Category Archives: Politics

Republicans and the media greet ‘the new normal’

There he is again. Photo (cc) 2015 by Matt Johnson.

There he is again. Photo (cc) 2015 by Matt Johnson.

Previously published at WGBHNews.org.

Now that only the most literal-minded (or John Kasich) would call Donald Trump anything other than the presumptive nominee, the media are ready to turn to the next storyline in this bizarre, disturbingly dark campaign. Based on the morning-after chatter, the big question that’s emerging is whether Republicans will fall in line behind the demagogue or if, instead, the party will fracture.

In a Twitter back-and-forth that National Journal’s Ron Brownstein called “the GOP debate after the #IndianaPrimary in a single exchange,” former George W. Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer wrote:

 The way forward for anti-Trump Republicans is unclear. As Sean Sullivan and Katie Zezima report in the Washington Post, Republicans who would like to run a third-party candidate against the nominee of their own party face significant logistical and psychological hurdles—although, elsewhere in the Post, former Bush I and Bush II official Eliot Cohen argues for exactly that, calling Trump “utterly unfit for the position by temperament, values and policy preferences.”

But since a high-profile third-party effort would only strengthen Hillary Clinton’s already strong hand against Trump (never mind her weaknesses as a candidate, underscored by her loss to Bernie Sanders in Indiana), why shouldn’t anti-Trump Republicans simply endorse Clinton? That’s the route Michael Barbaro explores in the New York Times, noting that John McCain strategist Mark Salter and RedState.com contributor Ben Howe have said they’ll support her.

Of course, we’re a long way from knowing whether any of these gasps of pain will translate into something more substantive. Liberal editorial pages such as those of the Times, the Post, and the Boston Globe have all lamented the Republican Party’s descent into Trumpism. But the Wall Street Journal, to which actual Republicans pay attention, offers only a mildly worded rebuke to Trump, instructing him “that the responsibility for unification is now his,” and leaving little doubt that the Journal is prepared to live with him as the party’s standard-bearer.

Frankly, the more likely scenario is that most Republicans will unite behind Trump. In the Journal’s news pages, Beth Reinhard writes that longtime party stalwarts such as former Republican chairman Haley Barbour and former Ronald Reagan operative Ed Rollins have climbed aboard the Trump bandwagon. “I don’t want to roll over and play dead,” Rollins is quoted as saying. “I want to beat Hillary Clinton, and I don’t want to lose the Senate.”

Yes, as Trump himself as observed, it’s all about winning. So much winning.

There are several problems with the anti-Trump movement. One is that there is a sharp division between the sort of establishment Republicans who would have preferred Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio and the right-wingers who wanted Ted Cruz. If a third-party challenge develops, it will almost certainly come from the right, with members of the establishment comforting themselves with the thought that Clinton is likely to be the most unpopular president-elect in history.

The other problem is that some of the most eloquent voices of anti-Trumpism belong to people whom Trump supporters most despise—“the GOP’s donor class and Washington-based establishment,” as Eli Stokols puts it in Politico.

For instance, the most forceful argument against Trump in recent days was offered in New York magazine by Andrew Sullivan, who writes that “hyperdemocracy” has fueled Trump’s rise, and that a Trump presidency would usher in something that looks very much like fascism. But as a Brit, as a conservative who’s not all that conservative, and as a gay man, Sullivan is not exactly well-positioned to sway the Trumpoid base.

By any measure, Clinton should not only beat Trump, but should send him to a historic defeat, possibly ushering in a Democratic majority in the Senate and maybe the House as well. As Chris Cillizza notes in the Post, even a normal Republican would have a huge challenge given the Electoral College realities of 2016. But “Crooked Hillary,” as Trump calls her, has plenty of problems of her own, and it’s not difficult to imagine her getting bogged down between now and November. A smart prediction is that she will almost certainly win, with the emphasis on almost.

Then, too, there’s the media’s responsibility in making sure that Trump is not treated like a normal candidate. This is a man who has hurled racist invective toward Latinos and Muslims, who has called for torture in the interrogation of suspected terrorists, and who has called for murdering the families of terrorists just to send a message.

On Tuesday, Trump began his day by linking Ted Cruz’s father to JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald on the basis of an evidence-free story in the National Enquirer. By the time the polls had closed in Indiana, his latest bizarre outburst had been all but forgotten—as had Trump’s numerous other transgressions. As Isaac Chotiner writes in Slate:

CNN, MSNBC, and Fox contented themselves with bright chatter about Ted Cruz’s hurt feelings, about Donald Trump’s political skill, about the feckless, pathetic Republican establishment. None of the commentators I saw mentioned the import of what was happening. Large chunks of the media have spent so long domesticating Trump that his victory no longer appeared momentous. He is the new normal.

There is, or should be, nothing normal about Trump’s rise. Sadly, the political instinct is to make nice with the victor, while the media’s instinct is find and occupy middle ground—and when there isn’t any, pretend otherwise.

Epic finger-pointing begins over cancellation of IndyCar race

Screen Shot 2016-04-30 at 10.10.05 AMLet the recriminations begin over the cancellation of the IndyCar race in Boston’s Seaport District during Labor Day Weekend. Race organizers are blaming the city, while city officials charge the organizers were actually disorganizers.

Joe Battenfeld of the Boston Herald covers the story here, reporting that Mayor Marty Walsh and his administration let things drag on far too long despite knowing that the event was coming apart. Battenfeld also has the detail that the race may end up in Providence.

Mark Arsenault of the Boston Globe, meanwhile, has some entertaining quotes from John Casey, president of Grand Prix Boston, who says he’s writing a book about what happened. (I assume that’s hyperbole.) “It’s so ridiculous, it’s hysterical,” he’s quoted as saying.

I have no idea who’s right, and I know that not everyone in the neighborhood was thrilled about the prospect. Conceptually, at least, it struck me as a pretty cool event, and I’m sorry that it won’t be coming here. Maybe the two sides are bluffing, but it sure doesn’t sound that way.

We do say “no” a lot in Boston. “No” is sometimes the right answer. It was certainly the right answer to the Olympics bid, which would have led to years of disruption and the likelihood of massive budget shortfalls. This time, though, it’s too bad we couldn’t find a way to get to “yes.”

Your elected officials want to force you to take a cab

Under a proposed bill to help the taxi industry (already passed by the House), ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft would be banned from the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center and from Logan Airport.

You know, if the Legislature really wants to help cabs, it could ban walking, too.

Why Washington’s Metro may be even worse than the T

Washington's Metro: Beautiful stations, big problems. Photo (cc) by Mustafa Khayat.

Washington’s Metro: Beautiful stations, big problems. Photo (cc) by Mustafa Khayat.

Previously published at WGBHNews.org.

Not long ago I had to navigate the sort of public-transportation meltdown that is familiar to any Bostonian. The subway wasn’t running, and I had some important meetings to get to. I took a Lyft into the city. After my meetings, still no subway—so I took advantage of the nice weather and walked.

Ah, the MBTA. Except this wasn’t the T. Instead, it was Metro, the fast, clean, and—until recently—reliable rail system that serves Washington, DC, and its environs.

Those of us who rely on the T have long considered Metro to be the very model of what a modern subway system is supposed to look like. It may be 40 years old, but compared to Boston’s 1890s-vintage patchwork of subway lines and streetcars, it’s brand spanking new.

Now, though, both systems are suffering from what happens after many years of chronic disinvestment. Believe it or not, the problems facing Metro may be more acute. The infrastructure needs of both systems are huge, yet the political will to meet those needs is lacking. And if two cities like Boston and Washington—a regional hub and the nation’s hub—are behind the eight ball, what hope is there for the Buffalos and the Worcesters, the Detroits and the New Bedfords?

Metro’s most recent woes began on March 14, when an electrical fire broke out near the McPherson Square station. Because of similarities to a fire last year in which one person died and 84 were hospitalized because of smoke inhalation, the folks in charge decided to shut down the entire system all day on March 16 in order to conduct extensive safety inspections. Metro’s many woes—which include a crash that claimed nine lives in 2009—made it to the front page of the New York Times this week.

As it turned out, that was the first of two days for which I had scheduled interviews in downtown Washington. To my relief, the roads were not gridlocked, and Lyft didn’t take advantage of the crisis by jacking up prices. My three-mile walk from K Street through Georgetown, over the Francis Scott Key Bridge, and back to my hotel in Rosslyn was pleasant—it was a warm late-winter day, and the cherry blossoms were out.

Metro reopened the next day. But get this: The system’s leadership is now considering shutting down entire lines for six months at a time in order to carry out long-overdue repairs. A Post editorial thundered:

Do they want to scare commuters into expecting the worst so they won’t complain when the shutdown is only three months? Are they trying to rattle the federal and local governments into ponying up more money? Or are they really so cavalier about disrupting the lives of tens of thousands of Washington-area residents?

By comparison, our own MBTA looks like the gold standard. Sure, we put up with delays, cancellations, fires, and Orange Line passengers being forced to climb out windows. But I can’t remember a time when the entire system was shut down for a day except for extreme weather. And the idea of closing a line for six months is just too awful to contemplate.

And yet. Gabrielle Gurley, who knows both the Boston and Washington systems well (she was an editor at CommonWealth Magazine in Boston and is now an editor at The American Prospect in DC), insists the MBTA is actually in worse shape than Metro, and that it’s only a matter of luck that we’ve been spared the worst. Noting that the MBTA’s maintenance backlog is about $7 billion, Gurley writes:

For all that Washingtonians grumble about their 40-year-old Metro, it remains an engineering marvel (albeit a sputtering one) and a tourist attraction in its own right. Boston’s subway system, the country’s oldest, opened in 1897. It barely gets commuters around the region on sunny days.

David Alpert, who blogs at a site called Greater Greater Washington, wrote recently: “Metro has twin challenges of disinvestment and mismanagement, and both feed on one another. The agency’s failures make people understandably more reluctant to throw money at what seems like a black hole, but underfunding and unusually high expenses have put the system on a knife’s edge where a small mistake has big consequences.”

That certainly sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Here in Greater (Greater?) Boston, Governor Charlie Baker deserves credit for making at least some strides toward reforming the MBTA’s broken culture by establishing a Fiscal Management and Control Board to oversee the system.

But the T needs a massive infusion of funds in addition to management controls. And as former state transportation secretary Jim Aloisi wrote for WGBH News, the 9.3 percent fare increase recently approved by the T not only squeezes money out of the wrong people but isn’t even remotely adequate.

Safe, reliable public transportation is good for the economy and good for the environment. Yet in both Boston and Washington, government seems unwilling to do what it takes to get it right.

No, the entire country has not gone Trump-crazy

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Police photo of Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski grabbing reporter Michelle Fields’s arm.

At a time when it seems like the entire political world has gone mad, I offer some welcome perspective this morning from E.J. Dionne:

  • President Obama’s approval rate is currently 53 percent. At a similar point in George W. Bush’s presidency, his standing had fallen to 32 percent.
  • Donald Trump’s favorability rating is a minuscule 33 percent, and just 34 percent among independents. The vast majority of his support comes from Republicans, 64 percent of whom view him favorably.

Dionne writes:

Trumpism is not sweeping the nation. It has a strong foothold only in the Republican Party, and not even all of it….

We are allowing a wildly and destructively inaccurate portrait of us as a people to dominate our imaginations and debase our thinking.

We’ve got a long way to go between now and November. As Dionne notes, the successes of Trump and Bernie Sanders “reveal the discontent of Americans who have been left out in our return to prosperity.” (Needless to say, even though both Trump and Sanders have embraced economic populism, only Sanders has managed to do so without couching it in the language of racism and violence.)

But it’s wrong to think that the entire country has gone nuts. Just part of it. And I agree with Dionne that the media could do a far better job of making that clear.

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Yet again, Trump disavows pledge to back GOP nominee

Donald Trump said on CNN last night that—OMG!—he’s revoking his pledge to support the Republican nominee for president and not run as an independent.

To which I ask: What pledge? Anyone who’s been paying attention knows that Trump has always added the caveat that he wouldn’t bolt the party as long as he’s treated “fairly.”

For instance, last November 22, he said on national television that he was rethinking an independent run in light of reports that Republican leaders were going to launch a concerted effort to defeat him. “Well, I’m going to have to see what happens,” he said. “I will see what happens. I have to be treated fairly. You know, when I did this, I said I have to be treated fairly.  If I’m treated fairly, I’m fine. All I want to do is a level playing field.”

Then, in February, he did it again, claiming unfair treatment and saying, “I signed a pledge but it’s a double-edge pledge, and as far as I’m concerned they’re in default of the pledge.”

For that matter, if you go back to last September, when he signed the pledge, you could interpret one of his statements as leaving himself wiggle room: “I see no circumstances under which I would tear up that pledge.” In other words, he could not foresee at the time that he’d be treated “unfairly.”

To be sure, this is probably the least noteworthy bit of Trump news you’ll see today given that he’s defending his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, against charges—captured on video—that he manhandled a female reporter who was trying to ask Trump a question. (This being Trumpworld, one of Lewandowski’s lawyers is a former US attorney who was once accused of biting a stripper in Florida. Of course.)

And, for that matter, Trump’s rivals are no longer pledging to support him if he wins the nomination, either.

But let’s be serious about the unserious pledge Trump made last September. He has never said he’d stick to it except on his own self-defined terms.

Why flat rates make sense for public transportation

Photo (cc) by matthrono.

Photo (cc) by matthrono.

Transportation officials are considering a new high-tech MBTA fare system that could, among other things, be used to charge you more if you are traveling a longer distance. Such a system is already in effect on the commuter rail lines, but not on the subway or buses.

Superficially, such a system makes sense. On the other hand, the farther you travel via public transportation, the more you are benefiting the rest of us in terms of relieving road congestion and reducing air pollution.

Back when I lived in Danvers, I would occasionally take public transportation. Occasionally, that is, because it was too expensive to do it every day. Parking at the Beverly train station cost $5. A round-trip train ticket was $15. And the subway to and from Northeastern was another $5 or so. That’s $25 a day—an enormous expense, especially if you commute every day.

By contrast, I can now walk to the West Medford train station and pay $4.20 for a round-trip ticket. With subway fare, it comes to less than $10. Yet the social and environmental benefit of taking public transportation from West Medford is considerably less than it is compared to the North Shore.

In a perfect world, you’d pay a flat rate for all forms of public transportation. I realize we don’t live in a perfect world, but the benefits of a flat rate are something I hope T officials at least think about.

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