The Problem With Donald’s Storm Clouds…

I don’t particularly care that Donald Trump had an affair with a porn star, or a Playboy playmate. I’m fully convinced he’s an adulterer, but I don’t care. It’s not because I approve of it, I don’t. It’s because it’s not my business. Melania can deal with his infidelity as she wishes. Donald Trump is my President, not my spouse.

Some of Trump’s defenders want to bring up Bill Clinton, John Edwards, and even JFK in an attempt to accuse Democrats of hypocrisy for attacking Trump for his affair (which he and they also deny) with Stormy Daniels. They’re engaging in a false narrative to defend him. The problem with Trump is not the infidelity. Just as I defend Bill Clinton’s right to be a dog, I’ll defend Trump’s. Their wives can deal with that. I have three chief issues with Trump.

  1. Campaign finance violations
  2. Threats, bullying, and coercion tactics to keep his “other women” silent
  3. His putting himself at risk for blackmail

Let’s put aside the morality arguments for a moment and talk about the real issues. John Edwards didn’t go to jail for cheating on his dying wife, he went for essentially paying off his mistress for silence during the campaign. They gave her a job. He had others make payments to her. He went to jail for that. Donald Trump had Michael Cohen pay Stormy Daniels a sum of money for silence. That sum of money exceeded the maximum donation to a campaign. This end-around to buy her silence and evade FEC reporting is illegal, just as it was for Edwards.

Stormy Daniels is accusing associates of Trump and Michael Cohen of threatening her into silence. Other accusers of his have made similar allegations. These types of tactics are illegal. They are also immoral. They put these women in compromising situations, from which they are essentially forced into his will. This is not okay.

One of the most troubling aspects of this is actually the risk to the President himself. There have been persistent rumors that the Russians have blackmail material over him (the “pee” tape, shady loans, prostitutes), which is why he won’t attack Putin or Russia by name. It appears that Michael Avenatti, Stormy’s lawyer, has some sort of DVD, or at least claims to. Presidents have immense power over public policy, but they are people. The threat of humiliation can cause them to do things not in the interest of the public. If there are pictures or videos here, it calls into question Trump’s ability to govern in ways we haven’t seen since JFK allegedly slept with an East German spy.

I don’t really care that 70 plus year old, out of shape Donald Trump is still chasing porn stars and playmates. It doesn’t matter. Clearly though, Stormy Daniels accusations do call his fitness to serve into question, and should alarm all Americans.

Trust the Process

I distinctly remember a day, two seasons ago, where my cousin and I had driven to Philadelphia for unrelated reasons, but decided 30 minutes before the Sixers tipped off to buy two tickets- for $12 a piece (including tax). Our seats were good, the game was bad, but the time was fun. If you actually discussed “Philadelphia basketball” at that time, you were either referring to Villanova, or the entirely theoretical hope that someday, somehow, all the Sixers high level picks would turn into a good basketball team.

The 2015-16 Philadelphia 76ers won ten games. Out of 82. They went 10-72, which amounts to the second worst 82 game season ever. At that time, Sam Hinkie was being blasted by the local media, opposing owners, and even a lot of Sixers fans for how bad the team was. Joel Embiid hadn’t played a game yet, nor had Dario Saric, and Ben Simmons wasn’t a thought yet. J.J. Redick wouldn’t have signed with that bucket of slop team. Things were bad.

The 42-30 Sixers clinched a playoff spot Sunday when Indiana beat Miami. They’re fourth in the East right now. Joel Embiid is a legitimate cornerstone, All-Star big man. Ben Simmons is clearly the highest impact rookie in the league, a threat for a triple-double every night. Dario Saric should have won last year’s Rookie of the Year award, and is one of the most solid guys on the team. Redick and Robert Covington provide solid, all-around veteran play. Richaun Holmes, T.J. McConnell, and a supporting cast of high energy bench pieces make it fun to watch. The Sixers arrived in a hurry, and are one of the hottest teams in the league of late.

It didn’t happen easy though. “The Process” took two GMs, over a half dozen lottery picks, a few “tank” jobs, lots of patience from the fans, and plenty of questionable, tough calls for the front office. If we get down to it, at least half the lottery picks either never materialized in Philadelphia, or haven’t yet. The team sometimes seemed to self-sabotage the on-court product on the way, in favor of getting higher picks. Only once along the five miserable seasons did the Sixers actually draw the top pick. There was reason to have doubts.

The end result? None of us know when or if there will be a Sixers parade down Broad Street. There will be playoff games though, in a couple of weeks. There’s no way to know if LeBron James or any other star free agent will come to Philadelphia this Summer, or soon after, but the team is both good and can afford them. The good news though is that this team should be good for a sustained run of good basketball. The Process appears to have worked.

Always Trust The Process.

How Strong Nations Fall

We all look for distractions from the news these days. For me, I’ve been reading a lot of history, particularly about the fall of great civilizations in the history of the world. How did the Romans fall? The Greeks? The Ottomans? As you read through them, you see some common traits that hold up in many cases. I came up with five that stand out to me, and the scary thing is, they all apply to the United States right now.

  • Over-aggressive militarism. A strong national defense, and willingness to act on the behalf of national values is central to building a great nation. Invading nations for the purpose of conquest, without facing any real threat, as we did in Iraq, doesn’t fit that bill. Filled prisons, police riding down the street in tanks, a domestic violence epidemic, and addicts going to jail, also is being overly militant. Responding to the epidemic of school shootings, a uniquely American event, by calling for the arming of teachers, is overly aggressive militarism. Our society has a violence issue. Our nation has codified much of it in law. This over-reaching militarism can be the death of nations. Hitler’s attempt to invade the Soviet Union, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the British Empire’s expansion to the entire globe, the Romans’ expansion across Europe- all eventually became their undoing.
  • The rise of inept leadership. George W. Bush was in over his head as President. Donald Trump went from bankrupting casinos to the White House. These men are imbeciles and should not have lead free nations. It goes beyond them though. Post-Watergate, and particularly post Cold War, Americans have valued experience less and less in picking their leaders. That’s not such a good thing when you make someone the Commander-in-Chief and Chief Executive Officer of a multi-trillion dollar government. Inept and incapable idiots lead Rome, Greece, Egypt to great falls after their great leaders built them up. It stopped making sense for capable leaders to seek leadership roles, and insecure, uninformed, incapable people sought power instead.
  • Great division over national identity. One of the most understated issues of post-1968 America is the division over who we are. The United States is a multicultural, melting pot nation of immigrants. It has always been so. We take in every religion, every race, every sexuality, every type of person. Unfortunately, the “majority,” or traditional cultural norm, has not handled that well since the great Civil Rights wins of the 1960’s. Even more unfortunately, politicians from Nixon to Trump have cynically embraced those fears and scapegoated the “other.” Hence, we’ve had to debate everything from gay marriage to building a wall on the Mexican Border. Ironically, all of these nonsensical, regressive debates is possible because we live in relative comfort, without current civil violence, starvation, or plague. It’s also possible because Ronald Reagan launched his 1980 Presidential campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, to appeal to open racists, and got a pass for it. Fights over who was a citizen lead Rome to some of their most barbaric acts. Those acts lead to uprising against them.
  • They stop doing great things for their people. What was the greatest achievement of the 20th Century United States? It wasn’t winning the World Wars. Those were necessities, rather than achievements. The interstate highway system. Civil Rights. Putting a man on the Moon. Building suburbia. Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. These are achievements. Our current government doesn’t wish to do great public works- in fact our Speaker and President want to undo social welfare programs in order to transfer more wealth back to the wealthy. This is not a pathway to greatness. We remember the great works of the ancient world- pyramids, the Acropolis, the Colosseum- not the mediocrity that followed.
  • Stability fails. At the end of the Roman Empire, stability failed. They weren’t safe from outside invasion. Their institutions didn’t work. They had rampant public and private corruption. Watch the news tonight and see if you feel much different. Russia is hacking our election system, and power grid. Facebook is selling your data. Every institution from the church to the military has had an embarrassing scandal in recent times. Do you feel like our institutions are protecting you right now.

I’m not saying America will fall, or cease to exist in the near future. I’m saying the essence of our nation, our body politic, is ill. If we don’t make changes on these issues, I don’t think we’ll get better anytime soon.

Donald Trump is the Republican Voter, Jeff Flake is Not.

I like Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ). I don’t agree with him on particularly much, but I think he cares about the country, has principles, and tries to represent his constituents. He’s conservative, but genuine. If he tries to primary Donald Trump in 2020, he will get humiliated.

There is a type of Republican, one that mostly lives inside the DC Beltway, who thinks the GOP is a principles party, and not an identity one. I think they’re slowly realizing they’re wrong, as is evidenced by Senators Corker and Graham mostly falling in line behind Trump. They think all of their winning from 2009 to 2017 was about limited government and tax cuts. They thought the party firmly supported free trade. Time and events are slowly showing them though, that was never what all of this was about.

Donald Trump is the Republican base voter. Old, white, bigoted, sexist, and hated by elites. Editorial pages, Generals, political leaders, and all sorts of other intellectuals hate him. Economists and diplomats think he’s wrong. They don’t care. He’s angry. He’s xenophobic. He was willing to hit Hillary. He mocked all opponents, from Senators to cripples. He talks tough about starting wars. He’s willing to isolate America and pull out of diplomatic agreements. He tells them he’ll bring back “the good ole’ days.” He tells them they’re the best, without quantifying that in any way.

It’s true that Donald Trump won the primary without a majority of Republican votes. If you add the votes up for other, similar but less authentic versions of Trump though (Cruz, Carson, Huckabee, etc.) and compare them to the votes for the Kasich, Rubio, Jeb “moderate” types though, it’s no comparison. The GOP base prefers a Trump-esque version of itself. It’s why their voters fell in line. It’s why their members of Congress fall in line now.

At the depths of George W. Bush’s fall from grace, he had about 30% support in public polling. At his worst, Donald Trump has been similar. Contrast that with Trump’s 46% Election Day 2016 showing, Mitt Romney’s 47%, McCain’s 46%, and even Bush’s 2000 48%. It’s clear that about two-thirds of the GOP voters are willing to publicly and openly support the GOP at it’s worst. The other third are who Jeff Flake and Ben Sasse think the GOP actually is. They’re mistaken.

I was having a conversation with friends today, and they made the point that Trump’s unconventional style defies logic, particularly pointing out his attacks on John McCain for being a POW and attacking the Pope. I made the point that it made perfect sense if you know their voter. The two-thirds majority of the GOP hate McCain for being the “Beta Cuck” who lost to Obama. They hate Pope Francis for embracing the poor and weak, or the “losers.” I said it made strategic sense to me. The Trump team knew their audience.

I think a Jeff Flake primary challenge to Donald Trump would be a waste of his time. He will get crushed. The GOP is quite literally who Donald Trump is, and not who Flake is. He may want a return to the party of Jim Baker and Colin Powell, but that party is dead and gone.

My Real Beef With Radical Leftists

Liberal, conservative, moderate? I mostly reject those terms. “Progressive” is now a popular term for people on the left who want to underscore just how more to the left they are than “liberals.” If you go issue by issue though, you find the distinction doesn’t mean much. They’re almost all the same on the issues, and you can find issues where supposed progressives are less to the left than their “centrist” opponents- usually social issues.

All of this is a silly game of optics, a way for people out of power to try and replace those in- with themselves. Yes, there are “Democratic Socialists,” a further left-leaning camp of Democrats of anti-capitalist Democrats, but even there, there’s not a lot of policy difference. An overwhelming majority of all Democrats agree on expanding Medicare to achieve universal coverage, raising the minimum wage (whether it be to $12 or $15 an hour), investing in our nation’s infrastructure, opposing tax cuts for the rich, fighting climate change, investing in public schools, equal pay for women, supporting collective bargaining, protecting social security, supporting Civil Rights, preventing gun violence, protecting our environment, investing in renewables, and any other platform issue you can think of. I know that I do- as do most of the “radical” leftists that I end up arguing with, even the radical wacko from California that put a fatwah on me on Twitter this weekend. Sure, there are some elected officials who have modest or singular differences with party orthodoxy, but for the most part, Democrats are unified on policy. So, why do we fight?

For some people on the left, the difference is defined by whether you supported Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders in 2016- no, really. For the radical, fringe left, supporting Hillary makes you a neoliberal, a corporatist, a Republican, or any other number of negative terms. The minute you attack them for Bernie’s vote against immigration reform, voting with the NRA on protecting gun manufacturers, voting for almost every war resolution in his career, or any other sin of his though, you’re either lying or divisive. The whole discussion is tiresome, and pointless- Hillary Clinton is very, very unlikely to run for anything, ever again (her husband definitively won’t be running again). While I don’t like those votes from Bernie that I just mentioned, I don’t oppose him on those policy grounds, really. I think Bernie should get the same slack for voting his constituents’ views as Cory Booker should for voting his.

So why do I oppose these people?

The first reason is that I do not want the Democrats to become an ideologically rigid party, like the Republicans. I don’t want a left-wing Tea Party. Parties like that are limited in the people and places that they can represent, as not every place is Arkansas or Manhattan. Rigid ideology ends the concept of national parties.

The second reason I oppose them is their willingness to shoot at people in their “own tent.” I’m perfectly fine with Joe Manchin being a socially conservative Democrat in a West Virginia- that’s who West Virginia is. I’m also fine with Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders being economic leftists in New England- that’s who they are. People in Brooklyn or DC shouldn’t pick Congressional candidates in Southwestern Pennsylvania. We should not attack representatives who are representing their district. This is why we have representative government, and not a national election for our legislature. We shouldn’t make it harder for Democrats to win general elections in the pursuit of utopia.

The third reason I oppose them is their opposition to compromise. Despite the passions of activists, they are not where governing happens. Building majorities around “pure” liberalism or conservatism is impossible- and maybe worse for Democrats. We are a coalition party, and trying to make it all “one thing” is pointless and actually destructive. Legislation passes on compromise, good government is realizing you can’t get 100% of what you want. Our more radical folks disagree.

The fourth reason I oppose the radical left is the black and white way in which they see the world. No, not all bankers are evil. No, being rich is not necessarily evil. Private business does some bad things, but it also employs most of America’s working class. Crushing capital would not work well for us. Should we regulate them? Of course. Should we govern towards the many, not the few? Sure. Should we crush capital and wealth? I think that’s a bad idea.

My fifth and final problem with radical leftists? Their insistence on the centering of their issues. Again, the Democratic Party is a coalition, and coalitions have to work together and compromise to govern. No, women’s issues shouldn’t take a back seat to free college. No, Civil Rights should not take a back seat to Medicare-for-All. It’s a coalition. You can’t center yourself above all others, all the time.

Now there are specific things I hate about the radical left- defending Russia and Wikileaks, peddling in conspiracy theory, inviting grifters to their tent, and attacking “identity politics” specifically. I particularly hate Bernie Sanders for spending his career doing these things. Even so, it’s not like I have big policy differences with them, on the whole. My opposition to them is mostly on their rigid ideology, and unwillingness to be adults and compromise. Otherwise, I think this divide is a big joke.

In #PA18, Democrats Moved At Least as Much as the Voters

The results of the special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District last night were astounding. Donald Trump carried this district by 20%, Mitt Romney did so by 17%, and no one even ran against former Congressman Tim Murphy in 2014 or 2016. Yes, this district was heavily Democratic as late as Bill Clinton’s victories in the 1990’s, but it’s been red this entire century- by a lot.

Donald Trump was absolutely rebuked last night, but it’s my guess that he would still beat Hillary there by at least 10% (but not 20%). The House Republicans *should* be terrified, because there are over 100 better seats for Democrats to take in November, but they aren’t entirely wrong in pointing out the candidate strengths here. In fact, if I’m being honest, the Democrats won this race by getting out of our own way.

Conor Lamb was a perfect candidate- a Marine, a federal prosecutor, a social moderate, pro-union, young guy. He fit the district, but is not the kind of candidate many Democratic activists would normally pick. If there had been a primary, he may not have had much support from national liberal groups. The Democratic Party of 2016 almost certainly would have lost this race. Fortunately, it’s not 2016, and this candidate was not a national Democrat. Democrats ran a candidate who fits this conservative leaning district. They won.

Democrats moves at least as much as the voters of Southwestern Pennsylvania did. They nominated a guy who’s profile gave him a shot with the voters of his district. His positions on guns, trade, abortion, and energy all were somewhat negotiable. The race was contested on very different messaging than the 2016 race. The voters of Pennsylvania’s 18th district saw enough they liked to register their frustrations with Donald Trump and the Republicans in Washington. Don’t mistake yourself though- the movement was not one-sided.

Democrats and Losing Choices

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Republicans control the United States House. Republicans control the United States Senate. Republicans control most of the Governorships in America. Republicans control most of the State Legislatures in America. There are more Republican-appointed Judges on the U.S. Supreme Court than Democrat. Republicans control the White House.

Now that we’ve identified what’s wrong with the Democratic Party, let’s review why it’s so.

For some, Democrats don’t win elections because they are not “liberal” or “progressive” enough. This means different things to different people though. For the “Bernie Left,” Democrats are not progressive enough on policy issues, and if we’d just talk class warfare more, we’d win back some of the white voters who abandoned us for Donald Trump. For others, we are not “embracing our base” enough, and we’re losing because we’re chasing the “white working class” instead of trying to grow the “emerging electorate.” This fight has stoked passions, but I don’t think it has much to do with getting the Democrats back to winning elections.

The Democrats probably currently hold all of the seats in Congress that they should be able to hold by following either of these playbooks. How many seats in Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Antonio, Atlanta, or any other major metropolitan areas of the country are held by the Republicans? A small, small number. How many Republican seats are majority-minority? How many seats are held by Republicans that support higher taxes? Hillary Clinton, for her faults, won poor voters, including white, poor voters. Hillary won white voters who said the economy was their top concern too. Democrats did not, and have not, had a problem winning over minority voters in recent elections- they currently are winning 90% plus of African-Americans, 70% plus of Latino voters, clean majorities of women, the LGBTQ community, Asian-Americans, and Millennials. In other words, the Democratic Party is already winning over most of the people who would find either the Sanders or Clinton wings of the party’s message to be appealing. There aren’t many seats to gain in Manhattan or Austin. Perhaps, Democrats are very good at what they do already- and perhaps it’s not good enough.

The seats Democrats lost in 2010 and 2014, and probably need to win back to build majorities, don’t fit either side of the debate. The 23 “Clinton Republican” seats from 2016 are neither socialist or “identity politics” seats. They didn’t vote out Democrats in 2010 or 2014 because they weren’t “Democrat” enough. They voted them out because they didn’t feel the Democrats offered them anything they wanted.

There is an argument that the rising American electorate is going to give Democrats an advantage in Presidential elections moving forward, though there is an equally compelling argument that the Electoral College will claw that advantage away from us. Even if that is the case, Democrats won’t be able to do much with that advantage if our activists and primary voters insist on playing by the playbook of either side of the inner-party battle- neither side leads to a sustainable Congressional majority. It is arguable that Democrats are simply screwed by the self-sorting nature of society, and that our voters are all packed into small geographic areas. If that’s the case though, than perhaps our activists need to realize that nominating our ideal members of Congress in seats we don’t have right now probably will lead us to defeat. That seems to be make sense when you consider where we have to win.

Fear the Chaos

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Donald Trump is an embarrassing President. He says racist, sexist things regularly. He enacts regressive policies. He insults foreign allies. He leaves key jobs vacant. His West Wing is a revolving door. I can’t think of much good to say, other than that his ineptitude has prevented him from melting down the American economy or starting a new war.

As bad as that all is though, all of those matters ultimately can and should be viewed through your personal opinion. How you feel about his Stormy Daniels affair is up to you. What should terrify everyone, beyond any partisan argument, is Donald Trump’s impulsive behavior. His erratic process for making decisions is terrifying.

Donald Trump is a man-child. He is instituting tariffs on foreign steel, over objections from his National Economic Council Chair, Congressional leadership, the Pentagon, and big business. He decided to start a trade war all of a sudden, because he was mad at his Chief-of-Staff, and apparently upset his son-in-law was under attack in the press. This is not mature policy making. This is not how any White House works. This random act of chaos tanked the stock market for days. That may be the best part of this. Wait until foreign markets retaliate.

A lot of Democrats want to attack Trump for being a bad guy. They want to attack him for disagreeing on policy. These things are minor by comparison. The Republic has survived inept and bad Presidents. We have not survived impulsive man-children. What happens when he’s mad at a foreign enemy or rival- will he start a war? Will he cause a global military crisis? Could this happen just because someone says something not nice about his daughter?

Fear the chaos. It’s what could kill us.

What if the Stuff You Think Matters in Elections, Doesn’t.

We political people like to assume the things we do are actually important. The problem is that this isn’t true. The chief problem with political operatives and activists, and our judgment, is that we have little to nothing in common with the vast majority of the people voting, let alone society at-large. The things we value in candidates have nothing to do with what the rest of the country values in candidates. We make up a tiny percentage of the country, and we’re quite different than everybody else. This is true of both conservatives and liberals. The biggest rallies and marches struggle to represent 1% of America.

A mistake that many candidates for public office make is that they don’t realize that. They spend lots of time talking to the most passionate, the most engaged people, and not worrying about how they are going to talk to everyone else. Elections are decided among the rest of the public. They are who you need to talk to.

Elections come down to paid communications and ground game. Can you mass communicate, and can you mass mobilize? Do you have the money to reach out to the general public and reach them on issues they care about?

The least important part of an election is the “activist” primary. That’s not where you win elections. Politicos spend a lot of time worrying about it, but in the end, that’s energy not being spent on the important stuff.

Janus the Jerk

I grew up in a union household, and thank God I did. My father was a PBA member, a correction’s officer in New Jersey, and the effectiveness of that union made our lives better. My parents were able to buy their first home, and their second, go on vacations with us, send my sister and I to college, put food on the table, and generally live a comfortable life.

My father was a public sector worker, who paid union dues, and worked hard every day for 25 years in a tough job. The return for that was a comfortable, middle-class earning, negotiated by his union under collective bargaining. There was no special secret about it. We lived decent because my father had a union.

Of course, that has to be under attack too. A man named Mark Janus, who benefits from his collectively bargained, union contract, thinks he should not have to pay into the union that represents him. He wants to strike down the dues that allow his union to function. Aside from the self-harm aspect of this story, Mark Janus is a jerk. He’s been glad to live the benefits of the union, but thinks he should get that for free. If people like Mark Janus had their way, I’d have grown up poor.