Op-Ed | America’s New Regime: Wisconsin, Not Trump or Putin

The lurking power in the frozen north pulling the strings behind the Trump Administration is not the Russians but the Wisconsin Republicans.

After completely blindsiding the Democratic Party and the entire Clinton machinery, the U.S. state of Wisconsin has suddenly become the center of gravity of the coming unobstructed period of Republican governance.

The importance of Wisconsin, part of the country since 1783 and a state since 1848, goes well beyond the Democrats losing the state in November 2016 for the first time since 1988.

The fact that the margin was about 22,000 votes has garnered the upper midwestern Rust Belt state national, if not global attention due to the recount effort.

The Wisconsin takeover

Donald Trump, a lifelong New York City figure, has appointed Reince Priebus as his White House Chief of Staff. Whoever occupies that position effectively runs the Presidential administration day to day and works to advance the policy agenda of the White House.

The position is all the more crucial, given that Donald Trump, the 45th President of the United States, is temperamentally disinterested in any of the details of governance.

Indeed, he is expected to spend much of his time at Trump Tower in New York, not at the White House in Washington, where all the executive offices are located.

We can thus expect Priebus to take the reins of the executive branch fairly firmly. In that respect, he will be similar to Vice President Dick Cheney – under George W. Bush’s first term – who had previously served as White House Chief of Staff under the accidental president Gerald Ford in the mid-1970s.

Who is Reince Priebus, the “inside” President?

Priebus is the highly effective outgoing Republican National Committee Chairman and the former Wisconsin Republican Chairman.

A skilled party operator, Priebus is widely credited with preventing a cataclysmic split between the more fanatical base elements – particularly the Tea Party movement in 2010 – and other key factions of the Republican Party, such as Big Business interests and Christian/Catholic Conservatives.

Priebus did this first in 2010 in Wisconsin, which led to the election of two hardline business-backed and religious conservatives Governor Scott Walker and Senator. Ron Johnson.

Skilled in Washington skirmishes

Priebus then moved on to Washington, to right the ship at the national Republican Party. In the national capital, he brought the same bridge-building skills to the fore.

He stayed focused on his mission, despite the Republicans’ 2012 presidential defeat and the centrifugal forces that threatened to rip the party apart.

Middle man between Trump and the establishment

Priebus was also the rare Republican Party establishment figure who managed to work reasonably well with Donald Trump throughout the chaos of the campaign.

Priebus was seen as someone who stayed on message in the media and kept Congressional Republicans and state Republicans all looped in.

With Republicans controlling all branches and most states, this will prove to be an invaluable asset. As White House Chief of Staff, Priebus can now move to consolidate the policy agenda rapidly, before any serious opposition can materialize and organize.

Wisconsin man No. 2: Speaker of the House

But the Wisconsin power does not stop there. House Speaker Paul Ryan, the 2012 Republican nominee for Vice President (another victory for the promoters of the Wisconsin GOP), will preside over reliable and hardline Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress.

Ryan will likely play the role of Prime Minister to a more hand’s-off President Trump. A policy-driven man, he has already announced a very ambitious hardline Republican agenda for the first 100 days.

His agenda includes such policies as privatization of the Medicare public health insurance system for senior citizens. National anti-union “right to work” laws can be anticipated soon, based on Wisconsin law.

Ryan is also a very socially conservative Catholic. He can be expected to seek rollbacks of social liberalism, whether on abortion rights or other matters.

Wisconsin man No. 3: A Republican Senate Chairman

In the Senate, Kentucky Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had retained his title. However, all eyes are already turning to Senator Ron Johnson of … Wisconsin.

Johnson won a surprise re-election victory this year over Russ Feingold after unseating him six years ago. Johnson appealed to the Tea Party and used his manufacturing industry wealth to self-fund his first campaign.

He bridges the Tea Party, big business, Wisconsin Catholics & Evangelicals, and (as a tough Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee Chair) the anti-immigrant faction.

Johnson has told the media he intends to push a Wisconsin-style “civil service reform” package at the federal level in his Government Affairs role.

That plan amounts to breaking up the public employee unions of the DC/Maryland/Virginia area and beyond. (Other major hubs are in places like California, the Democrats’ national baseline stronghold at this point.)

Why would he go after that target? Public sector unions are a major force in Democratic Party politics and (among Democratic-leaning other constituencies) the black middle class.

Assuming Johnson retains all his current Senate committee assignments, he is in a strong position to advance the Wisconsin bloc’s agenda and the Trump agenda.

As Homeland Security and Government Affairs chair, he will be partially in charge of the anti-undocumented immigrant push and construction of any border wall.

He is also on the subcommittee for “Government Investigations” and the subcommittee for “Regulatory Affairs.”

As a member of the Senate Budget Committee, he will likely champion Speaker Ryan’s House-originated budgetary proposals.

He is also a high-profile climate change denier who serves on Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation and its specific Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard.

Wisconsin man No. 4: Chairman of the Republican Governors Association

Remarkably, there is yet a fourth power player from Wisconsin – the aforementioned hardline Republican Governor Scott Walker. An early dropout candidate of the 2016 U.S. presidential race, he just became the Chairman of the Republican Governors Association.

That position matters at the national level way beyond intra-party matters. Republicans, with 33 governor posts, will hold an even larger majority of the 50 governorships come January than they already do (31).

This will make the association a critical force of support for the nationwide implementation of a sweeping Republican agenda.

Governor Walker is also the primary driver in Wisconsin of the radically conservative union-busting and abortion rights rollback agenda that conservative groups (including the Koch Brothers) pilot-tested heavily in the legislature there before expanding to other states.

The gift of a historic opportunity

Democrats and the American people can rest assured that Republicans will make the utmost of the rather unexpected opportunity that they now hold the keys to all relevant levers of power in Washington, D.C. and much of the nation.

Republicans realize that this is a once-in-a-generation – if not once-in-a-lifetime – opportunity to remake the country in their image and according to their policy predilections.

Republican Party operatives are likely to be all the more focused and forceful in executing their change agenda since they, too, are painfully aware of the significant demographic changes in the U.S. electorate.

Republicans play for keeps

Despite the sweeping outcome in 2016, Republicans do know that with their hostility to multiculturalism they may well be the party that is facing a structural minority among voters in the nation.

But to Republicans, that is all the more reason to lay the groundwork now to make an eventual, probably inevitable takeover by Democrats all the harder – or less meaningful, if and when it happens.

The U.S. Constitution already has significant and disproportionate benefits built in for rural areas and hence Republicans (witness the structure of the U.S. Senate and the Electoral College, to name but two factors).

More informal measures, such as eliminating voting rights enforcement at the Justice Department, can do as much damage to the cause of true representation.

The fact that the U.S. Supreme Court, as the ultimate arbiter of such changes, is going to be firmly in Republican hands for decades to come makes all of this insidious anti-democratic change (with a little “d”) all the more problematic over the long term.

The relevance of Wisconsin, again

As a matter of fact, the Wisconsin election outcome this year is somewhat of a national microcosm of problems for the Democratic Party.

If its operatives had been a bit more realistic, the 2016 election outcome ought not to have been as much of a surprise as it was.

Midterm year elections in the state kept producing embarrassing defeats for Democrats, even if by close margins. Republican success at implementing very strict voter ID laws – which Democrats have complained about but not mobilized against meaningfully – served them very well.

The Clinton campaign’s decision not to campaign in the state (despite counting on it for the Electoral College and despite losing it in the primary to Bernie Sanders) also was a fatal error.

Together, those two factors appear to have worked in tandem to depress urban turnout by several times more than the margin of victory for Trump and even for Senator Johnson.

Democratic Party candidate-endorsing labor unions in the state of Wisconsin have also expressed frustration after the November election. They had essentially been left to fend for themselves in organizing campaign efforts and messaging in the state.

The wider lesson of Wisconsin

Ever since 2010, when Governor Scott Walker took over the reins of the state, Wisconsin has incubated a radically conservative agenda for full Republican control of all branches.

Democrats at the state level were left perplexed and repeatedly botched the response even as they rallied public sympathy.

That serves Republicans as the template for the implementation of their — now nation-wide — strategy.

The odds of success are fully visible: Wisconsin Republicans now control virtually the whole machinery of the country’s government, under and around President Donald Trump.

Democrats better not falter again if they want to have any hope of seeing the remainder of the New Deal, Great Society and Obama legacy spared the chopping block.

Originally published at The Globalist.

Op-Ed: Trump Inherits the Surveillance State

Among the many terrible things that will ensue under the capricious whims of President-elect Donald Trump, there is one that should be particularly chilling, in that it could prevent effective opposition to his administration’s awful policies.

Consider that Donald Trump would not merely have the nuclear codes — which he probably wouldn’t use — but also the keys to the mass surveillance apparatus and special federal counterterrorism legal systems that we constructed in our post-9/11 national panic and strengthened ever since.

It is widely known that these tools have been used to monitor, break up and crush protests over the past decade and a half — on issues from racial justice and police reform to economic inequality and environmental activism.

Now he arrives in power, which brings access to the FBI’s protest organizer surveillance records, with the support of the nation’s police unions who have shown themselves only too happy to break out the pepper spray, batons, attack dogs, smoke grenades and armored vehicles at the first sign of constitutionally protected peaceful assembly.

No outsiders, no insiders

There won’t be any mass marches on Washington under that system if it is controlled by President-elect Trump. He has demonstrated repeatedly that he is nothing if not a rapid-response master, even to the smallest of slights and most token of opposition.

There also won’t be mass resistance by the military or the CIA, either, if he gives deeply disturbing orders.

For one, it is seriously naive to think there is not a pretty large contingent inside both organizations that agrees with Trump sincerely. This is not a baseless slam against either organization, but an acknowledgment that they — at minimum — represent a broad cross-section of the same population (particularly on the conservative side) that elected Trump.

The track record on preventing abuses in the field — while never particularly great in the grand arc of U.S. history — has been especially problematic during the Global War on Terror.

“Just following orders,” the mantra of Vietnam-era atrocities, is certainly not less likely to make a comeback under a Trump commander-in-chief.

The Department of Homeland Security is also highly unlikely to oppose Donald Trump’s deportation agenda. His deportation and border walls platform was enthusiastically supported by the unions representing border guards and immigration agents.

There is no accelerationism effect

Some have — before the election at least — floated the bizarre notion that a Trump presidency will wake up the country and compel it at long last to get its act together to stop the extreme strains he represents. Some had even suggested voting for him as a means of taking the country over the cliff into mandatory self-reflection.

Perhaps there was some small window between the Cold War and the rise of internet-enabled mass telecommunication surveillance when someone like Trump – perhaps a Pat Buchanan-type – could have won the presidency and not wreaked irreparable havoc, but rather “inoculated” the country against repeating the error. (I doubt it, but perhaps.)

Under a Trump presidency in 2017 and beyond, however, there is not going to be a mass awakening — because he will be able to disrupt it very easily with the tools our country has foolishly given the current and previous presidents.

A lot of people will suffer badly even if he holds office for only four years.

And of course it is not clear that it will be only four years. Remember the hubris of American liberals who, when faced with the shocking defeat in 2000, concluded it would be a cakewalk to make George W. Bush a one-term president?

Originally published at The Globalist.

oh no

Well we did not record a new episode of the show this week because we would have had to record before the election for broadcast today after the presidential election. I guess it’s good we planned it like that because, well, there was a catastrophically terrible surprise outcome as you might have heard.

We should be back on the air next week. Also I guess I hope to be able to return to writing here daily, which I still had not been doing, due to ongoing election commitments.

Early thoughts

Horrific outcome tonight. Mass collective action is probably the only path ahead for the next year or two at least. Early thoughts: The number one contingent most responsible for Donald Trump winning is people (not necessarily whom the media expected) who voted for Donald Trump. Don’t blame others first. (This wasn’t third parties and wasn’t about young people.) Second most responsible: All who systematically disenfranchised and suppressed voters over decades or didn’t do much to stop it.

I’ll leave for another time the rest of my reaction but the third most responsible group are the people whose strategy failed tonight as it has failed so many downballot races over the past 22 years. I don’t know what the future direction of the Democratic Party is – but it can’t be more of this. The environment, the economy, and our democracy (including human rights and civil liberties) seem to have gone off a cliff tonight, and I guess we’ll have to assess what the hell happens next to resist that.

Displaced anger

Pretty weird how many non-Millennials who support Clinton have decided to attack Millennials for their presidential voting preferences when Millennials are literally the only age demographic with more than 50% support for Clinton across most polling. Maybe first go figure out why 35-48% of your own generations are voting for the candidate of the white supremacists and *then* come back and talk to us about this / apologize. (If you’re 50 years or older, more of your peers outright plan to vote for Trump than for Clinton, by varying margins by generation.) This attitude is not a productive way to garner Millennial votes … or even get young voters to show up for any of our candidates this November.

Anyway, folks, Arsenal for Democracy is back in production — because the entire rest of political media is hostile to our generation.

Op-Ed | Trump’s Foreign Soulmates

Alexei Bayer and Bill Humphrey for The Globalist: “Look at commodities-export strongmen like Chavez and Putin if you want to understand Trump.”

Donald_Trump_by_Gage_Skidmore_3

Foreigners see Donald Trump as one of those outlandish characters the New World periodically produces and then thrusts upon the international stage.

It is, however, far more than a bewildering one-man show. The rise of Trump underscores that we are witnessing a split of the United States of America into two distinct nations.

It is, perhaps, a return to form for a country that has often split politically (and once militarily) between its economically developed regions and its farm- or mineral-driven regions.

One of those two nations remains closer to the image that America has projected toward the outside world for nearly two centuries – an industrialized, highly innovative nation and a modern society that is open, liberal, tolerant and democratic.

The other America is once again displaying the characteristics of a commodity-exporting nation, as it did for much of U.S. history.

Poor role models worldwide

It is therefore only logical that — in order to understand Trump and above all the folks who cast their votes for him – it is fitting to look at other modern commodity-export-dependent nations, such as oil-rich Russia, Venezuela and so on.

Commodity exporting nations are a mess everywhere – from Algeria and Azerbaijan to Zambia and Zimbabwe.

They live off the distribution of free-flowing revenues which require a strong state. Friends and family of those who control the distribution obviously get a lot more. These nations tend to be ruled by charismatic strongmen who safeguard the interests of their cronies while feeding nationalist rhetoric to the masses.

Naturally, the masses hate immigrants and outsiders, because they represent additional mouths to be fed by crumbs from the strongman’s table. They are full of disdain for neighbors who aren’t fortunate enough to have natural resources in their soil.

Commodity exporters don’t need representative democracy, appointing their leaders by popular acclaim and very often for life. Read more

Is there a delegate firewall against Trump? Maybe not.

trump-supporters-2016

A week or two ago, FiveThirtyEight posted a really elaborate procedural and statistical case arguing there may be Blue State firewall against insurgent conservative candidates like Trump (or Carson).

It would take too long here to explain the case fully, but the gist is this: First the calendar order places a bunch of Blue States relatively early (e.g. Massachusetts, Vermont, Hawaii, New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Rhode Island). And second most of these particular states (e.g. New York) will award Republican delegates by Congressional district instead of statewide (which gives a huge delegate-per-voter bonus to states with dramatically fewer Republicans, since Congressional districts are drawn by population not number of Republicans). These factors both combine to give an early boost to delegates from Blue States.

The piece then argues that various insurgent candidates will be disadvantaged by this, to the benefit of a Bush or Rubio type establishment-backed candidate. While that might be true for a Ted Cruz, and maybe even Ben Carson, it’s not clear to me that’s necessarily true for some of them, particularly Donald Trump.

The two main flaws I see with this theory (of the firewall, not the math) after thinking about it since the article came out are:

First, it presumes that the remaining Republicans in very Blue States aren’t extremists themselves, which might not be true. It takes a lot of dedication to The Cause to remain registered R in a very liberal place. Maybe they’re Jeb Bush Republicans. But maybe they’re Ted Cruz Republicans. Even likelier, in my view? They’re Trump Republicans, which means whatever you want it to mean — hard right or moderate — because he’s running as the populist who is exactly what you want him to be. And that brings us to the other flaw.

Second, it presumes that genuinely moderate northeast Republicans don’t view Trump as one of them more than as a hard-right White Knight. For the record, I don’t think Trump is all that liberal, but if you really wanted to convince yourself he was a moderate New York City Republican on most issues, you easily could. (Especially based on his pre-campaign track record as a literal New York City Republican who was pro-choice and pro-universal healthcare.) I expect him to do quite well among Republicans in a lot of liberal northeastern strongholds.

As a result, I think that the delegate system aspect identified by FiveThirtyEight might not be a firewall against Trump but rather his coronation. Plus, I also think there are a lot of southern states and rural-Red but overall Blue-leaning northern states that will vote even earlier in the calendar, so we might not even make it to the end of April (to see what the supposed firewall states do) before this is wrapped up.