GUEST WORDS--On be careful about what you you wish for, Henwood warns that while Vice President Mike Pence "might not be able to overcome his party’s internal divisions [he would] probably could do a better job than Trump, and every day would not be a circus as it is now." (Photo: John Sommers II/Reuters)
How much longer can this go on? As I write this, PredictIt gives 71/29 odds that Trump will last the year, but it’s mighty tempting to buy the “no”—especially after the revelation that he asked Comey to shut down the Flynn investigation. (Disclosure alert: I bought 100 shares of “no” at $0.28.)
What is the endgame of the people, mostly Democrats, pounding the drums most heavily? Do they want to impeach Trump, which seems a long shot given Republican control of Congress? Do they want to bruise his weak ego so badly that he resigns? Clearly the job is much harder than he ever imagined—and, by the way, what reasonably sentient person over the age of 8 ever thought the presidency wasn’t grindingly hard? But he also wants adulation, not the relentless volleys of shit he’s gotten. It’s not impossible to imagine him just walking offstage, especially if his legal situation gets seriously dicey.
What then? President Pence? If Pence were president, the entire Republican dream agenda would sail through Congress in like three weeks. Pence spent a dozen years in Congress (Tea Party branch) and four years as governor of Indiana; he’s an appalling figure but he knows how things work. He might not be able to overcome his party’s internal divisions, but he probably could do a better job than Trump, and every day would not be a circus as it is now.
"President Pence? If Pence were president, the entire Republican dream agenda would sail through Congress in like three weeks."
Pence is a horror—fiscal sadist, misogynist, homophobe, lover of the carceral state. He’s repeatedly described himself as “a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order,” though given today’s modern GOP, it’s not clear there’s much of a difference among these features. (He should have said he’s a reactionary Christian; there are plenty of other kinds.) He’s a creationist who rejects climate change, thinks stem cell research is “obsolete,” and once actually said that “smoking doesn’t kill.” His anti-abortion law was the most extreme in the country. His cuts to Planned Parenthood led to a rural HIV epidemic. Like Sessions, Pence is a maximalist on drugs, including weed. He’s hot to privatize Social Security. He likened the Supreme Court’s upholding of Obamacare to 9/11.
Should Trump get pushed out, the orchestrated campaign of healing would be painful. It’s not far-fetched to imagine leading Democrats channelling Gerald Ford’s “our long national nightmare is over.” There would be something of what Wall Street calls a “relief rally” on the transition, and it would perversely grease the way for Pence to make the U.S. more like the Indiana he left behind. We should be fighting to keep him in office, as fatally damaged goods.
Several things seem to be driving this campaign to squeeze Trump out, aside from the obvious fact he’s an unstable ignoramus. Dems still can’t get over the fact that they lost to the most unpopular candidate in the history of polling, but instead of blaming their own terrible candidate (the second-most unpopular candidate in the history of polling) and the slavers’ legacy, the Electoral College, they want to blame Russia. (Time was they blamed Comey too—remember when Paul Krugman said that “Comey and Putin installed a crazy, vindictive can’t-handle-the-truth person in the White House”? But he’s since been rehabilitated.)
But that’s not all: a large part of the political class (Hillary prominent among them, along with John McCain), the security establishment, and their contract-hungry patrons in the military–industrial complex all want desperately to make Russia the enemy, and are reviving zombie tropes from the Cold War to promote their cause. Trump may well have friends in the Russian mob, but his resistance to elite hostility towards the country is one of the few non-awful things about him.
It’s been stunning to watch liberals cheering on the security state’s war-by-leak against Trump. He’s odious, but he is the legally elected president—under an absurd electoral system, but that’s the one we’ve got. (Makes you wonder what they would have done to Sanders, if by some unimaginable fluke he’d won.) And yet we’ve seen months of praise for the CIA and the FBI as the magic bullets who could deliver us from the short-fingered vulgarian.
The defenses of the CIA began with Trump’s disparaging remarks about the Agency before taking office, which were taken as near-blasphemous. For an amateur like Trump, such attacks were extremely risky. In early January, Chuck Schumer presciently warned (on the Maddow Show, of course): “Let me tell you: You take on the intelligence community—they have six ways from Sunday of getting back at you.” You’d almost think that he knew what would come next: an endless series of leaks portraying Trump as Putin’s towel boy and, as an extra-special bonus, a pervert (the piss tape)—all applauded by liberals, with little regard for the CIA’s 70-year history of lying, assassination, and coups.
Then came the Comey firing, and suddenly the FBI was a noble organization as well. It’s far from that, and has always been. As Mark Ames reports in his little history of the Bureau, it has no legal charter; Congress didn’t want to authorize a secret police so Teddy Roosevelt created it by executive fiat. Much of the Bureau’s history has been about persecuting communists—and gay people—and smearing its enemies. It spent the 1960s and early 1970s trying to ruin Martin Luther King, the Black Panthers, and and the New Left. In other words, it’s been political from the very first, and all these current worries about “politicizing” the FBI are Grade A bullshit.
Which brings us back to the endgame issue. Democrats look to be extending the strategy of their failed 2016 campaign by being the not-Trump and nothing more—it’s all they’ve got. They are making no visible effort to come up with an appealing agenda as an alternative to the deeply unpopular one the GOP has on offer. In fact, they’re annoyed at Bernie Sanders for trying to get the party to talk about policy, which is somehow seen as an act of narcissism in the Beltway worldview:
But the senator, who’ll be 79 the next time the New Hampshire primary rolls around, is continuing to put himself at the center of the conversation. He’s introduced a Medicare-for-all bill this week that he hopes will force others to sign on.
Imagine that! Pushing a bill to expand health insurance coverage at a moment when Republicans are trying to take it away. The ego of that man.
The party’s strategy can’t be counted a success on conventional measures; Gallup reports that the Dems have lost 5 approval points since November, leaving the two parties with near-identical approval ratings (D: 40%, R: 39%).
During the early days of the Trump administration, it seemed like a serious left opposition might take form. That‘s a hazy memory now that so many liberals and even leftists are taking dictation from the security state and throwing around words like “treason.” We can do better than this, can’t we?
(Doug Henwood edits the Left Business Observer, a newsletter he founded in 1986, He also hosts Behind the News, a weekly radio show covering economics and politics on KPFA, Berkeley. His book Wall Street is now available for free download here.