Archive for the ‘Trump’ Category

Evil Has No Power

Monday, November 26th, 2018

I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree. Yet he passed away, and, lo, he was not: yea, I sought him, but he could not be found. Ps 37:35-36

As a warning, this post is about belief. It is the result of looking more closely at our current political situation from a spiritual point of view.

I’ve thought a lot about this Bible citation.

What it means to me is that God is all powerful. He is also the only power, since if there were any other power, it would mean that God is not ALL powerful. As a result, any suggestion that there is a power opposed to God is an illusion. That’s why when you go looking for what appears to be an opposing power, you can’t find it. It’s like looking for that mirage of water on the horizon or the end of a rainbow. They are illusions that lose their reality when closely examined.

Applying those lessons to the current political situation suggests that good (synonym for God) is the only reality. Anything else is an illusion that vanishes on closer inspection.

Trump is a good example.

It appeared as though his rapid rise to power was the result of the anger, resentment, and fear of a significant number of voters.

It seemed that he wasn’t bound by the same rules and norms that previous president’s observed.

You could certainly make the argument that democracy had failed when a minority of the voters could hand power to someone who called so many of our shared values into question. What’s worse, we seem to have elected someone whose first priority is what is best for him. Whether it is deliberate or delusional, he seems to believe that his own interests are always in the best interests of the country.

Here’s how a Wash Post opinion piece describes Trump’s response to the Khashoggi killing.

He’s putting his own naked self-interest over what’s good for America, and prioritizing the real-world policy realization of his own prejudices and hatreds over any good-faith, fact-based effort to determine, by any discernible standard, what might actually be in the country’s interests.

There is no big and unpleasant truth at the core of Trump’s vision of what’s good for the country. That vision is largely a void filled with unchecked self-interest, both disguised and sustained by lies.

Fortunately voters were recently able to express their opinion about Trump’s administration. The House vote was as close as we are going to get to a national referendum until 2020. Trump was certainly helpful in that regard by insisting that the election WAS about him. The result was a huge turnout from both sides.

That’s how democracy is supposed to work. We resolve our differences peacefully at the ballot box rather than through armed conflict.

The election was also a resounding rejection of the Trump agenda. The Democrats flipped more seats than they had in any election since Watergate which was a similar referendum on a sitting president. In total, House Democrats received 8.6M more votes than Republicans. That exceeded the margin of victory in the 2016 election.

Given the turnout, the wider margin of victory can only be attributed to a change in heart for at least some of those who voted for Trump in 2016.

Some of this was voters holding Trump accountable for failing to keep his promises.

Michelle Goldberg from the NYTimes listed some of those broken promises.

Trump’s first two years in office have been rife with debacles, including the botched response to Hurricane Maria and the sadistic policy of snatching undocumented children from their parents.

Tens of thousands of veterans haven’t received promised housing and education stipends because of technical glitches at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Some veterans are facing eviction and homelessness, and at a hearing last week, V.A. officials couldn’t tell Congress when the problem would be fixed. NBC noted that the agency lacks a permanent chief information officer. Over the summer, ProPublica reported that the V.A. was being unofficially run by a trio of Trump cronies out of Mar-a-Lago.

The Times reported on problems with the $12 billion bailout program the Trump administration created to help farmers hurt by its trade policies. Thanks to what the story called “red tape and long waiting periods,” few payments have been made so far.

Under a 2007 law, people in some public service jobs are eligible to have their federal student loans forgiven after 10 years of payments. Last year, according to Department of Education data, only 96 of nearly 30,000 applicants for loan forgiveness were approved, which appears to be partly the fault of the Trump administration. Attorneys general for 10 states and the District of Columbia have written to Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, about her department’s “failure to keep its promise to borrowers.”

In the spirit of this post, however, Trump can be viewed as a blessing.

As his administration continues to unravel, we are seeing that the American people ARE able and willing to hold him accountable for his actions. His lies and poor performance did erode his 2016 base of support. His power is not only an illusion, it is now working against him. Rather than dismantle democracy, he has reinvigorated it. He has awakened those who stand aghast at his actions. Rather than just complain, they voted in record numbers.

It wasn’t just them who voted in record numbers either. His base of support turned out too. The result was democracy in action. Voters took power away from the incumbent President because they disapproved of that incumbent’s performance. A Democratic congress will certainly serve as a check for at least the next two years.

There were also big gains for Democrats at the state level. Those gains will lay the foundation for an unraveling of the gerrymandering and restrictive voter registration laws which had been giving Republicans an unfair advantage in previous House votes. Michigan even passed a public proposal to hand all future redistricting to a non-partisan citizen’s panel. We don’t know whether any of these actions would have occurred without a Trump presidency. It is clear that making it easier to vote and making those votes of equal value in every conservative district are both going to strengthen democracy.

We don’t know how the next two years will go, but it is clear that the seemingly unstoppable spreading green bay tree that was the Trump administration is losing its power before our very eyes. We may go looking for him in two years and he will be hard to find.

Tinkerbell Effect

Monday, October 15th, 2018

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This is a term which describes things that are thought to exist only because people believe in them. One of the areas where is it used fairly widely is with money. Money has no intrinsic value. It only works because everyone using it believes that it will continue to work for the foreseeable future.

Populism at its core is built on the Tinkerbell Effect. Populists believe that “crowds” are self-validating. Whatever the crowd believes must be fact because everyone in the crowd shares the same belief.

Science, while it studies the “wisdom of crowds”, has never accepted the claim that belief should replace proof regardless of how popular any particular belief might be.

The modern era began with the introduction of the scientific method in the 17th century. That method requires all assumptions to pass a series of rigorous tests in order to gain credibility. The scientific method created the concept of objective truth. It freed reality from being narrowly defined by popes or potentates. Instead it handed the responsibility of understanding the world to a select group of highly decentralized critical thinkers around the world – experts in their particular fields. These groups are self-selecting based on their areas of interest. Anyone can join, regardless of race, color, creed, or nationality. They simply have to prove through their publications that they have sufficient understanding of the subject matter to be taken seriously by their peers.

When Galileo improved the Lippershey telescope to provide ultimately 30x magnification, he was able to confirm the Copernican helio-centric theory of the solar system. This was a direct challenge to the Biblical claim supported by the Catholic Church that the universe revolved around the earth.

Galileo championed the idea that all of the laws of nature are mathematical. That meant that natural outcomes should not only be predictable, but also repeatable by anyone with a comparable understanding of the underlying mathematics. In other words, you didn’t have to be Galileo to see the moons of Jupiter transit across the face of the planet. You only had to have the same telescope that Galileo had and understand what those dots moving across the image of Jupiter actually represented.

This ushered in a new age where scientists could reliably explain all natural phenomena. Reality was no longer dependent on opinion or dogma. Instead there was (and is) an unbiased group of experts who could not only separate fact from fiction, but were eager to test new ideas even if they questioned accepted theories. This group almost by definition is constantly pushing the boundaries of understanding while simultaneously strengthening those theories that survive rigorous testing.

This group earns the right to test all theories about reality through the professional credentials they acquire, the reputation they have with their peers, and their own success in producing original work that can be duplicated by other experts in the field.

By definition, these experts also know more about their subject than any random crowd regardless of its size.

Therein lies the rub.

Populist movements, including the one in this country, strive to take back the right to determine what is fact and what is fiction. They reject any and all outside groups who suggest that any but their own trusted group can dictate their beliefs.

Here’s why all of this is important.

Trump’s lying is not a character flaw or pathology. It is not a “salesman” characteristic. It IS a deliberate strategy to weaken our collective ability to distinguish truth from falsehood. Steve Bannon summarized this strategy when he said, “The way to deal with [the media] is to flood the zone with s**t.”

Trump’s singular success as a politician has been his ability to create an alternate reality in which he and his supporters live. He has been successful because he is exploiting a weakness in our democracy. That weakness is the power that we invest in the chief executive. An untrustworthy chief executive in our system can acquire a lot of power very quickly. The only checks to that power are congress, the courts, and voters. A free and independent press is supposed to inform the voters so that their choices are fact based.

Trump’s strategy is to delegitimize the press, create an alternate reality where he is the only arbiter of truth, and demonize all those who oppose him. Because he is the President, he has the power to accomplish that. Facts are no longer relevant in this discussion because Trump’s supporters reject experts as biased elites and the press as “the enemy of the people”. Democrats are “traitors” and “evil people”. All those who oppose Trump, in the minds of his supporters, should be “locked up”. The Republican Party has long since abdicated any role in checking the President’s power. Those who might provide leadership have either died or been drummed out of the party. The courts are slowly being bent to Trump’s will too as his appointments flood positions that a Republican Senate majority had kept open during the Obama administration.

The only reliable check that remains is voters. That fact isn’t lost on Trump and Republican either. Trump has already built the narrative that any vote that doesn’t go his way must be the result of a rigged system or voter fraud. Republicans have stepped up their efforts at every level of government to suppress the vote from those who generally vote for Democrats.

This brings us to the current crossroad.

Our country appears to be split.

We have conservatives who vote based on a set of ideological beliefs that they share regarding government, taxes, the free market, and personal responsibility. Whether smaller government actually increases human freedom is never questioned. If tax cuts and deregulation don’t result in faster economic growth, at least they are giving individuals more control over their own property – which seems to be good enough. Conservatives believe that people choose to be poor and that any attempt to mitigate the circumstances surrounding poverty discourages people from putting in the work that would improve their condition. There is no data to support this view either, but put that hasn’t stopped Trump from blaming the poor, immigrants, and people of color for the country’s problems.

Republicans were concerned about debt and deficits when a Democrat was in the White House. Now that Republicans control all branches of government, they are running up deficits and increasing the debt at an historic rate.

Liberals on the other hand are focused these days on achieving a pragmatic balance between the market and the state. They view government as tool to constrain corporate excess. Decisions on each specific issue of government involvement are the result of extensive evidence-based study and a good faith attempt to produce outcomes which benefit the most people. If liberals have a religion it is the belief that science will always produce the best answer. One of the potential outcome of this philosophy is a technocracy where all power as well decision-making is concentrated in a small group of supposed experts. China claims that this is their form of government, but it looks a lot more like an oligopoly because the Chinese “experts” who have the power are also personally benefiting from their decisions. While that isn’t the case in this country, there is a deep suspicion among conservatives that those who are making decisions based on their academic credentials MUST somehow also be benefiting personally from the positions that they are taking. There is no proof to support that claim, but conservatives still insist that “experts” can’t be trusted. This leaves conservatives free to insist that their beliefs are more credible because they are based in “common sense”.

From an ideological perspective, however, modern liberalism in this country may not be well equipped to deal with the anti-state anti-intellectual radicalism that has become the Republican Party. The pragmatic Clintonian Democrats come off as passionless technocrats rather than true believers. This more than anything else explains the rise of the Bernie Socialists. Democratic Socialism is on the rise because it brings a new vision of the expanded role of the state that can match the populist fervor that swept Trump into office. Both the Democratic Socialists and the populists share a deep distrust of what they view as the establishment. They both want to tear it down and build something new.

The populist challenge is they have failed to dislodge the Republican establishment. Instead the Republican establishment has figured out how to ride this populist wave. The result is that the power of establishment has increased. The only difference is that this establishment is speaking in populist terms rather than traditional conservatism. The policies, however, are the same as they have always been.

All indications are that the Democrats will regain control of the House and make significant gains at the state level.

What will that mean for the next two years?

If past is prologue, the path forward is pretty obvious.

Regardless of the election outcome, Trump will double down on his authoritarian tactics. He will try to end the Mueller investigation. He will increase attempts to suppress the 2020 vote. He will refuse to comply with court orders limiting his power. He will refuse to cooperate with congressional investigations. The resulting constitutional crisis will have to be resolved in a Supreme Court where Kavanaugh could be the deciding vote. Whatever the Supreme Court decides will only increase divisions between those who believe in their own views and those who seek the objective reality.

He will crack down on protests and try to further weaken the influence of the press. He may cause an international crisis in an effort to boost his status as a “war” president. He will almost certainly continue his misguided trade war.

Finally, the recession that we have all been waiting for will arrive. Trump will fumble the response and deepen the crisis rather than resolve it. Trump will use the crisis to impose even more draconian immigration enforcement in an effort to blame the failure on Muslims, Hispanics, and the poor. Violence against all of those groups will increase.

Next up a different take on this whole picture.

Flopping

Wednesday, October 10th, 2018

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Flopping is a technique in a number of sports. It is an intentional fall by a player after little or no contact from an opposing player. The intent is to fool the official into believing that a foul actually occurred when in fact nothing happened. It is widely practiced in soccer and basketball. To a lesser extent, you see it also in football on almost every incomplete pass. The defender jumps up celebrating his success and the receiver jumps up looking around in dismay for a flag to confirm the fact that his failure to catch the ball was because of interference from the defender.

Flopping has found its way into the politics of victimization. It even has its own acronym – DARVO. That stands for Deny Attack and Reverse Victim and Offender.

DARVO is President Trump’s favorite tactic.

Here is a recent example.

Trump mocked Dr. Ford at a rally and lied about her testimony. He went on to suggest that Kavanaugh and his family are the real victims and blames the Democrats. He then called Democrats “evil people”.  He said their aim is to “destroy people” and create a culture in which people are “guilty until proven innocent”. The ultimate irony, probably lost on those in the crowd, occurred when the crowd began to chant “lock her up”.

The press then held Trump accountable for both his tone and his lies regarding Dr. Ford. His press secretary denied that he was mocking Dr. Ford and said that he was only stating the facts of the case. That was also a lie since the facts of the case include many of the details where Dr. Ford’s memory was clear.

Sprinkling facts with lies is also a common Trump tactic.  Lies, however, taint any claim of stating the facts.  Telling only the half of the story is also misrepresentation.

Dr. Ford, for example, provided solid scientific reasons why she did not remember some details and did remember others.  That science of trauma has been widely corroborated by other psychologists.  Ignoring this important part of Dr. Ford’s testimony was just additional evidence that Trump had no interest in the facts.

Then Sanders repeated the Trump’s claims that the real victim here is Kavanaugh and the real villains are the Democrats who single-handedly turned the confirmation process into “a complete and total disgrace”.

Sanders and Trump also claimed that the FBI had free reign in their investigation.  Later statements from the FBI confirmed that it was in fact “limited in scope”.

Trump later justified his attacks on Dr. Ford as an attempt to “even the playing field” and that Kavanaugh’s ultimate successful confirmation was the direct result of his attacks.  The common statement is “level the playing field”.  Characterizing this as an “uneven” playing field may have been a subconscious admission that Dr. Ford had strong public support.

Political flopping and DARVO are all different versions of a flawed philosophy – the end justifies the means.

Flopping and DARVO are both cheating.

They are attempts to twist the truth in order to gain an advantage.

At this point, partisans are going to be hearing a lot of “yah but” arguments in their head. That’s fine. But just because someone else “flops” does not make it any more ethical for you to flop.

Also just to be clear, Trump earned the right to nominate SCOTUS judges as a result of winning the election. He just happened to pick someone who, like many of his past nominations for other offices, was poorly vetted. Just because Republicans had the votes to confirm Kavanaugh, doesn’t mean that they should have.

The philosophical conclusion of accepting the “end justifies the means” rationale is that ANYTHING is acceptable behavior as long as you can justify whatever is accomplished.

IMHO, that is what has been exposed in the Republican Party by the Trump presidency.

This President can lie (well documented) with no recourse because those lies advance the agenda (ends) that the Republican party feels cannot be advanced in any other way. Or in fact to be more precise, Republican leaders ignore Trump’s lies because they don’t want to confront him and his supporters. The problem is that Trump has demanded the leaders in his party to declare that they are either with him or against him. He won’t, in fact, even tolerate their silence. Most chose the path of least resistance, actively defend Trump, and regularly praise his good works. Meanwhile the march to autocracy continues.

Trump and his supporters seem to live in an alternate reality where angry protesters are characterized as a mob. Worse yet, they can’t seem to accept that those people who are exercising their first amendment rights to protest are doing so voluntarily. Instead, even Republican Senators circulate the conspiracy theory that the protesters are paid by George Soros, but fail to produce any evidence to support their claim. They seem to forget that the current Republican majorities were won by angry protests by the Tea Party that started in 2010. Instead this protest must be motivated by paid provocateurs or revenge-seeking Clinton supporters.

Another flawed right wing meme is that young men are now somehow at risk from the #MeToo movement. This makes a false equivalence between women who are concerned about their physical security and long term psychological health and men who fear that a false accusation would damage their future employment prospects.

Blaming the victim, particularly when they are women, is a damnable defense that our current president has legitimized. The #MeToo movement started with powerful men in the entertainment industry. It has spread to those in all walks of life. Those who attack women should be held accountable.  Those who employ the DARVO technique are reprehensible cowards.

(rant starting) When multiple women came forward to accuse Kavanaugh of abusive behavior, Republicans including Kavanaugh suggested that this was evidence of “an organized political hit”.  Why are three women who chose to come forward LESS convincing for Republicans than one woman?  Bias is the only reasonable answer.

When Kavanaugh lied about the meaning of entries in his yearbook, everyone paying attention knew this was a lie – but Republicans gave him a pass on the basis of youthful exuberance.  But putting your hand over the mouth of a screaming woman IS NOT youthful exuberance.  It is abuse regardless of the age of the abuser.

It also isn’t that times have changed.  Rape and sexual assault have always been wrong.  I graduated from an all boy’s Jesuit High School.  While there may have been a culture of privilege at Kavanaugh’s school, I can guarantee that he was taught that with privilege comes responsibility.  The core of all Jesuit schools is to teach boys to become “men for others”.  He knew that abusing alcohol was wrong and he knew that attacking women was wrong too.

So please tell me why Kavanaugh couldn’t just admit that he had a drinking problem in his youth?  He could have admitted that he did drink to the point where he was not able to remember everything that happened.  He could have said, whether it was true or not, that he has no memory of the events that these three women described.  At that point, a man for others would have apologized for any harm that he may have caused and promised that his life since that time has been dedicated to seeking justice and protecting the powerless.

Instead he turned it all into a partisan rant and as a result became the LEAST trusted justice in recent history to hold a lifetime appointment. (rant ending)

The conspiracy theorists are also weighing in, but now they happen to be Senators. Tom Cotton for example believes that this is all a Democratic plot orchestrated by Chuck Schumer. Specifically, Cotton claims that a friend of Dr. Ford had worked at one time for Attorney Preet Bharara who had at one time been Schumer’s chief counsel. The problem is that the friend never did work for Bharara and there is no evidence suggesting that Schumer knew about Dr. Ford’s claim any earlier than anyone else. This theory is based on the same magic thinking that suggests that people are incapable of coming to the same conclusion (i.e. trusting Dr. Ford’s testimony) on their own. That the only way to explain such a broad and deep emotional response as we’ve seen from the public is that it had been carefully planned months before. If that was the case, Schumer clearly fumbled the ball because all they got out of it was a week’s delay and a shallow FBI investigation. If they had brought these allegations to the committee earlier, it is likely that there would have been sufficient time to do a more thorough FBI investigation which may have led to a different outcome.

What we can take from this is another turn of the autocratic wheel.

Trump supporters, which include most of the Republican Party now, don’t just have contempt for the truth, but now rush to demonize any and all criticism. In the past this tendency was limited to Trump and a small group of his vocal defenders. Now senior Republicans freely embrace crazy conspiracy theories about what motivated opposition to Kavanaugh and NO ONE in the party is questioning them.

When conspiracy theories move from the delusional fringe to mainstream politics, it becomes a deliberate strategy to delegitimize opposition. This creates excuses for punishing anyone who dares to oppose those in power, because that opposition in and of itself is regarded as treason. Even the high ideal of protecting women from being abused quickly fell by the wayside when the accused abuser was a powerful Republican.  Rather than take these accusations seriously and conduct a thorough and detailed investigation into all claims, those claims were dismissed as being politically motivated and a majority of senators who represent a minority of voters imposed their will on the rest of the country.

The question remains, how is democracy going to respond? It clearly isn’t the Republican Party. If there was any previous question, it is clear now that they are all-in. The Supreme Court is no longer going to be a reliable check on presidential power either. The highly politicized appointment process disregarded any damage that might be done to the credibility of the court in the minds of a large majority US citizens in return for potential short term political gain in the upcoming midterms.

The only thing that stands between Trump and his march toward authoritarianism are the voters. Regardless of the outcome of the midterm elections, Trump will dare both the voters and the courts to try to stop him. It will take more than a defeat in the upcoming midterms.  If Republicans retain their Senate majority, which seems a likely outcome at this point, it is likely that Trump will take action to shut down the Mueller investigation by whatever means available to him.  The only thing that will stop him are Democratic wins in every election between now and the next time we can vote directly on Trump’s political future.  Hopefully, voters and the courts will be up to the task when they are called to make a choice.

 

Are We There Yet?

Sunday, July 22nd, 2018

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Let’s just do a quick recap.

Trump goes to the NATO conference.

He gives an interview to the Sun in which he blasts PM May, his host. Then he denies that he said it even though the Sun has the whole interview on tape. He blasts NATO, lies about how much of the burden the US is bearing, takes credit for spending increases that were underway before he was elected, and then suggests that the mutual defense pact that is at the heart of NATO may be dangerous. Then he claims that the meeting was wonderful and everyone is better off as a result

Trump has a summit with Putin.

He ignores the advice of his staff, the diplomatic corps, and the intelligence community.

He has a private 2 hour meeting where only interpreters are present. No details of that meeting have been made public by him. The Russian government has suggested some agreements were made regarding military deployments.

In the press conference following the meeting he says that he finds Putin more trustworthy than his own intelligence services regarding the issue of Russian meddling in the 2016 election. He also celebrates the Russian offer to allow the justice department to work with the Russian government to interview the 12 Russians recently indicted for election tampering. In exchange Russians asked to interview some people whom Putin considers political enemies including former Ambassador Michael McFaul and former US citizen Bill Browder.

He comes back to this country and is furious to discover that his Russian meeting isn’t being celebrated as the triumph that he thought it was. His own staff say that he is confuses Russian meddling in our election with collusion.  He feels that the whole thing is an effort to undermine the legitimacy of his election rather than a reasonable response to an attack by country that seeks to do us harm.  He immediately pushed Pompeo and Bolton to schedule a follow-up meeting in Washington with Putin which blindsided National Intelligence director Dan Coates among others.

Trump lies about what he said in Russia suggesting that changing one word would alter the whole fawning exhibition that he put on. When asked about the “incredible offer”, his press secretary could only say that Trump was planning to “work with his team”. It took almost a week for them to reject that offer.

The press asked Trump whether or not he believed that Russia was still attempting to disrupt our election process. This was after security officials had said that Russians have stepped up their hacking attempts. Trump said no. Later his press secretary made another clumsy attempt to rewrite history by suggesting that Trump was answering a different question than the one that the video shows he was clearly answering.

Former Trump staffer Michael Anton has been an advocate for populist policies in the Trump administration. He recently published a very controversial opinion piece in the Washington Post suggesting Trump could change the 14th amendment’s guarantee of birthright citizenship with an executive order. Even he couldn’t bring himself to defend the recent actions of this administration. He joined the chorus of conservative thought leaders encouraging all those who care about the future of this country to vote out the Republican party this fall.  They all suggest that this is the only viable strategy to curb a president whom appears to be a threat to our security.

Trump ran on the promise to improve relations with Russia. That begs the basic question, however, of whether or not Russia is interested in having improved relations and can be trusted to treat us as a friend rather than an enemy. Putin was asked that question during the Helsinki press conference. His response was that he was going to do whatever he feels is in the best interests of Russia and he would expect that Trump will act in the best interests of the United States. There has been no question that past presidents could be trusted to act in the best interests of the United States when they spoke with leaders from Russia or the USSR . In the opinion of security experts and experienced diplomats across the political spectrum, Trump’s actions and statements do not meet that standard.

Our intelligence services and the justice department have told us that Russia is actively engaged in attempts to destabilize our democracy. It is no longer a question of who or how. We know the people who were involved. We know what they did and we know why they did it. There is no question that all of this was orchestrated by Putin’s government. We also know that Putin continues to deny any responsibility and Trump has said he is willing to accept that denial.

Trump’s son admitted to being eager to obtain “dirt” on Clinton from Russians. He was only one of multiple members of the Trump campaign who had contacts with Russians during and after the campaign and then lied about it.

We know that a Russian hacking effort started the day after Trump publically asked Russians to try to locate “missing” Clinton emails.

We know that Russians shared stolen DNC information with the public which the Trump campaign then used. We also know that some of the stolen information was passed by Russians to Republicans who used it to win House seats.

We know that the Russians are continuing their efforts to disrupt our elections, but Republicans recently killed an effort to fund increased state level election security.

A Russian spy was recently arrested after infiltrating the NRA. The NRA was one of the biggest contributors to the Trump campaign. The FBI is currently investigating whether some of that money was illegally funneled from Russian sources.

The Trump administration recently changed campaign rules to make is virtually impossible to trace future political contribution like the NRA ones currently under investigation.

Trump partisans have recently been suggesting that even if it could be proved that the Russians were successful in helping get Trump elected, it was still better for the country than if Hillary Clinton had won.

Whether or not those efforts were successful, the question remains that we have a president who appears unwilling to take these risks seriously. Whether it is by design, incompetence, or dementia the result is the same. The president’s own behavior poses a risk to our country’s security.

What roles are Pompeo and Bolton playing in this strategy? If they support Trump’s strategy, then they should also be held accountable. If not, they should resign and share what they know with the American people so our representatives can decide how to respond.

The majority party in the Senate and House has a constitutional responsibility to act when the president betrays the interests of the country. While some leaders of the Republican Party have spoken out, the only action that has been taken so far has been a nonbinding resolution objecting to making any US citizens available for questioning by Russian authorities.

Partisans trotted out past actions by other administration suggesting that Trump’s actions are no worse in comparison. This is a common tactic suggesting that it is all just politics and media bias. A careful analysis of this argument, however, leads to a deeper question. If it is all just politics, then what would THIS president have to do in order to cause his supporters to take the warnings of conservative thought leaders seriously.

That’s why it is the responsibility of the leaders in the Republican Party to help Republicans understand the great risks we face as a country when our president doesn’t appear to be acting in the country’s best interests.  The fact that we can’t even have the discussion because Republican elected officials fear the repercussions of perceived disloyalty indicates the grave danger we may be facing.

This is also why an authoritarian leader is so dangerous in our democratic system. If the Republican Party took their constitutional responsibilities seriously and began a sincere debate regarding the president’s actions, Trump would likely abandon that party and try to convince his supporters that HE is the only one that matters. If he was successful in convincing enough people to support him, there would be no effective limit to his power. He could declare war. He could enlist the military to solidify his domestic power. He could fire everyone in the justice department that opposed him. He could begin jailing his critics as he has already suggested. He could appoint new judges whose loyalty is to him rather than the constitution.  This is the well worn path that many autocrats from Hitler to Pinochet have followed.

That’s why it is important to start the conversation now, before Trump takes any further steps to either erode our democracy or consolidate his power.

While all this is going on, Trump’s legal troubles are only getting worse. We now have tapes that prove that Trump lied about his relationship with Karen McDougal. It is highly likely that the National Enquirer’s payment to her to spike her story before the 2016 election will be found to be an illegal campaign contribution which Trump was aware of.  Trump’s response was to claim that “your favorite President” did nothing wrong.  How will he respond as Cohen continues to cooperate with the Mueller investigation?

It is time for this country to have an honest and open debate about whether or not this president is acting in the best interests of the country.

If not now, when?

Fleeing to Another Country

Saturday, July 7th, 2018

 

Fleeing to another country is the ultimate act of parental desperation.  Yet somehow those parents who are seeking asylum in this country are being cast as the villains in Trump’s twisted passion play.

Instead of embracing this situation with the compassion that we as a country normally exhibit when when people are in need, politics have overwhelmed the immigration discussion.

Here are a few facts in an effort to bring some reason to what otherwise seems dominated by emotion.

  1. Illegal immigration is at the lowest point in recent history. Border patrol apprehensions were 1.6M in 2000. Now they are a little over 250K. That’s a 6x reduction.  Even more important is for the last four years we have deported more people than entered the country illegally.  As a result, the number of illegal immigrants in this country has been going down.
  2. Our constitution and laws guarantee those seeking asylum the right to a fair hearing on their claims within a reasonable period of time.
  3. There are legal limits to the amount of time the government can hold a child.
  4. Numerous credible studies find that immigrants (regardless of status) reduce violent crime in the communities in which they settle. The numbers Trump uses have been widely debunked.
  5. Many of the mayors of border cities have said that illegal immigration is not currently a problem for them.

Here’s what has changed.

In past administrations, 90% of those seeking asylum presented proof of a “credible fear” of harm if they returned to their home country. Those people (mostly families) were released in the US while awaiting their hearing. In the current administration, the rates of release have dropped to single digits.  As the asylum seekers go up, those crossing in search of work has gone down.

The result is that a “zero tolerance” plan that may have been designed to discourage young single men from crossing the border to look for work,  has created a humanitarian disaster by traumatizing families and abusing children.

Most asylum seekers flee their country with their whole family. Those who have chosen to criticize the parents for putting their children at risk, clearly misunderstand the law AND are unwilling to admit that they would do the same thing if their family were similarly threatened.

The lawbreakers in this case are the Trump administration. They ignored asylum claims because it was politically inconvenient. Instead, they treated all those who cross the border as criminals. Once they committed to putting everyone who crossed the border in jail including those who presented themselves seeking asylum, they committed to family separation. It’s also because they wanted to use those separated children as leverage to coerce those in jail to drop their asylum claims in return for the promise of being reunited with their children.  Court documents indicate this promise was also a lie.

3000 children were separated from their parents by the time that Trump was forced to stop the practice. Courts found against the administration and ordered the Trump administration to quickly reunite children and their parents. The relevant child protection agencies finally had to admit what lawyers and immigrant activists had been saying from the beginning.  No records have been kept which can be used to reunite children with their parents.  For children under 5, the Trump administration has been forced to resort to DNA testing to even have a clue to who the parents might be.

The reason no records were kept was because the agencies charged with placing these children either with relatives or in suitable foster care were never setup to reunite parents with children.  They were setup during the Obama administration to deal with the flood of unaccompanied minors who started crossing the border in 2014.  While there were efforts to reunite these children with their parents, those parents were generally not being held in US jails awaiting an immigration trial.  No efforts were made prior to the implementation of the “zero tolerance” policy to add a layer of record keeping to the processes that were already in place.  These agencies and the Trump administration ignored all the warnings they received when they first announced their intentions to treat everyone as a criminal.

There are only two conclusions at this point regarding this policy. The first is that the Trump administration are incompetent liars. They put a policy in place with no understanding that it would separate so many children from their parents. They lied about their planning and ability to reunite those children with their parents. It was only after a judge intervened that the truth about the scale of this monstrous effort became clear.

The second conclusion is that the Trump administration are cynical liars. They knew that they were going to create a problem for which they had no solution, but they didn’t care. They felt that it was a controversy that would help motivate their base to rush to their defense when the truth came out about the abuse they had visited on innocent children. So they lied about virtually everything that they had done and then sat back as the media, those shocked by these actions, and the rest of the world reacted to what they were seeing.

Those who support Trump responded exactly as Trump had hoped. They blamed the media for bias. They repeated all Trump’s lies about secure borders, laws passed by Democrats, crime, and that old standard law and order. They blamed Democrats for criticizing something that Obama also did. They blamed the parents for putting their children in harm’s way. They blamed liberals for wanting an open border and lawlessness in return for increasing the ranks of illegal voters. They claimed it was all a conspiracy put up by the media and liberals to make Trump look bad.

The only person they didn’t hold accountable was the ONLY person who caused this calamity and the only person who eventually was forced to stop it – President Trump.

Objecting to this program is not advocating for open borders or lawlessness. Instead it is holding the current administration accountable for failing to abide by all the laws concerning immigration.

Those trying to defend these actions on the basis of politics, media bias, or parent-blaming should themselves be ashamed of what they have allowed themselves to become.

You Can’t Handle The Truth

Monday, May 21st, 2018

via GIPHY

For those who haven’t been paying attention, our President is a liar.

He isn’t just a garden variety political liar. Or an old-time used car salesman liar.

He is a liar of mammoth historically unprecedented proportions. He lies about small things (like the size of his inauguration crown). He lies about big things (nobody in this campaign had any contact with any Russians). He lies about everything in between. Very few days pass in this administration when he hasn’t lied about something.

I’ve been spending some time thinking about the impact of this level of presidential dishonesty on the country.

The challenge is that our democracy is based on a basic assumption that voters are well informed and make their decisions based on their own self-interest. One of the jobs of the president is to set the moral tone for the country and inform voters about what the government is doing and why.

But what happens to democracy when a significant number of voters are using false information to make their decision?

Turns out that I’m not the only one thinking about this problem.

Ex Secretary of State Rex Tillerson dedicated his whole graduation speech at VMI to this very topic.

I’m not a Tillerson fan, but we are both very much on the same page regarding our concerns about the impact of a dishonest President.

As I reflect upon the state of American democracy, I observe a growing crisis of ethics and integrity,

Here’s what I think that means.

Some of those who voted for Trump, did so because they wanted a change. They felt that government wasn’t working for them. They felt that the economy was rigged against them. They were anxious about their future because of industrial disruption and changing culture. They felt that their conservative and religious values were under attack. They felt disrespected by those who had more education, skills, and money. Trump ran a highly unconventional campaign which aligned itself with this deep feeling of alienation and anxiety.

To the surprise of everyone, Trump did win a narrow Electoral College victory and began the most tumultuous first year of any president in recent history.

The result is that Trump voters have either had to publically renounce their vote or double down on their support regardless of his actions. They had to choose to remain in the Trump tribe even though that might cost them friends and family, or they had to leave that tribe without some clear path to another group of like-minded people.

The challenge of remaining in the Trump tribe is that Trump is an unethical authoritarian figure who has been systematically dismantling the shared values that are at the foundation of our democracy.

That’s what Tillerson is talking about. One of those foundational values is the expectation that the President will both tell and the truth and be accountable when we discover that he didn’t.

Here’s how Tillerson described it.

When we as people, a free people, go wobbly on the truth, even on what may seem the most trivial of matters, we go wobbly on America. If we do not as Americans confront the crisis of ethics and integrity in our society, and among our leaders in both the public and private sector, and regrettably at times even the nonprofit sector, then American democracy as we know it is entering its twilight years.

And

If our leaders seek to conceal the truth or we as people become accepting of alternative realities that are no longer grounded in facts, then we as American citizens are on a pathway to relinquishing our freedom.

And

This is the life of nondemocratic societies, comprised of people who are not free to seek the truth. … A responsibility of every American citizen to each other is to preserve and protect our freedom by recognizing what the truth is and is not, what a fact is and is not, and begin by holding ourselves accountable to truthfulness, and demand our pursuit of America’s future be fact-based, not based on wishful thinking; not hopeful outcomes made in shallow promises; but with a clear-eyed view of the facts as they are and guided by the truth that will set us free to seek solutions to our most daunting challenges.

Here’s a quick review of some of the examples of this problem

Rigged Election
When it appeared the Trump would lose, he refused to commit to accepting the outcome of the election claiming that it was rigged for the benefit of his opponent. This in itself is a staggeringly reckless position. Then when he won the election, he blamed is loss of the popular vote on millions of fraudulent votes which artificially inflated popular vote totals of his opponent. He put together a panel to look for evidence. They couldn’t find anything even close to the scale that he claimed existed. Trump has never backed away from this claim that deeply undermines the confidence his supporters have in the election process.

Fraudulent elections are the stuff of what Tillerson called nondemocratic societies. We see them in places like Russia and just recently in Venezuela. Undermining the public trust in the reliability of the election system for the purposes of vanity is deeply troubling.

The truth is that that our election system is highly reliable because it is highly distributed. It is virtually impossible to rig a national election because thousands of independent voting boards across the country actually run them. The people on those boards are elected locally and are beyond the control of any one party or any administration.

Trump Stormy Giuliani Cohen
Facts are Stormy Daniels got paid $130K before the election in order to keep her from going public with her story about an affair with Trump. Whether or not her story regarding the affair is true, it’s the payoff that is the issue.

When that story came out, Trump and his administration denied that there was any affair or any payoff.

As more facts came out as the press dug into the details, the White House explanation changed from denying the whole thing to just denying the affair, but telling us that Cohen (Trump’s lawyer) did this all on his own using his own money and without Trump’s knowledge.

Then Giuliani (Trump’s new lawyer) said that Cohen WAS paid back in a method (retainer for services) that didn’t violate campaign laws.

Finally Trump files a financial disclosure form that lists the payment that he made Cohen last year from one of his personal accounts. This payment was not listed in the first financial disclosure form Trump filed last year.

In addition to the obvious questions regarding campaign finance reform violations, we have another question of why this payment was left of off the first financial disclosure form. Submitting false financial disclosure forms is also a crime.

Trump continues to deny that there was any affair but suggests that these sorts of payoffs are common for those with high public profiles. But neither he nor anyone in his administration including Giuliani have made any attempt to explain why the story went through so many twists and turns, why it isn’t a campaign finance violation, and why it wasn’t listed on the first financial disclosure form filled last year.

The result is that Trump appears not to hold himself or anyone else accountable for lying to the publc.

Witch hunt
Trump has yet to acknowledge that the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election is legitimate. Instead they have taken the position that this whole investigation is something that the Democrats made up because they lost an election. The problem with that position is that Trump and his party have all of the power. There is NOTHING that the Democrats can do to either cause, or continue an investigation on their own. The best example of this is the House Intelligence committee report. Fortunately the Senate did a more responsible job with pretty much the same evidence.

The Congressional investigations began because Jeff Sessions lied to Congress during his confirmation hearings about his contacts with Russians. That forced him to recuse himself from any ongoing investigation, so there was little that he can do to help Trump. That is also the fault of Trump and his administration in preparing Sessions to answer the Senate hearings.

As far as Mueller’s involvement, Trump has no one to blame but himself. He is the one who fired Comey, lied about why Comey was fired, then bragged to the Russians that he fired Comey BECAUSE of the Russian investigation. There was no choice but to hire a special prosecutor. That choice was supported by a majority of his own party.

The facts are that the Russians made a deliberate attempt to manipulate the election in favor of Trump. No one has been able to answer the question of why they chose to work on behalf of Trump.

Trump has made this all about himself, but it isn’t. The public deserves to know how and why the Russians were involved in attempting to disrupt the 2016 election. Anyone who knowingly helped the Russians should be held accountable. Any vulnerabilities in our systems should be identified and corrected. But that’s not how Trump has characterized this effort. Instead he paints it as a partisan personal attack. The result is that the public’s confidence in our election system, Justice Department, the FBI, and the Courts is being deliberately eroded for the sole purpose of political gain.

Obstruction of Justice
Trump fired Comey because he didn’t like the way the FBI was handling the Russian investigation – and then bragged about it to the Russians. Trump’s defense is that he was “fighting back”.

We’ve since learned that he asked the Post Office to raise Amazon’s rates because he doesn’t like the treatment he’s getting from Jeff Bezos’ Washington Post. Is that also “fighting back”?

We give president’s immense power. In return, we have high expectations. Presidents must obey the constitution and our laws. They must tell us the truth. The must not use their power against their political enemies. They must not use their power to enrich themselves, their family, or their associates at the expense of voters. They must not tolerate corruption in Executive Branch of government. They must exhaust every other option before starting a military conflict. They must treat our military with respect. The must treat out democratic norms with respect. They must treat the other branches of government with respect.

Tillerson said,

An essential tenet of a free society, a free people, is access to the truth

A government structure and a societal understanding that freedom to seek the truth is the very essence of freedom itself. … It is only by fierce defense of the truth and a common set of facts that we create the conditions for a democratic, free society, comprised of richly diverse peoples, that those free peoples can explore and find solutions to the very challenges confronting the complex society of free people.

When you call the press an “enemy of the people”, you are reducing access to the truth.

When you call the opposition party “traitors” because they didn’t stand enough during one of your speeches, you undermine the constitutional right of people to hold dissenting views.

The choice is being in the bubble or out. You can live a life committed to seeking truth and being honest. Or you can live a life constrained by conspiracy and ideology.

We are facing an important moment in the history of our country.

The choice is between a cult of personality where tribalism and fear allow an authoritarian to dictate the truth, or a reaffirmation of trust in democracy where the truth is not biased and isn’t owned by any party or ideology.

We’ve faced these moments in the past. We fought a civil war to answer the question of whether the principles on which our democracy was based could survive if some people were allowed to own other people. We went through a deep depression and a world war which questioned whether the free market and democracy were up to the challenges of the modern world. We went through a turbulent time during the Viet Nam War when the government lied, kids died, and the anti-war movement was born. Nixon ran a divisive campaign blaming the anti-war movement for social unrest and won in a landslide. Less than two years later he resigned in disgrace because he had abused his power.

We have had corrupt presidents in the past. We have had presidents who weren’t up to the job. We have never had a president who has used the power of his office to undermine the very system that elected him. My hope is that even as he seeks to dismantle the government in war against what Steve Bannon called the deep state, the press and the judiciary are holding firm and will ultimately uncover the truth of his actions.

What happens then?

That’s where the choice will ultimately be made. There are some whose support of Trump is part of their identity. They wear it as a rebel badge of courage. They feel all of this animosity proves that they were right all along about how the rich and powerful feel about them. They will never admit that he was wrong because that will mean they were wrong. It is a zero sum celebrity death match where only one will leave alive, and they have placed their bet on Donald Trump.

Authoritarianism in the defense of populism is NOT OK.

Our democracy works because we respect the outcomes of free and open elections.

My hope is that when the truth does come out, a majority of the country will recognize that this is not an “us versus them” conflict. This is an effort to hold our elected officials accountable for their actions. I hope a majority will appreciate that demanding decisions be made on the basis of facts is not a partisan position. It is a position that we should all support because ultimately we will all be better as a nation if we start from a shared set of facts.

In starkest terms here are a couple of warnings. The first is from Yale History Prof Tim Snyder. The second is from Hillary Clinton’s address to Yale Law School grads.

To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle.

Attempting to erase the line between fact and fiction, truth and reality is a core feature of authoritarianism! The goal is to make us question logic and reason and to sow mistrust toward the people we need to rely on: our leaders, the press, experts who seek to guide public policy based on evidence, even ourselves.

I hope that the next occupant of the White House will help heal the wounds and repair the damage that Trump is doing to both our government and our society.

This Is The End

Sunday, April 15th, 2018

This was the beginning of the end for the Nixon administration. One guy, Alexander Butterfield, decided to tell the truth that Nixon taped all of his Oval Office meetings. A year later Nixon resigned.

We are at that some point with the Trump administration. Though recent reports that Cohen could become a cooperative witness, does raise the possibility that Cohen could become the John Dean of this generation.

The reason is that reports coming out of Cohen investigation indicate three things.

1. Cohen lied about this trip to Prague
2. Cohen kept extensive notes of his conversations with Trump including tapes of phone conversations.
3. The investigation has been going on for months. Emails, phone conversations, maybe even meetings were all captured.

In order to answer the WHY this might be the beginning of the end, we have to back up a little bit.

The Trump organization isn’t really all that it is cracked up to be. It was a small organization run mostly by his two children and Michael Cohen. If President Trump has shown anything, it is that he is not a good manager. He let his kids do it under the watchful eye of his most loyal employee, Cohen.

If you take a look at the sorts of deals that they were cutting, it was with shady characters that couldn’t find more reputable partners. Those who have taken a look at those deals also suggest that the Trump organization sold their brand for far less than they could have received for giving legitimacy to developers that had none.

Here are a few examples.

In Azerbaijan, Trump was part of a hotel project that may have been a money laundering front for oligarchs tied to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. In the Republic of Georgia, Trump partnered with the group that is being investigated for the largest known bank-fraud/money-laundering case in history. In Indonesia, his development partner is up to his knees in dirty politics. His deals in Brazil are being investigated. The FBI is looking into his daughter’s role getting a Malaysian family who have already admitted to financial fraud to provide financial backing for a Vancouver Trump Hotel. The investigation into DTjr and Ivanka’s SoHo Trump Hotel was halted with no notice. His Taj Mahal Atlanta Casino was fined a record amount for money laundering.

As Adam Davidson pointed out in his New Yorker article.

It was not a company that built value over decades, accumulating assets and leveraging wealth. It burned through whatever good will and brand value it established as quickly as possible, then moved on to the next scheme.

The reason why we are near the end is that each of these shady business deals has its own set of risks and questions. But the questions boil down to the same set. How much did Trump and his kids know about the criminal backgrounds of their partners? Did that criminality have any effect on the price they were charging for the Trump “endorsement”? Cohen is the person who knows the answers. Those answers will determine who else besides Cohen goes to jail and for how long.

Some of the other things that the FBI are investigating include a business loan where Cohen used his three taxi companies as collateral. The license to operate a taxi in NY used to be a lucrative business. Cohen’s licenses at one time were worth over $1M. Their value has plummeted because of ride hailing services like Uber and Lyft. Cohen’s licenses may now only be worth $300,000. So there is interest in what he claimed they were worth when he took out the loan and what he used the loan money for.

They are also concerns about money laundering and campaign-finance violations.

The bottom line is that the authorized search had such a high bar for approval, that most informed observers believe that the NY prosecutor may already have had sufficient evidence to convict at least Cohen. There is also speculation that at least some of the justification for seizing the evidence is that FBI surveillance picked up discussion that the evidence was going to be destroyed.

As I’ve said before, I don’t think that Trump will be indicted on a charge of collusion. First of all, it’s just hard to prove. Second, it is just doesn’t fit with the Trump organization culture. A complex plan with a long-term uncertain payoff. Many reports suggest that Trump wasn’t convinced himself that he could win the election. Why would he ask Russians for help unless there was something else in it for him? The fact that the FBI now says that Cohen DID go to Prague supports a key element of the Steele Dossier. It also indicates that there was a deal in the works, or else Cohen would not have been involved.

That’s what we are going to find out.

With all this as background, it is easy to see why Trump said Mueller would be crossing a red line if he started investigating Trump’s businesses. Mueller not only crossed that line. He obliterated it. Even worse, he turned the business investigation over to the NY federal prosecutor. So even if Trump manages to fire Mueller and Congress does nothing in response, this investigation will continue. Even if Trump manages to dissolve Mueller’s Grand Jury, this investigation will continue. Even if Trump pardon’s Cohen, the information that the Feds already have on Cohen can likely become the basis for charges against Trump’s kids.

It may take a long time for all of this information to become public. We give the President a lot of executive power. If he chooses to use it, and Congress doesn’t hold him accountable, he can fight a very effective rear guard action. Eventually, however, all of this information will come out and Trump will finally be revealed for who he really is – a cheat, a liar, and a thief.

Authoritarianism and Christian Nationalism

Monday, March 26th, 2018

via GIPHY

One of the lingering questions after this year’s election is why are White Evangelicals continuing to support a guy whose personal life is the exact opposite of everything that they preach?

On the surface, it seems hypocritical.

A recent paper by three sociologists suggests some deeper understanding of what is going on. The paper is based on data gathered by the highly regarded Baylor Religion Survey. The most recent version of this survey was taken shortly after the 2016 election.

Here’s what the authors found.

Voters’ religious tenets aren’t actually what’s behind Trump support. While values voters are still concerned about personal morality, their real priority is Christian nationalism. Christian nationalism is the view that the United States should be a Christian nation. If the United States ever to become a Christian nation in the way that white Evangelicals understand that term, the United States would become a theocracy like Iran where many of the things that Trump has done in his personal life would be illegal.  Abortion would be illegal.  Gay marriage would be illegal.  Heterosexuality would be the only sanctioned relationship and even that would have to be chaste until marriage.  Those who support Christian nationalism believe that this is the only way that this country can be “saved”.  That is consistent with the Evangelical view that Christianity is the only way anyone can be “saved”.

The results of this belief is a whole cottage industry of revisionist historians who have made a lot of money claiming that the founders of this country intended it to be a Christian nation.  In their telling liberal politicians perverted that vision and high jacked the constitution in the process.  If you are interested in more detail on that, please reference some earlier posts – Zombie Politics, Crazy Train, and Dear Mr. Lincoln.

In the words of the authors:

Christian nationalism operates as a unique and independent ideology that can influence political actions by calling forth a defense of mythological narratives about America’s distinctively Christian heritage and future.

What are some of the tenants of this ideology?

Here’s a list taken from the questions that were used to identify this group

  • “The federal government should declare the United States a Christian nation”
  • “The federal government should advocate Christian values”
  • “The federal government should not enforce strict separation of church and state”
  • “The federal government should allow the display of (Christian) religious symbols in public spaces”
  • “The success of the United States is part of God’s plan”
  • “The federal government should allow (Christian) prayer in public schools”

These goals suggest a deep authoritarian strain. Here’s why.

Christian Nation
The issue here isn’t that the US isn’t a Christian nation. It is overwhelmingly Christian. The issue is that the demographics of the nation are changing. White Evangelical Christians feel as though their way of life is under attack because of these changes. It is also because in Evangelical terms, “Christian” is a much narrower definition than someone who believes the Jesus was the Christ – the Son of God.

It is the whole basket of catch phrases that we have heard from Republican Party for decades – family values, high moral standards, respect, discipline, self-reliance, personal responsibility, putting God back into government, traditional families, religious freedom, law and order, etc.

Finally, and most importantly, the constitution prohibits the government from giving preference to any religion. What they seek is a strong leader who is willing to ignore the limits of the constitution and enforce laws protecting and supporting “Christian Values”. Christian Nationalists see Donald Trump as that leader because of his appeal to both authoritarianism and white Christian Nationalism.

Conservatism, Race, Islamophobia, and Christian Nationalism
The authors were careful to gin out all other factors regarding Christian nationalism and support for Trump. Here’s what they found when looking at voting data.

Overall the strongest predictors of Trump voting were the usual suspects of political identity and race, followed closely by Islamophobia and Christian nationalism.

and

Ironically, Christian nationalism is focused on preserving a perceived Christian identity for America irrespective of the means by which such a project would be achieved.

This last observation is the most telling and explains why White Evangelicals continue to be Trump’s biggest supporters. It’s because when it comes down to a choice between personal values and a politician who supports Christian nationalism, they choose Christian nationalism overwhelmingly.

This end justifying the means is what moves us in the dangerous direction of authoritarianism. Steve Bannon understood this when he joined the Trump campaign. Trump has used a formula of dark, hyper-nationalism, racialized identitarian ideology dressed in the language of Christianity, contempt for the US Constitution, and the promise to use force if necessary; to take over the GOP. What he criticized as political correctness was really a whole set of norms that we have built up in our democracy to outline common ground.  Instead he declared war on the whole concept of common ground.  He placed himself on the side of Christian nationalism and declared that all those opposed to him were also opposed to Christian nationalism.  That included not only Democrats, but the whole Republican establishment.  That was also Bannon’s pitch at the Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit.

Christian Nationalism and White Supremacists are uniting in their support of Trump as a strong leader to make substantive changes to the country. It doesn’t matter that those changes are unconstitutional. It doesn’t matter that those changes may disenfranchise non-Christians, people of color, and women. All that matters is that the end is achieved. Christian Nationalists want laws that reflect their religion and distrust democracy to achieve that goal. White Supremacists want a nation where the color of your skin determines whether or not you are welcome. They also distrust democracy’s ability to deliver on their goal.  They both agree that people of color (particularly Muslims) are frightening.  They both agree that if dismantling our democracy can achieve their goals, they will support whomever is willing to do that work regardless of what other agenda that person might have.

This is how democracies die.

Waffle House Economy

Tuesday, March 6th, 2018

The difference between fantasy and reality is that in the real world real stuff actually happens to real people.  If you live in a fantasy world, you have lost touch with reality.  You have not, however, escaped reality.  Reality will, sooner or later, assert itself.  At that point, you will suffer a rude awakening.

Our country is poised to experience several rude awakenings as we discover that our President and those supporting him have lost touch with reality.

Russians
We now know that the Russians have been and are continuing an effort to disrupt our democracy.  We know the who, the why, and even the where.  Some of those who worked on disrupting the 2016 election, have since come forward to provide detailed accounts of what they did and how they did it.  Facebook and twitter have identified the accounts that they used.  Mueller has the evidence and indicted some of the perpetrators.  Our intelligence community has documented the hacking that occurred to voter records and electronic voting machines.  Our intelligence community continues to sound the alarm that these attacks are expanding and becoming more sophisticated.

Our President and the party that supports him live in the fantasy world that the whole Russian effort is a partisan witch hunt intended to discredit Trump’s election.  They attempt to deflect blame to Clinton, the Democrats, or the media.  The REALITY is that concerted efforts by the President and his supporters to discredit the media left us vulnerable to Russian spreading REAL fake news.  Conservatives were eager to spread whatever stories they read that confirmed their fantasies about Clinton and the Democrats even though they were fantasies.

The reality is that we have been attacked in no less a real way than we were attacked on 9/11.  Why hasn’t our President and our government responded?

According to Tom Friedman, there can only be two answers.  Either Trump is simply delusional or the Russians DO have something on him that he does not want others to know.  Neither choice bodes well for the country.

Tax Cuts and Government Spending and Economic Growth
We have never provided this large a stimulus to an economy that was this robust.  We are in completely new territory as far as what is going to happen.  The tax cut and the associated budget bill killed off the “Trump” stock market rally because of concerns about the Fed raising interest rates to combat inflation.  More concerning is this massive reduction in government revenues is happening at the same time as costs for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are rising because of the baby boomer retirement.  The fantasy is that the tax cuts will pay for themselves, but even the Trump budget shows they don’t believe it.  The claim is that we will see 3% growth as far as the eye can see.  The reality is that there aren’t enough workers to support that sort of growth.  The worker situation grows worse each day that we actively discourage immigrants from coming here to work.  The second fantasy is that corporations will invest the tax cut in higher wages.  Wages are going up, but it’s because unemployment is so low.  Corporations have spent $6B in bonuses and wage increases.  They have spent $170B in stock buy backs.  That’s reality.

Tariffs
This is a terrible idea.  It based in Trump’s fantasy that trade is some sort of mano-a-mano wrestling match.  It’s not.  Even if other countries don’t retaliate, which the very likely will.  It will be a net looser for the economy.  Just like the tax cuts, nobody has tried to impose tariffs at time of very low unemployment.  That’s because the whole design of the tariff is to use price to replace imported products and services with domestic products and services.  The problem is that we do not have the employees to ramp up domestic production of much of anything.  How are steel producers and aluminum producers going to expand, if they can’t find skilled workers?  The result instead will be more pressure on wages AND more pressure on prices.  What’s that spell? INFLATION.  What happens when inflation goes up?  The dollar goes up.  What happens when the dollar goes up? Exports go down.  That’s why tariffs went out with the cold war.  The news suggests that Trump’s about face on tariffs was driven more by his frustration with his administration than a careful analysis of the subject.

So where does this leave us?

SNL said it best.  We hired a businessman to run the economy, and he’s running it like a Waffle House at 2AM.

The State of the Union is Fantastical

Wednesday, January 31st, 2018

via GIPHY

President Trump’s first state of the union speech was just as remarkable as his first year in office.

David Graham from the Atlantic had a good summary.

The reality is somewhat less rosy: By a wide margin, Americans believe that the nation is on the wrong track, and the president’s approval rating is historically low. Trump has struggled to push his agenda through Congress, just squeaking a big tax cut in at the end of last year. That presents three challenges for the president, and his speechwriters: How do you boast about victories you haven’t had? How do you present new proposals when many of the old ones are still on the table? And how do you handle the Russia story that seems to consume most of politics each week?

The answer from Trump was simply to conjure his own reality, outlining a set of some accomplishments, delivering the standard list of policy proposals, and ignoring the Russia probe altogether.

This president is not often good at hiding his emotions, but he did so Tuesday. As a result, not only was the picture he painted of America removed from reality, but Trump himself was also practically unrecognizable. The speech somehow managed to render Trump the one thing he almost never is: boring.

One has to go no further than his claims of economic success to reveal the gulf between reality and fantasy that exists in the White House.

Since the election, we have created 2.4 million new jobs, including 200,000 new jobs in manufacturing alone.

Only 1.8M new jobs were created since he took office according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Instead of citing the real figure, he chose to cite a figure that included three months where jobs could only be attributed to Obama.  It’s also because during his first full year in office, the 1.8M new jobs was the slowest job growth since 2010. The reason is that employers are having a hard time finding workers, which is what he also could have said.  Instead he left the impression that this was an extraordinary accomplishment.

Of those jobs created during his time in office, 184,000 were in manufacturing which would also been a good number compared to the 16,000 jobs lost in 2016. But that doesn’t mean that manufacturing is in good shape. Total manufacturing employment is still down by more than 1M workers compared to 2007.

After years of wage stagnation, we are finally seeing rising wages.

Wages did grow from 2014 through the third quarter of 2017, but the rate of growth has slowed and in Q4 wage growth actually declined (from $353/wk to $345/wk)  So why didn’t he mention that?

African American unemployment stands at the lowest rate ever recorded, and Hispanic American unemployment has also reached the lowest levels in history.

During Trump’s campaign, he claimed that more than half of African American youth were unemployed. The real number was 19.2%. African American unemployment fell from a high of 16.8% in 2010 to 7.7% last January. Since then it has fallen to 6.8%.  Why didn’t he just say that?  It is still really good news, and given his past campaign exaggerations, would have indicted a new respect for the facts.

Unemployment claims have hit a 45-year low.

That statement was true on January 13th. Last week the number went up. That’s still a good number, but it is only a six week low, not a 45-year one.  Why not simply say that they hit an 45-year low two weeks ago.

The stock market has smashed one record after another, gaining $8 trillion in value. That is great news for Americans’ 401(k), retirement, pension and college savings accounts.

Only about 50 percent of Americans own stocks directly or through retirement funds, according to a Gallup survey. And most of the value in stocks is held by the top 10 percent. And the bull market in the US is actually weaker than market gains in the rest of the world. So the truth is that the US markets are just part of a larger global trend, and if anything Trump has discouraged investment in US markets rather than encouraged it.

BTW, the markets fell more than 1% on Monday as money moved from stocks to bonds. This is generally an indication that at least some traders think that this market may be near its peak. Almost $360B is stock market wealth (using Trumps calculus) disappeared as a result.

Just as I promised the American people from this podium 11 months ago, we enacted the biggest tax cuts and reform in American history.

This claim is just wrong and has been widely debunked. Depending on how you count, it ranks 8th in terms of size. Both of Obama’s tax cuts were larger.

Our massive tax cuts provide tremendous relief for the middle class and small businesses

More wrong. This tax plan benefits large corporations and wealthy people. According to Moody’s, three-quarters of the $1.1T in individual cuts go to people earning more than $200K/year in taxable income. Those represent only 5% of all taxpayers. The same report warns that this plan will have negative consequences on federal and local government finances.

We slashed the business tax rate from 35 percent all the way down to 21 percent, so American companies can compete and win against anyone in the world. These changes alone are estimated to increase average family income by more than $4,000.

More voodoo math. As FactCheck.org points out, if every household averaged a $4,000 increase in income, that would add up to $500B/year. Corporate taxes collected last year only totaled $300B. Even if all corporate taxes were eliminated and all of that money flowed directly into individual income, it still couldn’t add up to the increase Trump claimed.

The real numbers, according to the Tax Policy Center, are closer to $1,610. That’s $135/mo. Most people are smart enough to realize that they are not the ones getting a big break.

Since we passed tax cuts, roughly 3 million workers have already gotten tax cut bonuses — many of them thousands of dollars per worker.

Less than 2.5% of the work force have received one-time bonuses.  That’s why the remaining 97.5% know that this wasn’t a good deal for them.

Since we passed tax cuts … Apple has just announced it plans to invest a total of $350 billion in America, and hire another 20,000 workers.

Apple DID give workers bonuses because of the tax plan. They do plan to repatriate $38B in overseas profit as a result of the plan. They did not say that their $350B five-year investment plan was the result of the tax plan. The capital part of that plan seems in line with past levels of annual investment.

The foundation of REAL economic growth is productivity. Productivity requires a large percentage of the population to be employed in doing things that make money. It is very difficult to increase productivity when you have a large growing retirement population. The only way to do that is to add as many new workers through immigration as you have retiring. You can’t simultaneously support lowering immigration, increasing retirement, and have a high growth economy. Japan already proved that it can’t be done.

The other end of productivity is businesses investing in new plants, new technologies, etc. That’s how you increase productivity without adding new workers. That investment is also NOT currently happening because businesses are able to make money without making those investments.

Another gauge of a healthy economy is the saving rate. Savings rates go up when people have more disposable income. The rate of savings is going down, which suggests that households are strapped for cash or they are drunk on spending. Neither is good. The first suggests that the cost of living is rising more rapidly than wages. The second suggests that any boost that the economy may be getting from consumer spending is short lived.

Finally, the government has a role in economic development too. That’s to stimulate the growth of new emerging industries. Trump is failing there too. That’s because of the stake in the ground that Trump planted regarding coal. First he has failed to keep the promise that he made to coal workers. Second his wrongheaded tariffs on solar panels is costing jobs in a rapidly growing sector of the industry while failing to make any difference in the coal industry which is in decline.

The problem with short term incentives like tax breaks and repatriation is that they are candy rather than substance. Bringing $38B of profits back to this country from Apple will make it appear as if something got made in this country. Unless Apple invests that money in making more stuff in the United States than it may have otherwise made, it will not be reflected in any increase in either jobs or productivity. If Apple just uses the money to buy back their stock and increase their dividends, any economic boost will be short lived and perhaps make the next stock market correction that much more severe.

When the President bases policy on false beliefs, the country will pay the price.

Adding $1.5T in additional debt now is a REALLY bad idea according to the IMF.

The I.M.F. warned against assuming that the current economic cycle would go on indefinitely, however, particularly given the towering debt of the United States and other countries. By borrowing so much, the government can crowd out other investors and drive up interest rates. At the same time, giant deficits crank up pressure to cut government spending on health care and housing, policing and schools. With less money to go around, spending dries up and consumer demand — the economy’s primary engine — slows.

This was the SAME warning that Republicans used during the Recession. It turned out not to be true, because that’s when the government SHOULD be spending money to get the economy going again. That deficit spending worked. The economy recovered. And NOW is the time to increase taxes in order to make investments in the future industries that will support the next generation of businesses and employment. That’s because a growing economy can support a higher tax rate.

Cranking down on immigration at a time of low unemployment and baby boomer retirement is another REALLY bad idea.

A single immigrant can bring in unlimited numbers of distant relatives

This was Trump’s big lie from his speech.  Politifact labeled is Mostly False.

We should be welcoming immigrants AND their families. New family formation is the bedrock of the consumer economy. Immigrants who bring in family members provide their own support system for those immigrants.  That means they will have places to live, jobs, churches, mosques, and people like them who will help them make the peaceful transition to becoming citizens. This family process that includes a path to citizenship is why we don’t have the same problems with domestic terrorism that we’ve seen in England, Germany, and France.  There is no good reason to scrape the family immigration system.

Trading citizenship for 1.8M Dreamers for cutting LEGAL immigration in half (from $2.1M to $1M) is a bad deal for the economy.  Dreamers are already here and already have jobs.  Reducing the ability for immigrants to bring in their family members will just reduce the number of legal immigrants.  I have no problem making our immigration system more merit-based, but the number of legal immigrants should be set by the number of unfilled jobs in the economy.  Right now that number is 6M.  What is wrong with expanding the H1B program which is merit and employer based until the number of unfilled jobs is reduced?

The only reason we can’t do that is because Trump has told the country that immigrants are dangerous.  He did that again last night.  Canada on the other hand has built their economy on merit-based immigration and has already told the world that if the US doesn’t want you, you are welcome to come to Canada where their political culture realizes the economic value of skilled immigrant workers.

The REAL problem we are dealing with in this country is the disconnect between reality and fantasy.

Until we have a government willing to tell the truth, we are going to struggle for any sort of reliable and unified plan for growth and stability.