and proved that the forgotten people, the poor people who have to live with the radioactive leftovers, will remain forgotten.

Neil Irwin explains the trend toward economic concentration that creates a few winners and many losers.

Jonathan Haskel and Stian Westlake explain the disruptions of an economy based on intangibles.

What can be done about the second Trump constituency?

I don't tell the truth, I tell what ought to be the truth.
 -- Blanche Dubois

The president has unearthed some demons.  
I've talked to a number of people about it back home. They say,  
"Well, look, if the president can say whatever, why can't I say whatever?"
He's given them license.
 -- Mark Sanford, Freedom Caucus

A presidency founded on systematic character faults like lying, spreading unsubstantiated rumors, or exposing private citizens to death threats, and endorsed by the KGB and the KKK. Is that what Americans really want?

The Americans that do want those things comprise the Second Trump Constituency, the true basket of deplorables: those who love Trump because he legitimizes conflating feelings with facts, ignoring factual correction, inconsistency, ignorance, prejudice, manipulation, lying, and bullying. To them, that's a breath of fresh air, rather than the epitome of what's wrong with political discourse today. They love Trump because "he says what he thinks," or at least what he feels, like they'd always wanted to do. Perhaps they felt stifled by "political correctness," by which they seem to encompass truthfulness, consistency, politeness, and empathy as well. Now at last, they can say whatever they feel, because their feelings are as valid as yours, if not more valid because you are not a real American like they are. When Trump was reported making derogatory racist statements about Haiti and Africa, his first reaction was to check with his base to see how they reacted. Later he decided he didn't say those things at all.

"Trump has not only given permission to those on the fringes; he has also changed the Republican mean to be more mean." Thus eventually the fringe becomes the mean.

In the experience of the Second Trump Constituency, no politician ever delivers on his promises, but they won't hold that against Trump (that's where they differ from the first Trump constituency). Trump is the enemy of their enemy and that's more important than what legislation does or doesn't get passed. As Charles Sykes observes, the conservative media have abandoned traditional conservative principles in favor of consistently opposing liberals.

No point Democrats trying to woo them - they would never have voted for a mainstream Republican or for any Democrat since George Wallace. They won't abandon Trump unless somebody more-Trumpian comes along. They did not vote for Obama (unlike the first Trump constituency) and so they did not provide the critical margin of Trump victory in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. But they will still come to Trump victory rallies even after everybody else has lost interest. Trump will continue to hold those rallies whenever he needs propping up. Nov 8 was his once-in-a-lifetime chance to be right about something and prove the experts wrong. He can't look forward to any more of those, so he has to look backward.

This constituency has been liberated at last by Breitbart, Mike Cernovich, David Duke, Newt Gingrich, Sean Hannity, Alex Jones, Steve King, Kris Kobach, Andrew Napolitano, Bill O'Reilly, Carl Paladino, Gregg Phillips, Jack Posobiec, Anthony Scaramucci, Milo Yiannopoulos - all of whom Trump counts as supporters. Roy Cohn would be on the list if he could. William F Buckley, Jr, would not. Even if Trump won't always publicly endorse everything they say, neither has he seen fit to tweet any objections to anything any of them have ever said. Trump hardly told half of it when he said that he wouldn't lose any of these voters if he shot somebody on Fifth Avenue - this constituency WANTS him to shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue - and thereby give them permission to do the same.

Trump's example lowers the bar for political discourse - lower than it's been in my lifetime. Does pizzagate have to be the new normal? No - the new normal is much worse, e.g. Qanon:

Surely one of Trump's greatest sins and crimes has been to legitimize this kind of fabulism. Nick Rogers explains it with the pro wrestling term "kayfabe": "it isn't about factual verifiability; it's about emotional fidelity."

Perhaps Trump's storm troopers will eventually tire of working for no tangible reward. Perhaps they will enjoy it too much to ever back off, even when he asks: trump-tries-to-calm-his-vicious-violent-screaming-supporters. Maybe Trump figures their work is done so they should settle down: the-cowardly-gop.

Like the first group, these workers are nationalist and socialist, so maybe they would just as soon rename the Republican Party to the National Socialist Workers Party. Since that's a mouthful, perhaps they can think of a catchier shorter name. That seems to be the end game of populism.

What can be done about the third Trump constituency?
revised 2 Jan 2018

Who decides who is elected to Congress in 2018?

In the aftermath of the special elections in Virginia and Alabama, people have begun to realize that it's mostly a waste of time to worry about unemployed rural white male high school grads - the ones that still support Trump always will, because they like his style, not because he's going to do anything to objectively improve their lot. Scandal doesn't weaken a populist - it strengthens him.

Instead, many voters that can be turned are suburban middle class educated women. Some of those that supported Trump because they agreed with him on some ideological issues have changed their minds, primarily because they can't stand his droit-du-seigneur style and alliance with Roy Moore and his ilk. Every woman has had unpleasant experiences with men like these and for many, far worse than unpleasant.

In a roundabout way, Democrats can thank Harvey Weinstein for being the straw that broke the camel's back/last brick in the load. We may never know why Weinstein was the predator that broke the dam - as opposed to the predator before or the predator after. But the dam has broken and any male candidate that equivocates on these issues is going to be in trouble in a swing district.

Jennifer Rubin wrote this the day after the Alabama election.

Martin and Burns followed a few days later.

National Insecurity

A leader is best when people barely know he exists; 
when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: 
"We did it ourselves."
 -- Lao Tzu
Since my qualifications in psychology equal my qualifications in other social sciences, I'll take a guess at the common underlying theme of many Trump actions and distractions: like other snake oil salesmen, he's afraid of being found out, but at many levels:

This list would have been shorter if he had published his tax returns, really divested his business interests, the RNC had not threatened electors, the RNC had not intervened against the Green recount efforts in the swing states... but none of those things happened. Trump's Art of the Deal ghostwriter is not surprised.

Perhaps even worse, although Trump doesn't use alcohol or opioids, he has a worse chemical dependency: on the adrenaline rush he gets by celebrating and exaggerating his unexpected election with his most devoted base, who will come to a Luther Strange rally to cheer Trump even though they will vote for Moore. The 2016 election will never be over for Trump, because he will never again have so great and unexpected a success.

So the recent recollections of Nixon are right on target: like Nixon, Trump has no fixed principles; the world is divided into his friends and his foes, and if you are not consistently his friend, you are his foe. Principles and theories are only convenient cudgels to protect your friends or punish your foes.

But in one way Trump seems to be even worse than Nixon. Being the most powerful man in the world requires being the most self-restrained man in the world, in order to use that power effectively. "All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not." Trump seems to consider self-restraint to be a defect rather than a virtue - perhaps another Cohn teaching. But being the leader is often unpleasant - "From the supreme leader, the supreme sacrifice!" - Calchis to Agamemnon in John Eaton's Cry of Clytemnestra.

Pence has hardly any of the defects listed above, so already Pence looks wonderful compared to Trump, and the corollary will eventually become clear: Trump looks awful compared to Pence. Pence seems to have figured out that a studied public and perhaps private obsequiousness toward Trump is the best way to move Pence's conservative-reactionary program forward. One wonders if Trump already understands and accepts that, or will react negatively if he figures it out and perceives competition.

The style gave away which part of Trump's inaugural address was written by Bannon - the confrontational no-prisoners America-first part. I don't know how much of it Pence personally agrees with, but he certainly would have addressed Congress more diplomatically, since if there's a problem there he was certainly part of it. I wonder if the Trump administration is going to boil down to an ongoing confrontation between disrupters and legislators. Trump likes factionalism in his staff - it prevents independent power centers arising.

To him ten thousands, and to me but thousands!
What can they give him more, except the kingdom?

 -- Hšndel, Saul

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