Saturday, February 25, 2017

                                 LETTER TO THE EDITORS AT THE N.Y. TIMES

From: Stein, Stephen
Sent: Thursday, February 23, 2017 5:22 PM
To: '' <>
Subject: Even if Trump is the Enemy, His Voters Aren't - Feb. 23, 2017

In fact, Trump’s voters are the enemy.  Trump himself is despicable, but we have known from the beginning what he is, a classic immature ill-informed bully.  People like him are a dime a dozen.  We see them every day.  What is “deplorable” is that such a person could be elected President.  For that we can’t blame him.  He has not pretended to be anyone other than who he is.  His voters are another story.  Leaving aside the racists, white supremacists, misogynists and other ethnocentric bigots, who are undeniably the enemy, the other Trump voters had a choice, and they knowingly chose badly.  If they could do so with the information available to all, they cannot be trusted or persuaded to do any better in the future.  They have delivered us to the worst of times and are the cause of what will be much suffering for people who can least afford it, have put the country at risk and have rejected the historic values of the nation.  To say that some of his voters had fallen on hard times, whatever sympathy such circumstances may evoke, doesn’t excuse voting for such a truly and obviously dangerous man just because they may have been enduring hardship themselves.   On the other hand, if the excuse is ignorance, willful or otherwise, that is hardly an acceptable explanation either.  In a democracy, ignorance is indeed the enemy.

Stephen Stein   

Monday, February 20, 2017

                                           OPEN LETTER TO SENATOR SCHUMER

I am writing to express my strongly held view that the Democrats should filibuster the nomination of Judge Gorsuch as a Supreme Court Justice.
Normally, as a moderate Democrat, I would not take such an extreme position (except in such obvious cases as Bork-type nominations), but, although Gorsuch is not a Bork, he can be just as dangerous with regard to issues which are important to Democrats, liberals, progressives and to values which are embedded in our national ethos.  There are special circumstances present at this time. 
First, and perhaps foremost, with Donald Trump as President (with Bannon as his eminence grise) and the Republicans in the majority in the House and the Senate, and as a result with all of the extremist kooks (both radical and reactionary) coming out of the woodwork, those values are going to be under constant assault.  The Supreme Court is the last line of defense, and as you know that is a tenuous line as it is.  In short, the situation calls for desperate measures to which one would otherwise perhaps not want to resort.
Second, Trump has no interest in any sort of bi-partisan approach on any issue.  He considers any attempt at cooperation by the Democrats as a sign of weakness of which he can and will take advantage.  Opposing him every step of the way may not achieve many victories, but at least can limit the damage.
Third, Gorsuch is a wolf in sheep's clothing.  His credentials are unquestionable on paper, and he comes across as reasonable person, but he is just another Alito.  When Alito was nominated, progressives had high hopes that he would be open minded, a moderate, mainstream conservative.  In the event, he has been a disaster.  Let's not make that mistake again.  As the saying goes, "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me".
Fourth, and this is a bit more intangible, Democrats must demonstrate that they can be just as irresponsible as Republicans in playing political games.  So far, as in the cases of Judge Garland, raising the debt limit and closing down the government, the Republicans have done just that.  As a Party which stands for stasis and reaction, the Republicans take advantage of the Democrats, who see government as a positive force, by putting a freeze on action.  Democrats need to show that they can and will put a hold on action when it suits their purposes.  Gorsuch's nomination is such a case.  Killing the nomination doesn't do any damage to the country.  Operating with eight Justices, if that is what it ultimately comes to, is not the worst thing in the world for the country, and for the progressive cause, at least in the current configuration, is a positive.  If Gorsuch is defeated, will the next nominee be any better?  Maybe not, but the Republicans will have to think twice about who they nominate.
The nuclear option?  Call McConnell's bluff.  He's clearly uncomfortable with using it.  See if he can hold together his caucus on this issue.  You only need three defections/abstentions.  If he goes for it and succeeds, you get the same result as you would have if you didn't use the filibuster.  Of course, you lose the right to filibuster ( as do the Republicans, and the pendulum will swing back, as they well know), but what good does it do you if you don't use it.  And until you use it, and certainly if you don't use it now, the Republicans will have no fear of pushing the envelope as far as they can.  What are you saving it for?  To oppose future bad legislation?  If it won't work here, it won't work anywhere.  Anyhow, legislation can be overcome when the tide turns.  Supreme Court nominations, particularly this one, will be with us for thirty years or so.

What does this do to Democratic Senators defending their seats in states that went for Trump?  My guess is it isn't going to make any difference.  There will be other issues which, for better or worse, will dominate those races.  Maybe the greatest downside of failing to use the filibuster is that the Democrats will lose the momentum and support for Democratic values which have been building up in the Party and throughout the country since Trump took office.  If this is lost, a bad situation is only going to get worse.  Democrats need an act of defiance, even if it turns out to be only symbolic, and this is the opportunity.  In the current political environment, nice guys finish last.

Attention: Senator Charles Schumer
               U.S. Senate
               Representative Nancy Pelosi
               U.S. House of Represntatives
Dear Senator Schumer and Representative Pelosi:
I write to you in your positions of Senate Minority Leader and House Minority Leader and, as such, the leaders of the Democratic Party.
I hardly need to point out to you the disaster to this country that the election of Donald Trump represents.  It may be an old saw, but if ever there was a desperate time calling for desperate measures it is now.  The only way to survive this calamity and maintain the values and ethos of this country is to oppose him, his policies and his surrogates in Congress every step of the way.  There is no choice.  You cannot work with someone like him and his advisers, such as Bannon, Flynn, etc.  If you reach out, they will take it as a sign of weakness and try to steamroller you.  Their substantive goals are secondary to that of imposing their will as an end in itself.  They truly evidence the authoritarian personality of which Hannah Arendt wrote.  You cannot negotiate with such people.  To combat this, the Democrats must with no delay and on a regular basis get across to the public the harm which will be imposed upon them by each of Trump's policies and of the Democrat alternatives and their advantages in basic every day bread and butter terms. 
One suggestion: set up the equivalent of the British Parliamentary "shadow cabinet" with one Democrat member of Congress designated for each Trump appointee to react to each proposed policy, act of legislation, regulation and executive order as it is announced or in anticipation, demonstrate its flaws and promote an alternative or explain why the current policy, legislation, etc., need not be changed.  Equally important is to immediately point out every misstatement of fact promulgated by the Trump administration.  Much of Trump's policies are justified on the basis of non-existent facts, the public's faulty assumptions or misreading or distortion of the public's desires.  Since we have no Prime Minister to coordinate such a process, someone will have to be authorized to do so.  Maybe someone like Joe Biden. 
In addition, why not publish a "White Paper" with specific policy proposals representing the program of the Democratic Party.  It needs to be simple and straightforward, ideally on one page.  It can be based on the Democratic Platform but substantially condensed.  Nobody is going to wade through the platform.  Something like, I hate to say it, the 1994 Republican Contract with America.

Trump lost the popular vote.  He does not represent the majority.  He has no mandate.  Keep reminding him.  It gets under his thin skin, and he strikes out violently.  When he does, he looks like a fool.  It may take time, but sooner or later people will catch on.  Use his lack of self control against him.  Like judo, which originally evolved in response to bullying at school, use his strength (as he sees it) against him.


Where is Thomas Paine when you need him?  We certainly need someone like him today.  Our system and our values are under attack by domestic forces as never before since the Civil War.  It would appear that this is not the view only of progressives, but of thinking conservatives as well, i.e., David Brooks, Ross Douthat, Robert Kagan, et al.  But we have wallowed enough; the time has come to put the recent election itself behind us and prepare for the next one.

There may be no Thomas Paine around today, but there are infinitely more means of reaching the people today then there were in his time.  It will take a concentrated effort; in fact, given the news cycle today, a daily effort.

First, Trump and his stooges (although he himself may be Bannon's stooge or puppet) must be confronted on every issue.  The attack must be continuous and unrelenting. They must be put on the defensive on a regular basis.  There is no room to work together with them. That is not their intention. They are destroyers, not governors.  Their primary goal is to impose their will by taking down everything that represents evidence of anyone else's will.  In a way not unlike the destruction of symbols of prior societies by ISIS in Palmyra, only worse.  There it is only stones; here it is living social, economic and moral institutions and ideas fundamental to our history and present society.  As evil as ISIS is, Trumpism is far more dangerous.  His Administration's present policies, if you can call them that, are dangerous enough on their merits, but, perhaps more importantly, each success they achieve will only encourage them to reach further.  That is an added reason to oppose them every step of the way, starting with a filibuster of Trump's nomination of Gorsuch to the Supreme Court..

The people who voted for Trump have been duped.  That should be the approach, although not in such explicit terms.  It is not enough to attack Trump and his claque personally, although there is much justification for that, but it must be brought home to the populace that the Administration's programs will not be for their benefit or result in improving their situations; in fact, just the opposite.  It needs to be demonstrated that these actions will actually be detrimental to America's "greatness" in the eyes of the rest of the world, and will weaken America's position, both tangibly, e.g., economically, politically and strategically, and intangibly, e.g., morally.  What Trump and his minions totally fail to understand is that it is that moral image, which they seem intent on destroying, that gives us any claim to be primus inter pares.   His policies for making "America First" likely will have just the opposite effect.

Second, What is needed is the equivalent of the British shadow cabinet.  The Democrats should designate someone as a counterpart to each cabinet member and member of Trump's policy team to comment on each program or statement announced by each cabinet member and policy maker or his or her spokesperson, and in each case to respond and propose the Democrats' own program to deal with that particular issue or explain why the present policy is preferable to any proposed changes.  Such designated persons should take the initiative in proposing their own programs.  To make this effective, each designee must have the authority to speak for the Party and a staff to support him or her.  To coordinate this effort, there will need to be someone who will be the equivalent of the opposition party leader in the parliamentary system.  This will require a cohesiveness and consistency which we are not used to in American politics and particularly in the Democratic Party, but these are unusual times which call for creative and imaginative measures.  Perhaps the minority leaders of each house of Congress could share this responsibility, or maybe designate someone like Joe Biden for this role who would consult with Schumer and Pelosi.

The critical themes should be (a) how Trump's policies will (i) not help the people who voted for him, and (ii) in fact hurt them, and (b) the Democrats' alternative.  In addition, a few digs at Trump on a regular basis won't hurt, although this should not be the main thrust of the attack.  Nevertheless, he is so thin-skinned and insecure (yes, that's where it all comes from) that he will strike out with his absurd tweets (as he is already doing) and eventually people will finally catch on that they have a fool and impostor as President.  The more he says, the worse he looks, and even the gullible have their limits.

The public should be constantly reminded that Trump lost the popular vote by almost 3 million votes; that he has no mandate; and that on many if not all substantive issues a majority of the American public are opposed to his positions.  This is the case on abortion, gun regulation, the environment and global warming, gay marriage, mass deportation of undocumented immigrants and health insurance. When the issues are characterized broadly as small government, government mandates, over- regulation and individual freedom, the public in knee-jerk fashion may be supportive of Trump and the Republicans, but when issues are presented in specific terms that directly affect individuals the outcome is different.  The Democrats need to keep emphasizing this opposition to Trumpism. Democrats need to frame the issues better than they have in the past.  Some examples of popular support for Democratic policies in recent polls, as reported by Moyers & Company:
     Health care reform - while respondents are split roughly 50/50 on repealing Obamacare, 58% supported a third option, replacing it with a federally funded health care system providing insurance for all Americans;
     Unions - 58% of respondents said they approve of labor unions, and 72% said unions should have either more influence than they now have or at least the same amount;
     Campaign finance reform - 77% of the public supports limits on campaign spending;
     Climate change and renewable energy - 64% are at least a fair amount worried about climate change; 59% believe that the effects have already begun; 65% in one poll believe human activity causes climate change (in another poll, only 48%); 80% support solar panel and wind turbine farms; a majority opposed every other potential energy source: offshore drilling, nuclear power plants, fracking and coal; 61% said companies should be required to reduce carbon emissions and 78% support air pollution-regulations;
     Abortion - 56% believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases;
     Gay marriage and LGBT rights - 61%believe gay marriage should be legal, and by a narrow margin most Americans believe transgender people should be able to use the public bathroom of the gender they identify with;
     Undocumented immigrants - 84% support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.  Only 33% supported building a wall along the US-Mexico border (among Republicans, 62%, but 76% also supported a path to citizenship);
     Higher minimum wage and free child care - support of roughly 60%.
This doesn't mean that Democrats should ignore the economic issues of jobs, economic inequality, consumer protection and financial regulation.  Contrary to the perception that Trump prevailed on the basis of those types of issues, 2016 exit poll data show that Hillary Clinton won voters who said the economy was the most important issue by 11 points, 52-41.  Democrats can't afford to lose those voters.
There also needs to be a full time team of fact checkers that is responsible for reminding the public constantly that Trump bases his positions on alternative facts, also known as outright lies and distortions.  The actual facts that are relevant to the policy issues and of which the public is uninformed, either willfully or otherwise, have to be publicized repeatedly.  For example, the number of persons who will lose health insurance coverage if Obamacare is cancelled, the fact that Mexicans represent less than half of undocumented immigrants and that the numbers are running the other way with more leaving than coming, that illegal immigrants commit less crimes than citizens, that undocumented immigrants in large part only take jobs that citizens won't take, that imposing hardship on the Mexican economy will likely increase illegal immigration from Mexico, that discouraging birth control will lead to an increase in abortions, the number of accidental deaths and suicides from guns compared to deaths from criminal use, the fact that a majority of police favor more gun regulation, that the recent immigration ban from our "so-called" President will increase the terrorist threat, not reduce it, that the number of deaths from Muslim terrorists since 9/11, according to one source, is 123 (none by anyone who emigrated from or whose parents emigrated from the seven countries targeted by our "so-called" President), compared to a total of more than 230,000 killings by gang members, drug dealers, angry spouses, white supremacists, psychopaths, drunks, domestic terrorists (Aurora, Charleston, Newtown, Colorado Springs, Oklahoma City, Columbine, the latter two before 9/11) and others, clear-cut data relating to global warming caused by human activities, the actual increase in domestic manufacturing production over the last several years, such inconvenient facts as the rust belt losing jobs to the South and not always overseas, the correlation of the demise of unions with loss of worker rights and stagnation of compensation, decreases in air and water pollution due to environmental regulations, how the income tax proposal will benefit mostly the very wealthy, how the border tax with Mexico will increase prices of products that are imported into the US, how rejecting TPP is a gift to China, that we already have extreme vetting of immigrants and refugees from the Middle East, the distinction between legal and illegal immigration, etc.

Trump and Bannon ultimately base their programs on fear, but many of the sources of that fear are virtually nonexistent or de minimis.  This needs to be demonstrated to the public.  Democracy without an informed electorate is no democracy at all.  There will always be the willfully uninformed, and they certainly made their presence felt in the last election. But the Democrats did not do a good job of getting their message across.  Some voters are not interested - the "deplorables", but others are reachable.  With the Republicans in control of both the House and the Senate and the White House, they will be able to set the agenda.  Thus it is all the more important for the Democrats to make sure that voters in the next election know what they stand for.