If It’s November, It’s Clinton

There should be mixed feelings on political conventions. Great orators paint a vision of the America they want their country to become. The speeches create an ideal, not a reality. The DNC and RNC both painted a vision of their country, and both outlined a plan to shape America into a country that fully realizes its potential.

The Republican National Convention was – and forgive the pun – not conventional. Donald Trump’s speech painted a dark and paranoid America, one that reveled in its past, suffers in the present, and one that will be Great Again. But only if Donald Trump is in charge. Compare and contrast that to every other convention in recent memory, and Trump’s current understanding of America cuts perpendicular to an America with a stock market at an all-time high, crime rates at historic lows, and continued job growth.

What held my attention the most at both Conventions, however, were not the speakers but the speakers’ audiences. As the cameras panned through the audience at the RNC convention, I saw a sea of white faces, every single time. As the cameras panned through the audience at the DNC convention, I saw something entirely different: women wearing hijabs, blacks, whites, Hispanics, gays. The DNC threw a party, and everyone came. The RNC threw its party, and even those who received an invitation did not show (i.e. George Bush Sr., Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney). The anecdotal evidence seems to be supported by something more substantial.

The New York Times noted that only nine percent of Americans participated in the primaries dominated by two political parties. Nine percent. Trump’s messages do not need to resonate with the American public writ large to secure a nomination, but with a select few. No wonder a June 2016 poll shows Hispanic support for Trump hovers below 30%. An August 2016 Washington Post poll shows that African American support for Trump hovers around 1%.

Which party do you see as more inclusive?

Take another example: Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s recent selfie with the interns working for the Republican Party. Compare that to images of the interns working for the Democratic Party, and the narrative remains entirely consistent. [photos below]

What it comes down to, ultimately, is that the Democrats did a far better job finding a representative slice of America in its small sample size than the Republicans did in theirs. Trump has his messages, and the fear and pessimism generated by his words resonate with the folks who voted for him. Clinton has her messages, too. The difference is that her messages appeal to a far broader swatch of America.

And that will be the difference in this election. Clinton for the win.

 

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*Photo credits to esquire.com, democrats.org
http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/08/01/us/elections/nine-percent-of-america-selected-trump-and-clinton.html?_r=0

Guns Galore

Even in a county of 300 million, the United States has enough arms to provide a firearm to every man, woman, and child in the country. What could possibly go wrong?

A lot. Homicides, at nearly 30 per million people, is about fifteen times the rate in Germany. In 2013, slightly more than 33,000 died from firearms. That works out to 90 people per day. Guns do not discriminate, and so to tell me that the Orlando shooting is homophobic, or inspired by Islam, misses the mark. Through that lens, how can you explain Dylan Roof’s motivation to kill African Americans at a historic church? There can be only one motive, and that is hate. Military-style assault weapons become the vehicle.

It seems like shootings could happen anywhere, anytime and at this point in our country’s history, they do. So it is not without irony that guns, omnipresent in society, perpetuate so much fear that we need to buy a gun to defend ourselves. The NRA makes sure of that; simply go to their website and watch the videos that make unarmed citizens sound like sheep going to the slaughter.

The gun industry profits mightily. In October 2015 CNN reported, “Popular gun companies Smith & Wesson (SWHC) and Sturm Ruger (RGR) are among the best stocks in America in 2015. It’s a reminder of just how profitable these businesses are. Smith & Wesson has skyrocketed over 80% this year.” So is it the NRA protecting the 2nd amendment, or is the NRA simply protecting – and maximizing – gun industry profits. Why does the NRA get its lackeys in congress to ban government-funded research on gun violence? Why restrict anybody from buying a gun so long as there is money flowing into the industry’s coffers?

Sadly, the NRA, the gun industry get lawmakers to place profits over public safety and public health.  How else to explain a country that allows people on the “Do Not Fly List” access to firearms?

Sensible gun control measures need to happen, and happen now. Only then can we replace the paranoia, the fear that we might get shot anytime, anywhere with something far better: not now, not ever.

 

Trump, and The Case for Clinton

With Cruz and Kasich out, Donald Trump is the presumptive Republican nominee. The silver lining is that an uncontested convention will save Cleveland a few days’ worth of rioting. The downside is an unconventional and unproven candidate that rankles not only the left but many on the right.

While many believe that the 2016 presidential election is Secretary Clinton’s to lose, the election will happen about six months from now.  That leaves something like 180 days in-between. So long as the status quo holds, Secretary Clinton should win. By contrast, what if one event changed everything; think terror attack, scandal within the Obama administration, economic collapse. Such an event would flip the narrative by feeding directly into Donald Trump’s “America First” policies that scapegoat immigrants and minorities. By extension, Donald Trump could very well win the presidential election.

What a President Trump would do once in office is a very different question, and I will lay out two different options. Assuming President Trump wins in the scenario outlined above, Trump would come under intense pressure to dramatically reform immigration policies, start building the wall along the Mexican border*, and enact punitive economic policies against offending countries. Whether or not Donald Trump actually wants to enact such policies is another question entirely, as outlined in the second option.

The second option posits the following question: does Donald Trump really believe in the policies he is touting on the campaign? Donald Trump is, at his core, a businessman. My strong suspicion is that Donald Trump seeks the White House because he wants to use the ultimate bully pulpit to pass laws, regulations, and rules that enrich his businesses and solidify his brand. Put another way, a President Trump would simply not care about anything that is not associated with his name.

Taking that into account, Donald Trump simply used inflammatory rhetoric and a Republican Party – neither of which he has historically believed in – to chart a map to the White House. Should Donald Trump win the White House in November, my greatest hope is that a President Trump would simply abandon his jingoistic rhetoric and pass laws that personally enrich himself. And that would be a best case scenario for a Trumpian presidency.

What should be far more appalling to Americans is that we are considering yet another businessman to run government machinery. Was George W. Bush not a fantastic reminder that CEO-styled Presidents who fail to grasp basic geopolitics, economics, diplomacy and domestic policy results in dire consequences? Iraq, permanent tax cuts, torture, and Katrina, all speak to this collective experience.

In short, Trump is not the man for the job. May common sense prevail and let Secretary Clinton, a seasoned, even-handed, and proven candidate, trump Trump come November.

 

*Because building a wall along the Mexican border is next to impossible given the wall’s overall costs and Trump’s plan to pay for it, Trump may very well opt to build a small portion as a symbolic gesture and let the rest of the wall remain incomplete.

Rethinking Democracy

Democracy is messy, especially in a country as diverse and as large as the United States of America. Yet 2016 feels exceptional on all fronts.

President Obama, now into his eighth year in office, will not not sign any meaningful legislation into law.  A Republican-controlled congress will see to that; for example, Congress will not even have the decency to hear out President Obama’s 2016 budget. Senate Budget Chairman Mike earlier this year declared that the he will forgo the “decades-long” tradition of hearing the Office of Management and Budget Director’s testimony. Given the President’s budget contains policy objectives for 2016 and beyond, Congress will (again) turn a deaf ear to the President’s agenda. President Obama will undoubtedly return the favor should Congress try to pass any of its own legislation. In short, Congress will be a place where progressive and conservative policies alike go to die.

The U.S. Supreme Court now finds itself with eight U.S. Supreme Court Justices; Antonin Scalia passed earlier this year. Mourn his passing or not, Scalia’s death injected yet more politics into the U.S. Government’s most apolitical institution. Not that Scalia was apolitical himself – friends and foes alike would describe him as the polar opposite – but appointing U.S. Supreme Court justices for life lends credibility to the institution and isolates the Court from popular opinion.  The 5-4 decisions, including the one that saved the American Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), solved problems when Congress and the President could not.

No longer. The 4-4 decisions that we will see this year will simply reinforce the notion that not Congress, not the President, and now, not even the Courts, can capably chart this nation’s course. The one institution deliberately designed to stay above the political fray and resolve disputes can no longer do so. There is at least one silver lining: watching Congress and President Obama fight against and for a nomination, respectively, will provide some of the best political drama this year.

And now we find ourselves eight months away from a decisive presidential election. Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee and current frontrunner, has trouble outrunning endorsements by the KKK. In response, House Speaker Paul Ryan said on Mach 1, 2016 that the Republican Party does not “prey on people’s prejudices.” Yet the Speaker never called out Trump by name, and in the same speech said he plans to support the nominee.

My issue is this: 8.5% of the voting population (18+) has voted thus far in the Democratic and Republican primaries. That comes to 20,842,439 people, according to the good folks at Politco and AP. How in the world does it make sense that some twenty million people decide the only two candidates that can possibly stand a legitimate chance at running for the world’s most powerful office, when the U.S. Census Bureau pegged the U.S. voting age population at 245,201,076 (July 2014).

Taken together, the system fails. The primary system fails because it does not consistently produce candidates with mainstream appeal. Congress fails not because voters choose the lawmakers, but because lawmakers use gerrymandering to predetermine the outcome. The Presidency fails because progressives are numerous enough to win the general election, conservatives pull enough weight to control Congress, and the result is gridlock. Throw in a now-dysfunctional U.S. Supreme Court, and the check and balance system is left will all of the checks and none of the balance.

The country needs change. The country must expand beyond a two party system. The country must end gerrymandering. The legislative and executive branches need to do their job and restore the judiciary by electing a ninth justice. The government must find a way to not only expand the vote, but find ways to encourage everybody to do so; by widening the voting base, mainstream candidates will regain their appeal.

While it is not too late to institute fundamental changes such as these, 2016 is a year where petty politics trumps the grander ideals our country stands for.

Please note that the 20,842,439 number does not include the March 15, 2016 primaries or any held thereafter.

Scalia & Beyond

 

Scalia passed away earlier today. His departure leaves a gaping hole in the U.S. Supreme Court, leaving it divided along ideological lines. More importantly, his departure leaves the court without a deciding vote.

Hours later, Senate Majority Leader McConnell tweeted, “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice.” It is a nice sentiment, but the next president will not take office until January 20, 2017. That is 339 days away. How many days typically pass before a vacant seat on the U.S. Supreme Court is filled?

After some quick data analysis, not too long. The average wait time comes to a shade under 130 days. Further, the number of seats left vacant for more than 339 days comes to eight, or approximately 7% of the time.

The nine U.S. Supreme Court Justices (Roberts, Alito , Breyer, Ginsburg, Kagan, Kennedy , Sotomayor, Thomas) waited an average of 45 days before filling the vacancy. Kennedy, the outlier at 237 days, still beats the McConnell timeframe by 101 days.

Let us stick with tradition and replace Scalia within the next 130 days. Waiting any longer would smack of a political smear on one of the nation’s most important institutions.

Data Source – Wikipedia

To 2016 – and beyond

Ah yes, 2016. Come in! Welcome. And not a moment too soon; 2015 terrified us.

ISIS’ tentacles spread to San Bernardino, Paris, Mali. Republican candidates reminded us that our guns keep us safe, that our borders welcome Christians and Christians only, and that our future presidents must all be Christian. I can only assume that future presidents will all have Christian names, starting with one Dr. Ben Carson. Meanwhile, conflict in the Middle East soared to new heights with diplomatic rows between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Russia continued with its shenanigans in countries unfortunate enough to be caught up in its orbit, and the EU struggled to welcome hundreds of thousands of (Syrian) refugees.

Germany exercised exceptional leadership by throwing its borders open to refugees, providing a beacon of hope when other countries went dark. Welcoming more than a million Syrian refugees with open arms took extraordinary leadership, and reminds us that some politicians prefer to do what is right over what is politically convenient. Germany’s example reminds us that the warped words and twisted actions of a select few should not hold the rest of humanity hostage. That the world should not be cowed by despicable acts of crude violence committed by a select few, and that we instead chose to march on, defiant.

2016 will be a fascinating year, rising to a a crescendo in November with the 2016 US Presidential elections. Will President Trump carpet bomb the Middle East? Will President Carson issue a blanket ban on Muslims? Can President Cruz spark yet another “our President is not born in this country” birther conspiracy? All such scenarios remain unlikely, but not impossible.

Meanwhile, my money is on a pragmatic President Clinton. Her win would usher in a set of reasonable diplomatic policies that would rely not on brute strength but pragmatic alliances to reign in ISIS, stabilize countries along Russia’s border, and continue to contain China. Her win would also usher in a practical set of domestic policies, ideally starting with tax reform. Sadly, climate change and gun control will likely be nonstarters given a Republican-controlled Congress. By contrast, a Republican victory in the White House could yield “populist” but utterly destructive policies like the ones listed above.

Given the moral nadir we hit in 2015, I remain optimistic that 2016 will be better, if only slightly. A President Clinton would lift us; a Republican presidency would require me to reassess if 2015 really is a moral nadir compared to four years of a Republican-controlled legislature and executive.

Here’s to a better world…

2016, and Beyond

With the 2016 US Presidential Election in full swing, I cannot help but reflect.  Republican candidate Ben Carson recently insinuated that no US President should be Muslim, and that a flat tax is advisable because the bible requires a 10% tithe.  Republican candidate Donald Trump remarked that Mexico sends us its rapists and criminals.  Republican candidate Scott Walker suggested building a wall to our north.  Huckabee reminds us that climate change science is not yet settled.  Mind-boggling ideas, all of them.  

The concern is that these ideas are grounded not in fact or reality, but in a made-up narrative designed to appeal to a select set of voters.  Candidates create narratives of climate change (lies!), guns (freedom!), and gay marriage (abominable!) using similarly delusional logic to appeal to voters.

None of this is really new; look at Romney’s campaign in 2012 and Bush’s in 2004.  Romney veered hard to the right during the primaries, claiming that he would make conditions so tough that immigrants would want to self-deport.  With Bush in 2004, Rover masterminded said on November 9, 2004 “that opposition to gay marriage was one of the most powerful forces in American politics today and that politicians ignored it at their peril.”  

My concern is where this all ends.  Huge political problems exist in the world, ISIS and Syria for one.  Climate change looms large.  Inequality grows.  And while ISIS, climate change, and inequality are vastly different issues, the next US President must address them all head on.  More importantly, the next US President must acknowledge that such problems even exist.  Combating extremism with extreme statements – that a Muslim cannot be president, that climate change does not exist, that growing inequality does not somehow hollow-out the very core of our country – is extremely concerning.

May cooler heads prevail.