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The Myth of the Monolithic Trump Base

by Kevin Kelton

I keep hearing wizened political pundits saying that no matter what President Donald Trump says or does, “his base” will not abandon him, and therefore he is immune from the forces of political nature. Those sage experts are wrong, wrong, wrong.

Because a political “base” is not a monolith. They do not all think alike. They do not have meetings and vote to cast their support as a singular unit, like a labor union or congressional caucus. A base is not an it. It is a populaion of many its. And a population can expand or contract.

Right now, Trump seems to enjoy a 36-44% base of domestic political support. (Frankly, I think that’s high. I suspect his real base tops out at 40%.)

Of course, he’ll never lose all of that base. Even Richard Nixon, on the day he resigned in disgrace, had a 24% approval rating. But that was down from the 62% of the vote he received in his 1972 reelection, and the whooping 66% who seemed solidly with him after the announcement of the Paris Peace Accords officially ended the Vietnam War in January 1973. And, of course, Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush both saw their popularity dip into the 20s at the low point of their respective presidencies – with Bush scraping 25%, down from the 90% he achieved post 9/11.

The best example is George H.W. Bush. In February 1992, on the heels of his success in the Persian Gulf War, Bush had a record 89% job approval rating in the Gallup poll. It would have been intuitive to think his core base had to be fifty or even sixty percent. But that intuition proved wrong, as his approval rating in the same poll was down to 29% just sixteen months later, sowing the seeds for his disastrous reelection bid. Even the now-revered Harry Truman spiraled down to 22% before leaving office, a crash of 65 points off his all-time high of 87% following the end of WWII.

What goes up, must come down. And the down can come fast and hard, especially where integrity and honor are concerned. Just ask Bill O’Reilly or Bill Cosby. If you think a lying, morally bankrupt, con man like Trump is immune from the same political physics that kneecapped both Bushes and Give ‘Em Hell Harry, guess again.

So no, Trump will surely never lose his entire base of support. He doesn’t need to to fail big league. If he hemorrhages just 5-10 points from where he stands now, he’s a goner. 

Which brings us back to the myth of the monolithic base. Sure, there are diehards who just like the guy and don’t care what comes out about him. What we’ll call the Fifth Avenue crowd. But somewhere in that current 36-44% of professed Trump supporters are other, more reasonable, more swayable voters – the people who truly love his policies or truly detested the Democratic alternative, but are not blind to his character flaws or impervious to proven criminal misdeeds. 

As Trump’s crimes, if they exist, are laid out by the Special Prosecutor and proven in the eyes of the reasonable-minded public, his 40% will contract to 35% and then 32% or less. 

And in politics, when a politician’s “price” drops to 32%, sell! 

Trump may enjoy a dead cat bounce in the polls if he succeeds in arranging the release of the three hostages held by North Korea and negotiates a successful nuclear disarmament agreement with the Kim regime. So did the Bushes after their stunning foreign policy successes.

Trump’s base is not a silver bullet or impenetrable fortress. At best, it is a porous dam of false security holding back the flood of bad news that’s no doubt surging his way.

And when the subpoenas start flying and the criminal targets start flipping, it may end up being as helpful as the Maginot Line.

 

Kevin Kelton is a cohost of The More Perfect Union podcast and founder of Open Fire Politics on Facebook.

 

Pop Goes The Political Culture Week of April 30

By Rebekah Kuschmider, MPU Co-Host

Actual footage of Kevin and D.J. preparing for the podcast.

We here at MPU are hard at work analyzing the serious news of the week. With all the research we’re doing on based on the happenings in the (shoddy) defense of Donald Trump by his various attorneys, we are all basically qualified to practice law in our various states. In fact, we might be more qualified than Rudy Giuliani who seems to have forgotten the part of client defense where you don’t confess to your client’s misdeeds on tv.

Meanwhile, there are a zillion other things happening in the news that won’t make it on to the podcast. Here’s some of the news that’s not fit to ‘cast!

Scouts, Not Boys: Conservative Twitter is is quite outraged that the Boy Scouts are dropping the word “boy” from their program name starting next year.  This name change follows on the heels of a decision in 2017 to allow girls to join Scouts. The organization name will remain unchanged, as will the name Cub Scouts. But the signature program for middle and high school kids will be called Scouts BSA. I’m sure everyone will just shorten that to Scouts…the same way many of us currently involved in scouting talk about the organization now. I’ve had a kid in a Cub Scout troop for several years and I’m not sure I ever use the words “cub” or “boy” when I talk about it. I also only say the word scout when I talk about the Daisy Girl Scout Troop I lead. So this branding change won’t affect me.

But for people who make their living generating outrage on Twitter, this is tantamount to a Handmaid’s Tale situation for boys, wherein they will be oppressed by the loss of the moniker Boy Scout and they are suggesting that full gender based subjugation is clearly the most logical and likely outcome. Just look at what Twitter shock jock Matt Walsh has to say about it.

I hope he and his son find refuge in an extracurricular activity free of whimpering and femininity.

As for my family, my son will continue on his Scouting path and my daughter and I will continue on ours. I think there are a lot of good reasons to allow girls into the entity-formerly-known-as-Boy-Scouts. I especially see boys benefitting from interacting with girls who have been given leadership positions in Scout activities. I will welcome girls into our pack with open arms and plenty of snacks for long hikes. However, for reasons best kept to myself, I have decided that is not the best path for me and my daughter. She needs something different and Girl Scouts is the place for her.

Different families, different choices. ‘Murica.

Patriarchy, Locked and Loaded: The laziest joke in the world is the one where a dad threatens his daughter’s date with a gun so he won’t do anything untoward while they’re out. Because teen boys are SO HORNY HA HA HA! And teen girls are SO SUSCEPTIBLE TO PRESSURE HA HA HA! No teenagers have ANY SELF CONTROL OR AGENCY OVER THEIR ACTIONS HA HA HA. So dads need to RESORT TO THREATS AND VIOLENCE TO CONTROL THEM HA HA HA.

A Georgia gubernatorial candidate is taking that to an illogical conclusion in a new ad where he answers questions about his political platform from his daughter’s boyfriend. He holds a shotgun the whole time and ends the ad by pointing it at the teen and saying something about respecting his daughter and the second amendment. Ostensibly, this ad shows that the candidate stands for family values and Second Amendment rights and he has a great sense of humor because see how he turned it all into standard joke about over protective dads? HA HA HA VIOLENCE AND PATRIARCHY ARE FUNNY!

I see it as a man who stands for controlling women by force. He uses threats of violence to establish his dominion over the body of a woman in his household. He withholds his permission for other men to assert a claim over her body. He demonstrates that he has no trust in the motives of men and he doesn’t acknowledge the autonomy of women.

Is that the kind of guy you would want as a governor? I wouldn’t.

Speaking of patriarchy: While we’re on the subject, we should turn our attention to New York Times columnist Ross Douthat who is very, very concerned about the plight of “incels”. As you might recall, the incel community rocketed to fame last month when one of its members used a van to plow down a bunch of pedestrians in Toronto. This was revenge for not being able to sleep with women as hot as the women as he wanted to sleep with.

I’m not joking. There are entire online communities dedicated to being mad about hot girls choosing to have sex with someone else. For more on incels, read this very good but very disturbing piece by Talia Lavin in the Village Voice.

After these events, Ross Douthat took to his keyboard to ponder how changing sexual norms have left some people lonely and depressed. This would be an interesting topic for an academic discussion about the effects of isolation on the human psyche but Douthat decided to make it about the redistribution of sex and suggest methods for making sure the poor incels can get some nookie. He talks about a lot of stuff but basically lands on sex robots as the solution for these guys because sex is so stinking important and they really must have it.

I am 44 years old and my whole life I have listened to conservative culture warriors tell me the circumstances under which I am allowed to have sex. The overwhelming message from the right side of aisle is that I, and other women, need to wait until marriage and, ideally, forgo birth control because sex is meant to make babies. No other reason. Women have been told over and over again to accept a celibate life if those conditions are not met. Women have been shamed every which way for rejecting those conditions and having sex for their own pleasure.

That was the conservative line and they were sticking to it, sexual revolution or no sexual revolution. Until now, apparently.

Now there are guys – white guys, even – who can’t get laid and Ross Douthat is all “THIS INJUSTICE CANNOT STAND! SEX ROBOTS FOR EVERYONE!”

The subtext of all of this is that a certain segment of the male population has seen a centuries-old privilege go down the toilet and they don’t know how to cope. For much of Western history, men were basically issued a wife, with whom they could have all the sex they wanted. Maybe they didn’t get a choice of wife, if this was an arranged marriage situation, or maybe their choices were limited by class structure or the bride price they could afford, but they got a wife and they got sex.

Women did not get these choices. Women were chattel, handed off from father to husband and told to have the sex their husband wanted them to have.

In the modern era of reliable birth control and financial independence for women, the balance has tipped. Both men and women have other choices now and sex ideally happens by mutual consent. That means that it is possible that you will go through points in life where no one will consent to have sex with you. That sucks when it happens but it’s better than returning to a social structure wherein 50% of the population’s consent was effectively erased from sexual negotiations. We will not go back.

Yes, there needs to be attention paid to social and sexual isolation in the modern era but it needs to be a holistic study that deals with all the different kinds of isolation we face. It cannot be solved by issuing white guys sex robots. Sorry, Ross. You missed the bigger picture.

 

God, no: Finally things came to a head in the weird battle between House Speaker Paul Ryan and House Chaplain Patrick R. Conroy.

As we discussed on last week’s More Perfect Union Podcast, the Speaker asked for the Chaplain’s resignation and the Chaplain gave it to him. The whispers behind the scene were that Ryan was mad at Conroy for a prayer he gave prior to the tax bill vote in which he said “May their efforts these days guarantee that there are not winners and losers under new tax laws, but benefits balanced and shared by all.” It was taken as criticism of the bill.

Ryan claimed that was not the case and in fact the firing was due to Father Conroy providing insufficient pastoral care to Members of Congress, something that was news to the Chaplain. He had not received such complains about his performance.

Usually if you screw up at work, your boss talks to you and asks you to fix the issue before firing you. Paul Ryan is evidently not that kind of boss.

In fact, he’s not the Chaplain’s boss at all and doesn’t actually have the authority to fire him as it turns out. The Chaplain is an elected position, voted on by the Members of the House.  This is the same way the Speaker is chosen, actually. The Speaker isn’t the Chaplain’s supervisor and he can’t summarily fire the guy just because he wants to.

Father Conroy found this out and rescinded his resignation and said he planned to stay in his role until the end of the year, which would also make the end of the 115th Congress and the end of his elected term.

Paul Ryan’s response was to roll over and capitulate to all of it.

Remind us all to try telling Paul Ryan no more often. That might be the thing that derails his crusade to cut social safety net programs.

There’s lots more to talk about this week and talk we will on the next More Perfect Union podcast. Look for it to drop next week!

 

Pop Goes The Political Culture!

By Rebekah Kuschmider, MPU Co-host

Every week we create a segment list for the podcast that includes the hottest trending news topics. Hard news topics, that is. We pull our subjects from the pages of esteemed publications like The Washington Post, The Economist, network news sites, and other media mainstays. We do not usually go to the likes of People Magazine for our pressing news coverage.

But maybe we should.

Pop culture is American culture and the happenings in the world of art and entertainment are no less interesting and impactful than the happenings on the Hill.

Also, I’m kind of shallow and like to read gossip magazines and talk about them. So, there’s that.

With all of that in mind, here’s a little round up of all the news that NOT fit to ‘cast!

Kanye: Yeezy’s been tweeting like Trump this week and he’s been tweeting about Trump, too. He praises the POTUS to the skies saying they both have “dragon energy” and he loves Trump the man. I don’t think anyone should really be surprised that Kanye is taken with the mogul turned politician. And I mean that from a policy perspective. Kanye is a brand just like Trump is a brand and Trump’s economic doctrine is one that protects brands above all else. Look at the Trump tax plan, for one. If you incorporate, you win. For another thing, Kanye, like many artists, has probably seen lost revenue due to Chinese intellectual property piracy. Trump’s China tariffs exist in some part due to kind of copyright theft and plenty of artists would benefit from having that illegitimate market clamped down. On a less wonky analysis let’s be gritty: Kanye is a starfucker and so is Trump. Like calls to like.

 

The Royal Baby: First, let us all take a moment to be grateful that Duchess Katherine and her new son are both healthy after the birth. Royal history is littered with the bodies of royal British wives who weren’t so lucky. But apparently royal history is also still in effect when it comes to the rules about announcing the birth of a child in line to the throne, because they dragged that poor woman outside a mere seven hours after delivering a real live baby so that people could gawp at her. FEMINISM NEEDS TO FIX THAT FOR THE NEXT GENERATION OF ROYAL MAMAS! Listen, it’s all well and good to need evidence of the healthy of mother and baby in moments like that. I get it. But this is the age of the iPhone. Take a pic, time stamp it, and release it on the Royal Instagram account. They call childbirth labor for a reason. Let a mother rest after doing that kind of work.

Melania’s Hat: I don’t purport to be an expert on Melania Trump. In fact, I’m not sure I knew anything about Melania Trump before 2016. From what I have learned about her since then I have come to the conclusion that she is a person who really likes beautiful clothes. She’s been a model since she was a child. She’s famously well dressed as an adult. So it should surprise no one that she ramped up the glam for the State Visit from the President of France. She looked nice. Her outfits were nice. She wears clothes well. That white hat? It was gorgeous. But if anyone was looking for secret messages in the outfits Melania wore this week, I think you’re going to be disappointed. She picked clothes because they were beautiful. Nothing more, nothing less. That’s who she is and it’s what she loves. Probably more than she loves her husband if this awkward handing holding video is any gauge.


Sportsball: Finally, in the wide world of sports, Trump is not a high level draft pick. It’s been abundantly clear that athletes, particularly athletes of color, are not fans of the president. Remember his twitter beef with Steph Curry? Yeah. Well, he isn’t the only sports figure who isn’t White House bound these days. A bunch of Olympic athletes are declining the invitation to meet the president as well, including Adam Rippon, Lindsay Vonn and others. The women’s hockey team IS going but they made it clear that they really just want to see each other, not the First family. But Trump’s bigger problem is the fact that he’s lost the love of folks like NFL owners. In tape of an owners and players meeting last fall shared with the New York Times, it was clear that owners did not love the president haranguing about Collin Kapernick and other players kneeling during the anthem. Bob Kraft, owner of the Patriots and a Trump supporter even said “The problem we have is, we have a president who will use that as fodder to do his mission that I don’t feel is in the best interests of America. It’s divisive and it’s horrible.”  I don’t know much but I know that when white guys who are rich enough to literally buy and sell young men for the entertainment of the public are massing against you, you’ve got a problem. These guys should be Trump allies and he’s managing to drive even them away.

There’s been a lot going on in serious news this week, too, and the MPU gang and I will all be talking about that on the show. The official segment list interesting af – but you’ll have to tune in to the podcast to hear about it!

Democrats Need Their Own MAGA

by Kevin Kelton

As we head into the 2018 midterm elections, it’s astounding that the national Democratic Party still has yet to formulated a coherent message to voters. While President Trump and the GOP rally around simple, bumper sticker messages like MAGA, Build The Wall, and Drain The Swamp, the Democratic party cannot form a coherent message that can appeal to both liberal voters on the coasts and midwest working-class voters. This was a critical failing of the 2016 Clinton campaign, and it will be just as damaging to Democrats going forward if the party doesn’t speak to the voters it needs to win.

Here’s a proposal for a simple, clear four plank Democratic platform to retake congress and the White House. I call it The Campaign for American Justice:

1) Healthcare justice — expanded, reasonably priced healthcare using a mixed economy approach with the goal of quality healthcare for all.

2) Economic justice — tax incentives and economic incentives to get private employers to raise wages and decrease the wealth gap; make higher education more accessible and affordable to all.

3) Social justice — working with courts and local authorities to promote racial justice and reduce violence. This includes smart gun laws and better police training to reduce accidental deaths.

4) Political justice — reducing the power of money in politics and increasing voter participation.

The overriding theme of justice was chosen because it appeals to Americans across ideologies and demographics. Instead of promoting specific programs like “medicare for all” or “guaranteed jobs” (both toxic ideas to free market conservatives), the focus should be on the goal of finding a range of bipartisan solutions to promote justice in healthcare, the wealth gap, racial and social issues, and politics.

Rather than insisting on one pre-measured legislative cure like single payer health insurance, Democrats would be better off to identify the problems we face as a nation and offer a variety of proposals to solve them. “Drain the Swamp” isn’t a policy, it’s a goal. So is “Make America Great Again.” Even the seemingly specific “Build a Wall” is a euphemism for the goals of a stronger border, cultural hegemony, and economic security.

People want to vote for ideas that reinforce the good in America. They don’t need a position paper on each issue with cost breakdowns and detailed legislative language. Tell them what you stand for, and give them a reason to stand for it, too.

And without saying it explicitly, a campaign for “American justice” suggests a counter-balance to the corruption and lack of candor that is the hallmark of the Trump White House. A subliminal message that Democrats will stand for a better America, a fairer America, a just America.

Whether it be the Campaign for American Justice or another theme, Democrats need to start branding their party now so voters fed up with Trumpism have something to vote for in November.

 

Kevin Kelton is a cohost of The More Perfect Union podcast and founder of Open Fire Politics on Facebook.

“Not a Target” Doesn’t Mean “Exonerated”

by Kevin Kelton

The border wall between a “subject” and “target” is thin and can crumble quickly. 

Much has been made about reports that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told President Trump he’s “not a target” of the Russia or Michael Cohen investigations. Trump and his supporters seem to believe that exonerates him in both investigations. As they say online, LOL.

Over the years I’ve read many dozens of articles about murder investigations and other felonies. Invariably there’s a spouse, relative or close friend whom all the evidence points to, but the police call him “a person of interest” and not “a suspect.” Usually it’s to get that person to turn themselves in for questioning. But persons of interest can turn into suspects and charged perpetrators very quickly.

Unlike “suspect” and “material witness,” “person of interest”… generally refers to someone law enforcement authorities would like to speak with or investigate further in connection with a crime. It may be used, rather than calling the person a suspect, when they don’t want their prime suspect to know they’re watching him closely. Critics complain that the term has become a method for law enforcement officers to draw attention to individuals without formally accusing them.

Now here’s the FBI’s terminology:

• A “subject” is: “a person whose conduct is within the scope of a Grand Jury’s investigation.” A subject is somewhere between a target and a witness. A subject has engaged in conduct that may look suspicious or unethical, but the prosecutor isn’t certain that a provable crime has been committed and wants to do more investigating in order to be sure.

• A person is a “target” when the prosecutor or Grand Jury has substantial evidence linking him to the commission of a crime. The key thing to remember about these categories is that they are ultimately meaningless and offer you no protection. Why? Because even if you’re currently a witness or subject, there’s no guarantee that your status will remain unchanged.

According to Bruce J. Kelton, a former Justice Department attorney who prosecuted RICO and organized crime cases, “Many individuals who wind up as criminal defendants in federal court started out as subjects and as the grand jury investigation developed turned into targets. To give an example, Bernie Madoff was the initial immediate target in a Ponzi scheme in New York. But by the end of the investigation, 15 others who initially were subjects were indicted and convicted.”

So if you think the fact that Rosenstein told Trump he’s “not a target” means he’s been vindicated, you may be in for a big surprise. And if the president thinks he’s been vindicated, good! Let him continue with that false sense of security.

As for me, I will accept the outcome if he’s never charged. And do a jig if he is.

Kevin Kelton is a cohost of The More Perfect Union podcast and founder of Open Fire Politics on Facebook.

The “Fair & Balanced” Fallacy

by Kevin Kelton

A lot of Republicans complain that the news media is “out to get Donald Trump.” I agree with them, I think a lot of the media is aligning against President Trump and the scandals that permeate his administration.

And they are right to do it.

The idea that news coverage should be totally “objective” and neutral in reporting the news is a misconception about the duty of journalism and a free press. It is not the job of the press to give artificial balance to an imbalanced story. Indeed, FOX News itself
dropped it’s silly “Fair & Balanced” slogan in 2017. Apparently, the FOX News overlords finally realized that even the slogan itself reeked of hypocrisy.

For instance, when a war is unjust, or a government policy is clearly hurting people or unfairly rewarding others, or a politician has committed crimes or ethical lapses,it’s incumbent upon the news media to report it in clear, unambiguous terms that their viewers can understand. There is no responsibility of the press to be “friendly” or “balanced” in its reporting. To the contrary, its primary responsibility is to be adversarial and tough, to push back and question, and to report when the claims of government officials do not match the facts they uncover.

Let’s look at sports journalism as an example. If the New England Patriots are caught cheating by illegally inflating game balls, should the sports press fail to report that? Should they continue to say “allegedly” when clear testimony has shown the allegations to be true? Should they cover the football game as if the cheating episode never happened? If they discover evidence that a boxing match may have been fixed and a fighter took a dive, should they report that and condemn it? Or should they say, “Maybe the other guy would’ve won anyway, we’ll never know. So it’s speculative as to whether the fix affected the outcome of the fight or not.” Clearly their responsibility is to report the true facts as they unearth and understand them. And while they are reporting the unfolding story, they have every right (and obligation) to let their audience know that these questions are out there and the players are acting awfully suspicious.

I pay for newspapers not to get an artificially “balanced” reporting of the news. That’s what a ticker tape is for. I want context, perspective and analysis, and when it’s appropriate, I want them to help shame the offending parties into correcting their behavior. Consumer ombudsmen reporters often do some of the best investigative journalism out there precisely because they don’t treat their subjects with kit gloves.
 

A democratic free press isn’t simply a mirror. It’s a painting…it’s art. It should communicate and inform. It should move its audience. It should affect positive change.

Walter Cronkite was great because he showed human emotion when reporting JFK had died, and when showing cynicism and doubt when covering the government’s false narrative of the Vietnam War. Edward R. Murrow’s greatest moment was helping to unmask and end McCarthyism. Woodward and Bernstein didn’t give President Nixon the benefit of the doubt; they doubted and dug.
 

That is the mark of great journalists. Not to protect, but to unmask. Not to defend, but to offend.

Journalism isn’t a tool of the powerful. It’s a tool of the people they seek to govern. I’m glad the press is being tough on an immoral, unethical, and profoundly unqualified president. The only person who is responsible for their negative coverage is the man himself. He’s more than earned it.

Kevin Kelton is a cohost of The More Perfect Union podcast and founder of Open Fire Politics on Facebook.

 

Bank Robber Cornered By Police, Claims Robbery Is ‘Fake News’

by Kevin Kelton

Like most people, I turn on cable news every morning and am endlessly bemused to hear the same story reported the same way time after time after time, all the while reporting it like it’s some great mystery what’s going on. Here’s what the news sounds like to me every day:

Good morning. Breaking News overnight… a bank robber just sent a Tweet claiming that there was no robbery. The bank robber says that news reports of a bank robbery having happened are “fake news.” Breaking: The bank robber just hired a new criminal defense attorney who says there was no bank robbery and his client is 100% innocent of being involved in the bank robbery, and yet he refuses to let the police talk to the bank robber. I wonder why?

Whoops… more Breaking News… the bank robber just rubbed out two people who witnessed the bank heist and could testify about it. I can’t figure out why he did that. Hmm. And it’s now being reported that the bank robber is telling everyone there was no robbery and no bank and no money was stolen and that the FBI made up the whole bank robbery because they hate him. I wonder why he said that? Do you think the FBI is out to get the bank robber? Why would they do that? My, the bank robber sure seems to be acting a little suspicious, don’t you think? Or maybe he’s just tired of hearing about the “fake” bank robbery, and he’s fed up with it distracting from his getaway. Yeah, I can see how that would be very annoying to the bank robber. 

Channel Flip…

Breaking News… the bank robber just said the FBI is the one that robbed the bank. And that ‘Crooked Hillary’ was the real bank robber. But he still claims there was no bank robbery. Wow, I can’t figure out why the bank robber would say all that. Do you think somebody really robbed the bank? We know there is bank money missing, and we found lots of evidence pointing to the bank robber at the crime scene. And he announced on TV two years ago that he’d like some help robbing a bank… right before a big bank robbery. But he says he was just joking. Do you think he was?

Channel Flip…

Here’s video of the bank robber congratulating Vladimir Dillinger on his rigged re-election victory and saying how much he admires him for being a strong bank robber. Dillinger was caught by the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, and 14 other law enforcement agencies planning the bank robbery. But the bank robber still says he doesn’t believe it happened. I wonder why.

Channel Flip…

Breaking news… the bank robber just fired his new criminal defense lawyer and hired a *new* new criminal defense lawyer. And the new new criminal defense lawyer swears his client didn’t do it and insists the police stop investigating the bank robbery or else the bank robber may have to fire the police chief. And all the bank robbers’ friends are saying don’t fire the police chief or we may not believe you didn’t rob the bank.

Channel Flip…

Have you ever noticed that the bank robber never says anything bad about Vladimir Dillinger, the guy who helped him rob the bank and almost certainly has proof of that the bank robber is guilty… evidence that could get the bank robber in a lot of trouble. I wonder why the bank robber won’t say anything bad about him. And won’t condemn him for robbing the bank they both robbed. Isn’t that strange? I don’t get it.

Channel Flip…

Why don’t the police stop investigating this fake bank robbery? The bank robber said he didn’t do it. And I believe him over the police, the bank manager, all the tellers, and the bank video. Don’t you? Plus Vladimir Dillinger just said there was no bank robbery, and that corroborates what the bank robber said, so it must be true! Why does the FBI hate the bank robber so darn much?

Channel Flip…

Whoops… more Breaking News… the bank robber just bought something with the marked stolen money. So, was there a bank robbery or not? I’m so confused.

 

Kevin Kelton is a co-host of The More Perfect Union podcast and founder of the Facebook debate group, Open Fire Politics.

Why Do You Support Trump?

MPU listeners often tell us they love our show, but they wish we had someone to present the Trump side of things. So here’s your chance. If you love the More Perfect Union podcast, and would like to tell us why you support President Trump, we’d like to hear from you.

Post here or write us at mpupodcast@gmail.com and tell us three reasons why you support President Donald Trump. If it’s well-reasoned, articulate, thoughtful, and compelling, we may invite you on the podcast to answer our questions and share your views with the world.

Who knows? Maybe you’ll become a regular MPU contributor and go head-to-head with DJ, Kevin, Rebekah, and Greg on the great issues of the day!

So tell us why you support Trump. Because, frankly, we can’t figure it out.

Defining Progressive Conservatism

by D.J. McGuire

I have often said that in the past three years, the political spectrum has thrown me around “like a Martian Congressional Republic Navy vessel dropping into combat maneuvers from a 3g burn with no crash couch.” For those who are not fans of The Expanse, let’s just say I’ve been shaken up – and shaken – since 2015. That said, I do think I can finally place a label (of sorts) on my current political leanings and philosophy: Progressive Conservative.

To most American voters, activists, and politicians, my phrase is an oxymoron, but it was the standard term for the Canadian center-right for decades (and still is used in about half their provinces). More to the point, I simply found it the best way to describe a set of views that simply don’t fall neatly into any political party (major or minor) at present. What I mean by that follows below.

Economic Policies: For the most part, I tend to be somewhere between “classical liberal” and “supply-sider” on economics, which explains much (but not all) of the “conservative” in the label. That said, I’m more willing to accept incremental progress on matters than small-l libertarians are (to say nothing of Capital-L Libertarians). Meanwhile, so many conservatives forgot most of supply-side theory in embracing the dog’s breakfast of last year’s tax cut that I’m afraid a qualifier to my conservatism has become a requirement. This holds even more true in international economics, where my support for freer-trade and for freer-trade areas – but not for customs unions – fails to appeal to any type of libertarians and many conservatives – most of whom conflate FTAs and customs unions. Quite a few conservatives are now reverting to pre-1930 protectionism as well, which I find odious.

Domestic Policies: For the most part, I used to be on “the right” in nearly every cultural issue out there. I will freely acknowledge I’ve shifted “leftward” over the years on more than a few of these: especially on what could be summed up as identity issues (race, gender, sexual identity, etc.) – including my growing concern about white supremacism. I’m also far more skeptical of regulating the poor than I used to be (including changing my mind on work requirements for anti-poverty programs, which I now consider to be a perverse incentive in the labor-devaluing era of automation). This is where the “progressive” part comes in.

Foreign Policy: I suppose this is now my greatest source of departure from… well, from damn near everyone. With each passing day, my fear from 2003 is being realized – I will be one of the last six people on Earth who still considers the liberation of Iraq from Saddam Hussein to be the right thing to do. I am firmly in the camp that was (and in many places, still is) called “neoconservative” – and I have claimed that label for myself more than once; I just don’t think it helps explain my mixture on domestic issues these days. I am still a firm believer in the Democratic Peace theory – and as such, I consider helping the world’s democracies and opposing its tyrannies to be in America’s best interests. That includes the Assad tyranny in Syria, which was what led me to vote for Hillary Clinton – the first Democratic nominee for President for whom I have ever voted, and which puts me in another small minority of Americans – those who do not think the military defeat of ISIS/Daesh is enough to abandon the Syrian people to the bloodthirsty tyrant from Damascus.

With that mixture of views – neoconservative (mostly) abroad, economically conservative (mostly) but culturally progressive (mostly) at home – I just thought it best to take the “progressive” and “conservative” labels and, well, combine them. It seemed the simplest thing to do.

So there you have it.

D.J. McGuire can be heard on the More Perfect Union Podcast

A National Boycott for Gun Safety

by Kevin Kelton

Dozens of high school students in Florida went to their state capitol this week demanding action on sensible gun safety legislation. Nothing happened. Dozens more have been camped out at the White House. Nothing happened. Students and parents met with the President of the United States. And nothing will happen.

Just like nothing happened after mass shootings in Columbine, Virginia Tech, Omaha, Geneva County, Binghamton, Fort Hood, Manchester, Tucson, Seal Beach, Oakland, Aurora, Sandy Hook, Herkimer, Navy Yard, Alturas, Marysville, Lafayette, Charleston, San Bernardino, Roseburg, Colorado Springs, Hesston, Orlando, Sutherland Springs, and Las Vegas. (I bet you don’t even recognize several of those!)

Because until we start limiting what types of weapons can be sold and who can get them, the shootings will continue. And like has happened in Europe, they won’t just be confined to our schools and churches.

I hope that high school students stage an ongoing national protest until some sensible gun controls laws are enacted. I encourage them to stay out of school until it happens. Yes, boycott high school… even if it means delaying your graduation for a year.

Let colleges sweat over the lack of incoming freshmen (and their tuitions). Let the school boards debate what to do. Let the nation’s teachers and professors be mobilized. Then watch the churches join in, and businesses and companies. Let the state legislators feel the heat from the nation’s student population and their parents. Let parents feel the pain of their children, who must walk into what now amount to caged human target ranges every morning.

If parents won’t lead, their children must.

Because if we don’t stop this now, soon it won’t just be schools and movie theaters and churches. It will be malls (as in Nairobi and Omaha). It will be restaurants (as in Paris and Killeen). It will be hotels (as in Mumbai and Kabul). It will be theme parks. It will be Little League games. It will be Main Street.

Politicians will not yield until the national pressure is so great that they cannot NOT act.

Just like it took sit-ins and walk-outs at colleges in the 1960s and ’70s to end the seemingly never-ending Vietnam War, we once again need to look to our student population to lead us out of the never-ending gun war on our streets and in our schools.

I urge the students of Parkland to continue to lead on this issue, and other students across the nation to follow their lead. Stay home. Do not walk into another killing field like Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School again until something is done to protect you. You will not be hurting your future if you push back your first year of college. You will be making your college years safer and your future brighter.

Adulthood will still be there for you. But you need to be there for it.

Many will call this column radical and hysterical. They are wrong. Inaction demands action. Change demands sacrifice. Courage demands leadership. Even if it comes from 16 and 17 year-olds.

It’s time to end this madness. If it means a few weeks or months of missed classes, so be it.

I want my high school-age child alive. I’ll worry about college later.

Kevin Kelton is a writer and co-host of The More Perfect Union podcast. He is also the founder of Open Fire Politics.

Black Panther: Marvel’s Latest Movie Shows Why Institutions Matter

by Cliff Dunn

First and foremost, this comes with a heavy spoiler alert: Reviewing the messaging in Black Panther is almost impossible to do without revealing plot elements.  If you haven’t seen the movie, I HIGHLY recommend doing so first.

With that disclaimer out of the way, I saw Black Panther on opening night.  Buried in the solid film-making that is by now expected was some of the most artfully-executed messaging I have seen in a long time.  I will say that the messaging was ‘conservative’, but not the ideological sense. It was in the sense from which the term originated, railing against all forms of extremism in general.  The movie offered one of the rare shots I have seen against upstart revolutionaries (the main antagonist very arguably espouses a Maoist outlook) and in favor of stable governance and civil society, with many of the more level-headed characters opposing radical changes to their country’s policies.

Wakanda is, as the trailers have indicated (and as anyone who is familiar with the comics will know), a highly technologically advanced society in Africa which has survived by maintaining a guise of pre-industrial simplicity, with the help of both isolationist policies bordering on autarky and (this being Marvel) projected images of mountains obscuring their main cities.  Beneath this facade is a kingdom which has managed to ‘go its own way’ in a manner not unlike Tokugawa-era Japan – if it had the ability to run maglev trains at the time.

Unfortunately for Wakanda, while their technology is highly advanced, their civil society and system of checks and balances leaves much to be desired, something which becomes fundamental to the movie’s plot: Under Wakandan law and custom, any member of a royal bloodline of any of the five tribes can challenge for the throne by way of a deathmatch, with the winner being rendered an absolute monarch in the vein of Louis XIV.

This system works well enough, presuming that those who might challenge for the throne are of a stable temperament, but, somewhat unsurprisingly, a legal-but-not-stable claimant for the throne turns up in the form of N’Jdaka/Killmonger, born of the royal bloodline but having been raised (and radicalized) in Oakland in the 1990s.  Ideologically he is arguably Maoist (though that term might be lost on most modern moviegoers): his initiative to arm urban guerilla groups is not out of line with the policies of Red China in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Neither is his disregard for tradition as soon as he takes power.

The fact that Killmonger is able to both take power and, more importantly, wield it recklessly without serious opposition at first is the starkest bit of messaging in the film: The Wakanda in the film is rich in its own traditions and culture, but lacking any sort of social checks and balances the removal of one king by a legal challenger [1] with no mandate beyond his own brute strength and skill in hand-to-hand combat is met with virtually no resistance while the lack of institutional checks and balances allows him to threaten to turn the country’s foreign policy on its head almost literally overnight.  Those who would object are either removed from power, assaulted, forced to flee, overruled, or are simply ignored, while nobody has the power to tell him “no”.

It would be easy to dismiss such a critique as a shot at Trumpism, but the decision of the writers to make the antagonist an entirely different sort of radical redirects the blow in a broader direction.  By the end of the film, hundreds (if not thousands) are dead as a result of a civil war started not because of an insidious fifth column (such as Hydra in Winter Soldier) or institutions clumsily adapting to a series of crises and failing to sufficiently acquire stakeholder buy-in (such as in Civil War) but because of a complete lack of resilient institutions to begin with.  Those who object to the decisions taken by “the throne” have no venues of appeal against his actions and the only grounds on which any of them ultimately can to take a stand is T’Challa’s improbable survival, resulting in the claim that N’Jdaka’s failure to kill him rendered the challenge for the throne “incomplete” – rather than any claim regarding N’Jdaka’s obvious unfitness for the throne. [2]

An article I once read noted that a Hollywood movie never directly shows the effort it takes to actually build a functioning civil society.  Stepping back from just Black Panther, Marvel may not show what it takes to do so, but in three separate movies the dangers of failed state institutions have manifested on screen in three separate ways.

I have to give Marvel credit: In two of the three cases, they have ensured that their antagonists are reasonably well-represented on the screen (the conflict in Civil War is arguably less cut-and-dried…and less well-executed), which is more than you can usually say for Hollywood.  Robert Redford’s Alexander Pierce gave a vision for Hydra that manages to be seductive, alluring, and sincerely presented.  N’Jdaka/Killmonger also shows a sincere desire to help those he sees as oppressed.  In both cases it is clear who the ‘good guys’ are, but efforts are consistently taken to ensure that we aren’t simply being shown cardboard cut-outs to cheer, or to jeer.

Black Panther is a solid action flick, but the subtle parables that Marvel hints at buried within both it and several of the other MCU movies make them stand out from your generic superhero fare and give them a relevance to reality which makes them all the more impressive.

Notes:

[1] The “royal blood” issue is another interesting question: N’Jdaka was the (apparently illegitimate) son of the brother of the previous king (and thus the grandson of a prior monarch), so the question of degrees of connection to the family did not come up.  How long does such qualification for the throne persist?  For example, in theory could a sixth-degree relative of royal descent with only a tangential connection to Wakanda mount such a challenge?  Such matters are presumably dealt with somewhere in law, but the fact that the throne might be subjected to seizure by an individual invoking no more qualification than physical prowess and one drop of royal blood is, from almost any perspective, disturbing.

[2] In this context, one has to wonder how such a claim would have been received had T’Challa returned weeks or months later due to a delayed recovery (rather than after just a day or two).  The prospect of a Wakandan version of sedevacantism playing out presents all sorts of room for parody or farce.

Regulating the Poor is a Bad Idea

by D.J. McGuire

There was a time – dare I say, it might have been as late as two years ago – when I would have applauded the recent wave of states adding work requirements to Medicaid. I’m not sure where I would have exactly landed on the Food-boxes-for-Food-Stamps idea now ensconced in the president’s budget back then. Today, however, I think both are mistaken.

My reasoning stems from the current drive to automation in the economy. That may seem disconnected, but bear with me. Contrary to the assertions of most, I do not see an oncoming automation apocalypse as inevitable. Many have expressed concern about the tremendous drop in demand for labor that could come with automation – in other words, far fewer jobs for actual persons. Not nearly as many have discussed the ramifications on the other side of the coin, prices. Without a central bank insisting on inflation ad nauseam, prices would also fall as a result of automation, in many cases dramatically. The result could be a dramatic drop in the cost of living, ameliorating if not drowning out entirely the effect of automation on jobs. Keynesians of all stripes would revert to their last line of argumentative defense: the concept of “sticky prices”. However, the assumption behind this defense – that prices cannot be driven down without tremendous unemployment or wage cuts – is undone by the effects of automation, which switches the order of the process. Thus, prices need no longer be sticky – and in fact probably would not be sticky – because the wage effect on stickiness has already been taken out of the equation. In other words, automation would remove the greatest barrier to productivity-driven deflation, the one thing that can ensure greater prosperity for all Americans.

However, in order for this to be as successful as it can be, we have to shift our mentality away from working for other people in favor of working for ourselves. The generations that follow us in the automated era are far more likely to be self-employed than employed by someone else – which means creating incentives that drive people to work for someone else instead of working for themselves go in the wrong direction. Americans will need to be less risk-averse – which means the consequences of risk itself need to be reduced.

The work requirement for Medicaid is thus exactly the kind of perverse distortion of incentives we need to avoid. If anything, we need less regulation of the behavior of poor Americans – as they are more likely to engage in the entrepreneurship we need to advance the economy in the automated era if they are not forced to work for someone else for their health insurance. Likewise, the dynamism and flexibility that come with successfully launching a small business can’t mix with a one-size-fits-all food-delivery system (and this doesn’t even consider the vastly different diets required by different human beings).

For much of the 20th century, “welfare” was viewed – when it was perceived as effective – as a temporary system designed to push people back into the industrial workforce. In a post-industrial, automated economy, we need more self-employment, in which case the current welfare system – and the proposed changes by the Republicans – become the exact opposite of what is required.

As a conservative, I would lament the damage over-regulation would do the economic innovation and dynamism. I call myself a progressive conservative now, in part because I understand that over-regulation is just as dangerous when the regulated are poor Americans. The poor need fewer restrictions on the aid they receive (indeed, I would consider a Negative Income Tax or Universal Basic Income a dramatic improvement over the Rube-Goldberg-like welfare system we have now), not more.