UA-43475823-1

The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Do Trump’s Poor Approval Ratings Mean Much?

The Daily Escape:

Lake Louise Sunrise, Alberta, Canada

On Monday, Gallup released Trump’s job approval rating in all 50 states, based on a collection of over 81,000 survey results gathered in the six months between the president’s inauguration on January 20 and June 30. The results show an interesting trend, particularly if you divide them into three categories: states where Trump is above 50%, states where Trump is in the 40%’s, and states where Trump is under 40%:

The dark green states where Trump is above 50% are states Trump carried in 2016. The yellow states, where Trump is under 40%, are all states that Clinton carried in 2016. The light green states are 2016’s swing states: New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, North Carolina, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa and Nevada. From Gallup:

Trump largely owed his victory in the 2016 presidential election to his wins in three key Rust Belt states — Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — that had not backed a Republican for president since the 1980s. In these states, his January-June approval ratings were just slightly above his overall average of 40%, including 43% in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and 42% in Michigan.

So those three states that put him over the top in the 2016 Electoral College could now be in play. Other interesting data:

  • In the 2016 election, Trump won all 17 of the states where Gallup now shows him with an approval rating of at least 50%.
  • During the six-month survey period, residents in West Virginia (60%), North Dakota (59%) and South Dakota (57%) gave Trump his highest approval ratings. Montana, Wyoming and Alabama all had average approval ratings of 55% or higher.

This is consistent with the geographic patterns of Republican strength nationally. Trump’s highest approval ratings tend to be in Southern, Plains and Mountain West states. His lowest ratings are in Northeast and West Coast states.

Maine, Georgia, Missouri, Indiana, Mississippi, Arizona and Texas are now in the minority-favorable category. Clinton carried Maine and Nevada, but the rest are states that voted for Trump.

In Michigan, North Carolina, Florida and Texas, Trump is at 42% and at least nine points underwater with majority disapproval. Majority disapproval in Texas could help Dems in 2020.

This means that Trump is solidly under 50% in 33 states, including every swing state.

Gallup has been running this daily tracking poll for about 70 years. It showed Trump’s approval at 46% at inauguration. Now the same Gallup poll, done with the same protocol, shows Trump’s approval at 36%.

But this doesn’t mean that Trump is toast in 2020, or that the Democrats have a path to control either the House or Senate in 2018. Peter Hessler had an interesting article in The New Yorker about how Trump has a deeper influence on his voters than we previously thought:

If anything, investigations into the Trump campaign’s connections with Russia have made supporters only more faithful. “I’m loving it – I hope they keep going down the Russia rabbit hole,” Matt Peterson told me, in June. He believes that Democrats are banking on impeachment instead of doing the hard work of trying to connect with voters. “They didn’t even get rid of their leadership after the election…”

Trump is drawn to making silly statements on the Twitter machine like a moth to flame, and it is scorching him enough to reflect in his approval numbers. But Russia alone won’t be a winning hand for Democrats, as the New Yorker article shows. These Russia investigations may not amount to anything, or they may be something that takes until Trump’s second term to fully flower.

In the meantime, the Dems issued a new manifesto, “A Better Deal”, a re-branding of their greatest hits: more and better-paying jobs, lower health care costs, and cracking down on the abuses of big business.

But this time, they really mean it.

It is doubtful that the new slogan or its underlying policies will have Republicans quaking in their Ferragamos.

If there is one lesson Democrats should have learned from 2016, it is that opposition to Trump is not enough to win elections. They need new leadership and a better message.

Otherwise, despite the rosy (for Democrats) poll results on Trump favorability, Democrats will be explaining what went wrong again when the 2018 midterms roll around.

On to today’s tune. Here is Aretha Franklin doing “It Ain’t Necessarily So“, with lyrics and music by George and Ira Gershwin. It is from their opera, “Porgy and Bess”:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

Facebooklinkedinrss

Parsing the “Russia Hacked Our Democracy” Meme

The Daily Escape:

Kangaroos in a vineyard in Barossa Valley Australia, June 2017 – photo by David Gray

People can’t stop talking about the Donny/Vlad meeting in Hamburg, and the idea that Trump’s position regarding the potential Russian involvement in the 2016 election is: “Let’s move on”. Then, we learned that our new Syria strategy is driven by Russia and its plan for a cease fire.

But, Russia is the story of the Trump presidency. We learned over the weekend that Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, and Donald Trump Jr. met with Russian lawyers back in June of 2016. But, despite the continued news about meetings with the Russians, appearances don’t make the Trumps guilty. Mueller and his team will examine and understand the full extent of what the Russians did, and what they attempted to do. Only then will we determine if the Russians efforts had any effect.

There are two broad areas of potential Russian involvement to consider:

Interference in the electoral process: Russians attempt to manipulate domestic politics of many countries, including the US. We do the same. How serious is the threat? Political candidates already use a full array of tools and technologies to persuade voters toward specific social and political agendas. This persuasion effort is as old as humanity itself.

Whether tech-centric forms of propaganda, employing social media, fake news and data-mining techniques are effective remains to be proven. America has been engaged in exactly this sort of exercise in foreign lands for a long time, without significant (or lasting) success.

These technologies can only support ideas and feelings that are already out there. So, what was out there? Consider these:

  • Hillary’s emails threatening national security!
  • Dispensing contradictory, or conflicting, information like “Hillary Clinton is very sick”.
  • Using social connections to generate, or modify, beliefs, like “Trump is a successful executive who can fix the government”.

This type of information warfare is a lot like managing a stock portfolio. Hackers write small, diverse news stories and then wait to see what pays off. It is unclear that hackers were the tipping point in the election, and it is far from clear that the Russians were the sole party behind them. We don’t talk about the many countries that tried to influence our elections, including Saudi Arabia, China, Israel, and Ukraine. Is it more acceptable that the Saudi’s did it the “right” way, by donating massive amounts to their candidate’s campaign?

It is highly unlikely that there was collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians regarding interference in the 2016 election.

Hacking into political databases: the “Russian hacking” stories are not just that Russians hacked the computers of US political operations including the DNC, but that the Russians have somehow delivered the election to Trump. Thus, the story morphed from “Russians infiltrated DNC computers,” to “Russians hacked our democracy.”

The first is both possible and probable, but the second is just wrong.

Hacking our democracy requires changing or destroying votes for one side in the presidential election, or suppressing voter turnout. Not even the Russians have the resources to pull off that feat. They may have preferred that Trump win, they may have done a few things, and Trump won, but that isn’t “hacked our democracy”.

Wrongo thinks it is probable that “Russian hacking” occurred. It is a serious story, but it needs to be placed in context. Yes, Russia has a political agenda. Yes, they use dirty tricks to influence political outcomes. Yes, this needs to be taken seriously. The problem is that once that is taken out of context, everything is reduced to political talking points. We are asked to choose between two absurd choices: Either Trump is a Russian stooge, or accusations against Trump are a baseless pack of lies.

The likely “truth” is that Russians were doing something, but what they did wasn’t material to the (relatively) close outcome of this election. This has been crowded out of serious discussion.

And who hacked us is still not definitively attributed: there are too many suspects with a motive, means, and opportunity. We can’t yet discount the possibility of domestic operatives (or disgruntled campaign workers) or political plants within campaigns doing mischief.

Sooner or later, we will figure out the definitive attribution for the hacks. And 2018 will bring new tools and techniques.

Who falls short may depend more on message, and less on technology.

Time for a tune. Here is Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit doing “Hope the High Road” (leads you home again):

Takeaway Lyric:

I know you’re tired
And you ain’t sleeping well
Uninspired
And likely mad as hell
But wherever you are
I hope the high road leads you home again
To a world you want to live in

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

Facebooklinkedinrss

From Russian Hacks to Russian Collusion: Where’s the Beef?

The Daily Escape:

Image of Saturn taken from the Cassini spacecraft on July 19, 2013

Wrongo has read much of the evidence that Russia interfered with the 2016 US Presidential election. He has watched House and Senate committees ask the intelligence community and the Justice Department what is known and not known about the Russian hacking story.

 It is clear that the Russians have extremely capable cyber technicians. They have a pragmatic view about getting what they need strategically, so it is both feasible and possible that they could have been disruptive to our democratic process.

But is there actual evidence that Russia interfered in our elections in 2016? And if they did, is there evidence that the Trump campaign colluded with them? The answer so far is summed up by Caitlin Johnstone:

Russiagate is like a mirage: from a distance it looks like something, but once you move in for a closer look, there’s nothing there. Nothing. Nothing solid, nothing substantial, nothing you can point at and say, “Here it is. This hard evidence justifies saturating the media waves with obsessive 24/7 coverage, escalating tensions with a nuclear superpower, stagnating political discourse in America and fanning the flames of a hysterical, xenophobic McCarthyist feeding frenzy.”

Most of what we know comes from the intelligence assessment by James Clapper when he was the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) for Obama; Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections. Here are the conclusions:

  • We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election.
  • Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency.
  • We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.
  • Moscow’s influence campaign followed a Russian messaging strategy that blends covert intelligence operations—such as cyber activity—with overt efforts by Russian Government agencies, state-funded media, third-party intermediaries, and paid social media users or “trolls.”

From Sic Semper Tyrannis:

The assessment says Russia did three basic things to “influence” the Presidential election. First, the NSA, CIA and, to a lesser extent, the FBI, believed that the Russians hacked into the DNC and John Podesta emails, then passed that content to WikiLeaks and DC Leaks, who subsequently published the information. Second, the Russians supposedly obtained access to “elements” (undefined) of US state or local electoral boards. Third, Russian media outlets, RT and Sputnik News, put out Kremlin friendly messages.

There is no evidence backing up the claim that the Russian intelligence service hacked the DNC and Podesta that has been presented to the American people. The FBI did not conduct a forensic examination of the computers of either the DNC or of Podesta. The belief that the Russians did it is based on an independent firm, Crowdstrike’s examination of the DNC emails. Moreover, the release of Podesta’s emails had little to no effect on the election, while the Comey on-and-off-and on again investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails were certainly damaging to her electoral chances.

The larger point is that Democrats have convinced themselves that getting rid of Trump justifies throwing pasta (or any other sticky substance) at the wall to see what sticks. And that is what is happening with the “all Russia, all the time” hearings in the House and Senate.

An important subtext to this whole Russian conspiracy theory is the insistence that the Trump campaign colluded with Vladimir Putin to sabotage Hillary’s campaign.  That is repeated endlessly on the cable channels, and has become an article of faith to many Americans, especially Democrats. But, a few meetings do not create collusion. Possibly the intelligence community has some proof, but it has not been presented in a form that inspires credibility.

About a month ago, the DOJ appointed a Special Counsel to ferret out what is real from what is fake in the allegations about Russiagate, from hacks to collusion.

Let’s hope that he gets to the bottom of the story.

In the meantime, stay focused on the potential damage that Messrs. Trump, McConnell and Ryan are trying to do, from the gutting of Dodd-Frank to passing an Obamacare replacement that hurts many Americans.

Now for a tune. The Beatles’ “Back in the USSR” was released in 1968. It was intended to be a parody of “Back in the USA” by the Beach Boys. The song shocked many at the time for its pro-Soviet message. Years later, Paul McCartney stated he knew very little about the Soviet Union when he wrote the song. Here is McCartney doing the song live in Moscow’s Red Square:

Note Putin vaguely rocking @ 0:14

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

Facebooklinkedinrss

Democrats Have Failed

The Daily Escape:

Lavender in Provence – 2017 Photo by Fabio Antenore

This week, Wrongo wrote that 50% of US births are paid for by Medicaid, and how worry about hunger and homelessness has never been higher among Americans. Both of these issues are symptoms of how our economy fails low-income and lower middle class Americans, and neither political party is truly interested in addressing the problems.

Trump won because he led people who used to vote for Democrats to believe that they had nothing to lose if they voted for him. Below-median income voters had long ago lost faith that Democrats, and Hillary in particular, would ever do anything to change their plight.

Trump said he would look out for them. Whether he does or not, remains an open question, but even before Trump, Democrats had already lost a big swath of America. From the American Prospect:

In the race for the White House, the Democratic presidential candidate has won…fewer US counties with average incomes under the national median and with populations that are more than 85% white in every general election since 1996. Concentrated in the Midwest, Appalachia, and the upper Rocky Mountains, there are 660 such counties today. Hillary Clinton won two of them.

Think about that: The Democratic Party’s influence in mostly white, lower-income America has eroded to nearly nothing since Bill Clinton was president. This chart documenting their fall is stunning:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Parties basically split below-median income counties that were 85% white in 1996. Over a 20-year period, the erosion of the Democrats’ control was steady, and complete. This isn’t just the result of a poor 2016 presidential candidate, it is an indictment of the Democratic Party, its leadership, and its strategy.

The American Prospect article is about Montana’s Democratic Governor, Steve Bullock, who won his state by 4 points while Trump was beating Clinton by 20. Bullock is a rural populist in a party of technocrats. Obama lost Montana by 2 points in 2008. Bill Clinton won Montana in 1992.

But, the electoral failure of Democrats is worse than its showing in these below-median income white counties. The following graphically illustrates the abject failure of Democrats to be competitive in political contests at all levels:

Nothing that Barack Obama did by holding on to the White House for that entire period compensates for these terrible losses.

Democrats remain divided about their Party strategy, many clinging to the thought that if Hillary could have turned about 80k voters in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, where white working-class people are abundant, she would be president.

But she would not control either legislative branch, and she would have had to propose Supreme Court Justices similar to Neil Gorsuch to get one confirmed by the Senate.

The question is where will the DNC be taking the Party in 2018? In a 2018 mid-term election where the president has a historically poor approval rating with independents and Democrats, like Trump has now, victory is possible.

If Democrats want to win back Congress, and the White House in 2020, they need to field candidates who believe in jobs and economic growth first. The candidates need to be authentic people, who listen more than they talk. And when they do speak, they should use PIE as a metaphor for America’s economy, as in: (H/T Seth Godin)

  • How big is the pie?
  • Is the pie growing?
  • What will my share of the pie be tomorrow?
  • Who allocates the slices of pie? Can they be trusted?

When voters think the economy isn’t growing, things begin to feel zero-sum. People begin to think that they may permanently lose their place in our society.

If the Democrats want to win back Congress, they need to describe concretely what they plan to do when they say they support their working-class constituents, regardless of color.

They need to get to be better than Trump on jobs, economic growth and finding a peace dividend.

All of that, and Medicare for all. In Wrongo’s Thursday column, Gallup found that health care concerns ranked highest across all income cohorts.

Shouldn’t these principles be credible with working-class people—including whites?

A song about pie: Here is D’Angelo with “Devil’s Pie” from 1998. It’s a dystopian vision of capitalism, where everybody’s fighting for more of the tasty, materialistic dish. All is fair in pursuit of a bigger paycheck:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

Takeaway Lyric:

Fuck the slice we want the pie
Why ask why till we fry
Watch us all stand in line
For a slice of the devil’s pie

Facebooklinkedinrss

Monday Wake Up Call – February 27, 2017

The Daily Escape:

(A Great Grey Owl on the hunt – photo by Christina Anne m)

The last weekend in February is now in the rear view mirror. The shortest month seemed like an eternity to most of us. Even thinking about looking forward is madness, March Madness that is, a favorite time for Wrongo, one of the few times when watching televised sports dominates at the Mansion of Wrong.

Perhaps you have heard that Mr. Trump will not be attending the White House Correspondents Association annual dinner roast. Instead, maybe the press can get George W. Bush to show up, and search under the podium for a free press, like he did when pretending to look for WMD at the WHCA Dinner in 2004.

The Wrong family is off to Florida this week for the annual visit to his family. So columns may be like the Florida breezes, light and variable.

Remember Tuesday is Mardi Gras, which for some of you is your last guilt-free celebration until Easter. If you prefer less partying and more angst, by all means watch Donald Trump’s Tuesday address to a joint session of Congress.

Politico reports that House Democrats plan to troll Trump during the speech. Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI), is leading an effort to have his colleagues bring diverse guests to the speech on Tuesday. The effort is designed to focus on Trump’s immigration and refugee policies, perhaps stealing a bit of the spotlight from the president’s speech. Wrongo’s advice to Dems is to respect the office of the president. They can sit on their hands when Republicans applaud the Overlord, but they should avoid overt displays that make them look like loonies on the floor of the Congress. Wrongo’s further advice is not to attend this manufactured event. After all, there is no requirement in law or custom for it; it isn’t a “State of the Union” speech. And it’s the first time since Eisenhower that a president has given this type of out-of-sequence address.

So don’t expect that each time Trump tells a whopper, Dems will yell out “you lie!” despite the fact that since Republican Rep. Joe Wilson did it to Obama, it seems to be ok. And most likely if the Orange Overlord is speaking, this time, it will also be true.

So let’s wake up with a song about lyin’ politicians. Here is “Politician Lies by Steve M:

Sample Lyrics:

Politician lies
Hide what money buys.
They know right from wrong
Still they come on like King Kong
With a fat superpac
You can’t get them off your back.

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

Facebooklinkedinrss

Saturday Soother – February 25, 2017

The Daily Escape:

(Crab Eater seal, under ice in the Antarctic)

Today, Democrats will select a Chair for the Democratic National Committee, someone who will be tasked with moving the Party towards relevancy after its 2016 election debacle. In typical Democrat fashion, there are 10 candidates who seem on the surface to be saying exactly the same things. One of the top candidates, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) promises to provide the party with a megaphone for a message of economic solidarity with the working class. Ellison said:

I am not afraid to say that I care about poor people…the rich people have a party, the Democratic Party needs to be the party of the working people.

Ellison proposes a 50-state strategy; listening to the grass roots; better candidate recruitment, and more effective organizing. Ellison is supported by Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Chuck Schumer (!)

Tom Perez, former Secretary of Labor under Obama, and front-runner, is supported by both the Obama and Clinton camps. He promises principled progressivism with some organizational change.

Perez’s focus on DNC organizational change could prove appealing to the insider voters, who want the action to take place at the state level. Last week, Perez’s team said he was nearing the 224 votes needed to clinch the race in the first round, while Ellison called that count “unverifiable”.

After years of emphasizing big donors, it seems that all candidates are expressing a desire to return to the hard work of a state-based, grassroots, 50 state strategy.

To some, this election is a choice between a populist, grass-roots organizer in Ellison, and the technocrat mainstream Democrat Perez, who calls himself a turnaround artist. Sounds like the Democrat’s 2016 primary all over again. Regardless of who wins, it will be spun as a victory for either the status quo, or for the agents of change in the party. OTOH, either of the two front-runners will be better for the future than were Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and her predecessor, Tim Kaine.

So, after another tough week in Trumplandia, you need to chill out, and so does the rest of America. Sit back, grab a cup of Peet’s Sumatra Batak Peaberry, and listen to today’s Saturday Soother. Here is Russian soprano Anna Netrebko in 2006 with the Berlin Opera Orchestra singing the aria O mio babbino caro” from the opera, “Gianni Schicchi” by Puccini:

A nice way to spend 3 minutes, and you get to see in English what she is singing about. Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

Facebooklinkedinrss