Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
You wouldn’t know it from the stock market’s record-breaking tear since Hillary Clinton snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, but the mood among Trump-averse Americans remains bleak.
Blinkered with rage and disbelief because Clinton won more votes than any other presidential candidate in US history (except Obama in 2008), the despondent blame her stunning upset on nefarious reasons such as “whitelash” bigotry, as CNN’s Van Jones fumed on election night, leading many to sever relations with friends and family.
For partisans inhabiting thought silos influenced by social media’s curated tribalism, the election was rigged, if not by hacked voting machines in rustbelt states or by hacked journalism’s “fake news,” then by Russian email hackers who exposed Democrat dirt, including revelations about how Democrat primaries were rigged against Bernie Sanders.
No credible intelligence source maintains Russia tipped the election in Trump’s favor, only that they meddled to sow chaos and discord regarding the election’s integrity and the winner’s legitimacy. With Clinton supporters clamoring to hack the 227-year old Electoral College, demanding its electors Think Again about making Trump president, you can almost hear Vladimir Putin’s evil-maniacal cackling.
The scheming of 2016’s losers negates Clinton’s laudable concession speech, politicizing and muddling serious matters like Russian malfeasance and cyber-security, and sullying the electoral process by which presidential power peacefully transfers under the world’s oldest constitution.
Unfortunately, political elites – including Trump, the master media manipulator – are being played by Putin whose long-term strategy is to discredit American-style democracy and the liberal order we lead. Considering the post-election freak-out, it’s as if the combatants are double agents working for Russia.
All Americans should agree that Russian covert influence in our democracy is an intolerable threat. It’s one reason why Mitt Romney considered Russia our top geopolitical foe, a claim famously mocked by President Obama who scolded, “The 1980’s are calling. They want their foreign policy back.”
That wisecrack followed the Obama-Clinton “reset” with Russia and Obama’s assurance to former-Russian President Medvedev (caught on an open-mic) that he’d have “more flexibility” after the 2012 election – such as disregarding Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian and Georgian territories. Meanwhile, foreign cyber-intruders have repeatedly hacked federal agencies, without much consequence.
Now, despite dismissing Clinton’s Espionage Act violations related to her unsecured email server and her foundation’s international solicitation fraud, and after denouncing as un-American Trump’s assertion that the election might be “rigged,” Dump-Trumpers insist Clinton would be President-elect, but for Russian cyber-rattling.
On his “The Messy Truth” program, CNN’s Jones heard otherwise from two-time Obama voters who switched to Trump, flipping six states. “If she’d spoken to the blue-collar worker, she’d have won,” explained Ohioan Scott Seitz about Clinton, who hardly campaigned behind her “blue wall.”
In the industrial heartland left behind in America’s asymmetric recovery, long-suffering voters believed Trump would address the issues affecting their livelihoods, preferring Trump’s message of “I’m with you,” to Hillary’s “I’m with Her,” as Seitz framed it. Clinton’s elitist sneer about Trump’s “basket of deplorables” didn’t help.
Rather than grapple with their staggering electoral losses since 2010 – Congress, governorships, state legislatures and now the presidency – or their aged and weak leadership bench, Democrats prefer to fundraise off claims that Russian saboteurs stole the election and Trump-voters are stupid or racist.
If the last 18-months have taught us anything, it’s that Trump shouldn’t be underestimated, nor should his outsider appeal. According to his “Art of the Deal” playbook, “controversy sells,” and he’ll manufacture it if necessary, as he showed en route to the White House.
Speaking bluntly and carrying a big Twitter stick, Trump outlasted 16 primary rivals, the well-funded Bush and Clinton dynasties, and an unprecedentedly hostile media, which he trolls to perfection.
Like all reality-TV stars, Trump is a survivor who’ll outlast the current freak-out too, assuming he revives blue-collar jobs. Hopefully his compulsion to trumpet cronyist deals like Carrier will fade as his economic growth plans make America ripe for private-sector deal making again, as the stock market expects, even amid rising interest rates.
Among history’s greatest dealmakers were America’s founders whose constitution was a heavily negotiated compromise designed to assure that unaccountable power couldn’t be centralized. They believed the boundless potential of individuals operating free from government intrusion would make America great, and they were right.
Unfortunately, as ruling elites have circumvented constitutional guardrails, concentrating power in the ever-growing, unaccountable federal bureaucracy, presidential elections have become life-or-death slugfests. Now half the country quakes in fear that the other half will punish them if they gain power.
The solution is not to further erode constitutional guardrails by defacing the Electoral College; it’s to return the role of Congress, the Supreme Court and the president to their original proscribed limits.
Think Again – Wouldn’t it make America great again if we didn’t have to care so much about who won the White House?
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
“Our long national nightmare is over,” President Gerald Ford declared at his swearing-in, marking the end of the most dangerous constitutional crisis since the Civil War – Watergate.
After becoming the only U.S. president to ever resign, Richard Nixon revealed in an interview his mistaken belief that “When the president does it, that means it isn’t illegal.”
Thankfully, our constitutional system and watchdog media proved Nixon wrong, having investigated, judged and expelled the rogue president for abuses of power and obstruction of justice. Even Nixon’s fellow Republicans didn’t Think Again before putting country and the rule of law before party.
“Our Constitution works,” Ford reassured. “Our great Republic is a government of laws and not men. Here, the people rule.” Unfortunately, absent this consensus, 2016’s menacing clouds forecast another nightmare.
Today’s revolt against Washington signals voters’ belief that the people no longer rule. Worse, many citizens feel betrayed and villianized by a “ruling class” (elected and bureaucratic officials and their corporate and media cronies) that’s presided over the greatest scandal – an explosion of government, an avalanche of debt and the imperiling of our children’s future.
As government has grown, so have its anti-competitive powers, forcing those who “work hard and play by the rules” to subsidize elites who don’t. Incentivized to invest in political influence, not innovation, Big Business reaps trillions in spending, tax and regulatory favors, resulting in a heavily indebted citizenry and a warped and stagnant economy.
Consider these corporate welfare policies, sold to the public as economic saviors: bailouts, farm and energy subsidies, cash-for-clunkers, Export-Import Bank loan guarantees, Dodd-Frank’s “Wall Street reform,” and Obamacare.
Not surprisingly, five of the nation’s seven wealthiest counties surround Washington, D.C. Meanwhile, with the economy growing at half its 100-year historic average and small business failures exceeding starts, working Americans suffer stagnant wages, job uncertainty, rising health-care costs and reduced living standards.
Yet neither party’s front-runner is proposing to dismantle the cronyist system that’s the source of this despair. Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have harvested fortunes from it – she from selling influence, and he from investing in lucrative political favors.
Most worrying, majorities of Americans hold “stubbornly low opinions of the leading figures in the Democratic and Republican Parties,” reported Michael Barbaro in the New York Times.
The first words voters associate with Clinton are “dishonest” and “liar,” while a large plurality of Republicans would consider a third party if Trump is the nominee. Hence, campaign aids predict, “a Clinton-Trump contest would be an ugly and unrelenting slugfest,” Barbaro wrote.
If that isn’t nightmarish, consider the fallout if FBI Chief James Comey recommends Clinton be prosecuted for Espionage Act violations related to her private email server, which he’s reportedly close to doing.
Of Clinton’s Nixon-like lapses, Watergate sleuth Bob Woodward said recently, “It shows that she…feels immune, that she lives in a bubble and no one’s ever going to find this out.”
Is Ford still right, that we’re a nation of laws, not men? If not, is another constitutional crisis looming?
That the presidential frontrunners are famously flawed confirms the advantage of brand ID, and the adage, “any publicity is good publicity.” Do supporters of campaign finance limitations realize they’re helping transform our political system into a reality show in which self-funding honchos and celebrities are the survivors?
Though Trump has “one of the smallest campaign budgets,” the New York Times reported he’s “earned close to $2 billion worth of media attention, about twice the all-in price of the most expensive presidential campaigns in history.” Wall-to-wall Trump coverage “may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS,” confessed CEO Les Moonves.
Despite Trump’s free media bonanza and “believe me” appeals, he’s yet to persuade Republican majorities who share his supporters’ political, cultural and economic anxieties, but not their confidence in Trump.
“Not-Trump” voters – the one’s he’ll ultimately need to win the nomination and unite the party – find Trump incoherent and inconsistent, worry that his “cures” will intensify the disease, and reject his campaign-by-insult tactics.
Yet just as the field winnowed to finally allow substantive discussion between candidates, Trump refuses to debate, suggesting he’s entitled to the nomination, even if he doesn’t attain the delegate majority threshold met by all Republican nominees since 1856.
Consider that, except for this nomination rule, there’d be no President Abraham Lincoln. He won the Republican nomination on the third ballot, despite entering the 1860 convention behind front-runner William Seward.
Foreshadowing a nightmare from a similarly contested convention that enforces the rules, Trump warned, “’cause we’re way ahead of everybody, I don’t think you can say we don’t get it automatically. I think you’d have riots.”
Think Again – to avoid political nightmares and riots, shouldn’t we insist on remaining a nation of laws not men by upholding the principles that brought Nixon to justice and Lincoln to the presidency?
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Among this election season’s oddities was the dust-up between Pope Francis and Donald Trump. After departing Mexico, the Pontiff appeared to criticize Trump in an interview, suggesting that building walls – not bridges – “is not Christian.”
Calling the comment “disgraceful,” the presidential front-runner and insulter-in-chief compelled the Vatican to Think Again before retreating. Meanwhile, comedians joked that the perceived papal putdown would cause church attendance to fall and Trump’s poll numbers to surge.
Indeed, by crossing swords with the Pontiff, Trump burnished his image as a fearless fighter, a trait his voters prize. Unfazed by his incoherence, lack of policy specifics or controversies, Trump supporters, like columnist Jim Nolte, are tired of losing and want “someone who will do whatever it takes to win.”
Buoying Trump is Americans’ sense of powerlessness and insecurity. Consider these controversial policies, imposed on disapproving majorities using extra-constitutional means: the Iran deal; the irresponsible and never-debated Omnibus budget; Obamacare; trade promotion; and executive actions and sanctuary-city policies that nullify immigration laws.
But for Trumpkins, “Making America Great Again” isn’t about restoring government of, by and for the people. It’s about elevating their own Julius Caesar to make deals with a ruling class that runs government like a spoil system – of special interests, by unelected bureaucrats and for political elites.
Apparently, Trumpkins want a warrior who’ll “bork” political opponents. The angry verb “to bork” means to discredit by whatever methods necessary. It was coined after the character assassination of eminent jurist Robert Bork, killing his 1987 Supreme Court nomination the year after recently deceased Justice Antonin Scalia won a 98-0 Senate confirmation.
Anti-Bork activist Ann Lewis later explained the unprecedented smear campaign: there’d be a “deep and thoughtful discussion about the Constitution, and then we would lose.” Hence, Kennedy’s fabrication that in Bork’s America, “women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters.”
Writing 24 years later, New York Times columnist Joe Nocera lamented the nomination battle’s “essential unfairness,” noting “the line from Bork to today’s ugly politics is a straight one.” Whatever one thinks about Bork’s views, Nocera argued, “they cannot be fairly characterized as extreme…. Rarely has a failed nominee had the pedigree – and intellectual firepower – of Bork.”
That Bork was Scalia’s ideological and intellectual equal, but was rejected shortly after Scalia’s unanimous approval, speaks to how politicized the theoretically independent judiciary has become. Consider that it was President Franklin Roosevelt’s fellow Democrats who foiled his plan to pack the Supreme Court.
Thomas Jefferson warned that giving “judges the right to decide what laws are constitutional and what not… would make the Judiciary a despotic branch." Now, having morphed from “the least dangerous branch” into an unelected super-legislature of nine philosopher kings with lifetime appointments, it’s not surprising Supreme Court nominations are hotly contested – and fraught with hypocrisy.
Though waxing indignant over Republican refusals to consider a lame-duck president’s Supreme Court nomination during this election year, Sens. Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer and Joe Biden favored obstructing Republican judicial nominees.
In 1992, Biden, then the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, proclaimed, “action on a Supreme Court nomination must be put off until after the election campaign is over,” insisting the president not nominate anyone. And in 2006, then-Sen. Barack Obama voted to block an up-or-down vote on Justice Samuel Alito’s nomination.
Ironically, an activist and politicized judiciary is what Scalia wanted to roll back, favoring the founders’ original intent: separation of powers, checks, and an independent judiciary with limited authority to resolve legal disputes by applying – not writing – the law. Other issues should be decided democratically – at the ballot box or by representatives accountable to the people.
By short-circuiting the democratic process for resolving emotionally charged issues, Scalia believed the Court was violating “a principle even more fundamental than no taxation without representation: no social transformation without representation.”
Feeling voiceless and powerless in an America that’s migrated away from it’s founding purpose – the democratic self-governance of a free people – many Trumpkins want a strong-arm “borker” to wield power on their behalf. But do they really want a vengeful president using the IRS, NSA, FBI and CIA to target and punish critics?
As Scalia argued while pointing to unfree nations that have charters of rights, “It isn’t the Bill of Rights that produces freedom; it’s the structure of government that prevents anybody from seizing all the power.”
Essentially, the founders used constitutional walls to separate and check power so that diverse people with differing beliefs would be free to build bridges of mutual respect and tolerance, forging an open and decent society. The Supreme Court’s unlikely “best buddies” – rivals Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg – built a remarkable bridge, a lesson for Pope Francis, Trump and Trumpkins.
Think Again – Isn’t the best way to Make America Great Again to elect a president who’ll adhere to America’s great constitution?
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
In this topsy-turvy election year, wonders never cease, as Americans Think Again about how to throw the bums out, even unelected bureaucrats.
The willingness to break with long-standing political norms isn’t surprising, considering voter anger, pessimism and spiking anxieties. Recent surveys of Americans show overwhelming majorities believe the country is on the wrong track, the American Dream is unachievable, and our powerful, unaccountable government is America’s biggest threat.
Consequently, political dynasties have been rendered passé, as mega-donor darlings Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton discovered en route to their coronations. Not even their powerful Super PACs (funded by unlimited individual, corporate and union support) can assure their victories.
The standard trump cards aren’t working either, including the gender card, played recently by former Secretary of State and Hillary-backer Madeleine Albright who admonished, “there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.”
For Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Ben Carson, the normally formidable race card trumps nothing. But a blustering and incoherent Donald Trump trumps everything, thanks to the limitless free airtime the ratings-hungry media grant him. ”I’m winning by a lot,” the self-funder boasts, but “I spent almost nothing.”
Meanwhile, the media leaves unexamined Trump’s assertion that his wealth is a scorecard of his abilities. Some analysts calculate the present value of Trump’s inheritance would approximate his current net worth, if he’d simply invested it in the S&P 500.
Undermining Trump’s inevitability, the self-described winner’s first electoral outing was a loss to Cruz and near-upset by Rubio, as 76 percent of Iowa caucus-goers voted not-Trump. His New Hampshire victory was impressive, capturing all demographic groups, but two-thirds still voted not-Trump.
As under-performing contenders like Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina exit the crowded field, the eventual consolidation – and Trump’s record-breaking unfavorability in the general population – bode poorly for his candidacy.
Nevertheless, the ratings-magnet is well positioned to parlay popularity into a Trump network, like the media platform that made Michael Bloomberg – who’s contemplating his own self-funded presidential campaign – one of the world’s richest.
Another surprising result was Cruz’s defeat of King Corn in Iowa. The anti-Washington agitator won record numbers of votes in a historic GOP turnout while arguing that farmers are hurt by government ethanol mandates – not helped, as powerful agribusiness lobbyists allege.
Most extraordinary is Bernie Sander’s durability. Polls show the septuagenarian-socialist tied with Clinton nationally, after narrowly losing Iowa but routing her in New Hampshire where 93 percent of Democrats prioritizing honesty preferred Sanders.
Are voters drawn to Sanders’ socialism, or is he the beneficiary of a “no more Clintons” mindset, especially after reports the Clintons “earned” $153 million in speaking fees since leaving the White House?
It’s probably both, since Sanders’ support skews young. Thirsty for trustworthy leadership, “Sandernistas” have witnessed government bailouts and rampant cronyism, while suffering through the feeblest economic recovery since the Great Depression.
According to Pew Research, this generation is “the first in the modern era to have higher levels of student loan debt, poverty, and unemployment and lower levels of wealth and personal income.”
No wonder they find political revolution tempting. But they should study the American Revolution before accepting Sanders’ plan to concentrate ever-growing government power in the name of “social justice.”
As founder James Madison explained, “The essence of government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse.” Concerned that a government would eventually encroach on rights and liberties, Thomas Jefferson forecast “debt, corruption and rottenness,” absent constitutional guardrails.
That’s why, after overthrowing King George’s arbitrary and unfair rule, America’s founders established a government with limited powers to protect the equal rights of the people, believing the boundless potential of individuals operating in a free society would “make America great” – and they were right.
Yet as government has grown, so have its anti-competitive powers, corrupting our founders’ liberty-preserving system with cronyism that rewards political connections over competitive excellence.
Using massive powers to legislate, tax, spend and regulate, policymakers have rigged the economy and undermined the principles on which freedom, fairness and opportunity rely – equality under the law, property rights and sound money.
Given America’s heritage and Big Government’s dismal track record, it’s stunning that Sanders and Trump -- both advocates of using unprecedented government power to centrally plan and control economic life – could win New Hampshire’s “Live Free or Die” state. Have its freedom-loving voters forgotten the national purpose their state helped found – the democratic self-rule of a free people?
Hopefully, America is in revolt and casting about for outsiders not because they want more government, but because of the failures of our hyper-politicized, unaccountable government: contaminated water, terrorist attacks, dying vets, IRS harassment, illegal immigration, health care chaos, and murdered U.S. diplomats and border guards.
Think Again – in this anti-conventional wisdom year, may our founders’ wisdom about the dangers of Big Government ultimately prevail.