Robert Kuttner

Mueller's lackluster performance actually increased Democratic support for a full investigation of Trump ⁠— here's how

More than half of the House Democratic Caucus has now come out for impeachment — 118 of 235. Mueller’s testimony, though lackluster in performance, was devastating in detail. As I wrote at the time, the pundits who thought that it had killed impeachment had it backwards.

Keep reading...Show less

Neoliberalism: Political success, economic failure

Since the late 1970s, we’ve had a grand experiment to test the claim that free markets really do work best. This resurrection occurred despite the practical failure of laissez-faire in the 1930s, the resulting humiliation of free-market theory, and the contrasting success of managed capitalism during the three-decade postwar boom.

Keep reading...Show less

Kamala Harris' fake Medicare for All plan

In the extensive jousting over Medicare for All, Kamala Harris has evaded scrutiny for the most insidious aspect of her plan: It significantly expands for-profit insurance at the expense of true Medicare by promoting more use of commercial products spuriously known as “Medicare Advantage” and calling that a version of Medicare for All.

Keep reading...Show less

This is the most plausible path to Medicare for All

It is indeed possible to get to universal coverage under the auspices of Medicare, without bankrupting the public treasury or increasing net costs to the middle class. And the coverage would be better, more reliable, and more cost-effective than even the best insurance that people now get from their employers.

Keep reading...Show less

Is Trump really on track to win re-election?

There has been a lot of political talk and pollster analysis lately suggesting that Donald Trump has a clear path to re-election. The usually estimable Nate Cohn in The New York Times pointed to numbers showing Trump’s popularity among his base in the Midwest. Cohn speculated that high turnout could allow Trump to win key states like Wisconsin and Michigan once again, and maybe flip states that Hillary Clinton narrowly carried such as Minnesota.

Keep reading...Show less

Forget the Deep State -- This Is the Trump State

Periodically over the last year and a half we've had cause to ask ourselves, "Is this it? Is this the moment we've been dreading and warning about? When Donald Trump truly becomes the kind of president he keeps telling us he wants to be?"

Keep reading...Show less

The Trump Nightmare: How It Ends

I don’t have a crystal ball, but I find the following scenario increasingly plausible. Let me begin by giving away the punch-line: When Robert Mueller’s report comes out, the Republican leadership will quickly huddle, and tell Trump that he needs to resign or face impeachment.

Keep reading...Show less

What Will It Take to Dump Trump?

The general assumption in Washington has been that only one of two things could cause the Republican leadership to turn on President Trump and begin removal proceedings, either under the 25th Amendment or via articles of impeachment.

Keep reading...Show less

Will Macron Move Left, or Feed Populist Anger?

Emmanuel Macron’s overwhelming 2-to-1 victory over Marine Le Pen has led to immense relief that the center held. France has rejected ultra-nationalism and will not destroy the euro and the EU.

Keep reading...Show less

Needed: A Democratic Shadow Cabinet

Donald Trump, precisely because his behavior is so outlandish and unpredictable, has dominated the news coverage. It’s unreality TV, and the media can’t stop covering it.

Keep reading...Show less

No, We Don’t Need Higher Interest Rates

The press is fairly slavering for the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates. You can hardly read an item in the business pages without some commentator declaring that, at last, the unemployment rate is low enough and the growth rate high enough that the Fed can tighten money… and choke off further progress. Hosannas!

Keep reading...Show less

The Search for Trump's Smoking Gun

Much of the pre-election alliance between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin is hidden in plain view. We know that Putin resented Obama’s Russia policy and feared a harder-line Hillary Clinton presidency even more. We know that Putin deliberately engaged in cyber-warfare to embarrass the Clinton campaign.  We know that Trump ― loudly and publicly ― urged the Russians to keep leaking.

We also know that Trump and his family ― a single commercial entity ― had extensive business relationships with Russia. We know that Trump campaign officials had repeated contacts with senior Russian officials, both during the campaign and in the interregnum between the election and Trump’s Inauguration. We know that Trump has been extremely flattering in his descriptions of Putin, and is drastically changing American foreign policy to back away from the Atlantic Alliance and give Russia a freer hand in Europe and elsewhere.

None of this is quite enough to convict Trump of violating the Constitution, either for outright treason or for personally profiting from Putin’s favors, which transgresses both the Emoluments Clause and statutory law.

So what would be sufficient?

One thing would be evidence of an explicit deal. We know that intensive investigations by the FBI and CIA, with help from the NSA, are continuing, to determine the exact extent and specificity of contacts and mutual commitments between the Trump campaign and Putin. It obviously enrages Trump, as an autocratic CEO accustomed to total power, that he can’t turn these off; and that the more he tries, the more leaks he invites.

But it will not be sufficient for these investigations to document more winks and nods and tacit bargains. What’s needed is some kind of smoking gun, in the form of an explicit quid pro quo.

The trouble is that deals like this are seldom put in writing, and that even transcripts of conversations rarely reveal explicit quid pro quos. Even if some of Trump’s campaign surrogates, such as Michael Flynn, made deals, Trump could say that they were freelancing and that this was done without his knowledge. We will not know just how explicit these deals were until the investigations are wrapped up.

Another possibility that could put Trump’s presidency at risk is a bungled cover-up.

It may be that Trump digs himself a bigger hole by trying to suppress the investigations, as he came close to doing when White House aides tried to enlist the FBI to rebut an accurate New York Times story about pending investigations.

But there is one other potential set of revelations that could endanger Trump’s presidency: As Deep Throat didn’t quite say, except in the movie version of All the President’s Men, “Follow the money.”

Follow the money. Trump’s entire career has been about money ― making as much money as possible, often in smarmy ways.

So the other set of revelations that Trump must be fearing are disclosures that the Russians either put money into Trump’s pocket or found ways to put money into his campaign. This also has to be a focus of ongoing investigation.

The Russians have been helping to finance the campaign of the French ultra-nationalist Marine LePen, whose revisionist views on Russia and flattering comments on Putin are eerily reminiscent of Trump’s.

The Russians, famously, not only use disinformation and disruption and attempted blackmail. They use money.

No wonder Trump is coming unglued, worrying that Obama bugged his office. The security agencies didn’t need to bug Trump. They bugged the Russians. If they stumbled on Americans doing political deals with the Russians, it was by accident.

Stay tuned.

Keep reading...Show less

Can American Fascism Be Stopped?

It is hard to contemplate the new administration without experiencing alarm bordering on despair: Alarm about the risks of war, the fate of constitutional democracy, the devastation of a century of social progress. Trump’s populism was a total fraud. Every single Trump appointment has come from the pool of far-right conservatives, crackpots, and billionaire kleptocrats. More alarming still is the man himself—his vanity, impulsivity, and willful ignorance, combined with an intuitive genius as a demagogue. A petulant fifth-grader with nuclear weapons will now control the awesome power of the U.S. government.

Keep reading...Show less

10 Threats To Take Seriously This Tuesday

If Donald Trump is elected president, we are at severe risk of ceasing to be a constitutional democracy.

Ever since World War II, the executive branch has steadily gained power at the expense of Congress. But despite a variety of incursions, especially in the name of national security, even the worst of our presidents have had some basic respect for our institutions.

When the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the press in the Pentagon Papers case, or when Richard Nixon was ordered to turn over the Watergate tapes, he complied. When Congress finally turned against the Vietnam War, the escalations ceased. Ronald Reagan complied with Congressional investigations of the Iran-Contra affair.

But Donald Trump would make Nixon look like Thomas Jefferson. The idea that separation of powers would somehow restrain Trump is a fantasy. After some early defections, the Republic Party has decided to be Trump’s enablers.

Threat Number One: Defining Political Opposition as Treason. If Trump wins, the retribution against Hillary Clinton will only intensify. Congress, far from restraining Trump’s excesses, will only pile on. If Trump controls all three branches of government, the Senate filibuster rule will soon be gone.

Threat Number Two: Selective Prosecutions. Imagine a rogue Justice Department being used to settle Trump’s scores. Trump gets to appoint U.S. Attorneys, as well as sub-cabinet officials.

His idea of great federal prosecutors are former U.S. Attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Chris Christie. And there are even worse people out there. The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division would be flipped into a Division of Voter Suppression. The elections of 2018 and 2020 will probably be held on schedule, but they are likely to be, well, rigged.

Trump’s pal, Vladimir Putin, can explain the fine points of how you keep the form of a constitutional democracy but destroy the substance.

Threat Number Three: A Police State. If you think the NSA and the FBI are menacing civil liberties and equal justice now, just wait until we see Trump’s appointees. He may not build that wall, but he does have the power to order mass deportations. Imagine how that will play out in our cities.

Threat Number Four: A Politicized IRS. Nixon tried that. Trying to use the IRS to punish political enemies was one of the items in the impeachment of Nixon. He was mostly foiled by principled conservative IRS commissioners and career officials.

But Trump would appoint a commissioner who will be a complete toady. And the messy stew of tax-exempt organizations getting involved in politics — 501 c 3s and 501 c 4s and 527s and the rest — are an invitation for selective investigations. Likewise businesses who take advantage of creative accounting.

Threat Number Five: The Courts. At least we have the independent judiciary, right? Well, far right. President Trump will get to appoint at least two Supreme Court justices, one of them likely replacing a liberal, Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

Okay, in the past couple of days, the polls suggest that the election is trending slightly back in the direction of Clinton. It now looks like about a three- or four-point race in the popular vote in her favor.

Except for Ohio, the blue firewall in the upper Midwest, and in Pennsylvania and Virginia, seems to be holding. Trump’s demonizing of Latinos has produced a mobilization that could well save Clinton. Of four states in close contention — Florida, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Nevada, she needs to win only one for a likely electoral majority.

But this only means we may be spared the worst. November 9 looks almost as scary for constitutional government even if Clinton wins.

Threat Number Six: Trump will challenge every close state and try to create a repeat of Bush v. Gore in 2000. The election will not be decided until the Electoral College meets in December, and maybe not even then.

Threat Number Seven: Congress escalates the harassment of President-Elect Clinton. Imagine trying to build an administration when you are being subject to subpoenas and threatened with contempt of Congress prosecutions. Imagine facing impeachment proceedings on your first day in office.

Threat Number Eight: Violence. Trump’s campaign has had aspects of a lynch mob. The people who are certain that the election was stolen from them are not likely to go quietly.

Threat Number Nine: Wall-to-wall blockage of Clinton’s efforts to govern, undermining her ability to remedy the very frustrations that have produced Trumpism.

Threat Number Ten: A stunted Supreme Court. The Republicans seem to be dead serious about preventing a President Clinton from adding a single justice to the High Court for the next four years. This is unprecedented in the entire American experience. Over time, depending on who dies first, the court will swing back and forth between liberal and conservative, as it dwindles from eight, to seven, to maybe six justices.

Bottom Line: The Trump threat to destroy constitutional democracy doesn’t just come from one wild and crazy guy. It is a slightly cruder version of the strategy of the whole Republican Party. One of our two major parties is hell bent on destroying our system.

Result: Deepening loss of legitimacy for democratic constitutional government itself.

Regardless of who wins, decent Americans need a mass movement to reclaim our democracy.

Keep reading...Show less

Could Anthony Weiner's Mishaps and Personal Disasters End Up Electing Donald Trump?

In one week, this nightmare election will be over. If Hillary Clinton does manage to win, Democrats and progressives will experience a complex set of feelings.

Keep reading...Show less

Why the Election Isn’t Quite Locked up for Hillary... Yet

Three weeks to go. Does Donald Trump’s escalating weirdness give Hillary Clinton a lock on the race? Not quite yet.

Keep reading...Show less

6 Things I Wish Clinton Had Said to Trump

According to post-debate instant polls and based on the continuing defection of other leading Republicans, Hillary Clinton evidently did well enough in Sunday night’s debate. But had she been a little more alert and less scripted, she might have demolished Donald Trump, once and for all.

Keep reading...Show less

The Perfect Recipe to Create a Trump Voter

Five years ago, the sociologist Arlie Hochschild set out to better understand what she called the “deep story” of the mostly white, mostly downwardly mobile Americans who made up the fervent constituency of the Tea Party, and now of Donald Trump. These are the people who ostensibly vote against their economic self-interests, as Thomas Frank contended more than a decade ago in What’s the Matter with Kansas? They loathe a government that often redistributes and regulates in their favor.

Keep reading...Show less

Donald’s Unlikely Gift to Hillary

This was going to be a tough election for Hillary Clinton. She represented continuity and establishment politics, at a political moment when unhappy voters wanted change.

She was pushing 70. Most of her prospective GOP opponents were more youthful, some of them a whole generation younger, reinforcing the image of Clinton as a candidate of the past.

She had a lot of baggage — Bill’s affairs, potential embarrassments from Clinton Foundation deals, a very long public record of public service, with inevitable gaffes and contradictions as targets. Even her strength in national security and foreign policy was blemished by misadventures such as the email mess.

And then along came Trump.

At first, it seemed as if Trump, in the role of faux populist, tribune of working class discontent, and media genius, might mean big trouble. But lately, Trump has been making Clinton look not just presidential; compared to Trump, she’s Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt.


He’s older than she is! So age is off the table.

Bill Clinton may be an odd first spouse, even a risky one. But ever since her plagiarism episode, Melania Trump has been missing in action. It now appears that she may have worked illegally for years in the U.S. on a tourist visa before she got her green card, which takes a certain zing out of Trump’s anti-immigrant rants.

The Clinton Foundation may have done some dubious deals. Clinton’s Wall Street speaking fees may have been outlandish. But compared to what? Trump’s stiffing of small business contractors? Trump University? His refusal to release his taxes? His serial bankruptcies?

The biggest worry for Clinton has been the risk of some major terrorist attack, which might drive voters to Trump as the strong hand in a crisis. But after last week, voters will have second thoughts about who has the steadier hand on national security.

Trump, himself a draft-dodger, insulted gold star families, and wouldn’t let up. He didn’t know that Putin had invaded Ukraine. He made casual comments about using nuclear weapons and abandoning NATO allies. On foreign policy, he reveals himself as an impulsive fool.

Republicans usually begin as the party superior at the mechanics of politics and the use of media. But Trump’s impulsiveness disdains professionalism, undermines the consistency of his campaign, and demolishes those structural advantages.

For one speech, on Friday, Trump actually managed to stay on message. After intense pressure from RNC chairman Reince Priebus, his own campaign staff, and anyone else who could get through to him, Trump reversed himself and announced that he was endorsing House Speaker Paul Ryan, and Senators John McCain and Kelly Ayotte after all. He even managed to avoid continuing the disastrous insults to the Khans and other gold star families.

But that discipline is very unlikely to continue. There has been a charming debate in the media about whether Trump’s bizarre character more closely corresponds to the American Psychiatric Association’s textbook definition of narcissistic personality disorder (grandiosity, self-absorbtion, lacking in empathy) or mania (inability to control outbursts, obessive “flights of ideas”).

I’d vote for both.

In the past week, Hillary Clinton and the Democrats had some potentially awkward moments such as her mischaracterization of FBI Director Comey’s view of her truthfulness, and the revelation that the Administration had paid $400 million in cash to Iran as part of a prisoner exchange . But Trump, in his obsessive sensitivity to slights, managed to keep the (negative) spotlight on himself, and keep potentially damaging Clinton stories off the front pages.

Until a couple of weeks ago, Trump’s penchant for stealing attention was a positive—billions of dollars in free media. Now it’s a clear negative.

In the Democratic convention speech by Khizr Kahn and its aftermath, the Democrats stumbled on a strategy that will serve them well throughout the fall campaign: Goad Trump into responding with insults to a criticism on which Democrats clearly have the high ground, knowing that he is incapable of not taking the bait.

As the ancient Greeks put it, character is fate. It took a while for Trump’s true character to be revealed. But there it is, rampant, florid, and repulsive. Those who live by tweets perish by tweets.

In all likelihood, Trump will continue to amplify the splits in the GOP. The spotlight will stay on him — pulling younger voters, independent voters, sane Republican voters, and Bernie voters tempted by Jill Stein back into the Hillary camp.

All of this should be cause for relief, but not complacency. After all, a competent demagogue with greater mental stability — channeling racism, misogyny, white working class economic rage, anti-immigration anxiety and fear of terrorism — could well have beaten Clinton. Those demons will not be quelled any time soon.

Keep reading...Show less

Glass Ceiling and Class Ceiling: Can Hillary Smash Both?

Bernie Sanders might be the best thing that ever happened to Hillary Clinton. I don’t just mean persuading most of his delegates not to walk out.

Think about it. Without the Sanders campaign, Clinton would be running mainly on three things: her exceptional experience, her breakthrough status as the first woman president and her embrace of the cultural left that so dominated the Democratic National Convention.

All three elements have as many negatives as positives. Clinton may be the most qualified candidate ever to run for president, but her experience includes some awkward baggage. The first potential woman president runs into headwinds of misogyny, personified by Donald Trump. And the cultural left risks alienating as many voters as it mobilizes.

What Sanders added was to push Clinton and her allies, sometimes kicking and screaming, to advocate a far more progressive pocketbook program. On economics, Clinton has begun to move well beyond her comfort zone — to attack Wall Street, to call for breaking up big predatory banks, to tax the rich to pay for needed infrastructure and jobs, even to challenge dubious trade deals.

All this is the necessary antidote to the risks. And she needs to do a lot more.

With more of that emphasis, Clinton can securely carry swing states like Ohio and Pennsylvania. Without it, she remains vulnerable.

The narrative of cultural mosaic has been contested territory for Democrats, at least since the 1970s. The Democratic Leadership Council was founded in part to push Democrats to the center-right on issues like national defense and social spending, but also to discourage Democrats from campaigning as a rainbow. What emerged in 2008 and 2016 as a splendid tapestry was disparaged by the DLC in the 1980s as a tangle of narrow interest groups that alienated regular Americans.

In a famous 1989 paper, DLC theorists William Galston and Elaine Kamarck wrote: “The real problem is not insufficient liberalism on the part of the Democratic nominees; it is rather the fact that during the last two decades, most Democratic nominees have come to be seen as unacceptably liberal.”

The DLC lost that fight, big time. The Democratic base is more liberal than ever, and the party has moved left — but left on what?

Barack Obama’s election and re-election, and continued emphasis of such issues as LGBT rights and immigant rights certified that the cultural left had won. Unfortunately, however, the DLC and its progeny won on such pocketbook issues as deficit reduction, alliance with Wall Street, disrespect for unions, support for corporate trade deals and acceptance of lousy jobs and pay.

The mosaic of cultural pluralism on display at Philadelphia was nothing short of astonishing. Lesbian, gay, and transgender people at the podium, joined by Americans with disabilities, immigrants without documentation, lots of black, Latino and Asian-American speakers, proud — even fierce — feminism. All of this is cause for great celebration.

Yet, despite the projections of America as a majority/minority country, despite growing acceptance of same-sex marriage, in the present electorate, that tapestry by itself doesn’t quite add up to an automatic election win for Hillary Clinton. If it did, a moral cretin like Donald Trump would not be running even with Clinton in the polls.

Being culturally avant garde and economically status quo doesn’t do it.

Here in the progressive bubble, the Philadelphia parade felt joyous. But for tens of millions of American workers and their families, the embrace of undocumented immigrants and LGBT rights suggests a Democratic Party that is on a different planet. If Clinton can start sounding as emphatic on the pocketbook issues as she did on all the other issues, then Democrats can begin savoring a victory over Trump, maybe even a crushing one.

Another stunning thing about the Democratic National Convention was the sheer, glorious feminism of it. All spring and most of the summer, the fact that Bernie Sanders stole the hearts of the young denied Clinton some of the drama and appeal that she deserved.

Now, as Sanders both stood aside and vowed to continue to fight for pocketbook issues, the power of electing the first woman president could start to command the excitement that it hasn’t quite had until now. Based on a small sample, plenty of young voters, especially young women voters whose first choice was Sanders, are genuinely moved and exhilarated by the Clinton who they saw at the convention.

Having doubled down on her feminism — from the white dress of the suffragists to the somewhat overplayed fight song and the display of strong womanhood at the convention — Clinton will need the largest turnout of women and the biggest gender gap in history. But she will also need more than a few good men.

Her campaign gestured towards the fact that it isn’t just blacks and immigrants and LGBT people who are are suffering in America today. There was acknowledgment of general pocketbook distress in her acceptance speech, but not enough. Her three-day post-convention bus tour through the two must-win states of Pennsylvania and Ohio provided more emphasis but did not get enough national press.

Trump is vulnerable on several grounds. One is his lack of specifics, another is his hypocrisy. On pocketbook issues, Clinton needs to show up Trump by being both very specific and a lot bolder bolder than her recent predecessors.

For too long, the Democratic Party of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama has addressed the calamitous downward slide of America’s working people with gestures and with policies too feeble to make enough of a difference. At the same time, that Democratic Party, especially at the presidential level, has gotten into bed with Wall Street.

Barack Obama, passing the torch to Hillary Clinton, delivered one of the greatest presidential convention speeches ever, pointing to both ideals and accomplishments. The contrast with Donald Trump could not be greater. Yet by a margin of 73 to 18, most Americans say that the country is going in the wrong direction. Thus Donald Trump.

For the liberal elite, life is sweet indeed. The food is better than ever, the cities are more vibrant, the technology cooler. It isn’t sweet at all for the broad working class. To win big, Hillary needs to be their champion, too.

Keep reading...Show less

The 4 Big Takeaways of Brexit That the Media and Pundits Missed

What was the narrow British vote to leave the European Union really about?

Irrational Racism. This vote was a mostly racist reaction on the part of Brits who resented dark skinned foreigners in their midst, and mistakenly blamed the EU.

Britain actually has more control over its borders than most EU members, since London never signed the 1985 Schengen Agreement, which got rid of border controls for travelers throughout most of the Union. Before entering Britain, Europeans must still go through passport control, just like Syrians or Americans.

Scapegoating the EU for Economic Frustrations. Britain actually has a better deal than most EU nations. For starters, it retained its own currency, and controls its own monetary and fiscal policy. But as a member of the EU, Britain does get to send tariff-free exports to the continent and London operates as a major European financial center. All of this now at risk.

The EU Had It Coming. Brussels is a remote, unaccountable bureaucracy, imposing regulations beyond democratic control. The vote, rightly or wrongly, was a yearning for lost national sovereignty.

Rejecting Liberal Internationalism. Britain has grown at a good clip since joining the EU in 1973. Globalization is here to stay. The people who voted for Brexit, are badly informed flat-earth types, failed to understand that they were shooting themselves in the foot.

What’s wrong with these commentaries? All fail to grasp that there is more than one brand of liberalism internationalism. The kind represented by the EU since the 1990s (and Thatcherism since the late 1970s) has been operated largely by and for financial elites.

When the original institutions that later became the EU were created in the 1940s and 1950s, the international system was designed on the ashes of depression and war to rebuild an economy of full employment and broad based prosperity. The system worked remarkably well.

In the 1980s, as a backlash against the dislocations of the 1970s, Margaret Thatcher came to power in Britain (and Ronald Reagan in the U.S.). Their policies returned to a dog-eat-dog brand of capitalism that benefited elites and hurt ordinary people. By the 1990s, when the European Economic Community became a more tightly knit European Union, it too became an agent of neo-liberalism.

Policies of deregulation ended in the financial collapse of 2008. The austerity cure, enforced the gnomes of Brussels and Frankfurt and Berlin, is in many ways worse than the disease.

Rising mass discontent has failed to dethrone the elites responsible for these policies, but it has resulted in loss of faith in institutions. The one percent won the policies but lost the people.

So, yes, the Brits who voted for Brexit got a lot of facts and details wrong. And Britain will probably be worse off as a result. But they did grasp that the larger economic system is serving elites and is not serving them.

The tragedy is that we are further away from a reformed EU than ever. A progressive EU, more in the spirit of 1944, is not on the menu. The exit of Britain will give even more power to Angela Merkel’s Germany, architect and enforcer of austerity.

The rest of Europe will become more like Greece economically and more like the British rightwing politically. There will be more far-right populist movements for other nations to quit the EU. This has already begun in France and the Netherlands, two of the founding nations of the European Community — and ones that also benefit, on balance, from the EU.

What about race? Didn’t race play a big role in this vote?

Is surely did — and not just a backlash against just recent influx of refugees and economic migrants. Since the 1950s, when Britain rebranded its empire as the Commonwealth, Britain has had a relatively liberal immigration policy for its former colonies—one part carrot to promote allegiance, one part guilty conscience.

In the 1960s, the rightwing Tory Enoch Powell was already campaigning against immigrants and slogans appeared, “If you want a ni**er for a neighbour, vote Labour.”

By 2001, 15 years ago, Britain was already 8 percent nonwhite. As traditional industry declined and living standards crashed, non-white populations increased, creating resentments against both economic misfortune and racial change.

But the history of rightwing populism is invariably a mix of economic factors and nativist ones. In the 1960s, when Europe had full employment, there was little backlash against foreign “guest-workers.” Anti-Semitism was never far below the surface in Europe, but it took the German economic collapse of the 1920s and early 1930s to produce Hitler.

Rightwing revolts are always substantially irrational, as was the vote for Brexit. But when downwardly mobile Brits grasp that the EU and the larger model of neo-liberalism aren’t exactly on their side, they are grasping a truth.

What makes this vote so tragic is the absence of enlightened leadership, either in Britain or on the continent, to propose something better. Prime Minister David Cameron, who proposed the reckless gamble of a referendum as a tactical feint to paper over an intra-party schism, may now be responsible for the dissolution of two unions — not just the EU, but the U.K., as Scotland secedes. He will be remembered as the worst British prime minister ever, a near-tie with Neville Chamberlain. The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who said he opposed Brexit but refused to actively campaign against it, was not much better.

Britain’s two major parties are now both in disarray. I can think of one possible silver lining. The referendum was not legally binding, and Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty — withdrawal — still needs to be voted by the House of Commons. And a majority of British M.P.’s oppose Brexit.

Now that the implications of Brexit are clearer, including the likely breakup of the United Kingdom itself, it’s possible that the Commons could refuse to approve Article 50. Rather, Britain could have an early election, and maybe even a partisan realignment, with one party pledged to keep Britain in the EU but to modernize the EU to better serve regular Brits, and the other party standing for narrow nationalism. My bet is that the modernizers would win.

Absent this sort of recasting of politics and political choices, we are in for a grim era in which ultra nationalists and neo-fascists keep gaining ground.

Keep reading...Show less

Donald Trump's Constitution

In 1952, contemplating Dwight D. Eisenhower as the next president, Harry Truman famously remarked, “He'll sit there and he'll say ‘Do this! Do that!’ and nothing will happen. Poor Ike—it won't be a bit like the army.” The comment reflected President Truman’s frustration with a balky bureaucracy and rival political power centers.

Keep reading...Show less

Hillary Has One Very Good Reason to Pick Elizabeth Warren

Quiz: Who is the one member of the president’s cabinet who can’t be fired?

A. Attorney General
B. Secretary of State
C. Director of Central Intelligence
D. Vice-President

The answer, of course, is D.

Elizabeth Warren is an attractive candidate for Hillary Clinton’s running mate on several grounds, but the potential deal breaker is item D. What president would want a vice president with her own fixed constitutional office, her own national power base, and the willingness to use it to possibly defy her president?

But overriding even that concern is the fact that Clinton may conclude she needs Warren to assure her own election. Only on that basis is she likely to turn to Warren.

All other considerations pale in comparison with that one. Warren will get the nod if and only if Clinton decides that Warren will make a major difference in November. Would Warren take the job? Yes.

Why might Clinton conclude that? Because Warren brings a verve and a gusto to the campaign that has partly eluded Clinton until now, though Clinton has evidently been learning some techniques and themes from Warren. And because Warren is a hero to the progressive wing of the party—in some ways she’s a better version of Sanders than Sanders is. The worry of Bernie Bros sitting it out would drastically diminish with Warren on the ticket.

Presumably, Clinton has to choose between the need to rally the progressive base and the need to name a more centrist running mate such as Virginia Senator Tim Kaine to shore up her appeal to defecting Republic moderates. But in some respects that’s a false dichotomy. Warren actually does very well among independents. She transcends ideology. She would bring the one thing to the ticket that has eluded Clinton—excitement.

Moreover, one formula for a Clinton victory is to increase her support among white women voters, whose support the Democrat has lost in the last three elections. In 2004, 55 percent of white women voters went for Bush over Kerry; in 2008, 53 percent supported McCain over Obama; and in 2012, an even larger 56 percent voted for Mitt Romney.

Clinton herself surely brings the drama of the first woman president—but on the excitement front Warren is a more compelling version of Clinton than Clinton. And two women will be even more of a breakthrough than one.

All these are good reasons for Clinton to name Warren as her running mate. But what about that Massachusetts senate seat? In the short run, it would be filled by a Republican, named by Massachusetts Republican Governor Charlie Baker.

However, no less than Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, a big Warren booster, has calculated that the seat Warren would give up could be back in Democratic hands, presumably the hands of Congressman Joe Kennedy, by January 2017. If Reid of all people considers this an acceptable bargain, what’s not to like?

In the end, Clinton has to decide whether she is secure enough in her own skin to name a running mate who may occasionally upstage her and even occasionally oppose her.

Elizabeth Warren became a powerful leader of America’s progressives because of her formidable skills both as an insider and an outsider. During her time as chair of the Congressional Oversight Committee, the watchdog agency for the bank bailouts, Warren was relentless in her criticisms of Obama’s top economic adviser Larry Summers and his Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. Yet all the while, she maintained a sunny relationship with Obama personally, who appointed her to set up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, itself an invention of Warren.

Subsequently, Warren was willing to organize other senators to compel Obama to name Janet Yellen to chair the Federal over Larry Summers; and to block the confirmation to a top Treasury job of Obama appointee, Wall Streeter Antonio Weiss. She also took her time and waited for the right strategic moment to endorse Clinton. Warren plays hardball, and plays it well.

Warren, as V.P., would not be content to go to state funerals and preside over the senate. She would be the kind of activist she has always been. If disagreed with her president, she would probably say so, maybe evenly rally her supporters to “make the president do it.”

There have only been a handful of vice presidents with that degree of independence and a willingness to use it. The most recent one was Dick Cheney, whose infighting maneuvers ran rings around the less politically adroit George W. Bush. (It’s a most unfortunate comparison. Warren is tough, but not devious; and Clinton is a lot shrewder than Bush.)

Other recent strong vice presidents have included Joe Biden and Walter Mondale. But you have to go all the way back to Thomas Jefferson’s vice president, Aaron Burr, to find one who had no loyalty whatever to his president.

And that anomaly operated under a different system of constitutional rules, in which the runner up (and rival) in the Electoral College was awarded the vice presidency. The Founders soon appreciated the system’s flaw and drafted the 12th Amendment. Since 1804, the president and vice president have effectively run as a ticket.

Nonetheless, presidential candidates, for tactical reasons, have sometimes chosen running mates of divergent views. Lincoln, who did not expect to be assassinated, allowed the 1864 Republican convention to nominate the drunkard and slavery sympathizer Andrew Johnson. The arch-conservative William McKinley, also assassinated early in his term, picked the progressive Teddy Roosevelt. John Kennedy went with Lyndon Johnson, supposedly a racial moderate, who turned out to be more of a racial liberal than Kennedy.

Johnson, however, was not a particularly strong vice president; he felt stymied by the Kennedys. He showed his true strength only as president. Teddy Roosevelt and Lincoln did not serve long enough before succeeding to the presidency to try to oppose their bosses.

Warren would be stronger and more independent than most. Nonetheless, if Clinton feels Warren would make a big difference in the election, she will be offered the vice-presidency. Otherwise, Warren can continue to lead from the Senate.

Keep reading...Show less

Can Democrats Avoid the Circular Firing Squad?

A couple of months ago, it appeared that the Republican presidential field was a fragmented fratricidal mess, with party disarray and deadlock on display all the way to the Cleveland Convention. The Democrats, meanwhile, were on track to an early nomination and party unity.

Things didn’t quite work out that way. Hillary Clinton could still lock up the nomination by the last primaries on June 14, but not without relying on super-delegates. Here are the numbers:

Clinton has 1,769 pledged delegates won in caucuses and primaries, out of 2,310 delegates required for nomination. There are 913 yet to be awarded in the last round of primaries. To go over the top before the convention, not counting super-delegates, Clinton needs to win 541 more delegates, or well over half. But with Sanders surging nearly everywhere, that seems extremely unlikely.

So the state of play after the six states vote June 7 (DC votes June 14, but has only 20 delegates) is likely to show Clinton with 50 to 100 votes short, Sanders with momentum, and the Sanders campaign mounting a last ditch effort to persuade most of the 712 super-delegates (541 of whom have already declared for Clinton) to reconsider, on the premise that Sanders has the better shot at beating Trump.

Changing that many minds seems vanishingly unlikely. However, the Sanders campaign is increasingly in a go-for-broke mood.

Many Sanders supporters are far more militant than Sanders himself, and some are openly expressing the hope that Clinton will be indicted for some aspect of the email dust up.

That also seems highly improbable.

However, Clinton has been unable to catch a break. The theme of her campaign has been experience and competence, but her improper use of a private email server suggested neither. It gives Trump a huge opening to challenge her honesty and probably signals a further decline in voter trust in Clinton.

For the past couple of weeks, many progressives who sympathize with Sanders on the issues have urged him to recognize that he will not be nominated and to think about how else to exercise his substantial influence to to push both Clinton and the Democratic Party to the left in the coming political era. There is also the small matter of not inviting a Trump presidency.

Robert Reich, a fervent Sanders supporter, urged the Clinton camp to stop requesting Sanders to exit the race — but called on Sanders and his backers to support Clinton for the greater good once she wins the nomination.

Some of you say even if Hillary is better than Trump, you’re tired of choosing the “lesser of two evils,” and you’re going to vote your conscience by either writing Bernie’s name in, or voting for the Green Party candidate, or not voting at all.

I can’t criticize anyone for voting their conscience, of course. But your conscience should know that a decision not to vote for Hillary, should she become the Democratic nominee, is a de facto decision to help Donald Trump.

Harold Meyerson, vice-chair of Democratic Socialists of America, executive editor of The American Prospect, and one of the most astute analysts of the Sanders phenomenon, called on Sanders and his supporters to look beyond the election to build a movement, and warned against the self-indulgence of the self-righteous:

What is arguably the most successful left campaign in the nation’s history stands in danger of being undone by an infantile fraction of its own supporters. The threats of violence, the shouting down of such lifelong liberals as Barbara Boxer, and the growing desire of some in the campaign, both on its periphery and at its core, to walk away from the real prospect of building left power by refusing to work with allies and potential allies in the Democratic Party — all these now threaten the campaign’s potential to bring lasting change to American politics.

I write this as a strong Sanders supporter (albeit one who never thought he could win the nomination), as a lifelong democratic socialist (indeed, for some years, Bernie and I were probably the two most out-of-the-closet socialists in D.C.) who’s been astounded and thrilled by Sanders’s success so far in pushing the national and Democratic discourse to the left. I write this with the hope that the Sanders legions can come out of this election year with the networks and organizations that can reshape the American economic and political order — bolstering workers’ power, altering corporate governance, diminishing the scope of finance. But to do that effectively, they’ll have to make common cause with progressives who’ve backed Hillary Clinton.

Peter Dreier, another savvy Sanders supporter, spelled out a five-point plan for Sanders and his followers to build a durable left in America, something that has eluded progressives since FDR.

Many progressive politicians have promised to transform their electoral campaigns into ongoing movement operations, but few have had the patience or resources to do so. Many of Jessie Jackson’s supporters hoped that his presidential efforts in 1984 and 1988 would evolve into a permanent Rainbow Coalition of progressive activists, but it didn’t happen. After Obama won his brilliantly-executed 2008 campaign — built by an army of seasoned political and community organizers who trained hundreds of thousands of volunteers in the art of activism — he created the nonprofit now known as Organizing for Action (OFA). OFA has not lived up to its early promise, in large part because Obama made it an arm of the DNC in a bid to build support for his legislative agenda.

I find these arguments very persuasive. But first, Democrats need to avoid the ritual of the circular firing squad during the period between the last primaries and the July convention.

The challenge is that Sanders has built one of American history’s most potent mass movements for progressive change, reflecting deep frustrations on the part of young and working class people, and they are not about to quietly step aside and let Clinton have the prize. Nor are they in any mood to listen to elders still repenting their youthful votes for Eldridge Cleaver rather than Hubert Humphrey in the fraught 1968 election, opening the way for Richard Nixon. Each generation gets to define its own politics and make its own judgments and mistakes.

If Clinton had some momentum, if she were not the victim of her own missteps, if she had found a plausible voice to puncture Trump’s pretentions, then she would have a much stronger case that Sanders and his people should get on board. But it’s Sanders with the momentum, Clinton who keeps stumbling, and even her own strongest supporters are dismayed that her campaign seems mechanical and joyless.

Last Tuesday, Senator Elizabeth Warren delivered the keynote speech to the gala of the Center for Popular Democracy. It was one of the most effective demolitions of Donald Trump ever. She said, referring to the fact that Trump bragged about betting on a housing collapse in 2006:

What kind of a man roots for people to get thrown out of their houses? What kind of a man roots for people to get thrown out of their jobs? To root for people to lose their pensions? I’ll tell you exactly what kind of a man does that. It is a man who cares about no one but himself. A small, insecure, money-grubber who doesn’t care who gets hurt, so long as he makes a profit off it.

Clinton makes similar arguments, but it is Warren who does it with verve, wit and devastating effect, and Clinton who manages to sound mechanical.

The period between the last primaries and the convention is shaping up as a time of maximum risk for Democrats. Political logic dictates that Democrats should unite behind Clinton because of the greater threat of Trump. But she is such a flawed candidate that political passions in many quarters dictate otherwise.

Sanders evidently believes that not only that he should be the Democrats’ nominee but that if events break right, he still can. Assuming Hillary Clinton is nominated, it will take rare statesmanship and leadership for Sanders to urge his followers to support Clinton while he keeps on building a movement.

Keep reading...Show less

Why the Libertarians Might Help Tilt the Election to Hillary

Two former Republican governors are running for president and vice president on the Libertarian line. They are Gary Johnson, former New Mexico governor, and William Weld, former governor of Massachusetts. The Libertarian Party holds its nominating convention in Orlando, Florida, over Memorial Day weekend.

The Libertarian Party could play the spoiler role in 2016 for Donald Trump, just as Ralph Nader did in 2000, but this time helping to tip the election to the Democrat.

Its minor-party counterpart on the left, the Green Party led by standard bearer Jill Stein, is far less likely to draw a comparable level of support from disaffected Bernie Sanders supporters. Sanders himself has already said he’ll support the Democratic nominee.

Unlike the typical third party candidates, Johnson and Weld are experienced mainstream politicians. Johnson, a former construction company entrepreneur, served two terms from 1994 to 2002, winning both elections by ten points. Weld was a highly popular and moderate governor of the Bay State. He won re-election by the largest margin in state history in 1994.

Polls are notoriously unreliable on third-party campaigns, especially this early in an election year, when low name recognition understates appeal. But it looks as if the Libertarians could easily take 5 to 10 percent of the total vote and more in key states. Almost all of this will come at the expense of Donald Trump.

A Fox poll conducted Friday had support for Johnson at surprising 10 percent of the national vote.

Once the campaign moves to the general election phase, the Libertarian ticket will get more attention. In 1980, Republican Congressman John B. Anderson of Illinois, who could not abide Ronald Reagan, mounted an independent challenge and won just under 7 percent of the vote.

In what seems an increasingly close election, even five points drawn off from Trump in such key swing states as Colorado, Florida, or Ohio, or possibly Arizona, could lock those states into the blue column and provide some insurance for Hillary Clinton.

Of course, many of the Republicans who are most appalled by Donald Trump are far from libertarian. They are traditional business types or social moderates. On the other hand, they are fervent tree-traders—like the Libertarians and unlike Trump. The presence of a ticket with two former mainstream GOP governors gives them a way to disdain Trump without crossing all the way over and supporting Clinton.

In addition, the Republican Party is home to many genuine libertarians such as Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and his legions of young supporters. Libertarians tend to support very limited government, both at home and in limiting military adventures abroad. They also are big on rights, such as abortion rights and the right to smoke or grow marijuana, and the right to freely migrate.

Gary Johnson not only supports the right to grow and smoke marijuana. He’s a pot entrepreneur, the CEO of a company called Cannibis Sativa.

Trump, with his defense of traditional Social Security and Medicare, and a military stance that swings wildly between intervention and isolation, seems the opposite of libertarian. Bill Weld, the former governor of Massachusetts, told the New York Times that Trump’s views on Muslims reminded him of Kristallnacht, the Nazi rampage on Jewish shops and synagogues in 1938.

The spurned Republican kingmakers and donors so far have failed to get a high-profile figure like Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan to mount a third party run against Trump. But two former GOP governors on the Libertarian ticket could well end up playing that role. Even though most Republican elected officials have fallen in line behind Trump, a lot of Republican voters would dearly like to cast their ballots for someone else.

Keep reading...Show less

How Trump Brought the Republican Establishment to Its Knees

We keep hearing that the Republican Party is on track to suffer an epic split over the presumed nomination of Donald Trump. But what exactly does this mean? What happens once the 2016 election is over?

Keep reading...Show less

Hillary's Big Dilemma

Hillary Clinton and her advisers now face an excruciating dilemma for the November election. Go left or go center?

Keep reading...Show less
@2022 - AlterNet Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. - "Poynter" fonts provided by