At first glance, this may seem like an easy question: He fears being a loser.
We’ve known this for years. There have been numerous reports that his greatest anxiety, when he was an entertainer, was losing his celebrity status. His fragile ego and sense of self-worth just can’t tolerate the thought of not winning.
Calling someone a “loser” is also among his most common insults, no doubt a projection of his own insecurity. Of course, now that he’s President-elect, we don’t know if he’s worried about losing his new job—although he might well be concerned by the latest Quinnipiac Poll, which shows him to be the least liked or respected incoming President in modern American history. As if that’s not bad enough, according to the latest Gallup Poll, he’s disapproved of by a majority of Americans even before taking the oath of office–an unprecedented rebuke to an incoming President.
But there’s something Trump fears even more than losing. What he really fears and cannot stand, deep down, is being made fun of–being a joke. And you know what? That’s precisely what he has become: a joke.
With the ridiculous hair, the pussy groping, the Russian dossier of his perverted flings with prostitutes, the European models he has dated and occasionally marries, the insults, the exotic animal-killing sons, the Twitter storms, the lies, the thin skin, the temper tantrums, the contradictions, the use of NOT! and SAD! on Twitter, and, yes, calling his “enemies” losers—in fact, all the bizarre tics that Alec Baldwin captures so well on Saturday Night Live—Trump has become a caricature of himself, the ultimate Trump impersonator. People are no longer trembling at him. They’re laughing. Trump has long been comedic fodder for late night T.V., but now he’s a full-fledged cartoon character—and not a sympathetic one, either, but a ridiculous, foolish bozo.
Look at the media. There’s Trevor Noah’s crack, “Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Kennedy, Obama and now Trump–one of these things is not like the other.”
Stephen Colbert: “This is what it feels like when America is made great again. I was wondering.”
Conan O’Brien: “Two things happened last night. Trump got elected president, and my job just got easier for the next four years.”
Jimmy Kimmel: “I had the weirdest dream last night. Remember that guy who used to host ‘The Apprentice’?”
James Corden alluded to the golden showers. “Donald Trump was refuting it when it leaked out, but it was too late. The puns were already flowing on Twitter. There were streams and streams of jokes online.”
Then, here in San Francisco, there’s the new Beach Blanket Babylon version of Trump and a guitar-strumming Melania.
And finally, this tweet I saw, from a regular guy: “Donald Trump is like if Homer Simpson inherited all of Mr. Burns’ money.”
A rich Homer Simpson! Doh! Can you imagine how angry all this makes him? It’s the one thing he can’t fight back against: being the butt of a national joke, being seen as pathetic despite the money and power. Yes, he can lash out on Twitter or in an angry public rant, but that just becomes part of the joke. The poor guy, I’m almost feeling sorry for him, as he melts down and Democrats rub their hands with glee. But caution!! Let’s enjoy the laughter, but let us not lose sight of the fact that he’s still an ominous, pernicious fraud and an illegitimate President.
[In Part 4, Governor Newsom was talking about moral authority, and how it’s the one thing that Democrats have left, after the shellacking we’ve taken. Democrats should not get into the mud with Republicans, he said, quoting Michelle Obama: “When they go low, we go high.”
GN: I’m not willing to give up the moral authority.
SH: It’s politics!
GN: It’s the politics that have gotten us into this position. So if we want to pave over the old cow path, then we should expect nothing less than the status quo for the next decade or two.
SH: I wish you were angrier.
GN: I am angry. I think you can win, but with different kind of engagement.
SH: So Democrats will allow SCOTUS hearings. It will be a strict party-line vote, with an anti-choice, tea party Republican as the new Justice of the Supreme Court.
GN: It’s likely.
SH: And we could stop it.
GN: No. We can delay it.
SH: Democrats could filibuster.
GN: Republicans will go to the nuclear option and remove the filibuster. They will. Just a fact. I mean, it’s a fact. We can delay, and we will delay, and we should. We should scrutinize, and we should be aggressive, and there’s a hundred other Federal appointments we have to worry about. So you’re gonna get Scalia back, so it’s five-four, which is where we’ve been. The bigger concern I have is Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s health! That is an ominous prospect.
SH: Okay, so let’s move on. This is a little controversial, and it alludes to the story we were talking about, those two guys who believe in Jesus Christ. In my judgment, the conservative evangelical movement is a clear and present danger to the United States of America.
GN: [big laugh]
SH: They’re entitled to their rights, but—
GN: [still laughing] In what way are they a clear and present danger?
SH: These are people who don’t believe in science. They don’t believe in global warming. They believe that Adam and Eve played with dinosaurs in the Garden of Eden.
GN: That is—
SH: Because the world is only five thousand and something years old, everything was created in six days—
GN: Yeah. It is interesting.
SH: And they just elected Donald Trump President.
GN: Played an outsized role in that. Not exclusively, but an outsized role. I mean, some of my neighbors [in Marin County] elected Donald Trump.
SH: How do you deal with people who are irrational and immune to fact?
GN: It’s, um—there are ideologues on both sides of the political aisle.
SH: Democrats don’t have anybody that crazy.
GN: I dunno. You should have governed with me when I was Mayor! There are some folks on the left that I think are a bit out there. Yeah, I don’t like ideologues. I like open argument with people who are interested in evidence, who are fact-based. And I think the vast majority of people are. But there is a potent and powerful group of folks that are not, and it’s increasingly alarming.
SH: So you’re equating what I’m calling the craziness of evangelicals with San Francisco liberals?
GN: No. [laughs] I’m saying that—I didn’t even equate, I just said factually. My point of view is, I agree one hundred percent with you that ideology gets in the way of progress, but ideology is by no means an exclusive right of one group or the other. I see ideological rigidity impacting our politics on both sides of the aisle.
SH: This is beyond ideology. This is, is people who want a theocracy in the United States.
GN: Well, there’s those folks. I will say, it seems to me—and this is just me—that ten, fifteen years ago, that was even more apparent and present in our politics: prayer in school, George W. and others—I was more alarmed then than, candidly, I am now. I think it’s dissipated a little bit. That’s my own humble opinion. And I think Donald Trump is a complete fraud when it comes to his religious—
GN: It’s laughable.
SH: Could he do a Sister Souljah moment?
GN: Well, there’s nothing Sister Souljah because he never even believed it in the first place, so are you gonna say, “I don’t believe in it now”? Folks like [George W.] Bush were true believers. Guys like Pence are true believers. I’m more worried about them being in control. So, yeah, you’re right—Trump was able to completely bamboozle them in this election, and, boy, how easily they were bamboozled. I mean, by a serial—
GN: No, not necessarily a liar, I mean, this guy was the antithesis of their values.
GN: Yeah. Even his current wife acknowledged he had relations with that person they paid off at the Enquirer. I mean, this guy—
SH: They fell for it anyway. He was a bad guy, but he was their bad guy.
GN: Yeah, yeah. He said the right thing, and he said it with conviction. But people…I think a lot of folks who identify with institutions, religious and otherwise, there’s a very patriarchal history there, and people identify with a strong man, the father figure, the guy who’s going to take care of the family. And he sort of connected with that—that strength. The sexism is pretty overt, too, and we don’t talk enough about how sexism played a dominantly outsized role in this Presidential election.
SH: The misogyny against Hillary Clinton.
GN: Significantly so. “She doesn’t look the part” [of a President], very overt statements that played a huge role.
GN: In ways that are much more, I would argue, than what we’ve dominantly focused on, which is racism.
SH: Do you care at this time to come out with the things you’ll do in your first 100 days as Governor?
GN: [big laugh] Ha ha! It is important to repeal and replace! What executive orders can I undo of Jerry Brown? [laughs]. But that’s getting ahead on my skis! Not even close to thinking about that. Actually, I am Acting Governor [Brown was out of California that day] so I can begin today!
SH: Kamala [Harris] got huge play when she was elected [Senator], with the predictable chatter about Presidential timber. On the other hand, a young, attractive, Democratic Governor of California will automatically—
GN: Yeah. I mean, I’m sure [former L.A. Mayor Antonio] Villaraigosa [California Treasurer] and John Chiang, all of us— [EDITOR’s NOTE: Newsom refers to other potential or actual Democratic candidates for Governor next year]. I think—
SH: You don’t think about it [being President]?
GN: No. And I’m dead serious about it, I do not. I really don’t. I would say something differently, if I did think about it. But I honestly don’t. I’ve been to Iowa for Hillary Clinton, stumping. I’ve been on the road and not seen my  kids. I’ve been on the red-eyes and barely didn’t even know where I was on some of those morning shows. It’s not a life. I can’t connect that with any aspiration. It’s not in my cards.
SH: Why are you a politician?
GN: I mean, it’s one of the reasons I didn’t run for U.S. Senator.
SH: That was a deal with Kamala.
GN: It wasn’t a deal with Kamala. And, by the way, perhaps it could have been; it wasn’t. We could have had that conversation; we never had that conversation. The reason I didn’t even lean into that was, I’ve got kids. I don’t want to screw that up. I don’t want to regret having kids in rehab, and hearing what a horrible human being I was in ten years. And I want to make sure I have a relationship with them that thrives, and Washington, D.C. is not the place to do that.
SH: And Sacramento is?
GN: Sacramento is a day trip, it’s back and forth from all over the state.
SH: So if your political life were to end, would you be happy being a businessman again?
SH: Is that what you would be—a businessman?
GN: I don’t know. I honestly don’t know what I would do.
SH: Go back to PlumpJack?
GN: No, I wouldn’t go back to PlumpJack, though it keeps growing. We just did four new businesses. You know, we’re going to win [in 2018]. I want to win. So I don’t think about a backup plan. But the good news is, I have the privilege of being myself in this campaign. I’m going to run a campaign I won’t regret, and what that means is, if I lose, I won’t regret the process, because that’s because I’ll say what I think and be the person I am, privately, publicly, and if that doesn’t meet the moment, I’ll have no issues with that, and I’ll have a wonderful life outside of politics. Whereas a lot of folks in politics desperately need it, their identity is tied to it, and there’s no real life outside of it—they may be a little more hesitant, more reticent, less willing to say what they think. And that’s not me. If I had a billion dollars, I’d buy a winery and build a restaurant [which Newsom already has done through PlumpJack]. So I’m blessed beyond words.
SH: Well, Governor Newsom, I think we’re done, unless there’s anything else you’d care to add.
GN: [laughs] I think we got it!
[In Part 3, Lieutenant-Governor Newsom disagreed with me on the need for immediate resistance to a Trump regime. He was in favor of a cautious, wait-and-see approach, in which Democrats hope for the best. At the same time, he added:]
GN: Look, if Trump moves forward with internment camps and registries for Muslims, then we go into a deep and aggressive mode, not just of resistance, but pro-active, aggressive counter-measures.
SH: I’m glad to hear you say it!
GN: Yeah. Unquestionably. If he doesn’t do those things, and he’s focusing on infrastructure and re-evaluating our trade pacts and economic development and job creation, bringing manufacturing back to the country, I’ll celebrate that, if he actually follows through. So, you know what? We need to focus on paid family leave, and childcare, and if he comes up with interesting and innovative policies, we have to embrace that.
SH: What’s your hunch?
GN: Uhh [laughs], I think he’s got a real problem with this Republican Congress, and I don’t think he has a clue about how big a problem he’s about to have, with his Vice-President [Mike Pence] and this Republican Congress.
SH: Starting with the intelligence community?
GN: Well, there’s that, and his own self-imposed problem with the intelligence community. But I think he’s going—I’ll give you an example of the problems I think he’s going to have, very early. And I’ll excuse the obvious, which is this “repeal and replace” [of Obamacare], where the “replace” they have no idea; they have rhetoric and talking points, but no idea. So that’s an obvious one. But I think the ones that will be outsized—things like Planned Parenthood. He’ll have a bill on his desk to defund Planned Parenthood. Remember, he was an outlier at those Republican Presidential debates on Planned Parenthood, and that’s going to be a gut-check moment. [EDITOR’S NOTE: As with other issues, Trump has had multiple positions on Planned Parenthood. During the campaign he demanded defunding. More recently has has said Planned Parenthood “does very good work.”] So does he want to go there, or not? And if he does go there, the reaction to that—I think these are the small sparks that become big fires. Therein lie some real traps for him, and those traps will be set, not by Democrats, but by Republicans in Congress.
SH: Another meme out there is that impeachment will be launched by his own party.
GN: Yeah. Impeachment scares me more than anything, because Pence scares me more than Trump. I’m sorry.
SH: My feeling is, let’s deal with Trump. Take care of him. One fight at a time.
SH: That said, I’m a little disconcerted with your—you just seem so accepting of this. “We lost, let’s get over it—”
GN: Unlike Donald Trump, I want to deal with reality. It’s not theoretical that he’s President. It’s real. It’s not fake news, it actually happened.
GN: It doesn’t matter. It exists. The point is, you have to—it’s like a 12-step program, where you have to acknowledge the problem. He is a problem, and I—
SH: I mean—
GN: And I’m not accepting just rolling over.
SH: A lot of Democrats are saying—I think I heard [L.A. Congresswoman] Maxine Waters say it the other day—Democrats have just been too nice, historically. The Republicans play really hard ball, and Democrats are always so—
GN: Yeah, we try to intellectualize—
GN: I agree with that.
SH: And we lose. So why not start getting nasty, the way they do?
GN: I think, you know, I would like to think that Michelle Obama resonated with the vast majority of Americans for a reason in this campaign, and came off as the shining star of the 2016 Presidential election because she inspired America to a higher value. “When they go low, we go high.” And, you know what? That doesn’t mean you don’t play rough.
SH: I hope you’re right.
GN: And that doesn’t mean you don’t—Look, we took on the National Rifle Association, and we beat ‘em! [EDITOR’s NOTE: Newsom sponsored California Proposition 63, a tough anti-gun measure fiercely opposed by the NRA. It passed.] They tried to punch us and we punched ‘em back five times as hard.
SH: Congratulations on that.
SH: And we went after all the arbiters of the status quo, including my entire party, on legalization of marijuana; we did the same thing. [EDITOR’s NOTE: Newsom also sponsored Proposition 64, legalizing the recreational use of marijuana. It, too, passed.] Same thing on marriage equality. My entire party unanimously opposed it. So I have no problem playing rough and playing tough and going after folks. But there’s a way of doing it, and that’s my approach. So, you know, Donald Trump wants to take us on? We’re not just going to play defense, it’s not just resistance; there’s a pro-active and aggressive counter-strategy. It’s not about navel-gazing, it’s about stepping up and recognizing [that] we have agency, we have a voice. This is California! This is not some small, rural, isolated, weak state. We have more engineers, more researchers, more scientists, more professors of higher education, sixth-largest economy [in the world], we look more like America’s about to look in the next twenty years. This is the economic engine of the United States, it is what people identify as uniquely American in terms of entertainment, agriculture, technology, natural beauty and wonders, its coastal beauty. So all those things give me a little more sense of calm and confidence.
SH: Okay. Back to politics. How about SCOTUS?
GN: That scares me.
SH: Do we block it?
GN: That scares me.
SH: Or do we play along?
GN: Now we’re having a conversation that scares me, beyond—
SH: Why should Chuck Schumer—
GN: That was only for one-quarter of an actual term. [EDITOR’s NOTE: Newsom is referring to Republican Senators blocking Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, from even having hearings last year.]
SH: But why should we not give tit-for-tat and say, Forget about it, we’ll have eight SCOTUSes—
GN: Because there is something called the Constitution of the United States.
SH: There was for Republicans, too.
GN: Yeah, and—
SH: They didn’t give Obama anything.
GN: They didn’t—
SH: So why should we?
SH: Or am I being immature again?
GN: I think you get to a point, it’s advise and consent. And we have the right to reject. But it’s just—just—it basically diminishes every argument we just made, if we play by the same rules. You lose your moral authority. And if you don’t have moral authority, then you only have—
SH: Moral authority? That and two bucks will get you on the subway.
GN: Well, I’ll tell you, there’s two kinds of authority, moral and formal. We don’t have formal authority right now. So the only authority we have is moral authority. And if we give up the moral authority, then you’re left with nothing.
TOMORROW: The final part of my conversation with Gavin Newsom.
I’ve been in the middle of publishing my Gavin Newsom conversation, and I will get back to it tomorrow. But first, something’s come up—a New Yorker article that I just have to comment on. The article is called “Secret Admirers” [online, it’s “Intellectuals for Trump”], and it profiles some Trump fans. One is a guy named Mark Bauerlein, “an English professor” (according to the author, Kelefa Sanneh) who lives in Manhattan, and edits something called “First Things.”
Some background: Bauerlein is an outspoken “supporter of Trump.” I wish Sanneh had told us a little more about him; the information is scant, given the controversial nature of Bauerlein’s views. So I went to the Internet. Bauerlein converted to Catholicism in 2012 -from Judaism? Alas, I couldn’t determine, but it’s a Jewish name. He certainly shows the religious élan of a convert.
First Things’ website describes itself, rather immodestly, as “America’s Most Influential Journal of Religion and Public Life.” Does First Things, then, impartially explain the world’s religions, taking a philosophical view and delving into the epistemology of faith? No; it’s much more political than that. Instead, it seeks to ”confront the ideology of secularism, which insists…that faith has no place in shaping the public conversation or in shaping public policy.”
“The ideology of secularism”… Aha! Now we’re getting someplace. I thought secularism was the absence of ideology, but perhaps I was misinformed. First Things is an apologia for religion’s place, not only in public conversation—who could be against that?—but in “shaping public policy.” Well, you know, that explains a lot, including why Bauerlein is a “supporter of Trump.” Most hardcore religionists in America—at least, the evangelicals and ultra-orthodox Jews and extreme Catholics—supported Trump (although they may live to regret it). On the other hand, most Americans who wish to see religion’s role in “shaping public policy” be strictly limited, as the First Amendment mandates, probably voted for Hilary Clinton, me among them. I’ll return to this at the conclusion of this post. First, let’s look at what Bauerlein said in the article.
He makes five points.
Bauerlein begins with an extreme nationalist stance. “What [Trump] is really about is planting an idea into Americans that this is our country. This is our home!” Yes, this certainly has been something Trump has been outspoken about. The problem, which seems evident to me, is that nobody—Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Green, whatever—would disagree with that. Of course it’s “our country”!!! Republicans always try to seize the high patriotic ground by pretending they are the only ones that love America. Not so! Don’t you wish Republicans would stop this pandering?
America “is going to have a boundary.” Well, obviously. The implied concept here is, of course, Trump’s “Wall” on the Mexican border. I’ve blogged previously that I fail to understand why some Americans are so obsessed about America’s southern border. Trump’s slur about “criminals and rapists” aside, Mexican immigrants—legal and otherwise—tend to be hard-working people, whom many an opiate-addled Midwestern Christian white male could take for role models. Anyhow, we know that Mexico isn’t going to pay for The Wall—ever. Mexico’s former President, Vicente Fox, said something that current President Enrique Peña Nieto can’t: Mexico “is not gonna pay for that fucking wall,” so if Trump wants to build it, his Republican friends in the House and Senate will have to pay for it. Again, why is the southern border the most important issue so many trumpists have? Maybe it’s because they don’t like dark-skinned people.
“The rise of Trump [is] a reaction to political correctness, which has…made people feel that they can’t express themselves.” Look, this is one of the most damnable memes that the Right comes up with. I was taught—you were taught—we all were taught that there are some things that shouldn’t be said, even if we’re thinking them. It’s called politeness, good manners. You might think that someone’s ugly, or fat, or whatever, but you don’t say so to their face. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” or, as Luke said, “You hypocrite, first take the beam out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” There are compelling reasons why Americans should examine themselves before putting others down. It results in a more civil society. It prevents fights. It helps our communities be cohesive. It promotes mutual respect. Mr. Bauerlein, do you remember when Trump felt free to express himself about that disabled reporter? Did you think that was funny?
Trump “might somehow help to move [people] beyond hardened partisan positions…by demolishing traditional Party ideologies.” Well, most of the “partisan positions” that my side, liberal-humanists, has adopted are the result of millennia of philosophical evolution. For instance, it’s hard to see how the issue of allowing same-sex couples to marry is an “ideology” that needs to be “demolished,” as most Christian Republicans aver. Marriage equality is not an “ideology,” it is a human right. Republicans love human rights when applied to them; not so much for others. It’s like Trump saying he would accept the results of the election if he won—if Hillary won, he wouldn’t. #DoubleStandard!
Trump has promised to ‘bomb the shit out of ISIS.” Bauerlein likes that. Look, we all want to defeat ISIS—and we are doing just that. Obama hesitated to obliterate Middle Eastern neighborhoods that may be ISIS strongholds. Bauerlein apparently thinks that was a bad decision. Shouldn’t America be leery of bombing the shit out of anything? We tried it in Vietnam and Cambodia; didn’t work out so well. We turn people against us when we fight without restraint, like bullies. If we’re going to get along with 1 billion Muslims, they need to respect America for what we’ve traditionally been: a country that fights fair and square and promotes human values. Carpet bombing Aleppo is not a sane solution.
To summarize: The problem with religion “shaping public policy” is, Whose religion is doing the shaping? It’s not likely to be Native Americans’, or liberal Judaism’s, or Episcopalians’, or Wiccans’, or Coptic Christians’, or New Agers’, or Buddhists’. Moderate religions don’t want to get involved in public policy; they understand the First Amendment, and respect it. The religionists who want to dominate public policy are the extremists, and that’s where we get into trouble—which is why we we have a First Amendment. In a melting pot like America, we have to keep hard-core religious ideologies out of the public policy debate. It’s the only way America can survive as what we are: a multi-cultural, multi-religious, multi-ethnic, multi-racial society. What part of that does Mr. Bauerlein have a problem with?
[In the previous post, Lieutenant-Governor Newsom was explaining his opposition to Cal-Exit.]
GN: I remember being very critical, and a lot of these people who are supporting Cal-Exit were also critical, of [Texas Governor] Rick Perry when he was talking about Texas seceding.
SH: Actually, I think their attitude was, “Fine, go. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”
GN: Right. It is the irony now, we’re all talking about Federalism and celebrating the Tenth Amendment when it was almost exclusively Republicans. We’re now talking about Progressive Federalism. That’s the new term.
SH: And yet, California does seem to be taking the position—with the super-majorities, and a Democratic governor, and clearly, another Democratic governor next time—
GN: — Yes, most likely.
SH: We’re taking the position, we’re going to be the loyal opposition. This thing with [Eric] Holder is very interesting. [Editor’s note: the California Legislature announced on Jan. 4 it was hiring former U.S. Attorney-General Eric Holder, a Democrat, to represent them in any legal fights against the new Republican White House.]
GN: Yeah [but] I think a bit undermining to the current [California] Attorney-General. [Editor’s note: On Dec. 1, California Governor Jerry Brown chose Democratic Congressman Xavier Becerra to be Attorney-General, replacing Kamala Harris, who was elected California’s Senator.] I think we have a very competent and good Attorney-General so, I don’t know, it seems a little redundant. I like Holder; I just thought it was curious.
SH: It’s a statement.
GN: Yeah, it was. I just sort of…I don’t want to say it was unnecessary, I mean, it’s nice to have his insight. He’s important.
SH: That was a Legislative move—
GN: Yeah, the Legislature, independent of the Governor and the executive branch, and certainly independent of the Attorney-General.
SH: So you didn’t know anything about it?
GN: No one did. Nor did the incoming Attorney-General, whose entire purpose in the appointment was to promote a similar kind of strategy. Anyway, there’s a back story I’m still—we’re all trying to figure out. This is 36 hours into that announcement. There’s a lot more to that, is my point.
SH: You’re ahead in fund-raising [for the 2018 gubernatorial election]. You’re ahead in the polls for 2018.
GN: Yeah. So was Hillary Clinton.
SH: I was gonna say! That was the point of my question.
GN: So we can’t take anything for granted!
SH: Still, assuming you’ll be sworn in, and Trump is still in office, and this contest is heating up—
GN: It’s interesting. How out-sized will Trump and trumpism be in this gubernatorial election? I don’t know yet. Right now, it seems significantly outsized. But one thing I know we all could agree with Trump is the unpredictability [factor]. I mean, we don’t know. So what seems self-evident today may seem like a distant memory a year or two from now. Who knows? You know, we could find out that Trump did nothing more on immigration than Barack Obama did in his first term, which was tighten the screws and go back to what Obama began with, which was, quote-unquote, “secure communities,” which he inherited from George W. Bush, which then labeled Barack Obama as “the deporter-in-chief.” And Trump just markets and brands himself a little differently to appear more tough than Obama was, when, in fact, Obama was arguably even tougher than Trump may turn out to be. Who knows? I hope that’s the case. He may pull away from going after the Dreamers because of the political toxicity of that. He may find he’s got more in line with rural and agricultural interests, so he won’t touch seasonality. On border issues, he may build 20 miles of new fencing and then say, “See, we did more than any administration in 50 years” and call that a wall. Again, his ability to spin is extraordinary. That’s his skill set. So that may happen. It may not. And I’m fearful it may not. So it may become a dim memory; this domestic Trump may become a foreign policy Trump. But I’m more concerned, in the next three weeks, Jan. 21, by other explosions. Now, all of a sudden, we’re embroiled in the Middle East in a new war [Syria]. That’s what I fear: all of a sudden, the domestic agenda becomes a foreign agenda. Or, God forbid, you’ve got Kim Jong-un in North Korea says something, and triggers a tweet, and the tweet triggers an action, and all of a sudden—
SH: Kim announced [Jan. 2] they’re about to launch an ICBM, but Trump tweeted “It’s not going to happen.”
GN: Yeah. Of course, we all say “It’s not going to happen.” Five administrations have said that’s not going to happen. Yet it’s happening. So I don’t know what he intends to do about it differently.
SH: So will you reassure California voters that, when you take the oath of office, you will—
GN: Build an iron dome so we’re not the target?
SH: No, not that. That you will sign onto the anti-Trump campaign. You will lead the anti-Trump campaign.
GN: Well, one thing I’m not accused of is being timid. My worst critics would acknowledge that timidity is not a strong suit of mine. It’s just in my dna to step out and take—
SH: –say to ICE, “Protect the Dreamers. Keep out of our schools and hospitals.”
GN: I think my record is pretty crystal clear when it comes to those things, and sanctuary [city] policy that I promoted, not just extended, as Mayor. Those are things that I will pursue, absolutely, unquestionably. Lead, not secede.
SH: There are two different attitudes with respect to how Democrats deal with Trump. One is to resist. Hashtag NotMyPresident, so on and so forth. And the other one—
GN: Yeah. I don’t like that.
SH: Why not?
GN: “Not My President.” Because we unanimously criticized the Republican Party for saying Obama was not their President.
SH: They started it!
GN: Doesn’t matter. It doesn’t make it right. That sounds like my kids. It’s like, grow up. I just don’t like the petulance. Just because they started it? I mean, act as you expect others to act. Be mature. Be adults. You don’t have to go into the mud.
SH: Are some of us just itching for a fight?
GN: No, some of us are frankly immature. That’s all that is. That’s just immaturity. I would expect more of my kids. And I expect more of adults. And in that context, as an American citizen, I wish Trump success. I certainly do. Absolutely. If he’s successful, and is inclusive, then we’re all better off.
SH: If he’s successful, then we have Republican Presidents for the next 20 years.
GN: Well, look. I am an American first, a partisan second. I want this country to thrive, not survive. I want all of us to do well.
SH: Okay, well, you know, the comparisons with Nazi Germany are being made, and I think appropriately so. Which leads to this question, if this were 1932-1933, would you say to your kids, “You know, the guy [Hitler] got elected legally, so let’s respect that and cooperate with him.” Or do you go underground into a resistance? In which case, History would have rewarded you.
TOMORROW: Part 4
In Part 1, California Lieutenant-Governor Newsom reacted to the hacking hearings in the Senate, began analyzing the results of the election, and speculated on the enormity of the challenges facing American institutions, including the two major political parties. Today, in Part 2, we begin with Trump’s victory.
GN: I mean, all of us were shocked. It was hardly a mandate; it wasn’t historic, except for the fact you had a historically naïve candidate in Donald Trump, who is unqualified to assume the Presidency. Beyond that, there was nothing particularly historic about it. He was below the mean average in terms of electoral victory.
SH: And Hillary got more votes, and a greater percentage of the popular vote, than any losing candidate in history.
GN: So when these guys [Trump] talk about it in historic terms, there’s many ways to analyze it, but clearly, he should be more cautious in terms of the takeaways, and the possibility of overreach is pretty self-evident.
SH: Caution is not part of his—
GN: No. It’s ready-fire-aim with these guys. So we need to be prepared for that. And, you know, there’s the old adage—people talked about it in the campaign—some people took him seriously but not literally, some people took him literally but not seriously. I am of the opinion you have to take him literally and seriously until further notice. And so I am particularly concerned about the prospect of him doing the kind of damage that he promoted during the campaign.
SH: So where do Democrats go from here? Conventional wisdom is that 2020 is wide open.
GN: I think the biggest mistake is thinking about 2020. We’re so fixated on the Presidential that we’ve missed the entire point, which is that we’ve been shellacked. This party is bankrupt. This party has gotten crushed in municipal elections, gotten crushed in statewide elections for years. In some ways, it’s the best thing that happened to our party, because that’s finally been exposed. Had Hillary Clinton succeeded, we would still have been in denial. Now, we have to wake up to the reality that over two-thirds, close to three-quarters of the State Houses, the legislative and gubernatorial ranks, are in the hands of Republicans. And we have prospects that are very dim that we will take back the Senate, let alone the House. We’re so fixated on top-down politics, not bottom-up, that we’re our own worst enemy.
SH: So what do Democrats do?
GN: Gotta focus on grass roots. Gotta focus on bottom up. Gotta focus on municipalities large and small: rural, suburban communities. You gotta get your base activated to support school clerk candidates, city administrators, boards of supervisors, city councils and other electeds. That’s where we’ve been off-base for far too long. But that’s a deeper conversation that just the national conversation about a national message.
SH: Let’s follow up on that. I understand that six million fewer people voted Democratic in 2016 than in 2012, and nine million fewer than in 2008. A lot of those people bailed on the Democratic Party because they say it’s as corrupt and under the heel of Wall Street as the Republicans—Hillary and Bill got rich, and all this kind of stuff. How do you win them back, especially the Millennials, when they say “A pox on both your houses”?
GN: Well, something deeper is happening. Institutional apathy, institutional atrophy. Institutions of all shapes and sizes, private and public, are collapsing. We’re going from something old to something new; we’re in a hinge moment, economically, demographically, technologically. The industrial economy has run out of steam. So we’re at a profound inflection point in our history. And I think we’re missing the larger narrative, where I.T. and globalization have detonated at the same time, changing everything, the way we live, work and play. And as a consequence, you’ve seen it in the private sector, large top-down hierarchical institutions are collapsing, and something new is taking shape. And government is on a collision course with that same future. And I think that was demonstrable in this Presidential campaign, was the distrust of institutions, distrust of government, and the consequence of that was “A pox on both houses.” And there were two candidates who took advantage of that narrative and understood it: Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. And it wasn’t surprising, the crowds and energy around them. And, of course, with Sanders out, Trump in, Hillary trying to take the mantle of some of that energy, she wasn’t able to capture that, and she wasn’t necessarily able to communicate it. And I think we have to come to grips with that. It’s not just about better policy or better strategy of communication, it’s understanding the world we live in.
SH: Well, along those lines, let me read you something from this morning’s [Jan. 5] New York Times. Two guys in Iowa, blue collar—
GN: — Oh, is that the one someone sent me?
SH: It’s an amazing story.
GN: That’s what they said, you have to read this, it’s amazing.
SH: “They’re hard workers, they wash dishes, sweep the floors,” blah blah. Now one is a welder and—
GN: [holding up cell phone with article] Is this the same?
SH: Yeah, yeah! Because this is what you’re talking about. “They’re conservative, believe in hard work, family, the military and cops, and they know abortion and socialism are evil, that Jesus Chris is our savior, and that Donald J. Trump will be good for America.” Governor, what do you say to them?
GN: Well, you know, people want to believe. I respect that. People are looking, I think unfortunately, for the wrong thing. I think we have this gravitational nostalgia for the guy or gal on the white horse to come save the day. And that world no longer exists.
SH: But what do you say to these two guys?
GN: I don’t know what to say to them, specifically, but the reality is, they’ll see demonstrably that Trump can’t deliver on his promises and [their] aspirations.
SH: Do you believe Trump will just—
GN: — I think he’ll leave them wanting. Unquestionably. And that’s the most ominous thing, is that Trump’s going to leave millions and millions of people wanting. And what becomes of them then?
SH: What does?
GN: And I worry about this country.
SH: So where do they go? Do they ping-pong back to the Democrats, or go third party, or—
GN: First of all, Trump was an invasive species. He took over the Republican Party. Bernie Sanders was an invasive species: he took over the Democratic Party. He’s not even a Democrat. Both parties are in turmoil. Both parties were gutted in this election. This notion of tribalism, Democratic, Republican, I mean, the fundamental framework needs to be questioned. These guys are not even versions of the old meme; they’re something completely new.
SH: And yet, you remain a Democrat.
GN: Yeah. I remember we went through this, the late 1990s, early 2000s, with Howard Dean’s ascendency, and people were jumping to the Green Party, people were walking away from Al Gore, and it was [Bill] Bradley, and they were sick and tired of both parties, they were both corporatized, bought and paid for by Big Labor, Big Business, two sides of the same coin. And people were jumping ship. And my point was, you’ve got to fight to change things from within. I’m not going to walk away [from the Democratic Party]. It would be like walking away from the rest of the country by having Cal-Exit. I mean, I’m not going to walk away. I’m going to punch, to fight.
SH: So you’re not in favor of Cal-Exit?
GN: No. You don’t secede. You lead.
SH: A lot of people are [in favor].
GN: Yeah, well, I think it’s naïve. The last time a State decided to walk away, there was a lot of bloodshed.
SH: The Civil War.
TOMORROW: Part 3
Gavin Newsom is Lieutenant-Governor of California. Prior to that, he was Mayor of San Francisco. He co-owns wineries, and his PlumpJack Hospitality Group operates night clubs, wine stores, resorts and restaurants throughout California. As Mayor, Newsom shot to fame—some would say notoriety—by backing the issue of gay marriage; that will probably be the most salient part of his political legacy, which seems likely to include being elected Governor of California next year. He leads all his rivals, both Republican and Democratic, at this time in fund-raising and in the polls. Which leads to the inevitable question: Does he have his eye on the White House? When and if he is elected Governor, he will immediately become “Presidential timber,” as they say—a young, handsome, articulate visionary from the nation’s biggest state. We spoke yesterday (Jan. 5) in his office in San Francisco.
Full disclosure: I met Governor Newsom (the correct salutation for a Lieutenant-Governor) 26 years ago, when he was becoming involved in the wine industry and starting his first PlumpJack wine store. I liked him then; I like him now. Although I had a list of political questions, I began our conversation by asking him about the news, breaking that morning, of John McCain’s extraordinary hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, on the Russian hacking situation.
SH: Let’s start with the McCain hearing today. We have this seeming split in the Republican Party between the establishment and the intelligence community, on the one hand, and Trump. What’s going on?
GN: It’s par for the course, exactly what one would expect; if the President-elect doesn’t like the conclusion, he tries to change, not only the conclusion, but the process that actually determined the facts. And he clearly is not interested in the evidence; he hasn’t even had the comprehensive briefing yet, because it’s not convenient for him, and undermines his, quote-unquote, “success and credibility” as President-elect.
SH: Did you see the Wall Street Journal this morning?
SH: Banner headline: Trump Plans Spy Agency Overhaul—he intends to “pare back the nation’s top spy agency” [Office of Director of National Intelligence]. This is full-scale war.
GN: It is extraordinary. There are a couple thoughts. Don’t forget, it was not that many years ago when the Democratic Party was almost unanimous in their condemnation of and contempt for the intelligence community, so we have to be cautious not to over-indulge in a critique of the President-elect because now he might now share a similar point of view. That said, when you have seventeen intelligence agencies all on the same page, that is quite unique, and that is—
SH: –and today, McCain specifically asked [the intelligence chiefs] “Are you more confident today than you were five, ten, fifteen days ago [that Russia was responsible for the hacks],” and every one said yes.
GN: Now, don’t get me wrong, on the history of intelligence in this country, we have been wrong on many, many occasions—
GN: –even with that degree of confidence. But, look, it seems compelling. I haven’t been privy to the intelligence briefings—none of us have—nor has Obama today and the President-elect as of tomorrow, so we’re taking the word of folks that are right more often, it seems, than are wrong. But that said, it’s interesting to watch this and try to be objective. But it is rather remarkable, in such a public way, the President-elect is critiquing the intelligence community, and that is demoralizing to any organization.
SH: [James] Clapper (DNI chief] said this morning at the hearing, “It’s one thing to be skeptical about the intelligence community. It’s another thing to disparage it.”
GN: Disparage, overtly undermine, and reduce public trust in intelligence gathering. And by the way, it creates vulnerability for American intelligence, because those are things that are easily exploited by foreign governments. These are things we would exploit if intelligence was being questioned in other countries.
SH: I’m sure we have.
GN: And we are experts in all of these things, including undermining foreign elections.
SH: One of the Republican Senators on the committee who was trying to defend Trump said he’d read that the U.S. has interfered in something like 89 foreign elections.
GN: Eighty-nine, yeah. We all read that same article or analysis.
SH: But that doesn’t excuse Russia—
GN: No, just because we did it doesn’t make it right. Of course, we’re sovereign, we have the right to protect ourselves and criticize others who would undermine this republic.
SH: Okay, well, let’s get into politics!
MONDAY: Part 2: The election, Trump, the Democratic Party’s future, how to win back disaffected voters, and California’s resistance to Trumpism.