Getting On the Road to Republican Resurgence

This article first appeared at The Orange County Register.

In his bitter attack on the new budget agreement, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, stumbled on the reality of his party’s grim identity crisis. Since the Reagan era, the GOP represented a convergence of corporate interests, social conservatives and free market libertarians. Like Paul and the tea party, all three of these groups have lost power and influence under Trump. Read more

Trump’s Infrastructure Plan is a Rare, and Potentially Bipartisan, Feel Good Moment

This article first appeared at The Orange County Register

President Trump’s proposed trillion dollar plus infrastructure program represents a rare, and potentially united feel good moment. Yet before we jump into a massive re-do of our transportation, water and electrical systems, it’s critical to make sure we get some decent bang for the federal buck. Read more

The Three Faces of the Democratic Party Are Coming to a Head

This article first appeared at The Orange County Register.

In the wake of President Trump’s first official State of the Union speech, and the positive momentum in the economy, the putative “party of the people” now faces a much under-addressed internal crisis. United against Trump, the factions which dominate the party increasingly operate at cross purposes.

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A Year Into Trump’s Peasant Rebellion

This article first appeared at The Orange County Register.

A year into office, Donald Trump remains something of an unlikely figure: a self-promoting and well-heeled demagogue who leads a bedraggled coalition of piratical capitalists, southerners, and people from the has-been or never were towns of Middle America. His fiercest opponents largely come from the apex of our society: the tech oligarchy, a rabidly hostile press and the cultural and academic hegemons. Read more

Can the Trump Economy Trump Trump?

This article first appeared at City Journal.

President Trump’s critics find it hard to give him credit for anything, especially given his extraordinary boastfulness. Yet Trump’s economic policies seem to be working. New job numbers are robust, GDP and wages continue to rise, stocks are soaring, unemployment continues to decline, and overall growth is at its highest in 13 years. And this salutary picture is not exclusive to big business; the index of small business optimism, as measured by the National Federation of Independent Business, has reached its highest level in the 45-year history of the survey.

Some positive trends can be traced to the Obama years, but there’s clearly been a shift in trajectory and direction of the economy. As President Obama once noted, “elections have consequences.” Under Obama, federal policies—the “stimulus,” non-regulation of tech giants, ultra-low interest rates— benefited urban core, blue-state bastions that now constitute the unshakeable base of the Democratic Party. Under Trump, most working- and middle-class workers benefit from higher standard tax deductions and energy deregulation, while the affluent in high-tax states like California, New York, and Illinois are likely not to do as well.

Read the entire piece at City Journal.

Is There a Niche for Sensible Politics in America?

This article first appeared at The Orange County Register.

Given the current state of American politics, and those of our state of California, our founding fathers might well consider not just turning over in their graves but boring deeper towards the earth’s core. Yet amidst the almost unceasing signs of discord and hyperbolic confrontation, there exists a more sensible approach which could help rescue our wobbling Republic.

Centrism has long been the subject of well-meaning advocacy but has lacked a class or geographic focus. It most defines the politics of the suburban middle. Much of the urban core — where Clinton and other Democrats often win as many as 80 to 90 percent of the vote — is now about as deep blue as the Soviet Union was red. For its part, the countryside has emerged so much as the bastion of Trumpism that MSNBC’s Joy Reid labels rural voters, “the core threat to our democracy.”

A niche for sensible politics?

Most Americans do not live in either the urban core or rural periphery; more than half live in suburban areas which nearly split their ballots in 2016 , with perhaps a slight edge for President Trump. Many suburban areas — not only in California or New York but in places like Fort Bend County, outside Houston — went for Clinton. Democrats won big recently in the Virginia suburbs, and did better in those in Alabama; both resulted in stinging defeats for Trump and the GOP.

To consolidate these gains, Democrats need to resist the tendency, most epitomized by the likes of Gov. Jerry Brown, to detest not only suburbs, but the entire notion of expanded property ownership, privacy and personal autonomy. Suburbanites may not like Trump’s nativism and grossness, but they do have an interest in preserving their way of life.

A more reasoned, problem solving approach seems the best course as well for Republicans. The most popular governors in the nation, for example, are not progressive firebrands like Brown or Washington’s Jay Inslee, both under 50 percent approval. Nor are right-wing firebrands so popular; Kansas’ Sam Brownback wins plaudits from less than a quarter of his electorate. They are measured politicians like Maryland’s Larry Hogan and Massachusetts’ Charlie Baker, Republicans from deep blue states with roughly two-thirds approval.

Read the entire piece at The Orange County Register.

Joel Kotkin is the Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His newest book, The Human City: Urbanism for the rest of us, was published in April by Agate. He is also author of The New Class Conflict, The City: A Global History, and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He is executive director of NewGeography.com and lives in Orange County, CA.

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America (John Kasich) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

What’s Red, Blue, and Broke All Over? America

This piece originally appeared on The Daily Beast.

Beneath the sex scandals, moronic tweets, ridiculous characters, and massive incompetence that dominate Washington in this mean period of our history lie more fundamental geopolitical realities. Increasingly it is economics—how people make money—rather than culture that drives the country into perpetual conflict.

The tax bill brought that conflict to the surface, as Republicans made winners of Wall Street and the corporate elites, as well as most taxpayers and homeowners in lower-cost states, and losers of high-income blue-state taxpayers in high-tax states such as California, New York, and New Jersey.

A U.S. News and World Report headline denounced the bill as a declaration of “War Read more

The New Mandarins of the Deep State

This article first appeared at The Orange County Register.

The shocking defeat of GOP Senator hopeful Roy Moore may not spell the end of Trumpism, but you can see it from there. The president’s unconventional peasant rebellion has now reached its high-water market, with a countervailing tide threatening to inundate an increasingly vulnerable GOP.

Read more

Eric Garcetti for president? Really?

This article first appeared on The Orange County Register.

Someone may be putting something in the Los Angeles water supply. In the past months, two unlikely L.A.-based presidential contenders — Mayor Eric Garcetti and Disney Chief Robert Iger — have been floated in the media, including in the New York Times. Read more

Radicalism is on the Rise in American Politics

This article first appeared at The Orange County Register.

The Republican Party’s road to the 2018 mid-terms looks increasingly like Pickett’s Charge, the Confederate assault on fixed Union positions that marked the high-water mark for the southern cause. After achieving its greatest domination of elective office in 80 years, the GOP seems likely to get slaughtered.

As at Gettysburg, bad generalship, an unpopular, clumsy Donald Trump, constitutes one cause for the imminent Republican decline. But the officer corps is also failing, as the congressional delegation seems determined to screw its middle class base in favor the remnant of those corporate plutocrats who finance their campaigns and the Goldman Sachs crowd to whom Trump has outsourced his economic policy. Steve Bannon’s support for demagogues like Roy Moore can only further weaken the party’s appeal, rapidly turning much of the business community, out of sheer embarrassment, into de facto Democrats.

Only one thing can save the Republicans from themselves: the Democrats. Although they have shown remarkable unity as part of the anti-Trump resistance, the Democrats themselves suffer deep-seated divisions. Most critically they are moving left at a time when more voters seek something more in the middle. Certainly this progressive tilt has done little to reverse their own declining popularity; public approval of the party has sunk to the lowest levels in a quarter century.

The rise of the radical base

“Who the gods wish to destroy, they first drive mad.” Today this old Greek adage seems particularly applicable to the Democrats. In the past the party produced leaders, and endorsed positions, that appealed across a broad swath of the population. With the Republicans forced to defend Trump, and ally with the marginalized far-right, a more centrist approach seems almost guaranteed to create success, as we saw recently in the Virginia elections.

But, sadly, the much heralded “resistance” to Trump has radicalized the party’s grassroots, giving enhanced power to militant groups like Black Lives Matter, as well as the most extreme green and gender fundamentalists. Clustered increasingly in large urban centers, Democrats are moving more quickly to progressive extremes than the GOP is shifting to the right; the percentage of Democratic voters tilting left since 1994 has grown from 30 percent to 73 percent. Moderates in the party, argues Wall Street investor Steven Ratner, face a “freight train coming at us from the left.”

The centrist approach used in Virginia should show the way, and succeeded largely by winning moderate voters from the affluent D.C. suburbs. But in California or New York rank and file, suburban Democrats have little voice against the organized and strident habitués of the core cities. The various cultural imperatives of the media, the universities, the progressive non-profit and well-funded community groups wash out all other voices.

Positions that threaten a Democratic resurgence

Three critical positions threaten a national Democratic resurgence. The first, and the most divisive, is immigration policy. Most Americans do not embrace the xenophobia of the Trump base, but they also do not favor such things as sanctuary cities, even here in California. They are not likely to celebrate immigrant law-breaking as does state Senate Leader Kevin de León, now challenging the more centrist Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s bid for re-election.

Read the rest of the article at The Orange County Register.

Photo credit: LA Mountains via Flickr under CC 2.0 License (cropped and brightened by rlhoward)