Reflections on the 2018 Mid-Terms
In case you had not heard, there was an election this past week. The Democrats took control of the House of Representatives and the Republicans maintained their control of the Senate possibly increasing their margin by one or two seats. Both sides claimed victory and said it was a great night for their parties. The Blue Wave that was predicted didn't actually materialize but Democrats did make significant gains not only in the House but managed to flip seven governor ships in crucial states like Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Nevada and Kansas. The governor's races in Georgia and Florida were oh so close and as a matter of fact are still being looked at with intense scrutiny.
The question now is what lessons can be learned from the 2018 mid-term elections? Former House Speaker Tip O'Neil once said that "all politics is local" and that seems to be the case in this year's election cycle. If credit is to be given for the Democrat's win in the House, I think you have to give some of that credit to the DCCC or the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. They helped to recruit and support a dynamic group of individuals who ran in 2018. In many cases, these individuals were indeed the best candidates in their districts and won with a positive message instead of a message of divisiveness and opposition to the status quo. I hate to point to just one house district and create a broader message but I think we have to look at the South Carolina first Congressional District for a valuable lesson. The South Carolina 1st is a district that stretches along the South Carolina coast and encompasses Hilton Head, Beaufort and Charleston.
The incumbent was tea party darling Mark Sanford who lost in the primary to Trump acolyte Katie Arrington. In the general election, Arrington tried to put a National face on the campaign aligning her opponent to Nancy Pelosi and her liberal agenda but her opponent, Joe Cunningham kept talking about issues that mattered to local constituents like the cost and access to health care, offshore drilling, voting rights and environmental conservation. Cunningham won the seat that had been solidly Republican since 1980 and a district Trump won by 13 points just two years ago.
Despite Trump's rhetoric about how much he helped candidates win, his brand of politics clearly did not resonate well with voters in a district that is more affluent and better educated than many. Trump has been a master of deflection and extremely adept at dividing this country but hopefully the electorate is beginning to realize that divisiveness only leads to governmental stagnation and the only way to move government forward is to work together for the common good.
If you follow politics, have read a newspaper or heck, been alive over the past few years, I am sure you have heard the name George Soros. You've probably heard it in connection to yet another right wing conspiracy theory promoting Soros as the man behind all evil in the U.S. He is spoken of in right wing circles as the anti- Christ using his money and influence to disrupt governments and financial markets the world over. He has been referred to as a puppet master and the invisible hand behing many progressive movements of late. Most recently, Soros was credited with supporting and funding the protests opposing Brett Kavanaugh's appointment to the Supreme Court. Soros has been called out by Donald Trump as funding the majority of protests against his presidency and somehow funding the caravan of refugees fleeing a brutal Honduran government, headed for the United States. Believe me Mr. President when I say that critics of your administration do not need any encouragement or funding to oppose you.
I have been reading quite a bit lately about this all powerful puppet master pulling the strings trying to form a world government with open borders and lawlessness. Please. As best I can glean from my reading, George Soros is a Hungarian born Jew who escaped the holocaust during World War II as a teenager and received his degree from The London School of Economics and eventually made his way to the states. He found he had an aptitude for financial markets and created one of the most successful hedge funds in history. At one time his net worth stood at about 25 billion dollars but has given roughly 17 billion to his charitable foundation, The Open Society Foundations promoting such radical theories as human rights, women's rights, education, criminal justice reform, public health and promoting democratic ideals throughout the world. Shocking!
I suspect that a familiar tactic is at work with the demonetization of George Soros. The "right" and now the "alt-right" are masters of this deception. It is the tactic of deflect and re-direct. What the right and alt-right won't talk much about is the amount of money and influence weilded by republican donors, most notably Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brothers. Adelson made his money in the casino business first in Las Vegas and later in the Pacific rim. The Koch brothers control the second largest private company in the U.S. Adelson's net worth is estimated to be upwards of 38 billion and the Koch's are worth 53 billion each. Both Adelson and the Koch's have funneled millions of dollars into the political process through direct donations and funding of super pacs and conservative think tanks. These charts might give you a little perspective of the scope of wealth and funding of candidates.
To the best of my research abilities, what I can say is that the motivation behind these billionaires funding of conservative causes is not a benevolent desire to improve society, quite the opposite. Their motivation seems to be rooted in self-interest. Tax cuts and less federal regulation seems to be the driving force behind their largesse. They have been very successful in convincing the middle class to vote against their interests for over twenty years.
There is a Biblical quote that comes to mind when studying about these censervative benefactors and they would do well to study the verse and take it to heart. The quote comes from an original Greek manuscript of the Bible and translated into the Latin phrase "Radix malorum est cupiditas" which translates to English as "the root of all evil is greed".
Finally, I would like to point out that no matter how much money these billionaires pump into the political process on either side of the aisle, when it comes to election day, they have just as many votes as you or I do. One.
Expanding My Vocabulary
I was reading a New York times article this morning and came across a word I did not recognize. Not terribly unusual I grant you but curiosity got the better of me. The word is of Greek etymology and was popularized in the seventeenth century. The word did not receive much usage for the next two hundred years or so but has been in regular usage recently. The word is "kakistocracy" and is similar to more commonly used words like aristocracy, plutocracy meritocracy and democracy. Kakistocracy is defined as a system of government which is run by the worst, least qualified, or most unscrupulous citizens. Is it any wonder why the word has become fashionable again?
It's easy for those of us on the left flank to point to world leaders we don't like and don't agree with and call them out as the "worst" people. I refer to leaders like Erdoğan in Turkey, Duterte in the Philippines and Maduro of Venezuela. While we may not like their politics and may consider them the "worst" people in their societies, let's face it, all of these leaders have political education, previous experience and a certain "standing" to be where they are. The elections over the weekend in Brazil again calls in to question the concept of the word kakistocracy. Mr. Bolsonaro may not align with my politics but he has served in the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies since 1991. He received 46% of the vote in a free and fair election over the weekend and is poised as the leading candidate in the Presidential runoff election in the next few weeks. I think he is a dangerous man but is that not what elections are about? I'm not sure I could point to any of these world leaders as representing a kakistocracy.
Now let's get to the elephant in the room. I think it is fair to say that Donald Trump does indeed represent the word and the concept in the truest form. Trump has had no formal training in the political realm, no history of public service and with what the "free press" in America has uncovered, is proving to be the cheater and con man many of us suspected he was. Trump has appointed many people to positions they were wholly untrained for on a single metric of qualification, loyalty to Donald Trump. His outlook on society is antiquated, and out of step with the majority of the American people and his views can be politely described as misogynistic, xenophobic and he has displayed strong tendencies toward racism. The primary reason Trump was elected was his ability to harness and manipulate the press and his command of mass media to popularize himself instead of any real policies or any particular political ideology.
Politics is a funny business. Many believe that anyone can do it but I often compare it to other professions. As complicated as the political process is these days, it takes certain skills to navigate the landscape. You would not hire an electrician to fix your plumbing so why in the world did we hire an entitled con artist and failed business executive to run our country and when are we going to figure out that the electrician has clogged the pipes? Being President of the United States is the very first "job" Donal Trump has ever held. Since the age of three he has been earning massive amounts of money and never had to go on a job interview in his entire life. His lack of real world life skills should have been enough to disqualify him from the Presidential fray but through his standing as a TV star and frequent talking head about topics he had little knowledge of, he was able to convince enough people to vote for him. Or perhaps, like Fred Trump in his early years, Donald is now beholden to another "father-figure" to help guide him and bail him out of a jam. Perhaps the Mueller probe will reveal who that might be. Stay tuned.
Take Notice, Take Action
I have a message this morning to everyone who was upset by the choices in the 2016 Presidential election. To the thousands or hundreds of thousands of voters who were upset by Bernie's defeat or to those who were skeptical of Hillary's motives and chose not to vote, yesterday's event is the very reason many of us were imploring people to get to the polls in November of 2016. Let's face facts; House members are elected for a two year term, Senators for a six year term and a President serves for four years, (realistically only two years effectively) so the damage these elected representatives can inflict is, in reality, pretty limited. Nothing a President or Congress can do in a two year period can't be undone in pretty short order. In 2016, however, we seemed to lose the concept that a President has the power to appoint justices to the Supreme Court which blows my mind in light of the fact that at that time, Mitch McConnell and his band of thugs were holding a seat hostage. In my mind, the 2016 Presidential election was all about the Supreme Court but very few Democrats were talking about it.
More than any other governmental branch, The Supreme Court can set the course of our society for generations. Think about the landmark cases that to this day guide our daily life. Brown v. Board of Education, Miranda v. Arizona, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, Obergefell v. Hodges and yes, Roe v. Wade. The Supreme Court chooses which cases are brought before the court and an activist, clearly partisan member can affect our society in ways that can surprise you. Now that Brett Kavanaugh has been confirmed and sworn in as an associate justice and cemented a conservative majority on the court, get ready for some changes. This conservative wing of the court is arguably out of touch with the majority of the citizenry and their desire is to reverse some of the freedoms we take for granted and return our society to "the good old days" of the 1950's when men were men and women and minorities had little say about the course of their lives.
I don't mean to paint an overly grim picture of life in these United States but I truly fear what this court might do to many of the rights and privileges we enjoy in this country. Despite what Susan Collins might believe, Brett Kavanaugh does have an agenda and he will no doubt begin its execution as early as tomorrow morning. For those of us located left of center, I cannot stress this point enough. The time for sitting on the sidelines is over. We must take action and that means contacting your local representatives about issues that are important to you, protesting issues and positions with which you don't agree and above all else, for the good of the country, get to the polls on each and every election day and vote. It is the only real power we have and too many of us willingly and knowingly surrender that power every time we do not vote.
If I knew nothing about American politics and came to this country, I would suspect from looking at the media that this country is tearing itself apart. The reality, however is much less dire than might be suspected. In reality, if you look at the major issues confronting this country a fairly large majority of the people are in agreement on what to do. If you believe in scientific polling, 71% of Americans believe that the Federal minimum wage should be raised, 75% believe that a single payer healthcare system for those of us who want it is a good idea and roughly 70% of adults believe that stronger gun control measures would be good for this country. In addition, nearly two thirds of Americans support a woman's right to choose and 63% of Americans are concerned about global warming and the environmental challenges facing the country.
So, if the polling is accurate, why does this country seem so diametrically opposed? Is it the issues or is it simply politics? If you drill down into the minutaie of the problems, what you find is astounding and goes against every principle on which this country was founded. By the end of "Reagan's revolution" in the late 1980's, party elders in the Republican party realized that their base was shrinking fast and something had to be done in order to keep the Republican party alive. So, if you are a shrinking party, what can you do to assure your survival. Those of you who said "cheat" get a gold star. Beginning in the early 1990s and continuing on to today, with every chance available, Republicans have redrawn Congressional maps and disenfranchised thousands of voters. If you look, for example at states like West Virginia and Arkansas, both state legislatures are controlled by Democrats but their Congressional delegations are completely Republican. How does that happen? Are Democrats in Arkansas different from Democrats from anywhere else? I think not. The Republican party has systematically changed the way American representative government works and time has come to seriously examine the problem.
Take the case in North Carolina. The Congressional districts were redrawn in 2011 in a state that splits pretty evenly politically. The delegation went from a 7-6 Democratic majority to a 10-3 Republican majority in the next Congressional election. David R. Lewis, a North Carolina state representative who helped lead the remapping process said, "I propose that we draw the maps to give a partisan advantage to 10 Republicans and 3 Democrats, because I do not believe it’s possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and 2 Democrats". Lawsuits ensued and the NC legislature was ordered to redraw the maps in 2016 but as of today (October of 2018) the task has still not been accomplished and a Republican Congressional delegation is almost assured in North Carolina no matter how the votes go. James Madison and Thomas Jefferson are rolling in their graves. This is not what America is or should be.
To say that American politics is at a stalemate is an understatement. Tribalism has infected the electorate and until we have a candidate who can truly reach across the aisle and embrace and evaluate the ideas of his or her political rivals, I fear we can hope for nothing but the same in years to come.
In the interest of full disclosure, I want to say right at the top that I am a resident of South Carolina and therefore a constituent of Lindsey Graham. At the dawn of the Trump presidency, I thought that Senator Graham was going to be a voice of reason and pragmatism in the Senate to deflect some of the craziness of the Trump administration. As a matter of fact, I wrote a letter to Senator Graham commending him for one of his early stances to Trump's lunacy. I figured that if he was going to go against his party, he needed a little encouragement from the left. At that time, Graham and Senator McCain were the voices of reason in the Republican party.
I, like millions of others watched yesterday's Senate hearing featuring Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, 2018's version of Clash of the Titans. As an aside, I miss the days of only three networks when an event like yesterday was televised on all three and the American people as a whole were almost forced to watch our government at work. Getting back to the main event, this is not a column about how much I believed Dr. Ford's account of the event in question and about how evasive and belligerent I found Mr. Kavanaugh. This is a column about a larger issue. During a morning recess, Senator Graham was caught in the corridors of the senate building and went into a scathing rebuke of the Democrats about playing politics with a supreme court seat. Really? Then during Mr. Kavanaugh's performance (I would say testimony but I think performance is the right word) Senator Graham came unglued and went on a diatribe about how political this process has become and about how appalled he was to see the Democrats pulling dirty tricks to derail this "fine man" from becoming a Supreme Court justice. At this point, I have lost all respect for Senator Graham.
Do you not remember, sir, how your very own party played politics with the seat vacated by Antonin Scalia? Let me refresh your memory. His name was Merrick Garland and instead of playing the game and voting him down, which you could have done, but would have had some explaining to do, you just flat refused to even give him a hearing. Talk about playing politics! If you want to wave your finger at anyone, good sir, wave it at your leader Mitch McConnell who is nothing more than a brazenly partisan political hack. If I ever hear the word statesman applied in the neighborhood of Mitch McConnell, I think I will do something better left unsaid. When history is written, I firmly believe it will point to Mitch McConnell as the beginning of the end of civil discourse in American politics. The sight of the man on television truly makes me physically ill. But I digress. Senator Graham, what your party did to Merrick Garland is inexcusable and because of the tactics used, you have no right whatsoever to criticize Democrats in their opposition to Brett Kavanaugh. If the Democrats wanted to play politics with a supreme court nomination, they would have done it with Neil Gorsuch's nomination. They didn't because Democrats took the high road and took what was dealt them. What you and other Republicans fail to realize is that Brett Kavanaugh is a wholly despicable person who has no business being on the highest court in the land. It's not just that he is an arch conservative, there are others; it's not just that he is the poster boy for white privilege, there are others; the only reason the President nominated Kavanaugh and is fighting so hard for him is his views on executive privilege. Kavanaugh's elevation to the high court puts in place the linchpin for Donald Trump to escape the reckoning that is fast approaching and allows him the ability to complete the task of co-opting our system of government.
I have no doubt that Brett Kavanaugh will be approved by the judiciary committee but I hope and pray that in a party of old white men, one of them will grow a pair of balls and vote against Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court. The stakes are too high to take that chance.
It Could Be A Sight To See
Conservative philosopher Joseph de Maistre wrote in 1811 that "every nation gets the government it deserves". I think about that quote and I wonder what we did to deserve this shit show. I think about it a bit longer and I realize that instead of a cataclysmic shift, it has been happening for decades. It began with our dependence on mass media. It happened as a result of an education system unable or unwilling to educate the populace on the role of government. It happened because of the nature of human beings. Those individuals with money, power and influence are loathe to relinquish it and their ability to manipulate the system is indeed possible in a "free" society. The most precious right that we possess is our right to vote and through that, the right to determine the direction this country takes. All too often, however, that right is squandered by the very segment of the population that could benefit most from its exercise. Far too many people in this country just don't vote.
I realize that there are many reasons why people don't vote. They see it as a cumbersome futile process and over the years, apathy has set in on the electorate. If more Americans grew up or lived under totalitarian or dictatorial systems of government, they would cherish the rights they have and would surly vote whenever they had the opportunity.
For months now, the concept of a "blue wave" in the mid term elections has been a popular talking point on the political landscape. It is true that the party occupying the White House usually loses seats in Congress in the midterms. Since 1934, only three times has the President's party won seats during a mid term election; 1934 during Roosevelt's first term, 1998 in Clinton's second term and 2002 in George W. Bush's first term. The mid terms in many ways are a barometer of the President's performance in office as it is the first national election since a President's inauguration. With all this in mind, the mid term elections of 2018 will be a watershed event. On average, the President's party loses somewhere around 38 seats in Congress so keep that in mind. Anything less than that and I think it would be fair to say that Trump was vindicated and liberals everywhere just need to shut up and take it for the next two years. If the election however plays out like this writer suspects, the Democrats will have a majority in both houses of Congress but less than a super majority.
All signs point to such an event, as Trump is perhaps the most unpopular President since 1900, if not ever. The problem, however is the fact that in most midterm elections only hard core and more conservative voters turn out to cast their ballots. If the social unrest and public anxiety this President has engendered in our society turns to civic responsibility, this election will indeed be the most important election in my lifetime and will be a sight to see.
What Is Happening To My Country?
I consider myself a fairly average American. I have a college degree and try my best to keep up with the news of the day. Some may say that I am too influenced by the "liberal media" but contrary to what Rudy Giuliani may say, truth is truth. There is such a thing as objective truth. There are always going to be shades of opinions of what the truth may mean but if a fact is true, it is true.
I never thought I would live to see the day when 30-35% of the American electorate was uninformed and seem to be happily so. Facts are no longer important and the only thing that seems to matter is self interest and winning at any cost. Comedian George Carlin once said, "never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups". That quote is especially true in today's political landscape. Donald Trump has awoken a large group of citizens who were unengaged in the political process and seem to think they have a champion in him in the White House. What they are too stupid to realize is that Trump is nothing more than a con-man, a modern day huckster and snake oil salesman who will say anything and do anything to advance his own interests. He doesn't care about those voters who champion his every move. Trump himself once famously said, "If I were to run, I would run as a Republican. They're the dumbest group of voters in the country. They love anything on Fox News. I could lie and they would still eat it up. I bet my numbers would be terrific." Trump is transparent to the majority of the American people but this small group of zealots to whom he appeals, seems to scare decent principled Republicans to death. What these decent principled Republicans don't seem to understand is that many (if not most) of these Trump voters were unengaged in the political process before Trump and they will probably be unengaged after Trump is gone.
John McCain's passing this weekend led me into this train of thought and though I did not agree with Mr. McCain on a number of issues, I respected the hell out of him for having a moral compass and a love for this country that our current President lacks in spades.
Going back to an earlier thought about winning at any cost, those people who support Trump need to know that the cost may just be our democracy and the way of life we have built over the past 240 years. Think about that.
I am not an investigative reporter. I have no sources "on the ground" and have no insider knowledge. I am just a guy with opinions and the basic knowledge of how to put together a blog. I depend on the mainstream media outlets for my news reports and the one thing I know is that in this atmosphere of "fake news" I tend to think that if a story is reported by ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN and The New York Times and the Washington Post, it's probably accurate. The last thing a reporter wants these days is to be wrong on a story.
Two stories in the past twenty-four hours have caught my eye and I wonder exactly what kind of world we are living in and what are we teaching our children. The first story involves Kellyanne Conway and her violation of something called The Hatch Act. The Hatch Act was enacted in 1939 and basically states that, with the exception of the President and Vice-President, federal employees in the executive branch cannot participate in partisan campaign activities. Then I see the two interviews, one with CNN and the other with The Trump News Network and she is clearly and unabashedly campaigning for Roy Moore and against Doug Jones in last year's special election for the Alabama Senate seat vacated by Jeff Sessions.
Now I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV. I wonder, however, how Ms. Conway or her attorney or the White House counsel for that matter, explains her utter disregard for the laws of this great country.
The other story I noticed was about a company in Indiana that had been engaged by The Trump organization to manufacture tee markers for Trump International golf courses in the likeness of the Presidential seal. From my limited knowledge, this practice is a clear violation of the law as the Presidential seal cannot be used for commercial gain. Read the story HERE.
The President and by extension the members of his cabinet and the employees in his administration seem to have an utter disregard and in many cases a disdain for the laws and ethical norms under which public servants have operated for generations. I can't help but wonder when and if any of these "criminals" might be held to account. The cloud over the Trump administration is clearly the Russia scandal and whether or not anything is ever resolved it will always be a stain on this Presidency. However, what may eventually bring down this administration will probably be something seemingly innocuous like the Presidential tee markers. Remember, the government eventually brought down Al Capone on income tax evasion.
Oh What a Tangled Web...
On Tuesday, Hope Hicks, the White House communications director testified before Congress for nine hours. During that testimony, she admitted to lying in order to protect the President. She admitted to telling what she called "white lies" to protect Donald Trump. Let's take a beat and think about that for a moment. The White House communications director admitted, under oath, to lying. Shocking? Not really. Not in this White House, in this administration. This administration tells so many lies, it is getting hard to keep them straight.
Mark Twain famously said, "If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything." Clearly, Trump and his loyalists did not get the memo. On Wednesday, just one day after her date with Congress, we learn that Ms. Hicks has decided to resign her post as White House communications director but her supporters insist that her decision has absolutely nothing to do with her testimony before Congress. I will let you decide if that is true.
The pressure inside the White House is growing day by day, not necessarily because of external forces. Yes, the Russia investigation is still progressing but I do not believe that is what is causing the pressure. It comes from the top. The President lies so much, his staff must in turn lie to cover his ass. People who have worked in government or anyone who has a shred of decency know that above all else, in order to maintain the public trust and retain a modicum of integrity, you have to be truthful. When they are forced into a situation where they have to choose between loyalty to a feckless demagogue or the truth, the pressure mounts. That is why this administration has had a record number of firings, resignations and defections. And as the lies continue, you will see more and more until the cheese stands alone.