Apr 062018
 

Tim Pawlenty’s decision to run for a job that he already held for eight years is baffling. When he left office in 2011, Minnesota’s public finances were a hot mess; a sea of red ink created by years of budgeting gimmicks. He repeatedly cut health care and other supports for the most vulnerable among us. The first shutdown of our state government in modern history happened on his watch. And now he’s asking voters to look back on his tenure with misty-eyed nostalgia and give him another chance to make Minnesota mediocre again.

This isn’t to say that Pawlenty wouldn’t be a formidable candidate. He has the resources and connections necessary to mount a well-financed campaign and he may be able to convince enough Republicans that he’s their best bet for winning a statewide office; something that the Minnesota GOP hasn’t accomplished since 2006. But in an election year that is likely to favor Democrats, will Minnesotans be clamoring for the return of a conservative who has worked as a bank lobbyist for the past several years and who ran a failed presidential campaign that summited the heights of forgettable human endeavor? Perhaps, but after enduring the Trump-lite rhetoric of his first campaign video, I’m not too concerned at the moment.

Mar 312018
 

At this point, news of another corruption scandal within the Trump administration is not surprising. These stories have become disturbingly routine over the past year, as have the shrugs from the vast majority of Trump supporters in reaction to such news. Trump’s election has opened my eyes to the fact that many Americans are basically cool with a corrupt form of petty authoritarianism as long as they feel that their tribe is part of the “in” group that will benefit from said authoritarianism. Human history certainly provides plenty of examples of our willingness to get behind a strongman who promises to protect us from those people, but it’s depressing to watch these tendencies play out in real time.

During the Cold War, we framed human conflict as a struggle between competing political ideologies. It seems more accurate to frame conflict as a struggle between our most basic and twin natures: the desire to surround ourselves with people who are just like us in a society shaped by a powerful few and the desire to find a way to live alongside those who are different from us in a society shaped by democratic norms. Our darker instincts seem to have the upper hand at the moment, both in America and around the world. Perhaps all of our history will be a pendulum swinging between the impulses writ large of our better angels and our inner demons. I want to believe that the pendulum will begin to move in the other direction soon, even as the daily news tests my optimism.

Mar 062018
 

Another top adviser for the Trump administration, Gary Cohn, has announced his resignation. His departure may be connected to Trump’s impulsive decision last week to impose tariffs on imported steel and aluminum. The turnover rate in the White House, which now includes moderates like Cohn, raises important questions about the quality of the advice that Trump receives from the remaining members of his inner circle. Will Stephen Miller become even more empowered to push his agenda of white grievance and isolationism? Will Trump appoint some brown-nosing intern to advise him on trade policy? Do we really have a president or just a useful idiot for whomever happens to be whispering in his ear?

Chaos is enveloping this administration despite a decent economy and a relatively calm global scene. If a crisis occurs and the only people left to advise the president are cranks and incompetents, we shouldn’t be surprised if things quickly spiral out of control.

Feb 282018
 

While Trump pretends to play dealmaker again, his cabinet continues to demonstrate that they are really bad at hiding their corruption. The Times reported yesterday that the Department of Housing and Urban Development spent $31,000 on a dining room set for Secretary Ben Carson’s office. This news comes on top of previous allegations that Carson used his position to secure government contracts for his son.

These people are just the fucking worst. While Carson was busy redecorating his office, his agency proposed steep cuts to housing programs for the poor and the elderly. I’m sure Carson doesn’t see any hypocrisy in his actions, which is the whole problem. Trump’s appointees seem happy to treat their positions of public service as personal fiefdoms with no care for how their actions might violate the public trust. In fact, they work diligently on plans to undermine the core missions of their agencies.

I have no doubt that Carson was once a talented surgeon, but he’s also a grifter. His presidential campaign was little more than a scam to line his pockets and he can’t seem to turn down another opportunity to scam the American people.

Mar 242017
 

A few thoughts on the demise of the American Health Care Act:

  • Paul Ryan is not a smart man. As others have noted, he is a dumb guy’s idea of a smart man. He actually thought he could pass a bill in a month without doing any of the hard work necessary to pass major legislation. He didn’t reach out to stakeholders. He didn’t hold public hearings. He barely allowed any debate on the bill. And I’m not even getting into the substance of the bill, which was breathtaking in its cruelty.
  • Trump is low-energy! Seriously, he couldn’t be bothered to focus on the task of realizing a major campaign promise for more than a few weeks. He claims to be more interested in tax reform, but that’s likely to be even more arduous than his failed attempt to repeal the ACA. He’ll need to be able sell tax reform on its merits, but he’s shown no capability for this.
  • The voices of constituents matter. If you called your representative or senator, if you showed up at a town hall meeting, if you wrote a letter to your newspaper, then you played a part in the demise of this terrible bill.
  • The fight is not over. Republicans will try to sabotage the ACA through regulatory actions, funding cuts, and other shenanigans. People of good conscience must be prepared to fight any efforts to diminish the effectiveness of the ACA. We must also offer practical solutions to fix the shortcomings of the ACA. And maybe we can even find bipartisan consensus on those fixes.
Feb 182017
 

As expected, House Republicans announced on Thursday their plans to cap Medicaid as part of their broader effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Medicaid would be transformed from an entitlement program that covers anyone who is eligible to a fixed amount of funds. This fixed amount of funds would not be sufficient to keep pace with rising health care costs or increased need for Medicaid during economic downturns, forcing states to make some combination of cuts to eligibility, covered services, and payments to health care providers.

One of the most disturbing aspects of the plan is that it pits vulnerable people against each other in a scramble for pieces of a diminishing pie. Republicans portray this as an effort to save Medicaid for “the most vulnerable,” but that’s a lie. Everyone–kids, people with disabilities, the elderly, and poor adults–would suffer as a result of these radical changes to Medicaid. Minnesota alone would face budget deficits in the billions of dollars because of these cuts and the consequences would be felt by a wide swath of my fellow citizens. Republicans aren’t really interested in “saving” medicaid for us poor cripples. They view Medicaid as a huge redistribution of wealth that must be cut as deeply as possible for the sake of free-market principles and survival of the fittest. I’m sure that they would protest this characterization, but it goes to the heart of their ideology.

Of course, this policy fight is personal for me. Medicaid has provided me with the supports I need to live an independent and productive life. If the Republican plan becomes law, I could lose some or all of my nursing care. Minnesota could eliminate the buy-in program that allows me to purchase Medicaid coverage and earn an income, forcing me to quit my job as an attorney. It’s conceivable that I could even end living in an institution. These are scary prospects for me, but millions of other people will be facing even more calamitous prospects if they lose their Medicaid coverage. As I’ve noted before, those of us who depend on Medicaid for our survival can’t allow ourselves to be divided in this fight. If that happens, we will have already lost.

This is only the opening shot in the war on Medicaid. Formal legislation has yet to be introduced and it must go through a lengthy process before it becomes law. But in the meantime, we need to tell our stories to our representatives and senators. They need to understand how Medicaid has made our lives better and how funding cuts could make our lives worse. Those stories need to be told via phone calls to congressional offices and at town hall meetings with your representatives. If enough of us tell our stories, we may be the ones who actually save Medicaid.

Jan 112017
 

Immediately after the election, Republicans and various pundits began writing the obituary for the Affordable Care Act. We were told that repeal would be accomplished within days of Trump’s inauguration with the caveat that repeal would take effect in two or three years while a suitable replacement was developed. Those plans are now colliding with reality as several Republicans realize that a repeal-and-delay strategy could sow chaos in the health care industry. Even President-elect Trump has gone on record saying that repeal and replacement should occur “essentially simultaneously.”

But this approach has its own problems. First, Republicans would need to agree on a replacement and that doesn’t seem imminent. Any GOP-backed plan is likely to cover far fewer people and offer fewer benefits, but Republicans don’t seem ready to admit this publicly yet. Also, a replacement would require 60 votes in the Senate, but Democrats don’t seem eager to play a supporting role in replacing a landmark piece of legislation for something demonstrably inferior.

So what happens next? Republicans may ultimately decide to proceed with repeal even if a replacement isn’t waiting in the wings. After promising repeal to their base for so long, they may feel that they have no choice but to fulfill their promise. Is this what the base really wants, though? Plenty of Trump supporters have purchased coverage through the exchange or they received coverage through the expansion of Medicaid. Their complaints regarding the ACA generally focus on the cost of coverage, not abstract notions of free-market principles. Issues of cost can be addressed through compromise, which could be entirely feasible in a saner political environment.

Governance is hard work and crafting health care policy is even harder, as Republicans are discovering. The ACA could certainly not be long for this world, but it has dodged fatal blows before. Perhaps it can defy death one more time.

Dec 152016
 

It’s only now that I feel like I can write about the election and its aftermath with any degree of perspective. I was wrong about so many things; things that maybe should have been more obvious at first blush. I thought Clinton’s experience and competence would compensate for her lack of charisma and aloofness. I thought that bragging about sexually assaulting women was far more disqualifying than e-mail mismanagement. I thought that the Obama coalition would turn out in droves to defeat a flim-flam man with no prior political experience and a penchant for manic tweeting.

In the weeks since the election, I’ve been watching a lot of Seinfeld and doing my best to avoid my Twitter feed. Reading the news has become a grim exercise in endurance. Ben Carson will be in the Cabinet? The guy who ran Breitbart will have an office in the White House? The president-elect is dismissing reports that Russia may have hacked our political process to give Trump an advantage? This would all be hilarious if it wasn’t, you know, actually fucking happening.

So now what? Perhaps Trump will turn out to be just a generic Republican, which is still pretty awful. Perhaps he’ll resign after a year or two because he’ll be unable to reconcile his authoritarian tendencies with his pathological need to be liked. Whatever happens, progressives will need to figure out how to mount an effective opposition to this administration. Republicans wrote the playbook on this and we shouldn’t hesitate to use their own tactics against them. Any efforts by Trump to shred the social safety net, undermine efforts to prevent climate change, or cut taxes on the wealthiest among us must be met with the staunchest resistance. We can try to work with Trump when he has some genuinely good ideas, but I’m guessing that will be a rare occurrence. Too much progress has been made in the last eight years and too much remains to be done.

This blog will be a very small part of that resistance. If nothing else, it will serve as the chronicle of a snarky middle-aged guy trying to navigate Trump’s America. So buckle up, Dear Reader. We’re both in for a bumpy ride.

Oct 142016
 

We’re a little more than three weeks away from the end of this waking nightmare of an election and I’m exhausted. I’m exhausted by Trump’s descent into a toxic wasteland of paranoid nationalism and cultural resentment. I’m exhausted by his supporters’ terrifying ardor for a man who is just a few more bad news cycles away from giving a Nazi salute at a rally. I’m exhausted by the cowardice and opportunism of a Republican establishment that allowed a raging bully and sexual predator to come within a few percentage points of the American presidency. I’m exhausted by the hate and bigotry that shows up with alarming frequency on my Twitter feed, which I now check compulsively throughout the day.

I feel as if I’m living through the opening chapters of one of those dystopian novels that I’ve read over the years. I always enjoyed those books because I could enjoy the spectacle of our ruin from the vantage of my relatively safe and enlightened reality. The rise of Trump now has me questioning how long that reality can endure.

To be clear, I’m reasonably certain that Clinton will win this election and it might not even be close. With a little luck, Democrats might also take the Senate, although a House majority is probably beyond their reach. A resounding Clinton victory will give me some comfort, at least temporarily. But this election will leave open wounds that won’t heal anytime soon. Too many Americans have lost trust in government, science, the media, and other civic institutions. This mistrust has been building for a while, but Trump has skillfully fanned the flames, convincing millions that only a strongman can stand up to the elites who are ruining the country. I can imagine another self-styled populist–someone more stable and disciplined–following a similar playbook in four years and finding more success with voters.

Perhaps Clinton will be able to work with Congress to pass some kind of jobs and infrastructure program that will restore some faith in our elected officials and give people hope for the future. Perhaps the Republican Party will reshape itself into a party that emphasizes economic and regulatory issues over cultural issues, leaving the racists and reactionaries without a home. Our country has survived more serious threats to our democracy without succumbing to authoritarian rule, so we can survive a huckster like Trump. Yet we can’t afford complacency. This election has revealed cracks in our foundation that must be repaired before the whole thing crumbles.

May 172016
 

I haven’t commented much on the state of the Democratic race, mostly because it hasn’t been terribly interesting. It’s been clear since mid-March that Hillary Clinton would be the nominee, even though Bernie Sanders’ populist message has resonated with millions of voters. But as the race winds down, I’m a little concerned with the behavior of some Sanders supporters who don’t seem prepared to acknowledge that their guy has lost. During last weekend’s Democratic state convention, a dispute between Sanders supporters and the party establishment regarding obscure delegate rules turned chaotic and security had to clear the room to prevent full-scale violence. According to news reports, neither side handled matters well, but Sanders supporters later sent death threats to the party chairwoman.

Rather than quickly and forthrightly condemning the people making these threats, Sanders issues a long-winded statement that seems more interested in picking another fight with the Nevada Democratic Party. That’s his prerogative,  but this episode only reinforces perceptions that a small but vocal minority of Sanders supporters are motivated by aggressive misogyny rather than a commitment to progressive politics.

This whole thing will likely be forgotten by the convention and most Democrats will coalesce around Clinton, but the party should consider ways to reach out to those who may be participating in Democratic politics for the first time and who may retreat to the margins if they feel excluded. The party should also make it clear that violence and misogyny will never be tolerated and it should pressure Sanders to do the same.

For the record, I’m not enthusiastic about either candidate. I’d much rather have a third Obama term after he systematically tears down Trump’s id-driven campaign, but the 22nd Amendment forces me to imagine what could have been.