If the President Lies, Why Can’t I?

Alan Zendell, April 6, 2019

I’ve heard that question from children and adults, and it always makes me cringe. It underscores what I and many others have feared since the day Donald Trump announced his candidacy.

There is not now nor ever has been any controversy over Trump’s relationship with the truth, and it’s time people starting looking at that properly. He has spent his entire life twisting facts, exaggerating his successes, distorting reality, and inventing outright lies. The only thing newsworthy about his lack of integrity as president is his brazenness.

The media fact check, act shocked and outraged, and keep daily, weekly, and monthly tallies of the lies Trump spouts. It’s the latest in trendy games intended to entertain audiences, but other than increasing ratings, it accomplishes nothing.

During the 2016 election campaign his supporters said if he won he’d never behave that way as president. Now, his most prominent Republican supporters tell us it’s not important. It’s just Trump being Trump. But they’re wrong. When the devaluation of truth becomes the policy of the United States, we all lose.

It’s easy to explain to a child that lying is wrong, but that’s both naïve and oversimplified, and there is nothing simple or unsophisticated about the way Trump plays with the truth. It’s a cynical, premeditated tactic that he has used successfully throughout his life. He lies and exaggerates because he can. He knows how to churn the daily news cycle and use it to his advantage, and he understands that lying is simply a calculated risk that pays off more often than not.

To understand this, ask yourself what a lie really is. It’s neither a moral issue nor a mortal sin. It’s a deliberate act of deception intended to accomplish a specific end, committed with the full understanding that there’s a possibility it could backfire, and if it does some price will be paid. I say this in monetary terms because that’s the way Trump thinks.

If he lies to business associates and he’s found guilty in court, the worst that happens is he pays a fine. If he’s caught lying to customers it might cost him revenue, but ultimately, Trump understands how the system works. He knows he will prevail most of the time because the playing fields in business and politics are both rigged in favor of wealth and power.

We need to stop raging over Trump’s lies and realize that his approach to business and politics is simply his way of competing. When a football coach devises a defense designed to deceive the other team’s offense we applaud. When a hockey player dekes a defender and goes around him to score, we cheer. It’s the same in every sport: soccer, basketball, lacrosse – competition is all about skill at deception. Poker, bridge, chess – whatever your game, the more you deceive your opponent the more you win.

So let’s stop railing about how awful Trump is because he lies, and focus on what’s really important. If you think of a lie as a broken promise, consider that treaties, trade agreements, and legislative proposals are just special kinds of promises.

When Trump walks away from an international agreement he tells both our allies and our adversaries that our word cannot be trusted. When he lies about the intent of a major tax reform law or guarantees affordable health care, he breaks a promise to millions of hard-working Americans. When he misrepresents the motives of millions of people fleeing tyranny and oppression and equates them with radicalized terrorists, he offends everyone whose parents and grandparents came here as immigrants.

Does that matter? Damn right it does. Most of his supporters revel in Trump’s behavior. They cheer him at rallies and chant his hate-filled slogans. They love that he lies and cheats and gets away with it, because too many of them wish they could do the same thing, and Trump enables that kind of thinking every time he opens his mouth.

So let’s keep our eyes on the ball. If this keeps up we will find ourselves in a nation that values nothing but success, wealth, and power in which every means is justified by the end it leads to. That’s the definition of a jungle, and it’s up to everyone who believes in morality and decency to make sure it doesn’t happen.

The longer Trump is in power the deeper we sink into the muck. Whatever else motivates us, if we care about the future of our country, defeating him and beginning to heal from the damage he has caused must be our highest priority.

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Trump Spring

Alan Zendell, March 22, 2019

It’s Spring! With the coming of the vernal equinox, my thoughts turn to renewal. One thing I’m renewing is my Amazon page. I’m lowering the price of updated copies of four of my books to $0.00 for the weekend, beginning today. You can find them at https://www.amazon.com/s?k=alan+zendell&ref=nb_sb_noss_1.

But there are more important things that need renewal, specifically our battered ideals and institutions that have been under attack during twenty-six months of Donald Trump’s presidency. His supporters point to “everything he has accomplished,” and even those among them who are nauseated by his behavior hold their noses and say his flaws are worth putting up with. But are they?

Let’s summarize those “accomplishments.” Chief on his supporters’ lists is the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Every president who passes a major tax law takes credit for it, but this one belongs to the Republican-dominated Congress that had been trying to pass it for decades. It’s no coincidence that Trump and his family realized millions in windfall benefits from it.

By now, most Americans know if their personal taxes were cut and whether their job and income prospects improved. They also know that the tax cuts blew the lid off our deficit to the tune of trillions of dollars, and the same Republicans who desperately wanted the cuts are about to drop the other shoe on what they call entitlements, (what most of us call health care and social security) to pay for them.

The administration said the deficit wasn’t a problem because corporate tax cuts would stimulate the economy, increase our GNP and generate additional tax revenue. But today, the stock and bond markets dropped precipitously because of a near certain indication of an impending recession. That means the GNP will contract rather than expand, which will result in higher deficits and require either serious reductions in government spending or a repeal of all or part of the tax cuts. So much for Trump’s singular accomplishment.

Remember the boasts about how Trump was going to change the way we do business with other countries? With much ballyhoo, his administration negotiated a new trade deal with Mexico and Canada which looks very much like NAFTA, which it replaced. Then he started a trade and tariff war which shows no sign of ending. The most noticeable effect, recently, was the announcement by General Motors that they planned to move five manufacturing facilities offshore because tariffs made raw materials too expensive, though personal attacks by Trump resulted in some retrenchment.

On the diplomatic side, Trump said his personal magnetism would achieve what professional diplomats couldn’t. He made flashy overtures to North Korea which resulted two failed summit meetings with Kim Jong Un. Kim profited from the elevated stature they gave him but the meetings netted us absolutely nothing in terms of the real objective, which was the denuclearization of the Koreas. Events in the last two days show Trump’s Korea initiative for the sham it is. On Thursday, the administration imposed new sanctions against North Korea trumpeted by National Security Advisor John Bolton,  which included punishing Chinese companies that were enabling North Korea to bypass shipping  sanctions already in place. But when North Korea retaliated by walking away from the North-South liaison office, Trump immediately reversed the new sanctions. Who won that confrontation?

Trump’s two most dramatic diplomatic decisions, tearing up the Iran Nuclear Agreement and withdrawing from the Paris Environmental Accords have significantly weakened our relationships with our allies, and they’ve been made worse by Trump’s personal style. He insults and attacks the leaders of traditional allies like the UK, France, Germany, Canada, and Mexico. At the same time he clearly reveres autocrats and dictators, North Korea’s Kim, Vladimir Putin, Chinese president Xi, Philippine president Duterte, and the newest member of that club, Brazilian president Bolsonaro.

Weighed against Trump’s so-called accomplishments are his refusal to condemn racism and white supremacy, his attacks on the courts and the Justice Department, and his attempts to shut down immigration from Muslim and Hispanic (non-white) nations. His complete lack of empathy for the children uprooted from their families by his policies, his crass and vulgar personal style, and his lack of any definable morality all must be balanced against anything positive that might come from his policies.

Trump has chosen to celebrate Spring by relentlessly attacking John McCain and continuing to make outrageous and absurd claims designed to undermine the Mueller Report before it ever sees the light of day. The former is simply sick, a typical response from a mentally ill president driven by a Narcissistic Personality Disorder. The latter reflects Trump’s version of the Constitution, in which he has absolute power to do anything he pleases, and no individual or government entity can stand in his way.

Happy Spring, everyone.

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The Great 2020 Dilemma

Alan Zendell, March 18, 2019

The dilemma is simple to explain, but don’t let that fool you. It’s extremely serious. Probably as serious as anything we’ve ever faced. The problem, of course, is Donald Trump. The dilemma is how to assure that the Democrats don’t blow the 2020 election and hand him a second term.

The highest priority in the next election for three out of every five Americans is defeating Trump. Trump’s favorable and unfavorable ratings invariably show a double-digit net negative. That ought to create a stiff breeze behind any Democrat’s sails, shouldn’t it? As we saw in 2016, that doesn’t automatically translate to victory.

Conventional wisdom tells us the most critical attribute a Democratic candidate must possess is electability, and therein lies the problem. With roughly twenty candidates having announced their intention to run, as of today, not one of them has a positive net favorability. The only Democrat who does, former Vice President Joe Biden, hasn’t even said for sure that he’s running. That ought to give everyone a chill. Did we learn nothing from the 2016 disaster?

If Democrats expect to defeat Trump, they need to find a “likable” candidate without shooting themselves in all forty feet with infighting. To accomplish that, each candidate must commit to putting his or her personal ideology and ambition on hold if it becomes clear that Priority One is in jeopardy. New Democrats who think they were elected to rebrand their party must understand that if Trump wins re-election, no amount of re-branding will matter.

It’s time for Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and Thom Perez to issue a Joint Manifesto. I’m all for democracy and free speech, but the individual expression of free will without discipline is just chaos. That will not win in 2020, because the incumbent is a master at using confusion and disarray. And hateful as he may be, he knows how to stay on message with his base. If the Democrats allow theirs to splinter, they’re doomed.

The Manifesto should begin by declaring that regardless of the policies they favor, candidates must stop using the word “Socialist” as either a noun or an adjective. The 2020 election will be for the hearts and minds of an American electorate that is woefully uninformed and dangerously susceptible to social media. The truth is that only a small percentage of Americans understand what socialism is, and for the rest it’s a bogeyman that will undermine a candidate faster than shooting someone on Fifth Avenue. No one knows that better than Donald Trump.

Next, the Manifesto must make clear that for the purpose of defeating Donald Trump, fringe theories and philosophies need to be left at the door this year, along with over-sized egos. Candidates have to know that to earn the support of the DNC, their rhetoric has to stay within reasonable bounds. Anything that degrades a candidate’s electability is out of bounds, and should be punished by withholding financial support.

The Manifesto should contain a Twitter section that’s updated daily to remind Democrats of what they’re fighting for. It can begin with the twenty-nine tweets the President posted last weekend. Consider the backdrop:

  • a White Supremacist terror attack against innocent Muslims in New Zealand
  • the disintegration of the national government in Venezuela which, even if we don’t care about Venezuelans, caused gas prices to jump 25 percent
  • flooding that could bankrupt Midwestern farmers
  • announcements that North Korea will likely resume its nuclear missile tests and Russia will begin deploying medium range missiles in Europe that could destabilize NATO defenses
  • an existential crisis at Boeing that shook the confidence of the flying public.

With all that happening Trump used his tweets to attack television shows he doesn’t like and support Fox News commentators he does like, to attack John McCain and General Motors, and to renew his baseless claims of voter fraud and election rigging. As always, Trump’s ego dominated his judgment, canceling out whatever leadership skills he might possess.

Memo to Democrats – that’s what you’re fighting to replace. This president created a national deficit crisis by passing a tax law that to no one’s surprise will threaten Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security in this Congress. He started trade wars that have no solution in sight that are hurting Americans. And he has thumbed his nose at everyone who believes our environment is at risk and that our children may inherit an uninhabitable planet. Even worse, he subscribes to no moral code except one-way loyalty to him.

Dear Democrats, if you can’t see what’s really at stake here, or you can’t put the country ahead of your own personal agendas, you’re no better than Trump. God help us if that turns out to be the case.

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Trump As Seen By a Brit

Alan Zendell, March 6, 2019

In response to the question: “Why do some British people not like Donald Trump,” Nate White, an articulate and witty writer from England, wrote this magnificent response. It was referred to me by some good friends, and it has appeared in several places on the internet, one of which is here.

It’s not clear that Nate White actually exists except as a pen name. I couldn’t find anything biographical about him, but honestly, I don’t care. The essay is brilliant no matter who wrote it.

***

A few things spring to mind. Trump lacks certain qualities which the British traditionally esteem.

For instance, he has no class, no charm, no coolness, no credibility, no compassion, no wit, no warmth, no wisdom, no subtlety, no sensitivity, no self-awareness, no humility, no honour and no grace – all qualities, funnily enough, with which his predecessor Mr. Obama was generously blessed.

So for us, the stark contrast does rather throw Trump’s limitations into embarrassingly sharp relief. Plus, we like a laugh. And while Trump may be laughable, he has never once said anything wry, witty or even faintly amusing – not once, ever.

I don’t say that rhetorically, I mean it quite literally: not once, not ever. And that fact is particularly disturbing to the British sensibility – for us, to lack humour is almost inhuman. But with Trump, it’s a fact. He doesn’t even seem to understand what a joke is – his idea of a joke is a crass comment, an illiterate insult, a casual act of cruelty.

Trump is a troll. And like all trolls, he is never funny and he never laughs; he only crows or jeers. And scarily, he doesn’t just talk in crude, witless insults – he actually thinks in them. His mind is a simple bot-like algorithm of petty prejudices and knee-jerk nastiness.

There is never any under-layer of irony, complexity, nuance or depth. It’s all surface. Some Americans might see this as refreshingly upfront. Well, we don’t. We see it as having no inner world, no soul.

And in Britain we traditionally side with David, not Goliath. All our heroes are plucky underdogs: Robin Hood, Dick Whittington, Oliver Twist. Trump is neither plucky, nor an underdog. He is the exact opposite of that. He’s not even a spoiled rich-boy, or a greedy fat-cat. He’s more a fat white slug. A Jabba the Hutt of privilege.

And worse, he is that most unforgivable of all things to the British: a bully. That is, except when he is among bullies; then he suddenly transforms into a snivelling sidekick instead. There are unspoken rules to this stuff – the Queensberry rules of basic decency – and he breaks them all. He punches downwards – which a gentleman should, would, could never do – and every blow he aims is below the belt. He particularly likes to kick the vulnerable or voiceless – and he kicks them when they are down.

So the fact that a significant minority – perhaps a third – of Americans look at what he does, listen to what he says, and then think ‘Yeah, he seems like my kind of guy’ is a matter of some confusion and no little distress to British people, given that:
* Americans are supposed to be nicer than us, and mostly are.
* You don’t need a particularly keen eye for detail to spot a few flaws in the man.

This last point is what especially confuses and dismays British people, and many other people too; his faults seem pretty bloody hard to miss. After all, it’s impossible to read a single tweet, or hear him speak a sentence or two, without staring deep into the abyss. He turns being artless into an art form; he is a Picasso of pettiness; a Shakespeare of ****. His faults are fractal: even his flaws have flaws, and so on ad infinitum.

God knows there have always been stupid people in the world, and plenty of nasty people too. But rarely has stupidity been so nasty, or nastiness so stupid. He makes Nixon look trustworthy and George W look smart. In fact, if Frankenstein decided to make a monster assembled entirely from human flaws – he would make a Trump.

And a remorseful Doctor Frankenstein would clutch out big clumpfuls of hair and scream in anguish: ‘My God… what… have… I… created?

If being a twat was a TV show, Trump would be the boxed set.

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Madman Diplomacy

Alan Zendell, March 4, 2019

Donald Trump, who never met a boast he couldn’t embrace, recently declared that it was his feigned irrationality that forced Kim Jong Un to negotiate. That was before the second summit between the two men in Hanoi, last week. When Trump talks about negotiation, he inhabits a surreal space that few people are in a position to utilize – namely, that when your opponent knows you have the ability to completely obliterate him, you can pretend to be crazy and make irrational threats, and that unpredictability will force concessions.

The idea isn’t new to Trump. Richard Nixon, who Trump reveres, reveled in creating uncertainty in his adversaries, domestic politicians and foreign leaders alike. But the idea goes back much further than Nixon. It traces its roots back to Nicolo Machiavelli in the sixteenth century.

Machiavelli famously distinguished between the values and beliefs of individuals and the actions of political leaders which are usually “indifferent to religious and moral guidelines.” He asserted that rulers who ignore normative establishment values and methods will be more successful than those who follow established procedures, but some modern historians believe that approach leads to ill-founded conclusions, and that “irrational and egocentric understanding of politics … will ultimately result in mutual destruction.”

Nixon believed that convincing Ho Chi Minh that he was frustrated and crazy enough to use nuclear weapons would end the Vietnam War. In 1971, he directed National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger to privately inform the North Vietnamese that the use of nuclear weapons was on the table. The Washington Post’s James Hohmann reports that Kissinger similarly advised Trump in advance of his meetings with foreign leaders like Kim and Chinese president Xi. It’s unclear whether Kissinger specifically advocated what Trump calls the “madman theory” of diplomacy, though there’s no doubt that Trump believes it works. But does it?

As Hohmann pointed out, after Nixon’s warning was delivered to Ho Chi Minh, the Vietnam War dragged on for another three-and-a-half years at the cost of 21,000 more American lives. There is no evidence that Nixon’s threats caused the North Vietnamese to negotiate, and the end of that war was a humiliating defeat for the United States. Then why does Trump persist in believing that irrational-sounding threats and rhetoric are effective diplomacy?

The first Trump-Kim summit was a huge propaganda win for Kim that cost him nothing. In light of the diplomatic failure of both summits, it’s worth asking how much Trump’s threats of total annihilation influenced Kim to meet with him. Both Kim and Trump had to realize that the escalation of the war of words could only go so far before it led to unacceptable risks. The missile scare that had Hawaiians running for cover in January of 2018 made it clear that something had to change. Does that make the ensuing bromance between Trump and Kim believable? Even in the unlikely event that the two leaders actually like each other, only the most naïve observer could imagine that that would soften Kim’s resolve to retain his nuclear missile capability.

Lest we forget, the process that led to North Korea seeming to want to rejoin the society of nations began with Kim’s initiative to send a delegation to the 2018 Olympics, a decision that had nothing to do with Trump, and one that he actually ridiculed. Further, most observers credit the renewed communications between North and South Korea to the peace initiatives put forth by South Korean president Moon in July of 2017, which seemed also to have little or nothing  to do with Trump-style diplomacy.

While it’s obvious that as the chief protector of South Vietnam, American military power was a significant factor leading to the two Trump-Kim summits, the more likely explanation of the effect of Trump’s threats to obliterate North Korea is what always happens when two bullies face off against each other. They have no choice but to either fight or make nice and scale back their rhetoric.

In the aftermath of two failed meetings, does anyone believe that Kim Jong Un is intimidated by Donald Trump? Did Trump’s “crazy” act accomplish anything? Did nominating himself for the Nobel Peace Prize win him any admirers?

The reality is that if Trump’s priority had been to make progress in getting North Korea to denuclearize, the second summit never would have happened until a deal had been brokered at the ministerial level. Trump’s belief that his personal magnetism could overcome what professional diplomats viewed as a summit that had to fail proved baseless.

Ironically, in going ahead with a meeting that could never have resulted in anything positive and then walking away, Trump is praised by his supporters for not giving away his only negotiating leverage to save face. Does that sound like a victory for “madman diplomacy?” Trump must not either, since he blamed his failure on Michael Cohen today.

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Can It Happen Here?

Alan Zendell, February 26, 2018

One of the nearly continuous lessons I learned growing up in post-World War Two New York, was that America was the strongest and most virtuous country on Earth. The idea that America was where the Good Guys lived was a given, something I never thought to challenge until I was an undergraduate at Columbia, when anti-ROTC demonstrations and panty raids of the Barnard dorms were the height of radicalism. In the 1960s, the horrors of Nazism and Fascism were all thought of in the past tense, the nightmares they once produced replaced by fears of Communism and the Russian H-bomb.

Evil dictatorships, be they Fascist or Communist, our smug young minds assured us, could never happen here in America. It wasn’t until years later that I became aware of just how strong the Nazi movement in the United States had grown prior to World War Two. On February 20, 1939, less than a month before German troops occupied Czechoslovakia, 20,000 American Nazis held a rally at Madison Square Garden in New York. I was reminded of all that recently, when I stumbled across Sinclair Lewis’ dystopian fantasy novel, It Can’t Happen Here.

Lewis published it in 1935, five years after winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. The novel tells the story of a nationalist/populist candidate who challenges Franklin Roosevelt’s bid for re-election in 1936 and defeats both him and his Republican opponent. The new president immediately creates a para-military force of Minute Men who supersede local law enforcement and rapidly construct a fascist state modeled after 1930s Germany and Italy.

The story is dated and exaggerated, especially in its portrayal of an American population so steeped in Depression and poverty that they buy into the Fascist promises of prosperity for all working people. It quickly becomes clear, however, that “working people” excludes women, Negroes, Jews, intellectuals, and wealthy bankers and industrialists. Within two years, women cannot work, blacks are disenfranchised, all those other undesirables are confined in concentration camps, and the United States has initiated a war of conquest with Mexico.

Eighty years after it was published, It Can’t Happen Here experienced a stunning comeback with the election of Donald Trump. A New York Times book review published three days before Trump’s inauguration viewed the novel as an eerily prescient prediction of the conditions that resulted in Trump’s victory, and claimed that “Within a week of the 2016 election, the book was reportedly sold out on Amazon.com.” Lewis’ satirical message, of course, was that it can happen here, and it might if Americans don’t wake up from their complacent somnolence.

I found reading the book profoundly depressing. Lewis’ Fascist American president comes to power legally, via the ballot box. But once in office he systematically begins to disassemble the institutions that are the basis of American society, specifically the press and the courts, using his Minute Men to intimidate and arrest anyone who opposes him, including a good portion of Congress. Much of the story was modeled on the way Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, but the real horror of reading it today was the feeling among the majority of Americans that Donald Trump aspires to the same kind of autocratic rule.

Do I think it’s possible that an updated version of Lewis’ vision could materialize in today’s America? I want to emphatically say, “NO,” but I and so many others were wrong in 2016. We foolishly believed that America had turned a critical corner since the turn of this century. We thought the election of Barrack Obama proved America had finally outgrown the worst of its bigotries and prejudices. We’re a lot more knowledgeable and better educated than Americans were in the 1930s, but apparently no less prone to believing in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy.

If you don’t think our freedom and institutions are fragile, think again. Another work of fiction brings this point home even more strongly. Philip K. Dick’s novel The Man in the High Castle, serialized on the screen by Amazon Studios, is an alternate history in which Germany and Japan won World War Two and occupy a divided United States. Many versions of this story have been written before, but the power of this one is how convincingly Americans are shown to be turned by Nazi ideology when their individual self-interest and survival are at stake.

I might not have taken either work seriously, if I hadn’t seen Donald Trump relentlessly use the very same tactics as the autocrats of the last century. His attacks on truth, his reliance on the politics of fear and division, and his relentless attempts to silence the media and thwart the will of the courts make Lewis’ and Dick’s warnings a lot more credible than they would have been just four years ago.

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Emergency!

Alan Zendell, February 16, 2019

The nation is faced with two emergencies this week. Neither of them is the trumped up entirely specious non-emergency at our border with Mexico. The State of Emergency declared by President Trump is nothing more another rallying cry to his base. There is no emergency. Ranchers along portions of the border that have no barrier look out their windows watching for hordes of illegal immigrants Trump says are streaming toward them, but all they see is endless desert in which the only living things that threaten law-abiding Americans are rattlesnakes and scorpions.

The president justifies his national emergency claim with falsified crime statistics and fantasies of caravans filled with thousands of drug smugglers and other assorted criminals flowing toward our border. Every Congressional Representative whose constituency includes the border, and all the border city mayors who have spoken publicly not only say that additional walls are unnecessary, but have voiced their support for landowners who would be seriously harmed by construction of a new border fence.

There is a different emergency, however. We can’t believe a word our president says, even when he’s discussing a national crisis because his only concern is the size of the cheering crowds who love his divisive racism. Far Right Conservative author Ann Coulter, until recently one of Trump’s staunchest supporters, said yesterday, “The only national emergency is that our president is an idiot,” and that he’s “trying to scam the stupidest people in his base.”

We also face a different burgeoning national emergency masquerading as a victory for progressivism against corporate greed. At times, Democrats seem united in their belief that defeating Donald Trump is the most important priority in ensuring the future health of the country. Most of them also agree that the surest way to guarantee the re-election of a president whose approval rating rarely tops forty percent is for their party to spend more time tearing itself apart than making the case for why they are the better choice. Unfortunately for those of us who would do anything to avert another six years of Trump, that’s exactly what seems to be happening.

The most visible example is the debacle over Amazon’s HQ2 decision. Mayors and governors all over the country believed that locating Amazon’s second headquarters in their areas would be a huge boost to their local economies and citizens. In pursuing Amazon, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo even said he’d change his name to Amazon if that’s what it took to win the competition. The full court press to win Amazon’s approval even resulted in a rare show of harmony with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

New York won the larger share of the competition by committing $1.5 billion in tax breaks and other concessions in exchange for 25,000 jobs with average salaries of $150,000 a year. The state of Virginia won the other part by offering concessions of $750 million, a deal which was finalized this week. I don’t know enough economics to take sides in the argument over whether tax breaks for corporations in exchange for promised jobs are ultimately in our interests as taxpayers, though at first glance I’d guess that if Amazon planned to be a stable presence in Long Island City, the investment of $1.5 billion would have paid large dividends over time.

The more important argument is that the overwhelming majority of the Democratic Party favored the arrangement. Amazon is hardly an evil corporation from the point of view of the Green New Deal – rather, it is the non-polluting success story of the twenty-first century. I believe that in convincing Amazon that New York City wasn’t worth the trouble, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, with help from Elizabeth Warren and other prominent Progressives, committed the very same sin Trump does whenever he opens his mouth.

Ocasio-Cortez played to her base rather than asking what was best for her city and state. It must have been a heady experience for her to suddenly find herself in a position to wield that kind of political leverage only a month after taking her seat in Congress. I imagine there are very few of us who could have restrained ourselves in that situation, but the sad fact remains that her victory dance against what she termed “Amazon’s greed” only widened the divisions in her party.

I’ve sung Ocasio-Cortez’ praises since she first came on the political scene. But the most serious emergency facing the country today is that if she and her followers can’t reign in their ambitions and find a way to work with the mainstream elements of their party, Trump will win again in 2020. That will be a true catastrophe.

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