Sunday, December 30, 2018

Predictions For 2019: Nothing Will Happen

That's right. Nothing meaningful will happen on the national political stage for an entire 12 months.  And just to make sure I cover all of my bases, nothing meaningful will happen in most other areas of American life in 2019

Of course I'll be wrong, but maybe you get the sense of why I'm saying these things. I'm not a pessimist. In fact, I'm one of the great all-time optimists presently trodding the soil. It's just that I don't see the split Congress and the far right White House making much headway towards solving some of our most pressing problems.

Could we get an infrastructure bill? Possibly, but that would mean that the president would have to give up his dream of a wall on the southern border, or the Democrats would have to up the amount of money they want to spend on the border to end the shutdown. At this point, I would think that the Democrats hold the better cards, if only because Trump is a minority president (oh, the irony) and holds a minority position that is supported by a minority of the population.

I understand that he's trying to hold on to his core supporters for 2020, but they won't be enough to give him a second term, since many people who voted for him simply despised Hillary Clinton and could vote for a more palatable Democrat. And speaking of, we'll get an early indication of who will be entering the 2020 contest in a matter of weeks. I"m fairly sure that New Jersey's own Senator Cory Booker will run, as will Senators Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Kirsten Gillibrand. Bernie Sanders will also explore an encore and Joe Biden will give it some serious thought. Honestly, none of them jump out at me as a clear winner, and it's possible that the nominee will not be one of this group.

Combine a divided government with epic fundraising and a president who doesn't know much about policy or how policy gets made into law or how the law works or whether he has to follow the law or whether he can just say what the law is and you get a year where not much is going to happen legislatively unless you consider investigations and calls for Trump's tax returns significant legal accomplishments.

Will there be fireworks? You bet. But precious little will get done that will actually improve the country.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Shutdown and Foreign 'ffairs Follies: Just Another Brick In the Wall

Let's look at the latest destruction of American norms this way: Which countries seem to be the happiest with President Trump's assault on the institutions that won the Cold War and have kept the peace since 1945?

China, Russia, Iran, Turkey, Syria, and although not countries, let's add Hezbollah and ISIS just because.

Could anyone think of a more motley collection of autocrats, dictators, murderers, liars, usurpers, and authoritarians who flout what pass for laws, constitutions, respect for human rights and the dignity of having your own opinion? Vladimir Putin loves the idea of the US pulling out of Syria. So dies Recep Erdogan. They couldn't comment quickly enough.

And let's also look at who was angriest at him for even suggesting that he would sign a budget bill without money for the worst policy idea of the past 80 years: FOX, Rush Limbaugh, Anne Coulter, Sean Hannity and the rest of the far right who did not then and do not now represent the majority view of how this country should comport itself domestically and in foreign affairs.

So naturally, Mr. 46% Small Hands, upon settling down in his bathrobe for the evening, sees that the TV is yelling at him and since the TV knows everything, he needs to shut down the government, deny workers their pay, deny everyone else the opportunity to visit national parks, and generally throw the country into an unsettling funk during the holiday season.

Of course, let's not forget that the president is also stomping on his own economic record by engaging in a silly trade war and being unpredictable enough that the business class, which should be reveling in the shower of money raining down on them, are flop-sweat nervous every weekday morning at 9:30, when the bell to open the stock market shouts its arrival.

The interesting turn in all of this is that I do not altogether disagree with pulling American troops out of quagmires in Afghanistan, Syria, and other nations where for 17 years we've been doing relatively little to solve problems. though we have, in some cases, prevented the political and social problems from getting worse. I supported President Obama's troop withdrawals and I would support President Trump's if I believed that he could do it the right way.

He proved that he could not. And my evidence:

Whither Bibi?

That's right, for all of the congratulations Trump received from the Killing Klass, we've heard not a peep out of Benjamin Netanyahu, who stands to lose a great deal, as does Israel, by an American withdrawal from the Middle East. Because the president, in one fell swoop, did more to strengthen Bashar al-Assad, the mullahs in Iran, Vladimir Putin and Hezbollah than anything they could have done on their own. And they all hate Israel. So the president who says that he loves Israel turns out not to really know what he's doing when it comes to our ally.

The same is true for our European and Asian allies as well. The president is talking about pulling back troops from Japan and South Korea because he doesn't see them contributing enough to their own defense. Making them pay more does make sense, but lessening our influence in a fit of FOX pique is irresponsible and dangerous. China is expanding in that area even with our troops present. Imagine what will happen if we leave.

Of course, Trump's real fear is that he will realistically lose his shot at history by losing the 2020 election, which is becoming more and more a probability. That's why he's focusing more and more on the far right elements of the electorate who supported him in 2016. 

The problem is that by shivving the economy with his unpredictable trade policies, advocating unconditionally for a wall that won't stop the ladders and tunnels (and private property lawsuits) that will inevitably breach it, and playing sandbox politics by telling the country that it's his government and if he doesn't like what's happening then he's going to shut it down, he is narrowing his supporters into only those elements and he will lose more of the moderate conservatives who couldn't stand Hillary Clinton and who then turned on the GOP last month. If he couldn't get a wall through a Republican Congress over the past two years, he's not getting it through Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Senators who have their eyes on the party's nomination.

Perhaps cooler heads will resolve the shutdown this weekend. The long-term problems, though, will live on with the bathrobe.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Did the GOP Just Lose the 2020 Election?

Health care.


Do the Republicans, and conservatives in general, really not get the fact that most Americans need reliable health insurance that covers the checkups,  basic procedures, and tests they need to stay healthy? Do they really not understand that, yes, you can lower the cost of health insurance, but past a certain point it becomes prohibitively expensive to actually use the plan because deductibles and co-insurance rates are sky high? Are they really that ignorant of the idea that reliable, comprehensive health insurance coverage is in itself a safety net that allows Americans to work productively and plan for their financial and physical future?

I guess not. 

Health care was the number one issue ion the 2018 elections, and the overwhelming majority of Americans said that they disapproved of taking away, or making more expensive, coverage for pre-existing conditions. They like that physicals require no co-payment and that contraceptives are covered by most employers. So what seems to be the GOP position on health care?

You're on your own, and if you have a pre-existing condition...stop it.

Of course, the Federal Court ruling last week is only the first step in the process of appeals that will likely culminate in a Supreme Court ruling in the middle of another presidential election. And we certainly know that Donald "Nobody Knew Health Care Could Be So Complicated" Trump is going to be absolutely useless on this issue. His response to the judicial ruling was to say that we're going to fix the system and get everybody great health care.

Except that he spent the first 8 months of his presidency trying to repeal the law that put us on that course, then supported a GOP bill that would have thrown 20 million people off their plans. And he had a Republican majority in both houses of Congress to help him, but they couldn't get it done. His opportunity to get a bill that actually fixes the deficiencies of the ACA is gone.

The GOP isn't getting any help from the states either. Soon to be ex-Governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, just signed a bill that prohibits the state from leaving a suit that challenges the ACA. I'm sure that more conservatives, even the ones who lost in November, will continue to try and get rid of the law. And people's health insurance. Without a workable alternative. Refill the swamp, no?

Now that the Democrats control the House of Representatives, the chances are they they will propose a bill more to the liking of most Americans who struggle with paying their bills and maintaining their health, which is mostly everyone with a middle class income or less. They should make necessary changes to the ACA and make sure that every American knows that the consequences of the Republican assault on their ability to buy insurance will mean a drop in their quality of life, not just a huge bill for services that are too expensive to be rendered.

And it's not just health care that will ultimately spell doom for the Republicans. The climate, pollution, indictments, the trade war, unconscionable treatment of refugees and those who are trying to flee political and personal terror, a tax law that will explode the deficit and help the wealthy, the stock market, overt racism and sexism and, ultimately, a president who knows no boundaries when it comes to disrespecting the constitution, will all combine to remind voters that the United States is better than those who are presently running it.

It was immigration that likely won the election for Trump in 2016. Health care will be his, and the GOP's undoing in 2020.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Gadzooks! It Looks Like There Really ARE Witches!

I'm finally convinced that President Trump is absolutely correct when he tweets that Robert Mueller's investigation into the alleged malfeasance of the Trump campaign and his possible obstruction of justice is, indeed, a witch hunt.

Because we've discovered that there are witches.

Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort have told demonstrable lies about their roles and the actions of others during their time as Trump servants. Manafort has made an art of his lying by first getting a deal on immunity, then breaking it by lying some more. This guy is a machine. Impressive. Cohen's testimony, which implicates the president directly in authorizing payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal in return for their silence about their affairs with him, is even more damaging because it essentially calls Trump a liar since he denies having affairs with either of them. The weight of the evidence is not in the president's favor.

And if you thought the witches only came out in the Mueller investigation, then you haven't been paying attention. The other witches were found in North Carolina engaged in...wait for it...voter fraud.  The best part is that they're Republicans. You know, the ones who enacted all of the voter ID and intimidation laws that have been suppressing minority voters for the past two national election cycles. The ones who claimed that illegal immigrants were voting in huge numbers against the president. The ones who said that Democrats were stealing elections.


Yes, they engaged in some fraudulent activities that blatantly affected the vote in a congressional race in North Carolina. And the even bester part is that the GOP contender is an evangelical preacher who says he has no idea that this was happening in his campaign. What a disgrace.

So there you have it, my friends. Real witches doing really witchful things.

The president is right. And it could turn out to haunt him. Eye of newt indeed.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, December 2, 2018

A Thousand Points of Light Beats One Dim Bulb

I didn't really care for George H.W. Bush as president, but as history shows us, he certainly looks a great deal better in light of, shall we say, current realities.

At the time, Bush was seen as inheriting Ronald Reagan's conservative mantle, but Bush was more moderate and came from the old blue blood wing of the Republican Party. You know, the wealthy, business-oriented, somewhat squishy on civil rights cadre that also nominated Richard Nixon. Bush had labeled Reagan's economic policy as "voodoo economics," which turned out not only to be prescient, but a fair warning to the conservatives who didn't know how to balance a checkbook because, well, daddy would always clean up the mess.

Bush played daddy to the extent that he could, but he still gave in to the disgraceful instincts that were becoming part of campaigning in the modern era. The Willie Horton ad (I won't even justify it with a link, though of course you could look it up) became part of the lexicon of scurrilous political advertisements because it played directly to the racist practices that were embedded in conservative circles. The ad was said to use dog whistle tactics, but that's big fat lie. The ad screamed and generated sirens and flashing lights. And it worked.

Which of course made Bush's appeal for a kinder, gentler America seem suspect to say the least, but he soon pivoted to his strengths, which were his close personal relationships in Washington and diplomatic circles, and his economic policies, which ultimately sunk him. During the 1988 campaign he said that the Democrats would need to read his lips; that he was not going to raise taxes. Then he did the responsible thing and raised taxes to put the economy on firmer footing and to close the budget deficit. For the conservatives, though, that was heresy. He lost in 1992 because conservatives didn't come out for him and moderates thought he wasn't engaged enough in domestic affairs.

But Bush did have some successes. He ordered invasions of Panama and Iraq to stop their leaders, Manuel Noriega and Saddam Hussein, from expanding their roles as very bad guys. And he also navigated the country through the end of the Cold War from 1989 to 1991, and did so with a steady hand. Reagan gets credit for ending the conflict, but it was Bush who helped make it an orderly reality. Looking back, it's amazing to remember that for all of the talk about the Cold War ending with a mushroom cloud, it really ended with hammers slamming away at the Berlin Wall. Bush's support for Boris Yeltsin's coup was a masterstroke of realpolitik. He could have stuck with Mikhail Gorbachev, but Bush saw that Yeltsin was the future. And he was right.

Bush also had a successful post-presidency, burying the hatchet with Bill Clinton and generally living the life of an elder statesman with restraint and credibility. He was, though, the last of the old conservative breed, and it was his son who led us into the political world we unfortunately inhabit now. I won't recap. You know this.

And yet it says something about the disaster that sits in the White House today when he says he doesn't understand what the thousand points of light was supposed to represent, or even what it meant. That's because you need to look beyond yourself  and see the country as an interconnected community of people who are willing to help each other through volunteerism and a shared vision of what it takes to continue to improve. George H.W. Bush, indeed, most every other president, understood what this meant and encouraged us to give back to the United States. His death leaves one less light shining. Let's make sure the present occupant doesn't shut them all off.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest