NDN Blog

Can Trump Keep America Safe?

The Trump Presidency raises new questions, daily.  But one that should be increasingly on our minds is can this volatile and inexperienced President keep America safe? Consider the record.  Thousands died due to government inaction in Puerto Rico.  A challenging situation on the border has been grossly mismanaged, and has now become a full blown regional moral and political crisis.  The President continues to encourage right wing extremism in the US, even at a time when that movement has become far more violent. We are in public and acrimonious disputes with neighbors, Mexico and Canada, and our NATO allies.  The North Korea talks have broken down.   All of this is making the American people less safe, here at home and from threats abroad.

But it is the ongoing threat of Russia’s interference in our domestic affairs which should be of the greatest concern to the American people.  On Friday, the head intelligence official of the American government, Dan Coats, said of Russia’s cyber-interference: “The warning lights are blinking red again….Today, the digital infrastructure that serves this country is literally under attack.”  On Saturday, DHS Secretary Nielsen said U.S. intelligence officials are seeing “persistent Russian efforts using social media, sympathetic spokespeople and other fronts to sow discord and divisiveness amongst the American people.”  Given the gravity of what happened in 2016, shouldn’t it be clear to all of us that yes in fact the President was leading a vigorous effort to protect our nation from similar attacks or even worse?

And yet, despite these warnings, America can neither trust their President is looking out for us or has assembled a team responsible for keeping America safe.  The new National Security Advisor dismantled the cyber security coordinating unit in the White House.  There is no clear person in charge of these matters for the US government, and in a hearing just last week, a senior DHS official admitted that the mechanisms to allow DHS, the FBI and others to coordinate are still insufficient.  And remarkably, the President, on the eve of his meeting with the man responsible for these dangerous threats to America, blamed his predecessors and Robert Mueller for causing the worsening relations between the US and Russia, and not the malevolent dictator and the man who directed the 2016 attack against America, Vladimir Putin.

With Trump now we have two issues regarding our security.  First is competence.   For a man who spends so much time in an alternative world, can he be trusted to assess a threat properly and respond appropriately?  Both the inadequate response to the Puerto Rican crisis and the historic mismanagement of the border crisis suggest not.  But then there is the much more challenging question – does the President actually want to protect America from foreign threats?  Can we count on him to be there for us in a time of need? And on this one I think we have to admit we just aren’t sure.   His response to Russian aggression raises questions frankly about where his ultimate loyalties lie.  A true patriot would have mobilized both US institutions and those abroad to ensure Russia could never replicate the 2016 attack.  Bur rather than doing this, the President has not only denied the attacks ever took place, but he has weakened the international and domestic institutions (NATO, EU, FBI, DHS) needed to challenge Russia in the coming years.  He continued those denials today, in his disastrous joint press conference with President Putin.   Given the opportunity to challenge Putin to stop his interference efforts in the US, the President incomprehensibly took a pass.

So here we are.  It is a sad and dark time in America.   It sure appears that we cannot count on President Trump to keep us safe.  We all wish it were otherwise. 

This is a topic well worth debating in the upcoming elections this fall. 

PS - On Monday, July 16th, the same day our President bowed to Russia's Putin, the Treasury Department announced it was no longer requiring disclosures on contributions given to 501 c (4) organizations.  The practical impact of that is to enable foreign governments and nationals to now give unlimited sums to certain "dark" American political organizations without anyone knowing.  It is an unimaginable surrender of our sovereignity, and will allow unfettered and secret foreign involvement in US politcs - all aiding one side of course. 

Things Are Better Under Trump? Data Suggests Not

This essay was originally published on the website Medium.  And be sure to read our companion piece, "Can Trump Keep America Safe?"

We are about at that time in the Trump Presidency where one can begin to discern the impact of his agenda on the nation. We’ve had 17 months of Trumpism now — regulatory reform, immigration restrictionism, big new tax and fiscal strategy, unraveling of the ACA, tariffs and trade disruption — how is it all working out? Let’s take a look at some of the early data:

Deficits and Debt — According to a recent CBO report, Trump’s tax and fiscal policies will add $1.9 trillion to the deficit over the next 11 years. The US will be running $1 trillion annual deficits by 2020, and will now officially be among the most indebted nations in the world no matter how you measure it.

In addition to advancing the very un-conservative notion of spending money one doesn’t have, this new fiscal strategy has brought an era of low interest rates and cheap capital to an end (federal funds rate up 50% from a year ago). Not only will rising interests rates put what is essentially a tax on all consumers and businesses as the cost of simple things like credit card debt, auto and home loans, business loans rise, but it will cost Americans trillions of dollars in increased debt service over time. Our indebtedness also chips away at our sovereignty, as it gives the nations who loan us money — China for example — have a bit more ability to influence our nation’s future course. This explosion of debt makes every American worse off.

Slower Job Growth — While the unemployment rate has dropped under President Trump, the economy is producing fewer jobs than it did in the last few years of Obama’s Presidency. 217,000 jobs were created per month in Obama’s second term. Through May of this year quarter of this year it has been 185,000 under Trump. That is a net difference of 384,000 a year and over 3m over 8 years — no small thing.

As for GDP growth, in Obama’s 2nd term it averaged 2.2% a year. For Trump it was 2.3% in 2017, and 2.2% in q1 this year. No meaningful gains here either.

Declining Wages — The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ June Report found real average wages for non-supervisory workers dropped from May 2017 to May 2018, going from $9.25 per hour to $9.24. While there are many ways to look at this data, there just isn’t any evidence that the Trump Presidency or his tax cut has substantially improved the lot of working people in the US. New June numbers show no change in this downward trend.

Wages for most workers have actually begin to decline.

Rising Interest Rates and Gas Prices — Trump’s tax bill brought the end of low interest rates to an end, which will, as we discussed, raise the cost of just about everything — car, home and student loans, credit cards, business loans — which will take money out of the pockets of every day people. For many these higher costs will almost certainly wipe out any gains received from the tax cut.

Since early 2017 the price of a gallon of gas at the pump has increased by about 30%, with most of those gains coming in just the last few months. Like rising interest rates, higher gas prices raise the cost of just about everything in American society, and takes money out of the pockets of regular folks. These increased costs are likely to impact how much money Americans can spend on other things like groceries and eating out, summer camps and day care, vacations, car and home purchases, transportation to and from work, which will adversely affect tens of millions of people employed in these sectors. Not only will rising energy costs draw us closer to a recession, they dampen labor mobility, something that will make it harder for companies to hire the workers they need to grow.

Rising Levels of Uninsured, Premium Increases — One of the great policy success stories of the past several generations has been the recent rapid reduction of those without health insurance. Using data from Gallup, the insured rate dropped from 18.0 in late 2013 to just 10.9 at the time of the 2016 election. Estimates are that the ACA covered 25m or so of those gaining insurance in just a few years — a remarkable achievement.

Due to a year of sustained political and regulatory attack on the ACA by the President and his GOP brethren, the uninsured rate snapped back to a rate of 12.2% at the end of 2017, a 12% gain — which translates into 3–4 million people. And as Gallup reports, 2017 was the first year since 2013 no individual state saw their uninsured rate decline. And these increases come at a time when the unemployment rate continued to drop and millions of people found employment. Hard to believe that our President has sought this dispiriting outcome on purpose, as a matter of policy; particularly when he explicitly promised to offer a plan which covered everyone and lowered premiums during his 2016 campaign.

For those remaining in a battered ACA, premiums are going to rise dramatically over the next few years. And just in the last few weeks the Trump Administration came out for eliminating the pre-existing condition ban — something that would impact hundreds of millions of Americans.

Stock Market Made Modest Gains, Now Flat — What is perhaps the most extraordinary economic development of the Trump era, the Dow has gained no ground since Trump’s tax cuts were passed late last year. The Dow closed at 24,978 on December 23rd , the first full day after the tax cuts were signed by the President, and began today at 24,252. That the cocktail of huge corporate and high net worth rate cuts, hundreds of billions of newly repatriated assets and hundreds of billions of stock buy backs haven’t produced gains in the stock market is a shocking development, particularly given that the 2017 market gains were modest by historical standards.

Impact of Restrictionist Immigration Policies, White Nationalism — This one is a bit more subjective than the other areas but the President’s all-out assault on undocumented immigrants, and immigrants more broadly, is making the lives of tens of millions living here in the US far worse than it was. There are 11m undocumented immigrants in the US; 13m green card holders (legal permanent residents); 330,000 holders of a temporary protected status visa who have been told to go home; 30 million of Mexican descent, and over 50m Hispanics overall. You pick the number. Whatever it is there are tens of millions of people living and working in the US today who have either been told to leave by the US government or feel far less welcome in their adopted nation. They are not better off today under Donald Trump.

What makes these policies not just harmful to the workers and families directly affected, they are also very bad for the US economy overall. The US is currently at full employment, and labor shortages are becoming more commonplace across the country. Removing millions of current immigrant workers in the coming years would put pressure on US companies to either 1) replace the assimilated immigrant workers we now have with un-assimilated ones — something very costly and complicated 2) grow jobs in countries outside the US where labor is more abundant. As a matter of economic policy, the President’s immigration strategy is nuts, something the Chamber of Commerce echoed in a recent letter to Congress.

Conclusion — So, are we better off under Trump? Job growth is slower. Wages are down. Rising gas prices and interest rates are eating into the incomes (and very modest tax benefits) of everyday people. The stock market had a good 2017 but is down in 2018. Millions are newly without health insurance, and premiums are rising for millions more. The skyrocketing deficit is endangering the US economy, and leaves us little to invest in infrastructure or to combat a future recession. For tens of millions of immigrants, their lives are clearly much much worse. And the President’s trade and tariff agenda is likely to leave American businesses and workers worse off.

So 17 months in Trump’s Presidency it is not clear things are better, and it a strong case can be made that things are worse. Almost nothing the President promised — rising wages, stronger growth, a balanced budget, universal health care and lower premiums, a tax plan that would cause him to pay higher taxes — has come about. It remains to be seen whether the very modest benefits many Americans are receiving from the President’s tax cut will be seen by voters as a net positive given rising costs, skyrocketing deficits and everything else — this remains a big unknown heading into the fall but many polls now suggest the Republicans are losing this one (and for good reason).

Tax Bill 6 Points Net Negative

This piece suggests that the battle over competing economic narratives — “economy was good, worse now” vs “economy was bad/okay/carnage and everything is better now” — will be a hotly contested one this summer and fall. Current polls suggest Democrats have work to do to win this fight; but the data also suggests the battle is winnable if waged. No reason given the disappointing performance of this economy, or the strong economic performance of both the Clinton and Obama Presidencies, that the GOP should be leading Democrats on the economy. But you can’t win battles if you don’t fight ’em, and this one should be central to the Democrats’ battle plan this election year.

Update - Chris Murphy moving on, SR assistant position open

Dear Friends,

It is with both great regret and enormous gratitude that I report today that Chris Murphy, my long-time assistant here at NDN, is moving on. He will be joining our good friends at Mercury LLC in the coming weeks, focusing on public affairs and media relations projects. Chris has been a terrific partner over these past few years. He is hard working, focused, kind to all and very effective. He will be hard to replace, but that process begins today.

If you know of a good candidate for the position please have them email Chris right away at cmurphy@ndn.org. We will be making first cuts this Friday. The email to him should include a resume, cover note and list of references. We shoot for a person one step passed entry level for this position, for it requires a significant degree of ball juggling and complexity. It has proven to be a great stepping stone for many ambitious young center-lefties, so please send us qualified candidates today.

Please thank Chris for his time served here. I know many of you got to know him well, and appreciated how easy it was to work with worth him. Please help me give him a proper send off, but as you know, like many assistants before, they never stop being part of this spirited community.

Best, Simon

Assistant to the President, NDN

The Assistant to the President is responsible for managing President Simon Rosenberg and the office's day-to-day operations. This includes managing the President's schedule; executing weekly emails including NDN's newsletter, member updates, and other releases via NGP-Van; handling administrative tasks (such as event management, meeting arrangements, scanning documents, and other errands); researching legislation or other policy information for the President's use. In this role, you will also work closely with other NDN members' offices and Washington stakeholders.

This position allows for growth as well as special projects assigned by the President. Additional responsibilities consist of handling office communications, including answering the main NDN phone-line, processing invoices, assisting with travel logistics, event coordination, and keeping track of written correspondence, and other duties as assigned.

Democrats Need To Have A Big Conversation About Trade

This essay was originally published on the website Medium.

There is little doubt that Democrats are in the early stages of what will be a very intense debate about how to best lead the nation after Trump’s disappointing Presidency. As I wrote in a recent NBC News column, one of the most important areas Democrats will have to air out is the best way to re-stitch America back into the global, rules-based order our nation — and our Party — imagined and built after WWII. Given America’s plummeting standing around the world, and the utter contempt Trump has shown for so many nations, allies and institutions of this rules-based system both here and abroad, this will be no easy thing. It may perhaps the toughest challenge our next President, and our emerging leaders of both parties, will face in the coming years.

For Democratic Presidential candidates next year, and perhaps a Democratic Speaker and/or Senate majority leader too, one could imagine that calling for a return to the Paris climate accord or the Iran nuclear deal will be relatively easy matters. But one can also imagine calls for returning America to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or putting NAFTA back together if wrecked by Trump in the days ahead, will be much harder. Democrats are going to have to be very careful here, for a refusal to bolster and support the global trading system that Trump has weakened by the next American President could not just cause irreparable harm to this vital instrument of America’s global power and prosperity, but to the broader rules-based system itself.

For as one sees in both TPP and NAFTA, for example, trade agreements are extensions of the rules-based system, and are as much geopolitics as they are economic arrangements. NAFTA created a global economic and political powerhouse known as North America, and TPP was intended to create a regional counterweight to China’s growing influence and cemented America’s leadership in the Pacific years to come. TPP also contained a comprehensive updating of rules involving the Internet and the cyberspace, something that will remain a major priority for American policy makers for years to come, particularly after the Russian attack on our democracy in 2016. My basic point here is the line between geopolitics, foreign policy and trade policy are far more blurred than bright, and a retreat to a facile protectionism by the next President would not just weaken a global system in need of support it would make America’s return to the global stage far less effective than is in our national interest.

For Democrats there is another reason to tread carefully here — Democratic voters are overwhelmingly supportive of free trade. Consider these three graphs from recent Pew Research polling:

Positive views of free trade agreements rebound to pre-2016 levels

67% of Democrats believe free trade is a good thing. 62% oppose tariffs. 72% say NAFTA is a good thing for the US. These findings suggest that protectionism simply isn’t going to play well in a Democratic Presidential primary next year. The case that globalization was wrecked the American economy will be a particularly tough sell in the early 2020 states of Iowa and New Hampshire, each of which are experiencing some of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation and in their history — 2.8% and 2.6% respectively. According to a Pew study done at the height of the Democratic primary in March of 2016, even 55% of Bernie Sanders supporters said that “trade is a good thing,” not all that different from those who supported Hillary Clinton at the time.

There are many explanations for this data I think it has to do with the nature of the Democratic coalition these days. Democrats have large numbers of young people who grew up in a globalized world and have come to expect it; and immigrants or those closely connected to recent immigrant experiences, who often want America to stay connected to the big world out there. The graph below from Pew’s 2017 version of their new report shows the demographic breakdowns of the trade good/bad question — a breakdown that would be familiar to anyone who has studied the recent Brexit vote.

Look, trade is a tough issue. But those Democrats seeking to lead us in the years ahead have to give a great deal of thought about how to approach the trade conversation. Our voters are not with the protectionists, the economy was never as bad as Trump proclaimed, and restoring America’s leadership of — or at least constructive participation in — a global system imagined and built by our party over 70 years ago will be among our most important jobs in the coming years. The answer to Trump isn’t a different version of American retreat; it is a redefining and reassertion of American leadership on the global stage for a new century with new and complex challenges. Democrats have risen to this challenge before, and I am hopeful that we will do so again.

Finally, there is also a cold hard truth here — the global system we built will also continue in some form without us. Europe and Iran appear close to salvaging the Iran Deal, TPP was finalized without the US and without some of our hard negotiated wins. We can both dive into the world and try to lead it, or the nations of the world will end up dictating terms — terms guaranteed to be less favorable — to the US. Retreat is a guarantor of national decline, loss of influence and prosperity. It would be folly to choose that path.

The Atlantic: Simon on the GOP and immigration

Simon offers some thoughts on the GOP's approach to immigration policies in Ron Brownstein's new piece, "The Eroding GOP Resistance to Trump's Immigration Agenda." Here's Simon's quote:

In all these ways, relatively more mainstream Republican candidates are holding off the anti-immigration vanguard by accepting much of their agenda. Only a handful of prominent Republicans, such as Arizona Senators Jeff Flake and John McCain, still publicly dissent. “There is not an obvious set of leaders to put a break on this,” said Simon Rosenberg, the founder of the Democratic advocacy group NDN, who has long studied the impact of demographic change on both parties.

You can read the full piece here.

WaPo: Simon on Trump leaning hard into Mueller and white nationalism

In a recent piece, "Trump is a disaster, and that's helping Democrats. But not how you think," Greg Sargent interviewed Simon about topics the GOP and Democrats have chosen to run on in 2018. Here’s Simon’s quote:

“Trump is leaning hard into Mueller and his brand of white nationalism, which is born of the growing GOP realization that Democrats are running and winning on health care and cleaning up Washington — the things that really matter to voters,” Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg told me today.

You can read the full piece here.

Congress Must Debate Weakening of Global Order

Today NBC News THINK published Simon's column, "Trump's Iran deal withdrawal is an arrogant rejection of the post-war system America built." An excerpt –

President Trump’s decision this week to walk away from the Iran Deal is significant for many reasons – but perhaps most importantly, it is yet another sign that America has lost faith in, and is no longer leading, the global system it imagined and built after World War II.

The global system that exists today – while imperfect – is among America’s most consequential achievements. After the carnage of two world wars, our nation’s leaders made what was a truly historic choice for humankind: We choose to construct a new world that had as its foundation liberty and dignity for all the world’s peoples, and self-determination for all the world’s nations. This new system, best exemplified by the United Nations (which was located and remains here in the United States), was an extension of the vision of our Founding Fathers who fought a revolution and designed a governing system intent on ensuring human liberty would prevail over tyranny, which we know today as authoritarianism.

To continue reading, please refer to the NBC News THINK link.

Backlash to Trumpism Brewing in the Border Region

This essay was originally published on the website Medium.

We return this morning to a subject we’ve focused on over the past two years — the apparent backlash to Trump’s politics in the parts of the US with large Mexican-American populations, and potentially in Hispanic and immigrant heavy Florida too. Early 2018 data suggests this backlash continues unabated this year, making this one of the most important emerging political stories of the Trump era.

To set the stage we go back to 2016. In an election when the national vote shifted 2 points net towards the Republicans (from 2012), Arizona, California and Texas moved sharply in the other direction, more so than any other states in the nation:

CA went from 60%/37% (D/R) in 2012 to 62%/32% in 2016, a net shift of 7 points.

TX went from 41.4%/57.2% to 43.2%/52.2%, a net shift of 6.8 points.

AZ went from 44.5%/53.5% to 45.5%/49%, a net shift of 5.5 points.

Note that much of the movement was GOP erosion, rather than Democratic gains. Digging a little deeper into 2016, Clinton lost far less ground in heavily Hispanics states like CO, FL and NV in the Presidential battleground than she did in the northern states, and she even managed to hold on and win CO and NV. Clinton only lost Arizona by 3.5 pts, a closer margin than GA, IA, NC and OH, making Arizona an official part of the national Presidential battleground for the first time in decades.

In January of this year Gallup released a report reviewing the President’s job approval rating throughout 2017. It had some unexpected results:

Notable is the President’s strength in Ohio and Iowa, but what is perhaps most striking about this data was how low Trump’s numbers were in Arizona, Florida and of course Texas. That the second largest state in the country was now acting like a battleground state and not a safe Red confirms that something indeed is up in the border region of the US.

In recent weeks we’ve gotten some early polling from statewide races in the region which also finds GOP erosion (data is from Real Clear Politics). In Arizona we find Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema leading all three of her potential GOP opponents in the Flake open Senate seat by at least 6 points, receiving at least 48% in each match up. In Nevada, incumbent GOPer Dean Heller is in a dead even race against Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen, 40%-39%. Remarkably, in Texas, Ted Cruz leads his largely unknown opponent, Beto O’Rourke, by just 3 points, 47%-44%. In Florida, incumbent Democrat Senator Bill Nelson leads the two-time elected Governor, Rick Scott, by 4 in each of two recent polls — 46% to 42% and 44% to 40%.

Even the popular Republican governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, only checked in at 49–40% and 48–41% against two relatively unknown Democratic opponents in that same Texas poll. Abbott won 2014 by 21 points and is now up 8; Cruz and won in 2012 by 16 and is now up 3. While just one poll, these findings are consistent with other data showing a significant structural shift in Texas towards the Democrats of at least 7 points, and perhaps even more.

To recap, Senator Heller is at 40% in NV, Governor Scott 40% and 42% in FL, Rep. McSally 42% in AZ, Senator Cruz 47% and Governor Abbott 48% and 49%. Every one of these well-known GOP officer holders are under 50%, most in the low 40s — similar to where Trump’s job approval is in these states. While early, these are bad bad numbers for the GOP and confirm significant erosion in these states for the GOP brand.

It is even worse for the GOP in California. In the Gallup poll, Trump’s job approval was among the worst in the nation at 29% approve, 65% disapprove (this is a shocking result). Recent polling suggests that it is unlikely a Republican will even end up on the ballot in the general election in either the Senate or Governor’s races, something that could have a significant impact on the 7 to 9 Republican held Congressional seats thought to be in play here. According to the Cook report, all told there are between 17 and 24 GOP held House seats in play in the heavily Mexican-American states and Florida, so a strong Democratic showing and a Trumpian induced GOP fade here could be instrumental in not just giving the Senate to the Democrats, but the House too.

What is causing the backlash? More research needs to be done but I would guess that Trump’s attacks on Mexico, NAFTA, immigration and immigrants themselves isn’t playing well in a region with a large number of Mexican-Americans and immigrants. The cultural, family and economic ties between this region and Mexico are significant, and Trump’s relentless hostility towards it all makes him feel like the leader of some other part of this US, and not this one.

Florida is a different story of course, but is well worth watching. Trump has a long history in the state, and still spends a great deal of time there. Florida has few Mexican-Americans but many Hispanics and many immigrants, particularly of Puerto Rican and Cuban descent. The question for Florida this year is will the combination of Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric/policies and rough and crude treatment of Latin America and Puerto Rico create the same kind of regional rejection of Trumpism we appear to be seeing in the border region. It is too early to tell, but having a sitting two-term Governor start off his Senate race at 42% and 40% in early polling is anything but happy news for the GOP.

While there has been much attention given to the President’s overtures to the Rustbelt and Midwest, it is time to consider whether in doing so he is also driving a very large part of the country, with country’s three most populous states, further away, dangerously so, from the GOP. The President is making a big bet, one that increasingly looks very risky not just for the long term future of the GOP but also for its elections prospects in 2018.

Some Notes on The Decline of TV, Rise of Social Media in American Politics

This essay was originally published on the website Medium.

According to a recent report released by the Pew Research Center, 2018 is likely to be the first election year where the Internet outpaces television as a source of news for Americans. Taking a look at the graph below, it seems clear this will be the crossover year with the Internet outpacing TV by a few points.

The rate of these changes accelerated in 2017, suggesting that the long slow transition of broadcast television as the primary delivery mechanism for video to a time when we watch video whenever we choose on our mobile devices and computers has hit a significant cultural tipping point in recent months.

The chart below confirms the power of the most significant new video distributor, YouTube, which is used by more Americans than any other social media platform.

A new Neiman Lab study about social media and local TV news found that in some markets the Facebook feed of a single local TV station can outpacing that of the local newspaper. A prime reason — the easy access local TV stations have to compelling video content, something not available to many local newspapers.

Digging down on this Pew data a bit more, it is clear that this trend — decline in TV/rise in digital and social — is happening with all age cohorts. What perhaps stands out the most in the graphs below is how much Americans under 50 have migrated away from traditional television as a source for news.

And finally, the decline in TV news is happening across all sectors, including in still potent local news:

I chose to write about these new Pew findings for these changes in American's information consumption habits have been so rapid in the last few years that many campaigns and advocacy organizations may not understand they face a very different information landscape this year than 2016, and certainly since 2014. If the rate of change Pew found in 2017 continues at the same rate this year — a reasonable assumption — we will have gone from Americans saying they often get their news from TV/Digital at 57/38 to 43/48 — a 24 point shift — in just two years. This is a bit of a wow.

Two of the pillars underlying American politics — who we are (demography), and how we get our information — are going through profound and lasting change. Leaders of advocacy organizations and campaigns should be relentlessly challenging their staff and consultants to explain their strategies for how they are adapting to the new audiences emerging in the US, and the new tools required to reach them. There is no simple path here, but anyone in US politics who isn't obsessed with figuring out how to get out in front of these big changes just isn't doing it right.

Are Trump’s Mounting Legal Problems Making It Impossible for Him to Be President?

This essay was originally published on the website Medium.

Imagine if a CEO of a publicly traded company, or a university president, or the principal of your local high school, or even a Congressman or Governor, did half of what Donald Trump has done. Would they still have their jobs? The obvious answer is no, and in fact in just the last few months many chief executives and elected officials have had to resign or have been fired due to unethical or criminal behavior.

What is true of our democracy, and most institutions in the United States, is that no one person is bigger than the institution they serve. There are mechanisms in place to ensure the executive performs and behaves with honor. Boards can remove a CEO or university Presidents. Congress can expel corrupt Members. Governors can be recalled, and in parliamentary democracies, governments can fall and new elections called. In our system, there are two “boards” that oversee the President: 1) voters, in midterm and Presidential elections 2) Congress, both in its oversight and impeachment/removal authorities. Voters may act this fall, or in 2020; and of course Congress has done virtually nothing to reign in Trump even though the case for doing so is long and serious. Let’s review some of the reasons other boards would have acted against a chief executive like Trump by now:

1) epic levels of personnel turnover, difficulty finding qualified help, repeated promotional of unqualified candidates, nepotism, verbal abuse of staff in public and private 2) daily instances of lying, attempts to mislead the public 3) intemperate public remarks, erosion of common civility, attacks of perceived opponents some of which could quality as defamation and slander 4) serial adultery and extraordinary efforts to conceal the affairs 5) exploding outside legal problems, involving a wide array of potential charges including treason, tax fraud, public corruption, campaign finance violations, money laundering, sexual harassment, incitement to riot 6) an unprecedented number of high level public scandals with senior officials in the government, suggesting deeply lax internal ethical controls 7) indictment of core staff close to the leader, including top political and policy staff, and now his own personal attorney and longtime business partner has had his records seized and is facing imminent criminal charges 8) clear abuse of the power of his office through his attempts to discredit an investigation into his team, the firing of prominent officials including the acting Attorney General and Director of the FBI and intimidation of those opposing him 9) appeasement of a hostile foreign power in ways inconsistent with the American national interest, including a refusal to condemn them for unprecedented attacks on the homeland of the United States.

Okay, okay some Republicans say. Not a perfect guy, but he is doing a good job as President and deserves a pass. Really? America’s standing in the world has taken an historic hit. There is far more chaos on the global stage today than before, and no clear progress of any of our most vexing problems. The economy is no better than when Trump took office and is by many measures worse — job growth is slower this year, inflation fears are rising, the deficit is exploding, and the Dow is trailing similar marks in both the Obama and Clinton Presidencies. The opioid crisis continues to worsen, health care premiums are rising as is the uninsured rate, and energy prices seem to be on an upward slope. I’m sorry, the country is not demonstrably better off today due to Trump’s Presidency — so no Mad Men like performance exemption for the legal and ethical rot we’ve had to endure.

So while I don’t have hope Congress will take meaningful action against Trump due to his outrageous behavior, there is another reason Congress may be forced to act this year — Trump’s mounting legal problems are making it hard for him to do the already impossible job of President. Just look at the last week. Despite all that is going on in the world, the overwhelming majority of Trump’s tweets have been about Mueller, Comey and Stormy. The RNC’s big new initiative is to attack Comey, not sell the President’s agenda. The President took the time to pardon Scooter Libby last Friday, an event the Administration made front and center in the hours leading up to their late Friday strike on Syria. There has been public confusion and mixed signals about critical issues facing the nation — stay/go in Syria, implementation of new Russian sanctions and whether to rejoin TPP. He cancelled his participation in a really important regional gathering of leaders in Latin America at the last minute. The President’s choice for Secretary of State, after firing the previous one on Twitter, doesn’t have the votes to get confirmed in the Senate. A new story out this morning has Republicans blaming the President’s erratic behavior in recent weeks for a steep decline in the standing of their signature 2018 issue, their tax cut. And the resignations in the Administration and retirements in Congress continue at rates perhaps never seen before in all of US history. He may be an ethical nightmare, but in recent weeks his government has also become a dangerously dysfunctional mess.

Yesterday the Washington Post reported on the President’s response to the latest grave new legal challenge, the raid on his consigliere’s home and office: “Trump was so upset, in fact, that he had trouble concentrating on plans that were laid out for him that day by his national security team about potential options for targeted missile strikes on Syria.” And, as the story reports, the President is spending a great deal of time just trying to find legal counsel to represent him in all these matters as the lawyers he had quit, or in the case of Cohen, are themselves facing imminent criminal charges. One of the reasons Trump is so overwhelmed right now is no lawyer will actually go work for him — a shocking turn of events.

Any other executive of any other American venture, facing the same set of serious legal challenges, would be forced to either take a leave of absence to deal with the matters or would be forced to resign or be fired. For the reality is that any leader facing the kind of serious legal problems Trump is facing now would have a hard time finding time to do their normal job. Trump is no different. His performance these last few weeks makes it clear that the government of the United States is suffering, and that is something that Congress cannot ignore much longer.

Of course there is another way for the President to remove the legal pressure on him right now — he can move aggressively to shut it all down. Which is why Mitch McConnell needs to get behind the new bi-partisan bill that would wall off the Mueller investigation from any future Trump interference. It is my own sense from watching Trump these last few weeks that he is at a breaking point, and can no longer both be President and defend himself. So something has to give. And of course what would be best is for Trump to give, and not our democracy.

If the President’s legal problems continue to mount, and his performance continues to degrade, it will be time for his “board” to get off their rear ends and put the interests of nation and its 330 million people over the interests of this one terribly flawed man. It is how our democracy and broader civil society has been designed and functioned for many years now, and what has made us perhaps the most successful political project in the history of the world. Absent any significant change in coming weeks, it is time to start talking publicly about whether our President, for the good of the nation, needs to resign in order to allow him to spend the time required to address the grave legal matters facing him and his family.

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