Tag Archives: US politics

A Tale of Two Crashes, and Their Aftermaths

A woman walks past a laughing Buddha sculpture near the venue where the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors Meeting will be held over the weekend in Chengdu in Southwestern China's Sichuan province, July 22, 2016. REUTERS/Ng Han Guan/Pool

A woman walks past a laughing Buddha sculpture near the venue where the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors Meeting will be held over the weekend in Chengdu in Southwestern China’s Sichuan province, July 22, 2016. REUTERS/Ng Han Guan/Pool

JIM MCNIVEN: THOUGHTLINES
December, 2016

There are a lot of rough parallels between events in history that suggest that what one generation learns is forgotten over time. One of these is between the political/financial events in the United States between 1830-1850 and 2000-2020.

In the first, a President was elected in 1828 pledged to let the charter of the Bank of the United States lapse in 1836. The Bank was the closest thing we have today to the Federal Reserve system, and Andrew Jackson, representing the ‘soft’ money frontier, was determined to eliminate the ‘hard’ money Bank. This institution kept the frontier banks from printing all kinds of banknotes and contributing to the instability of American finances. Proper banking practice required, then as now, that loans outstanding should not exceed 10-12 times deposits and the Bank was rigorous in discounting the value of notes from institutions that were not acting responsibly.

James K. Polk, by Mathew B., 1823

James K. Polk, by Mathew B., 1823

Jackson’s fight with the Bank was successful and the frontier State banks, some of which were carting trunks of gold ‘deposits’ from one bank to another ahead of State inspectors, began issuing all kinds of paper money that could theoretically be cashed in for gold or coin, which of course, didn’t exist. By 1836, the speculative credit bubble began to lose air and the economy crashed in 1837.

In the early 2000s, the Republican administration of George Bush, likewise, was promoting a less-relaxed financial regulatory regime in order to stimulate growth. Easier credit was seen as a means to this end. Financial regulators, including federal bodies like Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac encouraged the private sector to make credit easier for potential homebuyers (read: frontier settlers) to access housing.

As well, the Wall Street financial houses began to invent new debt instruments that effectively pyramided loans upon loans, based on housing and new business creation. It was not uncommon for their leverage to exceed 33:1.* By 2006, the speculative credit bubble began to lose air and the economy began to totter in 2007 and crashed in 2008, during that year’s election campaign. Barack Obama inherited the mess, but it was hard to blame it on him — not that this wasn’t tried.

In March, 1837, President Martin Van Buren had just taken office when the wheels began to come off the financial wagon. Since Jackson was a war hero and strong leader, Van Buren got the blame for the mess and was defeated by Harrison in 1840, who promptly died a month into office. Vice President John Tyler, Harrison’s successor, managed to anger both Congressional parties and spent the term in one political fight after another. Meanwhile, the economy healed slowly.

Beginning in 2009, President Obama had a two-year ‘honeymoon’, where his party managed to put in place stronger financial regulation, though the reverberations of the American crisis were felt world-wide, inhibiting the American recovery. By 2012, the Republicans, deeply hostile to the President, had gained power in Congress and much of the rest of Obama’s eight years in office were consumed in political wrangles. Meanwhile, the economy healed slowly.

Tyler was followed by a ‘dark horse’, James K. Polk, in 1844. Polk came in as the Congress acted to admit Texas to the Union, prompting a war with Mexico. He was also an advocate of the extreme American position on the Oregon Territory, which claimed the whole northern Pacific coast to the border of the then Russian colony of Alaska. This conflicted with British claims to much of this coast and the American rallying cry went forth of ’54:40 or fight!’.

There was some doubt about whether the American Army could defeat the Mexicans, since the US had not had a serious conflict in 30 years, but no one was under the illusion that another ‘War of 1812’ would go well with a colonial power that was subjugating India and southern China as well as parts of Africa, and whose Navy was supreme. Polk cut a deal on Oregon, splitting the Territory at the 49th parallel and then went after Mexico. Needless to say, the economy was generally healed by then.

Now we have a ‘dark horse’ President-elect who appeals to American nationalism, much like Polk once did. I doubt that he has 1840s-style territorial ambitions, but some sabre-rattling in various directions can be expected. The economy has been generally healed by now, but he intends to super-heal it.

I don’t want to follow my parallels between the mid-1800s and today into the future. Polk was the last of the strong Presidents before Lincoln and the Civil War. He also just predated the huge immigration of Catholic Irish into America during the Famine, as well as the equally huge German migration (both Protestants and Catholics, but all not English speakers) that came after the failed revolutions of 1848.These sparked some serious nativist reactions in 1850 and beyond.

I suppose that drawing parallels with history is both attractive and yet misleading. We do not live in the post-Crash world of the 1840s, when American influence in the world was negligible, nor is Manifest Destiny the big thing it was then.

We do live in a world where North America makes up but 5% of the global population and 25% of the global economy. We are almost all interconnected in an immediacy that those in the 1840s hardly knew, even on different floors of a New York slum. James Polk and his contemporaries have little to teach us about this reality, except that human beings do tend to replay the general themes of the past, when faced with similar problems. There are some of these themes that we need to avoid.

 Copyright Jim McNiven 2016

* What this implies is that if a mere 3% of a bank’s loans were to default, the bank was bankrupt. At 10:1, it would take over 10%, a reasonable risk. The whole system depends on depositors’ confidence that they can withdraw their deposits whenever they like. Lose confidence, and there is a ‘run’ on the bank.

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Jim McNiven

James McNiven has a PhD from the University of Michigan. He has written widely on public policy and economic development issues and is the co-author of three books. His most recent research has been about the relationship of demographic changes to Canadian regional economic development. He also has an interest in American business history and continues to teach at Dalhousie on a part-time basis.

 

 

 

 

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Our Time to Rebel

A protest against Donald Trump in Chicago. REUTERS/Kamil Krzacznski

A protest against Donald Trump in Chicago. REUTERS/Kamil Krzacznski

TOM REGAN: SUMMONING ORENDA
December 10, 2016

On a cold January night, almost eight years ago, top Republican politicians gathered in Washington, DC.

It was the evening of the inauguration of the new president of the United States, Barack Obama. But these Republicans were not there to celebrate. They were there to plot.

The plot they concocted was to oppose the new president on EVERYTHING, even if this opposition was in opposition to their previous positions.

And for the next eight years, this was exactly what they did. For some far-right members, the opposition sometimes didn’t go far enough. Any sign of compromise or agreement on any issue was greeted with howls of “traitor” or “RINO.” Members who sinned were threatened with a primary challenger.

By and large, it worked.

Now it’s our turn.

The circumstances are somewhat different. Democrats, of any strip, control nothing in Washington: not the presidency, not Congress and soon not the Supreme Court. Any plan of opposition must come from the grassroots, from the millions who did not vote for Donald Trump, who will lose the popular vote by almost 3 million when all ballots are finally counted. That’s a staggering number that shows the flaws in the U.S. Electoral College system.

Personally, I would advocate a somewhat different approach to our ‘rebellion.’ I would not oppose Trump on everything. Leave room for the infrequent policy that might aid the entire country. But I don’t think we Democrats need to worry about getting along that often. Considering the comments he made before and after the election, and the quality (or lack thereof) of the men and women he has chosen for his cabinet and top governmental positions, there will be more than enough to fight against. The environment, voting rights, civil rights, abortion, foreign policy, economic policy … a veritable cornucopia of progressive accomplishments need to be defended.

This will be a ‘take no prisoners’ fight. Please make no mistake about that. Trump and his minions have already shown that they will lie, obscure the truth, manipulate and deny facts, and threaten all who oppose them. And then there are the attacks and threats to be launched by his slavish, zombie-like, mainly-white-supremacist alt-Reich followers. They are the ones that those of us opposed to four years of Donald Trump insanity really need to be aware of.

There are several ways to participate in this peaceful ‘rebellion.’

Two former Democratic staff members have written a guide on how to fight Trump and the Congress, using ideas and strategies practiced by the Tea Party. The authors wrote “Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda” (see link below) because they understand that many, many people “want to do [their] part to beat back the Trump agenda and understand that will require more than calls & petitions.” Indivisible is a practical guide on how to politically organize, and how to make your local Member of Congress listen.

There are other ways. Engage with Trump supporters on social media, challenge their lies and misinformation campaigns. Be prepared to be called every name in the book – that is the way they operate. And be smart about it. If you’re worried about retaliation (a legit concern) read about ways to hide your identity online.  Be careful not to join them in the gutter – it’s not a pissing contest. Just jam facts at them not-stop.

There is another tool you can use, a tool that Donald Trump himself seems to fear: humour. Trump cannot stand being made fun of. His sense of self is so shallow that making fun of him drives him to distraction.

A friend suggested to me that Alec Baldwin can do more for the country by just doing his Donald Trump impersonation every night, than all the protests and other rebellious acts might accomplish. Trump would spend so much time tweeting his angry responses that he might not have time to destroy America. I wish that it would work, but to be honest I’m more worried about the people around Trump than I am about Trump himself. Trump is an orange-coloured buffoon. But many of those around him are hard-core, far-right ideologues. They are the ones this rebellion will spend most of its time confronting.

We are, you see, (to borrow a current pop culture idea) the real Rebel Alliance. We’re not going to steal any plans for Death Stars, or fight on one of the moons of Endor.

But we can confront a group determined to accumulate power at the expense of many others. A group that actively seeks to undermine the gains of decades of struggle for women and minorities. A group that seeks to make the rich richer, the poor poorer, and drag us back to the 1950s, if not earlier.

This is our moment. We cannot look the other way. The call to action is the call for us. And how we choose to answer it will determine what America will look like, for generations.

Copyright Tom Regan 2016

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com

 

LINKS

Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1DzOz3Y6D8g_MNXHNMJYAz1b41_cn535aU5UsN7Lj8X8/preview#heading=h.he8mndfdfxw9

12 Ways To Protect Your Identity On Social Networking Sites: http://blogs.hrblock.com/2016/02/04/12-ways-to-protect-your-identity-on-social-networking-sites/

Protect Your Identity on Social Media: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2453770,00.asp

Related on F&O:

Wake-up: How the 2016 Election Changed One American Voter, by Emily Lacika

My U.S. post-election emotions have run the gamut: sadness, anger, anxiety, vindictiveness, shame. American politics is big on rhetoric about democracy, but it often falls short, especially this year when the candidate who won fewer votes has captured the White House. Sixty two million other Americans voted the same way I did, and lost –and now we are working together.

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Tom Regan Tom Regan is a journalist in the Washington, D.C., area. He worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio. A former executive director of the Online News Association in the U.S., he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92, and is a member of the advisory board of the Nieman Foundation for journalism at Harvard.

Return to Tom Regan’s page 

 

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Porous Texas Fence Foreshadow’s Trump’s Wall Problems

Mud from people climbing over a border fence in Brownsville, Texas, U.S. is seen in Brownsville, Texas, U.S. on November 17, 2016.     REUTERS/Jon Herskovitz

Mud from people climbing over a border fence in Brownsville, Texas, U.S. is seen in Brownsville, Texas, U.S. on November 17, 2016. REUTERS/Jon Herskovitz

By Jon Herskovitz
December, 2016

BROWNSVILLE, Texas (Reuters) – The rose-coloured border security fence starts in a dusty field on the Loop family farm in South Texas – about 15 miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico and a mile north of the southern U.S. border.

From there, near Brownsville, it stretches about 60 miles west, but with plenty of gaps to drive or walk through. Where it exists, the fence doesn’t always stop illegal immigrants.

“It takes them about a minute and a half to climb the wall,” said farmer Ray Loop, noting the muddy footprints on several sections of the fence crossing his property.

The porous South Texas border fence, authorized in 2006, underscores how topography, treaty obligations, legal fights and high costs could frustrate efforts to stretch an “impenetrable” wall over the 2,000-mile border – the signature campaign promise of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump.

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The South Texas barrier is “more holes than it is fence,” said Denise Gilman, a law professor and director of the Immigration Clinic at the University of Texas at Austin.

The gaps reflect local political opposition, land rights battles and strategic decisions about where a fence would be most cost-effective, according to internal U.S. government emails obtained by Gilman through a court order and viewed by Reuters.

Trump transition team spokesman Jason Miller declined to comment on the challenges of border wall construction, saying the president-elect would have “plenty of time to discuss policy specifics” after he takes office in January.

In an interview with CBS’ “60 minutes” last month, Trump said for the first time that he would accept fencing in some areas of the border.

“But some areas, a wall is more appropriate,” Trump said. “I’m very good at this. It’s called construction. There could be some fencing.”

Loop, 51, is a Trump supporter who supports stricter immigration controls, but he has little faith in fences or walls.

“That is not going to work,” Loop said from his pickup last month as he passed border patrol cars on his property. “There are places where it makes sense logistically, but all the way from Texas to California? No.”

The Rio Grande Valley in South Texas has become a focal point for immigration enforcement because it has been a main artery for crossing.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in a statement that fencing is part of an integrated strategy that includes agents on the ground, motion sensors, cameras and airborne monitoring.

The Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies, which supports strong border security, said Trump should look beyond his proposed wall for a comprehensive policy.

“Fencing can be very effective in making life difficult for those attempting to clandestinely cross our southern border, but it is not a one-stop measure,” said Jon Feere, legal policy analyst for the centre.

A gate in the U.S. border fence with Mexico is seen in this photo taken at the Loop family farm in Brownsville, Texas, U.S. on November 17, 2016.   REUTERS/Jon Herskovitz

A gate in the U.S. border fence with Mexico is seen in this photo taken at the Loop family farm in Brownsville, Texas, U.S. on November 17, 2016. REUTERS/Jon Herskovitz

NO MAN’S LAND

The Secure Fence Act of 2006, signed by Republican President George W. Bush, underestimated the cost of building a planned 670 miles of fencing at various places between California and Texas.

By the time Democratic President Barack Obama declared construction essentially complete in 2011, the allocated $2.4 billion had paid for fencing over only about half that distance, according to a U.S. Government Accounting Office report. Obama voted for the border fence construction when he was a U.S. Senator, as did Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

In South Texas, original plans for two layers of reinforced fencing over about 200 miles between Laredo and Brownsville were scaled down to a gap-toothed, single-layer barrier of about a third that length.

Border terrain caused a host of land rights issues that added cost and time to the construction. About 1,200 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border are in Texas, along the meandering Rio Grande river, which makes it impossible to build a border wall on the actual border.

The International Boundary and Water Commission, set up between the two countries in 1889, prevents any disruption to the flow of the Rio Grande, effectively requiring any wall to be built on levees in flood plains.

That pushed the South Texas fence up to two miles north into U.S. territory – putting property on the Mexico-facing side of in into a kind of no man’s land, and requiring the government to compensate owners for lost land value.

LEGAL SCRAPS

Ernest Villarreal points to where the U.S. border fence passes through the backyard of his family’s home in Brownsville, Texas, U.S. on November 18, 2016.     REUTERS/Jon Herskovitz

Ernest Villarreal points to where the U.S. border fence passes through the backyard of his family’s home in Brownsville, Texas, U.S. on November 18, 2016. REUTERS/Jon Herskovitz

Loop’s home, and almost all of his farm, are in U.S. territory but on the Mexico-facing side of the fence. He settled the U.S. government’s eminent domain case on terms that were not disclosed.

Another eminent domain case filed by the U.S. government stretched out for seven years and 140 court filings, as Eloisa Tamez fought attempts to put a few acres of family land – awarded in a grant from the King of Spain in 1767 – on the Mexico-facing side of the wall. The government settled for an undisclosed sum and agreed to construct several access points in the fence on the property.

Another telling example of economic loss: The Fort Brown Memorial Golf Course in Brownsville, also behind the wall, closed in 2015 after losing business from customers who mistakenly believed they had to leave the U.S. to play a round.

Trump would have little trouble obtaining land through eminent domain to build a wall for national security purposes, legal experts said. But land owners may now have stronger claims for higher compensation because previous rounds of construction have established concrete examples of lost property value.

Some property rights and compensation cases filed in the Bush years now may carry over into Trump’s term, legal experts said. Trump’s wall, if constructed, could bring a flood of new court challenges, they said.

“The court disputes are going to delay any building for months and years,” said Efren Olivares, regional legal director with the South Texas office of the nonprofit Texas Civil Rights Project, which has represented landowners in border fence disputes.

Local political and economic concerns also pose obstacles. One of the large gaps in the fence is just west of Brownsville, near an affluent area where residents successfully fought off construction.

The government avoided areas with higher land values, according to the internal emails from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

“They will not build any fence in any area (urban) where real estate costs are too high,” wrote Jeffrey Self, a Customs and Border Protection divisional bureau chief, in a situational report in March 2007.

POWER TO THE CARTELS

A gate in the U.S. border fence with Mexico is seen in this photo taken at the Loop family farm in Brownsville, Texas, U.S. on November 17, 2016.  REUTERS/Jon Herskovitz

A gate in the U.S. border fence with Mexico is seen in this photo taken at the Loop family farm in Brownsville, Texas, U.S. on November 17, 2016. REUTERS/Jon Herskovitz

Across the southwest border, apprehensions have shot up in recent months as Trump made border security a central issue in the campaign. In the year through September, U.S. authorities have apprehended 408,870 immigrants trying to cross, a jump of 23 percent from a year ago, according to Customs and Border Protection data.

In McCallen, about 55 miles west of Brownsville, Mayor Jim Darling said human traffickers are drumming up business by telling people to cross before the Trump wall goes up.

“Now we have a bigger immigration problem,” said Darling, who holds a nonpartisan office but endorsed Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott in his 2014 campaign.

If the current fencing in south Texas is extended to the west, it would likely end up in Rio Grande City, where Mayor Joel Villarreal, a political independent, sees it as a waste of government money and a potential windfall for Mexican criminal cartels trafficking immigrants.

“They will have the means to take people across,” he said in an interview, “and people will have to pay their cut to those cartels.”

Copyright Reuters 2016

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Additional reporting by Jim Forsyth in San Antonio; Editing by Brian Thevenot)

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Donald Trump’s Constitutional Problem

Should Trump continue to own his businesses he would almost certainly violate America’s constitution. It all goes back to a diamond-encrusted snuffbox Ben Franklin got from Louis XVI.

by Richard Tofel ProPublica
December 2, 2016

Kowloonese at English Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

Trump Tower in New York. Photo by Kowloonese/Wikipedia/Creative Commons

Far from ending with U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s announcement that he will separate himself from the management of his business empire, the constitutional debate about the meaning of the Emoluments Clause — and whether Trump will be violating it — is likely just beginning.

That’s because the Emoluments Clause seems to bar Trump’s ownership of his business. It has little to do with his management of it. Trump’s tweets last Wednesday said he would be “completely out of business operations.”

But unless Trump sells or gives his business to his children before taking office the Emoluments Clause would almost certainly be violated. Even if he does sell or give it away, any retained residual interest, or any sale payout based on the company’s results, would still give him a stake in its fortunes, again fairly clearly violating the Constitution.

The Emoluments Clause bars U.S. officials, including the president, from receiving payments from foreign governments or foreign government entities unless the payments are specifically approved by Congress. As ProPublica and others have detailed, Trump’s business has ties with foreign government entities ranging from loans and leases with the Bank of China to what appear to be tax-supported hotel deals in India and elsewhere. The full extent of such ties remains unknown, and Trump has refused to disclose them, or to make public his tax returns, through which many such deals, if they exist, would be revealed. Foreign government investments in Trump entities would also be covered by the clause, as would foreign government officials paying to stay in Trump hotels, so long as Trump stands to share in the revenues.

One misconception about the Emoluments Clause in early press coverage of it in the wake of Trump’s election is being clarified as scholars look more closely at the provision’s history. That was the suggestion that it would not be a violation for the Trump Organization to conduct business with foreign government entities if “fair market value” was received by the governments.

This view had been attributed to Professor Richard Painter, a former official of the George W. Bush administration, and privately by some others. But Professor Laurence Tribe, the author of the leading treatise on constitutional law, and others said the Emoluments Clause was more sweeping, and mandated a ban on such dealings without congressional approval. Painter now largely agrees, telling ProPublica that no fair market value test would apply to the sale of services (specifically including hotel rooms), and such a test would apply only to the sale of goods. The Trump Organization mostly sells services, such as hotel stays, golf memberships, branding deals and management services.

The Emoluments Clause appears in Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution. It bars any “person holding any office of profit or trust under” the United States from accepting any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Price, or foreign state” “without the consent of the Congress.” The word “emolument” comes from the Latin emolumentum, meaning profit or gain. The language of the clause was lifted in its entirety from the Articles of Confederation which established the structure of the government of the United States from 1781 until the ratification of the Constitution in 1788-89. The clause was derived from a Dutch rule dating to 1751.

The clause was added to the draft Constitution at the Constitutional Convention on Aug. 23, 1787 on a motion by Charles Pinckney of South Carolina. As Gov. Edmund Randolph of Virginia explained to his state’s ratification convention in 1788, Pinckney’s motion was occasioned by Benjamin Franklin, who had been given a snuffbox, adorned with the royal portrait and encrusted with small diamonds, by Louis XVI while serving as the Continental Congress’s ambassador to France. As Randolph said,

“An accident which actually happened, operated in producing the restriction. A box was presented to our ambassador by the king of our allies. It was thought proper, in order to exclude corruption and foreign influence, to prohibit any one in office from receiving emoluments from foreign states.”

The Continental Congress in 1786 had consented, after a debate, to Franklin keeping the snuffbox, as it had earlier with a similar gift to envoy Arthur Lee. At the same time, consent also was given to diplomat John Jay receiving a horse from the King of Spain.

The clause was part of the basis for Alexander Hamilton’s defense of the Constitution, in Federalist 22, as addressing “one of the weak sides of republics”: “that they afford too easy an inlet to foreign corruption.”

There is no question that the Emoluments Clause applies to the president. President Obama’s counsel sought an opinion in 2009 on whether it barred him from accepting the Nobel Peace Prize. The Justice Department concluded that it did not, in part based on historical precedent (the Prize had also been awarded to Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, Vice President Charles Dawes and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger), but primarily because the Norwegian group that awards the prize was not deemed a governmental entity.

The clause does not seem ever to have been interpreted by a court, but it has been the subject of a number of opinions, over the years, of the attorney general and the comptroller general.

Nearly all of these opinions have concluded that the clause is definitive. In 1902, an attorney general’s opinion said it is “directed against every kind of influence by foreign governments upon officers of the United States.” In 1970, a comptroller general opinion declared that the clause’s “drafters intended the prohibition to have the broadest possible scope and applicability.” A 1994 Justice Department opinion said “the language of Emoluments Clause is both sweeping and unqualified.” Among the ties deemed to violate the clause was a Nuclear Regulatory Commission employee undertaking consultant work for a firm retained by the government of Mexico.

Congress has passed one law giving blanket approval to a set of payments from foreign government entities. Known as the Foreign Gifts and Decorations Act, it is limited to gifts of “minimal value” (set as of 1981 at $100), educational scholarships and medical treatment, travel entirely outside the country “consistent with the interests of the United States,” or “when it appears that to refuse the gift would likely cause offense or embarrassment or otherwise adversely affect the foreign relations of the United States.” The specificity of these few exceptions reinforces the notion that other dealings with foreign government entities is forbidden without congressional approval.

One attorney-general opinion from the Reagan administration offers the possibility of a more permissive interpretation of the Emoluments Clause, indicating it could be limited to “payments which have a potential of influencing or corrupting the recipient.” But whatever the meaning of this, it was the same Reagan Justice Department that banned the NRC employee from the Mexican-funded consultancy a year later.

Ironically, an “originalist” reading of the clause — usually favored these days by conservatives as exemplified by the late Justice Antonin Scalia and current Justice Clarence Thomas — would seem to bind Trump more stringently, while a “living constitution” approach — exemplified by liberals such as the late Justices Louis Brandeis and Thurgood Marshall — might offer him greater latitude.

Clearly, deciding what the Emoluments Clause means in a specific case is a complicated legal question. (The opinion on Obama’s acceptance of the Nobel Prize runs to 13 printed pages.) But just as clearly, the judges of its meaning with respect to President Trump will be politicians rather than the Supreme Court.

The controversies that swirled around Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton established a number of key points. Among them are that the sole remedy for a violation of the Constitution by a president in office is impeachment, and that the House of Representatives is the sole judge of what constitutes an impeachable offense, while the Senate is the sole judge of whether such an alleged violation warrants removal from office. (Impeachments are very rare: articles of impeachment have been voted against only two presidents, Andrew Johnson and Clinton, both of whom were acquitted by the Senate, while Nixon resigned ahead of likely impeachment. Fifteen federal judges have also been impeached, and eight removed, while four resigned.)

The arguments of scholars and lawyers on the meaning of the Emoluments Clause may influence the public, and their elected representatives. But if Trump decides not to dispose of his business, it will be up to Congress to decide whether to do anything about his apparent violation of the Constitution.

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Wake-up: How the 2016 Election Changed One American Voter

Anti-Trump demonstrators protest in front of the White House following Republican Donald Trump's election victory, in Washington, U.S. November 10, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

The result of the 2016 US election has galvanized voters, like writer Emily Lacika, to become more active. Above, anti-Trump demonstrators protest in front of the White House following Republican Donald Trump’s election victory, in Washington, U.S. November 10, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

EMILY LACIKA
November, 2016

American politics is big on rhetoric. Just look at our Declaration of Independence. It claims all men are created equal. That’s a nice idea, but it often falls short, especially this year. I am one of those “coastal liberals”, the ones who supposedly ooze privilege. That’s not entirely wrong. I am a well-educated, white woman, and my family enjoys a comfortable income thanks to the tech industry. We live in Greater Boston, so my daughter attends an excellent public school. However, because we live in Massachusetts, our votes do not carry the same weight as someone in rural Wisconsin. And, thus, our candidate did not win the election, despite winning the popular vote.

When the US Constitution was written two hundred years ago, the authors created the Electoral College as the final decision maker in presidential elections. Each state is given a number of electors equal to its number of Congressional representatives. Then, in a winner-take-all approach, these electors vote based on how their respective state votes, even if the state’s winner only wins by a few hundred votes. (This is what happened with Florida in the Bush-Gore Election of 2000.) The purpose of Electoral College was to prevent the populace from electing a demagogue to the nation’s highest executive office. The real effect is giving voters in sparsely populated states more voting power than citizens in densely populated states. To put that into numbers, one Electoral College vote in Wyoming is equal to 194,717  voters, while one Electoral College vote in California is equal to 705,454 voters. On December 19th, when the Electoral College gathers, they will nullify over a million votes, because these citizens don’t live in the right place.

The popular vote and the Electoral College vote usually match, but this is the second Electoral College misalignment to occur in sixteen years, with the last in 2000. This time, the experience is so different from 2000. I wasn’t thrilled about the Supreme Court decision that settled the election in Bush’s favor, but I accepted it. I did not attend any protests. I did not make any phone calls. I did laugh at a US map meme forwarded to me by multiple friends: Bush states were grouped together in an entity called “Jesusland;” The Gore states were joined to our great neighbor to the North as “the United States of Canada.”

Now, I’m having a hard time finding anything funny about our current political situation.

My post-election emotions have run the gamut: sadness, anger, anxiety, vindictiveness, shame. For the first time in my life, I feel embarrassed to travel overseas. In the past I did not enjoy being mistaken for a Bush supporter just because of my nationality, but I now shudder at the thought of being associated with the incoming administration. Do Russian nationals get grilled about Putin when they ski the Swiss Alps? Do Chinese tourists get treated to a litany of their government’s human rights abuse when they walk through the Valley of the Kings? I don’t have a symbol to attach to my luggage, like Canadians do with the Maple Leaf, that visibly spells out how I am different from the President-Elect and his cronies.  There is no international marker that denotes how I drove to nearby New Hampshire to knock on doors for the Clinton campaign.

Sixty two million other Americans voted the same way I did, and we have been banding together through social media networks like the ostensibly “secret” Facebook group “Pantsuit Nation.”   … There are efforts to document  the displays of hate — the swastikas, the Confederate flags— that started appearing in public after Trump’s victory. I’m sure many Trump supporters are not outright racists, but those who do feel that way have become more vocal. There are also pictures of the positives, like messages of solidarity written in chalk on the sidewalk in front of mosques.

The most powerful thing to come from these networks has been the collective call to act, on a state and national level: letters, petitions, emails, business boycotts, phone calls, etc. There is strength in numbers. Just ask the House Oversight Committee, whose voicemail box is now filled with requests for a bipartisan review into Trump’s financials and conflicts of interest.

Last week, I called Charlie Baker, the Republican Governor of Massachusetts, three times. The first call was to ask him to issue a formal statement declaring Massachusetts a safe haven,  comparable to the post-election statements made by governors of New York and California. That day, his office received 6000 similar calls. Since that day, his office has been flooded with requests to denounce the appointment of Steve Bannon to a position within the Trump White House, like other prominent politicians in Massachusetts (our Senators, our House delegation, our state Attorney General) have done. Governor Baker has said, “There’s way too much prejudging going on here.”   I’m sorry, Governor, but that response is inadequate. I will keep calling until he makes a statement that is more representative of his state’s views.

For all the petitions I have signed, the grassroots meetings I have attended, the recurring donations I have made to Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), I have realized there is much I can do in addition to the political arena. Reliably liberal Massachusetts may have many state regulations that can protect its citizens from the worst of a Trump presidency, but we are not immune to income inequality and other such problems that gave rise to the current state of demagoguery. Last week, I spent a morning packing weekend meals for less fortunate children in our school district, those who receive free lunch at school. This food can’t fix the problems of low wages and lack of middle class jobs, but it’s a step in the right direction, one that, before this election, I was too complacent to take.

Copyright Emily Lacika 2016

Links:

As American as Apple Pie? The Rural Vote’s Disproportionate Slice of Power, by Emily Badger, The New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/21/upshot/as-american-as-apple-pie-the-rural-votes-disproportionate-slice-of-power.html

The Reason for the Electoral College, by Joe Miller, FactCheck.org, http://www.factcheck.org/2008/02/the-reason-for-the-electoral-college/

The electoral college badly distorts the vote. And it’s going to get worse., by Katy Collin, the Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/11/17/the-electoral-college-badly-distorts-the-vote-and-its-going-to-get-worse/

800 attend first Pantsuit Nation meeting in Tempe, by Kaila White, The Arizona Republic/ azcentral.com, http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/tempe/2016/11/20/pantsuit-nation-arizona-chapter-meeting/94180686/

Hate Crimes Are Up — But the Government Isn’t Keeping Good Track of Them, by  A.C. Thompson and Ken Schwencke, ProPublica”: https://www.propublica.org/article/hate-crimes-are-up-but-the-government-isnt-keeping-good-track-of-them?utm_campaign=sprout&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook&utm_content=1479239909

Congressional phones jammed by calls for Trump conflict-of-interest investigation, by Elise Viebeck, the Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/wp/2016/11/18/congressional-phones-jammed-by-calls-for-trump-conflict-of-interest-investigation/

Baker’s Office Blitzed By Calls For Mass. To Declare Itself A Safe Haven, by Mike Deehan, WGBH News, http://news.wgbh.org/2016/11/15/politics-government/bakers-office-blitzed-calls-mass-declare-itself-safe-haven

Gov. Baker Urges Wait-And-See Approach On Trump Administration, WBUR News and Wire Services, http://www.wbur.org/politicker/2016/11/16/baker-trump-administration

 

emilyfopicEmily Lacika is a writer living in Somerville, Massachusetts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

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Canada’s dark time might be closer than you think

TOM REGAN: SUMMONING ORENDA
November 19, 2016

After the election of 2015, Canadians probably thought they were safe from the kind of racism and bigotry that has gripped the United States after the election of Donald Trump.

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau waves during a campaign rally in North Vancouver, British Columbia, October 18, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau waves during a campaign rally in North Vancouver, British Columbia, October 18, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

After all, the Stephen Harper-led Conservatives party made racism one of the key components of its re-election strategy, especially the idea of the registry where you could call and report on your neighbors if you thought they were engaged in “suspicious activities.” The election of the Liberals led by Justin Trudeau, his appointment of a cabinet composed of 50% women and visible minorities, his welcoming stance to Syrian refugees, reinforced Canadians’ smug notion that “we are above all that American stuff.”

Well, I’m sorry to break your little “we’re so great” bubble, but that’s not true. Over the past week Trump-inspired xenophobia has found a willing audience among Canadians.

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A CBC story on Facebook, that Mexicans would not need a tourist visa to visit Canada after Dec. 1, included a headine suggesting government officials are worried about an “overflow” of Mexicans into Canada. Perhaps that gave the piece a twist that opened the door to a flood of comments, few of which could be termed open-minded towards Mexicans.

In Ottawa, a teenager was charged after an Islamic mosque, a Jewish synagogue, and a Christian church with a black pastor were hit with racist graffiti. I first heard from a friend that the word “kike,” with a very large swastika, was sprayed on a synagogue in Ottawa’s Glebe area, near where I lived in the 60s when my dad was working the federal government.

Trudeau suggested he hoped to to triple Canada’s population, from about 35 million to some 100 million. That led to predictions Canada would boost, to 450,000, the number of admitted immigrants. Instead, 300,000 are now expected because, a well-connected Canadian friend told me, the government fears “a backlash.”

Canadian media are reporting an increase in incidents of racism following the US election — officials dance around Trump as the cause, but I am convinced his rise is the catalyst.

Encouraged by the victory of racially tinged politics in the United States, the tactic has been seized as a path to victory by some candidates in Canada’s upcoming Conservative leadership convention. Emboldened by evidence some Canadians think that the government is moving too fast with its Syrian refugee program,energized by the growing public profile of white supremacist and nativist groups in the United States, Canada’s own voices of racism and bigotry are growing louder.

My son, who is studying media and politics and their effects on the broader culture, has the best description I’ve heard of what is powering racial outbursts in Canada and the US: ‘white inadequacy culture,’ the fear that white culture will disappear.

“At its root,” he told me, “I think what all these white folks fear is that they are going to be forgotten about, that their ‘culture’ will be forgotten about, when it’s really just their own fear of death and the ‘alien’ finding root. It’s a complete fiction that whites are in any way vulnerable of cultural extinction.”

But in a post-truth world, fiction can have as much, or more, force than the truth. And if the problem is, as my son put it, a fear of white inadequacy, how do we as a society deal with that? How do we find a way to calm the fears of whites who feel this way, while at the same time continuing to denounce this fear’s most virulent, dangerous forms? This is our challenge.

Canadians ignore this at their own peril. It wasn’t enough to renounce this kind of open hatred in the 2015 election.

It must be done every day, every week, every month, every year. Those of us who care cannot allow ourselves to be lulled into thinking “Well, we have gay marriage, we have no abortion law, we welcome Syrian refugees into our country, we defeated the bad guys in 2015. We can just relax.”

The 2016 election in the United States showed that this is not true. The reality is, things we care deeply about can be taken away. The truth is, the struggle never ends, the battle against those who would have us go back 50 years to a different time and a different country, for whatever reason, never ends. Yes, it is tiring to think that. But it is the reality of the world that we live in.

I can assure you the other side will never give up trying to pull us backwards. We must never give up trying to prevent them from doing that

Copyright Tom Regan 2016

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com

LINKS:

Teen charged after spate of racist graffiti in Ottawa, CBC: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/arrest-racist-graffiti-ottawa-1.3858947

Is Donald Trump’s victory emboldening hate-mongers in Canada? The Globe and Mail:
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/is-donald-trumps-victory-emboldening-hate-mongers-in-canada/article32941905/

Liberty moves north, the Economist:
http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21709305-it-uniquely-fortunate-many-waysbut-canada-still-holds-lessons-other-western

Prest: In the age of Trump, Canada might be the last defender of small-l liberal values. Ottawa Citizen: http://ottawacitizen.com/opinion/columnists/prest-in-the-age-of-trump-canada-might-be-the-last-defender-of-small-l-liberal-values

Meet the surgeon who hopes to be Canada’s Donald Trump. Washington Post:
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/11/09/meet-the-surgeon-who-hopes-to-be-canadas-donald-trump/

~~~

 

Tom Regan Tom Regan has worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio. A former executive director of the Online News Association in the U.S., he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92. He is based near Washington, D.C.

Return to Tom Regan’s page 

 

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Pacific Rim Leaders Scramble in Trump Trade Era

China's President Xi Jinping (2nd L) and Peru's second Vice President Mercedes Araoz (L) walk after he and his wife Peng Liyuan (2nd R) arrived for the 2016 APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) summit in Lima, Peru November 18, 2016. REUTERS/Guadalupe Pardo

Related: Trump victory rattles Asia, Analysis by Jonathan Manthorpe, International Affairs columnist China’s President Xi Jinping (2nd L) and Peru’s second Vice President Mercedes Araoz (L) walk after he and his wife Peng Liyuan (2nd R) arrived for the 2016 APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) summit in Lima, Peru November 18, 2016. REUTERS/Guadalupe Pardo

By Rosalba O’Brien and Mitra Taj
November 18, 2016

LIMA (Reuters) – Leaders of Pacific rim nations scrambled to find new free-trade options on Friday as a looming Donald Trump presidency in the United States sounded a possible death knell for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

After lower-level meetings, U.S. President Barack Obama, Chinese President Xi Jinping, and Russian President Vladimir Putin were due to arrive at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit that brings together leaders whose economies represent 57 percent of global gross domestic product.

While campaigning for the presidential election which he won, Trump labelled the TPP a job-killing “disaster” and called for curbs on immigration and steeper tariffs on products from China and Mexico.

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Though Obama championed the TPP as a way to counter China’s rise, his administration has now stopped trying to win congressional approval for the deal that was signed by 12 economies in the Americas and Asia-Pacific, but excluded China. Without U.S. approval the agreement as currently negotiated cannot come to fruition.

China’s Xi is selling an alternate vision for regional trade by promoting the Beijing-backed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which as it stands excludes the Americas.

The Obama administration said China would be happy to take over the United States’ role as global free-trade promoter.

“We see people around the table here right now talking about if the TPP does not move forward then they’re going to have to put their eggs in the RCEP basket,” U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman told journalists.

Froman said that RCEP would not have labour and environmental protections that are written into TPP.

Mexico, Japan, Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand and Singapore, however, aim to continue with TPP with or without the United States, Mexico’s Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo said.

“We determined that our countries will press ahead with this agreement independently of what Washington decides,” Guajardo said of the trade deal on Mexican radio. He said Mexico had not ruled out joining RCEP but was focusing on TPP.

Peru and Japan, on the other hand, signed a joint statement pledging to work harder to put into force the 12-nation accord.

DIFFICULT TO EXCLUDE U.S.

Alan Bollard, the APEC secretariat’s executive director, said it was premature to write the TPP off, and that excluding the United States could prove difficult.

“Actually there were concessions given to the U.S. in those negotiations that they may not want to sign up to without the U.S. in it,” he said in an interview. “Without the U.S., it does change the economics of the whole thing quite a bit.”

The 21 members of the APEC have finished a study for a regional free-trade area but will not discuss it until the next annual summit in Vietnam, Peruvian Trade Minister Eduardo Ferreyros said. Both the TPP and RCEP were seen as pathways toward an APEC-wide agreement.

Robert Moritz, the global chairman of PricewaterhouseCoopers, said not implementing TPP would represent the loss of a potential economic growth accelerator, but that CEOs surveyed by the auditing and corporate advisory firm hoped other trade deals could be reached.

“Many of those countries and the companies within them are also looking for bilateral and trilateral trade agreements in addition to or maybe even separate from TPP,” Moritz said in an interview. “So to me it’s a question of how do they pivot if in fact TPP does not go forward.”

Though most were careful not to criticise Trump directly, leaders at APEC, which ends on Sunday, universally warned of the dangers of turning away from globalisation and free trade.

“To anyone who wants to propose protectionism I suggest that you read the history books about the 1930s,” Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski said.

Sun Xiao from China’s Chamber of International Commerce blamed unequal distribution of free trade’s benefits for rising protectionism, and suggested it would be different under Chinese leadership.

“If there was a bigger role for China we would promote the principle of joint participation and shared benefits to ensure free trade arrangements can benefit all,” he said.

Copyright Reuters 2016

(Reporting by Rosalba O’Brien, Teresa Cespedes, Caroline Stauffer, Ursula Scollo and Mitra Taj in Lima, Additional reporting by Natalie Schachar in Mexico City; Writing by Caroline Stauffer and Rosalba O’Brien; Editing by Alistair Bell, Mary Milliken and Lisa Shumaker)

Related story: Trump victory rattles Asia, analysis by Jonathan Manthorpe, International Affairs columnist

it was extraordinary to see Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe take a detour on his flight to Peru for the Asia-Pacific summit next week, in order to scurry to New York to seek an audience with Donald Trump. That Abe would put himself through this distasteful encounter speaks volumes about the fear and dread with which not only Japan, but much of Asia, contemplates the ascension of Trump on January 20.

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (R) leave after their bilateral meeting at the APEC Ministers Summit in Lima, Peru November 17, 2016. REUTERS/Mark Ralston/Pool

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (R) leave after their bilateral meeting at the APEC Ministers Summit in Lima, Peru November 17, 2016. REUTERS/Mark Ralston/Pool

China’s Sinochem Boss Dismisses “Crazy” Trump Policies

By Rosalba O’Brien

LIMA (Reuters) – Global business leaders meeting in Lima think proposals by U.S. President-elect Donald Trump to build a wall along the Mexican border and hike tariffs on Chinese imports are unlikely to happen, said the head of China’s state-run Sinochem on Friday.

“We worried a bit on the incoming U.S. President Donald Trump, and his policies, but I think we basically agree we don’t think he will really build a wall between Mexico and the U.S, and we don’t think he will really increase import duties on Chinese products,” Ning Gaoning told journalists on the sidelines of a conference of Pacific rim economies.

“We believe countries are rational, and we doubt Mexico will pay for that wall…I don’t think our world will go that crazy.”

Trump, a Republican, pulled off a surprise victory in the U.S. presidential election after appealing to voters in states that had long supported Democrats, promising to curb immigration and bring back jobs by renegotiating international trade deals.

His victory vote has exacerbated worries that about the future of free trade and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact, which Trump has criticized. Those are the key themes under discussion in this week’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Peru.

But Ning said he remained optimistic that there would not be a “major retreat” on free trade and suggested Trump’s words were little more than rhetoric.

“Due to lack of knowledge and understanding, some people fall for the theories of protectionism,” he said.

“Trump said in Michigan that he would create automobile factories and bring the industries back. I don’t think what he said can be delivered.”

Sinochem Group was a monopoly oil and chemicals trader until the early 1990s and has since expanded into oil and gas production, refining, agriculture and real estate.

Copyright Reuters 2016

(Reporting by Rosalba O’Brien; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

 

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Revenge of the Forgotten Class

by Alec MacGillis, ProPublica
November 11, 2016

In March, I was driving along a road that led from Dayton, Ohio, into its formerly middle-class, now decidedly working-class southwestern suburbs, when I came upon an arresting sight. I was looking for a professional sign-maker who had turned his West Carrollton ranch house into a distribution point for Trump yard signs, in high demand just days prior to the Ohio Republican primary. Instead of piling the signs in the driveway, he had arrayed them in his yard along the road. There they were, dozens and dozens of them, lined up in rows like the uniform gravestones in a military cemetery.

The sign man wasn’t home, but he had left a married couple in charge of the distribution. I got talking to the woman, Contessa Hammel. She was 43 and worked at the convenience store at a local Speedway gas station after four years in the military. And this was the first time she was voting in 25 years of eligibility.

I was startled to hear this — it’s rare to find voters entering the political process after decades of disconnection; in fact, I’d met a handyman in his 70s at a Trump rally on the other side of Dayton that same day who said he was voting for the first time, but I had dismissed it as a fluke.

I asked Hammel why she’d held back all those years. “I didn’t want to make an unintelligent decision,” she said, in a tone that suggested she was well aware of what an admission that was. But this year’s Republican nominee was different, she said. “He makes it simple for people like me,” she said. “He puts it clearly.”

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Donald Trump’s stunning win Tuesday, defying all the prognosticators, suggested there were many more people like Hammel out there — people who were so disconnected from the political system that they were literally unaccounted for in the pollsters’ modeling, which relies on past voting behavior.

But Hammel was far from the only person I met in my reporting this year who made me think that Trump had spurred something very unusual. Some of them had never voted before; some had voted for Barack Obama. None were traditional Republican voters. Some were in dire economic straits; others were just a notch up from that and looking down with resentment at the growing dependency around them. What they shared were three things. They lived in places that were in decline, and had been for some time. They lacked strong attachment to either party at a time when, even within a single metro area like Dayton, the parties had sorted themselves into ideological, geographically disparate camps that left many voters unmoored. And they had profound contempt for a dysfunctional, hyper-prosperous Washington that they saw as utterly removed from their lives.

These newly energized voters helped Trump flip not only battlegrounds like Ohio and Iowa but long-blue Northern industrial states — Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin — without which he would have lost to Hillary Clinton. Nationwide, his margin with the white working class soared to 40 points, up 15 points from Romney’s in 2012.

Two days after meeting Hammel, I tagged along with some Trump supporters, women who’d come all the way from Buffalo to go canvassing door-to-door in the adjacent Dayton suburb of Miamisburg. It was a rainy day, and few were answering their doors in this neighborhood of frayed frame houses and bungalows, but they persisted in their yellow ponchos; I couldn’t help but be reminded of the doggedness I’d observed among Obama volunteers in 2008.

At one small house, someone finally answered the door. Tracie St. Martin stepped out onto the porch, a 54-year-old woman with a sturdy, thick-muscled build and sun-weathered face, both of them products of her 26 years as a heavy-construction worker. St. Martin greeted the women warmly, and when they told her what they were there for she said, sure, she was considering Trump — even though she usually voted Democratic. And when they got talking, in the disjointed way of canvassers making a quick pitch, about how Trump was going to bring back the good jobs, St. Martin was visibly affected. She interrupted them, wanting to tell them about how she had, not long ago, worked a job that consisted of demolishing a big local GM plant. Her eyes welled up as she told the story and she had trouble continuing.

The canvassers gave her some materials and bade her farewell. But I doubled back a little later and visited with St. Martin in her kitchen, which she was in the midst of tidying up, with daytime TV playing in the background. Space in the kitchen was tight due to the treadmill she recently bought to help her get into better shape, which she hoped might make her less dependent on the painkillers for the severe aches she got from her physically demanding job, pills that had gotten a lot harder to obtain from her doctor amid the clampdown on prescription opioids.

St. Martin apologized, unnecessarily, for her emotions on the porch and expanded on what she had told the women from Buffalo: She was a proud member of Local 18 of the operating engineers’ union, which had been urging its members to support Hillary Clinton. The union provided her health insurance and decent pay levels, and trained her for demanding work, which, just months earlier, had required her to hang off of a Pennsylvania cliff face in her dozer as part of a gas pipeline project.

She came from a staunch Democratic family and had voted for Barack Obama in 2008, before not voting in 2012 because, she said, she was away on one of her long-term jobs. She was a single mother with three grown daughters. She had experienced all manner of sexual discrimination and harassment on very male-heavy worksites over the years.

She was, in other words, as tailor-made a supporter as one could find for Clinton, a self-professed fighter for the average Jane who was running to become the first woman president.

And yet St. Martin was leaning toward Trump.

Her explanation for this was halting but vehement, spoken with pauses and in bursts. She was disappointed in Obama after having voted for him. “I don’t like the Obama persona, his public appearance and demeanor,” she said. “I wanted people like me to be cared about. People don’t realize there’s nothing without a blue-collar worker.” She regretted that she did not have a deeper grasp of public affairs. “No one that’s voting knows all the facts,” she said. “It’s a shame. They keep us so fucking busy and poor that we don’t have the time.”

When she addressed Clinton herself, it was in a stream that seemed to refer to, but not explicitly name, several of the charges thrown against Clinton by that point in time, including her handling of the deadly 2012 attack by Islamic militants on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya; the potential conflicts of interest at the Clinton Foundation; and her use of a private email server while serving as Secretary of State, mixing national security business with emails to her daughter, Chelsea.

“To have lives be sacrificed because of corporate greed and warmongering, it’s too much for me — and I realize I don’t have all the facts — that there’s just too much sidestepping on her. I don’t trust her. I don’t think that — I know there’s casualties of war in conflict, I’m a big girl, I know that. But I lived my life with no secrets. There’s no shame in the truth. There’s mistakes made. We all grow. She’s a mature woman and she should know that. You don’t email your fucking daughter when you’re a leader. Leaders need to make decisions, they need to be focused. You don’t hide stuff.

“That’s why I like Trump,” she continued. “He’s not perfect. He’s a human being. We all make mistakes. We can all change our mind. We get educated, but once you have the knowledge, you still have to go with your gut.”

Hand-wringing among Democrats about the party’s declining support among white working-class voters goes back a long time, to Lyndon Johnson’s declaration that signing the Civil Rights Act would sacrifice the allegiance of white Southerners. Then came the rest of the historical litany: the crime wave, riots and anti-Vietnam War protests of the late 1960s, the consolidation of suburban white flight, Nixon’s Silent Majority, Reagan Democrats, NAFTA, gun control, the War on Coal, and on and on. By this year, many liberals had gotten so fed up with hearing about these woebegone voters and all their political needs that they were openly declaring them a lost cause, motivated more by racial issues than economic anxiety, and declaring that the expanding Democratic coalition of racial and ethnic minorities and college-educated white voters obviated the need to cater to the white working class.

But this assessment suffered from a fatal overgeneralization. The “white working class” was a hugely broad category — as pollsters defined it, any white voter without a four-year college degree, roughly one-third of the electorate. Within that category were crucial distinctions, especially regional ones. Democrats in national elections had lost most white working-class voters in the Deep South — indeed, virtually all white voters there — a long time ago. They had in the past decade and a half seen much of Greater Appalachia, stretching from the Alleghenies to Arkansas, follow suit, to the point where West Virginia, one of just five states that Jimmy Carter won in 1980, went for Mitt Romney by 26 percentage points in 2012. It was hard to see how the Democrats were going to win back coal country like Logan County, W.V., which Bill Clinton won with 72 percent in 1996 but where Obama got only 29 percent in 2012.

But there was a whole subset of the white working class Obama was still winning: voters in northern states where unions, however diminished, still served to remind members of their Democratic roots (and build inter-racial solidarity). In these states, voters could still find national figures who represented them and their sort, people like Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown and Vice President Joe Biden. Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania, centered on Biden’s hometown of Scranton, went for Obama with 63 percent of the vote in 2012. Rural Marquette County, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, went for him with 56 percent of the vote. In Ohio, there were a couple counties in the state’s Appalachian southeast that went stronger for Obama in 2012 than they had in 2008. In the opposite corner of the state, gratitude for Obama’s bailout of the auto industry helped win him 64 percent of the vote in Lucas County, around Toledo. Across the North, Obama ran even or ahead with John Kerry and Al Gore among white working class voters; their raw vote total for him nationwide exceeded his tallies of college-educated white voters and minority supporters.

On Election Day 2012, one voter I spoke with in Columbus, Ohio, encapsulated how well Obama had managed to frame the election as a “who’s on your side” choice between himself and the private equity titan Mitt Romney, and thereby hold onto enough white working-class voters in crucial swing states. Matt Bimberg, 50, was waiting by himself at a remote bus stop in a black neighborhood on the edge of town. He had in the past decade lost jobs as a telecom technician for Global Crossing (he still carried a Global Crossing tote bag) and at a factory making escape hatches for buses. But he had just landed a job at a nearby warehouse as a forklift operator, a success for which he credited a three-week training course paid for by the U.S. Department of Labor. And as gratitude for that, he was voting for Obama after voting for John McCain in 2008. “My line of thinking was that under Romney and [Paul] Ryan, it would be more of a trickle-down administration,” he said. “Their thinking is to give that money to corporations and the rich in tax breaks, and some will trickle down. But it didn’t work then and it won’t work now. Romney reminds me so much of Reagan’s theory of supply-side economics. It scares me.”

Not so long ago, Hillary Clinton would have seemed ideally suited to keep such northern white working-class voters in the fold. After all, she had trounced Obama among many of these very voters in the 2008 primaries, as she beat him in states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania and at one point went so far as to declare herself, in a slip of the tongue, the champion of “working, hard-working Americans, white Americans.”

But things had changed in the intervening years. For one thing, she was further removed from her stint representing downtrodden upstate New York as a senator — she had spent the years since 2008 in the rarefied realm of the State Department and then giving more than 80 paid speeches to banks, corporations and trade associations, for a total haul of $18 million. For another thing, cause for resentment and letdown had grown in many of those Rust Belt communities where Obama had held his own — they might be inching their way back from the Great Recession, but the progress was awfully slow, and they were lagging ever further behind booming coastal cities like New York, San Francisco and Washington, where the income gap compared with the rest of the country had grown far larger.

Most crucially, she was running not against Mitt Romney, the man from Bain Capital, but against Donald Trump. Yes, Trump was (or claimed to be) a billionaire himself, but he was not of Romney’s upper crust — they scorned him and his casinos and gold-plated jet, and were giving him virtually none of their campaign contributions. Trump attacked the trade deals that had helped hollow out these voters’ communities, he attacked the Mexicans who had heavily populated some of their towns and had driven much of the heroin trade in others, and, yes, he tapped into broader racial resentments as well. Faced with this populist opposition, Clinton fatefully opted against taking the “I’m on your side; he’s not” tack that Obama had used so well against Romney, and had instead gone about attacking Trump’s fitness for the presidency.

Back in Dayton, where Clinton never visited during the entire campaign, I had run into two more former Obama voters after Trump’s March rally there. Both Heath Bowling and Alex Jones admitted to having been swept up in the Obama wave, but had since grown somewhat disenchanted. Bowling, 36, a burly man with a big smile, managed a small siding and insulation business, and as he’d grown older he’d had gotten more bothered about the dependency on food stamps he saw around him, especially among members of his own generation, and demoralized by the many overdose deaths in his circle.

Jones, 30, who worked part-time at a pizza shop and delivering medicines to nursing homes, joked at first that his vote for Obama might have had to do with his having been doing a lot of drugs at the time. He grew serious when he talked about how much the Black Lives Matter protests against shootings by police officers grated on him. Chicago was experiencing soaring homicide rates, he said — why weren’t more people talking about that? He was upset that when he went out on the town in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine bar district, he had to worry about getting jumped if he was on the street past a certain hour — and that he felt constrained against complaining against it. “If I say anything about that, I’m a racist,” he said. “I can’t stand that politically correct bullshit.” He had, he said, taken great solace in confiding recently in an older black man at a bar who had agreed with his musing on race and crime. “It was like a big burden lifted from me — here was this black man agreeing with me!”

Polls had consistently showed that Trump’s support was stronger with white working-class men than women, and in October came a revelation that seemed sure to weaken his standing among women of all classes, release of an 11-year-old tape in which Trump boasted of trying to commit adultery with a married woman and grabbing women “by the pussy.”

A few days after the release of the tape, which was followed by a string of accusations from women saying they had been sexually harassed and assaulted by Trump, I checked back in with Tracie St. Martin to see if she still supported him. She was working on a new gas plant in Middletown, a working-class town near Dayton that was the setting of the recent best-selling memoir “Hillbilly Elegy.” Here’s what she wrote back in a text message: “I still appreciate the honesty in some of his comments. Most of his comments. I still favor what he says he may be able to do. I am voting against Hillary, come what may with Trump. It’s important to me that ‘we the people’ actually have political power. And electing Trump will prove that. I am AMAZED at the number of people voting for him. The corruption is disgusting in the press. Yes, as of right now I am voting FOR Trump.” She was sure he would win, she said: “His support is crazy! The polls have to be wrong. Have to be fixed.”

And she shared an anecdote that reflected how differently Trump’s comments had been received in some places than others. “I’m setting steel for this new gas plant…I’m operating a rough terrain forklift,” she wrote. “So today, I kept thinking about the debate and the audio was released … And I got underneath a load of steel and was moving it…I was laughing and laughing and one of the iron workers asked ‘what are u laughing at.’ I said ‘I grabbed that load right by the pussy’ and laughed some more…And said ‘when you’re an operator you can do that ya know’, laughed all fucking day.”

Just last week, I was back in Ohio, in the southeastern Appalachian corner. I was at a graduation ceremony for opiate addicts who had gone through a recovery program, and sitting with four women, all around 30, who were still in the program. Someone mentioned the election, and all four of them piped up that they were voting for the first time ever. For whom? I asked. They looked at me as if I had asked the dumbest question in the world. All four were for Trump.

The most of the loquacious of the group, Tiffany Chesser, said she was voting for him because her boyfriend worked at a General Electric light-bulb plant nearby that was seeing more of its production lines being moved to Mexico. She saw voting for Trump as a straightforward transaction to save his job. “If he loses that job we’re screwed — I’ll lose my house,” she said. “There used to be a full parking lot there — now you go by, there are just three trucks in the lot.”

But Chesser also was viscerally opposed to Clinton who, the week prior, had endured a surprise announcement from FBI Director James Comey that a newly discovered cache of emails of hers was under scrutiny. “If she’s being investigated by the FBI, there’s a reason for it,” she said. I asked the women if they weren’t equally bothered by the many women’s accusations against Trump. They shrugged. “It’s locker-room talk,” Chesser said. “I know girls talk like that, and I know guys do.” But what about the accusations of assault? “Why are they just coming forward now?” she said. “If he did it to me before, I’d have come forward then. I wouldn’t wait until now.”

The next day, I met with Taylor Sappington, a native of Southeast Ohio who, after graduating from Ohio University, had decided to run for town council last year in Nelsonville, pop. 5,400, and won a seat. Sappington, who had been raised in a manufactured home by a single mother and whose brother works as a corrections officer, was a proud Democrat. He had volunteered for Obama’s 2012 campaign and took comfort in knowing that parts of Southeast Ohio had remained solid for the Democrats, unlike so much of the rest of Appalachia. But he knew that Clinton would not perform as well in the area as Obama had. “It’s a Democratic area. But Trump has blown a hole through it,” he said. “They feel like this is a forgotten area that’s suffering, that has been forgotten by Columbus and Washington and then they hear someone say, we can turn this place around, they feel it viscerally.”

And he feared that the national Democratic Party did not realize how little it could afford such a loss, or even realize how well it had those voters in the fold as recently as 2012. “I’m a believer in the Democratic coalition, but they’re writing off folks and it’s going to hurt them,” he said. “To write them off is reckless.”

A week later, on Election Day, I drove to a polling station in Shrewsbury, Pennsylvania, a small town south of York, just across the Maryland line. The polling station was inside an evangelical church housed inside a vast, mostly abandoned shopping plaza. It’s Republican country, where Romney outpolled Obama 2–1, but I was still startled by how long it was taking me to find a single Hillary Clinton voter.

But there was yet another woman voting for the first time in her life, at age 55, for Trump. “I didn’t have much interest in politics. But the older you get you realize more and more how important it is,” said Kelly Waldemire, who works in a local plastic-molding plant. “When it got to the point where the country is going in the wrong direction, I thought it was time.”

And there was yet another voter who had been for Obama in 2008 — Brian Osbourne, a 33-year-old Navy veteran who now drove all the way to Washington, D.C., every day to do commercial HVAC work because it paid double there what it would in Shrewsbury. The local economy had come back a little, he said, but “there’s a lot of people working jobs that they’re overqualified for.” That wasn’t all, he said. He hesitated, warning that what he was about to say wasn’t “politically correct,” and then said, “We’re really getting pussified as a country.”

I asked what he made of reports that Trump wrote off as much of a billion dollars on his taxes to avoid paying any at all. He shrugged it off just as every Trump voter I spoke with there did. “That doesn’t worry me all that much,” he said. “That’s what he does — that’s the loophole the government created. He takes advantage of what the system created. I’d do the same thing.”

As for Obama, his promise of racial reconciliation had been a “big letdown,” he said. “I thought it would help with race relations, but it’s getting way worse,” he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we have another civil war in this country.”

And there were yet more women willing to wave off Trump’s comment on the tape and the women’s accusations against him. “I don’t take that crap seriously,” said Tammy Nuth, 49, who cares for Alzheimer’s patients. “Men are men.” As for the women accusers: “I think they’re getting paid off.”

As I was preparing to leave, I glimpsed a young woman who I guessed might’ve voted for Clinton, and approached her to help balance my reporting. I was wrong. Stephanie Armetta, an 18-year-old working as a grocery store cashier before heading to community college, had cast her first-ever ballot, for Donald Trump. Her family had many members in the military, she said, and she thought Trump would “have more respect” for them. She thought it was wrong that if her brother got deployed, he got only two meals per day, while people in prison get three. And then of course there was Benghazi, “that she left [the four Americans] there, that they weren’t her priority.” She was bothered by Trump’s comments on the tape, for sure. But, she said, “I’m glad how he didn’t lie about it. They caught him and he said, yeah, I said an asshole thing.” Not to mention, she said, “Bill Clinton isn’t good either on that subject.” Her vote, she concluded, was “more against Hillary than for Trump.”

Trump won that one small precinct by 144 more votes than Romney had won it in 2012 — a 20 percent increase. And all across rural and small-town Pennsylvania, that pattern repeated itself. In Scranton’s Lackawanna County, where Obama had won 63 percent, Clinton won only 50 percent.

In Michigan’s rural Marquette County, where Obama had won 56 percent, Clinton got only 49 percent. Trump became the first Republican since 1988 to win Pennsylvania or Michigan.

In Ohio’s Mahoning County, home of Youngstown, where Obama got 63 percent, Clinton got only 50 percent. In Hocking County, just adjacent to Nelsonville, Clinton fell even further, getting 30 percent, down from the 48 percent Obama had gotten, and realizing Taylor Sappington’s fears.

And at Tracie St. Martin’s working-class precinct in Miamisburg, where Obama had managed to get 43 percent in 2012, Clinton’s support plunged to 26 percent, giving Trump a margin of 293 votes just in that one precinct, triple Romney’s margin four years earlier. That helped provide Trump a historic claim: the first Republican majority in Dayton’s Montgomery County in 28 years. Statewide, Trump won by a whopping eight percentage points, a swing of 10 points from four years earlier. He had brought new voters out of the woodwork; he had converted some white working-class Obama voters while others had just stayed home.

St. Martin, who was still hard at work on the Middletown gas plant with a “great bunch of ironworkers,” was elated. “I just really needed to know that I was part of a majority that recognized we need these things that Trump spoke of,” she told me. “More importantly for me, to NOT have Hillary as Commander in Chief.”

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Alex MacGillis, ProPublica profile

Alec MacGillis, ProPublica

Alec MacGillis covers politics and government for ProPublica. MacGillis previously spent three years writing for The New Republic and five years as a national reporter for The Washington Post, where he was part of the team whose coverage of the Virginia Tech shooting won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news. He was also a metro reporter for five years at the Baltimore Sun, where he and collaborators were Pulitzer finalists for their coverage of the Beltway sniper. He won the 2016 Robin Toner Prize for Excellence in Political Reporting. His work has appeared in the New Yorker, Atlantic and New York Times Magazine.

A resident of Baltimore, MacGillis is also the author of “The Cynic,” a 2014 biography of Sen. Mitch McConnell.

 ~~~

Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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The US election as Medieval Carnival

Pieter Brueghel the Elder, The Fight Between Carnival and Lent.

Pieter Brueghel the Elder, The Fight Between Carnival and Lent.

By Anastasia Denisova, University of Westminster
November, 2016

“In the 1850s, thousands of Americans proudly called themselves ‘the know-nothings’ and formed a movement against migrants for the ‘purification’ of America. They were bragging about their lack of a clue about politics and rational argument,” my academic friend sighed over a coffee in London last week.

Because they were the only Democrats in the neighbourhood, my friend’s family had moved from Alabama back to the Old World. These days, the politics of the United States has turned into a similar whirlpool of awe and ridicule – but now you don’t have to be geographically bound to the country, as the digital realm makes the flows of controversial rhetoric spill over traditional boundaries of time and space.

The campaign between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton featured an unprecedented amount of memes, viral texts that proliferate on mutation and sharing. In my research, I look at how memes have become the fast food media of contemporary politics as well as mindbombs of political activism. They are absurd, politically incorrect, incomplete and require the knowledge of context to “get” the joke. But most importantly, they mirror public opinion and popular emotions on the subject.

Hillary Clinton’s office tried to appropriate the language of internet cultures and shape their campaign posters like memes. But they failed to detach from the composition and expression style of a traditional poster. Not bold enough for memes, not classy enough for placards, these visuals got stuck somewhere in the grey zone between the online and offline.

Donald Trump’s campaign, on the other hand, demonstrated conscientious engagement with social media. He made his presidential announcement on innovative live streaming app Periscope. His Twitter accounts gathered millions of followers – indeed, just the comparison of the main Twitter feeds of the candidates, not to mention the satellite accounts, reveals the disposition of forces: 11m followers for @HillaryClinton as opposed to 14m for @realDonaldTrump. It was probably the bold rhetoric of Trump’s statements that made them so shareable.

Into the twittersphere

Trump supporters, following their commander, ignored all the rules of political correctness, fair play and sensible campaigning, indulging in meme warfare in the viral meadows of social networks.

Not only did they coin specific memes to attack the democratic candidate for the FBI phone scandal and pro-war sentiments, but even tried to create what I call meme campaigns: chains of similarly styled provocative messages organised by a hashtag that are designed to have a certain effect.

They don’t always work – but they do reveal the mood of public opinion. Several account holders took time to persistently deploy memes accusing Hillary of a drinking problem on Twitter. But #DrunkHillary failed to engage other users. Meek dozens of “shares” and “likes” revealed that both pro- and anti-Clinton voters doubted the idea that Mrs Clinton was an alcoholic.

Another case, the #DraftOurDaughters campaign, demonstrated how memes can “bomb” unguarded minds and influence the digital crowds. This initiative looked more like professional campaigning. Many voters were concerned that Hillary’s support of military interventions abroad would result in sending female soldiers to the battlefield. In order to amplify this concern, pro-Trump users coined a range of smart fake posters that imitated the simple graphic style of authentic Clinton posters. As a result, some social media dwellers believed that the meme-looking controversial images were indeed coming from the Democratic candidate.

Trump himself was by no means safe from the meme battlefield, with social media users creating memes that engaged in a rather lethargic lambasting of the candidate’s groping practices, unorthodox hair style and lack of reason in his assertions. But these memes proliferated in a rather disconnected fashion. Criticisms of Trump were certainly in the air, yet Clinton’s supporters did not create many uniform, clearly-focused campaigns out of them.

What does it all meme?

This meme flood is demonstrative of at least two alarming trends.

First, the growing problem of attention deficit has had a significant impact on the course and outcomes of the election. The phenomenon of “attention economy” has been studied since early 2000s. In today’s environment of multitasking and media oversaturation, the scarcest resource is not money or talent, but attention. People can only concentrate on a print-size version of the text; as soon as they need to scroll down to read the rest of argument, they are most likely to close the link and move to the next tab.

According to Garry Linnell, in 1968, the average politician’s soundbite in the news was 43 seconds, by 1988 it was nine seconds, and in 2016 we barely hear them finishing a sentence. This is the attention deficit environment into which internet memes fit perfectly. Comparable to fast food, they satisfy your information hunger with glitzy, tantalising, succulent bites that have little nutritional value, yet feed you on a very superficial level, right here, right now.

The second trend that the 2016 US election highlighted is the carnivalisation of public politics. Memes have been scrutinised as instances of medieval-like carnival: it is the logic of upside down, ridicule and mockery, stupidity and opposition to any possible elites.

Originally, of course, the carnival was limited to one week before Lent. People gathered in the central marketplace to unleash their desires and let off steam. The e-carnival is dramatically different: it expands beyond the constraints of time and space. It is ever present, and here to stay. Increasingly, attention-deficit voters draw their news and opinion from the fast food media communication and then return their inputs to the same shallow realm.

The consumption of fast food media advances fast politics, the swift, screaming and scandalous sort of politics that is so tempting to share and receive “likes” for. So the real winner of this election, in fact, is the viral state of mind. This renders the future of politics yet more worrying.

As Trump realised early on, the rule of this emerging memeworld is to share or be square, no matter the content.

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Anastasia Denisova is a Lecturer in Journalism, University of WestminsterThis article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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Changes in Attitudes, or, The Best, and Worst of Times

Masks of U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump lie in a box at Jinhua Partytime Latex Art and Crafts Factory in Jinhua, Zhejiang Province, China, May 25, 2016. There's no masking the facts. One Chinese factory is expecting Donald Trump to beat his likely U.S. presidential rival Hilary Clinton in the popularity stakes. At the Jinhua Partytime Latex Art and Crafts Factory, a Halloween and party supply business that produces thousands of rubber and plastic masks of everyone from Osama Bin Laden to Spiderman, masks of Donald Trump and Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton faces are being churned out. Sales of the two expected presidential candidates are at about half a million each but the factory management believes Trump will eventually run out the winner. "Even though the sales are more or less the same, I think in 2016 this mask will completely sell out," said factory manager Jacky Chen, indicating a Trump mask. REUTERS/Aly Song

Above, masks of then-U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in a box at Jinhua Partytime Latex Art and Crafts Factory in Jinhua, Zhejiang Province, China, May 25, 2016.  The company expected its Trump masks to sell out. See F&O’s photo essay: US election: manufacturing the masks. REUTERS/Aly Song

JIM MCNIVEN: THOUGHTLINES
November, 2016

Well, I guess we don’t have to ‘yes, ma’am’ this time around. (See my last column, predicting Hillary Clinton as President.) I was unpleasantly surprised to be wrong. Sorry about that…

Now, to be Dickensian, it is the best of times and it is the worst of times.

There is a lot of speculation that maybe America’s new President won’t really do what he said he would do. I wouldn’t bet on that. He has a supportive Congress, so there is little to check him on policy. The questions for today may be how hard will he push different parts of his agenda and what will he do if things like the economy backfire on him? It may have been possible for him to dispose of losing business assets in the past, but now the asset is the American economy, something a bit too big for a ‘willing buyer’ to speculate upon.

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The problem is that the American economy is so entangled in the world economy that breaking outward investment ties will lead to others breaking inward investment ties. This could be a saw-off, leaving everyone unhappy. Also, making things in an economy with a $15 minimum wage versus importing the same from a place with, say, a $2 one, will raise the cost structure in the US economy—otherwise known as inflation.

Back to the 1980s is where I think a lot of the suburban/rural/small town electorate who supported him seems to want to go. People forget we had inflation then, very serious inflation that took years to get out of the system. I was ‘lucky’ in 1978 when I renewed my mortgage for 12%; a friend had to renew in 1981 at 21%. Commentators dreamed about the Valhalla of the future when prices would be stable and interest rates low.

Well, here we are, and it seems like nobody likes this best of times. Pensioners want the good old days of 5-10% returns on their savings and investments while keeping prices stable; others want to close the borders to imports, while keeping prices stable. Of course everyone wants full employment, yes, while keeping prices stable.

This reminds me of the joke about the rational Swedes, when faced with the decision to change from driving on the British side of the road to that of the European side; have everyone with a license plate ending in an even number shift on Monday, and the odd numbers shift on Tuesday…

So, the problem is that you can’t go back again. Singer Jimmy Buffet noted that in his Changes in Latitudes. Trying to restore the old days just leads to trouble. Putin wants a Czarist Russia, Erdogan wants an Ottoman Turkey, Dutarte wants a Marcos Phillippines, the UK wants a pre-Thatcherite England, the Hungarians and the Poles want to go back to 1925, the Chinese seem to be reviving a bit of Mao, the North Koreans have always been in this camp, and ISIS would like the 8th century back, please.

It almost seems that people everywhere can’t bear peace and prosperity. ‘if we couldn’t laugh’…

Now the joke may be this, at least for the US. The unemployment rate has fallen to a low that borders on inflating the economy. Generally, those who look at these numbers feel that as much as 3 points in the unemployment rate comes from a statistical oddity, in that it includes those between jobs, sick or disabled and so forth. That only leaves about 1.5 points who may be unemployed and who meet the traditional criteria. Crudely put, this is the bottom of the barrel, employment-wise. At this point, it becomes rational for a teen-ager to quit school and drive a truck. Not quite what the future needs.

Then, the President-elect wants to get a lot of manufacturing jobs back, 1950s style. The problem is that most of those jobs did not go abroad. They went to Fanuc, the robot-maker’s equipment, or Microsoft, the computer-maker’s equipment, not to other people elsewhere in the world. Last year, American manufacturing had a record year in terms of output. But that output came from robotics and computers, not people. The same thing happened to farming in the first half of the 20th century. Even farming is high-tech today.

The solution to this conundrum is to do what some wag said about American involvement in the Vietnam War. ‘Just declare victory and go home’. If the economy keeps going at the good pace it has going now, ‘just declare victory’ and get onto the next agenda item.

Then, there is a potential economic problem out there that needs to be considered.

There has been a lot of controversy about what to do with all that corporate cash that has been kept abroad in order to avoid what are, arguably, too high taxes being placed upon it were it to be repatriated. A quick fix in terms of a tax cut is a possibility, given the majorities in both houses of Congress, but that fast inflow might lead to an increase in the value of the dollar.

Repatriating jobs will not be done by those companies repatriating the cash, since a high and rising dollar just makes keeping jobs overseas even more attractive. Now, raising the tax rate you just lowered because companies are acting rationally on the job side just means the money stays abroad. Very tricky, this magic act. Don’t trip or you’ll look like a clown.

Finally, if America is joining the economic nationalist crowd I mentioned above, it has to be noted that nationalist countries are really prone to settling things by force. America will be the big boy on the block, but now there will no longer be a policeman — the kind of task that America had assumed since 1950 or so. If deals can be made, swell, but if not, then push has to come to shove. Remember, the Keystone Cop is now going to be a player in the game. Can you play both roles at once without the other players trying to take a swipe at you? Have you learned nothing from the asymmetric warfare and ambushes others have been practicing for 20 years now?

As Jimmy said in his song, ‘If we weren’t all crazy, we’d just go insane.’

 Copyright Jim McNiven 2016

With a tip of the rum glass to Jimmy Buffett:

You may also be interested in these stories on F&O:

America’s Dark Hour, by Tom Regan  Column

We were wrong. So very wrong.  We thought there was no way that Americans would elect a man so totally unfit to be president.

Welcome to Trumpland, by Penney Kome   Column

President Donald J Trump? The mind reels. The gorge rises. In vain, many political observers have searched for a saving grace.

America’s Withering Dims Age of Enlightenment, by Jonathan Manthorpe   Column

The curse of Pandora is now out of the box and the age of the collapse of the American Imperium is upon us.

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Jim McNiven

James McNiven has a PhD from the University of Michigan. He has written widely on public policy and economic development issues and is the co-author of three books. His most recent research has been about the relationship of demographic changes to Canadian regional economic development. He also has an interest in American business history and continues to teach at Dalhousie on a part-time basis.

 

 

 

 

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