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Sunday, June 4, 2017
Politics ... Society ...

If you were to survey Americans today by asking “what is the most unfortunate effect of Donald Trump’s decision to enter politics, run for President, and win the White House?”, I’m sure that you would get a wide variety of answers. People with a liberal political bias would focus on the regressive steps are being taking in terms of protecting and promoting justice for minorities and women, along with the harsh treatment that immigrants (especially Latin and Moslem immigrants or wanna-be immigrants) are now experiencing and the reversal of progress in facing the impending crisis of global climate change.

Others, including many doctrinal conservatives, would regret Trump’s populist political commitments and his general incompetence in the politics of governing. Others still will object to his generally boorish character, his lack of diplomatic finesse, and the bad name that Trump is generally causing for our nation throughout the world. Obviously, his supporters would reject the premise that Trump’s Presidency has ANY unfortunate effects, or would provide a snide remark saying how the most unfortunate thing is that the media, the intellectuals and the “deep state” still cannot appreciate the need for the shake-up and clean-out that Trump is accomplishing.

There are a handful, including myself, who indeed find many unfortunate aspects to Donald Trump’s ascendancy to national leadership. However, our biggest concern would be the deep political divisions that Trump is causing between people who identify as Democrat / liberals and those who feel closer to the Republican / conservative point of view. It seems as though every Trump story develops into a “dueling narrative”.

This seems especially true regarding Trump’s “Russian connection” issues (I have an example of that below). Both camps develop story narratives around a particular fact (e.g. the firing of former FBI Director James Comey) that seem plausible, but then assume completely opposite motives and effects on the nation. Both sides sincerely believe that they are right. And thus, both sides sincerely believe that the other camp is either badly deluded or has gone over to the dark side.

Throughout the Bush and Obama Presidencies, commentators were talking about the increased political polarization of the nation and the negative effects it was having on the art of compromise, which is ultimately required to get anything done on a national level. Trump seems to have taken this polarization and kicked it up a notch. In fact, Trump needed to exploit these divisions in order to get where he is.

To the degree that anything does get done in a politically polarized nation, it will make a whole lot of people unhappy. For example, Obama’s health care reform bill was imposed using heavily partisan political tactics, and the result was a slew of unhappy Americans and the rise of the Tea Party movement. If Trump finally gets his own counter-reform to health care, it will surely make a similar number of Americans unhappy.

Or perhaps it won’t get done at all. It may be best that Trump-care gets squashed, but the process by which it would be squashed does not bode well for other proposals that could generally help improve things for our nation. E.g., infrastructure projects — our roads and airports and water facilities and electric grids, for example, need a lot of improving to maintain our prosperity and improve our lagging economic growth rate. But given the increasing divisions between the major political parties, big initiatives on the part of the federal government may not happen again.

There was a recent article in Real Clear Politics written by a political science professor named Charles Lipson that pretty clearly lays out the dimensions of this problem. Dr. Lipson’s article is short and definitely worth the 5 minutes or so needed to read it. Here are some quotes that express the depth of the problem for our nation:

Each side sincerely, truly believes it is defending the basic values of American constitutional democracy, while the other side is trying to undermine them. We have not seen anything like it since the 1970s when this country faced the twin crucibles of Vietnam and the Watergate scandal.

It is a political and social disunion that extends to every city and state. Few Americans have friends on both sides of this continental divide. Gone are the days when some friends voted for Ike, some for Adlai, and nobody considered the others to be traitors or bigots. Today, it’s far more likely that your colleagues at work and your friends at Starbucks share your views, read the same websites, and watch the same cable news. They don’t just agree with you. They think the other side is clueless—and evil. Those voting for the other team are up to something terrible . . . [and yet] they are sincere, and they definitely believe they have the country’s best interests at heart. That’s why the division is so profound and so difficult to bridge.

We saw that during the 2016 campaign. Trump’s partisans, in their “Make America Great Again” hats, didn’t just think Hillary was a political adversary. They thought she ran a criminal enterprise, funded by people who wanted an inside track and would pay her and Bill big money to get it . . . Their chant, “Lock her up,” was disturbing because, for the first time since Watergate, it framed American politics in overtly criminal terms. But it is crucial to understand that the outrage of these chanting partisans was genuine.

Today, Democrats are equally genuine in believing that the Trump campaign may have cooperated with the Russians to steal the election, or at least tilt it unfairly. If true, that’s not just criminal. It would be a treasonous attack on the foundations of American democracy. The current crisis is severe because each side is making very serious charges, each has some suggestive (but not conclusive) evidence, and each is utterly sincere—the rarest of political sentiments.

So, according to Dr. Lipson, America is suffering from an excess of sincerity! There are deep political divisions, each side believes that the other side is either criminal or treacherous, and those beliefs are very sincere. This is not a good situation for America as a whole, if you believe (sincerely) that “united we stand, divided we fall”.

Dr. Lipson gives a good example of a “dueling narrative” — this one regarding whether all of the “leaks” emanating from mid-level federal officials in or near the White House regarding Trump’s sharing of potentially classified information with the Russians are patriotic or treasonous acts.

How serious do professionals think the crisis is? The best indicator is the unprecedented scale of leaking, especially of highly secret information. My conclusion: Many professionals in the intelligence community and the Justice Department—and perhaps some inside the Trump administration itself—believe that this president is doing things that endanger the country. They are leaking as a patriotic duty.

On the other side, Trump’s people think a “deep state” is pushing back, trying to destroy an outsider who came to Washington to change things. What they see is an unconstitutional effort to drive a duly-elected president out of office. These entrenched interests are essentially committed to pulling off a coup d’état.

So, it’s not a good situation for our nation. And yet, Dr. Lipson offers some hope that there are still a few political figures from both the Democrats and Republicans who might hold things from completely flying apart until things somehow get better. He advises that we remember the wisdom of England’s wartime poster: “keep calm and carry on”.

“And remember, too, that the other side’s worries are just as real and troubling as your own.” I hope that enough people can manage to do that. But to be honest, at the moment I’m not optimistic. The Trump presidency is going to leave a scar of division upon the nation that may take many decades to heal. The most significant scar is not going to have to do with global warming or LGBT rights; it will be about a “once united” set of states becoming a tale of two nations.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:16 pm      

  1. Jim, You are right that “every Trump story develops into a ‘dueling narrative’”. And yes, I agree that there are people on “[b]oth sides [who] sincerely believe that they are right.” Yes, I agree that there is an increased polarization of the nation having negative effects and that “Trump seems to have taken this polarization and kicked it up a notch.”

    However, I have some difficulty with the quote from “Real Clear Politics”. Charles Lipson states the problem succinctly when he says that each side is making serious charges. But I find his next statement that both are “utterly sincere” to be “iffy”, if I may put it that way.

    And now I would like to divert to some problems I see and address the above in a somewhat oblique way.

    I have been dumbfounded by the fact that so many of the GOP who I had respected and tho’t had some very good ideas that did not particularly agree with Trump’s approach to what the country needed so easily and quickly collapse into a realization that should they not “take Trump’s side” they might lose the next election. In plain words they simply caved to the grab for power they saw and forget any sense of truth about politics as run by Donald Trump. It seemed to me to be a “yes, sir”, “how high, sir?” to Trump’s “jump”.

    It seemed to me that few, if any GOP elected officials were willing to face down the consequences of disagreeing with Trump. More important, this seemed especially and crucially disastrous because of how important it is to have people who are willing to tell the president, any president, when he (someday, hopefully a “she”) is wrong, stick to their guns, and have the president respect their opinion and give it careful consideration. Trump seems to think such an approach is “not loyal”; and he demands “loyalty” to HIM. Strange.

    Trump does not seem to be a man willing to listen carefully to “the other side” of a disagreement and give it careful consideration; then follow with clearly-tho’t-out responses. If he doesn’t like the idea, his approach to things seems to be one of “change the facts”; and he has done it numerous times already. He then turns around and blames someone else for their stating the truth. Something is seriously wrong with this picture.

    I have been dismayed by the GOP, particularly Paul Ryan from a state I’m well acquainted with; he easily “caved” when he tho’t that his job might suddenly be at jeopardized; I was terribly disappointed in him.

    I certainly can understand the position of people who are desperate for jobs; but I do not think it’s realistic for anyone to think that coal jobs are coming back, that any other kind of “old” job will return. I have seen in my own life absolutely every. single. thing that I did become obsolete. Were I still in the job market I’d find it futile to look for work I did at any time in the past. I simply would have to reeducate myself and find some way to find employment in what is available present day. Instead, Trump promises good people, suffering badly, that the “old times” will somehow return under his presidential term. That idea is NOT doing a service to the nation or to the people involved who are hoping for a way to live.

    And Lipson is right that the Trump presidency is going to leave a “significant scar” on the nation; and I will add, likely for generations. But trying for what seems to me an approach of “let’s all try to understand each other” to the whole situation does not seem to do a service to the individuals affected nor to the nation as a whole.

    Trump seems to have had no clue about what his job was about. I have read that he was surprised to realize that he had to appoint so many people to various offices (many of which, last I heard were not yet filled); he tho’t they just were handed from one president to the next. Would anyone applying for even a job at McDonald’s get the job if he/she didn’t know that taking orders and making change and being pleasant to customers was an essential of the job?

    Furthermore, it seems Lipson has not addressed the “ruler of the world” (and I might add, ruler in his own mind) attitude Trump seems to have exuded with the leaders of the European nations who did not roll out red and gold carpets for him. I also remember when Obama seemed to have bowed to the Saudis when he visited their country. Wow! the fuss that was made about that; our prez “bowing” to a leader of another country. Trump goes over there and bows even more obsequiously, and our nation seems to think that’s just fine. Who is telling Trump what his limits as “ruler of the world” might be? It seems nobody as all his advisors also want a piece of “ruling the world”, altho they seem to have no clue just how far from that rule they actually are.

    Furthermore, I wonder where the alarm (yes, I mean “alarm”) is if, as Lipson says that any cooperation of the Trump campaign with the Russians “stealing the election or at least tilt[ing] it unfairly” is “a treasonous attack on the foundations of American democracy”. Can you imagine what would happen should Hillary Clinton have been so accused? What about Kushner’s “back channel” approach to the Russians?

    These things should be setting off some serious alarm bells as I see it, rather than an attitude of “let’s all learn how to understand the other side’s ideas and have some empathy here”. Yes, empathy is crucial in understanding others; but also at some point when there is an obvious and blatant suspicion of misconduct, alarm bells should be going off.

    While Lipson may be attempting to lower the level of dismay and chaos and upset in the nation, there are some times that individuals and the nation as a whole might find it necessary to face some very unpleasant facts. With any good luck our nation may be saved by the special prosecutor and his work; in a couple of days we may get the beginning of some answers. We have to wait and see. MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — June 6, 2017 @ 6:58 pm

  2. Jim, I don’t fully share all of your assumptions. For example, I don’t agree that the ACA was passed with “heavily partisan political tactics”. Indeed, Obama tried very hard to get a bi-partisan bill. The Dems spent well over a year on drafting the bill. Hearing were held. Obama offered compromises such as medical malpractice reform, but no Republican was willing to embrace it, even though parts of the bill were written by Republicans and Republican amendments were allowed and some passed. The Democrats on the other hand were completely excluded from the GOP alternative, no public hearing were held, and no Democratic amendments were allowed to be voted on. Yet you seem to imply that The GOP response was comparable to the Democratic response! So, no I don’t fully share your insights on the problem.

    By the way, I recently accepted a job in Jersey City and will be moving to .NJ soon!

    Comment by Zreebs — June 11, 2017 @ 8:51 am

  3. Hi Steve, glad to see you back here on my bloviated blog, it’s been a while. I know that you don’t dig bloviated blogs, but that’s what comes naturally to me. Thanks for stopping by, in spite of the bloviation. Great to hear that you’re gonna be back in Jersey soon. Jersey City could be fun, they have a progressive young Democratic mayor there.

    So, it looks like you’ve provided one side of a classic “dueling narrative” from the Obama presidency, regarding the matter of whether the Democrats played fairly and legitimately in passing the ACA back in 2010. Dueling narratives aren’t new to the Trump administration, although they certainly are reaching a new level under him.

    So, for the sake of balance, let me provide just a bit of the GOP narrative in that duel. The Dems knew in 2009-10 that the public was not getting behind the ACA, and thus used questionable tactics to rush it into being, despite knowing that it contained a lot of major flaws and kinks that are inherent to the early incarnations of such a complex plan. The GOP offered quite a few amendments to address some of these kinks and flaws, but only a small fraction of what was offered was adopted by the Dems, and most of those were technical in nature; the substantive stuff was mostly rejected. Finally, there was that unusual 2-bill reconciliation process used by the Senate to avoid the Scott Brown problem, a process that had never before been used to implement a major social policy initiative.

    What I’m saying is that both your “narrative” and the GOP “narrative” sound plausible to me, at least on the surface. Having not been there, I can’t really be sure which is closer to the truth. I suspect that the truth mixes elements of both narratives. It seems like the dueling narrative phenomenon has been happening more and more often in recent years, and I don’t think that’s a good sign for our democracy. It’s sounding more and more like fighting children yelling at each other after being separated by their parents, i.e. “he started it !!!” “NO, he started it!!!”.

    Personally, I believe that the ACA was a good thing, the right thing to do. But its political flaws and vulnerabilities are becoming more and more apparent. It was not implemented in a politically robust fashion, i.e. in a fashion that could survive a change in dominant parties. It was rushed into place with a lot of significant flaws, and it depended for survival on the continuation of Democratic legislative majorities and control of the White House, as to allow its flaws to be addressed over time.

    But paradoxically, the process of the ACA’s adoption in and of itself helped to shift the political tides away from the Democrats. I’m not saying that this was right, I’m not defending those who turned against Obama and the Dems because of the ACA; but the political reality is this — a whole lot of voters sure did turn against them. Other major policy initiatives such as Social Security and Medicare were able to survive the back-and-forth cycles of party control in Washington. Obamacare is turning out to be a hot-house flower, something that can’t survive a cold night. There’s a good article in Vox today by Sara Kliff, quite an expert on the whole Obamacare saga, on how the ACA is dying on its own even though the GOP hasn’t yet gotten around to its repeal-and-replace legislation. Sure, the GOP could have kept the ACA alive with minimal effort; the GOP along with Trump are complicit in the ACA’s impending collapse through intentional neglect (just what they want to see, of course). But it’s pretty clear that the ACA that Obama gave us was a frail beast, one that couldn’t survive the realities of national politics.

    Yea, the ACA will soon be gone, and don’t hold your breath waiting for the Dem’s single-payer plan to go into effect. Still, some good things did come out of the whole Obamacare experiment. We are not going back to 2007; the GOP knows that the public now expects the federal government to offer some sort of assistance regarding health care coverage, even if the GOP’s idea of assistance falls brutally short of what is needed. Some of the features of Obamacare, such as the extension of age for children on a parents policy and the elimination (in theory) of pre-existing condition discrimination, are here to stay. Trump and the GOP are about to implement a wholly inadequate replacement plan (and will pay dearly for that over time), but the Democrats will eventually have their day once again. Let’s hope they manage to get it right, or a whole lot righter, the next time around. My 0.02. Thanks again, stop back soon, if you can stand all of my blah-blah-bloviation!!

    Comment by Jim G — June 13, 2017 @ 9:16 pm

  4. Jim, obviously, you can and should run the blog in a way that works best for you. You are a good writer and you always put thought in what you write.

    I do take the Democratic side in the dueling narrative. I do agree with you that the Dems used strong-armed tactics after Scott Brown won, but after a year of desperately trying to negotiate with the GOP, the Dems just had to put something on the scoreboard or the 2010 losses would have been even bigger than they were. I think you have forgotten the meetings Obama had with GOP Senators in trying to get a bi-partisan bill. But the #1 goal of the GOP was to make Obama a one-term president, and that was not just me saying that.

    All major legislation on social problems will occasionally require modification. Look at how often social security was modified. But the GOP did not make any attempt to improve rhe ACA. They assumed that if it collapses, the Dems will get the blame, so they obstructed all efforts to improve the bill. Now they are recognizing that they will get the blame. so Obamacare might survive after all!

    Comment by Zreebs — June 14, 2017 @ 6:59 pm

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