More Connecting the Dots

THE BAD, THE UGLY, AND THE UNSURPRISING

The Assembling of the Trump Team

by Louis Barbash

If you’re a Democrat, a liberal or a progressive, there is no good news in the unfolding identities of the Administration that Donald Trump is selecting: just bad, ugly—and unsurprising. Not because his appointees are crazies and fanatics from outside the Republican mainstream, but because they’re part of it.

We can be thankful that Trump’s vaunted loyalty to those who backed him in the campaign turned out to be, like so much else about him, a shuck. So the loyalest of the loyal, Rudolph Giuliani, Chris Christie and Newt Gingrich were left twisting slowly, slowly in the wind, without even the face-saving dignity of claiming that they had removed themselves from consideration to spend more time with their families.. Meanwhile Nikki Haley, a staunch Trump opponent, got the United Nations, and Mitt Romney, who seemed to be on the verge of a third-party run, was in the running for Secretary of State till the end. Apparently Trump’s loyalty is a one-way street.

But it is important to look closely at just who Trump has selected to run the government. For while it is tempting and oddly reassuring for liberals to see the cabinet-designates as men and women in Trump’s own image—political renegades and pirates—he has in fact selected a cabinet that, for the most part, would have been unsurprising picks in any Republican administration.

That’s bad news. Remember, it was Republican administrations that savaged New Deal/Great Society economic and social protections, cut taxes on the wealthy, submerged us in debt, and blundered into ruinous and devastating wars that we cannot win and from which we cannot yet completely extricate ourselves.

Most of the Cabinet is straight from Republican Central Casting. Corporate executives like Exxon chief Rex Tillerson? Eisenhower—he who warned us about the military-executive complex—turned for his defense secretary to the head of General Motors, Charles Wilson, who declared that what was good for General Motors was good for the United States. Generals like Trump’s choice for Defense James Mattis? Remember Colin Powell and Alexander Haig? Cabinet secretaries who didn’t believe in the missions of the departments they headed? Reagan Interior Secretary James Watt; EPA administrator Anne Gorsuch. Token officials of color, like Ben Carson, with little qualification to run their, or any, agencies? Reagan HUD secretary Samuel Pierce—the one whom the president, encountering him at a reception, took for a mayor.

Nor do Trump’s nominees venture far from Republican policy orthodoxy. Unwavering enmity to Obamacare? Check. Pledged to roll back Obama-era regulations? Check. Commitment to cut taxes for the rich but keep the minimum wage right where it is? Check and check.

The only real wild cards in Trump’s deck are the people Trump has picked to work with him at the White House. There’s chief strategist Steve Bannon, whom conservative columnist Kathleen Parker has described as a “racist, xenophobic misogynist [and] anti-Semitic nationalist.” And Michael Flynn, the cashiered head of the Defense Intelligence Agency who rose from the ashes to become a conspiracy theorist and a paid personality for Russia Today, the Kremlin-supported network, and scourge of Islam.

What does it mean that Trump has hewed to orthodoxy with his cabinet appointments but left the reservation with his White House appointment? One obvious meaning: cabinet secretaries must be confirmed by the Senate; Bannon and Flynn might not have been able to clear that hurdle. Beyond that, who knows? Are Bannon and Flynn there to back Trump in intramural battles against more conventional-minded cabinet secretaries? Are they the tribute he must pay to the alt-right as the price for continuing extremist support and political energy? Or are they there to stoke the Twitter machine and fan the flames while the government is placed under adult supervision?

Whatever role Flynn, Bannon et. al. will play, the cabinet secretaries and agency heads are not crazies, not outliers, who have ridden Trump’s coattails to take over the government their party will now control. They’re just Republicans.

THE 2016 GENERAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN IS READY TO KICK OFF

TIME TO START THINKING ABOUT 2018-2024

by Louis Barbash

With the presidential primaries over but the nominating conventions not yet upon us, news coverage and speculation now shift to whom the nominees will pick as their vice-presidential running mates. The Washington Post has already put out medium-list pools of possibilities from whom the candidates might choose, and a short list of the most likely choices—Newt Gingrich, Mary Fallin, Chris Christie, Bob Corker and Joni Ernst for the Republicans; and Julian Castro, Sherrod Brown, Tim Kaine, Tom Perez and Amy Klobuchar for the Democrats, if you’re curious*—all subject to the ancient caveat that those who are talking don’t know and those who know aren’t talking.

What gets people onto the lists? First and foremost, one hopes, the belief that they could, if needed, step in and run the country. Right behind that, a willingness to have his own policy and personal predilections subsumed in his boss’s. And the desire to balance the ticket: ideologically, geographically, stylistically, temperamentally and experientially. (Or not: Bill Clinton picked Al Gore, like Clinton a Third-Way southerner; if Trump picked Christie, he’d be doubling down on his own blunt-spoken, tough-guy persona.)

Hillary Clinton and the Democrats have one more criterion that should guide them in nominating a vice presidential candidate and, for that matter, in selecting people for prominent positions: fresh blood.

I can’t be the only person who watched the two parties’ presidential debates and was struck by the contrast: In the Republican debates, in addition to Trump, an array of mostly forty- and fifty-something A- and B+-listers, sitting governors and senators, the scion of a famous political family and former crucial swing-state governor, candidates who had some success in ’08 and ’12, back for another crack at what they hope is a weaker Democrat; and, yes, a couple of has-beens and never-wases. Sixteen candidates who thought their party’s nomination was so worth having that they were willing to put their lives on hold for more than a year, panhandle millions of dollars from friends and supporters, and subject themselves to the often-unfair criticism and obloquy that is part of a presidential primary campaign.

The number of Democratic candidates who thought their party’s nomination was so worth having that they were willing to put their lives on hold for more than a year, panhandle millions of dollars from friends and supporters, and subject themselves to the often-unfair criticism and obloquy that is part of a presidential primary campaign? Two. One almost 69 years old and four years past her last job, the other almost six years older than that. And waiting in the wings, the 73-year-old vice president, and a 74-year-old potential third-party candidate.

Now don’t get me wrong: on their worst day, any one of the four Democrats would make a far superior president than any of the Republicans, now or ten years from now. And all of them seem strong and vigorous.

But for pity’s sake: the Republicans looked like the GOP all-stars. The Democrats looked like Old-Timer’s Day.

It isn’t just about appearances. People born during FDR’s third term, people who came of political age in the era of the Great Society and Viet Nam (a cohort that includes me, by the way), look at politics, policy and life through a different prism than those whose earliest political memories are of Reagan. The world increasingly belongs to people who don’t regard using an iPhone during dinner as a Class A misdemeanor, who reach out to Uber before they reach for the car-keys, and who don’t remember when employers provided defined-benefit pensions and health insurance. If Democrats want to win elections and govern cities, states and the country, they need to field candidates who know the challenges of this century because they’ve faced them personally, not because they’ve read about them in newspapers and magazines and heard about them on the TV news.

That means starting now to groom the candidates of the future, the way baseball teams develop players. That means picking a 2016 vice presidential candidate who can help win the election, run the country if called upon—and be young enough to run for president himself or herself in eight or four years. It means, after the new Democratic administration takes office, appointing cabinet members and recruiting House and Senate candidates ambitious enough to look in the mirror and see a future president and young enough to have no personal recollection of rotary-dial telephones or Gary Hart and Donna Rice.

In other words, it means envisioning the next round of Democratic primary debates, whether in 2020 or 2024, and seeing not just two or three contenders who can be literally described as party elders, but at least a basketball-team’s-worth of candidates, some or all of whose most recent occupations don’t include the word “former” and are not yet old enough to qualify for Social Security.

And then, making it so.

CLINTON VS. TRUMP

THE ANGER GAP

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders
Photo: Marc Nozell

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton
Photo: Keith Kissel

Donald Trump

Donald Trump
Photo: Gage Skidmore

As the Democratic convention draws nearer, Hillary Clinton will say what she needs to say to make Bernie Sanders and his supporters feel that they can support her—the specter of President Trump having already convinced them that they must support her—without betraying the commitment that drew them to Sanders in the first place.

By saying that she will say what she needs to say, I don’t mean to imply that she will say anything she doesn’t believe. I think that there is little real policy daylight between the two Democrats. But Sanders and his posse will want to hear Clinton paint herself into a corner from which the prospect of support, financial and otherwise, from Wall Street and big business cannot extricate her.

Then she can turn her attention to bridging the gap that separated her from Sanders and separates her from Trump: not the gap between policy proposals, but the anger gap.

It’s the anger gap that has kept Sanders afloat as long as he has been. On paper, it should be an easy choice for Democrats. Given the similarity of their policy positions, the superiority of Clinton’s background, both legislatively—as a senator, Clinton mastered the legislative process, while Sanders, in both the House and Senate, planted flags—and as an executive: Secretary of State vs. mayor of Burlington, Vermont.

But Clinton has never matched Sanders in righteous indignation. I say “righteous” advisedly: The policy choices that dug the steep-walled ditch we call the Great Recession—the leaving of moneyed financial interests to their own devices, the failure to put malefactors of great wealth at the only risk that matters to them, the risk of imprisonment, and the consequent economic and social misery—were more than misjudgments. They were heedless blunders. They deserved—still deserve—anger.

Clinton is notoriously hard to read. She may very well recognize the ravaging for profit of the economy’s most vulnerable Americans for the outrage that it was. But if she does she doesn’t show it.* And her failure or inability to display anger leaves people free to assume that she views her fellow Americans’ immiseration with an equanimity that might blind her to dangerous policies in the future.

As misfortune would have it, Clinton will face in Trump a candidate who is defined by the anger he manifests and inspires. His misogyny is naked and undisguised. Both the nativism of his great-wall immigration policy and the xenophobia of his imprecations against free-riding foreign countries are betrayed by their very impossibility of execution. These are not proposals meant to be executed but to stimulate grievance. And it has worked. As came close to happening in Clinton vs. Sanders, as happened in the Republican primaries, emotion trumped policy.

Tant pis, as the French say. So much the worse. Because too much emotion, especially too much anger, is an unreliable and often dangerous factor in making almost any choice and in making political choices in particular. Sanders’ righteous anger obscures the fact that such concrete proposals as he has made are like early-winter lake-ice: liable to crack when any weight is placed on them. And Trump’s pseudo-proposals are likely to generate a lethal combination of despair and rage when their inevitable failure is blamed not on their impracticability but on stabs in the back by the groups they were meant to bring to heel.

Which makes it incumbent on Clinton to do two things. First, abstain from trying to woo Trump voters by simulating anger. She is awkward enough manifesting emotions she actually feels, much less those that are foreign to her nature. But second, lead voters who are legitimately angry–at what Trump is and what he represents, and at the policies that a Republican Congress and president will visit on the country—not to waste their indignation on Sanders-style flailing and railing but to harness it holding Democratic nominee and President Hillary Clinton’s feet to the progressive fire.

STRIKE THREE

THE END OF THE SANDERS CAMPAIGN

Bernie Sanders Ralley at the Verizon Theater in Grand Prairie (between Dallas and Fort Worth) on Saturday, February 27, 2016

Bernie Sanders Rally at the Verizon Theater in Grand Prairie (between Dallas and Fort Worth) on Saturday, February 27, 2016. Photo: Steve Rainwater

This is the way an insurgent campaign ends.

John Cassidy captured the mood after the New York primary:

[U]pset, angry, and disillusioned. Some are blaming voter fraud, others are blaming the media, and others are simply aghast. On Facebook, one Bernie enthusiast asked, how can so many people have voted for Hillary? I didn’t meet anybody who was voting for her.

Upset, angry, disillusioned, aghast. It reads like the first four of the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining and depression. Everything except acceptance.

It’s a familiar pattern to anyone who’s followed these political prairie-fire campaigns. The starry-eyed young supporters getting their first taste of campaign-induced euphoria, the improbable and unexpected early successes, the phantasm of victory almost within their grasp—a product mostly of isolation within the bubble of believers—the creeping realization that it’s not going to happen. And the conviction that, in the immortal words of the ‘thirties-era boxing manager Joe Jacobs, “We wuz robbed.”

It’s often a delusion of those who are young and/or new to politics, who believe with Galahad that their strength is as the strength of ten, because their hearts are pure. Their noble purpose is their sword and buckler. They can’t lose—not legitimately.

In campaigns, though, your strength is only the strength of the number of people who vote for you under the rules. Rules that can be arbitrary—Why is it three strikes and you’re out? Why not four strikes, or two?—but more often aren’t. Like, in fact, the super-delegate rule, which was instituted in 1982 precisely to keep the Democratic Party from nominating prairie-fire candidates who burn through the primaries but turn out to be, to borrow from Cole Porter, too hot not to cool down—candidates like George McGovern, Jimmy Carter*, and Bernie Sanders.

So it was throughout the primaries, and so it will be at the Democratic Convention. Hillary’s victory was not because of party rules, or her dynastic status or her campaign war-chest. As The New Yorker’s Cassidy put it, “the main reason that Clinton won is that she racked up big majorities among some key constituencies of today’s Democratic Party—women, blacks, Hispanics, and affluent, highly educated whites. Sanders carried the under-thirty demographic and white men—and that was about it.”

In other words, she got more votes.

BRIDGE OF SPIES

SINGING THE U-2 BLUES

Steven Spielberg’s “Bridge of Spies,” nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor, cuts a slice from the U-2 incident of 1960–in which an American spy plane was shot down over the Soviet Union, its pilot was captured alive and later exchanged for a Soviet spy—and builds it to feature length. The movie has almost finished its theatrical release and can be streamed on Amazon.

Soviet leader Khrushchev and wreckage from shootdown of U-2 piloted by Francis Gary Powers

Soviet leader Khrushchev and wreckage from shootdown of U-2 piloted by Francis Gary Powers

“Bridge of Spies,” is not—and does not purport to be—the complete account of the incident.   The part of the U-2 story that Spielberg focused on was a triumph for American diplomacy and the American way, as incarnated in the everyman insurance lawyer, played by Tom Hanks, who finds himself thrust into the Cold-War faceoff.

The full U-2 story? Not so much of a triumph.

Google “U-2 Incident” and you’ll get over 40 million results. There’s a 4,500-word Wikipedia article. Or you can get the essence of the episode and a laugh to boot, in less than 250 words, from my old friend Esther Greenleaf Murer’s “Talking U-2 Blues,” at the bottom of this post.

President Eisenhower, in the last full year in office, had been allowing American Lockheed U-2 reconnaissance jets to fly over the Soviet Union since 1957, at altitudes beyond the reach of Soviet fighter planes, sometimes flown by British pilots–for “plausible deniability” of American involvement in case one was shot down—other times by Americans. And it was an American, Francis Gary Powers, who was in the cockpit when a U-2 was dispatched to photograph Soviet missile launch sites on May 1, 1960, just two weeks before a four-power—the US, USSR, Britain and France—summit meeting was scheduled to open in Paris. To borrow a line from a song by Esther Greenleaf Murer (about whom more anon) the trouble starts right here.

The Soviets had been monitoring the U-2 flights, and after several failed interception attempts, brought the plane down with a surface-to-air missile. Powers ejected, parachuted to the ground, and was taken into custody. Four days later, without knowing that the U-2 and its pilot had been recovered, a NASA press release described the flight’s purpose as weather-related and said the pilot had reported experiencing oxygen difficulties, even releasing a photo of another U-2 painted in NASA’s colors to (to borrow another lyric, this one from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado) corroborative detail intended to give artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative. But Eisenhower’s lie was exposed when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev revealed that he had both the plane and its pilot.

Like a fish on a hook, the US thrashed around, floating one evasion after another trying to save the summit or at least Eisenhower’s credibility in the waning months of his presidency.   The Russians had no room to talk, it was said, not when they had submarines cruising the Atlantic. Khrushchev had known about the U-2 spy flights but forebore action until the summit was imminent to embarrass Eisenhower and the US. In the end, however, the lie was exposed and summit was launched, but ended early.

It was a humiliating note on which to end a presidency: the president who shepherded the World War II alliance with the Soviets and who had kept the US-Soviet relationship from exploding through eight years of the Cold War, mousetrapped by a Soviet leader under attack in his own country.

But that’s not why I’m writing about it now. It’s because seeing “Bridge of Spies” brought to mind an old college friend, Esther Greenleaf, now Esther Greenleaf Murer after marrying another college friend who had lived in the University of Wisconsin cooperative where I lived and that Esther, in those pre-coed-housing days, frequented. I have not seen Esther, who is now a published poet, since then. But I remember her fondly as a friend of high intelligence, great good nature, and a wit and creativity comparable to Tom Lehrer’’s.

And I remember a talking-blues-type song that she wrote while the U-2 incident was still in the headlines.

Talking U-2 Blues

American spy shot down today,
And the whole world glowers at the USA.
The State Department looks at its toes,
Sends the Russians a note, and here’s how it goes:

“Oh, don’t you blame us, Mr. K!
Our good faith, don’t you doubt it.
It warn’t our fault it happened this way,
‘Cause we didn’t know nothin’ about it.”

A senator says, “From an undisclosed source
I have a report (unconfirmed, of course)
Of Russian subs seen in the Atlantic.
I’m shocked that we’d stoop to a comparable antic!”

“So don’t you blame us, Mr. K” (etc).

“Of these goings-on I was unaware,”
said the President.  ” ‘Tain’t my affair.
For efficiency we’re organized;
Our intelligence is centralized.

“So don’t you blame me, Mr. K” (etc.)

“The Russians are trying to monger war,”
Said the press.  “They’ve seen our planes before,
but they waited to mention it till today –
With the Summit only a week away.

“You’re playing dirty, Mr. K,
And your good faith, we doubt it.
We’ve been spying on you for many a day,
And you knew all about it!”

DID YOU HEAR THE ONE ABOUT PRESIDENT TRUMP?

IT’S NO JOKE

It Can't Happen Here
  Photo: AbeBooks.com
Donald Trump speaking in Mesa, Arizona
  Photo: Gage Skidmore

At book club not long ago, a friend called our attention to a piece in The New Yorker’s “Shouts and Murmurs” humor space, a one-page joke whose premise was that all of Donald Trump’s outrages—the one about Mexican immigrants, the calumniation of John McCain, the insults to Carly Fiorina and Megyn Kelly—were not campaign gambits at all, but were calculated to extricate himself out of the presidential race and propel him back into popularity as a TV personality.

Only it wasn’t working. Instead of making him too hot to handle politically, his stunts backfired, making him an even stronger candidate.

It’s a not-unamusing premise, not-unamusingly executed—well worth the minute or two it takes to read it. And a worthy contribution to the growing body of efforts to laugh Donald Trump out of politics.

But here’s what’s really funny: The book club gathering at which my friend recommended the New Yorker jape was convened to discuss It Can’t Happen Here, Sinclair Lewis’s 1935 novel about a megalomaniac senator–modeled on Huey Long but, as Wikipedia puts it, “less a Nazi than a con-man-plus-Rotarian, a manipulator who knows how to appeal to people’s desperation”–who gets himself elected president and institutes a brutal authoritarian regime. The novel begins as a seriocomic satire, but ends up deadly serious—like the contemporary political figure who inspired us to read this 80-year-old novel, not one of Lewis’s best, at this particular point in time.

This isn’t to say that a President Trump could be expected, like It Can’t Happen Here’s President Windrip, to put opponents into concentration camps or drive them into exile, organize Brown-Shirt-like militias, reorganize government along corporatist lines, or provoke war with Mexico—although the last two don’t seem quite as fantastical as they did when I started this paragraph. This is not 1935, not the depths of a Depression. Hitler and Mussolini are not ascendant in Europe.

It is, though, to point out three parallels between Lewis’s scenario and today’s reality.

First, Trump could win. For both valid and not-so-valid reasons we feel ourselves vulnerable and insecure. As the generations that lived through the Great Depression, World War II, Vietnam and Watergate age and leave the scene, fewer Americans remain who lived through those crises, so to them, this looks worse than in historical perspective. We are frightened and angry, and—like Lewis’s President Windrip, “a manipulator who knows how to appeal to people’s desperation”–Trump is a master at playing on those fears and amplifying that anger.

Second, a President Trump could take major strides toward carrying out his radical agenda. It is hard to imagine that the kind of wave election that could sweep him into office would not maintain Republican majorities ready to follow his lead; I mean, as an outsider presidential candidate with just a third of the base before a single vote has been cast, Trump has already pulled his opponents into his orbit. How much more powerful would be his gravitational pull as an elected official?

Even without a compliant Congress and Court, Trump might be able to work his will. Do we see Trump as a man who, balked by legislators or judges, would take defeat graciously—or at all? If Obama could, in effect, exempt young undocumented “Dreamers” from deportation through executive action, why couldn’t Trump hire more immigration agents and increase raids and deportations, including those of families long resident and productive in the U.S. If Obama can admit thousands of tempest tost Levantine refugees by executive action, couldn’t President Trump bar all Middle Eastern refugees?

None of which is to say that Trump is inevitable. The stars incline us, they do not bind us. The continuing strong polling results by the two not-particularly magnetic Democratic contenders show that the basic Democratic proposition still retains considerable national support. Electoral College math strongly favors the Democrats. The country emerges from the Obama years much more strongly than it went in. Although the Obama administration has not yet solved Syria, neither has anyone else. And the U.S.-Iran nuclear arms agreement and prisoner, the Paris climate change agreement and the TransPacific Partnership suggest that other countries, even those fundamentally at odds with the US, will respond to patient negotiation more readily than to a knuckle sandwich.

But Trump will not be satirized into submission. He is a smart and potent candidate. He speaks to the fears of millions of voters. He could win the nomination and put up a stiff fight in November. If he were to win, he could be within sight of carrying out much of his campaign agenda.

He’s no joke.

TRUMP SUPPORTERS AREN’T CRAZY OR STUPID

TREATING THEM LIKE THEY ARE HURTS US MORE THAN THEM

About halfway through the movie Patton, the general, played by George C. Scott, is driving his Seventh Army along the coast of Sicily toward Messina and mainland Italy.  An infantry commander asks for another day to bring up more troops and reduce casualties.  “General Truscott,” retorts Patton, “if your conscience won’t permit you to conduct the operation, I’ll find someone who can.”

Moments (of screen time) later, closer to the front, Patton encounters a colonel not yet fording a river.  “Get that outfit cranked up,” shouts Patton, “or you’ll be out of a job.”  He threatens another slow-to-advance colonel—“Put fire into this battalion or I’ll get somebody who can!”—and instantly makes good on his threat: “Major,” he shouts to another officer, “you’re now commanding officer.  You’ve got four hours to break through that beachhead.  If you don’t make it, I’ll fire you.”

If you can’t do it I’ll find someone who can.  If you don’t break through, you’re fired.  It’s a model of decisiveness and command.  It’s what many want in a general—or in a president.  It’s Donald Trump.  And understanding that is an important part of the appeal of Trump’s presidential candidacy.

It’s tempting to attribute Trump’s appeal to irrationality or ignorance.  How can his supporters not understand, for example, that undocumented immigrants are here because our economy depends on them and offers them jobs; that deporting 11 million people is at least impossibly expensive and likely just impossible; that the level of force and cruelty required even to attempt such a mass deportation would be comparable to the ethnic cleansing campaigns carried out by the Soviet Union, China, and the former Yugoslavia; and that for all his supposed business success, Trump has nowhere near the government or political experience even to daydream about running such a massive operation?

And how can they not understand that the kinds of challenges that presidents face, the national and international conflicts that face presidents, are orders of magnitude more complex and resistant to resolution than can be surmounted by threatening to fire subordinates or by the most immovable negotiator?

But that’s not what Trump supporters perceive.  They see 11 million people who have broken the law and, far from being prosecuted, are allowed to remain in the country and upon whom some would confer legitimacy and even a path to citizenship.  They see mainstream Republican leaders who would look away to avoid alienating Hispanic voters.  And they see—finally–a leader unafraid to be outraged instead of understanding, who, instead of compromising with powerful adversaries, domestic and foreign, will negotiate them into submission, and who instead of being balked by obstacles will bulldoze them.

They’re wrong, deeply wrong, of course, about the nature of illegal immigration and the way decisions are made and implemented, these Trump true-believers.  But they’re not crazy to hunger and thirst for decisive solutions to long-festering issues.  They’re not irrational.  And to suppose that they are, harms—not their opinion of themselves, not the cause they espouse, but the cause they oppose, the progressive cause.

For one thing, it only reinforces their resolve.  As Jack Shafer of Politico told the Washington Post, “Establishment attacks on a demagogue only stiffen the loyalties of his subjects, proving to them that he is telling truth to power.”

For another, to dismiss concerns about issues like immigration and similar hot-button issues as the ravings of maniacs and ignoramuses may lead us to underestimate the importance of the disconnect between immigration policy and reality and to underestimate as well the urgency of resolving the issue.  It may also lead us to underestimate people’s anger at government dysfunction and their hunger for government action.

So if Trump fails, as we all suppose he will, his supporters may attribute his defeat, not to his outlandish persona and nostrums, but to the resistance or indifference of an out-of-touch establishment.  And the next demagogue may not advertise himself or herself so transparently.

HILLARY CLINTON’S EMAIL IMBROGLIO

HAVEN’T WE SEEN THIS BEFORE?

Some years ago, as a congressional staffer, one of my duties was to liaise with the House Ethics Committee, to get their judgment as to whether a contemplated trip or district project was a permissible use of official funds. *

Most often the Ethics Committee counsel’s response was that the proposed use was well within the rules.  The question, rather, was whether the congressman would be comfortable with the trip or project being reported in his home-town paper.  It might be legal, in other words, but how would it look?  Might it require awkward explanation that would distract constituents or the media on his public policy views and actions?

Hillary Clinton does not seem to have had such a conversation about her email account or about the employment status of Huma Abedin.  Re the email account: Is there anyone who doesn’t know that, while serving as secretary of state, instead of using a State Department email account like everyone else, Clinton set up a private email domain for both personal and official use?  Huma Abedin is a longtime retainer who worked for Clinton while simultaneously on drawing paychecks from the State Department, the Clinton Foundation, a consulting firm,  and Clinton’s own personal funds.

Both matters seem fundamentally trivial: Who cares about the details of email or payroll arrangements?  For such things she jeopardized an almost certain presidential nomination?

The email imbroglio appears likely to have been legal, at least in the sense that there appears to have been no law that exactly prohibited it.  And the Abedin arrangement, according to the Washington Post, was “allowed by a special government designation [Abedin] held permitting outside employment.”

But is there, perhaps, something else she’d like to be doing with her public appearances and political capital other than endlessly explaining, rationalizing and defending these unusual arrangements?  Wasn’t it foreseeable–jeez, wasn’t it almost certain?–that all this would come to light and could eclipse what she wanted to say and do with her campaign?

And what was the point?  What was to be gained?  To avoid carrying two phones—her explanation—one each for official and personal communications?  Please.

To thwart congressional committees that would find it harder to snoop into her affairs if her emails were held privately held instead of in federal archives?  How has that turned out for her?

(A third possibility is suggested by a remark made, half in jest, by a public TV producer at a meeting with a funder.  Why, the production company executive was asked, did his organization present its budget in the unorthodox and idiosyncratic format it used, instead of like everyone else?  Because then, replied the executive good-naturedly, we’d be like everyone else.)

The pattern isn’t new.  Look at the six-figure speaking fees that both Clintons continued to rake in even after they were rich as Croesus.  Look at the overlap between Clinton Foundation donors and countries and companies with interests before Hillary Clinton’s State Department.  Look, for that matter, at the Whitewater scandal which started as a real estate scheme (a subject about which the Clintons knew nothing) that they hoped would supplement their meager salaries in public office and legal practice.  It led to monetary losses, which led to subpoenas, which led to Kenneth Starr, which led to Monica Lewinski, which led to impeachment.  All were, at their inception, tangential to the main stream of the Clintons’ public ambitions and aspirations.  All culminated in political disaster.

The Clintons are among the smartest people in public life.  Have they not learned that nothing stays secret?  Do they and the super-smart denizens of Hillaryland and Friends of Bill ever look down the road of these schemes and ask: What’s the point?  What could go wrong?  What could an aggressive Republican chair and staff of the House Oversight Committee do with it?

Doesn’t anybody ask them—don’t they ask themselves–what it would look like on the front page?

GERMANY’S ROAD FROM GREECE

WHICH HISTORY WILL IT REPEAT?

While governments in other parts of the world struggle to put down military rebellions, Germany, the IMF and the rest of the Eurozone establishment moved decisively to put down Greece’s economic rebellion against the austerity regimen the creditor nations and institutions.

Now comes the hard part.  Will Germany treat Greece the way the US treated Germany after World War II, helping Greece rebuild its economy so it need not again finance itself with credit it cannot repay?  Or will it—as it has so far–treat Greece as Germany was treated after World War I, as a defeated enemy which must not only repay its debt but suffer for its sins?

The hard line Germany has taken on Greek debt repayment is “more than a little hypocritical,” says French economist Thomas Piketty.  “Germany is really the single best example of a country that, throughout its history, has never repaid its external debt,“ Piketty says in an interview with the German newspaper Die Zeit, translated and reported in Slate.  “However, it has frequently made other nations pay up, such as after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870.”

But there is more wrong with Germany’s hard line than hypocrisy.   It violates the axiom attributed to Einstein that doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results is a definition of insanity.  (It also violates the more sensible version of the axiom: that doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results is a recipe for frustration and futility.)  We’ve been down this road before—the forked road that proceeds from the vanquishing of a defeated nation by a powerful adversary.  We have taken the right road and the wrong.  We have a good idea where each of them leads.

We know where the road from Versailles, the road from World War I, led the world.  The Versailles treaty imposed ruinous reparations on Germany–reparations that a devastated Germany could never pay and never did.  Its overseas colonies were taken, not to be granted independence but to be given to victorious colonial powers Britain and France.   The road that started in Versailles led to hyper-inflation, National Socialism, rearmament, the Holocaust and World War II.  Math teacher/song-satirist Tom Lehrer captured the process perfectly:

Once all the Germans were warlike and mean,
But that couldn’t happen again.
We taught them a lesson in nineteen eighteen,
And they’ve hardly bothered us since then.

The world took a different path after World War II—the war for which the policies followed after the last war had helped set the stage.  Once again there were voices calling for a defeated Germany to be crushed so it could never wage war again.  Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau called for Germany to “not only be stripped of all presently existing industries but so weakened and controlled that it cannot in the foreseeable future become an industrial area.”

And in fact, for six years after VE Day, that was the direction that US policy took.

But by 1951, President Truman, at the urging of military leaders led by Gens. George C. Marshall and Lucius D. Clay, reversed course, issuing a directive that “[a]n orderly, prosperous Europe requires the economic contributions of a stable and productive Germany.”  Germany was even made a beneficiary of the Marshall Plan.*

Unlike the path followed after World War I, post-World War II policies led to a strong, prosperous, and not only friendly but supportive Europe so unified that today, the threat of Greece’s leaving the Eurozone raises alarms.  As well it should, given the long history of intra-European conflict that preceded post-World War II unification.  This aspect of the Greek debt crisis—and of near-miss debt crises in countries like Ireland and Italy—is often lost in analyses: that what is at stake is not economic policy alone, but a framework that has required the countries of Europe to work together.

The Greek economy needs to be made sustainable.  But how that happens makes a difference.  Germany has the resources to treat Greece the way the US treated Germany after World War II, to help Greece rebuild its economy.  It also has the power to squeeze Greece like over-ripe fruit and collect what it is owed as it drips out.  Squeezing Greece until the pips squeak risks fostering the resentment that squeezing Germany incurred after World War I. That is a road best not taken again.

WHO’S AFRAID OF DONALD TRUMP?

REPUBLICANS ARE.  DEMOCRATS SHOULD BE

Democrats are treating Donald Trump’s candidacy and his surge to the top of the polls as Christmas—or at least Election Day—in July.  The left-leaning Salon headlines Trump as “Democrats’’ greatest gift,” and prophesies that “his buffoonish politics threaten to bring down his entire party.”  The right-wing media pretty much agree: “Donald Trump Controversy Plays Right into Democrats’ Hands” reads a National Review headline.  And that was before Trump tried to rip John McCain but succeeded only in ripping himself.

Donald Trump   Photo: Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com

Both parties assume that Trump will drive voters away from an otherwise appealing slate of candidates.  But they may have it backwards.  Trump’s fulminations may actually be good for Republicans—but bad for Democrats.

Democrats assume that every fair-minded person recoils, as they do, from Trump’s racist xenophobia and his carnival-barker persona.  They react, as they often do to adversaries whose appeal baffles them: with mocking disdain four of Letterman’s top ten “interesting facts” about Trump, for example, mocked not his policies but his hair.  But as John Dickerson, chief political correspondent for Slate magazine and political director of CBS News, has pointed out, “There is a group of Republican voters who like what Trump is saying, how he says it, and don’t mind that the political clowns are being ruffled by this party-crasher.”  To them, and to people like them, Democrats’ disdain for Trump may come across as alienating disdain for his supporters, and for those who fear or oppose illegal immigration but are embarrassed to admit it.  .

Trump’s outré campaign and persona deliver more to Republicans than votes.  Precisely because Trump is so far beyond the pale, he gives other Republicans cover to distance themselves from his headline-grabbing freak-show while adopting positions not so far from those he espouses.

So, for Republicans, Trump could be win-win.

For Democrats, not so much.

Maybe the American people will see Trump’s agenda and tone as the superficial, ill-advised and mean-spirited notions they are.  Maybe Trump’s surge in the polls is fueled not by agreement but by celebrity and will melt away as people get to know him better.  Maybe his attack on McCain will prove his undoing.

But maybe the people whose support has propelled him to the top of the polls are representative of the 44 percent of Republicans who tell Gallup that they believe he would “do a good job” on immigration, the kind of number that supports Vox.com’s conclusion that “anti-Hispanic bigotry plays well with the Republican primary electorate.”  A showing of half of that would guarantee Trump a spot in the top tier of Republican candidates, the tier that will not only make it into the debates but will mark the boundaries and of hot-button arguments over issues like immigration, not just in the primaries but after the conventions.  Let us not forget that notions and rhetoric not so unlike Trump’s were compelling enough to elect majorities in the House and Senate.  The exposure they will get from the Republican debates may attract support, not repel it.

Enough support to get Trump the presidency or the Republican nomination?  Probably not.  Enough to fuel a third-party Trump candidacy when Trump doesn’t get the Republican nomination?  Could be.

But there may be enough Trump votes to motivate Republican candidates who do have a chance to adjust their positions and rhetoric to make them plausible second choices when the Donald drops out.  But isn’t that the whole point of seemingly hopeless candidacies like Trump’s and, for that matter, Bernie Sanders?  To demonstrate enough support for their policies that the serious candidates have to make them their own, and to increase their influence in the campaign, in the administration that will follow if their party wins, and in the not-so-loyal opposition if they don’t.

So put Christmas off until December, and Election Day till primary season.  Trump will hurt his opponents.  It’s just not clear yet which ones.

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