Is The GOP On The Path To Self-Destruction?

We have all seen it.  A close friend or family member on a path to self-destruction.  It may have been a buddy in your freshman year of college who was more interested in partying than hitting the books. It may have been a friend who never gave their keys to someone else to drive after drinking.  It may have been a family member who couldn’t end their drug addiction, no matter how many times they went through rehab.  It may have been a cousin who continued to ignore medical advise to alter his life style because he was at high risk for a heart attack or a stroke.  In all of these cases, regardless of attempts at sincere intervention, the self-destructive behavior continued.  It was like watching a train wreck in slow motion in a movie.  Is this same kind of unalterable path to self-destruction what we are witnessing in the GOP right now?

It has become clear to anyone observing the Party’s behavior over the past several years that there is an internal battle raging for its’ very soul.  During this period it has been pulled further and further to the right while it castigates any member who dares to use the word compromise or move in a more moderate direction.  After the 2012 election the leadership, representing the old line establishment, instigated an internal soul-searching  and called it an autopsy.  The results were stated with fanfare and a promise to broaden the party by becoming more representative of the hopes and dreams of the many groups that now constitute America.  There was, in fact, the beginnings of an effort to reach the Black community and the Latino community.  However, in short order, the GOP fell back into its bad habits and its old rhetoric.  It blocked legislation that impacted on immigration, gun control, support for undeserved populations, pay equity, women’s healthcare and an extension of unemployment benefits.  They attempted to repeal the Affordable Care Act over 50 times and protect the privileged class while doing everything possible to weaken the middle and working class. They even closed down the government.   Obviously, the highly touted autopsy ended up in the morgue.  The attempted intervention by the party establishment has clearly failed.  The soul of the party is being controlled by an extreme element despite its obvious self-destructive path.


Events over the past couple of months have illustrated just how far down that path the Party has traveled.  The Presidential campaign this summer has been nothing if not entertaining. However, by now we expected to get down to reality and be left with the serious candidates.  The problem is that we are where we hoped to be.  We are left with the serious candidates, only they are quite different from what we expected.  They represent the most extreme elements of the Party and the more traditional candidates are falling by the wayside.  The party establishment, while attempting to intervene and support those more traditional candidates, has so far failed.

The announced departure of John Boehner from the position of Speaker of the House is another indication of just how serious the internal battle for the soul of the Party is.  While Boehner was far more conservative than I could tolerate, he was far more moderate than the boisterous, undisciplined and ideologically orthodox plurality of his caucus.  After a five-year Speakership characterized by endless internal conflict within his caucus, Boehner has decided to leave the stage.  No doubt those who step into Party leadership in the House will be more to the liking of the loud and boisterous plurality.  Just as in the Presidential campaign, the soul of the Party is shifting into the hands of the most extreme elements.

There are those among the pundits who say that it is rare that a Party wins a third term in the White House and that both Parties have been relegated to the role of regional party during the other Party’s terms in the White House.  But they are wrong.  We don’t have to look too far back to see that George Herbert Walker Bush was a GOP third term after the two-term Presidency of Ronald Reagan or that during that time the Democrats played a major role in the the governance of this country.  In contrast, the GOP has played a role of obstruction while the President has almost single-handedly moved our country forward.

It seems to me that unless there is a major intervention on the near horizon for the GOP, its path to self-destruction will be unavoidable. It will be relegated to representing the extremism characteristic of regional politics, but will never be represented in the White House again.

Is This Any Way To Select Our Next President?

This is the third draft in three days of this blog post.  I have been trying to write a post that truly reflects my attitudes and opinions, but most of all my concerns, since the GOP debate this past Wednesday evening.  There is something about this process, as it has evolved over the past few cycles, that has become very troubling to me.  However, I have been really challenged to put my finger on it what it is that I find so troubling.  Why it is that I find the current process of selecting a presidential nominee, and ultimately  a president, so wrong.  Theoretically it is an incredibly democratic procedure.  All who are registered to vote may participate in their state’s primary or caucus.  During the months preceding  the ultimate selection these potential voters have the opportunity to attend a stump speech, a town hall meeting, read and hear about the candidates on the news and see them in televised debates.  By the time the process comes to its ultimate conclusion all voters have reached their saturation point of exposure to the candidates.  On the face of it, all seems perfectly democratic.  Yet, is it all as pure as it seems?  Now I’m as aware as you of the long history of power-brokered elections in this country.  But laws and systems have been put in place to minimize such opportunities.  No, what I’m talking about provides the illusion of a truly democratic process while openly allowing seemingly appropriate and legal activities to subtly impact on the end result.  The problem I have is that it seems manipulative, contrived and phony. Certainly we have the opportunity to choose between the two ultimate winners of their party’s nomination, but it’s what happens up to that point that I find troubling.

There are four factors that have contributed to this in the recent past.  First is the role of money and its impact on any given campaign resulting from the Citizens United Case.  Second is the role of polling and its staggering growth as a source of “fact” rather than opinion.  Third, is the enormous growth of media. Beyond the traditional outlets, we now have cable news, Facebook, twitter and blogs that rather than providing neutral analysis, reinforce voters’ already formed opinions.  Finally, there is the highly sophisticated analytical capability within each campaign to assess opinion, fears and desires of any given constituency at any given time.  If all else is so controlled and contrived you would then think that at least the debates would provide us with an opportunity to see who the candidates really are and actually be able to make an honest assessment of their strengths and weaknesses.

GOP debate

However, as we are all aware, each candidate prepares and rehearses for days prior to the debates.  Now that they have had one debate under their belt the preparation can utilize that experience to prepare for the second.  Their advisors and writers discuss responses to expected questions and they are coached about posture, body language, eye contact and of course their wardrobe is carefully selected.  The fact that the second debate mirrored the first debate in being almost completely devoid of substance, but heavy on the one-line zingers and accusation was unfortunately no surprise.  It became a contest of who could look tougher and promise that no country will dare tangle with America if they are President. They all calculated to just enough to sound as if they knew what they were talking about, but not enough to be challenged on fact or reality.   They made promises to improve the economy or impact on education or healthcare, but provided no information about how they would fulfill those promises. And then there was the outright misinformation.   A perfect example of this was Trump’s discredited statement about vaccines which was amazingly not challenged by Ben Carson or Rand Paul, both doctors.  Carly Fiorina, the less studied of the group, gave us misinformation about a Planned Parenthood video, and has been challenged by both the left and the right for her statements.  What is concerning however is that the challenges came from outside entities, not from her fellow candidates.  We hope that the debates are a true opportunity to measure the candidates, but what we find is that the candidates have measured us and provide with just what they think we want to hear.  Who are these candidates and what do they really believe?  For me, some of the words coming out of their mouths are quite frightening.  But the GOP is not trying to reach me, they want to reach their base.  But do they really reflect what the majority of the GOP voters believe?

My point is that whether we’re talking about the debates, the stump speeches, the town hall meetings, the blogs, the polls or the sources of their funds, candidates and campaigns are so carefully calibrated and fine tuned today that we really don’t get to know who they are or what they truly believe.  I am aware that candidates have always tried to say what they felt had the best chance of getting them elected.  But today it is more difficult to cut through to the truth than ever before.  Imagine what the 2012 election might have been had we not learned about Romney’s 47% comment.  Do we have to create a special espionage unit to find out who the candidates really are?  Is this any way to select our next President?  I don’t have the answer, but I think the question is very important.

The “We” That We Were Is Different Than The “We” That We Are.

The last hurrah of summer has come and gone and now like magic we’re supposed to transition back to work and school mode.   We note that the crossing guards are back and stores have switched their displays from Back To School to Halloween, yet our hearts and minds still yearn for just one more moment of yesterday. But this year, in addition, we are expected to focus on the Presidential campaign.    Labor Day, the traditional kick-off to the political season, begins the process through which we attempt to assess the candidates and they begin to assess who we are and what we want.   That is a true challenge during this cycle. It appears that “we” have changed and it is clear that the candidates , other than Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, really haven’t figured out who “we” are yet.  The polls and crowds are telling us that it isn’t “business as usual”.

For many years we have been told, and polls have proven, that we are an extremely polarized nation.  The split between right and left is almost right down the middle.  On issues such as pay equity, gun control, education, climate change, healthcare and trade we are at odds with each other.  That is nothing new.   Fundamental within each of these issues is the question of what role government should play in our lives.  The right has traditionally sought smaller government while the left has looked for a larger government role.  We have been seeing this for decades.  Yet, when the Presidential candidates are selected to represent each party they have tended to move towards the center from their original starting point on either the right or the left.  While they make superficial attempts at soothing the concerns of their party faithful, the truth is in the ultimate result.  Government grew at an alarming rate under George W. Bush while it has shrunk under Barack Obama.  In each case, promises made during the heat of the campaign have been left unfulfilled.  Certainly, in both cases one can look at unforeseen extenuating circumstances for the reason.  A new President can’t possibly appreciate all of the factors that go into creating his priorities until he is sitting in the Oval Office.  Of course in Bush’s case he created his own problems by listening to bad advice and attacking Iraq.  Has the huge gap between promise and reality finally sunk in and created a very cynical electorate?  So what is this telling us about, who are “we” and what are “we” looking for?


The current polls are telling us some interesting things about ourselves. First, the traditional right/left divide related to selecting a presidential candidate is not as clear as it used to be. Neither Sanders nor Trump are espousing smaller government. Sanders is espousing a more caring, connected and compassionate government. Trump, through all of his ridiculous and often offensive bluster is espousing a smarter government. The names at the top of the GOP polls are all individuals who come from outside of government with no electoral experience. It seems that the “we” in the GOP is saying loud and clear, at least at this moment, politicians we don’t trust you, we don’t want you, go away. The “we” on the Democratic side are saying, at least it’s trending this way, don’t tell us what’s inevitable, we’ll tell you who and what we want.

Certainly it is early.  After all, we just got through Labor Day.  But those who have been engaged on the electorate side of the equation are not buying the traditional rules or the traditional ideological labels.  There is an assertive cynicism at play here, and it just might end up turning the process and the results on their head.

Why Is The Right-Wing So Secretive About The Real Reasons Behind Its Actions?

Remember that dreaded high school senior term paper?  It was the final barrier between school and a great post-graduation summer.  The assignment came right after winter break  and it was clear that it needed to be a research paper complete with footnotes and an extensive bibliography.  It was going to require some serious work just at the moment that senioritis was kicking in full blast.  The objective of the assignment was to create a hypothesis and then go about providing the proof in your paper.  However, it seemed that the best way to go about this was to simply find resources that provided support for your hypnosis while ignoring any material that raised questions or challenged it.  In other words come up with an idea and simply prove it with facts that were either valid or invalid as long as they were written somewhere.  The right-wing of the GOP has never forgotten this high school method of creating facts where they don’t exist.  This is how they have dealt with Planned Parenthood, Benghazi, Immigration, Same-sex Marriage, Gun Control and Voting Rights.

The echo chamber within which they live has actually provided them with the opportunity to quote each other as proof of their “fact”.  It makes no difference on what the original statement was based, as long as it was written or stated somewhere, it has validity in the eyes of the right-wing and thus proves the point.  For example, the so-called “damning videos” supposedly proving that Planned Parenthood was in the business of selling body parts of aborted babies have been debunked by impartial experts and shown to have been edited by those who proclaim them to be evidence.  Yet everyday those who are seeking to defund and defame Planned Parenthood use them as evidence.  The extraordinary  statements  regarding immigration made by Donald Trump and his 16 apostles in the GOP Presidential sweepstakes have been proven to be wrong, yet the statements continue.  The accusations made regarding Benghazi have been found fallacious by several Congressional committees, yet the accusations go on.  The so-called fraud that new and restrictive voting laws are supposedly protecting us against has been statistically proven to not exist,  yet the actions to restrict voting continues.  The echo chamber continues to create its own truth even when it is a lie.

right wing rally

Certainly there are those who claim that there is nothing dishonest taking place.  It is just that there are two sides to the issue and they disagree.  But, in fact, the reality is quite different.  Certainly there are two sides to any issue.  However, that only works when both sides are dealing with the same set of facts, but simply viewing them through their own life experience and value laden screens.  For example, one can argue on the one hand that same-sex marriage does nothing to damage the institution of marriage and should be legal.  Yet, on the other hand, viewing it through a strictly fundamentalist religious perspective it is quite damaging to the institution of marriage.  They are dealing with the same facts coming at it from two different places.  While I can disagree, I can understand the basis of the fundamentalist argument.  Yet on the other issues mentioned, the facts are nonexistent, they are fabricated yet stated as truth.  Planned Parenthood doesn’t sell aborted babies’ body parts, all illegal immigrants aren’t criminals, and voter fraud is virtually nonexistent.    A more honest approach from the right-wing would be to simply say what they believe.  They are against Planned Parenthood because they don’t think that the government should be funding healthcare for underserved women. They are against illegal immigration because they are concerned with the browning of America.  They want to limit access to the  voting booth because they know that they are losing the demographic fight.  These arguments may be despicable in the eyes of many, but they are honest.

The right-wing goes to a lot of trouble to camouflage the true reasons for its actions.  If they really believe that they represent the majority opinion, why aren’t they honest?  If they are steadfast and proud of their beliefs, why do they hide them?  Why do they choose lies over truth?  Is it because they know that the majority would be appalled by their truth, yet the right-wing believes it knows better?  We know where that leads.

The Political Preseason Is Over-What Does It Tell Us About The Upcoming Season ?

In sports the preseason has always been an opportunity for coaches and players to ease into the game as they try new plays and learn new positions.  Utilizing scouting reports and analysis of preseason games, coaches develop strategies and make final roster decisions. While this time seems to be relatively stress-free and relaxed, it is, in fact, critical to the upcoming season.   The months before Labor Day in a Presidential election year have typically been similar to a team’s preseason.  It has been a time for testing positions and stump speeches, a time to romance donors and a time to assess the competition. But this preseason has been quite different.

I guess nobody told Trump about the rules of the preseason.  He came out and caught everyone flat-footed.  While he has put little meat on the bones of his vociferous pronouncements, he has captivated the attention of the GOP electorate and the media.  In fact, he has left his competition in the dust racking up impressive poll numbers while they spin their wheels seeking media attention as they languish.  Trump has not only taken an impressive lead, he has also dictated the agenda.  He has forced his competitors to deal with issues they hadn’t planned to touch until the actual season began.  Most importantly, he has brought into focus the tremendous rifts within the party over issues that will play a vital role in the upcoming election.

Trump #2

The pundits have been wrong all along.  First they didn’t expect Trump to run.  Then each time he committed a verbal blunder they wrote him off into oblivion.  But he is still here.  Now they figure that he will be around until after the Florida primary and then say goodbye.  But his nearest competitor is in single digits and Trump seems to be gaining ground.  In a political climate that regards politicians with disdain, he is the anti-politician.  In a political world that requires candidates to sell their souls for financial support, he needs no outside financial support.  In an environment that has seen detailed political promises ignored and reversed at the drop of a poll point, Trump doesn’t provide details, only the promise of the same success that he has achieved in business.  It appears that the political world has changed and Trump is perceptive enough to profit from it.   Finally, it is important to remember that Trump is not only a product of the business world, but the media world as well.  He is familiar with it and comfortable using it.  The pundits seem to have fallen behind and now find themselves playing catchup every time a new poll comes out.

What the preseason has taught us about the upcoming political season is that it is a new world and the landscape of today’s electorate is very different from that of yesterday.   The rules have changed and those who can adapt will stand a chance of success, however those who remain stubbornly in the politics of yesterday will fail.  What is the most important rule at play?  It is seemingly simple.  Don’t bore us with your multi-point plans that you will forget about once you are in office.  Give us a reason to trust you and believe that you are your own man and that you have the ability to achieve what you promise.  The electorate is cynical and untrusting.  The fact that they are attracted to the likes of Trump tells us just how desperate they are to trust someone.  For the sake of the country and all of us, we need to provide the electorate with a viable alternative to this bellicose bullhorn of plentiful platitudes.

Trump – From Circus Clown to Ringmaster

Through the haze of jet lag and the afterglow of a wonderful two weeks in Europe I am trying to assess what if anything has changed regarding the 2016 Presidential campaign while I was gone.  On the Democratic side Hillary is still the presumed nominee despite some handwringing by some media and political establishment types.  However, on the Republican side I am shocked that Trump is still the dominant candidate, overshadowing all of his rivals.  The candidate that I dubbed the chief clown driving the Republican clown car seems to be striking a chord with the GOP base.  As I try to clear that jet lag haze and sharpen the picture nothing changes.  Trump is really resonating with a broad base of Republican voters. It seems that the circus clown has become the ringmaster

In this July 17, 2015, file photo, Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump speaks at the Republican Party of Arkansas Reagan Rockefeller dinner in Hot Springs, Ark. Trump faced an avalanche of fresh criticism July 20 for questioning Sen. John McCain's heroism. But he’s getting no pressure at all from the one community that could push a candidate out of the 2016 presidential race: political donors. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)

This fact raises two obvious questions.  First, what about Trump has made him so successful at connecting with the Republican base?  The second question, perhaps more important, why has no other candidate been able to make the same connection?  It’s too simple to say that he is connecting because he is a non-politician.  We have seen that happen before, so it is nothing new.  But this feels new.  This isn’t another Ross Perot.  Perot’s focus was on the economy from a practical business standpoint.  Trump’s approach is far broader and all encompassing.  He is touching all of the issues confronting our country.  But how about the other candidates?  Is their approach to the issues so different from Trump’s?   In fact, the differences are slight and nuanced.  The reality is that the base’s reaction to Trump’s positions has caused the other candidates to make adjustments and fall in line with him.  Yet, despite the similarity in positions and the undeniable political success of many of his rivals, Trump still leads the pack.

Then perhaps, rather than looking at the candidates,  we should be looking at the base of the GOP.  What is so different about them this time around that they are rejecting the kinds of candidates they have previously embraced?  Huckabee and Santorum were both very successful in Iowa last time, yet this time they are of little consequence.   What is it that they are looking for that they are not seeing in the other 16 candidates vying for their attention?  If the candidates’s positions on the issues of consequence are similar then what characteristics separate Trump from the rest?  What is the base looking for that the other’s simply don’t have?

I believe that there are three Trump characteristics that separate him from the pack.  First, he is unapologetically wealthy.  But he also states clearly that he achieved his wealth “the old fashion way”, he earned it.  What’s more, he promises to create an economy that will provide more people with the opportunity to achieve his kind of wealth.  Second, he presents his wealth as an asset in his run for the presidency.  It enables him to be his own man and not listen to or be beholden to any donor or lobbyist or interest group, while all of the other candidates lack such freedom and independence.  Finally, he is savvy in his use of the media and dominates the conversation.  The self-confidence and boldness behind his rhetoric speak to a beleaguered base longing for another victory and the White House.

Certainly, we all know that summer heat cools in the winter cold.  It is a long time between now and the snowy Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary.  The months ahead are a  political lifetime.  However, it has become clear that the candidate that began his efforts cast as a clown, has risen to the prominent position of ringmaster.  Who knows what position he will hold 6 months from now.

Greetings from the Baltic

i have spent the past week in Europe and still have another to go.  What is particularly refreshing is that American politics are just a footnote here.  It does help place things into perspective.  What it also does make clear is that our political circus is a man-made exhibition created by the symbiotic relationship between the politicians (and “non-politicians”) and the press. However, while it is cleansing to be away from it for a while, I do look forward to being close to it again.  It may be an American circus, but it is after all my American circus.

I’ll return with more substantive observations in a week.