Don’t Let Go

I knew a politician who used to say that he inflated the skill and strategy of an opponent whenever he ran for office, typically worried about his opponent locking up volunteers, endorsements, and donors before he himself would get to the sources of those advantages. Inevitably, though, he found that his opponents were not ten feet tall or able to speak five languages while drawing vast crowds. My friend stayed focused and won a lot more contests than he lost. I’m trying not to overreact to the current upper dog status of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, both of whom are licking their chops over the recent November surprise. For now it is Advantage: Them. But the tables are going to turn. They will make mistakes. They will overreach. There may, in fact, be a January surprise for Mr. Putin in Russian cyber-world. For the nation, this is not like Governor John Kasich winning, not like U.S. Senator Marco Rubio set to enter the White House, a Republican from the system. This is completely different. We have not seen this before.

On the other hand, I would be glad to see Trump and Putin do what’s in the best interest of peace, love, and understanding worldwide, as I define those things—but I’m not feeling the warmth from them for my view of the world. I’ve looked at Mr. Trump a hundred ways and tried to find a positive element, but I cannot get past the “birther” thing and all that represents—the bullying, the racism, the monumental disrespect, the cynicism of it.  Mr. Trump, I guess, wants us to dismiss it all as an extended prank, a cutting practical joke with no harm done. He always knew Barack Obama was an American citizen (wink, wink). President Obama in public has shown he can put that behavior of Trump’s in a compartment and sit and talk about other subjects with Mr. Trump. Barack Obama is a better man than me. I would have asked Joe Biden to answer the White House door and give the tour.

In view of the Trump Thing, and I’m still thinking, This can’t be happening and there must be a way to stop it before January 20—in view of this and recharged radical (not conservative) politics, the progressive minded people who believe there is a constructive role for the federal government should think hard about making their own “basket” for desirables that may not be the down-the-line, default-setting conventional Democratic Party way. I’m not convinced Senators Warren of Mass. and Sanders of Vt. can shift the battleship quickly enough. Sen. Schumer of N.Y., now Minority Leader in his chamber, is not the Democratic future in the U.S. Senate. It was “his turn,” right? Mr. Trump didn’t wait for his turn. We don’t have half-a-generation to wait on this. Eight years of Trump would be a third-of-a-generation. And the re-election of Rep. Nancy Pelosi of Calif. as Minority Leader in the U.S. House of Reps. gives me no confidence that Washington, D.C., Democrats got the November message. What is the next structure? I don’t know, obviously, but the pace is quick now and it feels as if there will be a strong response from progressives or liberals (are these labels out-of-date?) by next June. The Tea Party seemingly came out of nowhere after President Obama’s election. That faction was organized for a fight just a couple of months after Obama’s inauguration.

It’s going from bad to worse with each hungry fox Trump names to a chicken-coop cabinet job. Marjorie Arons-Barron on this blog described his leadership choices as “grotesque.” With no popular mandate, he is still setting up to dismantle decades of policy- and program-making at the federal level, a lot of it bipartisan-based like the EPA established under President Nixon. Likely to be upended are environmental protection, access to health insurance, non-carbon energy, equal voting rights, health and safety work laws, multi-lateral foreign affairs, reserved public lands, high quality public education, civil rights enforcement, urban development, immigration fairness, and adequate affordable housing. He’s ready to sweep the game pieces off the playing board in one arm swipe, emboldened by a unified Republican majority in Congress and a Supreme Court being teed-up for extreme anti-government decisions.

I expect Trump and the GOP in Congress will do a mega-infrastructure building program and package it as a form of national defense or homeland security (we need to move tanks around faster) in order to justify borrowing tons of money that they would never do in collaboration with Pres. Obama. If they act on this, then good. Just do it. We need high-speed rail, new municipal water systems, space-age airports, bridges all over the place, better police and fire stations, etc.

Federal action ripples and waves down to the local level. We’ll see the results in cities and towns. It’s happening fast—watch the first 100 days, classically. And there’s no countervailing structure at this time that I see with the capacity to hold much of it back. (I read that Republican attorneys and monitors were all over the recount process spurred by the Green Party’s Jill Stein. Were the Democratic Party lawyers out in force? The GOP was taking no chances. They won Florida that way in 2000.) When there’s no structure, people’s last resort is to go to the streets. Mario Savio in the 1960s said there comes a time when there is no alternative but for people to put their bodies upon the gears and levers to disrupt the “machine.” We’ve seen it in other countries. One national opinion writer this past week said America is about to be presided over by a minority political movement. How far will Trump’s group push their views and demands? Congressman John Lewis of Georgia, the Civil Rights hero, says there is a time “to find a way to get in the way.” Stand up, stand out, put yourself in the way. There may be nothing else to do in the short term. Women are already organizing a march in D.C. for January. That should be followed by a million scientists and a million environmentalists, a million bus drivers and a million union members, a million nurses and EMTs, millions of young people, millions of teachers, more.

I’ve been reading about World War I and the arrogance, stupidity, and lack of imagination of the old-men “deciders” who sent a generation of soldiers, young ones especially, to their deaths in the trenches of Europe. The war fed on its own insanity. A spark in Sarajevo set off a conflagration that raged across countries for years. Too many people followed the leader on both sides.

Our political selves cannot sleep-walk into Trump World. This is a fluke thing. A crazy fluke thing, a perfect storm of political malpractice on the part of national Democrats, including the President, and their party organization and a brilliant passionate revolt on the part of anti-establishment radical citizens with immense “will to power” who found a bold forceful leader, seized a unique social-and-economic moment, and squeezed through the victory gate with little room to spare. Trump got just enough, just enough. It was just enough to win by the rules. About 75,000 votes in three states that made the difference, out of about 128 million votes cast, roughly 65.8 million (Clinton) to 62.9 million (Trump). Give Trump and company credit, they found a way to win. They found a way to get in Hillary Clinton’s way. They played it as 50 elections, not one big referendum question: Is “The Donald” a bad man?

They have the right to take their seats all around the federal table. And there’s plenty of blame to spread on the losing side. But that doesn’t mean Trump gets to decide everything with his supporters for the next four years. We don’t go for the tyranny of the majority in the USA. It may be winner-takes-all for obtaining the elective office, but the winner cannot take anything he or she wants starting on day one in that office. The winner cannot grab everything unless the loser lets it all go. Don’t let go.

4 Responses to Don’t Let Go

  1. Nancy Pitkin says:

    The fact that Nancy Polosi and Chuck Schumer are still the DC leaders is what is wrong with the Democtratic Party. There should be younger inspiring leaders. Well said and thank you Paul.

  2. Joe from Lowell says:

    I worry about Lowell police being dragooned into being Donald Trump’s immigration enforcement. That could trash 25 years worth of community policing work in six months.

    This city luuuuurves federal momey. We’d do all kinds of things to protect the federal funding that so much here depends on. But would we do that?

  3. Brian says:

    You mention that federal action ripples down to the local level. This system of top down governance in combination with private concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a few clearly isn’t working.

    Take the widening of Nesmith St and Thorndike St. as examples. Transportation funding flows from Washington to the State DOT’s. The state DOT”s then work with regional regional planning agency’s like NMCOG. Decisions about the types and which projects get funding are made with little public input. They basically just look where there is congestion and if it’s next to public land they widen the street–trees or parks be damned. Many citizens advocated for not widening Nesmith St but were ignored. This is how top down governance works against a neighborhood. People are many times removed from decisions about their neighborhood so they become apathetic and most people stop participating in the democratic process.

    On the other hand Sal thinks he needs people to be able to walk in a raised tunnel and be able to turn left turn on Thorndike St when exiting his property. So our local delegation lobbies for federal or state money to pay for these “improvements” for the benefit of big business. These “improvements” do not broadly benefit the neighborhood and any gains that do come mostly go to Sal. Why didn’t the Thorndike Factory Outlet or Comfort Furniture receive this special treatment?

    If money for these projects had to come from the city budget they surely wouldn’t happen. We would not be talking about a new Rourke bridge. We would have to make decisions based on costs and long-term benefits. Building a city of congestion-free streets and easy parking has high costs and little benefit–unless you’re driving.

    100+ years ago big infrastructure projects had to make fiscal sense for cities to avoid default. They built buildings cheek by jowl because anything less would waste finite land. Shops were on the bottom floor and housing on the upper floors. They only built bridges where the return on investment made immediate sense. Building the Odonnell bridge(1917) worked financially since the development pattern was so intense around University Ave. It allowed that intensity move further up river from the Moody St bridge(1896). It wasn’t risky.

    It will take generations of tax revenue to pay off a new Rourke bridge. Many drivers will only use the bridge to pass through Lowell. The development pattern in outer Pawtucketville won’t be intense enough, because of zoning, to make fiscal sense. It’s very risky.

    The good news is some cities are recognizing that the modern way isn’t working. Cities are saying NO to state funding that hurts neighborhoods. They are running the numbers as if state funding has dried up. They are easing zoning so more intense development can happen. They are eliminating parking requirements for new development and taxing off-street parking more to encourage development. They are building low-cost networks of protected bike lanes for commuters to lessen congestion and help businesses.

    If Lowell can find a way to once again embrace the traditional way Lowell was built we’ll have money for all sorts of things that matter like building a new high school and police station, regardless of who’s in the corner office.

  4. Paul Early says:

    Thank you Brian! Your post was well stated. I agree with you about the dangers of state or federal money, although there are some communities that have managed to use federal and state monies for the local good. In Massachusetts I have seen this happening in Cambridge and Amherst and in Berkshire county. I think that it is possible, although it is difficult, especially because our not auto interests in Lowell are not represented at NMCOG and because there is not enough support at city council meetings nor a high enough voter turn out at local elections.