No respite from “Circus Trump” out here in California…

At lunch yesterday at Los Angeles’ classic Greenblatt’s Deli from the 1920s when Sunset Boulevard was still a dirt road, “Circus Trump” in Washington, DC was all that my fellow patrons at the other tables talked about: the scandalous speech earlier in the day by the president on Long Island in front of police officers, basically encouraging them to use force when they arrested people; the firing of White House chief of staff Reince Priebus; and, of course, the disastrous outcome in the Senate for the Republicans as they failed to kill Obamacare that they had vowed to do for seven years.

And that’s just in the last twenty-four hours…

The fall of Priebus was no surprise. He is yet another name in a long line of people fired or forced to resign in an administration that is still, remarkably, only six months old, but feels much older. But it is another ominous sign of a deeply dysfunctional White House. The fall of Priebus came shortly after his prime nemesis, Anthony Scaramucci, had taken him apart, using language full of expletives that chocked many. e is the new face of the Trump administ

As the new face of the Trump administration, “Little Donald” seems to want to be more Trump than Trump himself and, like his boss, he has no background and no expertise for his new role as the White House’s new communications director.  How long will “Little Donald” stay after the new chief of staff, John Kelly, walks into the White House on Monday?

In all, this has probably been Trump’s worst week since he became president, although it is really hard to say, because there have been so many disastrous weeks in this toxic and scandalous political environment that has followed the election of Donald Trump. The chaos in the White House has produced a crisis in American leadership as a whole.

Here is Peggy Noonan’s latest column in conservative Wall Street Journal:

“The president’s primary problem as a leader is not that he is impetuous, brash or naive. It’s not that he is inexperienced, crude, an outsider. It is that he is weak and sniveling. It is that he undermines himself almost daily by ignoring traditional norms and forms of American masculinity, skinny.”

Where is America heading and how long will America, and in particular the Republic Party and its leaders, tolerate this completely incompetent leadership of the world’s superpower? These questions have been posed for a while, but there is a new urgency in the comments as each week passes.

Eugene Robinson in the Washington Post:

“The Court of Mad King Donald is not a presidency. It is an affliction, one that saps the life out of our democratic institutions, and it must be fiercely resisted if the nation as we know it is to survive.”

I recently, and temporarily, moved to Los Angeles. It’s not the first time I have gone west, but it still holds a special allure, in part because it is so far away from the rest of America, particularly from the Washington I had left. I looked forward to a bit of respite from the Trump circus.

If you follow the news, that has turned out to be impossible. Still, the political climate here is different. California, of course, is a Democratic stronghold, where the governor, Jerry Brown, is a Democrat working with large Democratic majorities in both the State Senate and Assembly. California is where Hillary Clinton captured 61.7 percent of the vote, or 8.75 million votes to Trump’s 4.83 million, in last year’s presidential election. No wonder President Trump has not visited California since his victory last November.

With its nearly 40 million inhabitants and a top-ten economy in the world, California is closer to a nation-state than any other U.S. state, and more and more you can hear talk about going it alone. There are also deep policy disagreements between California and the Trump administration, foremost of which is global warming. Trump’s decision to walk away from the Paris Accord on climate change has met with fierce resistance here, led by Governor Brown, but with solid support from California’s residents, from both parties, as a new poll from the Public Policy Institute of California clearly shows.

While over half of California voters approve of Brown and his agenda to fight global warming, only 25 percent approve of Trump, in general, and over 70 percent in the poll disapprove of is environmental policies as well as his withdrawal from the Paris accord on climate change. Here in California, over 80 percent of its residents think global warming is a serious or somewhat serious threat to California future economy and quality of life, and a clear majority wants the state to take the lad on this issue, regardless of what the federal government — in this case, the Trump administrations and the Republican majorities in the U.S. Congress, does or, rather, does not do.

So they favor more wind and solar power, more desalination plants, and they oppose more oil drilling oil off California’s coast. And over half in the poll states that they are willing to pay more for electricity and gasoline to help reduce global warming.

Remarkable numbers. No wonder Trump has stayed away.

 

 

Yes, indeed, it’s an astonishing political turn for the Republican Party

No issue is more important in American politics right now than to get a complete picture of Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S elections.

But, instead, as the prominent, conservative, foreign policy scholar Robert Kagan writes in the Washington Post today, the Republican Party, traditionally hard-line anti-Soviet and anti-Communist, is “astonishingly” running interference for Russia and is becoming Putin’s accomplices by its actions, or, rather, inactions, on the vital question of Russia’s role in the elections.

This question is a national security issue, according to Kagan, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and it is “essential to get a full picture” of what Russia did and is capable of doing well before this year’s European elections and the 2018 mid-term elections here in the United States.

“It’s time for the (Republican) party to put national security above partisan interest…The stakes are too high for politics as usual,” Kagan concludes.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/republicans-are-becoming-russias-accomplices/2017/03/06/8616c2f4-027a-11e7-ad5b-d22680e18d10_story.html?utm_term=.d62e989c8ff2

My book about the Scandinavian legacy in Minnesota politics out in April

 

My book,”Scandinavians in the State House — How Nordic Immigrants Shaped Minnesota Politics,”  will be out in April, published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press. scandinaviansbook

Here’s a blurb about it. The book is:

“The story of Nordic immigrant influence in Minnesota politics and culture, and the lasting legacy of a ‘Scandinavian state in the New World.’

Beginning in the 1850s, thousands of immigrants from Nordic countries settled in Minnesota and quickly established themselves in the political life of their new home. These Norwegians, Swedes, Danes, Finns, and Icelanders first sowed their political seeds at the local level—as town clerks, city councilmen, county commissioners, sheriffs—and then broadened their sights to the state and national realm. Nordic immigrants served as governors, as Minnesota state senators and representatives, as U.S. congressmen, and as vice presidents of the United States. Many came to this country for political reasons and became radicals and activists in Minnesota. Others served as key leaders within the state’s political parties.

In Scandinavians in the State House, Klas Bergman explores who these immigrant politicians were and what drove them to become civically involved so soon after arriving in Minnesota. Profiling the individuals and movements at the forefront of this political activity, at the state and local level, Bergman examines the diverse political philosophies of the immigrant communities and reveals the lasting legacy of Scandinavian politicians in the creation of modern Minnesota—from Nelson and Olson, to Andersen and Carlson, to Humphrey and Mondale.

Klas Bergman is a Swedish-American journalist and author. Born and raised in Stockholm, he is a graduate of Stanford University and has lived and worked in the United States for almost four decades. A veteran journalist and foreign correspondent, he has reported for both Swedish and American news organizations and has also held numerous positions in international/public affairs. Bergman is the author of two previous books — one, in Swedish, on the former Yugoslavia and Eastern Europe, and the second, in both Swedish and English, a personal and political retrospective on his years in the United States. Bergman lives with his wife in Silver Spring, Maryland. Follow him on Twitter @ksbergman.

Available April 15, 2017 from Minnesota Historical Society Press
$19.95 paper, 304 pages, 20 b&w photos, index, 6×9 inches, ISBN: 978-1-68134-030-2
$9.99 e-book, ISBN: 978-1-68134-031-9.”

A voice of hope and optimism from Minnesota

R.T. Rybak, the former long-time mayor of Minneapolis, vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, and CEO and president of the Minneapolis Foundation,  lends a voice of hope and optimism to these otherwise dark days in America.  Let’s hope he is right. Here he is, on his Facebook page:

“My heart sank Friday as I walked down Pennsylvania Av in Washington and saw a giant reviewing stand had been built in front of the White House. Eight years ago this is where I was so filled with pride when I saw our new President Barack Obama, and his family, as they were about to enter their new home. Knowing it was now about to house Donald Trump was almost more than I could take.
I felt so hollow when I thought about all we have had, and what we will lose. But something really wonderful happened next and I hope it gives hope to those of you who love President Obama as much as I do:
I went through security into the White House because the President invited me in to come by for a few minutes before he left office. I turned the corner to the Oval Office to see him looking more energized than he has in months, and with that huge smile on this face that has lifted so many of us so many times.
I gave him a copy of my book, told him that now that he’s mastered this POTUS gig he was ready for the big time as a Mayor. Then I handed him a note from my wife Megan O’Hara recalling what it felt like nine years ago when we stood in the Des Moines Convention Center, just after he won the Iowa caucus, and the announcer said: “And now the next First Family of the United States of America.”
I was really overwhelmed as I was telling him that because it was such a moment of pride, a beginning of a long path to him getting to the White House and, now it was over. He put his arm on my shoulder and looked at me intensely, saying, “We aren’t done yet.”
I wish I could have bottled the look in his eyes so all the people I know, and don’t, who feel dishearten now, who are so fearful of what comes next, and who feel a sense of loss, know he is absolutely not, under any circumstances, going to stop fighting for what we believe in.
“I’m going to take a little vacation,” he said, “get a little sun, but then we are right back at it. ”
He told me about the work he will be doing on youth and families, on getting more people engaged in voting, on protecting liberties. Then he said the words that meant the most to me: “The best is yet to come.”
I believe Barack Obama was the greatest President of my lifetime, but as I heard him talk, I remembered he is about more than political office. At so many times—his amazing speech about race in the first campaign, his powerful words after Sandy Hook, his second inaugural when laid out the imperative of attacking climate change—he has moved us beyond politics to elevate our values. This is his great opportunity now; just as America faces a crisis of values, a great debate about who we really are at our core, he will be speaking not as just a politician, but as a moral leader. In many ways we need that even more today than great politicians.
In the couple minutes we had left we talked about what I am learning in my own evolution from political to civic leader; about what you can and can’t do in and out of office, and how much can be done if each of your statements aren’t filtered through the cynicism people have for politicians.
We said goodbye and I walked out of the White House, past that reviewing stand, but didn’t feel the same sense of dread. Donald Trump will be my President and I won’t try to delegitimize him even though many, including Trump, tried to do that to Obama for eight years. But we can fight for what we believe, and fight back, hard, when we see something wrong. And, remembering that look in the President’s eye when he told me, “We aren’t done yet”, and remembering all we have seen during his remarkable Presidency, I know he will be with us every step.
Later that night Megan and I went to a farewell party at the White House. I talked to Obama’s Education Secretary Arne Duncan who has gone back to Chicago to work on youth violence prevention, to former Attorney General Eric Holder who is organizing opposition to unfair redistricting around the country, former White House political director and Ambassador Patrick Gaspard who is working on citizen engagement with George Soros, Gabby Giffords is fighting the gun violence that robbed her and so many others of so much, activist actors like Alfre Woodard who has been through waves of social movements saying she’s now ready for the next phase. Obama has been a President but Obama is also a movement that isn’t done on Jan 20.
Back in 2007, when I was working with activists around the country in the Draft Obama campaign, I wrote a blog on a national website saying: “Barack Obama is a great man but this is not about him. It’s about setting off a movement.” The next day he called my office, said that’s the way he saw it, that he was community organizer who wanted to light the spark, and he recruited me to volunteer for what was then a long-shot campaign. I still feel that way, and it’s clear he does, too.
And after those few wonderful minutes with him as he gets ready to leave office, I feel, like him, that “the best is yet to come.”

A tragedy, and an uncertain future, but not the end

Well, I tried, as did over 59 million American voters, but Donald Trump was not to be stopped.

The New Yorker’s editor, David Remnick, one of my favorite American journalists, called the election, “An American tragedy” — a triumph for “nativism, authoritarianism, misogyny, and racism.”

Trump’s victory is a victory for the old America and a rejection of the past eight years under Barack Obama. It’s a big step backwards, away from the America of freedom, openness, and multiculturalism that had brought millions of immigrants, like me, to its shores.

Not only did Trump improbably win the White House, but the Republican Party held on to its majorities in the Senate and the House. The political results will come swiftly: Merrick Garland, nominated many months ago by Obama to the Supreme Court will never become a member of the Court, whose conservative majority is now guaranteed for years to come. The Affordable Care Act could be abolished and the fate of those twenty million with new health insurance is unknown. The future of the nuclear deal with Iran is highly uncertain. “Get ready for a rough ride,” writes Los Angeles Times’ Doyle McManus.

Still, this is not the end of America. The political forces, from Trump himself and other Republicans to President Obama and Hillary Clinton, have all quickly urged the coming together to ensure the peaceful transition of power. We are Americans first, patriots first, said Obama. “We all want what’s best for the country.” Tomorrow, he will receive Trump in the White House.

For the anti-Trump forces, for the losing side, there are some silver linings in the dark clouds. Hillary Clinton won the plurality of the vote, 59,679 million to 59,472 million for Trump. But she lost the all-important Electoral College vote, failing to reach the magical number of 270. And that’s really all that counts. That’s happened before, most recently in 2000, when Al Gore won the plurality of votes but still lost the election to George W. Bush. It’s time to do away with this antiquate election system and elect America’s president on the basis of how many votes he/she gets.

California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Vermont belong to the group of states where Clinton captured over 60 percent of the vote, followed by New York State with 59 percent, Washington State 56, and Illinois, New Jersey, and Rhode Island 55. In Washington, DC, almost 93 percent of the voters supported Clinton. For Trump, Wyoming gave him his largest victory margin with 70 percent of the vote, followed by West Virginia 69, Oklahoma, 65, North Dakota, 64, Alabama and Kentucky 63, and Tennessee 61 percent.

It was urban vs. rural, the two coasts vs. the heartland. The election shows a country split down the middle, more divided than anyone had realized.

The Democrats failed to capture the majority in the U.S. Senate but they had some success by electing three new, female, senators: Kamala Harris, California, Catherine Cortez Masto, Nevada, and Tammy Duckworth, Illinois, an Indian/African-American, a Latina, and a Thai-American. Maryland has a new U.S. Senator, Democrat Chris Van Hollen — my former Congressman — who, in turn, was succeeded by Jamie Raskin, also a progressive Democrat.

In Minnesota, which I have followed closely a few years, Clinton squeaked through with 46.8 percent of the vote, or 43,000 votes, but the Republicans increased their majority in the State House and captured the majority in the State Senate. Democratic governor Mark Dayton’s two remaining years in office will not be easy. Minnesota also elected the first Somali American to the State Legislature. 34-year-old Ilhan Omar, who came to America as a child after years in a refugee camp, captured 81 percent of the vote in her Minneapolis district and became not only the first Somali-American legislator in Minnesota, but in all of America. That’s not Trump’s America, but it is my America.

 

A happy Labor Day, after all…

As an immigrant and a recent citizen, I will cast my first presidential vote in November. I have looked forward to this for quite a while although this sad, even depressing, campaign hasn’t been the kind of campaign that I had hoped for. And my choice is clear: Hillary Clinton — Trump’s America is not my America.

Today, on Labor Day, I realized that all is not doom and gloom. At the traditional Labor Day Parade in Kensington, the next town over from my home town of Silver Spring in the Maryland suburbs just north of Washington, DC, thousands had come out in the beautiful weather. There was excitement and optimism in the air; good people are running for office, among them my Congressman, Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat who is running for the U.S. Senate to succeed retiring Barbara Mikulski, and State Senator Jamie Raskin, also a Democrat, who is trying to succeed Van Hollen in the U.S. House of Representatives. Their campaigns are important parts of this year’s overall political campaign and their outcomes are almost as important as the race for the White House in determining what kind of America we will have after November.

Van Hollen and Raskin

Van Hollen and Raskin both handily won their respective Democratic primaries in April and their victories in November, although not guaranteed, of course, are highly likely in this Democratic state. Van Hollen, the son of a foreign service officer, was born in Karachi, Pakistan. A progressive with lots of foreign policy experience and knowledge, he has been in Congress since 2003 — the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, and part of the Democratic leadership team. Raskin, a law professor at the local American University, has been in the State Senate since 2006, where he has been a leading voice on many liberal issues: marriage equality, repeal of the death penalty, gun control, climate change, medical marijuana, campaign finance reform.

They are smart and hard-working and their hearts are in the right place. They will be great additions to the U.S. Congress, which, god knows, needs all the help it can get.

Few bright spots for the Democrats as America voted Republican

Well, that was really depressing.

Only in Minnesota, and a few other bright spots around the country, did the Democrats win, or even put up a good fight in yesterday’s Republican landslide. Even in Democratic strongholds, like Massachusetts and Maryland, the voters elected new Republican governors. Southern Democratic Senators trying to get reelected failed, like Mark Pryor in Arkansas and Kay Hagan in North Carolina. Only Mark Warner in Virginia held on, barely…

The next US Senate will have a comfortable Republican majority, and the least sympathetic of all American politicians, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, will be the new majority leader. He was the one — remember ? — who set as his primary goal at the start of the first Obama Administration to make sure that America’s first African American president would only serve one term. Well, Obama was reelected in 2012 and McConnell remained minority leader. Now, McConnell plus House Speaker John Boehner in charge of an even larger Republican majority in the House of Representatives, will have to work with President Obama if anything is to get done in the new Congress.

Don’t hold your breath! The Republican majorities in Congress contain more conservatives and more Tea party sympathizers, who now see even less reason to work with the President. If they turn cooperative, it will be a first after years of Republican obstruction, including a government shutdown, for which, apparently, and remarkably, the American voters have rewarded them while at the same time — and completely illogically — bitterly complaining about the gridlock in Washington.

They give Congress embarrassingly low approval ratings — even lower than the President — and then vote them back in power, stronger than before. Figure that one out!

Actually, and once again, the American voters have shown how negative they are towards the government, not only this government but government in general. They want a weak government and with yesterday’s outcome they have assured themselves of that.

I mentioned Minnesota in the beginning, where I have recently spent quite a bit of time, and although Minnesota’s voters reelected all the top Democratic candidates, Governor Mark Dayton, Senator Al Franken, the State Auditor, the Attorney General, as well as all five Democratic members of the US Congress, and elected a new Democratic Secretary of State, the voters turned their back on the Democratic Farmer Labor Party’s (DFL) candidates for the State House of Representatives. The Democrats’ majority of 73 to 61 for the last two years will switch to a solid Republican majority, 72 to 62,  in the next House, while the Democrats keep their majority in the Senate, which is not up for reelection until 2016.

So, also in Minnesota, the voters chose change, to end, as they put it, the “single-party DFL rule.” It’s the fourth time in ten years that the majority in the House has changed hands. And, just like in Washington, the ability to govern, to get results, to move the country forward, has been weakened. In that sense, the voters in Minnesota were no different than the voters in the rest of America.

The outcome does not bode well for America in the next two years.