Saturday, December 19, 2020

Not Fade Away?


The media is predicting that Trump will remain a powerful figure in the GOP - and that he or one of his children will run for President in 2024. Is this inevitable?

The rise and fall of Joe McCarthy is an interesting tale.  From obscure senator to powerhouse in the hunt for "Reds" to his fall from grace, all took place in a matter of months - from superstar to reviled in about two years, and dead a few years after that.   What once seemed like an unstoppable juggernaut with the support of most of America, turned out to be a paper tiger, whose popular support, even at his peak, wasn't much to phone home about. In retrospect, we can see that.  At the time, people were scared to death of him.  Some people actually killed themselves over his investigations.

Today, the press is wringing its hands over Trump.  Surely he will continue to lead the party for the next four years!  Failing that, he will build a news network that will challenge Republicans at every turn.  His deadly tweets will keep Congressmen in line! He will promote MAGA-hat wearing primary challengers, much as Ms. AOC has done for the Left!  He will not merely fade away like most former Presidents.  How on earth will the GOP move forward?

Well, maybe Trump seems formidable at the present time - to some. But then again, his approval ratings were never above 50% and often the worst of any recorded for a modern President.  His 74 million votes may have been a record for a sitting President, but on the other hand, represent less than 1/4 of the population of the United States - and Joe Biden beat that by eight million or more. This idea that Trump is an unstoppable juggernaut is one that exists only in the minds of some politicians and media types.  If anything, these are the same folks who created Trump, and they could just as easily end him.

That is what happened to McCarthy.  We can all point to the "at long last, have you no shame, sir?" moment in his life, but that doesn't explain his rapid downfall. It was a movement of a number of people on the political scene and in the media, who one by one had the courage to move away and eventually denounce McCarthyism, that lead to his eventual censure.  It didn't help McCarthy any that he went too far by taking on the US Army.  It didn't help Trump any by going too far, claiming that members of the GOP were in cahoots with the ghost of Hugo Chavez.  When you start attacking your own supporters, well, all bets are off, unless you are Stalin - which Trump isn't.

Predicting the future is a dodgy game, and I in particular, suck at it.  That's why I say that stock-picking is for chumps.  I looked at Mr. See's portfolio and see that it is worth slightly more than it was in January 2020.  If we had sold then and then bought back in, in March of 2020, we could have nearly doubled our money.  As it is, he is even-Steven.   And so am I, who left all his money in cash the whole time.  If only had a time machine and could go back to March 29th and buy an index fund!  Or those winning lottery tickets, while I am at it.   Such is the nature of regret - it is a foolish waste of time.  But I digress.

The media and some members of the GOP seem to think it is a foregone conclusion that Trump will continue to exert influence of the GOP for years to come.  They thought the same thing about the tea party movement.  What ever happened to the tea party, anyway?  Seems they won some seats in Congress, accomplished nothing, and then faded away.  They were the darling of the media - all those juicy optics!  All those bold pronouncements!  And then..... nothing.

The same could be said for Trumpism.  So much of his legacy can be undone very quickly, as much was done by Presidential decree.   Other than the "Space Force" and some unfinished wall with Mexico, not much will be left of his legacy in four years.  Well, other than his appointments to the courts.  But as recent history has shown, judges and justices do have judicial independence and are not subject to Trump's "transactional" way of doing business.   So it isn't even clear that his judicial appointments will do much other than slowly move the rudder to the right.   Dramatic changes to the laws of the land are probably not likely.   Remember it was conservative justices at the Supreme Court who legalized gay marriage and added sexual orientation to anti-discrimination laws. This "strict interpretation" nonsense ends up producing odd results.

Trump could continue to exert influence on the party, provided the party lets him.   And I think the party will only do this if they believe it is a winning strategy - these people are not idiots.

The GOP has a fundamental problem in selling its agenda.  The platform of tax cuts for the rich (and let's be honest here - we're all adults - that is who these tax cuts are for), loosened regulations of industry and Wall Street, and cuts to social spending, are not exactly sexy selling points.  The vast majority of Americans do not directly benefit from such policies, and indeed are negatively impacted by them.  Sure, you could argue that the overall "good of the country" is enhanced by cutting social spending and forcing people to go back to work, or that tax cuts for the wealthy "trickle down" to the little guy.  Maybe, but it is a hard sell.  You have to convince some poor person in the trailer park that they will benefit from a repeal of "the death tax" when in fact their estate is worth zilch and the tax only applies to estates of $5M or more.

To stay in power, they have had to rely on gerrymandering to increase the size of their representation, relative to actual support by voters.  Voter suppression tactics have been anything but subtle - closing polling places in poor neighborhoods, or moving them weeks ahead of elections. "Purging" the voting rolls weeks ahead of an election is now commonplace.  Newt Gingrich even let it slip that the Governor and Secretary of State in Georgia should have done more to suppress voter turnout.  Voter suppression is now out-of-the-closet and the GOP makes no bones that it is a major component of their election strategy.

Early voting and voting-by-mail were thought to favor Republican voters - or so the GOP-lead legislature in Georgia thought, fifteen years ago when these were enacted. Too late, they realize they now favor Democrats, although I suspect this is a one-time CoVid effect.  Expect to see retraction of these voting techniques and increases in "voter suppression" in the months to come - which ironically may suppress Republican turnout, once the pandemic is over.

But these techniques are not enough to consistently win elections - as the recent Presidential race has illustrated.  It is hard to win over a majority of the population when your platform policies are designed to help the rich and hurt the poor. Trump won because he cultivated a huge portion of the stupid population - getting MAGA-hat wearing haters onboard with promises of outlawing abortion or gay marriage or going after those minorities and migrants.  And in that regard, under Trump, this appeal hasn't been very subtle. Traditional Republicans, in the past, only dog-whistled to racism and intolerance, Trump has used a bullhorn.

He has stoked the fires of antisemitism, while at the same time, his son-in-law (and daughter) are Jewish, and he has made Israel quite happy by recognizing Jerusalem as the capital, as well as captured territories as belonging to the State.  Actually, in terms of legacy, perhaps this is where Trump will be remembered.  Several Arab States are now reconciling with Israel, perhaps realizing the inevitable. Four years of Trump have been good for Israel - and prospects for peace in the middle-east look better than ever.

But here is where Trump was truly an evil genius.  At the same time he is promoting Jewish causes, his supporters are chanting "Jew will not replace us!" and reading Mein Kampf and The Protocols of the Elders of ZionSome are in fact trying to conspire with Hamas - believing that the cause of Palestinians aligns with their own, and that of the President.  I mean talk about morons - how can you be antisemitic and a Trump supporter at the same time? But again, this is where Trump shined - in getting people of disparate radical right causes to coalesce under his own banner - to be a Rorschach test for supporters - who see what they want to see in him.

In a way, it is like the fable of the blind men and the elephant - each touching a different part of the beast, and declaring it to be a snake (trunk) or a wall (the side) or some other animal or thing.  It is an apt analogy as the GOP uses the elephant as its symbol.   Depending on your point of view, Trump is either a tax-cutter, pro-Israel, racist and antisemitic, pro-business, pro-labor, small-government, big-government, deficit hawk, deficit spender, or all of the above.  He succeeded in uniting radical factions who were working against each other.   But can such a coalition survive for long?

Like I said, predicting the future is a dodgy business.  But I am not sure that the avalanche of opinion today - that Trump will be around forever - is necessarily correct.  McCarthy died only a few years after his censure and downfall.   He was not in the best of health and drank heavily.  That perhaps may end up being the fate of Trump as well.  He made much of an issue of Biden's age, when he himself is only three years younger and in much worse physical shape.  I mean, this is a guy who lives on a diet of junk food and who thinks that exercise is actually bad for your health.  How fucking long can he live?

And without "the big man" (in every sense of the word) could any of his progeny have any sort of political career?  His sons are widely viewed as morons, and his daughter-in-law has no political experience.   Without Trump behind Trump, it is doubtful that the Trump legacy will live on.

Then, too, there are the myriad litigations and investigations which will surely progress once he leaves office (which is why he didn't want to leave).  Even if he can pardon himself, such a Federal pardon would have no effect on civil matters or State court criminal matters.  In addition to all of that is his crumbling financial empire.  The Trump "brand" which was his sole asset, has been severely degraded, and attendance at "his" properties has declined.  Many have chiseled his name off the marquee.  Staying in a Trump hotel - including the Old Post Office hotel - once Trump has left office, will no longer be seen as chic or a way of garnering influence in the government.  In fact, the entire Trump empire now has a "dirty halo" - and his rabid MAGA-hat wearing supporters can't afford the nightly rack rate at his hotels, or the greens fees at his golf courses.

I digress again, but the golf business is one in trouble.  Leave it to the master to invest in casinos when they are on their way down, or an airline when it is on its way out.  You can pretty much predict when a sector is headed for the dumpster, because Trump invests in it (how's the hotel business these days?  Office space?  All in the toilet!).  On our little island, we are tearing out one of our three 18-hole courses and putting in condominiums and an assisted-living center.  The problem?  The golf course loses money for the island every year.   The popularity of golf peaked in the late 1990's and early 2000's and has declined every since.  And not by a small amount - they've lost about 1/3 of regular players.

During the boom years, golf courses were overbuilt.  When our course opened up on our island back in the 1960's, it was one of few in the area.  Business boomed by default.  But since then, dozens of courses have sprung up, on the mainland and neighboring islands.   Golfers have a choice of courses to play, and greens fees have had to stay competitive.  Meanwhile, costs have gone up, and course maintenance is wildly expensive.

Demographically, it is a sport of older people who are dying off, and a younger generation isn't taking up the game, but playing video games instead.  It is seen as a "bougie" pursuit by the younger set, and the amount of time necessary to learn the game, the cost of equipment and greens fees, as well as the staggering amount of free time needed to play a round place it outside of the realm of the next generation.  It is like Contact Bridge - a card game developed by wealthy millionaires during the "Gilded Age" when they had nothing but time to kill during long ocean voyages and train trips.  Learning Bridge takes time.  Finding a foursome and the hours in the day to play it, nearly impossible.  When I was a kid, everyone's parents played.  Today, no one does. Golf may be dying, Bridge is dead.

Golf is a sport for retirees and union plumbers and electricians - who are on the course every day at 3:00 PM, while the young lawyers slave away in their cubicles until 8 each night, working to pay off their law school loans. So Trump's got that going for him as well - although to be fair, he doesn't actually own many of these courses but merely licenses them.  I suppose, though, that if they do go belly-up, the land would be worth something for a housing development.

It could very well be that Trump's touted "financial genius" is finally exposed as the fraud that it is - to the general public.  Most already realize his "empire" is built out of smoke-and-mirrors.  The coming months may expose this to the rest of the world.   Maybe, maybe not.  We'll see.  Maybe people will just be sick of the sound of his voice, as I am, hearing him in attack ads on the radio.  It is like nails-on-a-chalkboard!

I am not sure that Trump's influence over the GOP or the country is preordained for the next four years or even the next four months.  His sore-loser personality may change people's minds, a little bit at a time, and then a whole lot at once.   That is, if he lives long enough.