Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Tag:

Trump Is Tearing Apart Our Civic Fabric And Democratic Institutions

The United States is coming undone. It is dis-united. Its citizens are bitterly divided along a widening chasm, each side believing the other is despicable; its democratic institutions are under assault; its ideals of equality and respect for the rule of law, once so widely admired around the world, are now ignored, even scorned, by some of its highest-ranking officials.

I had always believed that only a shooting war could tear us apart in this way, but I was wrong. Our civic fabric is being ripped to shreds, lacerated by a petty and divisive president and the people who enable him.

President Donald J. Trump has launched a full frontal assault on the rule of law, belittling the Federal Bureau of Investigation, ignoring the Department of Justice, intimidating (and firing) senior law enforcement officials who attempt to hold him to account. The latest example is his determination to release a one-sided and harshly partisan memo, despite pleas from the FBI director not to do so.

The memo, composed by staffers for Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) — a Trump lapdog — is another attempt by the president and his team of lackeys to undermine the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. The most significant part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry focuses on whether any members of Trump’s campaign — including Trump himself — colluded with Russians to damage Hillary Clinton’s chances. Apparently, top Republicans and White House staffers have descended into panic as Mueller’s probe draws closer to the president.

However, the FBI fears that the release of the memo, some of which is based on classified information, may threaten national security. You would think that would matter to the so-called patriots in the GOP who put so much emphasis on saluting the American flag. But Republican voices who object to Trump’s release of the memo are few and muted.

Then there was the president’s contentious State of the Union speech, which had laughably been billed in advance as a unifying bit of oratory. Ah, not so much. While Trump did utter the word “bipartisan” several times, the policies he bragged about were those that thrill only conservatives: tax cuts that benefit the richest Americans most, another blow to Obamacare, the dismantling of environmental regulations.

And that was the milder stuff. By the middle of his speech, the president had released his inner Trump — taking an unnecessary swipe at (mostly black) athletes who kneel during the national anthem, using the case of the tragic murders of two teenage girls by Latino gang members to suggest that most immigrants are dangerous killers, and repeating his demand for a wall along the southern border to stop “criminals and terrorists.” Those weren’t dog whistles. Those were full-throated rallying cries of racism.

Once upon a time, there would have been legions of Republicans standing up to counter Trump’s dangerous tyranny and bigotry. During his presidential campaign in 2008, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) silenced a supporter who insisted that opposing candidate Barack Obama was not born in the United States. But McCain has since been sidelined by debilitating brain cancer.

When President Richard Nixon tried to place himself above the law during the Watergate investigation, several high-ranking Republicans stood to defend the U.S. Constitution from his despotism. When Nixon tried to fire Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox, Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus resigned rather than carry out the president’s tyrannical orders. (Nixon eventually found a lackey to do his bidding: Solicitor General Robert Bork.)

Where are the Republicans who would defy such an order from Trump? While Democrats have pushed for a bill to protect Mueller, GOPers have seemed less than eager to go along. Meanwhile, FBI Director Christopher Wray may find himself in Trump’s crosshairs for the crime of standing up to him on the Nunes memo.

If you are still waiting for the president to pay a price for his despotism, you will likely be disappointed. He remains popular among Republican voters; more than 80 percent approve of his performance, according to Gallup.

Historians are already debating whether Trump will eventually be judged the nation’s worst president. I have a more depressing question: Will he be our last?

Trump’s Popularity Cannot Be Blamed On The Economy

For months now, we’ve heard about an angry and anxious electorate, depressed by stagnant wages, furious about a “rigged” economic system, uncertain about the future for their children and grandchildren. That analysis supposedly explained Bernie Sanders’ surprisingly strong showing in the Democratic primaries, as well as Donald Trump’s stunning takeover of the Republican Party.

But it turns out that the economy isn’t quite as “rigged” against the hard-working middle class as we’ve been led to believe. New economic data show some excellent news: Last year, middle-class and poor Americans enjoyed the best economic growth they’ve had in decades.

According to the Census Bureau, real median household income was $56,500 in 2015, up from $53,700 in 2014. That was the largest percentage increase recorded by the bureau since it began tracking median income statistics in the 1960s.

There was also good news for poor households: The poverty rate fell by 1.2 percentage points. While that may not seem like much, it was still the steepest decline since 1968 and represented 3.5 million fewer people in poverty.

The new economic data suggest that many of the explanations (including my own) offered for this strange election season have been, well, wrong. Allow me to turn the famous mantra of Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign upside down: It’s not the economy, stupid.

More than anything else, Trump’s rise is the manifestation of the anger of a significant minority of white voters over their loss of demographic and cultural hegemony. They’ve seen the new America, represented most dramatically by Barack Obama, and they’re not happy about it.

That’s not to say a stagnant economy hasn’t provided fuel for those racialist fires. It has. Some households are yet trying to climb out of the wreckage of the collapse of 2008, when pink slips were issued, savings accounts disappeared and homes were lost.

That said, the average Trump supporter isn’t faring so badly. According to FiveThirtyEight, Nate Silver’s website, Trump’s voters are better off than most Americans. The median household income of a Trump voter in the primaries was about $72,000, based on estimates derived from exit polls and Census Bureau data. That’s higher than the median income for Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders supporters, which is around $61,000 for both.

The relative affluence of Trump’s supporters shouldn’t come as a great surprise. The foundation for his rise was laid by the tea partiers, who rose up in fierce resistance to President Obama immediately after he took office. They, too, were better off than the average American, polls showed. But their rhetoric was full of racial resentment and xenophobia.

Many of them were waiting restlessly for a candidate — for a flag-bearer — who would give voice to their claims to own patriotism and to being the real Americans. The tea-partiers often held aloft signs that proclaimed their desire to “take our country back.” Trump’s promise to “make America great again” is only slightly less suggestive of racial resentments.

While Hillary Clinton has apologized for characterizing half of Trump’s supporters as fitting comfortably in a “basket of deplorables,” defined by their own “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic” tendencies, she wasn’t far off. Just take a look, again, at the polling data: Trump’s supporters tend to have more negative attitudes toward black Americans than the general electorate, believing us to be lazy, violent and unintelligent. Trump backers tend to have more negative views toward immigrants and Muslim Americans than the electorate as a whole.

But here’s my personal favorite: A whopping 59 percent of Trump’s voters believe the president was not born in the United States, a view that Trump has widely disseminated. That’s not a dog whistle; that’s a full-throated battle cry of racist resentment, a way of trying to delegitimize the first black president.

If this were a more conventional election season, the improving economy would have calmed the electorate and Trump would be nowhere near the finish line. Instead, he has moved uncomfortably close to Clinton, with some polls showing a dead heat.

But Trump isn’t really offering better financial prospects to a disaffected middle class. He’s offering to restore white privilege. And that thinly veiled pledge is enough for many of his voters.

(Cynthia Tucker won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2007. She can be reached at cynthia@cynthiatucker.com.)

Photo: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump gestures as he speaks to the Economic Club of New York luncheon in Manhattan, New York, U.S., September 15, 2016.  REUTERS/Mike Segar

Capitalism And Education Are Incompatible Partners

The news left tens of thousands of students stunned: Just as the fall semester was starting, ITT Technical Institute, one of the nation’s largest chains of for-profit colleges, shut down all its campuses, stranding some would-be graduates a few months shy of a diploma.

As wrenching as the closure is, though, it should have happened sooner. Like Corinthian Colleges, a for-profit chain that collapsed last year, ITT Tech was forced to the brink because the Obama administration has cracked down on an industry that thrived on shady practices. Those colleges have made their money by recruiting desperate and vulnerable students of modest means and charging overly high tuition rates.

For-profit colleges deliver very little of what they promise. You’ve no doubt heard some of their ads pledging lucrative careers in a growing field of endeavor — health care or technology, perhaps. The truth is that workers who attend for-profit colleges often end up earning less than they did before they pursued a degree, according to a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

There is a lesson here beyond the fortunes of for-profit schools. For all the worship of capitalism in the American psyche, the simple truth is that the profit motive doesn’t work everywhere. While the drive to make money can spark innovation, spur economic growth and fuel general prosperity, it can also corrupt entire enterprises. Not every sector of the economy ought to be privatized.

Higher education provides as good an example as any of the corrupting potential of capitalism. The United States already operates one of the best systems of higher education in the world; that’s why our colleges and universities attract so many foreign students. And for all the outrage, completely justified, over student debt, the nation also offers a system of affordable community colleges.

But back in the 1990s, liberals joined conservatives in their enthusiasm for privatization, which led to an explosion in the growth of for-profit schools. Investors camped out. Private equity groups swooped in. The industry had to deliver more and more profits.

But teaching — actually teaching students a skill, a craft, a vocation — is hard work that doesn’t promote easy profits since most students can’t afford to pay exorbitant rates for college. Indeed, most public colleges don’t charge enough tuition to cover their costs. State legislatures need to make up the rest.

So how did the Corinthians and ITT Techs of the world deliver the profits they promised? A few years back, now-retired Sen. Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat, launched an investigation into the industry. He found that associate-degree and certificate programs at for-profit colleges cost about four times as much as those at community colleges and public universities. He also found a system that was abusive and fraudulent.

For-profit schools send their recruiters into working-class neighborhoods, where they home in on desperate adults yearning for stable jobs with better wages. They inflate their job placement numbers, promising that a degree will pave the road to prosperity. The recruiters use hard-sell techniques that maximize federal grants and loans — that’s where most of their profits come from — and then encourage prospective students to take out more loans if federal aid doesn’t cover their costs. As a result, many of those students end up without degrees but head-over-heels in debt.

The strategies used by for-profit colleges may represent the profit motive run amok, but the demise of ITT Tech still serves as a reminder that capitalism is no cure-all. Some enterprises should be run like a business — appliance stores, technology companies, aircraft manufacturers — with all the risks and rewards that generally apply. But there are other undertakings that merely serve a public good. Trying to wrest a profit from those will result only in exploitation.

(The same applies, by the way, to for-profit operators of charter schools serving grades K-12. While the vast majority of charter schools are run by non-profit organizations, a few states have encouraged for-profit companies to take over schools. The result has been shabbily run classrooms that drain taxpayer dollars.)

Capitalism certainly has its place. But it doesn’t deserve to be worshipped as a god doling out good things to all. The profit motive doesn’t improve every endeavor. Instead, it simply pollutes some enterprises that it should not touch.

(Cynthia Tucker won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2007. She can be reached at cynthia@cynthiatucker.com.)

Fearful Trump Supporters Hold All Of Us Hostage

On Aug. 31, Donald Trump delivered a mind-boggling speech on immigration, striking for its anger, its mendacity, its hostility, its cruelty and its frank bigotry. Trump has once again defied the expectations of longtime political observers with behavior that sets the bar for presidential candidates ever lower, that veers wildly outside the mainstream, that competes with history’s most dangerous dictators in its audaciousness.
Even as Republican strategists have advised a more welcoming attitude toward voters of color, Trump has cemented his party’s reputation as the home of racially resentful white people. He has virtually guaranteed that the Republican Party will struggle to attract Latino voters for the next generation.
So the matter of whether the GOP nominee can “pivot” to a style of campaigning that more closely resembles the conventional — and that doesn’t scare the socks off most reasonable voters — ought to now be settled: No, he cannot. This is, in the language of his Twitter handle, the real Donald Trump. He is hateful, bullying and vile. Period.
Moreover, Trump’s noxious views will likely set back the cause of comprehensive immigration reform even further. Since President George W. Bush tried to push forward a reasonable solution to the plight of 11 million or so undocumented immigrants living in the shadows, congressional Republicans have balked, afraid of a backlash from the far-right precincts that can determine GOP primary elections. Given the way that Trump’s bashing of Mexicans and Muslims has resonated with the ultra-right, mainstream Republicans are unlikely to sanction even a mention of immigration reform.
That’s despite the fact that most Americans disagree with Trump’s proposals. According to a July CBS/New York Times poll, 61 percent of Americans believe illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay and apply for citizenship. Fifty-seven percent oppose Trump’s “beautiful” wall.
But there is a deep partisan cleavage here. While 83 percent of Democrats oppose Trump’s wall, as well as 56 percent of independents, only 27 percent of Republicans do. According to a Bloomberg poll, 73 percent of Democrats oppose Trump’s plan for blanket deportations, but only 54 percent of Republicans do. It’s no wonder, then, that Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., faced with opposition from the right-wing fringe, fled from his previous support for sensible policies to legalize the illegal immigrants already here.
That cowardice hurts not only the Republican Party, but also the country. Our refusal to pass comprehensive immigration reform has cut off opportunities for countless bright, hard-working young immigrants who’d like to go to college but can’t afford it because they don’t have the papers that would allow them to get scholarships and reduced tuition. Our failure to act has stifled countless illegal workers who would like to own homes and start businesses. They are Americans in virtually every way. It makes no sense to leave them in limbo.
But Trump has managed to persuade many working-class whites that illegal immigrants destroy neighborhoods, peddle drugs, murder innocents and drive down wages. They take well-paying jobs, he says, from citizens who deserve them. (To be fair, most of those claims aren’t original to Trump. They’ve been bandied about on the right for decades now.)
Much of that is simply not true. The population of criminals among illegal immigrants is lower than the percentage among native-born Americans, according to criminologists. As for the economic competition, there is no doubt that low-wage workers can be hurt by an influx of undocumented workers. The biggest burden falls on those without high school diplomas, who may see their wages fall by anywhere from 0.4 percent to 7 percent, research shows. That is certainly cause for worry.
But the answer to that is to make those undocumented workers legal, which would force their employers to pay them a higher wage. Too many employers get away with paying illegal workers less money and placing them in dangerous conditions.
If the solutions are all too obvious to most Americans, they represent a bridge to a treacherous new world order to many Trump supporters. And, for now, we are all held hostage to their prejudices and fears.
(Cynthia Tucker won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2007. She can be reached at cynthia@cynthiatucker.com.)
Photo: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump attends a church service, in Detroit, Michigan, U.S., September 3, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri