The Fifty-Five Percent Solution

GELFAND’S WORLD--The late-night TV news shows were suggesting -- dare we say it -- that the House of Representatives could withhold pay from Trump administration staffers who refuse to cooperate with congressional inquiries. This is a good start.

Just to make the threat is what's necessary for the moment. It is enough for the Democrats to make the point that they have their hand on the tap that controls the flow of money. Pundits used to refer to this as the power of the purse. 

But this leads to a larger question about strategy. 

Since the days of Newt Gingrich, the Republicans have been threatening to shut down the government. They've even done so a couple of times. This is superficially consistent with the broader Republican theme that the government is the underlying problem. To the libertarian and hard-core reactionary wing of the party, abolishing much of government is a grand fantasy. Most of them understand that it's not practical in the real world, but it is nevertheless a sort of ideological horizon. 

So, it's easy for Republicans to make all those repeated threats to freeze everything, whether they use the debt ceiling or a total shutdown as a tool to extract concessions. 

The thing is, the Democrats are currently in a position where they can threaten to withhold funds and even to shut things down themselves. They can't force the Republican Senate or the president to go along with anything that is forward looking, whether it be an expansion of medical coverage or forgiveness on student loans. 

Given the current balance of power, the Democrats are the party that most benefits by threats to shut things down. They should stop being afraid of doing so. Admittedly they are the party that has traditionally pushed for increased domestic programs ranging from Social Security to Medicare to the Affordable Care Act, and these need a working government to cut the checks. 

But what the congressional Democrats seem to be forgetting is that there are things that Republicans want. And it is those things that should now be held hostage by the Democratic majority in the House, just as the Senate Republicans hold everything else hostage. 

By the way, voters should hold the Republicans accountable for withholding a legitimate inquiry into Russian electoral interference and Trump criminality throughout the first two years of this administration. As evidence I offer two words: Devin Nunes. That's a partial shutdown right there. They don't have any moral authority to complain about Democrats withholding money on other things. 

Another Strategy to push 

It's depressing to consider that a 30-39 percent hard-core of the American public continue to support Trump, despite his chronic lying. At the same time, it's heartening to note that a solid majority are anti-Trump, with a majority within that majority pledging never to vote for Trump in any future election. So, the grand electoral strategy is simply to hang on to that 52-55 percent cohort through November of next year. 

And one way to develop that strategy is to pound on one thing. 

The Democrats, the news media, and the millions of people who type on Twitter and Facebook should be sounding this one undeniable fact: Trump can't be trusted to tell the truth about anything, ever. The standard rejoinder to anything Trump claims is to point out, "This is what he said today. It isn't what he said yesterday or last week. I wonder what he will say about it tomorrow." 

It won't bother the millions of hard-core Trump supporters. They seem to enjoy the fact that Trump taunts their ideological foes. We will never get to them. 

But there are a lot of people who are conservatives who are also a bit embarrassed by what is going on at the top of their party. And even more importantly, there are millions of people who are nominally independent voters who are of the same mind. It's true that most independent voters are independent in name only. They tend to vote along party lines for the most part. But it's easier for the nominally independent conservatives to abandon Trump because they aren't officially beholden to party loyalty. 

It's a decent hypothesis that a lot of independent voters have declared themselves independents because they are uncomfortable with declaring blind loyalty to a political party rather than to their own sensibilities. It's these Republican-leaning independents we need to recruit. 

So, one overall strategy is simply to tell the big truth to counter the Republican big lie. You can't trust anything Trump says to be the truth. 

Whether it be the size of the crowd at his inauguration, what kind of understanding Trump has with the Russians, or even the weather forecast, you can't believe anything that comes out of his mouth. This is patently obvious at this point, but it ought to be the center of Democratic talking points for the next 15 months. 

This message works best as an inoculation against whatever Trump says on the campaign trail. Democrats should warn people in advance that he will lie, text about his lies as they occur, and then report on his lies the next day. 

Remember how they tarred a Democratic candidate with the "flip-flop" tag? The Democrats should get the media to report on a day to day basis about the political story that is the Trump propensity to lie. Up to now the media have been weak (at best) when it comes to calling Trump a liar. But make it a political story where Democratic challenges to Trump's veracity are the text. Make it part of the horse race narrative and it will get covered. We should be able to look forward to daily headlines saying, "Did Trump lie in yesterday's speech? Democrats say yes" 

Mueller's testimony before congress 

Won't that be a hoot. It's got to happen eventually. And when it happens, we can expect an in-depth discussion of the evidence implicating Trump on obstruction of justice. Up till now, the Republicans have treated this topic as a Hear no Evil subject. It will be hard for them to contain the fallout. And it will go on for months. 

And that brings up the last comment: We are now, for most practical purposes, in the last year of the Trump presidency. Technically there is a year and a half plus some number of days. But once we get to the summer of 2010, it's lame duck time. The country will be caught up in the reelection story. Senate Republicans will be on the defensive. Not all of them to be sure, but some of them. A year from now, it's going to be hard for members of congress (of either party) to get anything of consequence passed.  

The anti-vaccination big lie 

In a CityWatch piece on the anti-vaccination movement, one commenter claimed that there have been fewer than 250 measles cases in the U.S. this year. Even a cursory Google search demonstrates that we have already cracked the 750 level, with the number continuing to increase. 

There is a generation that still remembers measles and chicken pox as childhood diseases. They were called that because essentially everyone got them early in life. That didn't mean that they were inconsequential or mild. It's just that they were inescapable. Children were miserable by the hundreds of thousands. The average annual death toll was in the hundreds. That was life and death at the time. 

Those few who didn't get the childhood diseases were at much increased risk if they got chickenpox as adults. In fact, in the days before antiviral drugs, chickenpox getting to the lungs was often fatal. Measles even now has a certain percentage of cases that get brain inflammation. Overseas, the measles still kills people by the thousands. 

It's a curiosity of modern life that if the anti-vaccination people got their way, we would be back to the bad old days of epidemics. It is a legitimate question whether (as the article's author says) our society should take more drastic action against the anti-vaccination people. At the moment, they are only a minimal risk to public health and safety because they are relatively few. But the message they are pushing would be a serious health risk were it to catch hold. The thousands of measles cases in Europe and the hundreds of thousands in other parts of the world are testimony to that point. 

But what is missing from this argument is the danger that other diseases could potentially break out. We should keep our fingers crossed that smallpox is really and truly abolished, because even a small outbreak would spread rapidly through the modern population, killing people by the thousands and then hundreds of thousands. And a disease without a working inoculation would be a modern nightmare. Just think about the way that HIV got loose in the population and killed millions, and it is not nearly as transmissable as measles, smallpox, or the flu. And the advent of a truly infectious, antibiotic-resistant strain of bacteria could take us back to a scenario right out of the middle ages. The Citywatch article calling on our society to take infectious diseases more seriously is timely and worthy of a read.


(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at amrep535@sbcglobal.net)