Donald Trump, Republican Party are marooned on Know Nothing Island

By Robert Mann

Marooned on an island of discarded ideologies and false beliefs, members of the modern-day Republican Party are like Japanese dead-enders from World War II who thought the conflict was still raging and that victory — long ago lost — was still possible.

Simply put, the U.S. Republican Party is the most extreme, isolated major political movement in the Western world.

Regarding man-made climate change, Republicans are as anti-science as the church officials who persecuted Galileo in 1615 for claiming the Earth revolved around the Sun. They cling to ignorant, antiquated views in the face of overwhelming empirical evidence. Most of the world’s people accept peer-reviewed scientific research on the world’s climate. Only 15 percent of conservative Republicans do.

Among the world’s developed countries, there are more people who believe NASA faked the Moon landing than say society shouldn’t care for the sick. Only 32 percent of Republicans believe the government has any role in guaranteeing health care to its citizens.

And in Europe and other developed nations, more people than ever can vote, while the Republican Party tosses millions of minorities and young people off the rolls. Only 35 percent of Republicans say “everything possible should be done to make it easy for every citizen to vote.”

Across the developed world, people accept that climate change is real, more people should vote and everyone deserves good, affordable health care.

Among developed nations, however, only the United States has a ruling political party devoted to the minority view on these questions and others (including marriage equality, greater rights for women and minorities and affordable college education).

It’s difficult to understand what a radical, know-nothing retrograde outfit runs the United States government if you follow only American politics. What appears normal to domestic eyes is among the most unusual set of political and scientific beliefs in the developed world.

In two cases — voting rights and health care — the questions are about what it means to call ourselves a democracy devoted to equality and human rights. In the other — climate change — it is a willful decision by party leaders and their propaganda arm (Fox News) to deny and lie about the near-unanimous results of decades of peer-reviewed research.

Consider voting rights. From our beginning, the nation has argued over which people will elect our leaders. Since 1776, the franchise has expanded to those without property, to women, to blacks and other minorities, to young people and to ex-offenders who have served their time.

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

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Trump’s disdain for the world is making America weak again

By Robert Mann

PRAGUE — “People over here ask me about the difference between America and the UK. I tell them, ‘The UK is crazy; America is stupid.'” So observed a 60-something Louisiana man I met the other day in a Strasbourg, France, train station. What he meant was the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union (EU) is foolhardy, while America, under Donald Trump has dangerously abdicated world leadership.

This Denham Springs resident sporting an LSU jersey was succinct in capturing the widespread view that my students and I encountered everywhere we traveled during June. From London to Paris to Strasbourg to Berlin to Prague, the observations we gathered in dozens of conversations are supported by a new survey by the Pew Research Center.

According to Pew, “a median of just 22% [in 37 countries] has confidence in Trump to do the right thing when it comes to international affairs. This stands in contrast to the final years of Barack Obama’s presidency, when a median of 64% expressed confidence in Trump’s predecessor to direct America’s role in the world.”

In Germany last year, Obama enjoyed the confidence of 86 percent of the public. Only 11 percent now expresses confidence in Trump. The numbers are similar across Europe: In France, 84 percent were confident in Obama compared to 14 percent who say the same about Trump; in the U.K., 79 percent confidence in Obama compared to 22 percent for Trump; in Turkey, 45 percent had confidence in Obama’s leadership, while only 11 percent feel the same about Trump.

In only two countries — Israel and Russia — does Trump enjoy higher public confidence than did Obama.

This widespread distaste for Trump is probably a result of his disdain for the EU, NATO and the Paris Climate Accords, his racism and sexism and his predilection for strongmen and autocrats like Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte. It also is a byproduct of his theme, “America First,” which is not only an echo of the American pro-Nazi “America First” movement of the 1930s but also connotes a harsh, dismissive attitude toward the world.

The Pew survey, however, does have some good news. “While the new U.S. president is viewed with doubt and apprehension in many countries, America’s overall image benefits from a substantial reservoir of goodwill,” Pew said. “The American people, for instance, continue to be well-regarded — across the 37 nations polled, a median of 58% say they have a favorable opinion of Americans.”

Trump’s successor will need this goodwill to assert American leadership after he is gone.

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Senate health care bill is a risky vote for Sen. Bill Cassidy, GOP

By Robert Mann

You need not be a politician with the superior political intuition of Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton to understand how dangerous the Republican health care bill is to the future of that party’s majority in both houses. Even so, it looks like Louisiana’s GOP senators, Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy, will support legislation that could damage the GOP’s chances of holding onto Congress in 2018.

Could Republicans’ irrational hatred of the Affordable Care Act drive them to an insane act of self-immolation by replacing it with a disastrous bill that most Americans oppose?

The House-passed American Health Care Act is not only the most unpopular legislation Congress has debated in decades; it’s also earned the disdain of President Donald Trump, who threw a party for the bill in the Rose Garden but later called it “mean.”

Cassidy, who has a bill to replace Obamacare, suggested weeks ago he would not support the House bill (and I applauded him for that). More recently, however, he has warmed to supporting a new version that 13 male senators wrote in secret.

From the outline Republicans released on Thursday, the Senate effort isn’t much of an improvement. Like the House bill, Republicans in the Senate would slash deeply Medicaid and eliminate health insurance for tens of millions to finance tax cuts for millionaires.

As a bipartisan group of governors wrote in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell last week, the bill “calls into question coverage for the vulnerable and fails to provide the necessary resources to ensure that no one is left out, while shifting significant costs to the states.”

McConnell and other GOP leaders are likely urging Cassidy to get on board (it doesn’t appear Kennedy needs his arm twisted to support the legislation). If you’re Cassidy, the worst position is to be a senator whose opposition to the bill killed the repeal-Obamacare effort.

Well, that might be the second-worst outcome, as worse might be the passage of the bill with Cassidy’s crucial vote to help. If Cassidy is betting his constituents’ hatred of Obamacare is so intense they will abide a bill that cripples their health insurance coverage, the evidence suggests he is wrong.

Using eight surveys from respected national pollsters and a sophisticated statistical method called M.R.P. (multilevel regression and poststratification), researchers Christopher Warshaw and David Broockman, of MIT and Stanford respectively, concluded there is not one state in which most people support the GOP’s American Health Care Act (AHCA).

As they wrote recently in The New York Times: “Across all the states that voted for President Trump last year, we estimate that support for the A.H.C.A. is rarely over 35 percent. A majority of Republican senators currently represent states where less than a third of the public supports the A.H.C.A.”

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It’s no mystery how Louisiana could solve its fiscal, economic woes

By Robert Mann

You would think fixing Louisiana government’s fiscal affairs was like achieving Middle East peace or beating Alabama at football. For almost 10 years, state government has staggered from one fiscal crisis to another. Lawmakers are like blindfolded children lost in a maze. All they have to do is rip off their blindfolds and follow directions to the exit, but they won’t.

Sensible state fiscal policy that supports vital services like health care, education and transportation is no impenetrable mystery. It would only take a little foresight and fortitude to enact policies the public and most economists and policy experts support.
It also would require legislators to risk offending their wealthy constituents. That’s far worse, apparently, than watching the state’s fiscal affairs go the way of Oklahoma or Kansas.

I suspect lawmakers know what they must do, as road-tested recommendations abound. I am impressed, in particular, by two recent reports that contain sound suggestions. (And don’t get me started on the practical 2016 report by the Task Force on Structural Changes in Budget and Tax Policy, which lawmakers and Gov. John Bel Edwards have largely ignored.)

The first report I recommend is from the progressive Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). In its April 2016 report, “A Fiscal Policy Agenda for Stronger State Economies,” the center examined a host of academic literature on many aspects of state fiscal policies.

First, the center explained how targeted “public investments in education, transportation, and fire protection — services that business rely on heavily — can create jobs in the short run and improve economic growth and job quality in the long run.”

One example state leaders should consider, the CBPP says, is universal preschool: “High-quality preschool improves not only children’s academic performance but also the quality of a state’s workforce and jobs over time.”

The CBPP also offers sound advice about supporting existing entrepreneurs and startups as opposed to wasting revenue on economic development programs to lure corporations from other locales.

Second, the CBPP suggests revising state policies to “help struggling families share in prosperity.” Under Edwards, Louisiana has taken one important step in this direction by expanding Medicaid. The report also suggests expanding the state-level Earned Income Tax Credit and strengthening programs that help and protect the neediest and most-vulnerable children (much of which the federal government funds).

Lawmakers recently adopted one key CBPP recommendation by reforming Louisiana’s criminal justice policies.

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London attacks bring out the best in Londoners, worst in Trump, Clay Higgins

By Robert Mann

LONDON — U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins may be the former “Cajun John Wayne,” but he is now auditioning for the role of Dirty Harry of the House — the bravest, boldest member of Congress, one who will stop at nothing to secure justice.

Unfortunately, the former St. Landry Sheriff’s Department spokesman was never much of a cop; he mostly played one on TV. And now, in pursuit of greater fame, he’s playing an anti-Muslim bigot. His recent screen test was a bizarre, bloodthirsty statement posted to Facebook the day after the deadly June 3 London terrorist attacks:

“The free world … all of Christendom … is at war with Islamic horror. Not one penny of American treasure should be granted to any nation who harbors these heathen animals. Not a single radicalized Islamic suspect should be granted any measure of quarter. Their intended entry to the American homeland should be summarily denied. Every conceivable measure should be engaged to hunt them down. Hunt them, identify them, and kill them. Kill them all. For the sake of all that is good and righteous. Kill them all.”

Is Higgins an anti-Muslim Clint Eastwood? Hardly, although he might stand a better chance of winning that role by conversing with empty chairs.

Higgins resembles Barney Fife more than Eastwood. That’s because the character trait that best describes him is not toughness, but cowardice. It’s fear — abject terror — that motivates people like Higgins to lash out so hysterically.

It takes little courage to advocate — from the comfy confines of Lafayette or the cozy corridors of the U.S. Capitol — the summary execution of millions of Muslims who are, by Higgins’ vague estimation, “radicalized.”

If anyone is radicalized, it is Higgins, who libels the Christian faith by invoking “Christendom” in his demand for a 21st Century crusade. Invading Muslim countries to wage indiscriminate war has always gone so well for us, hasn’t it? Maybe the problem that Higgins has brilliantly identified is that we haven’t killed and maimed enough Muslims?

“Kill them all” is a compelling bumper sticker slogan for mindless haters of Islam. It’s also a recipe for helping ISIS and other terrorist organizations sign up untold millions more recruits.

While Higgins’ statement feigns courage, it’s anything but courage.

You know what courage is? It was the average citizens of London who fought back against the terrorist attackers near London Bridge. One London paper I read the other day described the heroic, “Kristi Bowden, 28, a nurse at Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospital, who was stabbed to death as she dashed on to the bridge to help the wounded.”

The next day, most London citizens displayed remarkable fortitude and pugnacity by rising, overcoming their fears and going into Hyde Park, Westminster Bridge or any of a thousand local pubs and coffee shops.

My son and I witnessed that London courage, having arrived in town the day before the attacks. And we saw it the morning after the tragic events, as my LSU colleague and I greeted 19 students to London. Most had boarded transatlantic flights the previous night, aware of the carnage on and near London Bridge. In spite of their anxiety when they first learned of the attacks, not one of them demurred. They landed here as local police were still investigating the attackers’ identities.

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What Tiger Woods’ arrest can teach us all about humility

By Robert Mann

I don’t know what emotion you experienced when you heard the news of Tiger Woods’ arrest on DUI charges, but I thought, “There, but by the grace of God, go I.”

I’ve been careful to avoid driving while impaired but that doesn’t mean I haven’t sometimes wondered, “Should I have had that second drink?” And who knows how I graduated college with a clean record. I was sometimes stupid and reckless.

But here’s the truth: I was lucky.Screenshot 2017-06-01 06.54.38

Woods’ arrest — and a few poor souls I’ve seen shuffling along the streets — have me thinking how we often indulge the conceit that our station in life results from our good sense, smarts or diligence. We’re quick to congratulate ourselves for the hard work and intelligence that vaulted us to the (relative) top of the economic pile.

If we see some person who can’t support his family or gets into legal trouble, we credit our moral superiority and the industry that prevents us from a similar fate.

The hard truth I struggle to remember is this: Our success is not entirely the result of our intelligence and bustle. We get more lucky breaks than we recognize or acknowledge. One guy gets pulled over for drinking and driving. The other doesn’t. Random chance influences our lives and secures our successes more than shrewd planning.

If you are a white male born in the United States in the 20th century, you begin with advantages that more than two-thirds of the world never enjoys. You will not face racial or gender discrimination and life will seem much more egalitarian to you than to someone in Sub-Saharan Africa or Bangladesh.

And if you are born into a family with any resources at all — enough to secure a decent education, good nutrition, great health care and ample recreation time — you have hit the jackpot. You begin with a massive head start over 80 percent of humankind.

While I know people who have overcome severe economic and social adversity, I’m also aware of the enormous advantage of being born into a stable family. More than the resources I enjoy, I’m grateful my wife’s parents and mine were married for more than 50 years (my wife’s more than 60). Their examples and the emotional and economic stability that emanated from them may be the greatest gift she and I will pass along to our children.

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Mitch Landrieu’s speech on race was one for the ages

By Robert Mann

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu last week (May 19) delivered one of the most honest speeches on race I’ve ever heard from a white Southern politician. I know, that’s not saying much. It’s a low bar Landrieu vaulted over. But just because so many white elected officials in the South won’t speak frankly to their constituents about race doesn’t mean what Landrieu said isn’t worthy of praise.

With his courage in presiding over removal of three Confederate statues and a white supremacist memorial — and his sensitive, spirited defense of those actions — Landrieu has not only secured his place as one of New Orleans’ more notable mayors; he also might have propelled himself into the conversation for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

If he runs, having torn down a few statues and delivered a historic speech won’t guarantee Landrieu any convention delegates. Among other things, he must overcome his mixed record on the city’s deplorable crime rate.

But just as Abraham Lincoln’s remarkable 1860 Cooper Union speech about slavery propelled the little-known Illinois lawyer toward the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, so might Landrieu’s Gallier Hall speech prompt Democrats to give the Louisiana mayor a closer look.

That would be a good thing. The last time the nation noted a speech by a New Orleans mayor was in 2006, when the now-imprisoned Ray Nagin demanded the return to “a chocolate New Orleans.”

I urge you to read Landrieu’s speech online to appreciate its poetry and power. What most impressed me is that, like many great leaders, Landrieu did not cast blame or condemn his political opponents.

Yet he was refreshingly honest about the city’s racial history. “New Orleans was America’s largest slave market: a port where hundreds of thousand of souls were bought, sold and shipped up the Mississippi River to lives of forced labor, of misery, of rape, of torture,” he said.

He forcefully refuted the ludicrous notion that the statues should remain because they are part of that history. “When people say to me that the monuments are history, well what I just described is real history, as well, and it is the searing truth.” That, he said, “begs the question: why there are no slave ship monuments, no prominent markers on public land to remember the lynchings or the slave blocks?”

Landrieu’s extensive discussion about why city leaders installed statues and monuments (“to rewrite history and hide the truth, which is that the Confederacy was on the wrong side of humanity”) was as powerful and persuasive as anything I’ve seen on this question.

It was Landrieu’s closing passages which were most impressive and should be studied by historians and students of political rhetoric. Evoking his personal “journey on race,” Landrieu described a friend who “asked me to consider these four monuments from the perspective of an African-American mother or father trying to explain to their fifth-grade daughter who Robert E. Lee is and why he stands atop of our beautiful city. Can you do it?”

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

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