Sunday, December 3, 2017

Don't Play No Game That I Can't Win

I want to take some time to address the notion -- regularly articulated by Internet friends, though there are plenty of other people who agree with them -- that the short term pain of Trump’s coalition holding power will potentially be offset by greater progressive victories down the road. This is worth looking at in some detail. 

 I’ll be working to build toward progressive victories alongside millions of others, and if we unseat Trump or his successor in 2020, that may provide some retroactive confirmation for this theory. In politics as in physics, there’s an equal and opposite reaction for every action. Historical data shows the president’s party loses seats in the midterms, and it’s doubtful either Trump or Hillary could buck that trend. His or her re-election efforts in 2020 would be impacted by myriad factors we don’t even know yet, and of course arguing about what would or would not have happened under an HRC administration is unprovable, though we can take some educated guesses.

But there are some pretty serious reasons why the 2016 election was a particularly grievous one to lose, whether or not it was lost to a proto-fascist cabal like Trump’s coalition. And I'm happy to stipulate that's why it was a bad idea to clear the field and put thumbs on the scale to favor Hillary's nomination. I and many others warned that it was too risky to nominate a poster child for the establishment in an anti-establishment year. But as much baggage as the candidate carried, the year 2016 came with some baggage of its own. 

Losing in 2008 would have left President McCain negotiating with a Democratic Congress, and President Romney would have faced a Democratic Senate. Whatever awful policies she and her advisors would have come up with, HRC’s veto pen, and the threat of it, would have stopped some of Mitch and Paul’s worst fever dreams from coming to fruition. I believe it was Grover Norquist who said that with Congress secured, all they needed was a warm body to sign whatever bills get sent to the White House. 
Obamacare repeal was always going to be dicey, and the Byrd Rule has greatly complicated GOP efforts to use reconciliation to ram through their priorities. But the recent victory of the Senate tax bill shows they are hungry for a win, and will use their temporary majority to light up the final version like a Christmas tree -- which they may well pass in the middle of the night on Xmas Eve. Much of this will have long-ranging consequences, and won’t be erased by a wave election in 2018, or a Dem presidency in 2020 absent unified control.

Elections have consequences, the saying goes, and the consequences of presidents outlive their terms. Jimmy Carter kicked off the Reagan Revolution with deregulation and tax cuts for the rich, and the awful legislation that Bill Clinton negotiated with Newt Gingrich helped lead to the Crash of ‘08. That’s why it was worth opposing those guys in the primaries. The consequences of Reaganomics are with us even now, and we will live with the legacy of Bush v. Gore to the end of our days. Millions have already seen the end of their days as a result.

Now it’s the Republicans who have unified control at a precarious historic moment, when the years remaining to address climate change are winnowing to a few, and whatever meager progress Obama and the Davos crowd were making towards addressing the issue, it’s unlikely HRC would have hit the brakes and executed a U-turn.

The encouragement given to racists -- in police departments and on the streets -- would have been unthinkable under any potential Clinton appointees to the Justice Department. It’s undeniable that opposition to Hillary from the GOP would have been virulent and unrelenting, but Trump’s defeat would have broken the back of the nascent white nationalist wing of the GOP, instead of rewarding the theory that the path to victory involved exacerbating racial tensions to increase their share of the white vote.

Also, income inequality, already at historic levels for a generation, is poised to worsen further still. Inequality had actually begun to shrink a bit by the end of Obama’s term, and nothing suggests HRC would have turbocharged inequality like the Trump cabal is poised to do. This level of inequality will lead to an economic crash that will make 2008 look like, well, a tea party -- and the time bomb could well go off during the next Dem administration.

The anti-Hillary left points to her obvious hawkishness, but Trump’s undeniable recklessness is regularly on display. He was able to offer disingenuous stances against Bush’s Iraq invasion and the corruption of the Saudis to convince millions he was a more rational alternative, but he has ratcheted up civilian deaths, exacerbated Muslim hostility, and climbed right in bed with the Saudis. The risks of war on the Korean Peninsula or against the Iranians are as grave as any hypothetical moves in the HRC years. And Trump daily gives comfort to authoritarians, kleptocrats and neofascists while insulting and alienating our allies. The unprecedented dismantling of the State Department would have been unlikely even under another GOP presidency, let alone Clinton’s, and a similar purge during the McCarthy Era helped contribute to the escalation of the war in Vietnam. 

A Clinton victory would not have brought unified control, but a GOP victory most assuredly did. It’s possible that the turnout necessary to elect her would have led to a Democratic Senate, because the 2016 map was far more favorable to the Dems, while ‘18 and ‘20 will be tougher, wave or no wave. Only a landslide victory could have enough coattails to take back the House, since digital gerrymandering means the Dems need to get 57% of the vote to win 50% of the seats. The failure to inspire that kind of turnout rests on her shoulders, but the path to GOP victory was obvious no matter who the Democrats nominated: unify the right and divide the left. The latter is always easy, but the former was tricky, especially with Trump on the ticket. Holding that Supreme Court seat open was a key part of the strategy. It gave anti-Trump Republicans a powerful motive to hold their nose and deny that seat to Hillary.

And make no mistake, it’s in the impact on the judicial branch that Trump’s narrow win will have the most long-range consequences. Trump inherited not just one (or more) SCOTUS seats but over 100 open seats on lower federal courts, twice what BHO faced when he took office, and the GOP is scheming to create new seats in order to pack the courts with young Federalist Society zealots for a generation to come.

Mitch held back so many of Obama’s nominees that Harry Reid removed the filibuster on nominations in an effort to hasten some nominees onto the bench, and Mitch still ran out the clock on every last one. The impact of Neil Gorsuch is already being felt, but if the actuarial tables catch up with any of the older justices before Trump’s crimes catch up with him, an historic opportunity will have been lost.

It’s just a matter of luck who gets to fill those seats; Jimmy Carter got zero SCOTUS nominations, and Nixon got four. As a result, we’ve had a majority of GOP nominees on the Supreme Court for nearly a half century, a statistic that President Hillary Clinton could have reversed -- and by more than one seat, if she faced retirements from justices who are grimly hanging on through the Trump years. But as I’ve pointed out before, the GOP majority has not hesitated to intervene in our elections before. Bush v. Gore rewarded the GOP with two more vacancies, including the Chief Justice. Citizens United v. FEC and Shelby County v. Holder (not to mention the capricious hobbling of Obamacare) arguably contributed to Trump’s victory and helped juice the GOP waves in the midterms. 

2016 is hardly the first time the GOP has colluded with a foreign power to enhance their election prospects. Nixon conspired with South Vietnam to sink LBJ’s peace talks. The Bushes worked with the Iranians in 1980, the UK in 1992, and the Israelis in 2000. Whether or not these plots were decisive, they were rewarded (except in ‘92) and incentivized. The GOP plays hardball better, and the long game more ruthlessly, than any Democrats I’ve ever seen. Under the Bush 43 regime, the US Attorney purge targeted lower-level state Dems across the country, and Cheney worked assiduously to seed the bureaucracy with loyalists as a GOP win in ‘08 looked less and less achievable.

Then, too, their response to the debacle of Florida in ‘00 was to make our election systems far, far worse by encouraging the adoption of unauditable voting machines, seeding the states with partisan Attorneys General, and funding an interstate Crosscheck system. The GOP haven’t hesitated to toss out unwritten rules and norms, like mid-decade redistricting, to offset their growing demographic weaknesses. The gerrymanders they pushed through after sweeping the ‘10 midterms helped to put the House out of reach for the Dems.

Now those efforts have been allied to the Mercer family’s Cambridge Analytica and the Putin family’s troll farms, and rewarded once again. This time, the rewards include control of the 2020 census. This is a pretty damn steep price to pay for avoiding the perils of a Clinton restoration. There would have been uncountable and unknowable downsides to her election, to be sure. But the downsides to the Trump coalition’s victory are obvious and visceral without even touching on the downward slide into authoritarianism both here and abroad. Sure, there’s another election or two around the corner. But I wouldn’t bet the farm against the GOP finding a way to pull off additional upset victories. They are getting pretty good at stacking the deck.