Trumped: America in a Time of Corona Episode VI

A perspective of life in the United States during an epidemic, based upon conversations with Michael L. Roberts, and in conjunction with The American Chronicle podcast series.

So here I am. Finally, here on the Eastern Seaboard, in the city of my dreams; Boston, Massachusetts. The sun is shining, the sky is blue, but thanks to coronavirus, there’s not a damn thing to do. Except, perhaps, chronicle these rather strange times…

Episode VI

Old-style politics is beginning to rear its head for the first time in weeks, as a variety of issues compete for headlines with the Coronavirus. There are efforts underway to pass even more financial assistance legislation, as unemployment reaches ever higher figures. However, not only are there challenges within the Senate in terms of trying to get this legislation together, both Democrats and the Republicans trying to bolt their own policy requirements onto this document. The president is talking about delaying the release of funds and one of the areas that he is focusing upon is the US Postal Service, as he seeks to make sure the Postal Service increases the cost of sending packages, suggesting that it is being taken advantage of by Amazon and other delivery services. For several weeks people have been suggesting that Donald Trump will cast some doubts over the results of the presidential election in November if he loses. One way to do so is to cast doubt over postal ballots, which would be dealt with by the US Postal Service. Therefore, the greater doubt President Trump can cast over postal voting, and by extension the Postal Service, the better for his election campaign. 

The Trump presidency moved beyond the bounds of satire this week, as the American citizenry were advised to use ultraviolet light on themselves or ingest bleach in an attempt to stem the spread of the Coronavirus. Trying to stay relevant in this age of craziness, Saturday Night Live hired Brad Pitt to play Dr Fauci, speculating upon the good doctor’s oft-rumored removal from office. Four years ago, Trump supporters insisted that the media needed to “take him seriously, but not literally,” suggesting that the media were taking him literally, but not seriously. Apparently, the media were not alone, with stories merging this week that, perhaps unsurprisingly, Americans have been admitted to hospital for having listened to the president and followed his advice, consuming deadly products. Having ended up in hospital, if they survive ingesting toxic fluids, they could end up being exposed to the very virus that they were trying to avoid in the first place.

There had been hopes that the daily press briefings would act as a substitute for the large-scale presidential rallies, which would have been a stable of the president’s reelection campaign. Since these have been prevented by the Coronavirus, a nightly, presidential press briefing played into Donald Trump’s image of himself as a great communicator, who can convince anybody of anything. What is notable however is how those are clearly backfired and you’re starting to see that in the polls. Following the latest backlash, this time against his suggestion that Americans, President Trump’s daily press briefings have been suspended. The White House has decided that they are apparently not worth the time or the effort, claiming that the media is misrepresenting what the president has been saying. Unfortunately for the White House, the media has been doing precisely what they wanted, which is to broadcast the president’s remarks live and un-edited, unfortunately stating things that are demonstrably untrue. Unable, therefore, to claim to have been mis-quoted, Trump is now suggesting that he was being sarcastic, insisting as much to one particular journalist, who, it was imediaely noted, had not been in the particular briefing session Trump was referring to. The president’s problem is that if you want to get someone in trouble, put them in front of a microphone and let him talk; eventually they’ll talk themselves into trouble. This has certainly happened to Donald Trump over the last week.  He has often issued incendiary statements, but they have attracted as many people as they have repelled. Now he has strayed into areas where he clearly has no clue whatsoever, taking snake oil salesmanship to a whole new level.  

This unforced error was compounded by the president’s continuing insistence on singling out female reporters out for his ire. The White House sought to move CNN’s White House correspondent, Kaitlin Collins, from her front row seat to the back of the room and sought to get the Secret Service to enforce this. Despite this attempt, it was made immediately clear that despite this being the president’s house, he has no authority to move journalists in the press briefing room, a responsible that rests with the White House Correspondence Association. The frustration that this combination of media-related setbacks had on the presidential psyche was apparent in a series of Tweets, in which Trump suggested that journalists who had won the ‘Noble Peace Prize’ were on the wrong side of history and should return their prizes. Correct side of history or not, the ‘Nobel Prize’ winning journalists can likely hold onto their awards, if for no other reason than they can at least spell, which apparently is one step ahead of the American president.

The suspension of the presidential press briefings coincides with word that Republicans across the country are getting wary. They are not necessarily ready to speak out against the president, but they are starting to run away from Donald Trump, to focus on local issues and talk about anything other than the present. As long as they are having to talk about Trump, the less they are able to talk about what is important to the American citizens in their state. This is a shift within the Republican Party, which, only a few weeks ago, was convinced it would retain the Senate, would retain the presidency, and pick up a couple of seats in the House of Representatives. None of that now seems likely. There are increasing concerns amongst the Republican Party that it might well lose control of United States Senate, lose ground in the House, and that Donald Trump’s reelection is no longer as assured as it was just four weeks ago. Donald Trump ran for office and spent three and a half years as president boasting about his ability to increase American wealth, noting that if Hillary Clinton had been elected the American economy would crashed and that unemployment would have soared. That nightmare scenario is exactly where we are with just six months to go until the next American presidential election. While it is difficult to blame Donald Trump for all of this, he was determined to take credit for three and a half years of economic prosperity, so he must now take responsibility for what happens in the last six months of his term. The Coronavirus is having as devastating impact on the president’s reelection campaign and the campaign strategies of Republicans around the country who are running for office or running for re-election in November. 

Despite the president’s problems, Joe Biden is struggling to get any attention. In any other year he would have been out about meeting and greeting, holding rallies and raising money. This year, he is having to compete with the president from his basement, in Delaware, struggling to get the word out, or to raise funds. Joe Biden is not on the television, and the only time he is being discussed at the moment is in regard to an allegation that he may have assaulted a former congressional aide when he was a senator several decades ago. This is hardly the kind of press Joe Biden or the Democrats want at this point. One thing that Biden does have going for him, however, is that the Democratic Party is unified, with all of his former challengers for the nomination having now fallen in line. They have clearly looked back to what happened four years ago and realized that the longer they keep their hat in the ring, the more likely it was that a potential Bernie Sanders candidacy emerged from the Democratic primary season. The Democratic Party can now unite around a moderate candidate, which presents a challenge for Republicans who had expected to allege that socialists had hijacked the Democratic Party and nominated Bernie Sanders as their leader. Trump and his allies would have initiated a scorched-earth campaign, going after Sanders and the politics of the left, just as Nixon did against George McGovern in 1972. Now that the left has been effectively silenced, it becomes very difficult for Donald Trump to label Joe Biden, a relatively bland, centrist Democrat, as being a dangerous socialist. We are faced, therefore, with the prospect of two old, white men in their seventies running for the most powerful office in the world, raising doubts about their capacity to survive a four-year term in office. As a result, questions are being asked about who Biden’s vice-presidential pick might be. He has made it clear he is going to select a woman, causing several names to be mentioned as his potential running mate. Stacy Abrams of Georgia has put herself forward in a big piece in The Atlantic, detailing why she believes she should be the vice-presidential pick for Joe Biden. It is extraordinary for someone to put themselves forward in such a manner, since once upon a time, American presidents didn’t even run for election, they stood for election. Candidates agreed to allow their names to be put forward if people wished to vote for them, but they certainly didn’t actively seek the office. The idea that people are now actively campaigning to be selected as vice president is really stepping things up, and it’s likely to backfire upon her. 

With Joe Biden emerging as the presumptive nominee, it is apparent that Barack Obama’s legacy will be on the ballot in November. That legacy is very much in the balance, to an extent he can likely hardly imagine. Obama was a two term Democratic president who everybody expected to be followed by Hillary Clinton. This would have been two epoch making presidencies in succession: the first African American president, followed by the first female American president. In retrospect, however, it appears that Barack Obama simply didn’t do enough to make sure that Hillary Clinton was elected in 2016. It is possible that Obama, like many Americans, figured that Hillary couldn’t lose, and that, therefore, he didn’t have to do that much. It is also possible that Obama felt that his presidency would look all the more impressive by way of contrast if Trump were elected. It would appear even more erudite, more impressive, with a greater record of success in office, passing Obamacare, opening relations with Cuba, negotiating the Paris climate change agreement and the Iran nuclear deal would all look more impressive if Donald Trump floundered and ended up as a failed, one-term president.  Certainly, Obama’s presidency, in the eyes of some, now looks better, but it is also being erased from history. Donald Trump has sought to remove all traces of Obama from American history books; he has erased his deal with Cuba, withdrawn from the Paris Climate Change Agreement, is dismantling Obamacare, and has pulled out of the Iran Nuclear Agreement. It is widely considered that if Obama had cured cancer, Donald Trump would bring it back. Obama’s presidency is being erased from history by Donald Trump to such a degree that if Trump gets a second term, students of American politics may eventually ask, Obama who? 

Mitt Romney’s Previous Bad Trip

In light of this week’s visit to London, Israel and Poland by the Republican Party’s presumptive nominee, Willard ‘Mitt’ Romney, it is instructive to recall his recent visit to Houston to address the 103rd Annual Convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP), America’s oldest and largest civil rights organisation.

Considering that he will face America’s first black president, Barack Obama, in the election this November, his decision was an interesting one. The NAACP has a strong tradition of inviting presidential candidates to address their conventions and is officially non-partisan, however, an analysis of the black vote is revealing.

In 2004, only 7% of African Americans considered themselves Republican. In 2008, 95% of the African American vote went to Obama, in contrast to only 4% going to McCain that year and only 11% to President George W. Bush in 2004. That same year (2008) the black vote rose to 13% of the national total, up from 11%, but intriguingly, Obama’s take of the black vote was up only 2% from that received by Bill Clinton in 1996 and virtually tied with Jimmy Carter’s 94% in 1980.

The Republican take of the black vote has its own interesting elements: In both 2000 and 2004, George W. Bush received 11% of the black vote, considerably higher than the 4% that voted for Bob Dole in 1996 or the 6% that voted for George H. W. Bush in 1992. The 1992 figure was particularly interesting considering the 21% that George H.W. Bush received in 1988 and is perhaps indicative of Bill Clinton’s ability to connect with the African American community. Prior to this, Reagan had received 12% in 1984, and a paltry 3% of the black vote in 1980.

It is possible to discern a pattern, therefore, of overwhelming black support for Democratic candidates and scant support of Republicans.

Romney’s decision to attend was hardly done in the expectation of winning the crowd over and taking the black vote in November, but he could not afford to snub the invitation. Romney faced a tough call in Houston: He could tell the audience what it wanted to hear or he could stick to his message. It has been suggested that he was booed for failing to understand what the audience wanted and for referring to the health care legislation as ObamaCare. In other words, he didn’t pander to his audience.

Irrespective of what one feels about Romney’s politics, there is something to be said about telling an audience something unpalatable rather than merely paying lip service to their desires. Clearly, any Republican seeking to gain the support of the African American community is going to have their work cut out for them. Romney’s task is made all the harder by his opposition to the health care reforms that President Obama has passed and which he plans to repeal. His speech can be viewed in full HERE.

The event has become mired in acrimony.  Romney was booed in places, and cheered in others. He has been accused on MSNBC of attending in the knowledge that he would be poorly received, in the expectation that this would drive ‘racist’ non-black voters into the Romney camp. Such interpretation is clearly incendiary and designed to stoke the passions on both sides. It is certainly far from helpful. Read a transcript of the speech HERE

Romney has also been accused of drafting attendees to the convention to deliberately cheer in key points and to be seen embracing Romney (figuratively, if not literally) after the speech. Romney undoubtedly invited members of the black community to attend this address and it would be more surprising if he had not. The degree to which a small number of invited guests could drown out a hostile crowd, however, is open to speculation. This led to a rather undignified showdown between Bill O’Riley and my old boss Hilary Shelton, the NAACP’s Washington Bureau Chief on Fox News.

Whatever one makes of Romney’s speech and the reaction to it, he did at least attend. This is more than can be said for America’s first African-American president who elected instead to send his gaffe-prone vice president, Joe Biden in his place and record a video message for his many supporters at the NAACP.

It is fascinating that this has not garnered a greater response: Romney has been critiqued for attending, for his speech and for potentially manipulating the crowd. But very little has been said in response to Obama’s ‘scheduling conflict’ that prevented him from attending the annual conference of America’s most important civil rights organisation. Had Romney offered such an excuse surely the accusation would be that he was at the very least indifferent to the black community. What the decision of America’s first black president to stay away says about his priorities heading into the November election is open to similar interpretation.

With 99 short days top go until the election, it appears that neither candidate is covering themselves in glory as they barnstorm the planet in desperate search for cash and votes. In the process they demean themselves and the office for which they year. This, alas, has become the accepted way of doing things and nothing, it seems, is about to alter that, whoever wins in November.

“The Next Vice-President of the United States…”

For those who are less than inspired by the current presidential election, I have good news; it will all be over in 6 months (well 8 if you include the wait until Inauguration Day)! The dynamics could not be more removed from those of 4 years ago. Barack Obama is far from the historic figure if ‘change’ that he positioned himself as in 2008. He has aged visibly in the role and is failing to stoke the passions as once he did. Unable to run on a platform of ‘change’ he has chosen the rather uninspired ‘Forward’ slogan, that has gone down like a lead balloon.

As a candidate he appears unwilling or unable to take credit for his 2 signature moments without them rebounding in his face: His health care reforms are being considered by the Supreme Court and could be rejected as being unconstitutional any day now, and his efforts to maximise the raid that killed bin Laden were scuttled by his inability to credit the work of those on the ground who actually carried out the raid. So all, in all, Obama is failing to cut an inspiring figure in US politics anymore. He may not be Jimmy Carter just yet, but the signs are worrying.

Facing the president is Mitt Romney. This was the governor of Massachusetts who introduced a health care system so similar to that endorsed by the White House that it was referred to as ‘Romney-care’ by his Republican critics in reference to ‘Obama-care’. This is a Republican that is acceptable in Massachusetts. He is also a Mormon, which causes suspicion amongst some and finally he is the very personification of an old school insider politician; a governor and a son of a governor. This is not exactly the candidate that the Tea Party were hoping for and it is their activism that held so much promise for a potential Republican victory this November.

If the top of the ticket is failing to generate any interest then all that leaves is the VP slot. Readers of The Commentator will no doubt be familiar with the HBO movie Game Change that aired recently and which did much to ridicule the Republican process in 2008 that resulted in the selection of Sarah Palin. Less well known is that the book this was drawn from was focused almost exclusively on the Obama-Hillary race with only a small section focused on the Republican VP process.

However, whilst the selection of Governor Palin provided career a high for Tina Fey and filled ample column inches around the world, the forgotten reality is that the Democratic choice didn’t work out too well either. The initial reaction to Obama’s choice of Joe Biden was hardly euphoric with many, myself included, asking how this choice demonstrated the much-vaunted ‘change’ that Obama had campaigned on. Here in the UK Biden was most known, if he was known at all, for plagiarizing material lifted from Neil Kinnock, aka ‘The Welsh Windbag’ and former Leader of the Labour Party who was routinely trounced by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s; Hardy a figure to want to be imitating in order to secure the White House.

Biden, it was argued, helped to balance the ticket. Well, ok, he was white and Obama was black, he was old and Obama was not. Was the implication also meant to be that Biden was experienced and Obama was not? That was a reasonable position to take from the comparison, though hardly a flattering one for the would-be president. Biden was from Delaware and Obama from Illinois, so hardly a great North/South divide. Delaware is also a tiny state with only 3 Electoral College votes, so he didn’t exactly bring much to the party on that score. Since the election Biden has hardly covered himself in glory, committing gaffe after gaffe.

If Obama is victorious in November, his power will begin to ebb away very quickly as thoughts turn to the 2016 race and who will replace him in the White House. Does anyone seriously expect that candidate to be Joe Biden? Of course not. Which brings me to my point: What purpose does it serve to retain Biden on the ticket? He no longer serves any purpose other than to distract attention from the president and to act the fool. He is after all, such a buffoon that even bid Laden recognised the potential value of having him in the Oval Office. So, if Biden no longer helps with the ‘lack of experience’ vote, or with the racial equation, his state brings virtually no Electoral College votes and he serves only as a hindrance, why retain him? There is simply no logical argument for his place on the Democratic ticket in 2012.

Obama needs a candidate who will be his Game Changer for 2012. A candidate to excite the base of the Democratic Party. A candidate who is ready to assume the presidency should the unthinkable happen to the Commander-in-Chief. A candidate with a track record of winning campaigns. A candidate who has demonstrated an ability to be a tough and loyal ally. A candidate whose home state would bring in a large number of Electoral College votes. And finally, a candidate that has a viable chance of winning the White House in 2016. There is no one in the Democratic Party that fits these criteria better than Hillary Clinton. She has denied any interest in the role, but selecting Hillary will also aid Obama in his depiction of the Republican ‘War on Women’ in 2012 and present the Republicans with a dilemma.

The dilemma for Romany is how best to counter a decision to place Hillary on the ticket. It can hardly of escaped anyone’s attention that the Republicans had a week field of candidates this year. The heavy hitters all stayed home, clearly anticipating a clear run against a non-incumbent in 21016. They will be ill at ease with the thought of joining a ticket that, if successful would keep them from the Oval Office for at least eight years, and which if it fails, could end any chance of such a situation arising altogether.

Romney desperately needs a Game Changer of how own, but if Obama selects Hillary then Romney could be accused of playing gender politics if he names a woman as his VP candidate. Not that there is a logical Republican female candidate who brings the same strengths to the ticket as Hillary does for the Democrats. Romney must do something altogether different therefore. His one sure-fire bet is to choose Marco Rubio from Florida. Rubio would excite the Republican base, engage the Latino vote, put Florida in play (remember 2000?) and certainly make a Republican victory more of a possibility than it is at present.

The challenge for Romney is not placing the call; it will be if that call is rejected. The risks are huge on both sides however.  If Rubio refuses and Romney loses, does it get blamed on the petulant self-serving one term senator who placed self ahead of nation and party? If Rubio accepts and Romney loses does Rubio get tagged as a loser, thus running his chances in 2016? If Romney wins, then does Rubio lose all of his appeal when he eventually gets to run, which could be as late as 2020?

This is a debate that has been rumbling for some time and must surely come to a head in the coming weeks. Not everyone agrees with this analysis, which is one thing that makes politics so fascinating. However, with the polls close, the stakes so high, the lead candidates so dull, the VP-stakes could not be more important in 2012.

The Ghost of Presidents Past: Bill Clinton and the 2012 Presidential Election

Having been duly chastised for speaking his mind four years ago, Bill Clinton is now being utilised by President Obama’s re-election campaign. President Clinton is appearing in campaign commercials, lauding Obama’s prowess as Commander in Chief and hailing his ability to finish the job that Clinton himself had started in the late 1990s, the killing of Bin Laden.

In 2008 he was the staunchest supporter of Barack Obama’s archrival, Hillary Clinton. The former president was roundly and ridiculously attacked for suggesting that Obama’s candidacy was a joke and for expressing the opinion that Obama’s much vaunted opposition to the Iraq War was a fairy tale. In the process he learnt a lesson that has become apparent in Europe: “Thou Shalt Not Speak bad of Obama for fear of being misconstrued…”

It appears that in politics, if you wait long enough, you see everything and that the troubling details of reality are forgotten, with only myth surviving. In the 1992 presidential campaign both the Democrat and Republican candidates made reference to Harry Truman and attempted to cast themselves as his political standard bearer, albeit for differing reasons. In addition, wave after wave of politicians from all walks of life have attempted to benefit from the legacy of the Kennedy bothers. This election season the ghost of presidents past appears to be Bill Clinton.

Of course the link between Obama and Clinton is an interesting one. Recall that Hillary Clinton was the presumptive Democratic candidate in 2008, only to see her one shot at the presidency usurped by Barack Obama, whose career she has sought to nurture in its early stages. The Clinton’s combined sense of unease at this is understandable and forms the basis for most of the Game Change book, as opposed to the HBO movie, that chose to ignore the Democratic infighting. Equally infuriating to the Clinton’s was the way in which their supporters chose to jump ship to Obama’s banner long before it became apparent that he was guaranteed victory. No defection was more symbolic than that of the Kennedys, whom Bill had courted assiduously during his time in office. Ultimately, Hillary and many former Clinton era officials wound up working for Obama in the White House, in a move that should put pay to the debate to the actor/agency debate in international relations theory.

However, Bill Clinton is also being touted by the presumptive Republican Mitt Romney, who is contrasting Clinton’s New Democrat approach with the seemingly Old Democrat mentality of Barack Obama. Speaking in Lansing, Michigan, Romney said of the contrast between Clinton and Obama:

“President Obama chose to apply liberal ideas of the past to a 21st century America. Liberal policies didn’t work then, they haven’t worked over the last four years, and they won’t work in the future. New Democrats had abandoned those policies, but President Obama resurrected them, with predictable results.

President Clinton said the era of big government was over. President Obama brought it back with a vengeance. Government at all levels now constitutes 38% of the economy, and if Obamacare is installed, it will reach almost 50%.”

President Clinton made efforts to reform welfare as we knew it. President Obama is trying tirelessly to expand the welfare state to all Americans, with promises of more programs, more benefits, and more spending.”

This is the same Bill Clinton that was impeached by the Republican controlled Congress; the same Bill Clinton who couldn’t get a single Republican to vote for his first budget and the same Bill Clinton who failed to receive over 50% of the popular vote in either 1992 or 1996. Now, apparently, he is Mitt Romney’s poster boy for sensible government!

All things considered, one can see why Romney would contrast Clinton’s time in office with Obama’s. Consider the economic record of the United States during Clinton’s tenure and the fact that by the 2000 election, the debate was about what to do with the budget surplus! It really is remarkable that Obama has not sought to make more use of Clinton during his first term in his efforts to get the economy back on track.

Of course, Bill Clinton is the ex-president who never really went away. An adroit campaigner, Clinton has never strayed from the limelight and appears incapable of yielding the floor to a new generation of politicians and to be honest, why should he? Over ten years after leaving office, Clinton still remains the Democrat’s most potent campaigner in chief. Clinton’s abilities were often overlooked, or dismissed as being evidence of a Slick Willy mentality, but he was and remains a political mastermind, capable of guile and cunning and a far more able politician than the current occupant of the White House.

Much is made of Obama’s rhetorical capacity, but his stumbling syntax when faced by a malfunctioning TelePrompTer reveals a different story. Contrast this with Bill Clinton’s State of the Union Address in 1994 when he was forced to ad-lib for 20 minutes due to the wrong speech having been loaded into the TelePrompTer.

The irony in all of this is incredible. In 20912 both Republican and Democratic candidates are utilising Bill Clinton in a positive light on their campaigns. In 2000 Clinton’s own vice president, Al Gore, refused to adequately utilise Clinton or even his own record in office and ended up loosing the election by a couple of hanging chads in Florida.

It will be interesting to see how Romney’s remarks play out in Republican political circles. It is likely that they will reinforce the widely held view of Romney as a RINO (Republican in Name Only) and that despite Rick Santorum’s middle of the night ‘endorsement’ he remains the “worst Republican in the country to put up against Barack Obama” in 2012.