Showing posts with label Kamala Harris. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Kamala Harris. Show all posts

Monday, August 24, 2020

The Case to Fire Donald Trump

                                                                (Image: YellowHammer.com)

 “Character, in the long run, is the decisive factor in the life of an individual and of nations alike.”
-Theodore Roosevelt

In mid-March, America and South Korea had the same number of Covid-19 deaths; around 90. Now, in late August, South Korea had a total of 306 deaths, while America has crossed 170,000 deaths. It is true that United States has a larger population, but the fact is that with 6 times the population of South Korea our Covid-19 deaths are more than 15 times higher.

Nobody can blame Donald Trump for Covid-19, or for being caught flat-footed like every other global leader. Even President Moon Jae of Korea admitted that his government had a poor early response and apologised to Koreans, but then swung into action and did what was necessary to save lives. That America continues to have 40,000+ new cases and around 500 deaths every day, six months into this crisis, can only be attributed to a failure of leadership.

In February this year, I put Mr. Trump’s chances of re-election at 95% because the economy was strong. We may never settle the argument on whether Mr. Trump’s policies led to the last few years of economic expansion, low unemployment and historic wage growth or if they were a result of President Obama’s policies, but we cannot deny Mr. Trump credit for not messing it up.

However, the economic picture now is starkly different from February of this year. In the second quarter US GDP shrank 32.9% on an annualized basis, making it the worst contraction since record-keeping began in 1947. The economy is in freefall, small businesses are shuttering in record numbers and we are facing the highest unemployment rate since the Great Depression.

I hold no grudge against people who voted for Mr. Trump and agree that Hillary Clinton was a horrible alternative. The Democratic Party in 2016 offered no vision for Americans hurting from the job loss and chronic unemployment which contributed to the opioid epidemic that devastated working class families across the country.

I have also spent time listening to people who felt that they needed to vote for Mr. Trump in 2016. Many independent voters say they liked the fact that he was unscripted and did not sound like every other Stepford politician, even though none liked his lack of civility. This is also why many two-time Obama voters held their nose and voted for Trump in swing states. The fact remains that he was the only politician who spoke to Americans feeling forgotten by both parties.  It is a group Mrs. Clinton chose to ignore. Many of these voters were tired of out-of-touch political elites in both parties, and they decided that Mr. Trump was a risk worth taking. In 2016 Mr. Trump was an unknown quantity in politics, albeit a larger than life reality TV personality, but three years on he has a track record in Washington.

Democrats too have shown a lack of maturity. Many prominent Democrats made it clear after their election defeat that they were going to do everything in their power remove President Trump from office. Since then the opposition has cried wolf numerous times, claiming Mr. Trump was about to start a nuclear war with North Korea and then a conventional one with Iran. Many Democrats have spent much energy looking for reasons to impeach him.

I am not excusing Mr. Trump’s behaviour or actions. I expected the opposition to spend less time expressing outrage at every tweet, acting like the moral police and focus instead on holding the President accountable for tangible actions that have been damaging to Americans. It does not help that Democrats operate in a perpetual state of hysteria, often coming across more like brats, kicking and screaming every time something does not go their way - for instance, the Speaker of the House, ripping up the president’s State of the Union speech, on live TV.

I am a liberal but one who has always called things like I see them, on both sides. We are now in the midst of a global crisis of the magnitude we have not seen since WWII. It no longer matters if you hate Democrats or love President Trump; this election is not about politics as usual. Our livelihoods, the lives of your family, my neighbours and the future of our children are at stake.

Canada, China, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Oman and Singapore have contained the virus and re-opened their economies. America is the wealthiest nation on earth. We have the foremost scientific minds, coupled with access to unrivaled technology and resources. Why have we failed to contain the virus, continuing to see the highest cases and deaths in the world?

As long as America relies on a patchwork of responses cobbled together at the state level, we lose. As long as states are forced to bid against each other for PPE and test kits, we lose. As long as we travel across state lines and refuse to obey quarantine rules, we lose. As long as we continue to flout the advice of health experts, we lose. The longer we allow this virus to run rampant through our divisions, the longer our children suffer social isolation, the more likely they are to fall behind academically in ways that will negatively impact them for life.

We need one plan, not fifty, along with a national Covid task force that ensures medical equipment, testing kits, lab capacity, medical personnel and other resources are deployed when and where they are needed. This is the only way to contain the spread until we have a vaccine; which is still 18-24 months away. We also need continuous monitoring to catch and stop new outbreaks; we know these will continue to occur until there is herd immunity.

President Trump has shown that he is incapable of doing the two things that will help us navigate this crisis: listen to experts and develop a cohesive national plan.

Any president, who abhors details, believes he is smarter than experts and claims that this virus will simply “disappear”, is either not competent or worse, does not care enough to lead us. Waiting for a vaccine is also not an option. The fastest the world has developed a stable vaccine is in four years. Even the most optimistic scenarios suggesting vaccine availability early next year do not consider the additional time it will take to test safety and then to immunise at least 80% of our population to achieve herd immunity.

Consider that the majority of small businesses have less than one month of cash reserves on hand. Small businesses are not just the fabric of our local communities but they form the heart of America’s economic engine. They account for almost 50% of jobs in the private sector, and for the majority of job creation in the country. Some estimates say that up to 43% will close permanently if we are unable to help them survive the next few months.

The knock-on effect of small business closures will devastate America from county to coast. If we fail to save them, and allow the most apocalyptic predictions to occur, we will look back on 2020 as a good year. The unemployment, homelessness and food insecurity that will result from this failure will make the Great Depression seem like a minor hardship. We can prevent and ensure businesses stay open, but this is not possible as long as we remain in a perpetual state of crisis that forces them to keep shutting every few weeks due to preventable local surges.

We can all agree that Joe Biden does not light a zoom on fire, and he even ambles into a room. If he wins, he will enter office at the age that Ronald Regan left, and at 78 years will become our oldest president. But few people have a deeper understanding of the mechanics of our government, or experience working with both sides of the aisle to get things done. Now more than ever we need to find bi-partisan compromise that leads to action.

The stalemate in Congress is not an option at a time when our economy is falling off a cliff. Millions of Americans are facing the prospect of long-term unemployment, eviction from their homes and are unable to feed their families. President Trump has had ample time to show us his legendary deal making abilities and has failed to do so. The businessman who declared bankruptcy six times, frankly, seems bankrupt on ideas for how to deal with this crisis.

 Mr. Biden was the man responsible for cajoling Republican votes to pass the 2009 Recovery Act, and was entrusted by President Obama to supervise its implementation. Those who fear the Bernie wing of the party’s undue influence in a Biden administration should keep in mind that Mr. Biden is not a progressive, and failed all their inane purity tests. He recently also shut out the progressive wing of the party during the DNC convention, and has re-iterated this with his moderate VP pick of Kamala Harris. Further, Mr. Biden is wise enough to understand that there is no question of implementing ambitious plans like the Green New Deal or an overhaul of our healthcare system, if there is no US economy to overhaul. Joe Biden understands that now is not time for revolution. Right now our country needs steady, sturdy and consistent.

Mr. Biden does not have a fancy Ivy League degree. He spent thirty years commuting by local train, was a single father and has suffered tremendous personal loss. He genuinely seems to empathise with the plight of average Americans in ways that his party’s elite cannot, and that President Trump is incapable of. Politicians can fake almost everything but not empathy. So while he may not be anybody’s ideal candidate, no rational person can deny that even with his perceived limitations and human faults, he is far better suited to navigate this health and economic crisis than the incumbent in the Oval Office. At least he cares.

Americans have always managed to rise above political differences and come together to defeat a common enemy. Even politicians cross party lines to do the right thing for the country. President Johnson, a Democrat, counted on support from senate Republicans to pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act, after Democrats tried to filibuster and block its passage. Republicans joined Democrats to draft articles of impeachment against President Nixon. Al Gore disagreed with the Supreme Court verdict but still conceded to George W. Bush, “for the sake of our unity as a people and the strength of our democracy.” In past elections too we have seen Americans cross party lines, like the Reagan Democrats and Republicans who voted for Obama in 2008.

Pessimists will say that this was in the past, and that we are too divided to come together. They might be surprised to learn that Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, negotiated a deal in the absence of a national testing strategy, with three Republican and four Democrat Governors to develop and deploy a rapid testing strategy across their seven states.

We will have many more elections to indulge in our petty bickering and partisan fights, but right now, we need to elect a president who will make a genuine effort to bring us together, not one who relishes stoking divisions and takes pleasure in pitting us against each other. If we choose to re-elect a man who refuses to listen to experts and is incapable of empathy, then the coronavirus will win and we will all lose.

Before you walk into a voting booth or mail your ballot, ask yourself if E pluribus unum is merely a phrase on a seal, or a motto that still reflects our national character and shared values.

 

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Jussie Smollett and the Righteous Race to Judgement




“Trust, But Verify.” 
-Russian Proverb

I first learned about the attack on Jussie Smollett when the news was blowing up on social media. My immediate reaction was one of horror and sympathy. However, once I began to read about the details of the attack, my antennae went up.

Mr. Smollett is a black man who is gay, and that made him the perfect target. His claim that the attackers put a rope around his neck and poured bleach on him powerfully re-enforced the victimization narrative on the left. The fact that his attackers also proclaimed proudly “this is MAGA country” seemed to leave no room for doubt in the minds of the left, in terms of the presumption of guilt.

Journalists and celebrities immediately seized on the attack as vindication of the fact that Mr. Trump’s rhetoric was responsible for another reprehensible attack. Politicians, who are supposed to keep their heads when all of us are losing ours, also rushed to judgement. Democratic presidential hopefuls Kamala Harris and Corey Booker, who were preparing for a Senate vote on a bi-partisan anti-lynching bill, used the attack as proof of “modern-day lynching”.

The Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, tweeted that The racist, homophobic attack on Jussie Smollett is an affront to our humanity and Adam Schiff, the head of the House’s investigative panel tweeted that he had personally met with Jussie Smollett and had “…seen the passion and moral clarity of his activism first hand”. Both have since deleted their tweets.

I am not suggesting that I knew that Mr. Smollett was lying; I had not even considered the possibility. The problem for me was that the whole thing felt perfect, almost scripted to fit the narrative on the left about Trump and anyone who voted for him; and that bothered me.

In addition, I also thought it best to reserve judgement on the heels of the media’s recently botched Covington Catholic School student’s story. That was another case of a dangerous rush to judgement before the full facts were apparent. We now know that the boys, who were summarily branded racist Trump supporters by the mainstream media, have been fully vindicated. The Washington Post noted that an independent investigation into the incident revealed “no evidence of ‘racist or offensive statements’ by Covington Catholic students.”  

It turns out the Native American man, who claimed to be the victim of the boys’ racist taunts, lied about it, and the offensive and racist chants came from a group calling themselves the black Hebrew Israelites. It would seem that the boys’ only crime was wearing MAGA hats.

Yet, here we were again with media, politicians and celebrities presuming innocence and blindly attributing guilt before the police had even launched their investigation. More worryingly, even after Mr. Smollett refused to hand over his cellphone to the police, the conviction of many was not shaken. It would seem these people were not interested in the facts, so confident in the belief that a gay man, a man of colour, a liberal would never lie, leave alone do anything as heinous as fake the whole crime.

We live in an age where social media encourages a constant rush to judgement, on both the left and the right. We seek refuge in events that fit a pre-determined narrative and we side only with those who confirm our biases, while rejecting outright any facts that challenge them. This ensures a loss of integrity and fair-mindedness in our debates. Further, there is a growing trend, on both sides, to gauge “truth” based not on hard facts but on political beliefs, sex or colour of skin.

What is even more troubling is that there is a nonsensical belief among many on the left that anyone who did not vote for Trump has some claim to moral superiority, and is a better human being. For example many on the left accept as gospel that anyone who voted for Trump is a racist, and Clinton voters are not. If that is true, then how do we explain the fact that over 8 million people who voted for Obama in 2012 chose Trump in 2016? Or an IPSOS/Reuters poll from 2016 that found nearly one-third of Clinton supporters described black people as more “violent” and “criminal” than whites; this is not an insignificant number. A more recent study done by Yale University also found that Democrats and white liberals have a tendency to downplay their own verbal competence in exchanges with racial minorities, while there was no statistical significance when it came to Republicans.

The fact is that no group has any moral or ethical superiority over another based on religion, political beliefs, sexual orientation or skin colour. If this were true, we would still have faith in the Catholic Church and Bill Cosby would be ‘America’s Dad’. It is true that minorities have suffered disproportionately more discrimination than their white counterparts in this country, but none of this changes the fact that we still need to judge every person based on his or her actions, and the punishment must fit the crime. There is a good reason why justice is meant to be blind.

Indian, Jewish, White, Muslim, Black or Asian husbands are all equally likely to cheat on their wives or beat them. Similarly, it is ludicrous to suggest that liberal women cheat more often than conservative women, or suggest that gay men cheat less than straight men. People are people and all human beings have the same propensity for good and bad within them - it depends entirely on the individual; as an Indian social activist who spent his life championing minority rights eloquently said “no community has a monopoly over virtue or vice”.

As long as we fail to see the faults in the people we love, or to acknowledge the virtues in those we profess to hate and continue to apply different standards to both for the same actions, we will only serve to propagate bigotry and division. If we truly want an equal society, then the question we all need to answer is “do we want to live in a country that judges everyone based on the content of their character, or the colour of their skin?”

 

Monday, January 28, 2019

A Crisis of Hearts and Minds in the Democratic Party

(Pelosi and Schumer respond to Trump’s Oval Office speech / Image Credit: NBC News)

“If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience.” 
-George Bernard Shaw

Wayne Messam is running for President in 2020 against Donald Trump. Who? Exactly.

That, in a nutshell, defines the core problem the Democratic Party will face in 2020. Almost every mayor, senator, governor, congresswoman and man believes he can take on President Trump and that she alone is the best candidate to defeat the incumbent. I remember remarking about the demise of the Republican Party when 18 candidates ran in the 2016 primaries. That was a clear indication of a group with too many Indians and no Chiefs. At last count, we had 55 potential Democratic presidential candidates. I am just grateful that Michael Avenatti, the self-proclaimed Trump on the left and Stormy Daniels lawyer, dropped out of the race after facing multiple accusations of sexual assault.

Put it this way: if we thought the battle between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton was ugly and exposed deep rifts within the base, then I suspect the 2016 primary will feel like a Disney movie compared to what we will witness in the 2020 primaries.

Democratic candidates are already stumbling over each other to showcase their lack of judgement and discredit the front runner, Joe Biden; whether it is Elizabeth Warren’s attempt to prove her Native American heritage with a DNA test or Corey Booker’s Spartacus moment during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings. Curiously, a few days after some of the progressive favourites announced their bid for the Presidency, media stories started showing up about Biden taking $200,000 for stumping for a Republican candidate and about his role in the much-maligned Clinton-era crime policies which resulted in a disproportionate number of people of colour being incarcerated for minor drug-related offences.

At the other end of the spectrum we have Kirsten Gillibrand, who announced her Presidential bid on a late night comedy show and Kamala Harris, both desperately trying to grow their likeability with younger voters. Ms. Harris released well-designed campaign merchandise with a catchy tagline, and is also taking on the new age social media darlings like Beto O’Rourke (who is expected to run) with a video of her dancing to a Cardi B song. No word yet on whether Ms. Harris will release a viral video on serious policy positions.

The problem is that when you have so many candidates with such minor policy differences, it is impossible for voters to differentiate, and candidates need to find extreme ways to stand out against the crowd. Outrageousness is exactly what helped Trump come out on top and ensured that the entire GOP narrative during the campaign and primary debates was focused more on size of manhood and pussy’ grabbing, versus substantive policy discussions.

I have written previously about how Republican’s moral blindness and abandonment of core Conservative principles during the Bush, Jr. years resulted in an internal civil war. No question that the cracks had been building for many years before, but the Bush years were the final straw, and it led to the rise of the rebel and anti-establishment Tea Party.

The freedom caucus, as they are now called, was responsible for pushing out moderate Republicans like Speaker John Boehner and House Majority leader Eric Cantor (who was defeated in a primary), and is entirely responsible for the GOP dysfunction we witnessed during the Obama years. Their antics of ‘no compromise’ without any goal or unifying vision left their party defenseless and wide open for a hostile takeover by Donald Trump. Now, the Democrats, rather than learn the lessons from the demise of the GOP, seem poised to repeat history, within their own ranks.

Much like the Republican Party, the rift we see inside the Democratic Party has been growing for a number of years and is not sudden. While Bernie did not cause this rift, his anti-establishment campaign did ignite and light the match with young Millennials who were feeling disillusioned with Obama. By going after Hillary Clinton, Bernie also took on the ageing Democratic ‘establishment’ and old guard who many felt had unfairly chosen Obama’s successor without consulting the younger, more progressive and diverse Democratic base.

The fact is that the Democratic party was already broken and hopelessly divided when Obama won his first nomination; in fact he too had defied and defeated the establishment by running against Hillary Clinton, and his primary victory simply hobbled an already weak party.

To win his primary battle against Hillary, Obama knew he needed to go around the party machinery. This is why he created Organising for Action; “OFA was created as a shadow party because Obama operatives had no faith in state parties,” according to Nebraska Democratic Party Chair Jane KleebAs a result, during the Obama years there was a massive erosion of power in state legislatures, congressional districts and governor’s mansions.

At the start of Obama’s first term, Democrats controlled 59 percent of state legislatures, by the end it was down to 31percent; the lowest percentage for the party since the turn of the 20th century. Democrats held 29 governor’s offices at the beginning of his term and by the end they had only 16; the party’s lowest number since 1920. There is no question that, while Obama himself was popular, his persona transcended the party and did not trickle down the ballot. His was a coalition built less on party unity and more on personal charisma, optimism and the idea of tearing down racial barriers. Large numbers of people who came out to vote for him were voting for the first time, and many were minorities who had not voted in a long time.

In 2016, Hillary failed to bring together the same voting coalition that helped Obama win office. Millennials, deeply disappointed with Obama for not being progressive enough, broke for Bernie and many older blue collar voters who voted twice for Obama, and had not cast a vote for a Republican presidential nominee beforebroke for Trump because they felt completely ignored and betrayed by Democrats. Of course, we cannot negate Hillary’s own long-standing establishment baggage and deeply polarizing personality. We also have to credit Trump for reading the depth of frustration among working class white voters, a group who had long been the core of the Democratic base. There is no doubt Trump’s message was deeply divisive, but that fact remains that he was the only candidate speaking directly to them.

After the 2016 election, I hoped the Democratic Party leadership would take time to introspect, listen with humility and then forge a new platform for the American people for 2020, one built on ideas, and not ideology rooted in identity politics. Yet, two years on, the dysfunction and factionalism within the base and party seem to have grown deeper and wider, and with their unhealthy obsession to remove Trump from office by any means, it is clear Democrats learned nothing from their humiliating 2016 election defeat.

In fact, it feels like every corner of the Democratic coalition is self-destructing or tearing itself apart in some manner. The Women’s March organisation, a powerful activist group within the base, which was formed by a diverse group of women as an act of resistance to Trump’s misogyny, had a rift in its very first meeting. Apparently, it began when the black and Latino women told their Jewish counterpart that “Jews needed to confront their own role in racism”.

Rather than find ways to unify, it seems the divisions from this first meeting only continued to grow over the past year and finally blew into full public view this year with charges of anti-Semitism roiling the movement and overshadowing plans for more marches. This rift eventually led to marches being cancelled in some cities, and three competing marches being held in New York City.

Then there is the Bernie wing of the party, who call themselves Democratic Socialists, which is represented by young, outspoken leaders like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. This group genuinely believes their time has come. 2016 was the first time since Gallup has been asking this question that a majority of “Democrats had a more positive view of socialism than they did of capitalism. Much like the Freedom Caucus, this is a rebel group that is intent on remaking the soul of the Democratic Party from the inside. In a recent interview with Five-Thirty Eight, Waleed Shahid, a Bernie Sanders campaign alumni who recruits progressive candidates for Congress, was asked if this far-left group was the equivalent of the House Freedom Caucus, his answer was unequivocal: “Yes, it is”.

One could argue that the Democrats seem united, having selected Nancy Pelosi as speaker, whom the new left was totally against, and having withstood the government shutdown as a cohesive unit. The problem is that this unity is an illusion because it is driven entirely by a shared hatred of Donald Trump, and not built on a unifying vision or faith in leadership. Hate is never a reliable adhesive for long-term unity and it just corrodes the vessel it is carried in.

Democrats will not win in 2020 by simply being the anti-Trump party, again. Hillary Clinton spent all her time and energy vilifying Trump, rather than offer Americans ideas and solutions and we all know how that movie ended. Nor will they win if they cannot clearly articulate what they stand for, and they would do well to remember that a house divided is a house that can be conquered.