2020 Democratic Debates 2.1 and 2.2

What are the issues? What’s all the debate about?

Climate Change

How long do we have to do something? How to reduce our carbon pollution? Do we invest in R&D, focusing on carbon capture, farm-based sequestration, carbon tax, more EV charging stations? All of the above? That’s the debate.

The main reason this is so dire is that the Republicans generally refuse to work on any real policy (and Trump uses executive orders and rulemaking to attack our home, earth). One apparent bright spot came in the Senate this past week when the Committee on Environment and Public Works unanimously moved on a bill that would direct $10 billion toward emission reduction and infrastructure built to mitigate damage from a harsher climate. But it’s a tiny step compared to the major needs.

Healthcare

To have a Medicare-for-all system or improve on the Affordable Care Act? Or will they end up the same thing—a public option slipping into single payer? That’s the debate.

Similar to climate, the Republican side is the lawsuit supported by Republican AGs and the Trump Department of Justice to kill the Affordable Care Act entirely. They have no plan for the millions who would be affected. It would be a major mess, with sick people thrown to the wolves, job losses that might tank the economy—the equivalent of dropping a legal bomb. They have no policy to replace it. Worse, the ACA is relatively conservative in its approach, so any replacement would likely be more liberal and less likely to pass the Senate at a time when immediate action would be needed to restore confidence and save lives.

The Republican lawsuit comes after years of trying to revoke the ACA without ever putting forward even a skeleton policy of what could replace it.

Immigration

To decriminalize border crossings or not? Should any future Trump-style president be able to use the mere fact of crossing as an excuse to separate families? If the law remains criminal, rather than a civil process, that proposition remains. That’s the debate.

(There’s also a lot of media-imposed strife on whether undocumented immigrants deserve to have access to healthcare, because. . . I don’t really understand the issue. They’re humans. Every human needs healthcare at some point. I think some are conflating access with unpaid access, which isn’t really the issue.

I understand part of the media’s MO is to show contrast, but if they can’t effectively articulate the issue, maybe they should do their job first. Once they have explained what the issue is, they can freely show contrast on it.)

The Republicans are much more divided, with a minority constantly eager to blow up any compromise between the parties—it’s been that way for over a decade at this point. Any deal is deemed by the Freedom Caucus types as a bad deal. But, as with the environment and healthcare, Trump is using executive orders and rulemaking to undermine any order or compassion in our immigration system.

Education

Cancel student loans? For everyone or just the lower class? That’s the debate.

On this one I don’t really understand why there isn’t emphasis on increasing the number of colleges and other options to drive prices down. But oh well.

But education also includes the need to integrate primary education. Which is really a need to integrate communities generally, because shuttling kids about rather than having them live in the same neighborhoods with their classmates is pretty nuts.

Once again, Trump and Secretary of Education DeVos are seeking to undermine any useful oversight of our educational system, including giving for-profit institutions carte blanche to reap profits while not providing education.

Impeachment

Would Trump being acquitted in the US Senate help him more than not impeaching him? That’s the debate.

Biden

Is his record from before 2008 more important than his record since? What about 2008-2016? Are those years off-limits because Obama remains popular? Is there redemption for being wrong in the past? How do his mistakes balance against his other votes and acts that remain positive? That’s the debate.

Trump

Vote him out. There is no debate.


In general, the second pair of debates seemed worse than the first in many ways. It might be useful to explain how people choose their candidate.

Let’s go back to 2008, when John McCain lost to Barack Obama. McCain was regarded as a maverick. Come 2012, Mitt Romney was the leader in the race. There were many in the party who kept trying on other candidates, only to find them ill-fitting, and Romney ultimately won the nomination and lost to Obama.

In 2016, similar situation except Jeb! Bush was the leader. Unlike 2012, the folks wanting change latched onto Donald Trump and did not sway.

It works a little bit different for Democrats—different values—but not much:

  1. If there’s an incumbent, a lame duck’s vice president, or a runner-up from the previous cycle, probably go with that or a surrogate for that.
  2. But, if a real, natural leader emerges (think John F. Kennedy), pick that one.
  3. Otherwise, go for something different than last time, unless those alternatives are obvious duds.

For 2020, a #1-style candidate could be Bernie Sanders. There’s some built-in support for #1s. The previous president’s voters, or their own primary voters from the last time around. On the other hand, Joe Biden kind of fits as a #1 with the vice president, having declined to run in 2016. There’s some confusion whether he qualifies, a whole cycle removed.

But if any of the candidates can break away, it will be on the basis of them channeling serious charisma—#2s. A few have had a moment here or there. Bill Clinton was the most charismatic figure of the past 30 years. Ronald Reagan also had good charisma for his time. Kennedy was very charismatic and well-spoken, so much so that it’s still a drinking game to take a shot when a Dem quotes him in a debate. For whatever reason, #2s are fairly rare.

But in 2020, Democrats might not be ready to call it with a #1. There are enough competitors that they can choose alternatives to both Biden and Sanders. There are several people adjacent to each of them, and if any of them show some charisma or other edge to their candidacies, the nomination will be up for grabs.

The other factor to consider is that this field must shrink. As it does so, some of the moderates will fall out, some of the liberals will fall out. The remaining personalities will seem more distinct. The choices clearer. The confusion of trying to deal with so many faces and names will fall away. Those who supported a candidate (donors, voters, and staff) who drops out will shift their support to others. That contraction will be highly clarifying.

How Trumpism Dies.

There are several ways that Trumpism may die. It may die quickly.

The quick death of Trumpism relies upon some major defeat or otherwise loss of momentum or coherency (of the movement; it has never been coherent in policy or otherwise). A crushing 2020 election, or a sudden reversal of support from the business world, an economic fall, or a major and striking policy blunder, domestic or foreign.

Some of the above features exist in fetal form. The weighing strains upon the farming communities, the lack of planning or strategy in foreign matters, the aging growth cycle with many signs of distress, the historic low approval ratings for the party leader. . .

In the quick death scenario, the result hearkens back to the latter days of George W. Bush’s second term, whereupon the public generally was tired of him (even before the economy faltered in earnest). The people are simply not in the mood to entertain the president further, at that point, and they are merely tolerant of his continuance to the end of his term. In this case, a majority have been weary from the get-go, so the death relies on removal of the life-support system that is the Trumpist base.

The fulcrum of Trumpism is Trump the myth or man. There are occasional rumblings of certain factions of his base that he’s not enough of a hard-ass on whatever issue. But they don’t break through any more than the normal, mainstream criticisms. The majority of Trump supporters aren’t supporting a policy. They are merely supporting the face.

Trump is a shiny object, as-seen-on-TV. He’s a catchy tune. Trump is retro, man. He took the old shtick of the bygone politicians of early ages and repackaged them for the modern rube. He’s a hula hoop. Back during that craze, if people found out that those hoops were somehow undermining democracy, do you really think that people who fell for the gimmick would have stopped swinging their torsos? Hell no. You’d have to pry them from their cold, dead hips.

Er. . . But, taken hypothetically that Trumpism dodges all of those factors and there is not a quick death. Trump is reelected for a second bite at the apple that he does not deserve, his first one having already revealed the rot not in the fruit but in the man biting it. The quick death scenario is forestalled but only temporarily. It is still a perfectly plausible event to occur after the postponement.

Indeed, the idea of Trumpism surviving Trump would be contrary to the modern habit of our politics, in which each new quadrennial election brings a revision of one or both major parties. So the question of survival beyond a quick death practically reverses the question. What would it take for Trumpism to survive beyond Trump?

For one, it would require coherence. There would have to be more than a madman’s tweets to sustain it beyond the end of Trump’s tenure. There would have to be adherents who understand that underlying policy and are prepared to defend it, rather than merely covering for their bumbling and cantankerous leader. The weight would have to transfer to a new fulcrum and away from Trump himself. Which makes it all the less likely, as they do not have enough coordination in the organizations at work that can develop such a policy background. And even if they did, Trump would never stand to be anything but the center of gravity of his weird little world.

Short of that transference, there would need be an heir-apparent, some personality akin to Trump that would be available to take up the chicken bucket. Thus far, there are a number of celebrity figures of that dungeon of the political and entertainment world, but none have shown the kind of appeal that Trump has. Which, I admit, gives Trump a certain amount of credit for being better than most at a certain kind of act.

Trump developed his celebrity rich kid status over decades, and he spent all of that credit to get where he is today. Even if he gave another the Trump endorsement, could somehow stand to let the spotlight shift, it’s not clear it would do them much good without the very particular set of attributes that allowed fools to latch onto Trump.

More likely is the kind of schism seen in major religions and countries that do not hold elections—a war of succession. And that is the second way that Trumpism may die. It may happen even if the death is quick, and it may be among the reasons that all the Republicans are sticking to Trump—they want to be ready to pick sides in the aftermath, not losing any positioning.

But schisms are generally reserved for when the resulting factions are the only options. In a Trumpist schism, there would still be some kind of regular Republican party, there would be the Democrats, plus at least two Trumpists trying to claim the chicken buckets mantle. And while Trump could try to rally the followers to one of them, he’s likely to fail. He will no longer be the magic-maker for those fools, and they will have their own opinions of who the new one should be.

(But I really don’t see Trump handing over the chicken bucket. Maybe for the right price, but even then he’s known to do a slack job and to be ready to slander those whom he ostensibly seeks to boost (see several examples in Republican candidates he endorsed in special elections since 2016).)


Trumpism will die, I have no doubt, because it is entirely propped up by Trump. The followers don’t really have any belief beyond liking Trump. There’s nothing to keep it going now that the scam has gotten him paid, and even if he wanted to, he won’t have an endgame other than selling straws and dreck (but maybe he gets to put his name on a tall building in Moscow, Russian Federation).

On the other hand, many of the ideas that Trump employs, which are not Trumpism but rebranded constructs of the Republican party, will not die so swiftly. They will only be solved when all people feel secure, that they will have a place in society and an equal status independent of their employment or other acquired characteristics. That day is yet to be scheduled, but one supposes it will come.

What to Do If Your Leader is Racist?

There are a few different elements to the recent racist display by the president. For one, it was an offense against Massachusetts’ 7th district, Michigan’s 12th district, Minnesota’s 5th district, and New York’s 14th district. The people there chose these representatives, whom the president is free to have political disagreements with, but he’s injuring the basic principles of the nation when he disrespects their constituents.

More importantly, the president is supposed to serve those constituents as much as anyone, so his disrespect is doubled (once for the direct offense and again for the failure as one of their leaders). While some representatives sometimes have reason to be condemned by colleagues or the president, those condemnations must always be careful not to diminish the rightfully owed respect to the constituents.

There are a few noble Republicans who have stood up in objection to the president’s racism. Good on them. Whatever your politics, it’s self-evident that racism has no place.

The racism of the president and the support of those Republicans who backed his statements including Lindsay Graham and Kellyanne Conway are unacceptable. All people have the right to criticize the government. They have the right to prefer different policies, even communism if they choose. While the racists have every right to be racist, racism is stupid and they are stupid for being racist.

The third set of Republicans bothered to condemn the racism but stopped short of calling it racist or pulled out the same both-sides-bullshit that Trump has used before. This is also wrong. It is wrong not to recognize it as racist, because it disconnects the act from the series of acts that constitute the racist legacies of the nation and the world. It is wrong to engage in both-sides because it pretends that the president’s offense was at all justifiable. There is no excuse for his stooping.

The final group of Republicans have stayed silent. This is the group I find most curious. The title of this piece poses a question that I mean. The prospect of confronting a racist president of their own party is not what anyone imagines going into politics. It is surely a difficult position to be in.

As we have seen with the likes of Paul Ryan, once out of office the attitudes of Republicans tend to shift in curious ways. But while in office, for a variety of reasons, they tend to be comfort creatures, closely following what they believe is the politically correct path. I honestly believe most Republicans would jump at the chance to change course, if they knew how and if it weren’t particularly risky to their careers.

Doing the right thing is often risky. It means, for example, that you might end up with a racist president when you share the choice of government with your fellow man and they completely fuck it up. But there is justice in error, that sooner or later the mistakes will cause sufficient motivation to correct course. Which doesn’t answer the question. What do you do?

Quit the party? Go the way of Justin Amash (who also condemned the president’s racism, but had earlier quit over the president’s well-documented instances of obstruction of justice in the Mueller Report)? He’s lonesome, for now. Maybe he’ll be in a position to redecorate the Republican cloakroom when the party finally collapses.

You could seek legislative common ground with Democrats focused on issues of racial and economic justice. Find ways to fight racism one paycheck, one housing bill, one voter registration measure, one educational program at a time.

What else? Ask your colleagues. We know you talk. Talk to the Democrats. Tell them you can’t but you want to do something. I’m sure they’ll be sympathetic, if not a little pissed off you won’t condemn racism. Politics is hard, but the alternative is monarchy, which sucked far worse.


I was reading a ProPublica piece with some first-hand color from a border patrol agent (ProPublica: Ginger Thompson: 16 July 2019: “A Border Patrol Agent Reveals What It’s Really Like to Guard Migrant Children”), and it reminded me a lot of George Orwell’s “Shooting an Elephant” (maybe it was the reference in the piece to Benjamin the donkey in Animal Farm).

I think that’s a lot of what the Republican problem is. While they’re in office, they’ve got that elephant rifle, and there’s the elephant. They do not know better than to shoot the elephant. The lack of imagination, of any other option that they have any idea how it could turn out. They shoot the elephant.

Minimum Wage and Public Policy

There’s the Fight for $15, and there’s always been a push and pushback around minimum wage laws. It’s a good example of the problems and failures with public policy debates.

Some jobs should be destroyed

An important problem that the minimum wage deals with effectively is work that should not be done or cannot be done in a way that sustains a worker. We can’t pay someone to cut grass by hand (with scissors), for example. It’s a job that’s not going to happen. Even for a modestly sized lawn, you would have to work seven days a week, using ambidextrous scissors with both hands, working 12 hour days, and you still wouldn’t the the lawn cut before it grew higher still. The wage that would be required, as you would need at least four or six ambidextrous lawn cutters, would be so low that nobody could afford to do the job.

So, any discussion of minimum wage must deal with this first issue. That minimum wage effectively (and graciously) rules out some jobs that we must either find alternatives to accomplish or leave undone or make subsidiary to more pronounced jobs that are economically sustainable.

To put it another way, when an opinion or study talks about “job destruction” from minimum wages, we must not immediately light a candle, but ask if those jobs that might be destroyed (and, one imagines, eviscerated, mutilated, and dumped without a proper burial) are jobs that anyone should be doing. They aren’t economically productive enough to pay someone the minimum wage!

Are there non-economically-productive jobs that should be done? Yes and no. There are jobs that aren’t directly producing revenue, like school teachers and firefighters, but they are either investments or protections against loss. They are very important and those workers, often public servants, deserve at least a minimum wage. Often they are underpaid precisely because of the imbalanced mindset of work, where jobs that aren’t moneymakers are seen as inferior and undeserving of better wages.

The same problem in carbon

We see the same problem in carbon that we see in the minimum wage. You have what is effectively a negative externality to nonregulation—that in the case of minimum wage is the allowance for undesirable work to be performed at a substandard wage. In the case of carbon, you allow for the release of CO₂ for industrial processes that don’t merit the release (this also extends to other forms of pollution).

But then you start getting into what constitutes useful work and what doesn’t. People say they don’t want the government to pick winners and losers. Instead of gatekeeping, though, the beauty of a price floor is that it makes no moral or aesthetic judgements. It simply lets things that can’t cross the boundary bang their heads and fall down. They could either become efficient enough to cross the boundary, or they could be subsidized by charity or other arrangements (e.g., through advertising or alternative monetizations).

This sans-judgement approach is one of the reasons so many people see value in UBI or freedom dividends or whatever you’d like to call them. They similarly come without strings, and they supplant a lot of other programs (which either come with strings by their nature or because nanny-state Republicans seek to impose their morals on the poor).

The same problem in prisons and detention centers

The costs of holding people is already high, but often the conditions are lousy. Overcrowding, in particular, is a chronic problem. If the standards of conditions were higher, and if the costs of holding people were higher, it would force society to make smarter decisions about who should be imprisoned and for how long.

In lieu of prison or jail, some crimes would be decriminalized, or some sentences would be curtailed. In other cases, rehabilitation would be improved to lessen the chance of recidivism. But when conditions are poor or the costs too low, society tends to overincarcerate.


The bottom line is that for capitalism to work, it must have guard rails. If you don’t have minimum wage, fine, but then you need some alternative that basically sets down an ante that firms have to meet to hire people. (In poker, antes and blinds are used to make playing cost something so that action is forced; it can and should have similar effects in other capitalist systems.)

In general, one would prefer to find ways to make the basic flows and forces of capitalism work to the advantage of the whole system. The current regulatory systems often fail to do that, but the Republicans tend to take the wrong approach to redress this: simply eradicating regulation (while their other hand puts up regulations, but only on things they don’t like that benefit the poor or other groups they dislike, including women). Until we have a party that both recognizes the necessity of guard rails and the existence of in-built forces to erect those rails, we’re stuck in a limbo of misregulation or nonregulation.

Word Salad for the Fourth

Just some random thoughts. Like, don’t put flags on sneakers. Shoes wear out, the flag’s supposed to endure, man. And what the hell are they spending all this money on flying planes over stuff, like it’s some trick. Planes are supposed to fly. Jump a motorcycle over the Lincoln Memorial if you want to impress me (would cost less, too).

They just spent weeks on emergency funding to (hopefully) improve conditions (Republicans said no to actually requiring them to, which is already part of the law and part of the Flores agreement and part of our treaty obligations), and now let’s just waste a bunch of money on a stupid pep rally for the president’s ego.

And now they’re trying to save the citizenship question on the census. If they had done it properly from the start, doing the required study period and all that, we could maybe have a question, but you can’t just break the law to suit a bunch of partisan donors who want to feel like they can buy our governments (state and federal). Not at all how it works.

“And on your way home from Japan, honey, could you cross into enemy territory for a political stunt for me?” Why in the hell did the president go to North Korea? And did he have a visa or did he visit illegally?

The conservatives are usually the ones that oppose messing with the flag. They always call for amendments against flag burning. But putting flags on sneakers is so patriotic, I guess. In other countries they think shoes are insulting, like that guy who threw his shoes at President George W. Bush. Somehow the corporations made Americans believe shoes are cars for your feet and should be flashy and expensive and have sound systems and hydraulics.

Anyway, only 69 weeks until the 2020 election. Just enough time to have a bunch of primary debates, a bunch of primaries, two conventions, some general election debates, some (probably, unfortunately) Russian government disinformation about how. . . who knows? They want it to be a surprise, I guess. “Surprise, we aren’t busy enough making miserable the Russian people, so we want to spread the misery around you see.”

But still deserving of compassion. Dictators are the saddest people. They can trust nobody. They can help nobody without the person thinking they now owe a favor to the dictator. I mean, if they see a person trying to open a jar of pickles and they help, now that person thinks they might have to go infiltrate the NRA because of the pickle jar thing.

They are utterly trapped because if they give up power they will be killed by the next dictator or the people whose families they murdered. Best case scenario for a dictator is a long life in prison, and outside of a few countries most have awful prisons, especially the dictatorships. It is a very sad thing, dictators.

The question is, naturally, whether it is that set of circumstances that makes dictators so awful, or whether the dictators are awful to begin with. Nature or nurture? The answer is obviously a combination, like with everything else.

But maybe we should have a dictator awareness day where we recognize how shitty it must be to be a dictator, so that nobody in the future will make the mistake of being one. “Just say no thank you to being a dictator.”

And in some ways, in the USA, we do. It’s Independence Day, where we remember that it’s worth it to tell dictators to fuck right off. It’s not easy, but it can be done. We’re living proof that they stay away, at least awhile.

Anyway, happy belated Independence Day.