A Week in Review: A Window on 2016 and 2017

BY MARTIN KICH

Each week The Hill distributes a newsletter called Sunday Show Wrap-Up.

Ahead of this week’s shows, I think that it is instructive to review the headlines and summaries from last week, collectively gathered under the heading “Spotlight Shines on Trump Travel Ban.” Please skim the list, which sets up some extended commentary in the second half of this post:

McConnell: ‘Best to Avoid Criticizing Judges Individually’

By Alexander Bolton

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R­Ky.) on Sunday tacitly criticized President Trump for blasting a federal judge for ruling against an executive order barring visitors from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

McConnell said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that it is “best to avoid criticizing judges individually.”

GOP Senator: “We Don’t Have Any So­Called Judges”

By Mallory Shelbourne

Sen. Ben Sasse (R­Neb.) on Sunday rejected President Donald Trump’s attack on the federal judge who halted his travel ban, saying there are only “real  judges.”

Pence Defends Trump for “Speaking His Mind” after Attack on Judge

By Max Greenwood

Vice President Pence on Saturday defended President Trump following his criticism of a federal judge, arguing the president was simply “speaking his  mind.”

Pence: Judge “Certainly” Has Right to Halt Travel Ban

By Mallory Shelbourne

“He certainly does, and that’s why the administration is complying with that order as we speak,” Pence told ABC’s “This Week” in a pre­taped interview that aired  Sunday.

Christie: Trump Deserves Credit for Reversing Course on Original “Muslim Ban

By Mallory Shelbourne

Gov. Chris Christie (R-­NJ) on Sunday said President Donald Trump “deserves credit” for moving way from the original Muslim ban he proposed during his election campaign, but said he would recommend an “even more tailored” executive order.

Pence: Trump’s Early Days Are “Days of Action”

By Mallory Shelbourne

Vice President Mike Pence in an interview broadcast early Sunday brushed off criticism of President Donald Trump’s travel ban and its rollout, saying the early days of the new administration will be viewed as “days of action.”

Feinstein: Trump Splitting the Nation Apart

By Kyle Balluck

“You’ve got people in the streets here,” she said. “This president has not brought this nation together.”

Clinton Ally: Trump Igniting Passion in Opposition Never Seen Before

By Mallory Shelbourne

Jen Palmieri called the beginning of President Donald Trump’s administration “just chaos” and argued officials are poorly implementing bad policy.

Pence on Russia: ‘We’re Watching’

By Kyle Balluck

Vice President Mike Pence in an interview broadcast Sunday would not say Russia is “on notice” over violating the ceasefire in Ukraine, a phrase President Trump and administration officials used last week while referring to Iran.

McConnell Breaks with Trump on Putin

By Alexander Bolton

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R­Ky.) on Sunday said he doesn’t view Russian President Vladimir Putin the same way as President Trump  does.

Pence Dodges on ‘Red Line’ for Iran

By Kyle Balluck

“As the president said … all options are on the table, “ Pence said on “Fox News Sunday” when asked how far the White House is willing to go its response to  Iran.

Ryan: Iran Deal Will Likely Stay in Place

By Nikita Vladimirov

“A lot of that toothpaste is already out of the tube. I never supported the deal in the first place.   I thought it was a huge mistake, but the multilateral sanctions are done,” Ryan said in an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press” airing Sunday.

Pence Confident Gorsuch Will Be Confirmed to by Senate

By Kyle Balluck

“No associate justice to the Supreme Court in American history has ever faced a successful filibuster. And Neil Gorsuch should not be the first,” he  said.

Sanders: Gorsuch Needs 60 Votes to Pass the Senate

By Alexander Bolton

“This is a major, major nomination. It should require 60 votes and a very serious debate,” Sanders said on CNN’s “State of the Union”, echoing the statements of Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D­N.Y.) and other Democratic  colleagues.

McConnell: No Federal Money for Voter Fraud Probe

By Alexander Bolton

“Election fraud does occur,” he told CNN’s “State of the Union.” But he added that “there’s no evidence that occurred in such a significant number that it would have changed the presidential election.”

Barney Frank: Trump’s Order “Doesn’t Do Anything

By Nikita Vladimirov

Former Rep. Barney Frank (D­Mass.) in an interview Sunday criticized President Trump for his plans to target his namesake Dodd­Frank financial reform law.

Pelosi Dodges on Need for New Democratic Leadership

By Alexander Bolton

“We have plenty of room for all kinds of leadership at every level. Right now we need experience as well as new leadership,” she said.

Bernie­Wear All the Rage on Paris Fashion Runways

By Alexander Bolton

“I think that of my many attributes, being a great dresser or fashion maven is not one of them,” Sanders said on CNN’s “State of the  Union.”

 

There are several takeaways from these items.

Most obviously, Republicans are generally trying to have it both ways on Trump—criticizing his more outrageous comments and actions but voting in lock-step in support of just about every one of his cabinet nominees. Progressives cannot get caught in the tidal wave of daily nonsense and lose track of either the public statements or the votes. Republicans need to be held very pointedly to account on both. They have to be made to “own” what Trump is saying and doing—and what they are endorsing, and the contradictions between what they might say and what they end up doing must be highlighted relentlessly. That is, progressives do need to start adopting some of the more successful political tactics of the Right. And they must avoid taking seriously any suggestion, especially from the Right, that adopting some of these strategies will not work for them because they are somehow misconstruing what the GOP is doing. They need to ignore chastisements that they are being “too negative.”

Having said all that, it is also true that the main issue of the 2016 campaign continues to go unaddressed: that is, progressives remain in reaction mode, defining themselves by what they oppose or by what they are not, rather than defining themselves by what they are and by what they stand for. We cannot seem to do both things at once, and that, in a nutshell, is why our message seems incomplete.

The concluding item on “Bernie-Wear” is cute but one of only three items with even a partial Democratic focus. The party needs to stand for some very well-defined key ideas that all of the candidates who wish to be considered for national office are willing to embrace. If there are divergences of opinion, they need to be on how best to realize those ideas or on less significant issues. Moreover, the Republican party is starting to confront the reality that eight years of simply being against everything that Obama proposed has not actually forced them to develop counter-proposals. “Un-government” may sound compelling in think-tank colloquia and on the campaign trail, but as a fundamental principle of government, it is, at best, an oxymoron. With astonishing consistency, Trump’s cabinet nominees are on the record as disdaining the federal departments that they are now charged with leading. One suspects that we are shortly going to find out how, exactly, one governs by eliminating the mechanisms of government. It seems a sure path to absolute chaos, and worse, once the chaos erupts, there will be far fewer and less effective mechanisms still in place to contain it.

The item in this list that quotes the Clinton ally on the passion that Trump’s presidency has ignited among progressives is full of largely unintended ironies that must be recognized and confronted. Most notably, it would have been nice if Hillary had been able to ignite any comparable level of passion among progressives ahead of the election, and it remains to be seen whether those now protesting will go en masse to the polls in 2018 and 2020. That some significant number of those protesting Trump’s election victory and inauguration had not bothered to vote, or even to register to vote, in 2016 was not simply Far Right propaganda.

The Democratic party needs to start getting its many younger office holders in front of the cameras. They will benefit from the exposure and the experience, and the party can determine more concretely who is likely to be a successful national candidate. And the same thing needs to be occurring on the state and local level. In the PBS documentary series on the Roosevelts, there was a very telling revelation about FDR’s early career. Even though he knew that he would be initially running for a seat in the state legislature that was practically guaranteed to any member of his extended family who wished to stand for it, he spent two years prior to his first run as a candidate attending and speaking at all sorts of civic events throughout that district. Mass media and social media have significantly changed how we campaign, but the value of preparing oneself to be a successful candidate and public figure has not really changed as dramatically.

For those who wondered aloud how the “most powerful nation on earth,” with a population approaching 350 million, could end up with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as the major-party nominees for president, one answer is that we are not demanding that candidates go through this learning process and demonstrate that they have actually learned from it. Despite all of her extensive experience in government and her unquestionable commitment to public service—despite all of her intelligence and her deep grasp of issues and policy–Hillary Clinton never really learned how to be an engaging political candidate. Although Bill Clinton’s political skills were as much an asset to Hillary as some of his policies as president became a burden to her, the contrast between the two of them on the campaign trail reinforced the notion that she is “unlikeable,” or at least “awkward” or “aloof.”

In contrast, Donald Trump is the embodiment of the Right’s professed disdain for “professional” politicians, which has its own very clear liabilities. This professed disdain has never actually been advanced on the national level, but, in many states, it has meant that staffers and lobbyists actually run things because by the time a legislator begins to figure things out, he or she is term-limited: that is, the disdain for “professional” politicians has meant that many state governments are dominated, in effect, by bureaucratic and corporate professionals, rather than by “professional” politicians. One can see the results in the ballooning deficits mostly in Red states where the maxim that tax cuts on corporations and the wealthy generate greater state revenue by stimulating economic growth is being very consistently disproven. But in this last national election, this ideological motif lead GOP voters (and some crossover voters) to choose a glib reality-show host with a very dubious record as a businessman, with consistently inconsistent views on just about every issue, and with no experience whatsoever in holding public office at any level of government to assume what is arguably the most complex and demanding political office in the world. Even if it is madness, it is predictable madness.

 

Postscript: In the second paragraph from the end, I focused on the major party candidates for president. I will add here that despite receiving far less scrutiny from the media and from voters, Gary Johnson and Jill Stein proved to be very weak alternatives to Clinton and Trump, even if Clinton and Trump were historically weak major-party candidates. Johnson demonstrated, repeatedly, that he was woefully ignorant about international issues, and Stein, ever in search of a photo-op, seemed to swing dramatically between being the candidate of positive and increasingly mainstream progressive values and a sort of lunatic-fringe radicalism. It became very clear that fuller exposure would not have helped either of these candidates, and their supporters, who were able to provide lengthy litanies of Trump’s and Clinton’s disqualifying flaws, were typically unwilling to look beyond a handful of issues on which they ardently embraced Johnson’s or Stein’s positions.

 

2 thoughts on “A Week in Review: A Window on 2016 and 2017

  1. Prof. Kich, I agree with you on so many of your posts. But perpetuating the idea of Sen. Clinton as a poor candidate (“unlikeable, awkward” etc) is just wrong. She was the 1st choice of the majority of voters in this country. It is the Electoral College that has thrown us into a national crisis, plus the many progressive voters who didn’t bother to vote. To not like an outstanding candidate because of their “personality” is like middle school. Time for us to act our age.

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