Trump’s First Two Months

You’ll have to forgive me for writing this so early, since the tradition is to give a new president 100 days before such an evaluation, but these are not normal times. It’s only been two months since Trump took office, but it certainly feels like a lot longer than that. Trump’s pace has been pretty frantic during this period, which is the main reason why I decided to take a quick look at how Trump’s presidency measures up to his campaign rhetoric.

On some issues, Trump has tried to act but been rebuffed by the simple fact that being president doesn’t mean being C.E.O. of a corporation. There are other branches of government which just don’t exist in corporate boardrooms, and they occasionally push back against the White House. On other issues, Trump has been figuring out that the real world is a lot more complicated than promising a crowd of adoring fans: “I know how to fix it, believe me!” And on some issues, Trump has already punted the ball far down the road.

Let’s take a look at the checklist of Trump main campaign themes, to see how well he’s doing in making good on his promises. I’ve tried to be objective as possible here, and make the attempt at seeing Trump’s presidency through the eyes of his own supporters. There’s a reason I’m taking this slant on things, which I’ll explain in the conclusion.


Build the wall, make Mexico pay for it!

President Trump hasn’t built any of his promised border wall yet, but then again it’s only been two months. One fact that was almost never remarked upon during the campaign is that there are already roughly 600 miles of border fence on the 2,000-mile border between the U.S. and Mexico. So at some point, Trump could claim “almost one-third of border is fenced!” and he’d technically be correct (although any attempt to claim credit for a barrier that was already there when he took office would be laughable).

But Trump will likely get at least some of his promised wall built. It’s the easiest thing the Republicans in Congress can toss Trump’s way to sweeten any budget they come up with, after all. They’ll figure: “Add in a few billion to get a few miles of Trump’s wall built quickly, and everybody’s happy.” So look for Trump to be at least partially successful in building his “big, beautiful wall.”

What he will not be successful at, however, is “making Mexico pay for it.” That part just isn’t going to fly with the Mexican government. The Trump administration already floated an alternative plan ― a border tax on all Mexican imports ― which would not actually tax “Mexico,” but rather American consumers. So we’d all be paying for the wall ourselves, in the form of higher prices for Mexican goods (like auto parts, for instance). The question is whether Trump supporters will see higher prices at the store as a win for Trump’s wall promise or not.


Rebuild America’s infrastructure

This was a huge part of Trump’s campaign. It’s a key part of Trump’s “make America great again,” in fact. But apparently rebuilding airports and roads and bridges and all the rest of it wasn’t all that important to Trump in the first place. The White House has already announced they’re essentially punting on this entire plan until next year. Trump’s promise can now be read as: “Make America great again… next year… or whenever I get around to it.”

In the budget plan Trump just released, there is one item that might even hit Trump supporters hard in this area. Trump is proposing to slash the subsidies that keep small airports in rural areas open. Routes from smaller cities just aren’t profitable enough to sustain minor airports, so this subsidy keeps open the option of being able to fly (without making a multi-hour car journey first) for millions of rural America. Now, it’s doubtful if this provision will survive the budgeting process in Congress (each one of those small cities is in a congressional district, after all), but it is telling that Trump’s promise to modernize America’s airports might instead change to “shutting a whole bunch of them down” ― in areas that heavily supported him. That might be a shock to Trump voters who live there, in other words.


Total ban on Muslims entering the country

This is one where Trump has swung and (so far) missed. Twice. Still, Trump supporters will give him full credit for the attempt. Trump’s first Muslim Ban was quickly rejected by the federal courts, and his second one hasn’t been fairing any better so far. The first one was so hastily written and so short on details that it briefly caused chaos in the airports (and sparked a huge public protest). After being legally rebuffed, the White House took a little more time (and consulted a few more actual lawyers) in rolling out Muslim Ban 2.0. It has been temporarily halted by federal judges in at least two states, but who knows how the appeals courts will rule?

The thing is, eventually the Muslim Ban will reach the Supreme Court. If the Senate has confirmed a new justice, Trump could eventually win this legal battle. Even if he doesn’t, however, this one still has to be seen as a solid win by his supporters. Trump tried his best, in their eyes, and those darn liberal judges interfered with Trump’s plans. That’s not Trump’s fault, they’ll tell themselves. At least he tried to follow through on his promise.

If Trump is smart, he’ll eventually announce that his “extreme vetting” is now in place, and the entire question of the “temporary ban” will cease to be important, both to him and his supporters. So even if he loses in the courts, he could ultimately wind up scoring a win with the people who voted for him on this one.


Repeal and replace Obamacare

Trump has already proven that he was just flat-out lying on the campaign trail when it came to replacing Obamacare. He made many sweeping and grandiose statements about what his plan would be. He was going to announce it on “Day One,” or soon thereafter. But he never did, and he likely never will. This is because he never had his own plan ― he just fooled all his supporters into believing he did.

Whether he’s going to pay a political price for any of this remains to be seen. Instead of his own plan, which would “cover everybody,” Trump has hitched his wagon to Paul Ryan’s bill. The fate of this bill is currently up in the air, but may become clear tomorrow, when Ryan has scheduled a vote in the House.

Ryancare, however, is nowhere near as good as any of Trump’s grand promises. It’s not even close. Somehow, by passing Ryancare, America would wind up with fewer people insured than if Obamacare were to just be repealed with no replacement. Got that? If Obamacare had never even existed in the first place, then at least one million more people would still have insurance than under Ryancare. That right there shows how incredibly weak the Ryancare plan truly is.

The jury is still out on Trump’s promises to repeal and replace Obamacare. If Ryancare fails in either the House or the Senate, Trump is going to immediately distance himself from the effort and blame Republicans in Congress for not following through. If it passes, however, Trump may face a different kind of backlash, since the very people Ryancare hurts the most are the groups that went for Trump in a big way (seniors and people in rural areas, just to name two). So when the reality of Ryancare becomes apparent, these Trump supporters are going to feel cheated, one would assume.


Lock her up!

Trump has mercifully decided not to follow through on this campaign chant. He’s largely left Hillary Clinton alone after becoming president (other than his obsession with the outcome of the election), and has instead turned his wrath on Barack Obama instead. This hasn’t been particularly effective either, but then Trump will never lack targets to scapegoat and taunt. I mean, there’s always Rosie O’Donnell if Trump gets in a pinch, right? Trump supporters probably never really expected to see Hillary behind bars, though, so on this one Trump likely will get a pass.


Jobs, jobs, jobs

Trump painted a pretty bleak picture of the American economy while being sworn in. He spoke darkly of the state of the country in his inaugural address, but now that he’s the one who gets to take credit for the monthly jobs numbers, he has proclaimed them accurate.

Trump’s viewpoint isn’t based in any sort of reality, though. Historically, President Obama turned over the American economy to Trump in better shape than most new presidents have ever seen. The stock market has been booming for years, we’re in the middle of the longest uninterrupted job growth period in American history, and the difference between what Obama inherited (800,000 jobs lost per month) and what Trump inherited (200,000-plus jobs created per month) is a net positive difference of over a million jobs per month.

Trump is taking credit for the jobs numbers, even though he doesn’t really deserve it. But then again, no president really “creates” or “loses” jobs ― there simply is no magic wand in the Oval Office that creates jobs. But all presidents are measured by the same yardstick, and so far it’s been a good one for Trump.

Trump, however, hasn’t done anything to create jobs in the future yet, except for his photo-op stunts with a few manufacturing companies (which, even believing Trump’s estimates, have resulted in a tiny, tiny fraction of the monthly job growth over either of the past two months). There is also no “Trump jobs bill” moving through Congress. So the jury’s really out on how he’ll be seen on this front. If the economy continues to do well, he’ll get the credit. If there’s a downturn, he’ll get the blame. It’s too early to tell, though.


Cut better trade deals

This is another one that, to be fair, Trump just hasn’t had enough time to address. Trade deals take a long time to negotiate. The Trump administration could very well be in such negotiations now, and the public might not even be aware of such negotiations. Whether such efforts are underway or not, nobody could reasonably expect any such deals to be agreed upon in such a short period of time. So the jury’s out on this one for now.


Cut regulations

On this issue, Trump is actually following through even if it hasn’t gotten much media attention. There’s a reason for this ― most regulations are written by departments within the executive branch. So Trump’s got more direct control over this than he does for many other of his agenda items. Trump has been trying his hardest to dismantle all things Obama which are under his direct control, and we should all expect this to continue unabated.

There may be court challenges to the more far-reaching rules changes, but even if Trump loses in court, as with the Muslim Ban, he’ll likely get credit from his supporters for trying.


Cut taxes

This effort hasn’t begun yet ― it is scheduled for later this year. Trump promised to have his own tax-cutting plan, but that may have been just as much smoke and mirrors as his promises to come up with his own healthcare plan. Trump will likely just let Paul Ryan draw up a tax reform bill and then jump on the Ryan bandwagon as it goes by. How successful this effort will be, and what will be contained in the details (beyond massive tax cuts for millionaires, which seems an almost-certainty) remains to be seen. How Trump supporters see such an effort also remains to be seen, especially if most of them get short-changed on the deal.


Cut the deficit/debt

This is perhaps the biggest broken promise yet, even if few have (so far) noticed. Trump loved to rant at campaign rallies about how America was $20 trillion in debt, and he promised he’d not only balance the budget but also solve the problem of the national debt.

To be blunt, he lied. His first budget attempt didn’t even try to address the deficit in any way, shape, or form. Nada. Under his budget, the deficit would continue to grow at the same rate as it currently is. Trump provided zero solution to this problem. He didn’t even try.

Now, Republicans are famous for hyperventilating about the deficit and the national debt when Democrats are in the White House, while conveniently forgetting the issue even exists when a Republican is in charge. So it remains to be seen whether Trump supporters will even care all that much about Trump’s complete refusal to even pay lip service to his promise to balance the budget. Look to the Tea Partiers in Congress when budget time rolls around, though, because they may be the ones making a big stink over the issue ― which would tend to expose the fact that Trump isn’t dealing with it at all.


Big-stick foreign policy

So far, Trump hasn’t started any wars. That’s a relief, but who knows what tomorrow may bring? Trump promised a big, bold foreign policy, with a U.S. military that was so fearsome that other countries wouldn’t even attempt to challenge Trump’s decrees on how the rest of the world should act at any given time. While it hasn’t gotten an enormous amount of attention, some countries have already tested Trump’s military resolve. Russia did a flyby of American warships in international waters, and Trump didn’t react. North Korea is being as belligerent as they know how (and that goes a long way, with them), and so far the only reaction has been some tough talk (but no actual military action). But then again, it’s only been two months. So how Trump will handle foreign policy adversaries still remains to be seen. Trump’s doing a pretty good job of annoying longstanding American allies, but that might all be quickly forgotten in a crisis.


Boost military spending

Well, Trump will certainly get high marks on this one from his supporters. His military budget included $54 billion in additional Pentagon funding, so nobody can say Trump isn’t trying to make good on his promise to build up the military. Whether he gets anything close to that out of the Republican Congress remains to be seen during budget season, but Trump certainly can’t be faulted for failing to live up to this campaign promise.

However, the tradeoffs in Trump’s budget are particularly brutal for rural America, since to pay for such a big military boost in spending, Trump has taken a meat axe to a lot of federal spending that actually winds up helping rural areas (such as Appalachia). Trump will likely be spared any political blowback from his supporters on this front, however, since the most drastic of these cuts will never make it through Congress (no matter how Republican it is). Still, for those paying attention, Trump’s cuts to programs they benefit from may cause some degree of weakening of support in these areas.


Appoint conservatives to the Supreme Court

Another one where Trump has scored a big win ― and not just with his core group of supporters. Conservatives that have always been wary (or worse) towards Trump all breathed a sigh of relief when Trump’s pick for the highest court lived up to their expectations from a Republican president. So Trump will quite likely score a clean victory on this one.


Being presidential

Trump has always promised that he knew how to be “presidential” and we’d all marvel at how wonderful his temperament could be as leader of the country. After two months, this is nothing short of a sad joke. Until and unless his aides ever pry his ability to send tweets from his tiny hands, Trump is going to continue to prove (on a weekly and sometimes even daily basis) that he will go down in history as the least presidential president we’ve ever had.

To be fair, his supporters seem to love his tweets, though, no matter how ridiculous they are to the rest of us.


To sum up, Donald Trump is so far seen by his supporters as being just as energetic as he promised. He’s been doing a lot in the short time he’s been in office, and that fact alone seems to gladden his base, at least for the time being.

Most of what he’s been doing, however, has been largely symbolic. His budget isn’t going to make it through Congress (although, to be fair, no president’s budget emerges unscathed from this process, so this isn’t just because of Trump). He’s followed through on a number of his promises, or at least made an honest effort to do so. He has completely ignored others, or even embraced exactly the opposite of what he promised ― as he’s now doing with Ryancare. And it’s only been two months, so he’s also got a lot of “incomplete” marks on his report card.

The big unanswered question is how Trump will deal with setbacks and outright failures. So far, the signs don’t look particularly good, as shown by his reaction to federal judges smacking down his Muslim Ban. But that’s going to pale in comparison to how Trump handles a big loss in Congress, for example. Or a foreign policy crisis where Trump just has no idea what to do.

Such failures are inevitable for any president, and especially so for Trump. His campaign was so breathtaking in the sheer amount of sweeping campaign promises made that he’s sure to disappoint on a number of key issues. What those issues are is beginning to get clearer, but until Trump faces a real failure nobody really knows how he’ll react. This may start to become apparent tomorrow, if Ryancare fails to pass the Republican House (even if the vote is just indefinitely postponed).

If, in such a situation, Trump begins to flail around and do nothing more than rant and rave and point the finger of blame outward at anyone other than himself, how will his supporters (and the public at large) see his reaction? Perhaps the first few times this happens Trump won’t lose many core supporters, but by the third or fourth time even Trump voters may get tired of it. But that’s just speculation ― this question will remain open for the time being.

One thing Trump hasn’t done in his first two months is attempt any sort of outreach to Democrats. This has resulted in Democratic voters overwhelmingly disapproving of Trump. He’s not doing much better with independent voters either. But the real measure of Trump’s presidency is going to come from his own supporters. So far, his polling remains fairly high among this group, but even this has begun to slip in the past few weeks. Trump won’t lose his political mojo in Washington until he begins losing the support of those who voted for him.

With disapproval of the job Trump’s doing so high among people who didn’t vote for him, and with Trump uninterested in doing anything to improve his marks with this majority of America, Trump started his term with the lowest overall job approval ratings since public polling began. Trump is solely focused on keeping his support strong among his own base, but several of his opening moves on his agenda are almost the exact opposite of what he promised them. And the battles in Congress ― even though controlled by Republicans ― haven’t even really begun yet. Trump is not likely to win each and every one of these battles. The real trend to watch is whether his support begins to fade among his core supporters when they start to see Trump breaking (or failing to make good on) his promises. So far, this hasn’t yet happened.

But it’s only been two months, after all.


Chris Weigant blogs at:

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


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Do Not Delay: Implement Marijuana Legalization In California

On time and intact implementation of California’s Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, is critical to realizing the benefits of legalization and reducing the harms from decades of prohibition that have resulted in the mass incarceration and criminalization of low-income people of color, and utterly failed to protect public health and public safety.

Efficient implementation of Prop. 64 is urgent. While Prop. 64 legalized possession and consumption of cannabis products for adults 21 and over, there is still no legal source to obtain it, except for patients with a doctor’s recommendation, or grow at home (six plants per household).

There should be no delay in creating a system that guarantees California consumers access to products free of contaminants, clearly labeled for potency, and that bear warning labels and childproof packages as mandated by the voters’ initiative. Further, it is urgent to begin the taxation of cannabis products to pay for community reinvestment, drug prevention and substance use disorder treatment, youth programming, road safety, environmental remediation, consumer protection and other vitally needed services—all of which will be receiving a collective $1 billion per year once licensing is fully implemented.

Any efforts to roll back the sentencing reforms, to create new forms of discrimination or additional penalties for activities that are now legal, to limit community reinvestment, or to create barriers to economic participation by persons with limited capital or prior criminal justice records would undermine the basic fairness of Prop. 64, and reinforce the historical and institutional racism of the war on drugs.

It is disappointing to see many in the California State Legislature taking steps to do just this. Federal and state data demonstrate that whites, Latinos, and Blacks sell and use drugs at similar rates, but that Black people and Latinos have borne the brunt of arrest, prosecution, incarceration and the lifetime collateral consequences of felony convictions, including statutory limits on licensure and ownership in various fields. Prop. 64 implementation must avoid further codification of these forms of institutional racism.

While power grabs over regulatory provisions and food fights over the revenue ensue in Sacramento, DPA will continue to insist that Prop. 64 be implemented as written and mandated by a wide margin of California voters. DPA is working to ensure an inclusionary framework that opens up access for women and communities of color, including affordable licenses for micro-businesses and small businesses, equal licensure opportunity for people with prior drug convictions, preventing new forms of discrimination and penalties associated with legalized activity, and immediate implementation of the penalty reduction provisions, both retroactively and under current law enforcement practice.

We also remain deeply concerned by the overreach of local ordinances, many of which outright ban commercial activity—which they can lawfully do, along with severely restricting the right to home grow—which is legally more nuanced. We believe that efforts to assign high registration fees per plant and requiring inspectors to regularly visit your home to “inspect” your plants and growing area is a violation of basic privacy rights and civil liberties. We expect to see those cities in court.

And perhaps most frightening, we must now protect Prop. 64 from federal intervention and continue to protect patient access to medical marijuana. DPA is working with legislators to pass a bill to protect Californians who are operating lawfully under our state laws by providing that absent a court order, local and state agencies, including regulators and law enforcement, shall not assist in any federal enforcement against state authorized medical cannabis or commercial or noncommercial marijuana activity.

The prior federal administration provided assurances that if California developed a robust regulatory and enforcement system for medical or personal marijuana use by adults, California residents who complied with state laws and regulations would have a reasonable expectation that they would not be subject to harassment, arrest or incarceration by the federal government. However, the new administration has given mixed signals on enforcement priorities, but made it clear they do not want to end marijuana prohibition.

The good news is that the criminal penalty reductions that went into effect on November 9, 2016, are being applied to all new cases coming into the courts all over the state. And in LA County, the public defender’s office has already identified over 200 people eligible for resentencing for a marijuana charge, and DPA has been partnering with community organization to hold legal clinics for formerly incarcerated people to get their records changed. Detailed guides and information about record reclassification and resentencing can be found at

The work to end prohibition and its disastrous effects on our communities did not end last November. Prop. 64 implementation is incredibly challenging, complex, and demanding. We hope the nearly eight million Californians who voted #Yeson64, and our allies across the nation, are ready to stand with us to protect and defend our victory.

Lynne Lyman is the California state director for the Drug Policy Alliance.

This piece first appeared on the Drug Policy Alliance Blog.

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Comey Rebuke Weakened Trump And Opened GOP Eyes

Why, exactly, is anyone surprised? FBI Director James Comey did as Congress asked on Monday when testifying before the House Intelligence Committee. He confirmed that neither the FBI nor the Department of Justice have any information supporting Donald Trump’s tweets accusing Barack Obama of tapping his phones.

This cannot have come as a surprise to anyone. Since Trump first tweeted his accusation two weeks ago, defenders of the President have been scurrying to his defense. As President, they argued, Trump must have sources of information that the rest of us don’t know about. Yet it was apparent from the outset that it was just more of the same old, same old. Trump’s information source for the first tweet ― accusing Barack Obama of bugging his phones ― was a rant by right-wing talk show star Mark Levin that was written up in Breitbart. Levin did suggest that phones in Trump Tower may have been under surveillance, but all of the information he cited referenced legal investigations―a fact that Trump omitted from his comments on the matter. The second tweet was more egregious ― accusing the British spy agency GCHQ of tapping his phones on Obama’s behalf ― and Trump himself later acknowledged that his only source of information was comments made by Fox News “analyst” and Trump groupie Andrew Napolitano that Trump saw on TV.

This was vintage Donald Trump, full of bluff and bluster, and animated by conspiracy theories for as long as he has been in the public eye. This is the man who boasted that he got his military intelligence from the Sunday morning shows, who claimed to know more about ISIS than the Generals, and who eschewed the daily intelligence briefings. This is the man whose rivals in the Republican primaries warned that he was a con man, a pathological liar, and a cancer on the Republican Party. Yet any number of senior, respected Republican members of Congress still saw fit to place their own credibility on the line in his defense.

And, true to form, in the wake of Comey’s testimony giving the lie to the entire episode, the White House responded by confirming that Trump has no intention of withdrawing ― much less apologizing for ― his accusations. The only question that was left at the end of the day was how on earth could anyone be surprised?

For all the build up, we actually learned little new from this week’s testimony by James Comey and NSA Director Mike Rogers. They confirmed what had long been concluded by any reasonable observer: that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin led an information operation targeting our presidential election, and that the FBI was continuing to investigate Russia’s actions, as well as potential collusion in Russia’s operations by Trump campaign operatives. Comey described Putin’s strategy as having three distinct objectives: first, to seed chaos in our election and damage public confidence in U.S. democratic institutions; second, to undermine Hillary Clinton as a candidate and ― presuming she was expected to win ― her credibility and capacity as President; and, finally, to support Donald Trump’s campaign. In response to Republican pushback, Comey specifically emphasized that it was not just that Putin deeply detested Clinton and wanted her to lose, Putin wanted Trump to win.

Republicans have been dragged kicking and screaming to accept the fact of Russia’s efforts on Donald Trump’s behalf. It was not enough that Republicans won the presidency, they seemed determined to feel clean and righteous about how things transpired. Even as many Republicans ultimately came to acknowledge over the past few months that the Russian operation was real, they were always quick to caveat any discussion of Putin’s efforts with the disclaimer that, ‘of course, nothing Russia did impacted the results of the election.’ If nothing else, that codicil to the discussion of Russia’s efforts was debunked by the tenor of Monday’s testimony.

We will, of course, never know what the impact ultimately was of Russia’s operation on the outcome of the election. Donald Trump lost the popular vote but won in the Electoral College by virtue of a combined 77,000 vote margin in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, representing a mere 0.06 percent of the 127 million votes cast across the country. It was an outcome that has been attributed by some to Clinton’s lack of an effective campaign message and evident disdain for the white working class voters who flocked to Trump, and by others to James Comey’s own interventions into the race. But given the closeness of the race ― Republican disclaimers notwithstanding ― one simply cannot dismiss the impact of Russian intervention as a factor that may have tipped the balance. Russia’s cyber and disinformation efforts ― including the steady stream of WikiLeaks disclosures ― had the effect of a months-long campaign of attack ads designed to drive up Clinton’s negatives.

Even as Comey and Rogers were testifying before the House committee, Trump tweeted out in his own inimitable fashion to try to spin their words as an affirmation that Russia’s operations had no impact on the outcome. Told of Trump’s tweet, Comey retorted in real time that Trump was misstating his and Rogers’ conclusions. Rogers had testified that there was no evidence that voting machines were tampered with, but, Comey stated to correct the record, neither he nor Rogers meant to suggest that the Russian efforts had no impact on the outcome. The target of the Russian campaign was not the voting machines, it was the voters. And in that regard, Comey suggested that it was likely that Russia will be back again in two or four years, seeking to wreck further havoc in our elections, for the simple reason that they will conclude that their efforts this time around were successful.

Last Sunday, Meet the Press host Chuck Todd suggested that, in the wake of the ongoing controversy surrounding the tweets, Donald Trump was struggling with a credibility gap that was threatening his ability to push the healthcare bill through the House. The healthcare vote, scheduled for tomorrow, looms to be a crucial test of how badly Trump has been weakened by his continuing conduct and his nationally televised rebuke at the hands of James Comey and Mike Rogers.

It was not surprising that just a day after their testimony, the stock market suffered its worst one day decline of the year ― as traders began to question whether Trump would be able to deliver on the tax cuts he has promised ― and conservatives in the House began to push back against Trump’s demands that they fall in line and support his healthcare bill.

Chuck Todd’s comments raised the question of how a conspiracy theorist and demagogue who long ago sacrificed any claims to credibility could suddenly have a credibility gap. The answer, of course, is that Republicans have been steadfast in their to determination to convince themselves that Donald Trump is someone other than who he really is. Just ten months ago, Marco Rubio warned that they were dealing with a con man, and Ted Cruz warned that Trump was a pathological liar.

That was the Donald Trump who loomed in the background as the House committee listened to testimony, the man who Rick Perry suggested early on was a cancer on conservatism, a toxic mix of demagoguery and mean-spiritedness and nonsense that will lead the Republican Party on the road to perdition. Republicans ― who sat shaken and ashen-faced as Comey spoke ― had to be asking themselves how far down that road they are prepared to go.

Follow David Paul on Twitter @dpaul. Artwork by Jay Duret. Follow him on Twitter @jayduret or Instagram at @joefaces.

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The Cycle Of Terror Resumes In London: Stop Playing Whack-A-Mole



Lock down.

Those all too familiar words are resonating once again through a world grown weary. Something has gone horribly wrong when a terror attack, instead of shock and revulsion, brings déjà vu and a leaden despair.

We are all traumatized; the information age leaves no shelter from the reality of horror no matter how distant it is. And as the traumatized do, we try every defense. Denial, rationalization, humor, acting out. Nothing works though, because the moment of helpless terror is repeated on the television screen, the computer screen, the cell phone screen. Over and over and over.

But back to London. Where at least four people are dead, 20 injured and the Parliament building is still in lock down. Soon we will know who the attacker was and the debates will start raging: root causes, more security, immigration, refugees, religion, war.

It will be exactly the same as last time. For the simple reason that world leadership has shown very little intention from the very beginning of the “war on terror” to do anything other than play a game of whack-a-mole.

Bomb this place, drone that place, invade there, take that side, take this side. Repeating the same mistakes over and over. No, it is not a coincidence that wherever the war on terror has gone it has acted not as an exterminator but as pixie dust for terrorism.

Afghanistan not only has AQ and the Taliban now, it also has Daesh. Iraq had neither Daesh nor AQ and now has both. Libya, Somalia, Pakistan, Yemen: each has its own laundry list of terror groups. Hercules figured out a way to prevent the hydra from growing more heads, we had best interest ourselves in doing the same.

Meanwhile those capable of doing something about the problem squabble like spoiled toddlers. Saudi Arabia and Iran. America and Russia. Turkey and Europe. Pointing the finger, accepting no accountability, arming proxies, inflaming sectarianism and refusing cooperating where it matters the most. To stop the smuggling of oil, to prevent the flow of recruits into Syria and Iraq, to encourage reconciliation and rapprochement.

Mainstream media is running its own vaudevillian enterprise. Even the most austere publication has become a sordid tabloid either peddling itself for ratings or allowing itself to become a propaganda mouthpiece.

Make your leaders stop. Make them stop playing this catastrophic game of whack-a-mole. Call their bluff about acting in your interest. If there was ever a time world leadership needed to step out of the cold machinations of realpolitik and exhibit some universal empathy, it is now.

Start holding the corrupt and tyrannical despots of the Persian Gulf and middle east accountable. Let them know they are no longer free to enable extremists and silence all political dissent. Stop selling them weapons and pretending that they are necessary to hold extremists at bay. They are the ones who have cultivated the culture of torture, conformity and censorship that has bred terrorism.

Stop the endless debates about religion and religious reform. The group psychopathy that is Daesh or Al Qaeda does not care about scriptural interpretation or infallibility. It is of no consequence to them what sort of reform the rest of the Muslim world pursues. Start treating this like every other conflict is treated: a phenomenon where there are actual participants and precipitating factors. Stop the fool’s errand of chasing ideology.

Unite and fight terror together. Divided, we all lose.

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Trump Puts Republican Congressmen Between A Rock And A Soft Place

President Trump has informed his Republican colleagues in the House that they have a serious problem. They need to vote for the current draft of the American Health Care Act or they will face repercussions in 2018. Congressmen appear to face a dilemma if they do not believe that this bill is best for their constituents. Should they risk their seats by opposing the bill? Do they vote with their conscience or with their caucus?

This appears to place them squarely between a rock and a hard place, or on the horns of a dilemma.

Fortunately, not all political decisions are really hard when properly framed. And this one is actually pretty easy. Regardless of what they might believe, many of these congressmen are now between ten rocks and a soft place. Avoid the ten rocks. Go for the soft place.

Indeed, President Trump is correct. Many congressmen who campaigned on the promise to repeal and replace Obamacare might lose their seats in 2018, and might even lose a contested primary, if they don’t vote to repeal. That’s probably true. That’s the hard place.

But more Republican Congressmen who vote for this bill will lose their seats. That’s not probably true, that’s certainly true. This bill hurts their poor and their elderly constituents, and it hurts constituents who are currently covered by expanded Medicaid. This is not just a rock; this is ten rocks.

So what is a Republican congressman supposed to do? The best thing would be to reframe the problem as posed by President Trump. These congressmen should create a third choice, vote against this bill and demand one that benefits their constituents. They should go for the unstated third choice.

So now we see that they were not balanced on the horns of a dilemma, but sitting on a single horn. All they need to do is to get off that horn.

How can members of Congress figure out when it is safe to pick this third choice? Talk to your governor. Talk to your constituents. See who is going to be hurt among your own poor voters, your elderly voters, and your voters who are now dependent upon expanded Medicaid. And then vote against this bill.

That’s not a rock, or ten rocks, or a hard place. It’s the soft place.

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Angela Merkel Doesn’t Need Your Outrage Over Trump’s Rudeness

Trump’s abominable behavior during German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to the White House caused outrage on my Facebook feed. But Merkel doesn’t need your outrage.

She’s taken on plenty of outsized egos with her signature steely patience, from Nicolas Sarkozy to Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Vladimir Putin. What she needs you to to do is understand the importance of the world order, whose fate seems to rest on her shoulders.

Now, I know full well that at most, despite your good intentions, you give the international section of the newspaper little more than a skimming over. I get it. It’s hard to read about countries you don’t know all that much about. Either you really paid attention in world history class or you need to slog through a whole lot of context to get why you should care if some foreign politician has been elected or deposed or which coalition of political parties formed a government that may or may not last.

I promise not to go into mind-numbing detail if you’ll bear with me while I argue that one of the best ways to resist Trump (really Steve Bannon’s) nationalism is with globalism. And I don’t mean giving lip service to the virtues of cooperation with the country you last traveled to or where your great-great-great grandmother came from. I mean, understanding what we international relations nerds mean when we throw around expression like global governance or the liberal world order and why Merkel is now tasked with protecting it.

These terms might sound intimidating, even scary but believe me, you don’t need a degree in anything to understand them. First of all, there really is no such thing as a global government but the term global governance is often used. All it really means is the network of interconnected international institutions that countries can join, such as the UN, NATO, the IMF and the World Bank and the World Trade Organization. When countries join these organizations, they give up some sovereignty or independence in order to gain the benefits of working together internationally, such as in defense, monetary cooperation or trade. This is, of course, a gross oversimplification, but it’s a little like how we, as individuals, give up a bit of our independence in order to live in a society where we all agree on some basic ground rules.

These and other organizations make up what some folks rather loftily refer to as the liberal world order. I think it deserves such loftiness because its origins are in a very noble cause: world peace. After World War II, the leaders of the U.S. and Europe came to the conclusion that we can avoid future wars on such a scale if we tie our fates together. Since then, the maintenance and strengthening of the world order has been the primary objective of both Democratic and Republican foreign policy, even if Republican appreciation for these organizations started to erode during the George W. Bush years. The term “liberal” is included, but doesn’t refer to some sort of left-leaning hippy thing, but liberalism in the classic sense, based on individual freedom.

The world order matters because, first of all, peace and stability is good for business, which has lead to worldwide declines in poverty. More importantly, unless you’ve got a better idea, the only way we are going to make progress on some of the world’s most pressing issues, like climate change, terrorism and migration, is by working together. We can’t solve any of this by cutting off all ties and retreating into the past because it no longer exists. Our challenges are interconnected and the way forward is as well.

Trump’s disregard for the rest of the world is perhaps the most dangerous part of his presidency. While national politics are always subject to left-right maneuvering and corrections, blowing up the world order will be a lot trickier to fix in four or, God help us, eight years. And by the end of that time, the world may very well be a different place. As the de facto leader of Europe, Merkel is our best hope in terms of holding it all together until America can rejoin the world.

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Reaffirm Our National Community By Forgiving Student Debt

The election of 2016 forced us, like so many Americans, to reconsider much of what we imagined we knew about our country and our society. For example, only a few months ago there was a growing, nation-wide movement for tuition-free higher education. At the time, we proposed debt forgiveness for the many Americans – the figure now stands at 43 million – who carry the burden of student loans.

Now, all three branches of government are under the control of ideologues who espouse a harsh and individualistic brand of conservatism. That forces us to ask ourselves: How can we pursue such an ambitious and visionary goal when we are confronted with a direct challenge to the communitarian ideals that have guided this nation to its best achievements?

And yet, individually and together, we have reached the same conclusion: this is a more important time than ever to reaffirm our bravest and highest values. Jubilee – the ancient concept of debt forgiveness as an affirmation of community – reflects those values. We can reject the reactionary principles that the right wing represents by embracing the concept of a student debt jubilee as the symbol of our long-held community values.

Democratic societies are founded on two, seemingly conflicting principles: individual liberty and collective responsibility. If individual liberty is taken to an extreme, society collapses in an orgy of Darwinian competition. If collective responsibility is taken too far – something that has not happened in this country but has occurred in communist totalitarian states – personal freedoms are trampled under the iron heel of the state.

We have always been plagued by the sins of racism and greed. But, in its finest historical moments, including our recovery from the Great Depression and the years during and immediately after the Second World War, our nation seemed to find a better balance between individual and community values. During that time, it is important to remember that public colleges were practically tuition free in almost all states. Students could “work their way through college” without incurring debt in most cases.

This debt is also holding our economy and society back.

This was the great opportunity the community gave to the younger generation so it could build a sustainable and prosperous future. In return, an educated and prosperous society led to sustained economic growth.

Unfortunately, the last several decades have seen us tilt toward individualistic extremism and the runaway greed of the wealthy few. Our finest community values – “ask not what your country can do for you,” in John F. Kennedy’s words, “ask what you can do for your country” – have been crushed by an economic and political philosophy of selfishness and predation. The result is a growing wealth and income gap and, as a sad side effect, reduced trust in each other. We are losing our cohesion as a society and as a nation.

This trend has challenged the notion of government as a force for good and public service as a higher calling. The Republican Party has led this trend, but the Democratic Party has far too often indulged in it as well, by diminishing the value of government and overselling the virtues of privatization, a “public-private partnership” concept that in reality leads to the transfer of government resources to the ever-wealthier few.

Donald Trump is the very personification of this destructive trend. He embodies the vision of a society where every rich person is out for him- or herself. He and his cabinet reflect the notion that government is a place where the powerful go to increase their own fortunes. His plans apparently include further giveaways of public resources to private interests, who would then use them to make an unequal society even more unequal. He campaigned on a promise of tax cuts that would enrich those who are already wealthy while crippling (or ending altogether) programs that help those in need.

It is time to reaffirm a vision of society as a community where people come together to help one another. Government is a fundamental tool of our national community. It is a way for us to come together and help one another. One of the right’s most successful and misleading tactics was to convince many Americans to think of government as an alien and occupying force. It is not. In a democracy, the government is us. The first three words in the Constitution are, “We, the people.”

We need to renew our sense of a sustainable community by fighting for immigrants’ rights, women’s rights, the rights of religious minorities – and the rights of the young, the indebted, and those who are trying to build a meaningful future in an economy that is currently unsustainable.

Today more than 43 million Americans collectively owe more than $1.4 trillion in student debt. They owe this debt because we as a society chose to abandon our collective obligation to educate the young people who will build our future. This debt is haunting many of us from the cradle to the grave. It is preventing young people from forming households, from buying cars, from having children, from starting businesses, and from realizing their dreams in a million different ways we can’t imagine.

This debt is also holding our economy and society back. It is robbing us of the creative contributions these Americans can make, and it is depriving our economy of the stimulus effect their spending and their behavior could provide.

This debt must be forgiven – and not just some of it, but all of it. It must be forgiven because these Americans do not deserve to be punished for our loss of collective values. It must be forgiven universally, because an unjust debt is always unjust. It must be forgiven because we can all benefit, materially and morally, from the act of forgiveness. And it must be forgiven as a sign that we have emerged from a dark period of selfishness to an age of renewed community.

The election of Donald Trump has reawakened something in millions of Americans. For them, this is a frightening and troubling moment. But it is exciting to see women lead marches against oppression. It is heartening to see Americans stand up for immigrants and refugees. The future is still ours to build together, as a national community. It is the right time to liberate 43 million Americans from the oppressive burden of student debt – for their sake, and for everyone’s.

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Republican Change To The ACA: A Health Care ‘Minimum Income’

A key piece of the American Health Care Act is changing the ACA’s income-based subsidies to a blend of income- and age-based tax credits. For consumers under the income-eligibility threshold, this essentially creates a health care “minimum income.”

The term “minimum income” has been used in more and more policy circles in recent years. What is it? A minimum income is a type of welfare program intended to reduce poverty by providing all citizens with a liveable income.

It might sound a bit socialist, but the minimum income approach actually has some Founding Father and conservative credibility. Thomas Paine was an advocate, calling it a “citizen’s dividend,” which he believed was owed to people for their loss of land access through the creation of property rights.

In his essay “Agrarian Justice,” Paine argued people who own land owe the community, especially non-land owners, for their loss of access to formerly public property where they may have previously hunted or fished to be able to eat. He used this to justify an argument for a tax funding a minimum income of £15 per year to every person age 21 or older.

The economist Milton Friedman, advisor to Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, was also an advocate for the minimum income, which he called a negative income tax. A free market capitalist, Friedman thought the minimum income would be more efficient than than existing programs like Social Security or food stamps. He also argued that it would end the “welfare trap,” where low-wage work is not more beneficial than safety net programs, disincentivizing recipients to get off of government assistance.

Many who are initially against this idea begin thinking about it differently when understanding it could replace all other government assistance. Instead of only people under a certain income getting government assistance, everyone just gets a flat payment.

This seems to be the approach Republicans are taking when it comes to health care, though not as purely as Friedman or Paine might have liked. The Republican plan does integrate income-based eligibility, meaning only individuals making less than $75,000 per year or couples making less than $150,000 per year could receive this health care “minimum income.”

For consumers under these income thresholds, the AHCA’s tax credits would not vary by consumer. They would not take regional cost differences for insurance into consideration, nor would it give lower-income individuals more than those right under the $75,000 threshold. This is different than the ACA’s subsidies, which did take these things into account. Instead, the AHCA would simply create the following annual health care “minimum incomes”:

•$2,000 for consumers under 30

•$2,500 for consumers between 30 and 40

•$3,000 for consumers between 40 and 50

•$3,500 for consumers between 50 and 60

•$4,000 for consumers over 60

Instead of attempting to offer more support to lower-income Americans, age-based credits would create an across-the-board benefit for everyone under the income threshold. The credits would only be accessible by those with individual plans, meaning those with employer coverage, Medicaid, or Medicare benefits would not be eligible.

Like minimum income supporters, advocates of the age-based tax credit say they are simpler to execute than income-based subsidies. However, critics say the program will lead to reduced assistance for those who need it most. Under an age-based system, a person making $74,000 and living in Illinois would receive the same help as someone making $25,000 and living in Alaska, where insurance prices are much higher.

Further, while age is often correlated with health status, it isn’t always. Under an age-based system, a healthy 50-year-old would receive more than twice as much assistance as a 25-year-old with cancer, even though the 25-year-old would likely need a more comprehensive and expensive health plan than the 50-year-old.

Even so, a minimum health care income would be an novel approach to solving health care unaffordability. Taken even further, one could imagine that this might incentivize removing the income threshold in favor of a fully comprehensive health care minimum income, which could lead to eradicating group health insurance altogether.

Instead of employers, tax credits, Medicare and Medicaid providing assistance to different groups on a piecemeal basis, every American would receive a guaranteed annual health care allowance to do with as they please. Who knows ― this may even be paving the way for minimum income policy outside of health care, like what Paine dreamed of for all Americans.

Regardless of what happens, it is notable that the AHCA offers federal assistance at all in the individual market. Before the ACA, there was no federal assistance for individual market buyers. Even if the law is repealed, the ACA has made a lasting impact on U.S. health care policy.

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Democrats Aren’t Playing Politics — Scrutinizing Gorsuch’s Nomination Is Their Job

It is time to dispel, once and for all, the sheer distortion that Democrats scrutinizing the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Neil M. Gorsuch are playing vindictive, schoolyard politics.

Because the Senate is supposed to offer its advice and consent to presidential nominees, the Constitution envisions a tension when lifetime appointees to the courts are considered for confirmation. Contentiousness has occurred. From the Senate’s rejection of George Washington’s nomination of John Rutledge for chief justice through modern times, confirmation of Supreme Court appointees has been politicized.

Railroad and business interests mounted opposition to the nomination of Justice Louis Brandeis in 1916. Fifty years ago, Sen. Strom Thurmond led an ideologically based negative campaign against Thurgood Marshall, President Johnson’s nominee to the court. Three decades ago, the Senate voted resoundingly to reject the nomination of Judge Robert Bork, nominated by President Reagan.

Today, some arguments made by Bork’s defenders are renewed as the Senate weighs the Gorsuch nomination. Gorsuch is smart and has sterling qualifications, and ideology should be downplayed, we are told. Yet this approach ignores the lessons of history and the importance of public participation.

The successful campaign against Bork featured hearings that reflected the best of the democratic process. It was a majestic debate about ideas. The American people rose up in opposition to a nominee whose fringe views they did not share. Not only the nominee, but a vision, was repudiated by the Senate.

For my role in fighting Bork’s nomination then, I harbor no regrets. Today, women in America still have a constitutional right to have an abortion. Gay couples have a constitutional right to marry. Had Bork been confirmed, these rights might not exist now.

Today, Democrats voicing skepticism about the Gorsuch nomination also are accused of engaging in tit-for-tat games with Republicans. This criticism relies on a false equivalency.

President George W. Bush applied a strict ideological litmus test for his nominees and appointed ideological warriors to the bench. Nearly half of his circuit courts of appeals nominees belong to the Federalist Society, the exclusive club of lawyers who promote the interests of the wealthy and big business. More recently, the Federalist Society helped President Donald Trump make his choice of Gorsuch.

In contrast, President Obama didn’t use judicial nominations to galvanize his party’s base or to wield presidential power. He pledged to put the “confirmation wars behind us” with his first judicial nominee, Judge David Hamilton of Indiana. The judge had support from then-Republican Sen. Richard Lugar and the president of the Federalist Society’s Indiana chapter. Nonetheless, Hamilton met scathing GOP resistance on his way to confirmation, and all Republicans but Lugar voted against his confirmation.

The fight over Hamilton foreshadowed what followed. Republicans’ strategy to delegitimize Obama featured the relentless and unprecedented obstruction of his judicial nominees, including Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland last year.

Now there is a new president who talked bluntly on the campaign trail of using litmus tests to name a successor in the mold of the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Trump proceeded to choose a man documented to be the most conservative Supreme Court nominee in 25 years.

Make no mistake, Neil Gorsuch has been driven throughout his life by an ultraconservative ideology, and some of his views are to the right of Scalia’s. His vision of America is one in which big corporations run roughshod over working people, women go without safe and accessible reproductive health care, and people with disabilities are relegated to second-class citizenship.

With the eight-member Supreme Court philosophically split, the stakes surrounding this nomination are monumental. Under these circumstances it is not only appropriate, but it is critical, that lawmakers fully examine the record of a nominee who poses a grave threat to our rights and freedoms.

Senators also will listen to the American public’s response. If some or all Senate Democrats find Gorsuch to be unqualified, it would not be a failing to do everything possible to defeat him. This exercise in democracy may be contentious, but it is neither puerile nor vengeful. It represents nothing less than Democrats’ fulfillment of their Constitutional duty and their political responsibility.

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Truth In Politics: This Way Lies Madness

I spent decades in public office and know the political vagaries of truth as well as anyone. People advocate, tweak, argue, spin and more. But there’s been little patience for lies. Truth is hard to define. It’s not opinion, and it’s not fact, and it’s almost impossible to know in a particular controversy. Is it true that global warming is caused by humans and endangers life on earth? Is it true that Putin intervened in the election? Is Darwinism true?

Whatever its’ particular limitations, there was a widely accepted desire to seek the truth in politics and to honor it as a common good and everyone’s goal. That’s no longer the case. And the consequences are disastrous.

The Trump accusations about “sick” Obama wiretapping him were always dangerous, in the same way that his birther accusations were dangerous. There is no restraining internal mechanism and once loosed upon the body politic they did measurable damage. And when first leveled, they were accusations that were heard and considered.

The wiretap allegations have now been proved “untrue” by any rational standard of discourse. The Trump response is to repeat them. Their “truth” is irrelevant, they are repeated in the face of credible evidence otherwise.

What’s lost in this process is the very American tradition of political combat based on shared realities. We can disagree about Obamacare but the CBO will provide truthful factual analysis. We can debate election fraud without making up accusations of widespread illegal voting.

No more. Nothing is what it seems to be, and there are no limits on what can be said about public issues.

This way lies madness.

Politicians are the custodians of the language, and of public discourse. The burden of protecting the goal of “truth” falls on Trump opponents to an extent. A patient and continuing correction of the record is required. But the greater burden falls on Trump supporters. It remains possible to champion policies and personalities without stripping our politics of a commitment to finding and accepting “truth”. Some Trump supporters understand this and have begun to speak out. More need to do so.

And Trump himself will have to confront “truth” sooner or later. The nation will demand it. Or so it has always done in the past.

This way lies madness.

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