Tag Archives: Trump

Return to the Third-way

Everyone knows partisan politics is divided.  The cliché is that modern politics is in a flux of extremes.  Looking at the current GOP primary field would seem to support this argument with candidates such as Trump and Cruz in the lead.  The level-headed adults have left the building (Rubio) with the exception for Kasich, who clings to the remote possibility of being spoiler at the July convention.

What is more in doubt is the chicken-or-the-egg quandary which asks, “Are politicians extreme because of their base, or is the base moving toward extremism because of the bent of current political leaders?”  Looking back at recent history, American Presidents of the not to distant past seemed fairly moderate in both parties.  Even the much abhorred Neocon movement of the early 2000s is a mild salve compared to the frenzy of the Tea Party.  Now emerging on the political left is a surprising showing by Bernie Sanders (I-VT).  But even Sanders, with his social populism, is a mirror of the trend of political divide in America.  As Trump engages with the sizable political fringe on the right, Sanders has found a niche on the left to exploit.

Conventional wisdom holds that political extremism exists in both parties, though arguably more obvious in the GOP, but for the sake of electability, moderate politicians are selected to run in general elections.  George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush are Presidents, while Bob Dole and Mitt Romney are candidates, who are politically moderate examples of the GOP by today’s standards.  Correspondingly, President Bill Clinton is the founder of the New Democrats from the Third Way movement that came to power by advocating moderate policies and appealing to centrist voters.[1]  President Barrack Obama, despite allegations to the contrary, is also a center-left Democrat who won power by appealing to a coalition of voters.

Since 2010, when the rise of the Tea Party and the loss of the Democrat controlled House of Representatives, the run-to-the-middle approach of the GOP floundered as more moderate Republicans were unable to advance against more radical primary challengers.  Conservative and libertarian populism meant that successful Republican politicians often had to cater to the whims of the far-right of the party.

Now, there is a danger that the caricature of the angry voter who has found a voice in Donald Trump’s candidacy has emerged in the Democrat Party.  While mainstream Democrats are often marginally aligned with the belief of the fringe-left, politicians like Elizabeth Warren have galvanized the liberal parallel to the Tea Party—the Occupy (Wall Street) movement.  Other groups have emerged with narrowly focused interest but a huge public presence, like the Black Lives Matter movement, to dominate liberal political discourse.  It would seem that liberal groups are adopting the divisive zero-sum attitude of their conservative counterparts.

Occupy (Wall Street) has some legitimate points it makes on the topics of income inequality and the control of wealth.  Black Lives Matter also makes fair criticism that there is a problem with structural discrimination in society, specifically in law enforcement.  What the dangers the groups represent is found in a spectrum from a lack of a coherent plan that tackles the root of their niche point of advocacy to unrealistic and poorly constructed plans that have no chance of success, such as Sanders’ implausible plan for single-payer healthcare.[2]

Now that Sanders has entered the national political dynamic, away from his ideological-island territory of Vermont (greater New England), he is playing a dangerous game by giving mainstream political attention and support to the fringe-left advocacy groups.  He has gained a significant amount of success through populist ideology.  Unfortunately, giving undue credibility to fringe-groups hurts actual discourse as the groups have less incentive to moderate their message to less friendly audiences.  Fringe groups then double down on their rhetoric with even more ideologically impassioned voices emerging, rather than the ones coming from a place of logic and well-formed articulation.  The reality is that ideologically based advocacy groups have their biggest cheerleader and validator in Sanders; the face of angry populism on the left.

Bernie Sanders’ candidacy for President is supposed to be a call for a political revolution.  What he might actually do is damage the Democrat brand.  To Sanders’ credit, he has been able to capture the support and enthusiasm of large numbers of voters who typically shun the political process with apathy and inaction.[3]  These enthusiastic foot soldiers in Sanders’ revolution identify with his fervor.  They are the true believers.  One might cynically say they swallowed the bait hook-line-and-sinker.  But like the proverbial fish in the fishing analogy, one they get off the hook, so much harder it is to get them to bite again.  That’s perhaps why polls show that a quarter of Sanders’ supporters won’t back Clinton in the case that she was selected as nominee to the Democrat Party.[4]

That’s right.  By Sanders whipping his voting base into an ideological frenzy, the invested parties in his “revolution” have stated that many of them won’t compromise for anything less than his ideological purity.  It’s not hard to see why his voters threaten to take their metaphorical ball and go home, since this far into the primary process, Sanders and his supporters have resorted to demagoguery, by slamming Hillary Clinton as counter-revolutionary and part of the problem he crusades against.  But while Clinton is largely a centrist, she’s still incredibly liberal by many standards.  To shun Clinton as the nominee, I would relate to a person throwing out a hundred dollar winning lottery ticket in anger that they didn’t win the jackpot.  A win is still a win.

The second self-inflicted wound that Sanders may inflict against the Democrat Party is something I’ve heard Sanders’ supporters gleefully but myopically brag about.  When confronted by the delegate math and the difficulty Sanders faces at getting the nomination, I’ve personally heard his supporters allude (I paraphrase,) “It’s not important that he win so much as it’s important that he contribute to the conversation, “ or “At lease Sanders’ campaign is pushing Hillary to the left.”

This attitude is problematic for a couple of reasons.  For a quarter of Sanders’ voters it doesn’t matter if Clinton shifts left, they still won’t back her in the general election.  Sam Stein of Salon.com makes the point that forcing Clinton to shift to the left will alienate moderate or transition GOP voters.[5]  And right now there are a lot of disaffected GOP voters who are worried about the hard-right swing of Trump’s angry populism who the Democrats will fail to woo if it appears there is an equal hard-left swing that Clinton is forced to make to compete with Sanders’ fringe ideology.

Sometimes conventional wisdom is conventional because it works.  Hard shifts to either extremes don’t help political parties in the long run and they don’t help American voters.  America enjoyed one of the longest economic expansions in its modern history under President Clinton and has recovered from the greatest loss of wealth in American history under President Obama.  Both presidents are largely centrists.  It doesn’t make sense to choose a high risk ideology which has dubious chances of success.

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[1] Stein, S.  (2015)  Salon.com, “The Rise Of Bernie Sanders And The Panic Of Democratic Centrists”
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/third-way-presidential-campaign_us_563237f2e4b0c66bae5b4066

[2] Klein, E.  (2016)  VOX.com, “Bernie Sanders’s single-payer plan isn’t a plan at all”
http://www.vox.com/2016/1/17/10784528/bernie-sanders-single-payer-health-care

[3] Wallace-Wells, B.  (2016)  The New Yorker, “Sanders, Trump, and the Rise of the Non-Voters”

http://www.newyorker.com/news/benjamin-wallace-wells/sanders-trump-and-the-rise-of-the-non-voters

[4] Savransky, R.  (2016)  TheHill.com, “Poll: 1 in 4 Sanders Voters Won’t Back Clinton” http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/presidential-races/bernie-sanders-leads-hillary-clinton-national-poll#

[5] Stein, S.  (2015)  Salon.com, “The Rise Of Bernie Sanders And The Panic Of Democratic Centrists”

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/third-way-presidential-campaign_us_563237f2e4b0c66bae5b4066

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In Defense of Trump, or, How I Learned to Love the Bomb

These days I have been known to pound Bernie Sanders while subtly detract from criticism of Donald Trump.  Why?  Why would I do that…?  They say in polite company we should never openly speak of religion or politics. Screw that.  This is America.  Not just America, but ‘MURICA.  While my friends (majority left-leaning) probably shudder to hear that, my thoughts on this subject spoken openly, is not of the content that will win me praise from the majority of them.  By the way, I also know my use of footnotes is not academically correct, so piss off about that.

And just so you know, I volunteered for Kerry’s campaign and the last two Obama campaigns.  This is my fridge:1457625451798-901374983

 

Bernie Sanders as President of the United States of America is dangerous. Like “Holy Sh*t”-level dangerous.  What I see in him is a mirror of the irrational anger reflected in the rise of Trump, yet on the Liberal side of politics.  Although in my mind Sanders is worse than Trump, and he’s why:
Bernie Sanders is the end of the status quo that has been the dominance, or at least preeminence of the last70 years.  In short, Bernie Sanders wants to transform America into a European-modeled socialist republic of the ilk found in the EU.  “What’s wrong with that?” you may ask.  Well plenty…

Namely, it’s impossible. As argued by Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman[1], America won’t stomach such a transition.  Krugman looked at the numbers released for Sanders’ single-payer healthcare plan and argues that such a reform is impossible due to the current political climate in America.  Any attempt a dtramatic changes to the larger paradigm of American society would fail and use up any prospective political capitol Sanders may earn by hypothetically being elected POTUS.
I make that same argument with the supermajority of Sanders’ campaign promises.  Supposing the argument that Sanders is elected as POTUS, almost all of his platform wish list would need to be legislated into law.  If we look at the trouble Obama has had with everything over the last 7 years, what seriously makes anyone believe there will be the type of bipartisan compromise that would be needed to pass an obvert socialist agenda?  President Obama isn’t even a real socialist, just a supposed one in the minds of the paranoid and bitter Republicans fringe.  His by partisan healthcare reform (aka Obamacare) is under threat of repeal to this day.

 

Now there are “plenty of puppies and rainbows” [2] in Sanders’ plan to pivot into a semi-socialist state.  That being said, who even wants to be an entitlements-for-all welfare state in today’s economy?  Sure, many countries have it better than the US in terms of healthcare and education, but that’s not really sustainable.  If we look at Japan, there are astronomical levels of debt to GDP as the payoff ‘free’ healthcare for all.[3]  Yes, Japan has structural and demographic differences that differ from an apt comparison to the US.  But economists in England[4] and politicians in Norway and Denmark are projecting that the traditional European-style welfare state is under threat with the global economy as it is.  There is an economic carrying capacity to how much wealth can be transferred with limited revenue.   Governmental spending on social programs is necessary, and often even a boon to the economy.  It helps drive consumption and acts as a safety net to the most vulnerable Americans.  However, spending must be put into the context of how much debt can be sustained.  Even left-leaning economists[5] are arguing that what Sanders’ is promising is unrealistic in terms of how much it will cost.

 

On National Defense, Sanders’ policies could seriously threaten American security and that of our allies. Sanders’ plans include dramatic cuts to military spending.  That in itself is not a bad thing.  One of America’s greatest Republican presidents, Dwight Eisenhower, even famously warned us of the Military Industrial Complex.  It’s an insidious parasite on America, which wastes tax payer money.  But not all defense spending is bad spending.  Having the mightiest military on the face of the planet is good for America and world peace.  We protect our allies today, in places like Japan and South Korea, from nations that would gladly encroach on their territorial sovereignty in the best case scenario.  In the worst case, unchecked foreign actors would openly attack our friends around the world.  Russia’s actions in the Ukraine are an example of why a powerful military is a deterrent to conflicts against our interests.

True, America can also be the source of instability. What would the Middle-East look like today, if not for the Iraq War?  Be that as it may, some of our enemies only respect our saber rattling from time to time.  The American military is only a tool.  When a tool fails you address the user, not the need to have it.  Is it really okay to leave the state of world peace in the hands of Russian, Chinese, Iranian or North Korean diplomats?  If ISIS or Al Qaeda attack America or its allies, is it really okay for Sanders’ to leave them unpunished?

 

On Education, Sanders’ is trying to promise free higher education for all of America. I call BS.  First, assuming it was something we could actually afford, what is the value of it when it becomes ‘free’?  America has arguably the best collective higher education institutions in the world.  Some countries with free education are Brazil, Germany, Finland, France, Norway, Finland and Sweden[6].  Not to denigrate the education of any of these countries but none of them have the collective prestige and reputation of America’s universities.  In making higher-Ed freed and funded solely by the taxpayers, you are going to seriously see a degredation in quality.  “Free” doesn’t mean free. We will then have a system similar to our primary and secondary educational system which is constantly underperforming and underfunded.  The American taxpayer isn’t going to want to invest for the best research facility or the newest equipment in every single university across the country.  It will be a system with winners and losers.

Inequality will be rife amongst students as rich students will still be able to find elite places to pump them back into society as “the best and brightest,” but poorer communities will have less to offer the best professors. There will be an increased demand by students who will expect to go to college yet are ultimately less driven as higher education is an entitlement program, and not earned.

On a personal note, I can attest that something needs to be done about the cost of college. Furthermore, the student loan system that cripples college goers with unrelenting debt also needs to be addressed.  But simply making it free is not the answer.

I look at my college degree is the “skin in the game” in my adult life. My education debt is in excess of $50,000, which by some comparisons is relatively cheap.  However, even I have suffered from the end of deferments, default, garnishment of my income tax refund and bad credit.  I have been able to bring some of my loans out of default as my income has mildly improved, but I still am unable to save or invest in my retirement as my debt and its interest eats a large portion of my income.  Nevertheless, I still see my education as an investment in myself.  I like to think that I have bettered myself and my community by being an educated, better informed citizen.

 

What has to be reformed is the interest on the debt. America owes anywhere from $708 billion to $1.3 trillion dollars in student loans[7].  The interest off any of those figures is mind boggling, and requires someone smarter than I to explain what the horrors of what compound interest means in lay terms.  What it effectively means to me is that I throw my money at an open hand, and some of it pays my debt and some of it disappears in the ether, but all the while my debt persists.

That it means for America is that a huge amount of our national wealth is collected monthly to pay a debt while only a portion of the debt is paid. This is deadweight loss against the American economy.  These are dollars that could be used on goods and services, creating jobs, furthering growth and development, which instead swell an already bloated financial sector.

Maybe I missed it, but I have yet to hear Sanders clearly articulate how he intends to tackle the yoke of debt that burdens those of us who already attended college or university.

 

I have many other points that I find fault with Sanders on, but to be concise I will move on.

What I see in Bernie Sanders is an ideologist. He speaks on issues with what I would almost call a religious fervor.  Trump, on the other hand, is full of sh*t.  I know he’s full of sh*t, you know he’s full of sh*t.  Most of America does.  Perhaps the only one not convinced Trump is full sh*t is Trump. The reason Trump is full of sh*t is because he doesn’t believe all the stuff he says.  He has been repeatedly back and forth on the issues[8], such as gun control and abortion.  He says he wants to “make America great again,” but he doesn’t say how.  Trump is either a moron or like a fox or stupid. I would prefer either of those options over Sanders’ idealism.  The reason is that stupid can be fixed, a true believer  who would rather be a martyr than a winner (Sanders) can’t.

Trump can be surrounded by smart people. Trump can educate himself on the issues.  Or maybe, Trump is just being Trump and saying whatever he feels will get him attention despite his personal beliefs.  Maybe he will fool his way into the White House with his bombastic rhetoric and turn out to be deep thinker with profound ideas.  Well, probably not.  In any of those scenarios, I would prefer someone who can change and evolve over time rather than burn every inch of Washington instead of comprimising his convictions.  Enter Bernie Sanders.

 

Bernie Sanders wants to completely upend the status quo. It’s a status quo that clearly needs changing in some cases, but not in others.  Either way, I don’t trust Sanders and I don’t trust the mob that supports him.  I don’t trust putting all your energy in convictions.  While one can make the point that there is a mob that supports Trump, Trump’s history does not match the extreme rhetoric he spews.  Sanders’ ideology is matched, if not exceeded, by his open criticism of American institutions[9] from the Dept. of Education to the Dept. of Justice.

Some of the things Trump has said in his run for the Republican nomination have clearly been vile, but his past of supporting immigrant labor, gun control and Planned Parenthood are in stark difference to his words.

 

To say that I wholeheartedly support Trump is a satire and a fiction. I don’t think hes the most qualified or experienced.  I don’t think he has the temperament of a good statesman and world leader.  I also don’t think, despite all his saber rattling, that he’d be competent in an emergency of national security.  What I do think is that Trump is more likely to ride the winds of change if pressed, while Sanders would go down in the fight for what he wants… and take the country with him.

Ironically, I see Sanders and Trump to be the same in one very important respect. Both Sanders and Trump are willing to ignite irrational feelings around how they think policies should be, rather than pick the most pragmatic and logical policy for the given situation.  I also think the supporters of both candidates have a poor grasp of political realism in terms of what is promised and what is possible.  Trump isn’t really going to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it.  Sanders isn’t really going to make a four-year college education free for all.  The difference between the two is that Sanders believes he can and so do his followers.

 

Realistically, the best candidate for 2016 is Hillary Clinton. The former Secretary of State and US Senator, has a firm grasp of progressive policies but also had a demonstrated pragmatism that would lead her to build on existing healthcare reforms, rather than spend for yours in the White House fighting for a single-payer system that might never happen.  She also has demonstrated a hard line in national security that makes me believe she could go toe-to-toe with aggressive foreign powers and rogue non-government actors, like Daesh.  Like many other Clinton supporters[10], I am convinced that Clinton is the best candidate to work in today’s political environment.  As a senator from New York, Clinton has had to work with congressional colleagues in both houses of the legislature to get bills passed.

The best part about Clinton as a candidate is she doesn’t gather the fringes of an angry mob, she targets right down the middle of the progressive moderates to center-left of the Democratic Party. A vote for Sanders, on the other hand, seems to me like the leftist equivalent of Trump’s “The Loudest Wins” mentality.  While I used to distain Clinton for her disingenuous scheming, I now see the cynicism as being actually pragmatism.  If her policy outlook was permanently static, she’d never weather a primary.  In short, Clinton represents a anthropomorphized version of a political linear regression model (aka Line-of-best-fit).  Perhaps that is also the genius of Trump.  We don’t know what kind of politician he’ll turn out to be, but we must acknowledge that his political flexibility is perhaps more dynamic than any other politician in the modern age. I prefer the “Trumpizing” of the Republican electorate because it allows a bit of schadenfreude for those of us who abhor the pivot toward the conservative fringe that the Tea Party’s ideation represents.
Secondly, it allows the Democrats to take a bite out of the more moderate Republican electorate who will outright refuse to vote for Trump.
Third, if the Democrats can capture moderate Republican voters, it may pull the Democrat party’s policies more center-left rather than hard-core progressive.  A force, such as the Democrat party, needs a healthy internal opposition to ground it and keep it from herding itself to one extreme of polarization.  Donald Trump proves that with the Republicans.  Maybe, just maybe, he’s teaching us something worth listening to.

[1] http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/01/19/weakened-at-bernies/ Paul Krugman slams the economic and political reality of Sanders’ single-payer insurance platform.

[2] http://www.vox.com/2016/1/17/10784528/bernie-sanders-single-payer-health-care Ezra Klein denigrates the economic theory of Sanders’ healthcare plan.

[3] http://money.cnn.com/2015/07/23/news/economy/japan-debt-imf/
Japan’s debt crisis.

[4] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-34272111
Can Europe still afford the welfare state?

[5]http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/16/us/politics/left-leaning-economists-question-cost-of-bernie-sanderss-plans.html
Sanders’ maybe significantly underestimating the cost of his policy plans.

[6] http://www.salon.com/2014/11/02/7_countries_where_college_is_free_partner/
Countries that have free college.

[7] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/03/05/government-student-loans_n_6808796.html
American student loans.

[8]http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/presidential-campaign/252073-trump-on-the-issues-past-and-present
Trump on the issues.

[9] http://edition.cnn.com/2016/02/29/politics/bernie-sanders-own-words/index.html
Sanders’ own words used to describe his anger at American institutions

[10] http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/02/us/politics/hillary-clinton-bernie-sanders.html
Supporters of Hillary Clinton.