As you know, this blog is about 65% travel, 15% around town, 12% skiing and running, and 8% politics ... and here's some of the last category. I've been in a political mood ever since I was interviewed on Salt Lake's ABC 4 and wrote this op-ed.
Man I wish I had Brian Carlson's tan. (But seriously, he was super nice and quite engaged on the issues off camera.)
I certainly claim no original thoughts on Trump. American politics are bizarre and getting more bizarre by the day. Now apparently all along the Second Amendment has really protected the right to serve in a terrorist militia. (Christ, even Scalia wrote about how Second Amendment Rights are not absolute. And I rarely quote Scalia. Indeed, his screen time was the only unenjoyable part of the PBS docuseries The Italian Americans, which I highly, highly recommend.)
But I digress. I will say that the Republican establishment got what it deserved. These folks profess to be shocked — shocked!— by the Donald but haven't seemed to consider that maybe 25 years of intellectual decadence have taken their toll. Sarah Palin anyone? Trump, in other words, is what you get when you profess a cheap anti-intellectualism and don't say "no" to anything ... to the birthers, for example, or to prayers by Senators for the president's death. (Hmm, how could it be, as claimed, that you are praying, with Psalms 109:8, that his days in office are numbered, when they are constitutionally guaranteed to be just that? You know, when the Psalms continues, "Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow," and "Let his children be continually vagabonds, and beg: let them seek their bread also out of their desolate places").
I do take satisfaction in the fact that, given the choice between movement conservatism and nastiness, Americans chose nastiness. But then again, the Trumpenproletariat is proving just how racist many Americans are, which isn't very comforting. And maybe they would have chosen movement conservatism were not Ted Cruz one of the most unpleasant people on the planet. Perhaps what is really comforting is how increasingly marginalized evangelicals are at a national level.
Which leads to my humble effort to ensure Hillary's election. Without further adieu, here are the ten things Hillary needs to do. That is, beyond the obvious, which is highlighting Trump's remarkable misogyny, his truly reckless endorsement of Brexit, and his almost comic flip-flopping (2000: "I support the ban on assault weapons"; 2012: "Hillary Clinton I think is a terrific woman. I am biased because I have known her for years ... I really like her and her husband both a lot. I think she works hard"; 2000: "We must have universal health care"; 1999: "Well look, I'm very pro-choice").
1) Embrace the Culture Wars
Somewhere along the way, between the impeachment of Bill and the Defense of Marriage Act and the GOP's successful strategy of getting anti-gay voters out to the polls in midterm years and the cultural-anxiety-induced backlash against Obama to Obergefell v. Hodges, a strange thing happened. We progressives won the culture wars (I ain't talking about unions here.) Have you noticed, for example, that attempts to foster a backlash against the gay marriage decision have gone nowhere? Of course the Right can still rally the troops in deeply red, noncompetitive districts, but at the national level, and even in the key swing states, anything Hillary can do to get the cave men to rattle their cultural swords (did people in the iron age still live in caves?) can only help. Yes, this is the year of the angry old white voter, but America is less white and younger than Great Britain ... and the Brexit vote does not equal the presidential vote.
2) Explain the GOP's Racist Effort to Build a Whiter Electorate
A lot of us have had the sense that Voter ID laws are thinly veiled efforts to destroy Democrats at best, simply racist at worse — remember that priceless Daily Show segment with the North Carolina official who admitted as much? Watch it. But until I went to an excellent panel at the recent Policy History Conference, I never realized just how orchestrated the racist campaign against non-existent voter fraud has been since the 2008 elections ... when Obama got something like 5 million new voters (many of them non-white). If you're interested in this issue, and the general war on the Voting Rights Act, check out Ari Berman's Give us the Ballot. Hillary's obviously guaranteed to win the non-White vote regardless, but she should have the courage to call a spade a spade here. The rhetoric after Romney's loss was that the GOP had supposedly learned that it can never win on explicit appeals to whiteness, and by squeezing out even more white votes, but Trump seems to have doubled down on these strategies. She should also have the courage to call for reforms to reduce the effects of gerrymandering (doubtful that she will, of course; gerrymandering protects many safe minority districts, and thus many minority members of the House have zero incentive for rocking the boat).
3) Acknowledge but educate about the deficit — and the debt.
If I learned one thing on the campaign trail with my good friend Jim, it's that average Americans are obsessed with the debt and deficit.
Of course, I realize the title of number 3 is foolishly optimistic. People have always believed mostly what they want, but now more then ever we now live in a post-factual democracy, to use my favorite term from the Brexit debacle. If you want one depressing fact our own post-factual democracy, it's that 73% of Americans believe that the deficit has increased under Obama, when it fact it has gone from well over a trillion to $400 billion, or about 2.5% of GDP.
Now maybe some of those 73% aren't just the usual willfully ignorant Obama haters. A nearly $20 trillion dollar debt is a problem, if more for its psychological implications than for its actual macroeconomic effects (I shudder to think of the percentage who know that because of low interest rates, and the security of US bonds, the US is paying a lower percentage of its GDP in debt payments than it did in the 1970s):
Still, the looming entitlement squeeze is real enough (even if it has been oversold), and so Hillary should acknowledge the problem of the debt, remind people that the deficit has come down, and then also remind them that the Republicans blocked every effort at a grand compromise on taxes and spending and absolutely refuse to consider raising taxes, even on the richest Americans. Oh, and she might also remind people of what happened to the deficit the last time she lived in the White House, you know, before that trillion dollar war of choice and those Bush tax cuts.
4) Speaking of the economy, celebrate the Obama recovery, damn it!
Democrats love to complicate. Bad idea. It IS true that underemployment remains a serious problem, and it IS true that wage growth has been sluggish. (Of course, it's also likely that we have entered into a long-term era of low economic growth completely divorced from short-term pubic policy; if you haven't seen Robert's Gordon The Rise and Fall of American Growth, it's worth reading this excellent review of it). But can you imagine what the Republicans would be saying about their president if this had occurred under his or her watch:
I mean, that blue line looks like the Dow since a couple days before the Brexit vote. C'mon Hillary, print t-shirts with this chart. And progressives, please stop complicating things with talk about secular stagnation, lower rates of male labor force participation, meager productivity gains, blah blah. Look where we've come from!
5) Talk about inequality as a macroeconomic problem
I'm a broken record here, but look, could just once a Democratic politician try explaining to Joe Sixpack that if people are broke (and their wages have been flat in real terms for 40 years), they can't buy all the goods? Is this so much to ask? Yes, we all agree homelessness and poverty sucks, and that America has way too much of them for a wealthy democracy. But when Hillary's giving a speech at the Miami Chamber of Commerce, she should give them straight Keynesian consumption function.
6) Tear Down the Fourth Wall
This one is in honor of Gary Shandling, who just passed away (if you don't get the reference, you're under 40 and never saw the Gary Shandling show, during which he would talk to the audience). Now, I'm not suggesting that Hillary run a TV ad along the lines "Gee Chelsea, if I could only figure out how to work this darn email," but she should try and joke about the fact that, next to Obama, she is decidedly challenged rhetorically, and that she has unfavorable ratings. Part of Trump's appeal is his supposed "authenticity" ... his supposed proclivity to speaking his mind (even when flip-flopping). Americans eat this stuff up — think House of Cards.
7) Run TV ads with Henry Paulson and Brent Scowcroft ... and remind Americans that you're the real hawk
Look, I may not have agreed with Hillary's position that we should have intervened in the Syrian Civil War, but that was her position — and Americans make excellent armchair warriors. If 73% of Americans believe the deficit has gone up under Obama, then I wonder what percentage know that Hillary was calling for such intervention, and that in general she has no qualms about American military intervention (to say nothing of her genuine respect for the armed forces; everyone should read "How Hillary became a Hawk" in The New Yorker.) Too bad people conflate Trump's bluster and bigotry against Muslims as hawkishness.
8) Embrace corporate tax reform
Hillary has Wall Street in the bag assuming she does not pick Elizabeth Warren as her running mate. Which reminds me, here's a picture I took of Elizabeth Warren's house in Cambridge.
Actually pretty modest ... but I digress. Hillary's husband ran one of the most pro-business administrations in history, and she's of course made plenty of money on Wall Street herself. She's genuinely pro-capitalism. But she doesn't advertise this well enough. What she lacks is the current hackneyed lingo emanating from undergraduate business programs all around the country. She needs to spend a day at the Marriner Eccles (speaking of Keynesians) Business School at the U of U, where she too can learn to use the words "innovation" and "disruption" so much that it hurts. And more seriously, she should call for lower business tax rates. They are too high. Let's have a carbon tax instead.
9) Boldly defend expertise
Educated people of the world unite! Brexit — and Trump's inane endorsement of it — has reminded people that the Establishment, for all its flaws, doesn't actually wake up each day thinking, "How can I entirely screw the world today?," and it maybe it's reminded a few morons that sometimes, people who study a thing for years on end actually know a bit about this thing. (Leave-the-EU leader Michael Gove: "people in this country have had enough of experts.") So sorry Trump, no, you don't get to play a climate change scientist, just like you don't get to play shortstop for the Orioles or become an economist for the EU because you made money in the easiest real estate market in the world. Here's hoping Hillary openly defends science and expertise as she rightly positions herself as a defender of the reasonable center.
10) Convene a town-hall meeting of all millennials.
And then show them two slides. The first shall be of Ralph Nader, whom I'm not sure most millennials have heard of. Surely if they had heard of him, they would not be arguing that all other candidates besides Bernie are Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum. (Gee, I guess the election of 2000 didn't have consequences). The second slide shall be of the current 8-member Supreme Court — a court right on the inflection point. I was talking to a certain millennial supporter of Bernie, one who shall remain nameless, and even he conceded that, you know, protecting a woman's right to choose is reason enough to vote for Hillary. Elders — those who speak of floppy disks — go forth and hold court with the millennial of your choice.