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The President Is Right - He Is Winning

Our current president likes to talk about how he is winning. If you detach from the chaos and the barrage of news items surrounding the White House, it appears that he may be right. However, it largely depends on how you define victory.

Let’s look at the evidence.

Intimidating Immigrants. The New York Times reports today that immigrants hoping for permanent residence in the US are “dropping out of public nutrition programs” for fear of jeopardizing their citizenship eligibility. I’m certain the current president would consider this a double victory--getting people off public assistance as well as stoking terror in the immigrant community.

Now, it should be noted that the Department of Homeland Security’s new policy (considering people’s use of public benefits in green card and visa applications) remains in draft. Still, it is interesting that in 2014 a similar practice of requiring applicants to affirm their citizenship was implemented in Indiana which was governed by--you guessed it--possible future president Mike Pence.

Gorsuch and Tax Cuts. When mainstream Republicans are asked why they continue to support the current president, they cite his appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and the December tax law. While it is questionable to call the first a victory when all he had to do was pick from a predetermined list of conservative candidates and send it on to a Republican Senate, it is likely that the newest Justice will help the Court deliver on a number of issues to make the party members quiver with delight. As I mentioned in my previous post, Gorsuch will almost certainly deliver the deciding vote in a case against public sector unions, thus offering a major blow to a key Democratic constituency. And he has several decades of tenure ahead of him on the Court.

As for the tax cuts, I suppose when a president has one major legislative accomplishment a year, he might as well consider it a win, especially given the positive impact the law will have on his family’s bottom line.

Removing Republican Dissenters. Hail to Jeff Flake! Hail to Bob Corker! What do they have in common? Both Republican Senators decided they couldn’t remain in a party that is loyal to the current president. There are a number of representatives in the House who have made similar calculations. So these brave public servants stood up to extremism, right? Perhaps that is so, but it’s not altogether true. It is more likely that Flake, Corker, and others decided that they would not be likely to win a primary against the current president’s devoted “base.” So it was better to step down with honor rather than risk reelection defeat.

Senator Lindsay Graham provides an illustrative counter-example. In the past, he was on record as denouncing the current president, but during the first 14 months of the administration, he has worked with him in efforts to repeal the Affordable Health Care Act and conveniently didn’t notice or comment when the current president made his comment about “shithole countries”. What the examples of Flake, Corker, and Graham show is that the current Republican party allows limited dissent. Either you’re with the current president or you’re out.

My readers are no doubt saying--This is what you call winning?? Especially with the Mueller investigation closing in and key White House staff members departing almost daily? With China in global ascendance while a number of US diplomatic posts unfilled? With Russia certain to meddle in this year’s election? Etc..

Well, I am sure the current president considers himself a winner on these and other measures. But as I mentioned, the problem is how victory is defined. Are you a winner if your tax cuts largely benefit the most wealthy? I guess so, if that represents virtually everyone you know. Did you win if half the country or more is not so keen on your new Justice? Yes, if the majority of your party is satisfied and tells you so. Are you successful when you remove core benefits from legal immigrants? Why not; they didn’t vote for you.

While presidents in the past have largely sought to achieve success for the country as a whole, the current president and many of his allies define victory as getting rid of your opponents, sticking it to your enemy Chuck Schumer by withdrawing support for the Gateway Tunnel, and threatening those he perceives as weaker.

As I’ve stated repeatedly, the core problem is not with the current president; none of his actions should be a shock, as he has been a known quantity for decades. Rather, the issue is that a Flake or Corker cannot challenge party orthodoxy and remain a viable politician. The party enforces the uncomfortable obsequiousness of Lindsay Graham and Paul Ryan in place of an independent-minded voice that might hold the current president more accountable. By that measure, he is indeed “winning.”

What might those of us do to start our own winning streak? The best answer is long, painstaking, and unsurprising--Everyone must exercise his or her right to vote, in every primary and general election. Support organizations that work to end gerrymandering and enforce voting rights for all. Don’t stop paying attention to the Mueller investigation and read the current president’s tweets if you want to, but go deeper into the news. The party in power is fighting to maintain a chokehold on power, wealth, and privilege at the expense of those with more limited means. Don’t let this happen without a fight.

Political winning streaks don’t go on forever. Republicans controlled national politics throughout the 1920s--until FDR helped lead a new coalition. Democrats had a stranglehold on the House of Representatives for 30 years starting in the 1960s--until Gingrich toppled this hierarchy. Republicans didn’t even exist as a party until the 1850s, then Abraham Lincoln won two elections.

There is one final way that the current president is coming out on top. A recent survey of historians named him the worst president ever. That’s one way to become a winner.

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