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It’s good that Steve Bannon has been eclipsed in the court of the Sun King. By all accounts, he’s a hate-spewing, fear-mongering, immigrant-bashing, Muslim-banning, dark force.

But Bannon did have one important insight into today’s politics. And Democrats should take heed of it.

Bannon has a clear focus on the anger that millions of Americans feel about the economy, the 2008 crash and the greed, recklessness and arrogance of the political and financial class. See more below.

That seething anger – over trade deals, Wall Street bailouts and lost jobs – fueled Trump’s election. Yes, there was racism, sexism and Russia. But there was also the real pain of real Americans – especially in the Midwest states where the manufacturing economy has collapsed and Trump picked up surprising wins.

Now Trump is siding against Bannon and with the Goldman Sachs-billionaire-Wall Street crowd. With Ivanka, Jared and their wealthy friends.

Democrats should side with the millions of Americans who are hurting.

Hillary Clinton lost in large part because she and Bill were seen as wealthy captives, if not platinum-card-carrying members, of the Wall Street crowd. You can’t be a populist and get paid $675,000 to give a speech to Goldman Sachs.

That’s why she nearly lost the nomination to Bernie Sanders.

Trump, because he’s wealthy, was seen as independent of Wall Street. Rich enough to tell Goldman Sachs to go to hell.

Instead, he’s put Goldman Sachs in charge of his administration.

No surprise. Trump is a man of no ideas and no fixed principles. He thinks he got where he is because he’s great. He has no feel for people who are hurting. He doesn’t care about them, except as props at his rallies and photo ops.

Going back to FDR, Democrats have been the champions of the forgotten man and woman.

Trump has already forgotten them. It’s time Democrats remembered them. And stood up for them.

Bannon himself put it well in a 2014 speech:

“The 2008 crisis, I think the financial crisis — which, by the way, I don’t think we’ve come through — is really driven I believe by the greed, much of it driven by the greed of the investment banks….And so the crisis of 2008 was, quite frankly, really never recovered from in the United States. It’s one of the reasons last quarter you saw 2.9% negative growth in a quarter. So the United States economy is in very, very tough shape.

“And one of the reasons is that we’ve never really gone and dug down and sorted through the problems of 2008. Particularly the fact — think about it — not one criminal charge has ever been brought to any bank executive associated with 2008 crisis. And in fact, it gets worse. No bonuses and none of their equity was taken….

“…the underpinning of this populist revolt is the financial crisis of 2008. That revolt, the way that it was dealt with, the way that the people who ran the banks and ran the hedge funds have never really been held accountable for what they did, has fueled much of the anger in the tea party movement in the United States.”


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Second of two parts

More than 25 years ago, a little-known college president was running what looked like a hopeless U.S. Senate race in Pennsylvania.

He was Harris Wofford, a Democrat. He was running against Richard Thornburgh, a former Governor and United States Attorney General.

Wofford’s own polls showed him 40 points behind. Thornburgh had way more money – and way more name recognition.

But Wofford had a good campaign team, including the not-yet-famous James Carville, Paul Begala and Mike Donilon.

They had an idea. They had an issue they thought might work. They tested the idea in a poll. The poll told the voters that Wofford wanted to enact national health insurance.

That one fact flipped the poll. Hearing it, voters in the poll supported Wofford by a 10-point margin.

National health insurance become the sole focus of Wofford’s campaign. He took up a line he heard from a voter: “If every criminal has a right to see a lawyer, then every American should have a right to see a doctor.”

Wofford went on to win the election with 55 percent of the vote.

You can read more about the campaign here. And Democrats should study it. Because, sometimes, history does repeat itself.

Today, Americans are more economically pressed than ever. Insurance is more expensive than ever. Health care, doctors’ visits and medicine are more expensive than ever.

Greed, like a cancer, permeates the health care system. Greedy insurance companies, greedy pharmaceutical companies and, yes, some greedy doctors and hospitals.

National health insurance would give the federal government the power to root out the greed, squeeze out the waste and negotiate better prices for consumers.

Republicans, of course, don’t want that. They love the free market.

But there’s no free market in health care. You have no choice and no freedom when it comes to buying health care. You have to pay whatever they say. Because your and your loved ones’ health and, yes, your lives are at stake.

Democrats should take up this fight. They should admit there’s a problem with Obamacare: It doesn’t cover enough people. While Republicans believe it covers too many people.

Ultimately, Republicans believe Americans should get only as much health care as they and their families can afford. No more.

Let’s take that fight to the people.

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First of two parts

Since Obamacare passed in 2009, Republicans have attacked it. For eight years, they called it a “job killer” and a “disaster” that created “death panels.”

Through four election campaigns – 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016 – they promised to repeal it. And replace it with something better, cheaper and, as Comrade Trump vowed, “beautiful.”

Then they won the White House. They won both houses in Congress. They made repealing Obamacare their first order of business.

And they fell on their faces. They flopped. They whiffed.

They went down without even swinging. They couldn’t even bring a bill to the House floor for a vote.

They licked their wounds for a while. Then they said they’d try again. And they struck out again.

But never fear. Trump says he’ll try again. Maybe this time he’ll even learn what’s in the bill before he orders Republicans to pass it!

Here’s their problem: Republicans can’t agree on how many Americans they want to throw off health insurance.

Paul Ryan’s plan would have thrown 24 million Americans over the cliff. But that wasn’t nearly enough to satisfy Mark Meadows and the Freedom (to Die) Caucus. They wanted even more people to lose insurance. They wanted to take away even more protections. Things like maternity child, mammograms, pre-existing conditions, young people under 26 staying on their parents’ insurance.

Even some Republicans couldn’t swallow all that.

Here’s the truth: The Trump-Ryan plan wasn’t just a job-killer. It was a people-killer. It didn’t have death panels. It was a death penalty.

Is that a bit harsh? Extreme?

Well, what happens when people don’t have health insurance? When they don’t get medical treatment?

They get sick, and they die.

But don’t worry: Trump promises to try again.

Which gives Democrats a great opportunity. Which will be our topic next time.

NEXT – Rx: the Democrats.

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Gary told me, Read Hillbilly Elegy – it’ll make you see things you’ve been staring at for years in a different light.

The story – a memoir – starts when a pregnant thirteen-year-old girl marries a sixteen-year-old boy and moves from Kentucky’s Appalachian Mountains to Middleton, Ohio in the late 1940’s.

He went to work in a steel mill and, as she had three more children, he drank until one night she told him, Come home drunk one more time and I’ll kill you.

A week later after he staggered home, as he lay sleeping on the couch, she poured gasoline on him and struck a match. Their oldest daughter put out the flames. They separated, reconciled, but lived apart until he died.

Their youngest daughter set out to become a nurse but, out on her own, crippled by addictions to prescription drugs she crashed through five marriages.

Her son, guarded by his older sister, meandered through high school, joined the Marines, served in Iraq, returned to Ohio, went to college, met a girl, fell in love, married, and wrote a memoir about the land he’d left behind.

Our neighbor Pattie, he wrote, called her landlord to report a leaky roof. The landlord arrived and found Pattie topless and unconscious on her living room couch. Upstairs the bathtub was overflowing – hence, the leaking roof. Pattie had apparently drawn herself a bath, taken a few prescription painkillers, and passed out. The top floor of her home and many of her family’s possessions were ruined. This is the reality of our community. It’s about a naked druggie destroying what little of value exists in her life. It’s about children who lose their toys and clothes to a mother’s addiction.

He told another story about a man who, after a career teaching, explained: They want us to be shepherds to those kids. But no one talks about the fact many of them are raised by wolves.

Hillbilly Elegy is about a land where hillbillies get run over by freight trains when factories shutter; where husbands beat wives, mothers take drugs, and children grow into adults without faith or hope.  

Enter Donald Trump.

Who sung the lost hillbillies a simple song: They’d been screwed. By Washington Elites, Wall Street Elites, bad trade deals and illegal immigrants.

Then he promised them vengeance.

The hillbillies weren’t naive – they doubted his promises. And they saw at times he lied. But they didn’t care. They had a score to settle. And he had the guts to settle it.

Last fall – in Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania – their votes catapulted Donald Trump into the White House and, now, there’re millions of dispossessed hillbillies…waiting…and if he lets them down they will grow even angrier.

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Things have come to a pretty pass. We’re reduced to hoping that Ivanka and Jared can save us.

Now we see why Czar Putin wanted Comrade Trump to be President. He figured it’s the best way to cripple America.

Three months in, Trump’s administration has shown us almost nothing but incompetence and infighting.

Incompetence is great when it keeps them from repealing Obamacare and getting an immigration ban past the courts.

But incompetence is scary when it comes to Syria and North Korea.

So we have to hope Ivanka and Jared will protect us from Bannon & Co. Hope that all Trump’s generals will find a way to keep us out of war. Hope that all his Goldman Sachs executives will keep the economy afloat.

Somebody remind me. How did we get into this mess?

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Each roar lasts a second. But the echoes last days.

Mexico wins. We lose.

China wins. We lose.

Wall Street wins. We lose.

Washington Politicians win. We lose.

Each had mantra-like precision. Each echoed across twitter, cable news, and newspaper headlines.

Once, when Obamacare repeal failed, two mantras collided head-on. The President tweeted: The Democrats won. We lost. But then he said the Freedom Caucus was to blame and he was going to make a deal with the Democrats.

But it didn’t matter.

The virtual world still erupted. CNN had Trump tottering on his last legs while Fox had Trump triumphant.

It was another welter of echoes.

But, in a way, it’s all simple: The howl wins. We lose.

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He was born a gambler. And he worked hard. He made a fortune, lost a fortune, and made another bigger fortune. Most men in his profession – he built skyscrapers – shunned the lime-light but he enjoyed celebrity and accepted an offer to star in a reality show and found he had a unique talent: He could be brash and vain and crude all at the same time and somehow, in the next breath, turn his vices into entertainment. He made another fortune.

When he left television to run for President, watching him blast Rosie or Megan or Ted or Hillary was like watching a new kind of reality show. His unique gift for entertainment followed him into the White House but, there, he also learned a lesson he hadn’t expected: Even the lowliest Congressman could tell him ‘No.’ And federal judges were worse.

Two judges stopped his immigration orders dead in their tracks. And a handful of Republican Congressmen from the Freedom Caucus stopped his Obamacare repeal.

The defeats were hard for a proud man to swallow. Threats flew. Feuds simmered. But in another way there was an old virtue at work here: Each ‘No’ was proof the ancient laws that make a President a President and not a King still worked.

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Roy Williams won another NCAA title. And Roy Cooper may have won us more NCAAs.

Which highlights the big part that sports played in the HB2 repeal.

Give the NCAA and ACC credit for an assist. Point to them. They stood up and spoke out against HB2 from the start. For that they got grief from Pat McCrory and Republicans. But their gutsy stand helped force Republicans to back down.

The NCAA and ACC – and Roy Williams and that guy at Duke, both of whom also spoke out – showed more courage than many business people, who didn’t speak out because they were afraid of the Republican legislature.

Now that HB2 is gone, a lot of business people are still afraid to speak out. They’re afraid of the Human Relations Campaign and EqualityNC, which don’t like the repeal bill.

Irony alert: EqualityNC used the NCAA and ACC to argue for repeal of HB2. Then EqualityNC criticized Governor Cooper for “kowtowing” to sports when HB2 was repealed.

It‘s disappointing that the NCAA reinstated North Carolina for tournament consideration only “reluctantly.” That’s like a UNC fan complaining about winning the title in such an ugly game.

A win is a win. A championship is a championship. Repeal is repeal.

But a question lingered. Why did the ACC and NCAA take such a strong stand against HB2? Why did those “dumb jocks” care?

A young friend who worked for the ACC explained it. She said college sports has a lot of exposure to and experience with gay and transgender athletes. The “dumb jocks” are way ahead of society.

They should keep pushing us and teaching us. North Carolina has taken a big step in the right direction. But we still have a long way to go.


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Governor Cooper and Democratic legislators showed something last week that is so rare in America today we hardly know it when we see it.

Political courage.

Political courage is when you do what you believe is right. Even if it disappoints your strongest supporters. Even if it could cost you an election.

Name another politician – Democrat or Republican, Raleigh or Washington – who has done that lately. One who stepped outside their safe space. One who took a risk.

I’ll wait.

The Governor, legislative leaders Darren Jackson and Dan Blue and members like Cynthia Ball and Joe John took a risk and did what’s right.

It’s like taking down the Confederate flag. They made Republicans, despite their supermajorities, take down the HB2 flag.

For Governor Cooper, it took grit, patience and an iron determination to stop the damage to North Carolina’s economy and our good name.

After the vote, he and legislators who voted yes came under attack from some progressives and Democrats who wanted no compromise.

But that would have kept the status quo in place. It would have kept HB2 on the books.

Yes, the three-year moratorium on non-discrimination ordinances is bad. But it’s better than “religious freedom” or “conscience” laws that would have enshrined even more bigotry. The Governor stopped those.

Ned Barnett summed it up well in his Sunday N&O column, “HB2 is gone and that justifies Cooper’s compromise.” He wrote:

“HB2 was a statement from conservatives that they don’t acknowledge the legitimacy of transgender people. It was a-boy-is-a-boy and a-girl-is-a-girl manifesto. They didn’t care who it insulted or who it endangered. Now it’s repealed. The statement is erased from state law. And that’s a big improvement.

“Despite that gain, LGBT advocates are accusing Cooper of betraying them. Their anger is an indulgence that ignores the risks he took on their behalf and the service he is trying to render to the state as a whole.”

It’s no doubt personally satisfying to go on social media and rail against compromise, and to vow vengeance in the next election.

But it’s political suicide. It rewards Phil Berger and his crowd. It would help them stay in power, enact more discriminatory laws and continue all the damage they do to North Carolina.

I respect the Democratic legislators who voted no on the compromise.

But I have even greater respect for the Governor and those Democrats who made a much more difficult choice.

They made the right choice. They moved North Carolina forward. They took a big step on the long, hard journey to fairness and justice for all.

They deserve our thanks, our respect and – above all – our support.


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In Donald Trump’s world whatever he says cannot be wrong. He’s infallible. Because as Trump says, I know how life works. And, if you ask, Trump will give you proof of his infallibility: He’ll explain how he predicted the outcome of the Brexit vote in advance and how he predicted – a hundred times – his own victory over Hillary.

But infallibility doesn’t mean Trump can’t deceive. Intentionally. He can. But his deceptions aren’t lies – they’re tricks.

A trick may be as simple as Trump the dealmaker looking at the businessman sitting across the table and saying, Take this deal and you’ll make a lot of money.

Or it may be Trump the President tweeting about Ford investing in three Michigan plants: Car companies coming back to U.S. JOBS! JOBS! JOBS! When, in fact, Ford had announced it was expanding the plants two years ago before he was President.

It’s an odd world Trump lives in: He can’t lie. Because he’s infallible. But he can deceive. Because he’s a dealmaker. And deceptions aren’t lies they’re tricks.  

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Carter & Gary
Carter Wrenn
Gary Pearce
The Charlotte Observer says: “Carter Wrenn and Gary Pearce don’t see eye-to-eye on many issues. But they both love North Carolina and know its politics inside and out.”
Carter is a Republican. 
Gary is a Democrat.
They met in 1984, during the epic U.S. Senate battle between Jesse Helms and Jim Hunt. Carter worked for Helms and Gary, for Hunt.
Years later, they became friends. They even worked together on some nonpolitical clients.
They enjoy talking about politics. So they started this blog in 2005. 
They’re still talking. And they invite you to join the conversation.
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