Team of Wreckers

Donald Trump campaigned as the man who would shake up Washington. He was the anti-candidate, the enemy of political correctness, the scourge of the establishment, the “only one” who could turn things around. With hyperbole and swagger, Trump presented himself as the agent of upheaval.

Although many hoped he would lean to the mainstream once elected, Trump has shown he will govern the way he campaigned. In his recent choices for cabinet secretaries and White House positions, he has exacted a kind of revenge against all those who opposed him. Mitt Romney, in front of whom he dangled and then withdrew the job of secretary of state, was a symbol of his larger purpose. Disdaining the wisdom of experience, Trump has used surprise and even whimsy (e.g., his choice of the unqualified Ben Carson for HUD and the clueless Rick Perry for the Department of Energy) to humble his opponents and project his uncontested authority.

The candidates themselves, a combination of wealthy tycoons with top-down leadership styles and ideological extremists inimical to compromise, generally echo Trump’s overbearing approach. In sync with the President-elect’s promise to change Washington, the candidates seem more likely to whip and chasten the departments they will lead than make them work according to their given mission.

Among this Team of Wreckers, for example, are billionaire Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education, an avid opponent of public schools; Senator Jeff Sessions for Attorney General, a narrow interpreter of voting rights and proponent of deporting undesirables; Congressman Tom Price for Secretary of Health and Human Services, a hard-liner determined to get the government out of health and human services; fast-food magnate Andrew Puzder for Secretary of Labor, a libertarian who opposes unions and a livable minimum wage; and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt for head of the Environmental Protection Agency, a climate-change denier currently suing the agency he would lead.

Perhaps even more consequential, Trump has appointed two individuals who perfectly represent the wrecking philosophy to critical positions in the White House, neither requiring Senate confirmation: Steven Bannon to the office of White House Strategist and General Michael Flynn to National Security Advisor.

Bannon, former head of Breitbart News and enabler of the alt-right, would be the Trump administration’s demolition expert. Bannon has described himself as “virulently anti-establishment,” someone who “wants to bring everything crashing down,” and, perhaps with some bravado, a “Leninist.” He sees the world in bipolar terms and shares Trump’s zero-sum view of winners and losers. As Breitbart chief, he has given the country a clinic on how to wage a war on the establishment he despises: through the targeting and discrediting of enemies and out-groups, the dissemination of conspiracy theories, and the mobilization of an army of alt-right sympathizers.

Bannon’s way of defining the “establishment” serves his purposes well. For him, the term includes not just the progressive left but the “institutional Republican Party.” It does not include, oddly but apparently, the sort of plutocratic elites and Republican rightists that his boss has picked to administer his government. Gannon’s anti-establishment battle translates into an effort not simply to disempower its leaders and opinion-makers. It would seek to discredit the mainstream worldview that they and most Americans accept, one that embraces optimism, freedom, inclusiveness, and today’s globalism. In its place, he would promote an authoritarian nationalism that polarizes rather than unites and singles out certain groups for their non-conformity and otherness.

While Bannon works on general strategy, Michael Flynn as National Security chief would focus on threats and dangers. Like Bannon, Flynn looks upon much of the “establishment,” especially elements of the intelligence community (e.g. the CIA) with disdain. Flynn seems to relish the role of outlier and contrarian. His abrupt firing as the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency for poor management and an authoritarian style of leadership has likely only reinforced his defiance.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Flynn is drawn to the same alarmist, conspiracy-laden view of the world as others in the Trump inner circle. Most specifically, his view of Islam as an existential threat to Western civilization, one that carries little nuance, makes him unusually confrontational. He is an active member of ACT for America, the largest anti-Muslim group in the country and believes that sharia law, a red flag for rabid Islamophobes like Pamela Geller, is a threat to America’s constitutional order. Flynn is dangerous because he is prepared, against all evidence, to treat America’s small Muslim minority as a fifth column within our democratic system.

With his attempt to install his version of kakistocracy (government run by the worst, least qualified, or most unscrupulous persons), Trump has shown a brazen disregard for the responsibilities of office. One looks desperately in Trump’s chosen appointments for any voices who could provide a check to his impulses. One sees none so far. The common good, fairness and justice, and the people’s rights and freedoms are all potentially at risk. Under these circumstances there can be no normalization of this presidency. The consequences will soon be all too obvious, and it is time now to prepare for resistance.

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On Approaching the Coming Trump Administration

It’s been a rough few weeks for democrats and progressives in the wake of a shocking electoral loss. It has not been easy to absorb. Part of the reason is that we on the left have been a bit too smug about the forces of history. Clearly, these we have too lazily perceived to be leaning in our favor. Alas, after all the talk of demographic inevitability, electoral blue walls, and scientific polling, we came out on the short end of the stick. In the aftermath, it’s time to look for lessons and a way forward.

One obvious lesson is to keep our optimism in check. Campaign enthusiasm is not a bad thing, but it needs to be accompanied by a gritty kind of skepticism about the world and those we rely on to interpret it. Many of us are still resting on easy assumptions. For instance, there is the notion out there that Trump voters are in for a big shock when they come to realize that his campaign promises (the Wall, the rounding up of “illegals,” the targeting of Muslims, the ripping up of trade agreements) cannot be fulfilled. The assumption is that they are ready to be awakened to the reality of Trump.

I find this overly hopeful. Much of Trump’s base watch him perform with the same mixture of credulity and make-believe as they do when watching a pro-wrestling match. They take Trump as a spectacle, a confirmation of their passions, a human reprimand of the establishment. Much less so do they see him as an oracle whose promises will inevitably come true. As long as they perceive him to be on their side, their capacity for support will probably be unlimited.

Moreover, if Trump finds himself reminded of his unfulfilled promises and inconsistencies, he knows only too well how to mobilize his followers in his behalf. He can question the truth of negative assertions from critics, attack and blame his opponents for recalcitrance, or create side issues calculated to arouse the base (for example, asserting this week that flag burners should be thrown into jail or stripped of citizenship). Trumpians have been shown throughout the campaign to be clay in the master’s hands, open to suggestion and innuendo and impervious to reasoned argument from other quarters.

This does not at all mean that Trump is immune from voter backlash and disillusionment, even on the part of his base. But such a backlash would likely be in response to a bold turn of policy that would strike unsuspected. Most likely it would have a major impact on people’s sense of security, their lifestyle, or their pocketbook.

The possibility of such a turn of events is very real. Trump’s electoral victory was built on a political house of cards, a bed of contradictions. His demagogic populism and the Republican Party’s conservative ideology stand in uneasy juxtaposition. This contradiction is becoming increasingly stark as Trump chooses his White House advisors and cabinet members. The question that begs to be answered is whose interests will be served by this administration. Will it be the interests of frustrated workers and bypassed middle Americans or the rich?

So far it appears that positions of power are going largely to the billionaire class and its friends: privatizers, deregulators, despoilers, energy magnates, and financiers. In many respects, their view of government, taxes, regulations, and economic priorities gibe with the agenda of Paul Ryan and the Republican Party’s ideological right. Much of this agenda, subservient though it is to the interests of the investing class and harmful to the public good, will be passed without undue controversy. In spite of likely strong opposition from progressives, conservative populists will raise scarcely an eyebrow, given past inattention to macro-economic issues and sufferance of small-government propaganda.

Two possible areas of policy-making that might cause Trump some trouble, however, are health and education. Right-wing policies in these two sectors could indeed upset large numbers of people across the board. Health care needy citizens and parents of school-age children are two of the most politically active groups of voters. They are sure to view these as life-and-death issues. Even with a favorable Congress, Trump ignores such folks at his peril.

It is especially significant that Trump’s two cabinet picks for Health and Human Services and Education, Congressman Thomas Price and billionaire philanthropist Betsy Devos, respectively, are both full-bore ideologues and radical privatizers. Price has made it clear that he is in favor not only of of eliminating (rather than reforming) Obamacare, but of privatizing aspects of Medicare and Social Security, which were off the table during the presidential campaign. For her part, Betsy Devos, well known as the “voucher” lady in the U.S. school debate,  comes as an avowed enemy of public schools and teacher unions, and a champion of school privatization.

Progressives, of course, have their work cut out for them on a long list of issues that include economic equity, the environment, civil rights, immigration, and court appointments. But health and education will be where Trump is most vulnerable and where the left can re-energize itself. Much of the damage of a Trump presidency can be contained if we do our homework and make a point of identifying with a broad range of voters, including disillusioned Trumpians, on these two key issues.

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Massachusetts Question 2 on Charter School Expansion: Not Just About Education But Democracy

Trump v. Clinton may be the big story of of 2016, but let us not forget some of the critical issues down the ballot this year. A prominent example is Massachusetts’ Question 2 on charter school expansion. The initiative potentially affects not just the future of public education in a state known for its high educational standards, but the freedom of citizens to control education policy in their own communities.

What exactly is mandated under Question 2? A “yes” vote on the initiative would authorize the state Board of Education to approve up to 12 new charter schools per year for the foreseeable future, going vastly beyond the current cap of 120 charter schools in the state. It is an open-ended initiative that seems to assume that charter school enrollment will always get larger and public school enrollment will continuously shrink. It suggests a move toward a two-tier system of education, if not outright privatization. Of concern to many, the measure lacks provisions for flexibility or compromise. It is a top-down initiative giving the Board of Education, filled with charter backers appointed by the current governor, authority to decide unilaterally where to locate such schools, regardless of the will of the community so targeted.

Supporters of Question 2, most notably the Republican governor and pro-business groups inside and outside of the state, argue for increasing the number of charter schools because they offer citizens unhappy with existing public schools a “choice.” Charter schools offer benign competition with public schools under the theory that the more schools there are, the better. Supporters even portray charter expansion as strengthening public education (which voters favor) since charters, in supporters’ words, are simply public schools in another form.

Opponents, who include almost all the school committees, town and city councils, and labor organizations in Massachusetts, take issue with this representation. For one thing, they point out that charter schools are not “public schools” in any meaningful sense since they do not answer to the communities where they are located. Charters are accountable neither to parent-teacher associations, nor to the town councils and local tax-payers who must fund them.  Indeed, they are are not publicly transparent, being responsible only to their own directors, managing boards, and the state board that authorizes them.

Furthermore, the charters exist under a different set of rules than public schools. They generally are not required to serve all of the children within the community, especially those who are challenged or disabled. This relieves them of major burdens that normal public schools willingly accept. And they are free to expel students who they view as problems, which often makes it easier for them to demonstrate better academic results than regular public schools. Even so, charter schools on average perform little better than public schools, if at all.

But opponents’ fundamental point is that the problem of failing schools is not lack of school “choice,” but lack of adequate school funding in those poor communities that lag behind. Inner city school districts receive much less funding than their suburban counterparts because of a shortage of tax resources. While Question 2, if passed, would add to the number of schools in disadvantaged communities, it would not address the question of inequity between school districts. On the contrary, it would put increasing demands on the finances of the local communities by disproportionately shifting available funds away from their existing public schools.

On top of the above considerations, there is one more fact underlying opponents’ case: Massachusetts is renowned for having the best public schools in the nation. It has ranked #1 on the U.S.’s long-standing NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) test for years. If it were a country, Massachusetts would rank among the top ten nations in the world in math, reading, and science. Admittedly, it needs to do more to support its poorer districts. But why would anyone want to alter radically a public school system that excels by world standards?

There is a reason, of course, why Question 2 is on the ballot at all. The simple answer is that certain folks with a lot of cash and influence realize that there’s money to be made in charter schools. Investments in for-profit charters and services for non-profit charters have proven to be hugely profitable for entrepreneurs and hedge fund investors looking to put their money to use. They have thus been a major force in efforts to enable ballot initiatives like Question 2 and to argue for them. Meanwhile, the only entities with the funds to oppose such initiatives are national and local teachers unions. They have found firm allies in the parents, students, local  communities, and general public that value public education.

The prodigious amount of money spent on both sides of Question 2 gives an idea of how high the stakes are. Not surprisingly, the billionaires have the advantage. Figures as of October 27 show that they have outspent charter opponents by over 50%, accounting for 19 million dollars as compared with opponents’ 13 million. Most of the pro-charter money comes from out-of-state sources (82%) and from untraceable, “dark money” (76%), except for major individual contributions by the Walmart heirs and other anti-union forces. In contrast, anti-charter money is all traceable (mostly to union organizations) and is less dependent on out-of-state contributions (48%).

Pro-charter forces know if they win on Question 2 in a state with the highest standards in the nation, they have a green light for the marketization of education anywhere in the U.S. Those opposing the initiative know that public education as a cherished foundation of our democracy is on the line. Ten days away from the election, the polls are saying it’s too close to call.

 

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Trump Would Likely Do to America What Berlusconi Did to Italy

While many of Donald Trump’s supporters concede that he is crude and dangerous, they justify voting for him because they believe he could “shake up” Washington. Trump, they claim, would not act like a typical corrupt politician because he is too rich to be owned by anyone. He would transcend the present political dysfunction and set the system straight.

But even if one accepts Trump’s “shake up” capabilities, what evidence is there that he would shake things up in the public interest? Trump’s wealth and the self-promoting way he pursues it even as he seeks public office raise red flags about his ability to separate the public good from the good of Trump. His frequent bending of the system to benefit his empire and his past payoffs to politicians show how much he disdains the idea of a transparent democracy accountable to average citizens. Shaking up the system in the Trump manner would just as likely lead to a shake down: further corruption in the system to reward himself and those he favors.

For an ugly example of this syndrome in practice, it might be useful to recall another self-promoter in the Trump mold: the brash and egotistical Silvio Berlusconi of Italy. Berlusconi, a media mogul, presented himself as a solution to his country’s dysfunctional political system at one of its vulnerable moments. On the basis of showmanship and demagoguery, he rose to power and ruled Italy on and off for ten years between 1994 and 2011. The consequences were not pretty.

Indeed, rather than rescuing Italy from its troubles, Berlusconi used the country as a stepping stone to his own aggrandizement. When coming to power, he backpedaled on the promises he had made to insulate his media empire from politics. On the contrary, Berlusconi expanded it to the point where he was able to sideline most of his competitors and control the free flow of information. Members of the national press who refused to go along he attacked with all the powers of the state apparatus.

Idolized by the distressed masses whose anti-establishment anger he helped to fuel, Berlusconi went on to play the role of clownish cynic rather than reformer. As he amused his followers with his ridicule of political norms, he used his power to enhance his business interests, even to the point of crafting specific legislation to shelter his corporation, Mediaset. No lover of democratic checks and balances, he waged a war of attrition against judges and the court system to help his enterprises avoid prosecution. In the meantime, he neglected the country’s economic woes and its increasing debt. He left office in disgrace in 2011 under pressure from the European Union as Italy struggled to avert disaster.

Unbelievably, history could well repeat itself in the case of Donald Trump. Like Berlusconi, Trump is used to seeing the world in terms of his own personal and economic interests (political convictions, by contrast, play a strikingly subdued role in his Weltanshauung). If anything, his narcissistic tendencies towards self-promotion go even further than Berlusconi’s, as he pushes his hotels and golf courses in lock-step with his campaign for public office. Given his fierce protectiveness of the “Trump” brand, his promises of creating a blind trust if elected is surely as implausible as Berlusconi’s.

Aside from devotion to his own cause, Trump shares Berlusconi’s psychological insecurity and intolerance of criticism. Such qualities augur poorly for a leader’s capacity to shepherd a democracy and safeguard its freedoms. His threat to sue newspapers over “unfair” reporting, his vow to put pressure on a judge he doesn’t like, and his threat to “pay back” enemies reflect an inability to distinguish between personal and public exercises of power. It also reflects a sad misunderstanding of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights.

What is perhaps most disheartening in Italy’s case was the inability of voters to hold Berlusconi accountable for his corrupt actions. Normally in democracies, when elected leaders show themselves more devoted to padding their own nests than holding to their promises, the citizenry reacts by dumping them. Italy’s electorate apparently was so jaded that it was willing to tolerate repetitions of the same treatment. It re-elected Berlusconi three times in spite of uninterrupted scandals.

One critic surmises that Italy’s voters were willing to forgive Berlusconi because, in spite of his failure to deliver, he “sanctified” their prejudices. Could it be that Trump might get away with the same trick?

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Populism and Donald Trump

Historically, the term populism described a movement of farmers and workers formed in the 1890s to counter America’s corporate monopolies. Its purpose was to put a leash on unbridled economic power. Spurred on by the anger of common people, the movement spelled out a clear agenda of reforms that later inspired progressive legislation to regulate business and level the playing field .

By the mid-20th century, however, “populism” appeared to lose its connection with progressivism and reform. Instead, it became identified with conservative discontent centered around crime, welfare, racial integration, and civil rights. Its anger was aimed at  intellectuals, poor people dependent on government, and emerging groups seeking a voice, notably women, gays, and minorities.

No longer reform-oriented, this new populism resembled the old populism only in its ability to harness the grievances of frustrated Americans. Politicians like George Wallace, Richard Nixon, and Pat Buchanan were able to reach these voters by appealing not only to raw prejudice but to fear of social and economic disempowerment. Their tactics were often adopted, though more subtly, by Ronald Reagan, G. H. W. Bush, and other Republicans seeking a wedge against Democrats. The formula worked well for many years as a means of attracting white working class votes and securing a power base in the South.

With the rise of conservative talk radio, Fox News, and websites like Breitbart.com, populist appeals to the anxieties of Americans have only increased in recent years. Certain voices in the media (e.g., Rush Limbaugh, Alex Jones, Glen Beck) and politicians (Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Steven King) have been purveyors of these appeals, relying on conspiracy theory, undocumented claims, and angry hyperbole. They have both fed on and contributed to a general disillusionment with government and civic compromise.

Donald Trump, known for his earlier contributions to the “birther” movement, has taken naturally to the populist mode in his presidential campaign. A master of the coarse and the outrageous, Trump adds a definitely new flavor to the genre, dwelling on his own favorite topics and themes. Early on he called for draconian measures against illegal immigrants and American Muslims. Later he displayed his signature pugnacity on ISIS, climate change, crime, and political correctness, all red meat issues for conservatives. But he has also appealed to the economic grievances of workers, a traditionally left-wing stance. He has not only robustly promoted trade protectionism, but defended social programs like social security and universal medical insurance.

Thus Trump’s populism takes on a bipartisan thrust. He caters to independents by avoiding hot-button cultural issues (e.g. abortion and gay rights) and by attacking establishment politicians of both parties. His foreign policy, such as it is, draws criticism from experts generally. One writer calls him the “perfect populist” because of his skill in transcending normal party allegiances.

But does Trump’s populist calculus add up? Will it gain him a winning number of America’s voters? Probably not. The problem for Trump is that his populist causes may never capture a plurality, let alone a majority, of the electorate because discontent, while high, is still countered by some degree of pragmatism and hope. For every passionate voter he gains on immigration, he probably loses at least one Republican suburban housewife or college-educated independent unable to stomach the risk of a Trump presidency.

Win or lose, Trump has already taken American politics another step toward dysfunction. He has shown how easy it is to mobilize a sizable portion of the populace by identifying and homing in on its palpable grievances. Until we can deal with the ever increasing disparities within our nation, we had better get used to politicians making raw appeals to those who fail at its edges.

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Is Tim Kaine a Progressive?

As a progressive democrat, I was disappointed when Hillary chose Tim Kaine, a politician known as a centrist, for her running mate. Hillary, it seems to me, missed out on a chance to show her progressive good faith and to appeal to a critical part of the electorate. My personal preference was for Sherrod Brown of Ohio, a senator with a strong reform record and a proven concern for the plight of America’s working and middle class.

The choice of vice presidential partner, of course, is important for considerations other than the tactical one of getting elected. The prospective vice president is key not only as a trusted assistant in a Clinton administration, but as a possible future Democratic nominee.

In whatever role he plays, there are different ways of looking at Kaine from political perspective. One finds basically two narratives about him coming respectively from the Hillary and Bernie wings of the party. To begin with the Hillary side, he checks off many of the boxes we think of for a liberal politician. In his senate voting, he gets a respectable 90% rating from Americans for Democratic Action. Kaine takes generally liberal positions on immigration, healthcare,  gun control, the minimum wage, the environment, and energy. Despite a recent attempt to lighten up on small local banks, he is generally supportive of financial regulation. While he has made no secret of his personal opposition to abortion based on his religion, he recognizes the validity of Roe v. Wade, believing that decisions on such matters are beyond the government’s authority.

To his credit, Kaine has shown a strong personal commitment to civil rights over the years. His liberalism on that score has to be understood in the context of his Catholic upbringing. Educated in Jesuit schools, he absorbed the liberal tenets of Catholic social doctrine. While at law school, he took a year off to work for the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in Honduras. As a practicing attorney, he specialized in fair housing law, taking on cases that involved discrimination against racial minorities. He was elected mayor of the black-majority city of Richmond. And in his personal life, he involved himself in the community he served, attending a black-majority church and sending his three children to the integrated Richmond public schools.

The Bernie wing, on the other hand, raises valid questions about Kaine’s past connections and proclivities. Perhaps most critical is his long-time association with the now-defunct Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), a home for middle-of-the-road Democrats who sought to combat leftward tendencies in the Democratic Party. Friendly to the corporate world, it embraced “market-based solutions” and sponsored such ideas as welfare reform, free trade, charter schools, and austerity budgets. It was central to the careers of such politicians as Sam Nunn, Bill Clinton, and Joe Lieberman and presumably provided a template for Tim Kaine.

Kaine, who governed a moderately conservative southern state during the George Bush years, could not avoid being brushed with DLC-type policies. Precluded by a conservative legislature from raising taxes, he presided over a regime of government cut-backs and frequent concessions to corporate entities. He focused on balanced budgets, although this was part of his duty as a chief executive, as required by the state constitution. Later on in the Senate, he apparently bought into the general wisdom fostered by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its allies that trade agreements are unalloyed benefits.

The key question one has to ask is how Kaine stands today on the corporate world’s agenda of market-based solutions and reduced regulation. Would he generally support it, or would he align himself with progressive policies that dial back corporate influence and uphold the broad public interest. To be fair to Kaine, times have changed since he was associated with the DLC. The Great Recession of 2008, which showed what can happen when financial regulations are lax, and the rise of economic inequality in America have produced strong correctives within the Democratic Party. The Occupy Movement, the rise of Elizabeth Warren, and the vibrant campaign of Bernie Sanders are clear illustrations of the new climate.

One can take some comfort from Kaine’s stance on one issue where most Democrats, including Obama and many progressives, have been badly led astray: education (see our previous blogs on this subject). While Democrats these days typically sing the praises of charter schools, Kaine sees through the siren call of the education reformers, having observed public education up close in Virginia. He understand that charter schools, heavily supported by corporate backers and generally not organic to their communities, have drawn federal and state funds away from existing public schools and shown, at best, only mixed results. In absorbing public money, they threaten one of America’s most democratic of institutions. Kaine and his wife Anne Holton (Virginia’s Secretary of Education) are proven supporters of public schools. Kaine’s progressivism on this one issue is a tea leaf in his favor.

But first Clinton has to get elected. And it remains to be seen how Kaine will enhance the ticket, about which I am somewhat skeptical, before we can speculate on how he might affect a prospective Clinton administration.

 

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The Email Controversy

Whoever could have predicted that an issue as technical and nerdy as  Clinton’s email system would become so controversial? The scandal has dominated her candidacy and sucked much of the oxygen out of issues that cry out to be discussed in the current presidential campaign. Whatever valid questions it may raise about the candidate’s judgement, it needs to be put in perspective. Certainly Bernie was on the right track when he said “Enough about the emails. Let’s talk about real issues!”

The polarization that dominates our politics, of course, has made this a vain hope so far. Key political forces have pushed and continue to push the issue as far as it will go. The Republican Party naturally is the major instigator, believing it has found an issue with the momentum and robustness to cause maximum pain for the Democratic nominee. If something as flimsy as Benghazi could live on for years, why not email-gate? Republicans have raised expectations for months that a criminal indictment was inevitable, understanding that they would win either with a decision for prosecution, which would upend Clinton’s candidacy, or a decision against, which would offer new opportunities for conspiracy baiting and partisan outrage.

The media has also been a key force in the never-ending drama, giving far more credence to sensational interpretations of the scandal, such as expectations of impending indictment, than to sober ones.  The press largely ignored the less hyped observations of experts like William Weld, vice-presidential candidate on the Libertarian ticket and former federal prosecutor, who pointed out that there was no criminal intent in Clinton’s case and hence no chance of indictment.

Moreover, the institutional forces tasked with bringing light to the matter did little to bring closure. In the current polarized climate, what was especially needed was a sense of balance and context. Instead, the FBI investigation focused narrowly on how many classified items in the emails it could find, without acknowledging the serious flaws of the classification system, which is overly broad and improperly applied, or taking into account similar, though less obvious, conduct by other past Secretaries of State. Comer’s condemnation of Clinton for sloppiness together with his decision not to seek an indictment will hardly put an end to the affair. Her opponents are still actively pushing the issue of perjury and seeking further depositions of the candidate. But in the absence of official action, non-indictment still offers them a great way to remind voters of how well people like Clinton fare under a “rigged” system.

Given all the tendencies for prolongation, how do we get beyond the private email issue, which now stands as the centerpiece of the Trump campaign and grist for claims of Clinton’s “corruptness” and “dishonesty”? In my opinion, Hillary’s best way to put it past her would be to make a direct apology to the American people for her “carelessness,” as Comer has put it, at the appropriate time, possibly during the debates when the issue comes up. Voters tend to be forgiving when candidates look them in the eye and admit their shortcomings.

Beyond that, given how the Comer announcement has removed almost all suspense and uncertainty, the email issue seems to have lost its worst sting. Like Benghazi, it has shifted from being something handled through institutional processes to one fanned almost solely by partisan forces. As such, it has the potential to be a reminder of how fixated and relentless the Trump candidacy is. Carried much further, the issue could easily backfire.

 

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