Category Archives: American Politics

The Spectacle of Donald Trump

In the summer of 2016, Michael Moore predicted Trump’s electoral victory.  He even named the states Trump would carry to secure the presidency.  Moore labeled Trump’s impending triumph as a Molotov cocktail hurled at elites of both major parties. It was a remarkable display of political acumen.  

But now, eight years later, we need to go further than that.  From the start of his resurrected political career, sowing doubt Barack Obama was an American citizen (“you won’t believe what my lawyers are finding out”), Trump said and did things that would have sunk every other politician’s career.  When the Access Hollywood videotape surfaced during the 2016 campaign, even Trump feared his candidacy was fatally damaged.  But remarkably, his lewd misogynistic remarks did not impact his political fortunes.  And during these last eight tumultuous years, his egregious behavior, capped by an election fraud lie and a corrupt gambit to maintain power despite being defeated, has not ended his political career.  At least, not yet.  

The time has come to confront a sobering reality about Trump’s candidacy.  And we need to do so immediately as presidential primaries begin.  It is not simply that Trump stokes a distemper in our land, as Moore smartly observed.  We need to reckon with the astonishing and remarkable fact that with each criminal indictment, Trump’s popularity has increased.  No other politician would survive even a fraction of the legal trouble Trump faces.  And yet, he continues to thrive.   How can we understand this unprecedented phenomenon? 

Trump believes he can do anything he likes, any time he likes, to whoever he likes.  The rules and laws governing the behavior of others, do not apply to him.  Recall Trump’s infamous comment that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and people would still vote for him.  It turns out he was exactly right.  Why?  Because his followers experience a vicarious satisfaction when he gets away with things he knows, and they know, are wrong.  They delight and support his ability to get away with things they cannot in their own lives.  As a result, Trump’s popularity is not enhanced despite his egregious behavior, it is enhanced because of it.  Most people understand they cannot do whatever they want, to whoever they want, in their own lives and get away with it.  Trump supporters have attached themselves to someone who does.  This defines the not-so-secret ingredient of his puzzling political “superpower”.  

What is lethal for every other politician provides fuel for Trump’s political fortunes.  The vicarious satisfaction Trump supporters experience when he behaves in ways they know are wrong, is reinforced by their scorn for all those who want to hold him accountable. His supporters affirm the narrative that every attempt to hold him to account represents a witch hunt, a campaign of political and personal persecution.  

But Trump goes one step further to seal the deal with his supporters.  He represents a toxic combination of George Wallace and his politics of anger, and Roy Cohn, who advocated a scorched earth response to anyone who dared oppose him.  Trump proclaims that when political elites and their fake media allies persecute him, they persecute them too.  He presents himself as a victim of a sophisticated witch hunt perpetrated by the “deep state”.  And just as it opposes and hates him, the deep state opposes and hates them too.  In this way, Trump presents a compelling narrative that lashes their interests to his.  While his campaign moniker remains Let’s Make America Great Again, the underlying agenda is clear:  what’s good for Trump is good for the nation.  

How do we reckon with Trump’s toxic political presence?  We address it head on. We must assert repeatedly that not only did Trump lose the election, and to say otherwise is a great lie, but that Trump knew he lost the 2020 election on election night.  He has always known he lost the election.  And dozens of court decisions affirmed what he knew to be true.  The man is not delusional.  So, why did he lie about the election result?  Was it out of some noble concern for the will of the American people?  Of course not. Trump lied about the election result because it was good business for Trump.  His persistent lie kept him in the news.  It maintained his status as a major political player and a Republican party kingmaker.  And all this sustained his primary interest:  to keep his personal brand relevant and lucrative.  Trump’s worst nightmare is to become invisible.  That is a fate worse than death.  And in the service of keeping his personal brand relevant and profitable, he has played the nation and his supporters as fools and “suckers”.  His supporters are willing enablers who even pay his legal bills, so he does not have to spend a large chunk of his own alleged fortune to keep himself out of jail.   

In this explosive and pivotal political season, we need to change the narrative about Trump.  We need to turn the tables and recast him as the ultimate cynical huckster who pretends to promote the national interest while he enhances the value of his personal brand.  For the diehard faithful, nothing will dissuade them from supporting Trump.  But for many other Republican and Independent voters rebranding Trump as someone who pursues his own interest at the expense of theirs, offers an important opportunity to expose him as a cancer on the American body politic, willing to undermine a hallowed aspect of our democracy, a peaceful transition of power effected by free and fair elections deemed legitimate by the public.  It is imperative we expose Trump as an emperor with no clothes.  

Neal Aponte, Ph.D.

Editor of Delano

Two Dirty Little Secrets Embedded in the Big Lie

A recent Associated Press story, based on hundreds of interviews with election officials in six states, confirmed, once again, there was no evidence of systematic or widespread fraud in the 2020 presidential election. The AP reporters concluded there were less than 500 cases of potential yet unconfirmed electoral fraud out of some 25 million votes cast in six states still contested by Republican officials and the ex-president.

But this will not change the narrative about the election.  It is abundantly clear that no factual evidence will persuade those who remain committed to the big lie, that the presidential election was stolen and Joe Biden is an illegitimate president. But there are two dirty little secrets embedded in the big lie.  Here is the first one:  Donald Trump knows the big lie is a big lie. While most Republicans polled about the election results believe the election was rigged and stolen, Trump knew he lost on the night of the election. Throughout the year, he predicted he would win the election.  He warned all of us that the only way he could lose was if the election was rigged. On election night, Trump merely repeated the script he broadcasted for months.  In the face of a humiliating electoral defeat he could not tolerate, he insisted the election was stolen.

Trump’s promotion of the big lie has one primary objective. He wants to keep his celebrity status and personal brand relevant and lucrative. And he has been enormously successful. Rather than fading away quietly, he raised a tremendous amount of money and has become a Republican party power broker and self-styled kingmaker, while the Grand Old Party has transformed into a veritable cult of personality.  

Trump’s well-rehearsed big lie replicated the playbook used to establish himself on the national political stage, that Barack Obama was not a US citizen.  He stated publicly that “you won’t believe what my lawyers are finding out” about Obama’s citizenship.  Trump knew that was a lie too, but promoting it worked like a charm.  

Trump is simply being Trump, a marketing maven skillful at maintaining his personal brand.  He does not care if his audacious lie, challenging the outcome of the presidential election, damages the foundation of our democracy.    

But what about the GOP?  Why haven’t more Republican office holders, elder statesmen and intellectuals come out forcefully against the big lie?  A lot has been written about the political and personal cowardice of the Republican establishment for not pushing back on Trump.  But there is something more cynical and sinister at work here. Something that relates to the current Republican effort to make it more difficult for citizens to vote and to gerrymander voting districts.  

Within the next quarter century, and for the first time in our nation’s history, whites will no longer occupy majority status in the population.  This is a powerful and inexorable demographic shift.  And here is the second and astonishing dirty little secret embedded in the big lie.  Given existing demographic trends, Republican officials have seemingly concluded, and perhaps rightly, that if everyone eligible exercised their right to vote, they would become a permanent minority party.  

Republicans have redoubled their effort to pass state legislation across the country making it more difficult for important blocs of Democratic voters, people of color and the poor, to exercise their right to vote.  And they have cynically rallied around Trump as the primary, and perhaps the only, way to galvanize Republican and sympathetic independent voters, even if it involves endorsing the big lie.  And they have engaged in gerrymandering efforts that guarantee Republican victory in many redrawn districts. All this makes expedient political sense if we assume Republican strategists and politicians have concluded their party’s grip on national power, in Congress and the White House, and even on the state level, is threatened.  Simply put, Republicans apparently fear they will lose the battle of ideas and policies against bolstered Democratic majorities in general elections.   

Because the stakes are critical for the GOP, no one will dare to challenge Trump, to say publicly that the emperor has no clothes.  And the concerted effort to restrict access to the ballot will be endorsed in the name of promoting fair and untainted elections.  

But the truth is plain to see.  Republicans are running scared.  They see the handwriting on the wall.  Demography is destiny.  Unfortunately, they appear determined to maintain their political power even if it endangers the integrity of our democracy.   

Neal Aponte Ph.D.,

Editor of Delano

Election Week 2020

Despite people getting sick and dying in alarming numbers from the coronavirus, and even as many individuals and families trembled on the brink of financial catastrophe and racial tensions reached the boiling point, voters turned out in record numbers. Many took advantage of early voting and/or mailed in their ballots, while others lined up for hours on Election Day despite the pandemic. An historic number of voters were determined to make their voices heard.

And in the heat of a profound crisis, we the people always seem to elect the right man for the job.  We seem to get it right when the chips are down. Think Abraham Lincoln and his election in 1860 on the eve of the Civil War.  Think FDR in the midst of the Great Depression in 1932.  Think Joe Biden and our current turmoil.  

Character and temperament always matter when electing a president.  And they are absolutely essential right now.  The two presidential candidates could not be more different:  one sows discord, the other strives to unite; one thrives on chaos, the other seeks to restore a sense of normalcy; one has a flagrant disregard for institutions vital to our democracy, the other has devoted his life to the public interest. Biden is not a perfect candidate, nor will he become a perfect president.  No one is. But we have elected the right man for the right job in the right moment.   And that’s a good thing for the endangered health of our nation.

Amidst the jubilation is a profound sense of relief.  Many of us have felt an overwhelming sense of exhaustion that accompanied the endless rants of someone who was ill suited to be our leader.  We grew accustomed to and even desensitized to the constant political whirlwind provoked by some incendiary comment tweeted overnight.  The president seemed determined to turn the nation’s political life into a reality TV series where he was its star, director and producer. 

Thankfully that will end soon.  But not quite yet.  The current president will not go gently into that good night.  He will rage, rage against the dying of the light.  There will be litigation and continued outrageous commentary that he “won” the election, if only the “legal” votes are counted, and that his victory was stolen.  Of course, this is a dangerous fiction.  Dangerous because it erodes confidence and trust in the vital center of our democracy. Dangerous because it will evoke suspicion, resentment and even hatred towards the next president and sow further discord in our badly divided nation.  

The current president’s comments post-election have been irresponsible and disgraceful.  His Thursday, November 5th press briefing was simply astonishing.  Everyone should listen to it.  Every sentence he uttered contained a falsehood.  It was pure propaganda.  Our fierce adversary, Vladimir Putin, could not have written a better disinformation script for the president to read.   Listening to his words, one could imagine that perhaps he really was the Manchurian president.  

At some point, he will concede the election.  It will not happen soon.  Perhaps after a recount of votes in states like Georgia and Wisconsin.  Perhaps when Republican congressional leaders sit down to inform him the jig is up.  But when the president does concede, he will not make a gracious speech.  There will be no talk about supporting the president elect and rallying together as a nation.  Not after he accused the other side of committing widespread voter fraud to steal an election that he won.  The president is determined to go out a political martyr.  And let’s be clear:  his cause will be trumpeted by the denizens of talk radio and the alt-right during the entire Biden administration and for the foreseeable future, perhaps forever. The president will identify himself as the victim of the greatest political witch hunt in our nation’s history, stemming from the Obama administration spying on his 2016 campaign, to the so-called “Russia investigation” right through to the alleged electoral fraud. 

What does the president want?  What is his endgame?  What he seeks to accomplish is this:  to keep his name in the public eye so he can refurbish and monetize his personal brand.  This has been his primary objective throughout the course of his public life. This president has no core political beliefs.  He is neither Republican nor conservative. His beliefs are merely expedient.  He endorses anything that enhances his celebrity status, anything that engenders greater personal and brand visibility.  Losing this election will not prevent him from achieving his goal.  Portraying himself as an aggrieved victim will be a potent and lucrative story line, allowing him to transform a political defeat into a great personal asset to his brand.  

But it will be a great relief not to see and hear this president on a daily basis.  The nightmare of his administration will soon be over.  Thank goodness for that.  Now the difficult task of addressing the perfect storm of issues confronting our nation and world looms large.  Let us hope the Biden presidency will secure the support and assistance from those on the other side in Congress, especially the Senate, to enact the people’s urgent business.  We can only pray that partisan interests will be put aside in favor of the national interest. If anyone can achieve that, Biden can. But we should not delude ourselves, it will be a very difficult and uphill battle.  

Neal Aponte, Ph.D.

Editor of Delano 

Taking A Knee

Have you seen the video? A line of cops faced a crowd of protesters in Portland, Oregon.  No, it’s not what you’re thinking.  This time, no one used tear gas or rubber bullets.  This time, the cops did not bull their way forward to force the crowd to recoil in fear.   This time, it was different.  Facing the crowd, motionless and silent, the cops offered a simple gesture: they knelt to the ground on one knee.  And they remained there.  It took my breath away and released a deep reservoir of tears.

As the cops maintained their dignified silence, the crowd of protesters erupted with thunderous applause.  We recall the other images, the angry confrontations, the tear gas, people being chased, wrestled to the ground and handcuffed. These other disturbing images underscored the shock of watching a line of kneeling cops being applauded by a crowd of protesters. People in the crowd shouted their appreciation: “Thank you.  Thank you. Thank you.”, while the general applause continued.  In my mind’s eye, these cops became a line of beautiful dancers kneeling on stage, receiving exuberant tribute after a magnificent performance.  And then a tall young African American man, stepped forward and turned to face the crowd before kneeling with the cops, his arm extended upward, fist clenched.  Given the recent barbarous act of murder in Minneapolis and the violent nights that ensued, it was astonishing to witness a young African American man expressing his solidarity with the police.  

A simple physical gesture, more eloquent and forceful than tear gas or rubber bullets, transformed the entire mood. Without a spoken word, these cops revealed they were appalled and outraged too.  And in this moment, the dividing line between cops and protesters was immediately and completely obliterated.  In this moment, neither group viewed the other side as an “enemy”, as a force to be overcome or dominated.  In this moment, cops and protesters simply expressed their shared humanity.  

Joined together, cops and protesters, in a gorgeous call and response, turned a potential confrontation into a profound celebration.   A celebration that occurred in many places around the country.  Through my tears, I wondered why it remained so difficult for us to articulate the underlying truth about ourselves:  in this unprecedented moment, we shared the same anxiety, rage and grief.  Why was it so hard to acknowledge that we need each other now more than ever?  The simple act of taking a knee enabled those Portland cops to pierce the veil, to transform a nondescript street corner into sacred ground. Their remarkable gesture summoned the grace that surrounds us everywhere, each and every moment, if we can muster the courage to see it.  

Neal Aponte, Ph.D.

Editor of Delano

The Sordid Band of Brothers: Why Republicans Refuse to Criticize Trump

Donald Trump will be impeached by the House of Representatives.  Recent Intelligence Committee hearings revealed that Trump abused his presidential power.  He sought to bribe the Ukrainian president for personal political gain and tried to elicit the help of a foreign government in his reelection bid.  Then he obstructed congressional investigations into his wrongdoing.  The evidence the public hearings displayed was overwhelming and clear.  Yet no Republican sitting on the Judiciary Committee empowered to formulate articles of impeachment will vote to jump ship.  Moreover, Trump will be acquitted during a Senate trial.  In all likelihood, few if any Republican senators will vote to convict him.

Despite the remarkable testimony of skilled, devoted and impartial public servants, the impeachment process will be long remembered as an acrimonious food fight between members of the two political parties.  So why have Republicans chosen to turn a blind eye to Trump’s sobering abuse of power?  Why do they staunchly defend him? Some have characterized Republicans as cowardly; described them as loath to infuriate their leader.   And perhaps criticizing or rebuking Trump carries potential risk, even the loss of one’s political career.  But cowardice does not explain why Republicans remain committed to their corrupt and venal leader.  

The sobering reality is that Trump represents a dream come true for Republican conservatives, a robust answer to their prayers.  For them, Donald Trump is the goose that keeps laying golden eggs.  He has transformed the complexion of the federal judiciary and the tenor of the Supreme Court for many years to come.  And this may be his enduring political legacy.  But there is more, much more.  From gutting governmental regulation, engineering the largest tax bonanza for the wealthy in our nation’s history and his stance on hot button cultural issues ranging from gun control to curbing abortion rights, Trump has done everything conservatives envisioned when he assumed office.  

One can gasp at the remarkable irony of conservative Republican lawmakers taking aim at agencies like the FBI for being representatives of a “deep state”, while soft pedaling Trump’s extraordinary bromance with our nation’s most formidable political foe, Vladimir Putin.  Does anyone remember what Republicans said about Trump’s reprehensible performance at the Helsinki summit, when he asked Putin if he interfered in the 2016 election and after Putin denied it, Trump responded that he believed him?

Donald Trump has not hijacked the Republican party.  To the contrary, conservatives have been delighted to strike while the iron is hot; to seize the opportunity afforded by Trump’s leadership to realize their ambitious political agenda.  Republicans have construed black as white and white as black during the impeachment process because they stand to gain politically.  Trump has certainly embarrassed many Republicans with his vulgarity and, at times, infuriated them, say, when he abandoned the Iraqi Kurds after they vanquished ISIS.  But Republican unwillingness to confront Trump during the impeachment process underscores how they will tolerate a frontal assault on the rule of law and the sanctity of our electoral process as long as their leader keeps bringing home the bacon.  The Republicans are not feckless cowards when they defend the indefensible and support every last squalid drop of Trump’s tabloid presidency.  It is far worse than that.  They are abject cynics who turn their backs on the integrity of our democracy for the sake of narrow minded political gain.  And there is no end in sight given the astonishing possibility of Trump’s reelection next year. 

Neal Aponte, Ph.D.

Editor of Delano

Theater of the Absurd: the Public Hearings on Impeachment

Donald Trump would have us believe Ukraine meddled in our 2016 election to prevent him from becoming president; that Ukraine tried to “take him down”.  So let’s get this straight.  Mired in a “hot” war in the eastern part of its country against Russia and dependent on American military assistance in its frontline defense against Russian aggression, Trump and his Republican congressional allies would have us believe this desperate country engulfed in a war for its survival, launched a major cyberattack against the US designed to tamper with our presidential election. 

It is important to note that Putin has been spreading the same disinformation about election meddling, we didn’t do it, it was the Ukrainians, since 2017.  And three years later, after the intelligence community and a Senate report concluded Russia interfered in our electoral process, Trump continues to refer to the “Russian hoax” and parrots Putin’s debunked accusation against Ukraine. 

As Fiona Hill noted in her trenchant remarks before the congressional impeachment committee, a Ukrainian ambassador and other politicians wrote and/or said harsh words about then candidate Trump in 2016.  Hill believed such comments were regrettable or unfortunate.  However, she also provided a political context for their remarks.  Candidate Trump made a controversial statement about how Ukrainian citizens in Crimea preferred to be reunited with Russia.  His comments endorsed Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 that was roundly condemned by Western nations. The specter of an American presidential candidate, the potential new leader of the free world, echoing the Kremlin party line, represented an existential threat to Ukraine’s national security and even its sovereignty.  Moreover, Trump’s remarks cast doubt on America’s reliability as a political and military ally.  Of course, Ukrainian officials were highly motivated to bet on the “other horse” in our presidential campaign.  What else would we expect?  Pushing back on Trump’s ill-advised comments represented a patriotic Ukrainian duty. 

In fact, we know Trump was not concerned about the viability of Ukraine’s democracy.  After months of hearing about a “quid pro quo”, the Democrats have finally taken the gloves off and referred to Trump’s behavior for what it is:  Trump engaged in a sustained effort to bribe the Ukrainian president, using congressionally approved military aid as a lever, to pressure him to announce investigations into the “big stuff” he cared about, into the widely debunked conspiracy theory about Ukrainian election meddling and about an obscure Ukrainian gas company named Burisma.  

Everyone knew “Burisma” was a code word for investigating the baseless charge against Hunter Biden and his father, as the younger Biden sat on the company’s board of directors.  Moreover, we know that Giuliani and his cohort, advancing Trump’s personal agenda rather than the security interests of the US in thwarting Russian aggression, coordinated their efforts with corrupt Ukrainian officials, including a disgraced prosecutor general, and smeared the stellar reputation of an American ambassador who worked tirelessly to reduce endemic corruption.  

Trump withheld military aid the Ukrainians desperately needed in their war against Russia to pressure their government to advance his personal interest; to launch an investigation into a political rival.  The president’s clear and pernicious abuse of his authority is the heart of the impeachment investigation.  To hear Republicans howl that money was released and no investigation was ever undertaken, boggles the mind.  They omit the fact that aid was issued within forty-eight hours of getting caught, after the whole squalid affair became public knowledge on Sept. 9th, when Congress announced it would investigate the whistleblower’s complaint.  Moreover, the argument advanced by Jim Jordan that Trump was not successful so he should not be charged, remains absolutely ludicrous and underscores Republican desperation.  No one defends Trump’s corrupt behavior.  The argument is:  no harm, no foul.  Try telling that to people currently jailed for unsuccessful attempts to commit a crime.  Bribery is bribery, whether the effort to bribe is successful or not.  To hear Republicans argue otherwise remains as sordid as Trump’s impeachable and criminal behavior.  They are simply placing narrow-minded partisan politics ahead of considering the real “big stuff”, like upholding the Constitution and ensuring the health of our democracy.  

Neal Aponte, Ph.D.

Editor of Delano

This Ain’t No Disco: Remembering the Crises of the 1970’s

These were the years of Watergate and Studio 54, the OPEC oil embargo, double digit inflation and soaring interest rates, urban blight and the emergence of the rustbelt, punk rock music and the explosion of graffiti. The decade began with days of rage about the Vietnam War and ended with a national humiliation over embassy hostages in Iran.  When it was all over, voters spoke with great force to repudiate “turn on, tune in, drop out” to usher in the Reagan “revolution”.  

The 1960’s spawned the anti-war, civil rights and nascent feminist movements to challenge political authority and cultural norms.  The 1980’s featured the demise of New Deal politics, the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the implosion of the Soviet Union and its satellite republics to mark the end of the cold war.

But what about those intervening years?  For some, the seventies represented a cynical retreat from the idealism of the previous decade, for others it signaled the rise of hedonism run amuck.  But make no mistake, these were turbulent times.  If the sixties generation questioned the authority of governments across the globe, from Washington to Paris to Prague, a dire economic crisis during the 1970’s posed an existential threat to liberal democracies that set the stage for the conservative tilt of the 1980’s. 

Does anyone recall America’s palpable fear of the Japanese during the seventies?  They were going to do to us in the global economic marketplace what they could not achieve on the battlefield a few decades earlier.  The American economy was going to be owned lock, stock and barrel by Japan, Inc., as these disciplined Asian capitalists gobbled up prime real estate and rendered wide swaths of corporate America as economic road kill.  Michael Crichton’s Rising Sun, a manifestation of American xenophobia, expressed the defensive zeitgeist.  But why did we imagine ourselves vulnerable to the Japanese?

During the 1960’s, the Johnson administration engaged in an ambitious “war on poverty” while pursuing a ruinous and tragic war in Vietnam.  Now on the heels of this massive deficit spending and the establishment of the OPEC oil embargo and the subsequent extraordinary rise in oil prices, macroeconomic growth came to a screeching halt.  Moreover, wages and worker productivity began to stagnate during these years.  It seemed that the American century begun with a decisive military victory in World War II was ending after twenty-five years.  And these unprecedented economic developments had important political consequences.  

There is an intimate relationship between stable and effective government and robust levels of macroeconomic growth.  Diminished growth threatens the ability of government to function.  Without growth, wages and employment levels stagnate that, in turn, result in less tax revenue.  When there is less money to collect, there is less to spend on vital government programs.  And when there is less to spend, budgets are either frozen or cut.  And diminished public spending threatens the livelihood of working and non-working poor and middle-class individuals, families and communities across the country.  In the 1970’s, Americans experienced, as a celebrated Marxist account framed it, a “fiscal crisis of the state”, generating the notorious bankruptcy of New York City and the infamous tabloid headline describing Gerald Ford’s political response: “Ford to City:  Drop Dead.” 

But let us remember that spending on social programs, built up over a period of several decades to establish what we used to call the “welfare state”, was not a function of noblesse oblige, but represented a way of lashing together the interests of the economic elite, what we currently refer to as the 1%, to those at the bottom and the middle, or the 99%.  In effect, the establishment of the welfare state in capitalist societies enabled those at the bottom to feel that their economic interests were served by the existing political order.  And this diminished the threat of more extreme challenges to the “system”.  On the other hand, if public sector budgets were frozen or cut, then government’s ability to lash the interests of rich and poor together would be threatened.  In effect, the fiscal crisis of the state represented a clear danger to the political stability of Western democracies.  And this grim prognosis was offered by leading thinkers both left and right in the 1970’s. 

On the left, one of the most influential academic books of the decade, “Legitimation Crisis”, authored by a renowned German philosopher, Jurgen Habermas, argued that the state’s ability to finance its “legitimation” function, the state’s capacity to inspire loyalty from all strata of society, was imperiled because of the emerging fiscal crisis.  And prominent neo-conservative academics, notably Samuel Huntington, a Harvard political scientist, and Daniel Bell, a Harvard sociologist, came to similar conclusions, although couched in very different language.  Huntington wrote an influential essay about America’s “Democratic Distemper”.  He observed that political demands on the state increased, due to what he referred to as a “welfare shift”, while confidence in government and other institutions declined.  He concluded darkly that democracy was not “optimized” when it was “maximized”, conjuring ideas expressed by political theorists of the early 20thcentury associated with Italy’s fascism.  Bell wrote an essay on the “Public Household” that became the final chapter of his seminal work entitled “The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism”. He warned that a “revolution of rising entitlements” greatly increased political demands on the state that threatened both economic and political stability.  In effect, a remarkable intellectual consensus about the diminished governability of Western democracies emerged that transcended political ideology. 

The menacing economic developments during the seventies also produced an intellectual and policy crisis in the field of economics. The reigning paradigm was established by John Maynard Keynes. He provided a rationale for the public sector to stimulate aggregate demand when the private sector collapsed during the Great Depression.  If an economy was in recession, prices and wages faced downward pressure, which required government to prime the pump and engage in deficit spending to ignite demand.  Putting more money in the hands of more people by running large government deficits was a way to get the economy moving again.  He believed that balancing budgets during a recession or depression would be counterproductive and dangerous.  Keynes offered his prescriptions as a way to save capitalism from itself.  And they worked like a charm.  Even Richard Nixon announced that he was a Keynesian.  However, most fail to remember that Keynes also believed it was wise to curtail government spending when the economy recovered to alleviate any inflationary pressure.  The basic idea was this:  recessionary and inflationary pressures were mutually exclusive.  Keynes believed you could not have high rates of inflation during a recession.

However, developments during the 1970’s baffled Keynesian economists.  While the economy entered into a recession and interest rates soared to almost 20% at its height, it also suffered from double digit inflation. Things cost much more at a time when more people had less to spend.  It was the worst of all possible economic outcomes and mainstream economists were unable to alleviate the crisis.  Enter the Reagan revolution and its widely touted supply side ideas that featured the infamous Laffer curve.  Economist Arthur Laffer proposed that significant tax cuts would generate more, not less, government revenue by spurring higher rates of macroeconomic growth.  In Laffer’s world, tax cuts would reduce and not increase government deficits and benefits would accrue to everyone.  Of course, this would prove to be little more than conservative fantasy.  But Reagan’s rhetoric, spinning a marvelous story about a shining city on the hill, claiming America’s best moments were still to come, enabled many to believe help was on the way.  

Reagan provided a stark contrast to his rival Jimmy Carter, who tried to level with the public by asking them to sacrifice, to turn down thermostats in the winter for instance. Carter insinuated, but never stated, there was a cultural malaise sweeping the country, as Christopher Lasch suggested in his popular book on the “Culture of Narcissism”.  Voters rejected Carter’s narrative as many wanted to believe that shuttered factories and rising unemployment, soaring gas prices and interest rates and stagnant economic growth, coupled with the ineffectiveness of traditional Keynesian solutions, could be swept away by a conservative pipe dream.  Never mind that deficits would actually increase during Reagan’s presidency or that supply- side ideas contributed to greater inequality, leading many to derisively refer to the doctrine as a “trickle-down” theory, or what Bush the elder later referred to as “voodoo economics”.  

While Reagan appeared to offer an end to the financial and political crisis, his presidency established a new Gilded Age.  Those at the very top became extraordinarily rich while wages and income for those in the middle and at the bottom stagnated.  Meanwhile, none of the problems brought to national attention in the 1970’s was seriously addressed.  

Accordingly, significant portions of the country still wrestle with the same issues:  declining manufacturing jobs, endangered economic growth, stagnant wages and productivity.  At the end of the 1970’s, considerable fear, panic and hardship established a receptive audience for Reagan’s audacious conservative message.  More recently, it provided fertile soil for Trump’s repugnant populism.  But what happens when people realize Trump offers no solutions to vexing economic problems, that the emperor has no clothes?  If the two major political parties continue to ignore the suffering and anger of so many in the 2020 election, what new unsettling political response will emerge and could it threaten the fragile texture of our democracy? 

Neal Aponte, Ph.D.                                                                                          

Editor of Delano

Trump Agonistes

It was inevitable, like the movement of planets circling the sun. We knew with utter certainty that someone, sooner or later, would announce the obvious: the emperor has no clothes. But the identity of the messenger proved remarkable; not “someone” affiliated with the political opposition or the purveyors of “fake news”. Rather, it was someone up close and personal, who knew the man inside out. A senior administration official portrayed the president as an unruly, dangerous child, whose unpredictable and odious character rendered him a modern-day Caligula occupying the world’s most powerful political office. The message was clear and disturbing: those occupying the highest echelons of power were protecting the nation’s welfare from their elected leader.

For someone used to getting his way and doing whatever he pleases away from the glare of public awareness, living in the world’s largest fish bowl represents the ultimate nightmare, like a cruel and unusual punishment meted out on an hourly basis. One can almost hear the bellowing rage against the nameless accuser, who could be virtually anyone, as if he were a mafia boss betrayed by a highly trusted lieutenant.

The recent New York Times op-ed and the Bob Woodward book will prompt the president to channel his inner Roy Cohn. He will become an even more ferocious street fighter like a wounded and trapped animal. He will excoriate his opponents even more. But his hateful vitriol will not eclipse the truth of what was written. We must remember the underlying dilemma of all narcissists: to proclaim to be the center of the universe while believing they are worthless. Seen this way, the president’s desperate, even frenzied attempt to trumpet his brilliant achievements make sense, while his pathetic hyperbole renders each of us spectators to an unrelenting effort to prove his worthiness when he, like the rest of us, know otherwise.

The fallout from the recent op-ed accentuates what is already true: the president’s time in the White House is an exquisite torture. As this becomes increasingly intolerable, he will resign from office. But he will not leave as a humiliated victim because he remains incapable of feeling shame. Rather, he will leave as a self-proclaimed political martyr. Depicting himself to be the target of the greatest witch hunt in American history that drove him from office, he will detonate a political dirty bomb: inciting long-term paranoia and hatred in the alt right and its fellow travelers, anti-democratic forces who would vote for the man even if he shot someone on Fifth Avenue, as he liked to boast.

This president understands his appeal is sustained not in spite of his awful behavior but because of it. As he revels in defining himself as a wrecking ball lashing out against elites, to score points with fervent supporters even as his behavior confirms his utter unworthiness, the tragedy of this presidency has not reached its climax. Rather, we are merely heading into a tumultuous second act. We should all shudder at the prospect of what lies ahead. This president is determined to destroy himself like Nixon. And the health of our democracy will become collateral damage in this American tragedy’s horrific denouement.

Neal Aponte, Ph.D.
Editor of Delano

Trump and the Clintons: The Difference Between Teflon and Velcro

As our beleaguered nation lurches from one sensational episode to the next, each rife with corruption, scandal or innuendo, a compelling and disturbing question remains: how does Donald Trump get away with it? So many events during the course of his public life would have destroyed the careers of other politicians, from his racist slur questioning his predecessor’s birthplace that jumpstarted his candidacy, to defrauding enrollees of his eponymous university and boasting about sexually assaulting women, to recent allegations of marital infidelity and the payment of hush money, to say nothing about the continual stream of half-truth and outright falsehood he generates. Yet he remains relatively unscathed. What is it about Trump that confirms his boast that he could shoot someone on Fifth Ave. and people would still vote for him?

First, let’s pay tribute again to Michael Moore, who called the presidential election during the summer and even named the states Trump would carry to secure his victory. This came at a time when no one, not even Republican guru Karl Rove, gave Trump any chance of winning. Moore was prescient: rage against both Republican and Democratic elites was simmering in places like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin, where shuttered factories devastated individuals, families and entire communities. While many voters there believed both parties ignored them for several decades, this election featured a political maverick who appeared to raise his middle finger against existing elites when he threatened to “drain the swamp” in Washington and recognized the rage and trepidation of working men and women. His candidacy seemed to offer the chance for political payback or, as Moore put it, to hurl a Molotov cocktail at the political system and blow it up. Even as many supporters questioned the suitability of his temperament and/or his qualification to hold office, they wanted to deliver a clear message: the major parties could no longer afford to ignore them. When Trump scored a remarkable victory not even he anticipated, the message was received loud and clear.

Trump never ran an ordinary campaign. From the start, he became the leader of an insurgent movement that captured the Republican party and then the presidency. The dirty secret about Trump’s candidacy involved globalization and its discontents. The marketplace has always produced winners and losers. For most of its history, the US enjoyed being an ascendant and then a dominant global superpower. This changed dramatically with the emergence of Japan, Inc. and OPEC in the 1970’s, a derided yet pivotal decade. Suddenly, factories closed, industries faded and whole communities began to die. Suddenly, the American century was over after twenty-five years. But let us be clear: trade deals did not darken steel and auto plants. For the first time in our history, the chickens came home to roost. American industrial workers fell victim to the ceaseless and ruthless economic battle that defines the global market economy.

In this context, Trump’s crass behavior is viewed by those marginalized and left behind by globalization as a thumb in the eye of political and cultural elites who failed to address their suffering. Even as many believe his comments and actions are inappropriate, Trump receives a pass after being anointed to become a lightning rod to voice the pent-up frustration and anger of those who feel powerless to change an unresponsive political system. Trump maintains his relative strength not in spite of his outrageous behavior, but as a direct consequence of the discomfort he generates.

If Trump is the Teflon politician, to whom nothing awful ever seems to stick, Bill and Hillary Clinton are Velcro politicians, to whom every misstep sticks forever. It is my belief that our reactions to Trump and the Clintons are intimately connected.

When the history of the 1990’s gets written in the future, Bill Clinton will be remembered as the first Republican president who masqueraded as a Democrat. Remember his triumphant assertion that he ended “big government” as we knew it when he engineered welfare reform as part of his “triangulation” strategy, whereby he adopted Republican policy initiatives to outflank Newt Gingrich to secure reelection. Furthermore, Clinton unleashed a tidal wave of corporate profits and stock market gains with massive economic deregulation that devastated the economy a decade later. While there was some trickle-down benefit, the resentment of “losers” in the globalization battle continued to simmer.

The Clintons came to embody the hypocrisy of political elites because they branded themselves as “Third Way” Democrats while endorsing policies that smelled distinctly Republican. And as if he were the second coming of Herbert Hoover, Al Gore gushed during one of his presidential debates that he proposed to render the federal government debt free for the first time since the early 19th century, espousing a political goal anathema to liberal Democrats like Hubert Humphrey or FDR. This is not to deny that certain Clinton initiatives were progressive, like the attempted overhaul of health care. But this fell victim to personal arrogance and a penchant for secrecy that ultimately doomed any chance of adoption and increased political and personal resentment against Bill and Hillary.

In effect, the Clintons maneuvered themselves to become political scapegoats before there was any personal scandal. So it is quite instructive to note the very different response to Clinton’s affair with his intern and Trump’s sexual boasting. Bill Clinton was impeached while Trump’s disclosure failed to register with voters. In their non-response to the Access Hollywood tape, Americans were not sanctioning the sexual assault of women. But any judgment of his deplorable personal behavior was trumped by his role as political lightning rod. This has enabled him to remain relatively unscathed, even as the stench of corruption and scandal intensifies around him.

If Robert Mueller concludes Trump engaged in an obstruction of justice, or discovers evidence of money laundering in his private business, the teflon politician may have to face the music as his fate will no longer be determined by the court of public opinion alone. However, the more interesting and important issue is: what happens when Trump supporters realize he has sold them a bill of goods? Who will they turn to and how will their smoldering resentment, disillusionment and anger get expressed? We could find out sooner rather than later.

Neal Aponte, Ph.D.
Editor of Delano

How The President Will Leave Office: A Plausible Scenario

Given the unremitting barrage of angry tweets, vulgar language and outright lies, not to mention recent incendiary revelations from interviews with White House insiders, “Pin the Psychological Diagnosis on the President” has become a national parlor game. The president’s incessant need to boast, whether about the size of his genitals or inauguration day crowd, his intellectual acuity or achievements during the first year in office, and his volcanic eruption of temper and mean-spirited vindictiveness when confronted with critical or negative feedback, suggest someone who requires constant admiration from others as he labors to convince everyone, including or especially himself, that he is worthy of praise. But no affirmation is ever enough for someone who feels they are both the center of the universe and absolutely worthless. This is the narcissist’s central dilemma. No amount of positive regard is sufficient to extinguish the underlying fear about being unworthy, so any negative feedback evokes threatening and intolerable feelings of worthlessness that must be resisted at all costs.

It is difficult enough to be personally involved with such a person, say, a boss at work or an intimate partner. It is another thing entirely when that person is the president and the leader of the free world. There is no escaping his needy and volatile presence on a daily basis. As a result, many citizens feel physically and emotionally exhausted, both bullied and beleaguered, by our current president as we bide our time until he leaves office. Unfortunately, we should expect his petulant behavior, his brittle defensiveness and angry Twitter outbursts, to intensify as his approval ratings continue to dwindle.

But as the nation tires of the president, the president tires of his job. For someone who desperately needs continual approval for his performance, the experience of being challenged directly in the give and take of political life is infuriating. He takes everything personally and rails whenever he does not get his way or when anyone portrays him in a less than flattering light. So, of course, the president would interpret Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s attempt to meddle in our presidential election as an attack on the legitimacy of his election victory. If everything is about him, what other explanation could there be for Mueller’s persistence? And as it remains unthinkable to contemplate how he could have lost the popular vote without widespread fraud, the president would have to convene a commission to prove it.

Mueller’s ongoing investigation represents a clear political threat to the president. While it remains unclear if he will identify an impeachable offense, namely, the president’s attempt to obstruct justice, I believe his work poses an even more serious danger. I suspect, as many do, that the president’s tax filings reveal a long history of financial shenanigans, including laundering money for Russian friends. This is the reason why he vehemently opposes the release of his tax records. I believe Mueller will connect the dots. And when the president and his lawyers learn what Mueller has discovered, the political noose will tighten considerably.

When Mueller presents his findings to the White House, the president will portray himself as the victim of the greatest political witch hunt in American history. He will characterize this witch hunt as a partisan effort to overturn the last election, one that distracted his administration and the entire nation while undermining his effort to make America great again. And he will state that the nation’s health and well-being requires an end to this “partisan circus”. Therefore, for the greater good of the country, he will resign immediately so his vice president can pursue his policy agenda with alacrity. Upon assuming office, the new president will thank his predecessor for rendering a great service to the nation and pardon him, without any admission of guilt. Our current president will experience great relief when he leaves office and after a long vacation, will resume his life as a celebrity businessman, while the nation is spared the further indignity of his leadership. The president’s resignation will occur before the next election.

Neal Aponte, Ph.D.
Editor of Delano