The Road to Stupid

Trump is taking a road trip to Mexico to meet with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. Josh Marshall explains why this is a bad idea:

It’s a general rule of politics not to enter into unpredictable situations or cede control of an event or happening to someone who wants to hurt you. President Nieto definitely does not want Donald Trump to become President. He probably assumes he won’t become president, simply by reading the polls. President Nieto is himself quite unpopular at the moment. But no one is more unpopular than Donald Trump. Trump is reviled. Toadying to Trump would be extremely bad politics; standing up to him, good politics.

Put those factors together and Peña Nieto has massive and overlapping reasons to want to embarrass Trump. At a minimum since he’s probably not eager to create a true international incident, he has zero interest in appearing in any way accommodating or helpful. The calculus might be different if Trump seemed likely to be the next US President. Mexico is a minor power with the world colossus on its doorstep. But a Trump presidency seems unlikely. Far likelier, Peña Nieto will need to build a relationship with Hillary Clinton. These factors combined make for an inherently dangerous political situation for Donald Trump, especially since the atmospherics of this meeting will be the backdrop for Trump’s evening speech which is itself an incredibly important moment and one in which he has set for himself what is likely an impossible challenge.

And here’s the punch line:

Trump is apparently traveling to Mexico with Rudy Giuliani and Sen. Jeff Sessions as his minders.

The Trump campaign has been one long exercise in shark-jumping, but this is epic even for Trump.

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Gene Wilder, 1933-2016

Say hi to Gilda for us.

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The Collateral Damage of Neoliberalism

A professor emerita of sociology at the University of California-Berkeley spends time with Trump supporters in Louisiana and forms a hypothesis about why they support Trump, which actually is interesting and insightful. Read “I Spent Five Years With Some of Trump’s Biggest Fans” by Arlie Russell Hochschild.

The capsule version is that there are pockets of white culture that have developed a huge ambivalence, shall we say, about government. I can remember when people of the same demographic were excited about Ronald Reagan because they believed he would “kick all the bums off welfare,” as one woman told me then.

Hochschild’s hypothesis is that these white people consider it shameful to take government assistance and resent the “undeserving” types who are in an imaginary line ahead of them and soaking up all the benefits. “Shaming the ‘takers’ below had been a precious mark of higher status.”

But then she says,

Trump, the King of Shame, has covertly come to the rescue. He has shamed virtually every line-cutting group in the Deep Story—women, people of color, the disabled, immigrants, refugees. But he’s hardly uttered a single bad word about unemployment insurance, food stamps, or Medicaid, or what the tea party calls “big government handouts,” for anyone—including blue-collar white men.

In this feint, Trump solves a white male problem of pride. Benefits? If you need them, okay. He masculinizes it. You can be “high energy” macho—and yet may need to apply for a government benefit. As one auto mechanic told me, “Why not? Trump’s for that. If you use food stamps because you’re working a low-wage job, you don’t want someone looking down their nose at you.” A lady at an after-church lunch said, “If you have a young dad who’s working full time but can’t make it, if you’re an American-born worker, can’t make it, and not having a slew of kids, okay. For any conservative, that is fine.”

But in another stroke, Trump adds a key proviso: restrict government help to real Americans. White men are counted in, but undocumented Mexicans and Muslims and Syrian refugees are out. Thus, Trump offers the blue-collar white men relief from a taker’s shame: If you make America great again, how can you not be proud? Trump has put on his blue-collar cap, pumped his fist in the air, and left mainstream Republicans helpless. Not only does he speak to the white working class’ grievances; as they see it, he has finally stopped their story from being politically suppressed. We may never know if Trump has done this intentionally or instinctively, but in any case he’s created a movement much like the anti-immigrant but pro-welfare-state right-wing populism on the rise in Europe. For these are all based on variations of the same Deep Story of personal protectionism.

It struck me while I was reading this that white folks didn’t have problems with the New Deal. I know I’ve written about this in the past, but the anti-government thing really didn’t start until Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society program. Then, all of a sudden, white people who had been helped enormously by many New Deal programs, and who had received subsidized mortgages and college educations thanks to the GI Bill, were against government programs.

But they might have gotten over that by now had the Democrats remained committed to working class Americans. But in the 1980s neoliberalism became the new, shiny thing among up-and-coming Democrats, and neoliberalism threw working people under the bus in favor of of investors and entrepreneurs. The neolibs were even anti-union.

Red states are, in fact, a lot stingier with benefits, and “welfare reform” didn’t help. (See also.) In the poorer states, white people are either hanging on to a middle-class lifestyle by their fingernails or have fallen out of it. And once you’ve lost your grip, it’s close to impossible to climb back up.

Hochschild’s hypothesis is also interesting because it tells us that Trump voters are rejecting right-wing “small government” ideology. Maybe the tipping point has finally been reached at which enough red-state whites are hurting enough to admit they need help, but they are still too racist to accept help if it puts them in the same welfare line, so to speak, as nonwhites.

Well, it’s a start. But see “Trump a Working-Class Hero? A Blue-Collar Town Debates His Credentials.” Here it’s blue-collar workers in Youngstown, Ohio, who have watched their community get poorer and poorer.  Trump appeals to many of them because they think he will take charge and actually do something, as opposed to the nothing they’ve gotten from either the public or private sector for a long time. Of course, one would hope a more pro-active and progressive government would have done something to keep Youngstown from stagnating in the first place. But government hasn’t been pro-active and progressive for a very long time.

A number of people interviewed in this article are Democrats who plan to vote for Trump. Hillary Clinton isn’t mentioned. But note that all the polls show Clinton beating Trump in Ohio.

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Stuck With the Bill

Seems to me the Epipen scandal pretty much exemplifies most of what’s wrong with America. Consider:

The Epipen is epinephrine inside  a fancy delivery system.  According to Raw Story, the delivery system was developed by the military on the taxpayers’ dime.  If this is true, one wonders how the pharmaceutical corporation Mylan got an exclusive patent on the thing. If taxpayers developed it, why isn’t it in public domain?

For that matter, EpiPen has been on the market since 1977. Why hasn’t anyone else come up with a competitive product? The only alternative, as I understand it, is to get a vial of epinephrine and a syringe and inject it the old-fashioned way. That might not be practical for some people with extreme allergies that might strike at any time, especially for children.

Epipen’s list price soared to $608 per pack, from about $100 in 2007. Of that, the corporate vampire squid Mylan makes $274. The rest goes to wholesalers, insurance companies, retailers and “pharmacy benefit managers,” whoever they are. Sounds like a whole lot o’ gouging going on.

Note that Mylan has made no significant changes to the Epipen for years. They raised prices, mostly over the past three years, because they expected a generic competitor to come on the market next year, but in fact the FDA did not approve the competitor. So Mylan still has a monopoly.

And there’s this: “For years, Mylan Pharmaceuticals has been selling the devices to schools at a discounted price, giving them a break from rising costs. But the program also prohibited schools from buying competitors’ devices — a provision that experts say may have violated antitrust law.”

And there’s this: “While Mylan was jacking up the price of the pens over the last nine years, making them nearly unaffordable for many patients, the company’s CEO, Heather Bresch, saw her total compensation package go from around $2.5 million when she was the company president to just shy of $19 million in 2015. ”

To add insult to injury, a couple of years ago Mylan re-incorporated in the Netherlands to save itself from paying U.S. taxes, but it’s still mostly located in the U.S.

In most civilized countries this sort of thing doesn’t happen because governments exercise price controls on medicines and medical technology. Companies can make a profit, but only so much profit.  People have been buying Epipen packs for about $100 in Canada, I understand.  Here, as you probably know, Medicare is prohibited by federal law from negotiating lower prices with pharmaceutical companies. Because it’s all about the profits.

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Justice May Be Blind, But Ethics Needs to See

Donald Trump’s new campaign team seems to have gotten him focused on a real-world issue that could do Clinton damage — the Clinton Foundation.  “Trump began this week hammering her for the Clinton Foundation, an organization created by her and her husband former President Bill Clinton, which uses private donations to fund aid programs in developing countries.”

I have in the past defended the Clinton Foundation, because it actually has done a lot of good. Unlike some other foundations it doesn’t just hand out grants, but actually implements programs itself to benefit people. And I do not believe the Clintons could get away with using the CF as a slush fund to enrich themselves without getting caught, although I assume they pay themselves from it as much as they are lawfully allowed.

But that doesn’t mean there’s not a problem. Jonathan Chait wrote a few days ago,

“Give a man a reputation as an early riser,” said Mark Twain, “and he can sleep ‘til noon.” Hillary Clinton finds herself in the opposite situation: She has a reputation for venality — the merits of which we can set aside momentarily — that forces her to a higher ethical standard. Her inadequate response to the conflicts of interest inherent in the Clinton Foundation show that she is not meeting that standard, and has not fully grasped the severity of her reputational problem.

The inherent conflict is, of course, that she’s accused of using her position as Secretary of State to sell favors to foreign governments and corporations and friends who donated to the Foundation. And every time some more emails from somewhere trickle out, new accusations blossom in right-wing media.

So far, however, no one has been able to document a direct quid pro quo. But again, that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a problem.

According to experts, the emails confirm donors were gaining access to Clinton, yet there is no evidence she granted them special favors, an important distinction that may determine how damaging the controversy is to Clinton’s campaign.

“These emails show that there was a long line of Clinton Foundation friends who had no qualms about asking the Clinton State Department for meetings, favors, and special treatment,” said Scott Amey, general counsel at the Project on Government Oversight, or POGO. “Not shocking, but it is disappointing that there were such blurred lines between State Department officials and outsiders. I see little action on these latest requests, but I think further investigation is needed.”

Bill announced that if Hillary is elected, the Foundation would stop taking donations from foreign governments. What I hadn’t realized was that it stopped taking money from foreign governments in 2009, when Hillary became Secretary of State. But it resumed taking such donations in February 2015, which was just about the time Hillary had locked up the presidential nomination with Democratic Party insiders and money backers.

And, anyway, the foreign governments thing isn’t the only problem. What about corporations like petroleum companies that might want to influence U.S. policy?

Why couldn’t they see that could be a problem? It’s similar to the situation with Hillary Clinton’s Wall Street speeches — why wouldn’t see have seen those might end up biting her? Why was she so determined to not release transcripts? People gripe that Clinton is owned by corporations, and this is why.

She’s gotten away with a lot this year through a combination of dishonest redirection (“Look! a Bernie Bro!”) and the fact that Donald Trump has been running the dumbest presidential campaign in U.S. history.  But when called upon to defend herself from legitimate questions and criticisms, time and time again she’s botched it.

I’ve lost track of the stories she’s given about the State Department emails, when a simple “I had a server set up that was more secure” would have sufficed, and even might have been true. More recently she tried to claim that she set up the private server on the advice of Colin Powell. Then Colin Powell denied this. Oops! On to the next excuse, I guess.

Back to Jonathan Chait:

The Clinton Foundation is hardly a large or unique source of corruption in American politics. It is, however, a source of grubby, low-level access headaches. That is the takeaway from the latest batch of State Department emails. The emails do not show that Clinton Foundation donors received any policy favors from Hillary Clinton or other elected officials. What they show is that people who donated to the foundation believed they were owed favors by Clinton’s staffers, and at least one of those staffers — the odious Doug Band — shared this belief. Band, for instance, called the crown prince of Bahrain, who donated millions to the foundation, a “good friend of ours.” …

…As Ben Wallace-Wells recently observed, the internal culture revealed by the Clinton emails is mostly one of earnest bureaucratic befuddlement, not corruption. The favors amounted to requests for meetings that may or may not have been granted. The foundation’s donors were a class of prospective sugar daddies to be fended off.

At the same time, criminality is not the correct standard to which a public official ought to be held. From the standpoint of both good government and Hillary Clinton’s political image, the correct course of action is to transfer the Clinton Foundation’s work to some other charitable entity with no connection to the prospective First Couple.

Now Bill is saying he will leave the Clinton Foundation if Hillary is elected. That will be necessary, although knowing the Right the Foundation will continue to be a boogeyman the same way they continue to blame ACORN for their election woes, even though ACORN shut down in 2010.

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Natural Disasters Are Not Photo-Ops

Federal response to the floods in Louisiana has been pretty good, by all accounts. That much destruction is going to be painful, and housing is going to be an issue for some time. But according to The Advocate of Baton Rouge, the federal response to the current flooding is light years ahead of what happened after Hurricane Katrina.

The governor of Lousiana, John Bel Edwards, advised against a presidential visit right now (President Obama will visit next week), citing concerns about the motorcade and security and the press corps and whatever while people still needed rescuing. So the President has stayed away, and so has Hillary Clinton.

Naturally, Donald Trump and Mike Pence showed up today, and did so without bothering to advise the governor.  Gov. Edwards was not pleased

“Donald Trump hasn’t called the governor to inform him of his visit,” a spokesman for Edwards’ office said in a statement Thursday evening. “We welcome him to LA but not for a photo-op. Instead we hope he’ll consider volunteering or making a sizable donation to the LA Flood Relief Fund to help the victims of the storm.”

So Trump toured Baton Rouge today, telling residents he was “here to help.” As near as I can tell the only thing anybody actually got from him was his autograph. I, for one, will not be holding my breath waiting for Trump to donate anything to the LA Flood Relief Fund.

Update: I spoke too soon; it turns out Trump spent all of 49 seconds unloading toys off a truck. Well, never mind.

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What’s Happening Now

The Justice Department is going to phase out the use of private prisons. This news prompted a sudden drop in stock prices for private prison companies. Heh.

Aetna is dropping out of the health insurance market in about two-thirds of the counties it now serves. The ditched counties are mostly rural, low-population ones. Now it turns out that Aetna had threatened to drop out of Obamacare if the feds blocked its proposed merger with Humana. The Feds have sued to block the merger, and Aetna started shedding counties.

Bernie Sanders has revived the fight for a public option on the insurance exchanges.

“In my view, the provision of health care cannot continue to be dependent upon the whims and market projections of large private insurance companies whose only goal is to make as much profit as possible,” Sanders said in a statement on Tuesday.

“That is why we need to join every other major country on earth and guarantee health care to all as a right, not a privilege,” he said.

Aetna announced late Monday that it would pull out of ObamaCare exchanges in 11 states, including Arizona, Florida and Texas. The company’s CEO, Mark Bertolini, cited $200 million in losses over the past few months as a major reason for the move.

According to Wikipedia, Bertolini received $30.7 million in compensation in 2013, so if the company needs to cut some corners, I can think of a place to start.

In other news, will cease operations next week.

The NRA wants women to keep guns in their homes for protection. But if a woman actually uses a gun to protect herself, the NRA doesn’t come to her defense when she’s thrown in jail. Why is that?

Finally, you probably heard that The Great Awfulness/Bad Hair has hired Steve Bannon, the executive chairman of Breitbart News, to be his new campaign manager.

Since June, Manafort has tried fruitlessly to mold Trump into someone palatable to establishment Republicans and the swing voters he’ll need to win over if he’s to have any chance of beating Hillary Clinton. Bannon, who becomes chief executive of the Trump campaign, represents a sharp turn in the opposite direction—a fireball hurtling toward the 2016 presidential election. (In announcing the hiring, the Trump campaign quoted Bloomberg Businessweek’s description of Bannon from a profile last fall as “the most dangerous political operative in America.”) Along with campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, Bannon will encourage Trump to cast aside political niceties and aggressively go with his gut. “I’ve known Steve for a long time—he is an extraordinary guy, an extraordinary talent, and he, like me, truly loves our country,” Trump said in a statement to Businessweek.

Trump’s own diagnosis of his campaign’s shortcomings led to this unusual prescription—which is the diametric opposite of what most Republicans have been counseling for their embattled nominee. “The campaign has been too lethargic, too reactive,” says a senior Trump official. “They wanted to bring in someone who understood new media, understood digital. It’s not going to be a traditional campaign.” Trump was frustrated by Manafort’s efforts to contain him and angry about his plummeting poll numbers. With Bannon in the fold, the source adds, Trump will feel free to unleash his inner Trump: “It’s very simple. This is a change election. He needs to position himself as anti-establishment, the candidate of change, and the candidate who’s anti-Washington.”

The shake-up is an ominous development for Republican elected officials alarmed at Trump’s collapse and the effect he could have on down-ballot races across the country. In recent years, Breitbart News has bedeviled Republican leaders, helping to drive out former House Speaker John Boehner and, more recently, making life difficult for his successor, Paul Ryan. Last fall, at Bannon’s insistence, Breitbart reporters visited Ryan’s Wisconsin home (which is surrounded by a wall) and published a story shaming him for not endorsing Trump’s proposal to erect a wall along the Mexico border.

See also Nate Silver, “Trump Is Doubling Down on a Losing Strategy.” Also, Sam Wang says the Dems are currently favored to take back the Senate.

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Negroponte? Seriously?

I might not care that John Negroponte endorsed Hillary Clinton. What worries me is that she and her campaign think this is a good thing, and released a statement touting the endorsement.

Wonkette and Charles Pierce explain why Negroponte is not a person one wants to be seen with in public.


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The Whole Foods Party

Another great column by Andrew O’Hehir. Do read the whole thing.

I have a message for Democrats who look at Trump’s sliding poll numbers, in the wake of the Khan family feud and “Obama is the founder of ISIS” and “let’s try Americans at Gitmo,” and tell themselves that the nightmare is almost over and everything will soon return to normal. You are whistling past the graveyard. Hillary Clinton will very likely win this election, and it could end up as a blowout, although I’d be reluctant to bet the ranch on that. But what kind of “normal” are you so happy about? The paralysis and dysfunction of the entire last decade? To pretend that such an outcome — the candidate who is widely disliked and mistrusted defeating the candidate who is widely feared and despised — does anything at all to address the structural and ideological crisis that is eating away at both parties and the bipartisan system represents an epic level of denial.

You know who you are, oh nice people who feel vaguely wounded right about now! Despite the Bernie Sanders insurrection and the fact that the Democratic Party has been electorally eviscerated between the coasts and has hit a historic low point in terms of voter self-identification, you have somehow convinced yourselves that nothing fundamental has gone wrong and it will all be OK. I mean, yours is the party of good government and rational foreign policy and tolerance and diversity, right? Once you get past this unexpectedly ugly (and unexpectedly disturbing) election and park Hillary in the White House, the future is secure.

Then O’Hehir hints at what Thomas Frank said recently — don’t expect Hillary Clinton and the establishment Dems to live up to their recent progressive campaign promises. He also cited what Lenin said about the contradiction of  “bourgeois democracy” that promises equality but delivers economic injustice. O’Hehir continues,

What we have instead are two political parties in profound crisis. One of them has been compelled, however reluctantly, to confront the fact that its electoral coalition has collapsed and that its downscale white voters and zillionaire corporate funders have entirely different desires and goals. The other one is simultaneously in better shape and worse shape: It has won electoral pluralities in five of the last six presidential elections, which has allowed it to ignore the crisis or pretend it doesn’t exist.

Hillary Clinton and her wing of the Democratic Party represent Lenin’s contradiction, and still deny that it’s a contradiction. They stand for women’s rights and LGBT rights and combating “systemic racism,” and there’s no reason to doubt their sincerity. But as Thomas B. Edsall wrote in the New York Times this week, the Democrats are no longer a “class-based coalition” with an economic agenda, but a loose coalition of “upscale well-educated whites” and African-American and Latino voters in big cities. Some connection is assumed between the culture-war and identity-politics issues at the heart of the party’s current identity and universal economic progress, but its precise nature is unclear and essentially metaphysical. …

I particularly agree with this part:

… the Democrats’ predicament goes beyond the fact that they jettisoned class-based economic populism in favor of a whole package of free-market policies aimed at liberating the global flow of investment capital, and that the carnage of that Bill Clinton-era decision is all around us. As Edsall says, the party is becoming “increasingly dependent on a white upper middle class that has isolated itself from the rest of American society.” That’s what I perceived in Philadelphia: a party with an agreeable multicultural roster, almost pathologically devoted to the proposition that nothing was wrong with America that a little upbeat dialogue couldn’t fix. If Trump voters perceive the Democrats as “the party of the winners,” a cosmopolitan coastal coalition with no cultural, geographical or social connection to working-class America, they have a point.

One of the things that made me crazy about the true-blue Dems recently was that the objected to all those independent voters messing up their primaries and decided the answer to challenges from the Left is to close the primaries. Many sincerely believed a majority of the independents voting for Sanders were just Republican trolls. The party has “isolated itself from the rest of American society,” indeed.

O’Hehir makes a lot more good points; like I said, do read the whole thing.

With the end of the Sanders campaign has come the usual Great Splintering into multitudes of ineffectual fringe groups, because the curse of liberal/progressives is that everyone wants to be a leader. But one group that might actually accomplish something is Brand New Congress. Read an article about BNC here.

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One-Dimensional News

Right now political news stories are all pretty much about the awfulness of Donald Trump. And I’m bored with that. Yeah, he’s awful. There’s no end of how awful he is.

For the sake of defeating the Great Awfulness I’ve been holding back on criticizing Clinton, but there’s not much else to talk about.

Thomas Frank writes that with a Clinton victory a near certainty, you can forget about Clinton leading a progressive administration:

And so ends the great populist uprising of our time, fizzling out pathetically in the mud and the bigotry stirred up by a third-rate would-be caudillo named Donald J Trump. So closes an era of populist outrage that began back in 2008, when the Davos dream of a world run by benevolent bankers first started to crack. The unrest has taken many forms in these eight years – from idealistic to cynical, from Occupy Wall Street to the Tea Party – but they all failed to change much of anything. …

Just a short while ago the American national newspapers were running page-one stories telling readers it was time to take seriously Trump’s followers, if not Trump himself. And on 3 August, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman actually typed the following: “It scares me that people are so fed up with elites, so hate and mistrust [Hillary] Clinton and are so worried about the future – jobs, globalization and terrorism” that they might actually vote for Trump.

Yes, it scared Friedman that the American people didn’t like their masters any longer. As it has no doubt scared many of his rich friends to learn over the past few years that the people formerly known as middle class are angry about losing their standard of living to the same forces that are making those rich people ever more comfortable.

Well, Friedman need be frightened no longer. Today it looks as though his elites are taking matters well in hand. “Jobs” don’t really matter now in this election, nor does the debacle of “globalization”, nor does anything else, really. Thanks to this imbecile Trump, all such issues have been momentarily swept off the table while Americans come together around Clinton, the wife of the man who envisaged the Davos dream in the first place.

Frank thinks that once Clinton gets her landslide victory she will once again throw progressivism under the bus, and I suspect he’s right.

My leftist friends persuaded themselves that this stuff didn’t really matter, that Clinton’s many concessions to Sanders’ supporters were permanent concessions. But with the convention over and the struggle with Sanders behind her, headlines show Clinton triangulating to the right, scooping up the dollars and the endorsement, and the elites shaken loose in the great Republican wreck.

She is reaching out to the foreign policy establishment and the neocons. She is reaching out to Republican office-holders. She is reaching out to Silicon Valley. And, of course, she is reaching out to Wall Street. In her big speech in Michigan on Thursday she cast herself as the candidate who could bring bickering groups together and win policy victories through really comprehensive convenings.

Things will change between now and November, of course. But what seems most plausible from the current standpoint is a landslide for Clinton, and with it the triumph of complacent neoliberal orthodoxy. She will have won her great victory, not as a champion of working people’s concerns, but as the greatest moderate of them all, as the leader of a stately campaign of sanity and national unity. The populist challenge of the past eight years, whether led by Trump or by Sanders, will have been beaten back resoundingly. Centrism will reign triumphant over the Democratic party for years to come. This will be her great accomplishment. The bells will ring all over Washington DC.

I disagree that this will be the end of the great populist uprising, but certainly Clinton’s victory — made possible by The Great Awfulness — has slowed it down a lot.

In the New York Times Thomas Edsall wrote,

If current trends continue, not only will there be a class inversion among the white supporters of the Democratic Party, but the party will become increasingly dependent on a white upper middle class that has isolated itself from the rest of American society.

Instead of serving as the political arm of working and middle class voters seeking to move up the ladder, the Democratic Party faces the prospect of becoming the party of the winners, in collaboration with many of those in the top 20 percent who are determined to protect and secure their economic and social status.

It’s been that for quite a while, seems to me. It’s just been in denial about it.

Neither Edsall nor Frank have much to say about the Sanders insurgency within the Democratic Party. I don’t know whether it will be a factor going forward or not; that remains to be seen. If progressives follow their usual pattern of crawling into holes until the next presidential election, probably not. If they follow through (as many vow to do) by electing progressives to Congress in the next several election cycles, then there’s hope.

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