First Rule of Politics: Count the Votes

New Orleans    The problem when businessmen go into politics is learning that it is more important to be able to count the votes than just the dollars in your bank account. You can buy a lot in politics, but not everything, because office holders really, really want to hold onto their day jobs, not just your job. When it comes to Congress, there are no term limits, so many of them know they will be in office long after whoever is in the White House comes and goes.

President Trump has handled the learning curve so poorly and at such dangerous speed that he has gone over the cliff now because of his inability to focus on the need to be able to count the votes. In the Senate there is a 53 to 47 edge held by the Republicans over the Democrats, yet somehow with his proposal for $5.7 billion to fund his wall, come hell or high water, he could only muster a vote of 50 to 47 in the Senate, and that included one Democratic crossover from West Virginia. On the Democrats failing motion, they got more votes, 52 to 44, picking up six Republicans who want the government to open and oppose the shutdown.

Now it’s easier to understand Republican Senate Majority Leader’s strange silence for almost a month into the partial government shutdown. He knew he didn’t have the votes for the wall all along! He likely had told the President that before this disaster. Tactically, he was trying to claim that he was ready to bring something forward, “when it had the votes,” but said over and over that he wasn’t going to bring something up just to waste time that either the House wouldn’t approve or the President wouldn’t sign. He’s just let the President twist in the wind, frothing at the mouth to his base, and acting the fool, and waiting until the time was right to teach a lesson to him, even if subtle, and painful to federal employees and the public.

Worse, Trump now finds himself in the worst possible position for any negotiation. He’s stuck “bargaining with himself.” As a term of art, that entails being forced to concede demands made without any compromise on the other side. We saw that with his threat and his attempt to give the State of the Union address to the House of Representatives. There’s a new sheriff in town. With Nancy Pelosi as Speaker, she shut the door on his foot, and forced him to back away. Now, it is proven that he doesn’t have nearly enough votes for his wall.

In negotiating with himself, he’s now saying he wants the billion offered for border security by the Democrats in the House before the Senate vote to be a “down payment” on the wall. That’s not happening, captain!

Senate McConnell needs to whisper louder in his ear, so he really hears it this time. You don’t have the votes. You better start claiming you want border security, so we can all make a deal and get back to work, because your wall just came tumbling down.

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Gaslighting

New Orleans     Gaslighting is an interesting concept, but when I first heard the term, frankly, it meant nothing to me.  Talking to psychologist and attorney Bryant Welch on Wade’s World gave me a much clearer understanding of the concept and its dangers.

According to Wikipedia “the term owes its origin to the 1938 Patrick Hamilton play Gaslight and its 1940 and 1944 film adaptations, in which a man dims the gas lights in his home and then persuades his wife that she is imagining the change.”  The experience is common enough, but since none of us use gas powered lighting inside our homes anymore, the reference doesn’t prompt an immediate, “oh, yeah!” when you hear it.  The term has become a standard in psychological practice and research studies, making it easier to morph into the polarized political environment of our times.

I had associated the term more with the Fox News and Breitbart crowd, but Welch persuaded me that this was the state of play on all sides of the political spectrum.  His book State of Confusion:  Political Manipulation and the Assault on the American Mind was released in 2008 opening the window wide into the partisan divide around Obama’s election, but he has reissued the volume now perhaps to even more relevance in the Age of Trump.

Welch would not be the first psychologist to argue that Trump is somewhere dangerous on the mental health spectrum, but his argument is more pointedly about how some of what seems so bizarre about Trump and his tactics, lies in his masterful attempts at gaslighting the public, particularly his base.  Take for example the constant lying.  Rather that that being simply a manifestation of Trump’s amorality and at best his tangential relationship to reality, it really is his ongoing gaslighting project in trying to replace reality with his own fantasy.  In chapter after chapter Welch makes this case for why the basic Trump insecurities bend him so firmly in this direction.

Not that any of this is news, even if there’s now a better name for it all.  Welch makes the case for the chicanery of Karl Rove and provides vivid examples from the McCain campaign against Obama as well.  In the Cold War generation, the “big lie,” is much the same thing.  A fundamental of propaganda was that repeating the same lie often enough made the lie more real than the truth.

Gaslighting, big lies, and other manipulations, including the Facebook mayhem from the Russians and now almost every country, are all part and parcel of the same problem.  People can be easily manipulated by falsehoods in the hands of haters or authoritarian leaders.

Now that we know the problem, how do we find the solution?

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