Sunday, July 16, 2017

HAVE THEY PULLED IT OFF?


Donald Trump is President, and the latest poll shows that 36% of Americans are happy about that.  I don’t know about the rest of the 64%, but I’m really not pleased that the election was taken from Hillary Clinton, in three separate ways.   

Two of the three ways that Trump unfairly won the election were due to his own actions.  The third was when the head of the FBI, James Comey, announced – just a few days before the election – that he had found new evidence about Clinton’s email case, and that it might be something negative.  Clinton’s numbers, which had been going up as the election got closer, did an about-face and fell.  Instead of being ahead of Trump by about 4%, she dropped to being ahead by only about 1 or 2% and was still losing altitude. 

Right before the election, the FBI announced that in fact, they had found nothing incriminating in the latest evidence about Ms. Clinton.  But it was too late; Clinton’s upward momentum had reversed because of the earlier FBI report, and her popularity was heading south going into Election Day.  Clinton beat Trump anyway, by 2.9 million votes.  But as we all know, the President is elected by the Electoral College, and there Donald Trump’s great campaigning strategies paid off; Trump beat Clinton, winning the Presidency 304 electoral votes to 277.

The FBI stole Ms. Clinton’s Presidency from her; at the very least, a reasonable person understands that their interference helped cause her late polls decline.   And the thing is – it has become clear that the FBI went against its own rules by interfering the way they did.  The FBI specifically does not want sensitive information coming out during a presidential election, in order to avoid influencing people’s voting decisions.  But Comey did it anyway.  So Ms. Clinton got robbed by the FBI, made worse by the fact that the FBI was acting contrary to its own directives!

But the FBI got some help in taking the election from Ms. Clinton by a lot of very shady things that Donald Trump and his supporters did.  Obviously, the recent news about Trump’s son eagerly trying to score dirt on Clinton that was coming from the Russian government is on people’s minds now.  There are different opinions about how much – if at all – the Trump campaign cooperated with the Russians. 

But even if Donald Trump and his team had nothing at all to do with the Russian hacking (which seems improbable now), the fact is that he benefited from it.  The Russian hacking and releasing of information hurt Clinton’s numbers and helped Trump’s; no doubt.  How much?  This is impossible to determine.  But anyone who followed the election felt the impact of some of the bigger email leaks – they were tough blows for Ms. Clinton. 

So a reasonable person would be pretty sure that the Russian help, over a period of weeks, was responsible for dropping Clinton’s numbers.  Probably by something like 2-5 percentage points; maybe more.  Wouldn’t you think?  Even the low side of that would almost certainly have won her the needed Electoral College votes, considering one analysis that concluded a mere 107,000 more votes in three key states would have done the trick.

But finally, there is this huge, diverse category of nasty things – blatant lies and insults, mostly – that Trump and his people did throughout the entire campaign.  They were responsible for a lot of popularity that Trump had, and they hurt Ms. Clinton’s chances. 

Donald Trump would say the things people wanted to hear.  Hey – that really makes sense!  I like what Trump’s saying,” – was a common reaction from many voters during 2016.  The problem is – and it is an enormous problem – much of what Trump was saying was untrue.  Trump would tell small lies, he’d tell big lies; he might think the lies were actually true, or he might intentionally say things he knew to be untrue.  Actually, evidence suggests that Trump doesn’t really even care if something is true or not.  If it sounds good, if it’s what people want to hear, then it’s true enough for him – regardless of the facts.  

But whatever the case, Trump would tell lies ALL THE TIME.  Every day.  At press conferences, at meetings, being interviewed for the news, in his many tweets – it doesn’t matter.  Lies all day, all night, all year, to push people into his camp and keep them there. 

Again, some of Trump’s lies are unintentional.  Not to be mean, but the fact is that Donald Trump is fairly ignorant about a great many things: history, political science, government, current affairs, and economics being among them.  Those just happen to be crucial for a President to know, and Trump definitely does not.  Rumor has it that he has read only one book after finishing college, and that was his autobiography.  True or not, we have a very clear idea that Trump is not an intellectually curious guy, and that he has a great many gaps in his knowledge.

Example: He stated that his sister “could make laws” because she was a judge.  Our government doesn’t work that way.  Another example was when he was asked his opinion about Brexit a few weeks before the UK’s vote on the matter.  Trump didn’t know what Brexit, the most important European issue of the year, even was; so the reporter had to explain it to him.  

So when Trump says things like bad trade deals are almost solely responsible for the loss of good American jobs, we’re not sure whether he actually believes that out of ignorance, or is just lying because that’s what most Americans want to hear.  You see, economists know that only about 15% of American jobs lost were due to trade agreements; most of the rest were due to improvements in technology and robotics.  What about his claim that we need to start vetting Muslims coming into the US?  Does he not know that we’ve been doing that since the 1980s?  Or is he just playing to his base’s anti-Muslim beliefs?

Then there are the blatant, nasty lies and insults that ingratiated him even more to his base: those folks being mostly white, mostly under-educated, mostly middle-to-low income, conservative, anti-big government, Fox News viewers, often Fundamentalist Christian, often anti-immigrant, often rural.  The key demographic for my point is that they tended to be poorly educated.  They held opinions about economics issues without understanding economics, and about historical, and political, and current affairs issues the same way.  Knowing little or nothing about big issues, they were easy victims for Trump’ lies, and Fox News’ modus operandi of propaganda masquerading as news.  They cast their votes based on issues that they had no understanding of, trusting Trump and Fox for the truth.

But back to Trump’s blatant, nasty lies.  They started with the whole “birther” movement, a denial of Barack Obama’s US citizenship that Trump pushed starting in 2011.  This movement, based on a racist lie that Obama proved wrong by releasing the long-form of his birth certificate in that same year, endeared Trump to the millions of people (described above) who hated Obama and desperately wanted an “anti-Obama” to replace him.  Trump’s popularity with this conservative, under-educated “base” traces back to this nasty lie about Obama – Trump’s original sin, as it were.

Trump’s blatant lies and insults stretched on from there.  The “thousands of muslims” in New Jersey who cheered the 9/11 attacks.  How he knows more about the war in Iraq “than all the generals.”  That “nobody has more respect for women” than he does, even as he’s grabbing their pussies.  “If I run for President, of course I’ll release my tax returns.”  Megyn Kelly “bleeding from her wherever.” Ted Cruz’s ugly wife.  Mocking the disabled reporter.   On and on.  Feeding his base as the outsider, the tough guy, the “only one who can get it done!”  

Trump’s own lies and attacks were aided by his supporters who created the REAL fake news operations, feeding outlandish lies to social media and elsewhere, disguised as real news.  Such as LifeZette.com, run by Trump friend Floyd Brown, and Liftable Media, run by a Kellyanne Conway associate.  They put out crap like the PizzaGate lies, and the laughable claim that the Pope had endorsed Trump.  I remember that one in particular, as the Pope had previously made it clear how much he disliked Trump.  And I remember my friends on Facebook commenting that they believed the story, and how it only made them want to vote for him more.  Ignorant, ignorant Americans, spoon-fed ridiculous lies by Trump’s machine – and loving it!  Pathetic.

What do you think all of that was worth to Trump?  All of the lies, the insults, the attacks – on his part, on his supporters’ part, month after month, all divorced from the truth and aimed at his base’s desires, prejudices, and above all - gullibility.  Would he have done even half as well without all this which, let’s be honest – simply cannot be compared to the occasional falsehoods and spin efforts of all of the other candidates, which were in a totally different universe from what Trump was doing?  I doubt he would’ve gotten more than 20% of the vote if his campaign had been on an equivalent level of truthfulness as other candidates. 

In a world that was perfectly fair (and which we all understand is not the case), Trump’s massive lying, the Russians’ interference, and the FBI’s violation of their own rules would have negated the results of the election.  Hillary Clinton would belatedly be awarded the presidency, while Trump and his team would be unceremoniously kicked out of office in disgrace.  We know this is something that greatly worries the President.  During all the months of this Russia mess and increased evidence they interfered with our election process, Trump never once asked his aides how to counter the Russians.  Instead, he has ceaselessly fretted about how it might delegitimize his November win. 

In any case, there is no way to quantify how many votes Clinton lost to these three modes of unfair practices, thus no absolute proof that she deserved to win the electoral college voting.  Besides, there is no absolute proof of Trump’s illegal collusion with the Russians (yet).  And while it is shocking beyond belief, the fact that so many Americans are ignorant and gullible enough to fall for Trump’s many false narratives isn’t a crime.  

But what if it turns out that the Donald Trump and his minions are proven to have colluded with the Russians in the election?  Those are extremely serious crimes and could (should) result in Trump’s impeachment, along with possible prison time.  Additionally, that would strengthen the case that Clinton was indeed the one who should have been elected – not Trump.  The fair thing to do, the thing that represents the will of the majority, would be to let her assume the presidency to which she is clearly entitled, not Pence or any of the rest of Trump’s administration.  I’m afraid that is extremely unlikely, however, even if Trump is thrown out for cheating in the election.

I’m not a constitutional expert, but I don’t think there is any precedent or mechanism for doing such a thing.  Perhaps a bigger problem is the massive amount of confusion and disarray that switching administrations, mid-administration, would cause.  Can you imagine telling Hillary Clinton – “OK, you guys are in.  Get your team of thousands of people in place, and quickly,” months after everyone had moved on in their lives and their careers?  Meanwhile, just how much mischief and mayhem could the current administration create, in retribution, before they’re all gone?   So I don’t think we’d see this, even if it were the appropriate action given an illegally stolen election.

Another solution for Trump being found criminally guilty of election tampering would be calling a new election.  This November, or half-way through his term, or whatever.  That would give Americans the choice between going forward with Pence as President, assuming he survives any criminal charges, or going with Clinton and her choice for VP.  That seems pretty reasonable, although I’ve no idea if there is much precedent for doing this sort of thing, and I imagine it would also be pretty unlikely.   

By far the most likely result is that the Trump administration remains in control, even if Trump himself gets removed.  And that represents a huge victory for the Republicans and for people like Steve Bannon, whose stated objective is to “deconstruct” America’s government and society.  One way or another, the Republicans will have succeeded in stealing the choice of Supreme Court Justice replacement.  As you recall, Antonin Scalia died in February, 2016, with more than 11 months remaining in Barack Obama’s presidency.  According to the Constitution, Obama had the right and obligation to name Scalia’s replacement, subject to the Senate’s approval. 

He did; Obama named Merrick Garland in March, with 10 months remaining in his presidency.  But the Republican-controlled Senate refused, time and again, to give Garland a confirmation hearing.  How they were able to thwart the President’s constitutional right to appoint a Supreme Court Justice, I’ll never understand.  But they did, and Garland never even got a hearing.  Then Trump was “elected”, and the Republicans approved Trump’s nominee, Neil Gorsuch, with little difficulty. 

We’re already seeing the result in the Court’s most recent decisions, where Gorsuch is turning out to be the even more conservative than Scalia was.  So instead of a moderate liberal, which was Obama’s constitutional right, we have a strong conservative, leaving the Court with a 5 to 4 conservative edge that will color its decisions for years to come.  Yet the Court could become even more conservative.  Politically centrist Justice Kennedy, 80 years old, is expected to retire in the next year or two; liberal Justice Ginsberg is 84, and also may retire soon.  

That would give Trump and the Republicans the chance to name one or two more conservative Justices to the Court, which would change the laws of the land and the way society operates in significant ways for many years to come.  This can’t be emphasized too much: Instead of the moderate liberals that Clinton and the majority of Americans want according to a fair election, we’ll have years or decades of laws determined by conservatives that were put in place because of a stolen election.  This is huge; a huge win for the right, for Bannon; likely a big loss of personal liberties, and unfair rulings for the rest of us, the majority.  For years to come, regardless of who’s in the White House down the road.  But there’s more.

The Trump administration has so far been unable to pass any significant legislation.  What it HAS done is screw up the State Department and a number of others by not filling thousands of positions – part of their “drain the swamp” and “deconstruction” strategies.  Another factor is the unqualified, at times antagonistic Cabinet department leaders, e.g. Rick Perry, who alternately wanted to get rid of, and forgot about, the Energy department he heads; or space-child brain surgeon Dr. Ben Carson leading - HUD?, or EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) head Scott Pruitt, who wants to eliminate environmental protections.  How easy will it be reversing the damage done to these departments of our government? 

Also accomplished is Trump’s use of executive powers to rush the deregulation of big banks, carbon-based energy businesses, pharmaceuticals, firearms, the Internet, and other areas.  Did I mention slashing environmental protections?  These are a big reason the stock market has soared since Trump’s election; businesses expect to greatly benefit from deregulations of all types.  The trade-off, of course, is that consumers and the Earth will tend to be the losers from this.  How easy will it be to reverse these efforts at deregulation, which the administration is rushing to implement as quickly as possible?  Say – before anybody gets kicked out or thrown in jail. 

Wall Street has eagerly been awaiting the flip side of deregulation, which are the promised big tax cuts.  Tied up with healthcare changes and the Russian chaos, Congress so far hasn’t been able to pass those tax changes we’ve all read about that will hugely benefit businesses and the wealthy, at a big cost to the rest of us.  Chances are – Congress will get those through, regardless of what ends up happening to Trump et al with the collusion and obstruction charges he faces.   And then they’re the law; how soon could they be reversed?

Opting out of the Paris climate accord, pulling out of the TPP trade agreement, and Trump’s other efforts to generally just piss off our traditional allies (Mexico, Canada, Britain, France, and Germany), while ingratiating himself with our biggest adversary – Russia?  How long will it take to fix the damage done, mend those fences, rebuild the trust? 

What about all the new immigrant restrictions, prosecutions, persecutions?  Trying to get voters’ personal information, as part of Trump’s asinine contention that millions voted illegally in 2016?  States, courts, and numerous organizations are fighting against these and other Trump administration actions that smack of authoritarian government more than democracy.  How long will it take to roll these back, convince needed immigrants that they’re welcome in the US, rebuild our own citizens’ trust in their government?

To all of the above questions: Probably a long time.  And it may be that a lot of permanent damage (“deconstruction,” people like Steve Bannon hope) will have been done.  Even if Trump were to be removed tomorrow.  Yet we know that in the best of likely scenarios, it would probably take months to get Trump out of office.  How much further damage can he and the minions cause in that additional time?


So that, finally, may be the answer to a question that has puzzled me for months: Trump is a lying, incompetent President.  He’s doing significant damage to the country, things that are likely to backfire in a big way at some point.  So why, then, has Wall Street reacted so positively, sending stock prices almost straight up?  The stock market, we know, incorporates all of the best information known by the smartest people; it almost always knows more, understands the situation better, than any single smartest person.  And it likes what it sees!  I just don’t get it.  Unless……

The actions taken and changes made are enough to give business a big edge, for the foreseeable future.  For months, and more likely - years ahead.  In the case of the Supreme Court and how it can shape business and society – perhaps even for decades.  Is that what Wall Street is looking at – the really big picture?  That even if Trump is a huge disaster, he and his administration will have changed the landscape sufficiently, and for a long enough time, that it’s a big win for business.  And maybe it’s the same from where Steve Bannon sits; maybe enough damage will have been done to mainstream government and society to make it all worthwhile.  Damage that, he hopes, sends us permanently down another path far enough that coming back will be really difficult.  

In that case, then they actually pulled it off.  They hijacked the election and our federal government, and Humpty Dumpty-like, putting it back together again may be possible only over many years.

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