Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Divisive Strategy Is Most Viable

Without hint of embarrassment, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat has written

To understand this good fortune, consider two counterfactuals. In the first, the last 21 months proceeded in exactly the same fashion — with the strongest economy since the 1990s, full employment almost nigh, ISIS defeated, no new overseas wars or major terrorist attacks — except that Donald Trump let his staffers dictate his Twitter feed, avoided the press except to tout good economic news, eschewed cruelties and insults and weird behavior around Vladimir Putin, and found a way to make his White House a no-drama zone.

In this scenario it’s hard to imagine that Trump’s approval ratings wouldn’t have floated up into the high 40s; they float up into the mid-40s as it is whenever he manages to shut up. Even with their threadbare and unpopular policy agenda, Republicans would be favored to keep the House and maintain their state-legislature advantages. All the structural impediments to a Democratic recovery would loom much larger, Trump’s re-election would be more likely than not, and his opposition would be stuck waiting for a recession to have any chance of coming back.

Before rebutting another of Douthat's arguments, Steve M slices and dices Douthat with

But Republicans began the 2018 campaign by trying to run on the record of the past two years, particularly the economy, and it wasn't working. As a recent Times story noted, the suburbs aren't particularly impressed by Trump/GOP economic policies because the economy was already good in suburbia before Trump came along. And there's still economic anxiety in much of America. That's why the party needed culture war to fire up the base. (And as the Brett Kavanaugh hearings made clear, you don't need to be Trump to be a rabble-rousing culture warrior -- even Lindsey Graham can pull it off.)

Republicans periodically claim that ISIS has been defeated.  In September, President Trump told Egyptian strongman Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, “If you look at various parts of the Middle East, you look at Syria, we’ve wiped out ISIS," which is "in the very final throes.” Similarly, he told the United Nations General Assembly "I am pleased to report that the bloodthirsty killers known as ISIS have then driven out from the territory they once held in Iraq and Syria."

The claim about territory is accurate. However, ISIL is not in "the very final throes." It has nearly as many fighters as it ever did and a Pentagon spokesperson informed the Voice of America in August "ISIS probably is still more capable than al-Qaida in Iraq at its peak in 2006-2007, when the group had declared an Islamic State and operated under the name Islamic State of Iraq.”

By most- most- measures, the economy is doing well. However, the third quarter brought what the Wall Street Journal termed the "32nd straight quarter of yearly growth below 2%, a long and consistent stretch of anemic growth that hasn’t happened before in the post-World War II era."  Factory-sector growth retreated in October (possibly because of tariffs) business investment is lagging, and economic growth has slowed. Many leading economists believe recession is around the bend.

But Douthat's claim of "no major terrorist attacks" is most stunning, or at least should be.  The FBI defines "domestic terrorism" as "perpetrated by individuals and/or groups inspired by or associated with primarily U.S.-based movements that espouse extremist ideologies of a political, religious, social, racial, or environmental nature." There were recently eleven people murdered by a guy among whose

many anti-Semitic social media posts were comments suggesting that President Trump was surrounded by too many Jewish people. "Trump is surrounded by k****", "things will stay the course," read one post on the Gab social media platform, which used a derogatory term to describe Jews. Another post, apparently intended as an insult, read: "Trump is a globalist, not a nationalist," Bowers said two days before the shooting. "There is no #MAGA as long as there is a k*** infestation.

That sounds suspiciously like an extremist ideology of a religious nature. As God has reminded us

Breaking news from Mt. Sinai: Judaism is a religion. The millions of allusions to me in every single text and commentary and ritual of the past 3,000 years probably should have been a giveaway.  

There is a reason that President Trump downplays the economy and "won't shut up" about immigrants. Enthusiasm among Democrats for the mid-terms always was high, initially much higher than among Republicans. Obviously, the failure to destroy ISIL, lay a solid economic foundation, or end terrorism was not the reason Trump has downplayed these issues.

Instead, the President successfully has played the hate card, effectively effectively sowing division and ginning up enthusiasm among Republicans. Even a conservative columnist should realize that Donald Trump understands not only his base, but rank-and-file Republicans, better than nearly any of us does.

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