Sunday, March 25, 2018

After the Nor'easters: Trump Caves on the Budget While the Real Storm(y) is on the Horizon

For all of the talk about President Trump almost vetoing the Congressional spending bill, what's lost is that his presidency will likely turn out to be a textbook case of an outsider with no natural political constituency unable to reorder the bureaucracy or scare enough legislators to bend to his will. After all, here is a politician who did not garner a majority of popular votes and is proving unable and unwilling to reach across the aisle to work with Democrats, who in many cases would be able to provide him with votes on legislation he'd like to pass.

Yes, he got his military spending increase, but on most other measures, including the ridiculous wall on the Mexican border, he earned the political equivalent of the Golden Sombrero, whiffing on cuts he proposed in funding for the arts, the EPA, housing and transportation, each of which received an increase in government support or the same level of funding as the year before. In effect, Congress ignored the president's request, then essentially told him to sign the bill or he'd get a worse one in return.

So much for Trump the dealmaker or politician who would come in and clean house. In fact, the only house he's cleaned is the White House by firing and replacing his staff at a rate unseen in...forever.

Congress has learned that the president cannot rally Americans behind his agenda mainly because his agenda is supported by a minority of people and his behavior has so eroded his support that Republican members of Congress are running for the doors in anticipation of a Democratic wave election in November. Trump has also shown a notable lack of policy knowledge and engagement, so trying to make an actual argument other than a particular policy is "great" or "the best" seems to be beyond his grasp. Add in the tweets that come in flurries after he's watched some outrage on FOX and you have a political environment that is unstable, ignorant and rudderless.

Just what the Founders envisioned, right?

What should make Republicans quake that much more is that they and the president should be at the height of their power and influence. One-party governance has a short shelf life as Democrats can confirm from 2009-2011. You get two years to prove your worth and Republicans understand that they have not unified the country and that the president is not going to have a coat, much less coattails in the upcoming election. For the president to be snubbed on his major priorities at this point is a major rebuke. Neither they nor he are going to regain influence. The tax cuts are in the system. If all Trump has left is to bar transgender Americans from serving in the military, then it's going to be a difficult environment for them for the rest of the year.

And that's just the domestic side. A rejection of the diplomatic order that's kept the peace since 1945 in the form of higher tariffs, a foreign policy team full of hawks, and a confrontational attitude towards China and North Korea are all causing some concern in the United States and abroad. It's one thing to shake up a moribund system. It's quite another to cause other countries to question the commitment of the United States to protocols that keep the world safe.

The president finally has a foreign policy and security team he's comfortable with, but he still sees the world as a series of personal relationships that determine who gets punished and who doesn't. Congratulating Vladimir Putin while applying tariffs to Japan makes for a contradictory signal. Gutting the State Department, leaving embassies short staffed and trusting your gut on Kim Jong-un is downright dangerous. The lone bright spot is holding China accountable for the theft of intellectual property, which has been going on since the 1990s. But that's hardly something to run on.

It's a bit too early to call President Trump a lame duck, but he's getting close. Congress passed the tax cuts, but the ACA remains, as does an un-walled border. The issue that could unite the country, an infrastructure bill that provides both jobs and desperate repairs, is nowhere to be found. And, of course, the Stormy clouds are gathering.

Donald Trump will not be a transformative leader because his worldview and policy knowledge are far too limited, and he had done nothing to unify the country. Congress just reminded him of that. The people will remind him again in November.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Wasn't Trump Supposed to be Good at...Something?

I would think that the president might be more inclined to support some gun control measures, seeing as how he loves to shoot himself in the foot.

How does President Trump think that firing Andrew McCabe or Rod Rosenstein or James Comey or Rex Tillerson is going to make anybody forget the main issues in a White House saga starring incompetence, venality and revenge (a great name for a law firm, no?)? I understand the president's fascination with the media and keeping his name at the top of the websites, but doesn't he understand that he would be there anyway simply because of his position?

For all of the talk about his being a master media manipulator and a genius at getting people to talk about him, Trump is a terrible public relations guy. He wants to remake the country in his image, but he has no plan and constantly gets in his own way. He also says mean things, attacks the very institutions that can get him the programs and policies he wants, and seems to lack even the basic knowledge of trade or business that was supposed to be his strength.

And what of his signature accomplishment? Conor Lamb's election was extraordinary not just because he won in a Trump-dominated district, but despite the fact that almost every worker in that district received a tax cut and should have been thankful to the president and his party. That, more than any other reason says to me that the Republicans are in deep trouble come the fall. The old argument was that the president was a savvy businessman who would bring some fiscal sense to the country and reorder the government so it responded when it was needed, but otherwise stayed out of the way. We now know that this argument is showing some serious cracks and the new tariffs could end up costing Americans more money and some jobs in the name of economic nationalism.

President Trump would do himself, and the country, a favor by simply ignoring Robert Mueller's investigation and Stormy Daniels and just getting on with the business of governing. True, it wouldn't make those problems go away, but to gloat that you've fired an FBI employee so close to retirement because he's tied to James Comey is simply terrible, terrible policy. And trying to silence a woman the president said he never slept with is just plain silly. If she's lying, let her and expose her. What complicates this is the $130,000 payment to buy her silence. And the $20 million threat if she breaks the agreement.

That's terrible public relations, business practice and support of American values. What else has the president got?

Not much.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, March 11, 2018

The Power of Power

Funny you should ask, but yes, I am sitting in my local public library charging all of my devices because yet again, north central New Jersey is without power. I really thought we had escaped this because the snowstorm hit on Wednesday and we kept our power throughout the driving snow and falling branches. But on Saturday morning we heard a bang, and then the lights went out. And the heat. And the (well) water. At least we can still cook on the gas stove. A large pork shoulder butt for pulling. What else would you expect a nice Jewish boy to be cooking on a Sunday afternoon?

But that's not what I came to talk about. Came to talk about power. So while we wait for more snow on Monday night and Tuesday, let's muse about the power shift that is on its way.

Young people are ticked off and they want the power over their lives that previous hordes of young people have fought for. The power to be safe. The power to shake the status quo, as in the power of the NRA to dictate their view of the Second Amendment, which is that it's inviolable and any slight change in gun laws is an egregious violation of American rights. Enter Florida. Raising the minimum age to purchase a gun is a good step. Worked with alcohol; why not guns? The NRA's argument is that denying a 19 year old a gun is akin to taking away guns, which, as we know, is the argument that all far-right gunsters use to beat back any regulation. If Florida can pass gun control laws, then most any state can. The question is whether they will.

Related to that is the proposed student walkout on Wednesday in response to the Parkland shooting. Under normal circumstances, schools in the leafy NJ suburbs would balk at letting students lead a disruption in the school day. This time, though, administrators are bending to the will of the vocal majority and are making accommodations so that both students and teachers can express their concerns and rights and fears and hopes that the country will finally make some common-sense changes. Students are leading this, and that's the beauty of it because they need to be heard. So much for this being an uninvolved, frightened, self-centered group of young men and women. That the right wing media wants to paint them as dupes and fakes tells you all you already knew about the credibility of the right wing media.

And what about the teachers? In West Virginia they didn't make the mistake that Senator Susan Collins made when she voted to keep the government funded in return for a scheduled vote on Dreamers, only to be sold out by Mitch McConnell. No, the teachers didn't go back to school after the promise of a wage gain; they waited until the legislature actually gave them one before ending their protest, defying their state and local union leadership.

In short, enough is enough. Destroying public worker unions has resulted in the most heinous abrogations of the commitment that a progressive, democratic republic is supposed to make to the workers that ensure that students are educated and that government services are delivered effectively and equally. We are truly at the point where Ronald Reagan's warning that the government is the problem is having its most noxious effect.

I have to laugh, and cry, at the gazillion gigabytes of words and pictures devoted to the idea that our present government is somehow run by populists. It is not. It is run by know-nothings who are shifting even more money to themselves and hoping that the poor rubes who voted for them won't notice or will be bought off by $40 or $50 dollars more per week in their paychecks. Meanwhile, government workers are vilified for not getting things done with the reduced resources that those in power would like to reduce and defund even more.

The backlash is already here and it's being lead by people who are supposed to do as they are told. Clearly, that's not happening anymore.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, March 4, 2018

If the Children Are to Lead, They Have to Vote

You'll excuse me if I'm somewhat skeptical, but all this talk about how the young people of this country are going to lead us into a new era where the adults have failed seems vaguely familiar. Many older Americans had the same feelings when the voting age was lowered to 18 in 1971 and they braced themselves for a new generation of activists who would change the way this country was run.

Instead, they gave us the Reagan Revolution which, by the by, coincides with a precipitous decline in the fortunes of the middle class, an explosion of money at the top of the income scale, and racial, economic and educational inequality that has resulted in a lost generation of African-American men and a coarsening of public discourse as a direct result of the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987.

In other words, the mythical bar in on the floor, ready for anyone with a half-considered idea to walk confidently over it.

Ok, Ok, maybe that wasn't fair or was a bit dark. After all, the baby boom cohort has given us technology that was only a dream 40 short years ago, which has revolutionized work, entertainment, grammar and the speed at which society hurtles forward. We have better food, more of it, and at lwer prices than we;ve ever had it. Is it any wonder that we're gaining weight? We also have more breweries in this country than at any time since the 1880s. So we got that going for us.

And here comes the new youth. Hello and welcome. While the rest of us boomers get older, and I am shockingly aging at the rate of one year per year, the country seems to be getting younger and younger. This is natural. This is good. This works for me.

But I am not yet convinced that it will mean that meaningful change is close at hand.

First, the new young people will need to register to vote on or before their 18th birthday depending on their state's law. Then they will need, and this is the big one, to vote. In every election. Every one. Without fail. I haven't missed an election...ever. Not ever. I voted in person, by absentee ballot and by mail-in ballot. They can too. It's easy. And fun.

And not just voting in presidential elections. Young people need to vote in local state and Congressional elections as well. This is how to transfer the energy and emotion into policy and representation. It's a lesson in civics. Which we don't require much in schools these days? Connection? Anyone? Anyone?

It will be difficult to maintain the present energy until November, but that's natural. The initial awakening will settle down into organizing and spreading the message. Then the real slog comes in the fall when people will need to go door-to-door and get out the vote. But we have a good start. The energy is building and so is the outrage over the senseless violence that has now invaded schools.

To make a change, though, young people must register and vote. No Excuses.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest