And Now We Must Move Forward

Many years ago I had a friend who described the time in the late evening when the squalling children were put to bed as the “Grown-Up Time” of the day.  No longer did every daily action and reaction need to be dictated by the needs of those too immature to understand that the world did not revolve around their needs, whims, and moods.  Adult thought could finally be allowed to flourish, and hopefully this would result in a better life for all.

I cannot help but feel a similar sense of relief—and hope—now that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has delivered his final report regarding allegations that Donald Trump or members of his team colluded (a word at once devoid of specificity yet strangely ominous) with the Russian government and its agents to subvert the 2016 Presidential election, which Mr. Mueller found to have no basis in fact.  Given the sketchy provenance of the accusations, which lead right back to efforts by Democrats to stop Donald Trump in 2016, it seemed likely all along that the whole affair would add up to a pile of mouse droppings—and this is exactly what has now happened.  Democrats and other enemies of President Trump will now, of course, devote themselves to parsing the full text of the report—scrutinizing every comma, noun, and adjective in hopes of the whiff of a crime—but the end result will certainly be the same.

Now we can hopefully have some Grown-Up Time.

I cannot help but believe that the swirl of concocted scandal surrounding this whole episode weakened President Trump’s negotiating position with foreign friends and adversaries, ate up enormous amounts of time that an incredible range of government officials should have been devoting to substantive problems, and further corroded faith in our democratic processes.  There is healing needed, and I can only hope that both President Trump and his opponents will now act with appropriate restraint concerning this unfortunate business.  This is a time for neither gloating nor glowering.  We must now move forward toward discussing and finalizing critical military, trade, healthcare, immigration, budget, educational, administrative, and technology laws and policies that have been smothered by the onerous weight of Russia-gate and its companion imbroglios.

It is, of course, an open question whether those accustomed to infantile screeching can actually embrace Grown-Up Time.  Just as it is sometimes difficult to leave a bad marriage because you have grown strangely accustomed to the daily dysfunction and no longer recognize how destructive it is, so will it be difficult for many journalists and politicians to reorient to a reality that does not feature endless jabbering about crackpot theories, unsubstantiated rumors, and overblown innuendo.  Nonetheless, we must find a way to dial down the irrational tone of so much of what has passed for actual news over the past couple of years so that we can refocus our attention on matters more worthy of our attention.

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The Government Shutdown Was All About Political Power

Although we are supposed to see our recent record-breaking federal government partial shutdown as a principled battle between Democrats and Republicans regarding border enforcement policies and practices, the reality was both far more complex—and commonplace. There was a cold calculation on both sides that they could benefit politically by harming their opponents. Moreover, both Republicans and Democrats already have their eyes firmly fixed on the 2020 election, and each side is already auditioning applause lines and fundraising pitches aimed at their respective supporters as they maneuver for advantage in what is certain to be an particularly dirty and divisive campaign. As with most supposedly high minded activity by politicians, this shutdown was instead about the same old thing: how to get—and keep—more money and power.

Although the mass media encourages the belief that our nation is a hot mess of warring factions—liberals against conservatives, men against women, educated against uneducated, urban against rural, rich against poor, young against old, and so on—it could be the case that the division that sets us at each other’s throats is far more simple: the powerful against the powerless. Sometimes this power is open and obvious; sometimes it is exercised surreptitiously or indirectly. Nonetheless, power—and the immense wealth that follows right along behind it—has been the subject of our most primal human lust since we first squatted in a cave many tens of thousands of years ago.

Because of the ever increasing globalization of business and finance, the divide between our world’s winners and losers has grown wider and wider over the recent decades. Win enough power—economic, regulatory, or technological—and one can now stand bestride the planet like a Colossus. The central role that government interventions now play in both granting that power and jerking it away has turned government service into an incredibly lucrative career for many, and the immense concentration of wealth in capitals the world over has made the mere proximity to government a main driver of personal wealth.

The areas surrounding Washington, D.C., which now contain most of the wealthiest zip codes in America, has become a near-monolithic block of federal employees and contractors whose highest loyalty is reserved for those elected officials (a.k.a. Democrats) who strive to increase their powers and remuneration. The hostility directed against President Trump by those who work for the federal government is readily explained by his open disdain for much of their work and his desire to close or reduce many of the make-work bureaucracies for which they labor. Knowing that their livelihoods are on the line, it is little wonder that Donald Trump is viewed as a unwelcome interloper whose policies must be “resisted” at every turn by government employees whose loyalties are often clearly not with the elected President of the United States.

It has, of course, been pointed out that one result of the partial government shutdown is that federal workers have now been compelled to confront the kind of personal financial angst that everyone beyond the comfortable cocoon of government employment deals with every day. It is doubtful that every American is moved by the plight of federal workers who were forced to cancel their yoga studio memberships, cut down on restaurant meals, or deal with temporary financial problems that were worse as the shutdown dragged on. This new exposure to employment insecurity faced by federal workers—who will, nonetheless, be made whole on every penny of pay they missed when their paychecks were not being issued—is an unfortunate daily reality that many, many Americans employed in the private sector have suffered for years. The stories blasted throughout the media about the plights of furloughed federal employees, although certainly sad, perhaps produced more schadenfreude than sympathy among some of our nation’s beleaguered taxpayers.

The disconnect between the lives of the vulnerable ruled and those of the—at least until recently—well insulated rulers is, I believe, one aspect of President Trump’s continued appeal that those who live and work within the long shadow of federal power still simply cannot comprehend. The core belief of many Washington’s leaders in the benign and beneficent nature of the immense power they exercise over every facet of our daily lives makes it impossible for them to comprehend the frustration the average person feels each day as they crash into a brick wall of laws, rules, regulations, practices, guidelines, and advisories that cumulatively strip them of personal autonomy and invite the specter of investigation, lawsuit, or arrest if they fail to obey. These pronouncements from the high castle of federal power, which are generally designed to ensure strict oversight over the unruly serfs (a.k.a. you and me), are often the product of scholarly study by a priesthood of credentialed experts who have little interest in—or understanding of—the actual lives or values of those whose existences they zealously regulate.

In addition, the stench of corruption that has emanated from official Washington for many years—a grotesque assemblage of bribe givers and bribe takers (a.k.a. lobbyists and elected officials)—is simply too foul to any longer ignore. Hillary Clinton’s biggest liability in 2016 was not that she was a woman or completely lacking in charisma; the root of the problem was that she was a shameless creature of the D.C. Swamp World of back scratchers, influence peddlers, and money grubbing parasites. She was, therefore, rejected by voters who were willing to roll the dice on a blunt and graceless businessman who spoke directly and forcefully to their anger at an entrenched ruling class who thought them a herd of idiots (a.k.a. Deplorables) whose lives and aspirations needed to be carefully controlled and monitored.

Donald Trump’s election has put powerful D.C. insiders into a two year collective freak out that has been helpfully spun by their compliant media partners into a parable of “resistance” to right wing oppression and Russian chicanery. Taking a step back, you have to admire the genius of those who have created and encouraged this narrative while (wink!) resisting every effort to rein in the incredible powers of the national security state, reduce federal oversight of our daily lives, or remove American troops from dead end wars around the world that accomplish little else other than further enhancing the profits of international arms dealers—quite a Jedi mind trick, to say the least. I don’t, for example, recall Barack Obama meeting with the leader of North Korea to negotiate for the end of their nuclear weapons program, do you?

I know that having their paychecks temporarily stopped and stressing about paying their bills was terrible for many federal workers. Given the clear intransigence of Democrats regarding any negotiations regarding border security, it is possible that this partial shutdown could be back again in only three weeks. The apparent unconcern with which Democrats were willing to forgo the least flexibility and prolong this shutdown until public safety was finally put at real risk leads one to wonder just what kind of end game is being contemplated here.

Is the long-term plan to create chaos, crash the booming national economy, use the megaphone of the mainstream media to place all the blame on President Trump, and try to stampede an impeachment by continually screeching the Clinton campaign accusation that President Trump is an agent of Russia—despite the utter lack of any actual evidence to support this after two full years of the Robert Mueller sideshow? If we remember that this standoff is less about principle and more about power, it makes a certain Machiavellian sense. It is, therefore, likely this is just the first act in what is going to be a titanic power struggle between Washington’s entrenched and angry elite and President Trump and his Republican allies—not all of whom, truth be told, find the current reality all that distasteful. Those Republican legislators and bureaucrats contemplating post-governmental careers as a D.C. lobbyist or lawyer/fixer, with all the wealth and influence that this implies, likely see The Swamp as an ecosystem of power, prerogatives, and future fat paychecks they do not want to actually disturb—sad to say.

Stay tuned, America. You might be witnessing a truly pivotal moment in our nation’s history because this ongoing battle seems like it is going to leave only one side standing, and the future direction of our nation certainly hangs in the balance.

What A Year It Has Been—And Will Be

Having taken a week off from my blog to enjoy Christmas and family time, I have now been encouraged to share my thoughts at the end of a tumultuous year both here in America and around the world.  Therefore, I have taken a little time to review my commentaries from the past year in order to see if there might be a theme or a focus I can build upon.  Thankfully I found exactly what I was looking for right back at the start of this year in my January 14 post entitled Change Can Be Painful.

People are pushing back against experts and policy makers who promote punitive and half-baked ideas regarding what is best for us.
As for government and government officials, they are disliked, distrusted, and disrespected by the vast majority of Americansmany of whom are now approaching a state approximating open rebellion. This is not surprising because our long national experiment with expanding government to provide endless freebies fueled by reckless borrowing has now crashed into the inevitable arithmetic of profligacyeventually you run out of money. Avoiding real-life financial decisions by charging the spiraling costs of government programs rife with waste and inefficiency to future generations of taxpayerswho are now stuck with the tabwas loads of fun for elected officials who could keep handing out goodies without the political inconvenience of raising taxes to pay for them, but the incredibly large check for that stupendous party has now been dropped in our laps. Tough and divisive discussions are certainly ahead.

This phenomenon has not been limited to the U.S. of A.  One need only look around the world to see the leaders of the globalist status quo teetering and falling due to populist insurgencies in their own countries.  France, England, Italy, Germany, Greece, Mexico, Brazil, and many other nations are dealing with wholesale rejections of their traditional elite leadership.  Alarm bells are ringing in government offices around the globe as something approaching a physical revulsion for the insiders who have long ruled with impunity sends so many officials scrambling to understand the anger that has spread like a virus.  Many nations now have their own Donald Trump-ish disrupters gleefully goring the powerful and holding them up to ridicule on socialmedia, which elected officials and appointed bureaucrats are naturally now desperate to control and censor under the guise of suppressing hate speech.  Just how far all these protests around the globe will go is still an open question, but it is easy to see that business as usual is no longer an option.

Although it is our natural tendency to see only that which is right in front of us, we must take a moment to realize that the election of Donald Trump was but a part of a larger worldwide political movement that has, in essence, been a revolt of the beleaguered and neglected masses against their own governments and the entrenched policies that are designed to favor the few at the expense of the many.  

Although government has, from the dawn of civilization, functioned as a tool of the rich and/or connected, the stench of corruption and back room deal making that empties the pockets of workers to pay for the summer houses of the elite has grown so grotesquely pronounced since the Great Recession that the bread and circuses of social welfare policies are now insufficient to the task of keeping the peasantry from wielding their pitchforks.  The Yellow Vestprotests in The City of Lights and the howls of outrage over the billions of dollars in tax breaks showered upon Amazon by New York in exchange for the privilege of King Bezos building a headquarters in The Big Apple both share a common parentage: The stunning awakening of the common folk mated with the oblivious and obsequious largesse of government toward the wealthy.  The average New Yorker may have to count their pennies to buy a slice of pizza at lunchtime, but they will at least be able to rest easy knowing that Jeff Bezos will have a private helipad paid for by their tax dollars.  Hooray!

The revolt of the downtrodden in America, which found its most public expression in the election of Donald Trump, has thrown the comfortable and insular establishment into a rage that is daily printed on the editorial pages of The New York Times and The Washington Post (which is owned by Jeff Bezos, by the way) and nightly broadcasts on the talkfests of CNN and MSNBC that remind us that Donald Trump is a monster and Putin puppet while his supporters are knuckle-dragging cretins and bigots.  

That existential wail that you heard over the past year was Democrats realizing that many voters detest the rickety and stupendously expensive edifice of bureaucratic inertia and lunacy they have spent 70 years constructing and justifying. The Great Society and its many, many governmental offspring have not eliminated any of the social and economic ills they claimed to be able to cure, but the response of Progressives, who now seem to be curdling into diehard Socialists as we speak, has been something akin to the bleating sheep in George Orwells famed dystopian fable, Animal Farm: Big government good. Bigger government better!”  

Instead of trimming their sails and reassessing their basic premises, the new crop of Democrats set to storm the House of Representatives in just a few days seems determined to propose new spending programs that will run into the tens of trillions of dollars.   Most of their plans will, of course, die in the Senate or under President Trumps veto pen, but we will have yet another opportunity to ignore fiscal reality in pursuit of that which can never be attained: Utopia.  The hopes of statist Democrats were rekindled by 2018 midterms, which resulted in gains in the House of Representatives mostly due to the super-bluing of California and New York, but the harsh fact is that their powers are still mostly limited to sanctimonious raging and endless investigating.  

Now that the narrative of nefarious Russian collusion has degenerated into a discovery of hush money paid to a Playboy model and a porn star in exchange for some pre-Presidential nookie, Democrats will need to keep their base energized by huffing and puffing over clearly tangential nonsense and hinting at imminent impeachment in every fundraising appeal.  Frankly, I am much more concerned about Russian and Chinese plans to deploy hypersonic nuclear weapons next year, which will greatly enhance the possibility of extinguishing all life on our planet; however, I realize that missile defense policy is depressingly dull compared to the chirpy prattling of Stormy Daniels about the shape and size of President Trumps penis.  

Perhaps I need to realign my interests to better conform to the priorities of those who truly control public opinion in America nowlate night comedians and cable news clowns.  Only in this way will I be able to resist the urge to repeatedly slam my head into the top of my desk as I flip through the destructive sneering and snark that passes for news in our major media today.

 

 

 

The “Blue Ripple”

We are, or course, well into the Midterm election post-mortem period.

On the one hand, we have the Republicans, who are pleased to have limited their midterm losses (as of this date) to 31 seats in the House while solidifying their grip on the Senate with 2 pickups.

Having won the right to hold hearings and howl about Donald Trump’s policies, expect lots of Democrat drama and endless House investigations starting next year.  However, that will pretty much be the beginning and end of the Democratic agenda and accomplishments for the next two years—unless they are willing to hold their noses and work cooperatively with President Trump.  Stymied in the Senate and vexed by the veto pen, the dreams of true-blue progressives for a government that is far more expansive and expensive will remain beyond reach.  Seeking to embarrass the school bully whenever possible will be all they can hope to do until 2020.

Perhaps most important to Republicans, their stranglehold on the Senate confirmation process will allow them to continue to put a deeply conservative stamp on the Supreme Court and federal judiciary, which will be a legacy that will live for decades beyond the end of Donald Trump’s presidency.  

On the other hand, we have the Democrats asking a familiar existential question: What happened?  Just a few short months ago Democrat candidates seemed poised to sweep away Republican office holders like a sharp scythe cutting down the tall grass.  Why the Democrats failed to close the deal will be the subject of much public and private discussion.  Given that the norm since 1908 is that the party holding the White House has lost 30 House seats and 4 more in the Senate, Democrat gains for 2018 are well in the range of average to below average.  Just as a point of comparison, the scorecard for Barack Obama’s first term Midterm was the devastating losses of 63 House seats and 6 Senate seats.  Republicans are obviously letting out a sigh of relief today after the many predictions of a similar Election Day catastrophe befalling them failed to materialize.

An additional worry for the Democrats going forward is that the trinity of charismatic progressive candidates who were supposed to be the core of the next generation of leadership for the party—Beto O’Rourke in Texas, Andrew Gillum in Florida, and Stacey Abrams in Georgia—all struggled mightily in their races (1 loss and 2 still in limbo).  Now facing the prospect of being stuck with their same ossified leadership going forward, the bench for a 2020 challenge to Donald Trump still looks very thin indeed, although many are actively exploring the possibility of somehow recycling Mr. O’Rourke for a national run buoyed by his amazing fundraising magic.

However, it must be noted that the Democrats did begin the road to bouncing back from their catastrophic state level losses during the Obama administration, when their representation at the state level sank to lows not seen since the 1920’s.  Perhaps when you hit rock bottom you have nowhere to go but up, but additional governorships and state legislative seats will allow Democrats to roll out some of their healthcare, environmental, and economic agenda on a smaller scale, which will provide useful laboratories for testing the differences between high-minded theory and blunt reality when it comes to the troublesome balance between taxing, spending, and debt.

I have a couple of theories regarding why, despite throwing every resource they had into this year’s elections, the Democrats managed to not even meet the historic norm for midterm electoral success—and this against a President whom they believe to be an unmitigated disaster.

First and foremost, Democrats forgot the lesson of 2016: Insulting Donald Trump is like punching a brick wall—the pain is yours and yours alone.  After mistakenly believing that hurling invective at Donald Trump was sufficient to win two years ago, the deafening rage of today’s bug-eyed haters of his politics and personality again managed to obliterate any possibility of rational discussion of Democrat policies that might provide feasible alternatives.  Moreover, the stream of snark and shabbiness from those who could barely keep their heads from exploding at every Trumpian tweet both enlivened his loyal base and fed perfectly into his strategy of convincing independents that crazed and crazy Democrats could not be trusted with the keys to the family car.  It is worth also remembering that if the most visible spokespeople for your cause are late night comedians and oddball D-list actors and celebrities, you’ve got a major problem with your political messaging going forward.

Speaking of message, this brings attention to the second problem that the Democrats had during this election: Resistance is not enough.  I pay a great deal of attention to politics, and I would have a very hard time explaining the party’s platform—beyond impeaching Donald Trump.  Spiteful promises of retribution mashed up with high-flown rhetoric and sanctimonious virtue-signaling are not the same as actionable plans to reach an objective.  In addition, making multiple promises of new programs and benefits—most of which have the word “free” baked inside them—but offering no specifics regarding actual financial execution (aside from raising taxes on the one-percent) does not inspire voter confidence.

I also suspect that the wild nomination hearings of Judge Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court were a huge turn-off for many swing voters.  The venom displayed likely startled those who still entertained the fantasy that Democrat Senators were respectable members of a great deliberate body instead of a gaggle of craven careerists who mug for the cameras in order to excite potential campaign donors.  One’s assessment of the final Senate confirmation vote is, of course, wholly a function of one’s political leanings, but the process was not one prone to engender great faith in the Democrat Party and its grasp of either evidentiary standards or the legal presumption of innocence.

This election also might be the point at which we need to finally admit that political polling is, for all its supposed science, no more reliable at predicting electoral outcomes than the Farmer’s Almanac is at predicting the season’s weather.  The stupendously confident failures of 2016 morphed into the careful hedging of 2018—but to no great benefit.  On the whole, the many, many predicted outcomes, which seemed to change daily, bore but a passing resemblance to the actual results, and the supposed clarity was more akin to blind guesswork in many cases.  

However, much more importantly, we can now see that many voters beyond the confines of liberal redoubts clustered on the coasts and college towns just aren’t buying wholeheartedly into what the Democrats are trying to sell, which will continue to cap their national electoral ambitions in 2020 and beyond.  

Democratic Socialism?  Expedited illegal immigration?  Massive tax increases?  Increased regulation?  Globalized government?  Yet larger bureaucracies?  More scolding by legislatively-mandated scolds?  None of these are issues likely to excite anyone other than the already faithful, who have an almost mystical belief in the power of big government to improve our lives—despite much evidence to the contrary.

Russian internet trolls are not to blame for the Democrat “Blue Wave” washing out to sea this time around, although I predict a whole series of new House hearings that will try to revive the rotting corpse of Russia-gate and demand that Robert Mueller be empowered to continue his investigations until he finally finds the elusive evidence that Donald Trump is a KGB stooge who gets down on his knees and prays to a statue of Vladimir Putin every night.  Unfortunately, untilthat day comes—or Democrats end up losing the House again in 2020—we can expect that unsubstantiated allegations, innuendo, and angry diatribes will be the chosen language of President Trump’s not-very-loyal opposition as they struggle to remain relevant during the years ahead.

Will U.S. Citizenship Remain A “Birthright”?

Just when you might have thought the debates about immigrationboth legal and illegalcould not become more difficult and emotional, there is yet another controversy now brewing: President Trumps plan to end birthright citizenship by executive order for those whose parents have entered the United States illegally.  This executive order, should it actually come to pass, would certainly be immediately challenged in federal court, and it could be several years before the matter works its way up to the Supreme Court for an ultimate resolution regarding the meaning and intent of the 14th Amendment.

For a nation populated by immigrants and the descendants of immigrants, this issue obviously has special resonance, and it collides with our national identity as a nation that has always welcomed everyone to our shores.  The reality is, of course, starkly different.  

When the early American period of frontier expansion, which required a large and ready pool of immigrants ready to risk all in order to seize lands held by others, came to an end toward the end of the late 1800s, immigrants piling into now-established cities and towns became an increasing irritant to those already settled in place.  More restrictive laws were soon enacted to stem the influx of foreignersbringing their cultures and languages ashore to dilute the supposed purity and perfection of this new nation.  The taint of otherness that greeted many new immigrants to this country was often based upon the crudest ignorance and bigotry, but Americas population nonetheless became ever more diverse over time as a sometimes unfair and occasionally arbitrary system of legal immigration was developed and refined over the decades to come.

However, over the past several decades the number of people residing in the United States illegally has skyrocketed, and their unlawful entries have been enabled by both poorly conceived and executed governmental policies and the efforts of private organizations advocating on behalf of unrestricted immigration. Unsurprisingly, many pressing questions have arisen regarding how to respond to an undocumented population that has been estimated to range from 11 to 22 million adults, adolescents, and children.

President Trump won election partlysome might say primarilybased on his promise to stem the tide of illegal immigration to the United States, and over the first two years of his administration we have all been witness to the many political firestorms that have accompanied his efforts to both harden our borders and expeditiously expel those who circumvented or ignored legal requirements for entry.  Many states and local governments have responded to this effort by asserting their local sovereignty and refusing to cooperate with federal immigration authoritiesand some have even advocated for abolishing ICE, the agency now tasked with enforcing the laws and regulations now on the books.

Now added to this mix is the question of whether American citizenship will continue to be automatically granted to the American-born children of illegal immigrants, which is an issue quite separate from the ongoing discussions concerning how to resolve the legal status of those brought here as children by parents who entered the United States illegally and raised them in this country.  As one can easily see, the many layers of complex problems that require resolution by Congress and the courts defy tidy morality and easy answers.  

The inherent sloppiness of realityin this case compounded by decades of shortsighted thinking regarding immigration policies and enforcementguarantees that a substantial number of Americans will be dissatisfied with the resolution of the cases of the many millions of people who live in the United States but have no legal basis for continuing to do so.  We know many innocents will be made to suffer due to the past stupidity of our government.  Moreover, given that it is functionally impossible for America to absorb everyone who wants to live in our great nation, many will be compelled to leave so that some may stay.  The forced exodus of those who have grown accustomed to life in the United States and presumed they could remain forever because our immigration policies regarding illegal entry were apparently all but forgotten will cause real pain to both those compelled to leave and those left behind.

The newest wrinklethat of the possible limitations of the 14th Amendmentwill be a topic of heated debate.  Originally crafted after the Civil War in order to confer immediate citizenship to freed slaves, the question of whether this Constitutional amendment applies equally to the American-born children of those who entered America illegally has never been fully resolved, and the fear among advocates for the undocumented is that federal courts now being rapidly reshaped by the conservative appointees of President Trump will tend toward a circumscribed interpretation at odds with the more expansive and welcoming immigration policies they favor.

There is little doubt that stricter enforcement of existing immigration lawsand perhaps a landmark reinterpretation of the 14th Amendmentwill divide Americans in the years ahead.  Attempting to either deport or legitimize tens of millions of people will have a major impact upon many families and communities, and there is no doubt this will be a political and social wedge issue in our nation for a long time to come.  However, the alternative, which boils down to an open border policy, is simply not feasibleespecially given the incredible number of people who are desperate to live in America in order to escape economic hardship, political persecution, and violent crime in their own countries.

All we can really expect looking forward is more anger and anguish.