Sunday, November 25, 2018


It’s Still the Economy (and avoiding smug condescension)
Joan Williams of The Atlantic, argues persuasively that the forces aligning against Trump need to rethink their own intramural trench warfare, because our opponents continue to trap us in conversations we do not want to be the focus of our national or local attentions.
‘If Democrats want to build a winning coalition that includes not just the blue coasts but also the swath of red in between, they must master this economic message.
The party’s new “Heartland” strategy, articulated by Representative Cheri Bustos of Illinois, is promising. She has flourished by de-emphasizing socially divisive issues (these lead to “no-win conversations,” she has said) and highlighting economic ones.
…If Democrats spend less time taking the bait on immigration and more time prioritizing good jobs for people without college degrees, they won’t help only the white working class—they will help people of every race.
“Why not just wait for the white working class to die off?” asked an audience member at last year’s Berkeley Festival of Ideas. I get this question a lot, and I always reply: “Do you understand now why they voted for Trump? Your attitude is offensive, and Trump is their middle finger.”

[Of the] Anti-elites—Trump voters most likely to have bipartisan voting habits—nearly half said they voted more against Clinton than for Trump, smaller percentages said that being born in the U.S. is important to being American (58 percent). About two-thirds of Anti-elites expressed warm feelings toward racial minorities. Crucially, only 13 percent of them believed their children would achieve a standard of living better than their own.

This is the group Democrats should target. But there’s one sure way to guarantee failure: smug condescension that lumps all Trump voters together as uninformed racists.

If elites cling to the idea that working-class whites are perpetrators of inequality, rather than both perpetrators and victims, perhaps it’s because they want to believe that they are where they are because they’ve worked hard and they’re the smartest people around. Once you start a conversation about class, elite white people have to admit they have not only racial privilege but class privilege, too.
Acknowledging this also requires elites to cede yet another advantage: the extent to which they have controlled Democrats’ priorities. Political scientists have documented the party’s shift over the past 50 years from a coalition focused on blue-collar issues to one dominated by environmentalism and other issues elites cherish.
I’m one of those activists; environmentalism and concerns related to gender, race, and sexuality define my scholarship and my identity. But the working class has been asked to endure a lot of economic pain while Democrats focus on other problems.
It’s time to listen up. The only effective antidote to a populism interlaced with racism is a populism that isn’t.’

Sunday, November 18, 2018

A few simple things to remember in a two-party democracy

Work within the party of your choice to get the candidates of your choice selected to run in the general election.

Work according to the rules as they exist now and accept the outcome.

This does not mean anyone should be unwilling to engage over disagreements about how to implement the rules: but it does mean we all need to remind ourselves that this sort of disagreement is normal.

Disagreement is not a procedural violation.

If the primary raises concerns about the process or rules: fix these in the time between this and the next primary, without disrupting the ongoing general election.

Avoid sowing doubts about the legitimacy of the candidate of your own party entering the general election...and worse, amplifying legitimacy concerns about American democracy as a whole.

Recognize that we operate in a two-party system. This means that, even when your party's candidate is not the candidate you would have preferred, criticizing your party's candidate during the general or not voting at all are both nearly equivalent to voting for the candidate of the other party.

We all need to play the game with respect for the game, sharing the objective of keeping the game alive, meaning winning today does not prevent anyone from playing the game tomorrow...if we want democracy to be both possible and desirable.

Saturday, November 10, 2018


Neither Take His Bait, Nor Erase His Lies

In today’s news, our president lied again. Sadly, this is not new or exceptional.

Oct. 11: "I can tell you Matt Whitaker's a great guy. I mean, I know Matt Whitaker," the president told Fox & Friends.

Nov. 10: "I don't know Matt Whitaker," the president told reporters as he left the White House for a trip to Paris. In fact, he had met with his attorney general appointee more than a dozen times.

There are at least three tough issues raised in this story.

First, if the president does not know him that is a problem.

If the president 'does not know' the man he just appointed acting Attorney General, that is a problem because he just made this man the top law enforcement official in the nation.

Second, if the president does know him that is a problem.

If the president saying he 'does not know' the man he just appointed directly contradicts the same president saying he did know the man on Fox recently, this is a problem because we no longer know what is accurate AND because it raises serious doubts about whether or not we can believe anything this president says.

A second reason this is a problem is the fact that this appointee is clearly unqualified.

Third, this problem creates a tough challenge for us and for reporters.

Since merely pointing out that this president lies more than 30 times a day since taking office clearly has no impact on either his behavior or the loyalty of his (shrinking) base, this is a problem that puts journalists (like Jim Acosta, April Ryan, Abby Phillip, and Yamiche Alcindor) in a no-win situation.

Does a professional journalist create her own echo chamber by choosing to call the president a liar? Not because this is inaccurate or lacks objectivity, since that is now merely an objectively true observation not even his defenders bother to challenge, but because only those who already dislike the president will continue to listen to this journalists reporting.

Some might argue calling the president a liar (daily) is as uncivil as the lying itself. Perhaps, but I doubt that it is useful to think of civility as an obstacle to clear political communication. 

For me the important dimension is to what degree does highlighting presidential bullshitting advance the president’s agenda? Does doing this further polarize political communication (thus, maybe re-entering the civility conversation)? Do we need to link the lies together to highlight the president's instability, insincerity, and dangerousness?

Tough questions. And we need to recognize how tough these questions are, because treating these as obvious (just call him out all the time) is likely to mean we are playing a role he has cast for us in his movie.

In the spirit of all White House reporters should preface their questions with “Jim Acosta wants to ask...” we need to see that responding effectively here, when a skilled huckster and showman has his finger on our launch codes, requires creativity and imagination.

And we need shorter blog posts (sorry).

In conversation, I suggest we just use this 'preface' approach. Start every comment with, 'While we cannot trust anything this president says...as with any policy question it takes some time to sort out the trade-offs involved....’

Then do not engage in ‘did he or did he not lie,’ but move to a focus on what would be a better policy, carefully respecting the trade-offs and competing perspectives embedded in any serious policy debate.

Neither take his bait, nor erase his lies.

We need to avoid contributing to the creation of daily news cycles that only focus on 'did he lie or not,' ceding to him even more capacity to frame and control the news.

While we cannot trust a word that this president says, most policy challenges do in fact require time and patience to sort out because there are usually competing interests and multiple communities with overlapping concerns connected to all sides of a debate.

We have good reason to suspect that the president does not understand the complexities of most policy debates, or respect the importance of trying to speak truthfully. Even so, we need to respect those who fall on competing sides of complex policy debates if we want our participation in these debates to more likely result in both better policy and a stronger anti-trump coalition.

It is frustrating, but dwelling on the president's stupidity is dumb.

We should note his lying in an effort to frame a real conversation, but when we dwell on his stupidity (as right and righteous as this feels) we poison the policy conversation, because those who see the policy question differently than we do hear us telling them that they are stupid.

And that is a recipe for our failure.

To secure better policy and a stronger governing coalition, we need to maximize our capacity to be both 'right' and 'in relationships.'


Today It Begins
A friend on FB posted this to help us make sense of the 2018 midterm elections. Thanks.
The good. 
☑️ We flipped the House of Representatives.
☑️ Won 7 governor seats
☑️ Took super majority in 3 states & broke up a few R super majorities.
☑️ We flipped over 350 state rep/senate races.
☑️ 3 state Supreme Court seats flipped
☑️ 3 red states expanded Medicaid
☑️ 2 states raised the minimum wage
☑️ Won the popular vote by about 9% again
☑️ Restored the voting rights to 1.5 million Americans in Florida
☑️ Ethics reform passed in NM, MO, & ND, & FL
☑️ Money in politics reform passed in MO, Balt, NYC, Denver, Phx, & MA
☑️ Redistricting reform passed in MI, CO, MO, & UT
☑️ Voting rights passed in FL, MD, MI, & NV
☑️ Added Accountability to Trump's legislative agenda for the next two years. 
The Truth. 
☑️ In Ohio, especially in the Mahoning Valley, we need to start from scratch. I am pledging to do my part to bring new life to the party. I am pledging to stand up and fight for everyone. I am pledging to give a voice for those who cannot speak for themselves. I am pledging never accept mediocrity especially within my own party. Today it begins.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Stand Together for What We Stand For


Michael Gerson argues in his recent editorial that Democrats cannot abandon civility (as well?) and expect to defeat Trumpism. He believes that the incivility of “Democratic tactics…are allowing Trump to audition for the role of Richard M. Nixon [running] as a symbol of social stability and order.”

I often disagree with Gerson, a conservative commentator at the Washington Post. But he is smart and has been fairly consistent in opposing the Trumpian take-over of his Party.
Further, I generally agree with the idea that standing in opposition to Trumpism requires us to ‘be the change,’ to ensure our means match our ends, to enact respect for the rule of law, tolerance, and democratic decision making even as we fight ferociously to defend what we stand for against authoritarianism.
But in this piece Gerson treats Trumpian incivility as a neutral backdrop, when he has an obligation—as a moderate Republican critic of Trumpism—to tilt more heavily toward giving strategic advice to his own side…even more so when the advice he seeks to share is to reign it in and fight more cautiously (even if, implicitly, this increases one’s risk of losing).
It takes no integrity or courage to announce loudly that your opponents need to be more civil. It is no break with incivility to frame the conflict in terms that suggest your opponent's incivility is the problem.

If Gerson really does care about the existential threat facing our Republic—and I believe he does—his patriotic responsibility is to face his own demons, focus his energies on calling out those on his team driving the threat…in order to make it easier or his opponents to defeat those on his team threatening the Republic (if his team continues not only to fail to defeat them internally, but to enable and amplify the threat).
Not only does Gerson’s piece fail, for this reason, to help us come together around the shared goal of saving our Republic, it encourages his opponents to focus their fight against each other, making it less likely that this threat will be contained or defeated.
As someone who, like Gerson, is deeply concerned about current threats to our Republic and to American democracy I think we—all those opposed to Trumpism—need to unite around winning in the midterms. I worry that some on my team are deploying tactics that might do more to mobilize their voters than our own—but my energy and anger is not directed toward them. I encourage them to stay energized and try to be as strategic as possible, but they are not my enemy. I share my tactical concerns internally.
But the threat we all face right now must unite a team that accept all comers and directs all our energy toward winning the midterms. Yes, it is possible that some on our side will say or do things that make others on our team cringe. We will debate, internally, the relative value of this or that basket of tactics. But we must retain our singular focus on unity against the most dangerous threat to our Republic in our lifetimes. 
So, in the end, Gerson's framing here is distracting and dividing us here. We do stand for civility, the rule of law, tolerance and democracy--and civil disobedience, creative forms of non-violent protest, remain central to standing for what we stand for. 
Gerson is critical of HRC for saying “you cannot be civil with a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for.” But he is conveniently overlooking the fact that arguments like his, advanced by moderate Republicans like him, fit perfectly into the Trumpian (and Rovian) playbook. Gerson is calling out his opponents for precisely the crime his team is the most prominent perpetrator of. In earlier editorials he, himself, has said as much—which is why his commentary today, using his political capital as a moderate Republican critical of Trump, is such a betrayal of his own stated goal of thwarting the Trumpian threat.
I do not think Gerson is dishonest, but in the end his argument here strikes me as a dangerous form of anti-democratic gaslighting. If civility refers to the behaviors and norms and attitudes that make democracy both possible and desirable, his argument is also--in the current context, because context matters--deeply uncivil.
Yes, opposition should be civil. We should focus on the midterms and tactics that will mobilize our voters without mobilizing their voters. At the same time, we need to humbly recognize that none of us has the answer key for which tactics are most likely to work. We need to enact ‘what we stand for’ in our tolerance for tactical diversity demonstrated by a commitment to discussions about tactics with all those standing together against the primary threat...and discussions that do not demonize our own teammates and, to the best of our ability, unite us to win the midterms and beyond.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Sunday, September 16, 2018