Archive for the ‘Bias’ Category

Our Failing Naked Emperor

Friday, October 6th, 2017

via GIPHY

One of the defining characteristics of the Trump campaign and administration is the utter disregard for the facts.  There was some hope by Trump supporters that once he transitioned from campaign mode to presidential mode, he would also abandon his strategy of habitual fabrication.  That hope died with the inauguration.  Trump’s inaugural crowds were factually smaller than Obama’s, but no one in the Trump administration and no one in the Republican establishment were willing to call Trump out as a liar.  Instead we’re dealing with this interesting situation where he, his administration, and his supporters blame media bias for every report that details yet another Trump lie.

But that doesn’t change the fact that the emperor is still naked.

That “nakedness” is finally causing more than embarrassment.  This “strategy” has made it more difficult for Republicans to govern.  We are now 9 months into a legislative session where Republicans control all branches of government, and the ONLY enduring evidence of this control is Gorsuch’s SCOTUS appointment.  Even that has an asterisk because McConnell had to remove the 60 vote filibuster in order to get it done.

The fundamental operating principle of this administration is that Trump can never fail, he can only be failed.  As a result, any form of failure must either be a lie or someone else’s fault.  I won’t try to go into the psychology of this particular form of egotism.  We’ll save that for another day.  At this point, let’s just look at the consequences of never admitting that you’ve been wrong.

One example is the recent failure to pass healthcare which Trump blamed on the filibuster rule in the Senate.  The FACT was that the healthcare reform bill wasn’t subject to a filibuster.  It only required a simple 50 vote majority to pass because of reconciliation rules.  It failed to get 50 votes because several Senators from the President’s own party refused to vote for it.  McCain refused to vote for it because Republicans bypassed the normal committee process where all interested parties would have an opportunity to comment and all points of view could be considered.  Paul refused to vote for it because it wasn’t conservative enough.  Collins refused to vote for it because she feared it would have resulted in the loss of healthcare insurance coverage in her state.  The bill died before it could ever get a vote, so we don’t know how many others would also have voted against it.

Another example is his regular rant about the biased media and fake news failing to report on his accomplishments.  The problem is, just like the inauguration, there isn’t much there.  Worse yet, Trump’s own obsession to dominate every news cycle makes it difficult for even his modest accomplishments to get much play.  Instead he regularly distracts from his legislative agenda by picking fights and fanning the flames of the culture war.

A third example is the Republican establishment who, in Trump’s description have let the Russian investigation get out of control and secretly oppose his agenda.

What is true is that Trump’s agenda, if in fact he truly has one, is failing because he hasn’t provided the policy to support his bold promises.

Healthcare failed three times because he had promised to provide better coverage to more people at a lower cost.  None of the bills that were proposed accomplished that, even though Trump at one point or another supported all of them.  Instead they were thinly (and in the last case not so thinly) veiled attempts to dismantle Medicaid.  As those realities became apparent to more people, opposition mounted and the bills failed.

Tax reform will suffer a similar fate.  Though Trump promised a bill that would benefit the middle class and not reward the wealthy, the bill that is currently being considered does what every other Republican tax initiative has done.  The bulk of the benefits go to the wealthiest 1% of the country.

This is not the result of a conspiracy of the Republican establishment to undermine Trump.  If anything, Trump has passively allowed Congressional leadership to fill in the blanks on his promises.  The problem is that the bills in their final form were not even close to what Trump promised, and he didn’t seem to care.

The cause is years of Republican bad faith campaigning.  Republicans promised that they could replace Obamacare with something better if they only had the majority to implement their ideas.  They never actually proposed any new ideas.  Instead they were content to demonize liberal Democrats.  When voters finally gave Republicans a chance to prove they could do better, they failed.

The same thing will be true about taxes.  Trickle down tax cut plans that were supposed to make life better for the middle class have failed spectacularly at the state level and nationally.  But here it comes again in even a worse form than what was passed during the Bush years.

Republican voters are unhappy that the party isn’t delivering on Trump’s promises.  Trump used this anger to get himself elected.  But voters haven’t stopped there.  They continue to elect bomb throwers at the state and local level.  Newly elected Senator Moore in Alabama has said he shares Rand Paul’s view regarding healthcare reform and would have joined him to vote against that bill.  Moore will likely make it more difficult rather than easier to get Trump’s agenda through the senate.

The bottom line is that Trump lies have painted the party into a corner on many issues.

The claims that Obamacare is failing make it more difficult to pass bipartisan legislation that most agree would solve the current set of problems.  Passing that legislation would force Trump to admit that Obamacare isn’t failing and can be improved with a couple of simple tweaks.  If that’s true, then why the continued effort to tear it down and replace it with something that kills Medicaid and takes coverage away from millions of people?

Claims that we have to build a very expensive wall across our southern border to protect our country from the threat of illegal immigration makes it more difficult to pass a bill to address the plight of “Dreamers”.  Trump’s base perceives a dreamer deal to be a loss for Trump in the fight to kick illegal immigrants out of the country.

The obsessive insistence by Trump that the various Russian investigations are a hoax, fake news, and a politically motivated witch hunt makes it nearly impossible to make any progress on preventing future Russian election hacking.  That’s because Trump simply can’t acknowledge the obvious fact that Russians did attempt to disrupt the 2016 election and continues to be engaged in social media meddling.  Trump’s war with the legit press in this country has given Russians all of the cover they need to continue their REAL fake news activities.  The latest example is coverage of the Las Vegas shooting where Russian sources promoted stories that the shooter was an anti-Trump liberal jihadist who had secretly converted to Islam.

Trump’s various lines in the sand regarding Korea have only encourage Kim Jong Un to become more aggressive.  In other administrations, tough talk in public is cover for behind the scenes diplomacy that ultimately resolves the issue.  That doesn’t work in Trump-world where he has to win and is willing to undermine his own Secretary of State’s efforts to defuse this dangerous escalation.  Tillerson became the person who failed Trump on Korea.

Trumps pathological need to always be right was on public display in his response to the hurricane devastation in Puerto Rico.  While people were suffering because of the logistics challenges of getting aid from the ports out to the people, Trump was picking a fight with professional athletes.  When the mayor of San Juan called him out on it, he suggested that it was her fault and a cultural failing of the Puerto Rican people that there weren’t enough truck drivers willing to leave their struggling families to get supplies off the docks.  Doesn’t the army have truck drivers?  I thought that disaster relief was all about sending a bunch of people into an area to do those things that the local population couldn’t do for themselves.  We fill in the gaps until the local population can get back on their feet and take care of their own needs themselves.

During his tour of the island, he told those without shelter, food, clean drinking water, sanitation, and medical services that they should be grateful that it wasn’t a real disaster like Katrina.  The implication being that if it were a REAL disaster like Katrina, the government would have been better prepared and would be providing more help.  But the government WASN’T prepared to deal with the aftermath of Katrina and it wasn’t prepared to deal with the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico.  That’s Trump’s fault.

We all know how the story of the naked emperor ended.  It will be interesting to see when and how truth ultimately takes down this naked President.

 

Forgive Me Father For I Have Sinned

Monday, August 21st, 2017

For those unfamiliar with this Catholic meme, it is the opening sentence Catholics whisper to the priest to start confession.

My confession is that I find this particular point in our history fascinating.

We have a President who appears determined to self-destruct, a party that is uncertain they are willing to go down with him, and his supporters who have swallowed the kool-aide and have lost touch with reality.

So here’s a little bonus coverage courtesy of one of my favorite academics, Jonathan Haitt of Righteous Mind fame.  He has a great article in The Atlantic which explains the widespread negative reaction to Trump’s Charlottesville comments.

This IS NOT a political rant.

It is simply an explanation of a taboo that Trump broke.

All societies have taboos.  I won’t go through why, though Haitt does in his article.  Suffice it to say that we use a common set of deeply revered values, people, or places to hold all our citizens together in a shared bond.  That bond is our willingness to sacrifice our individual interests for the greater common good.

Charlottesville was a clash of sacred symbols.

The far right displayed their sacred symbols including swastikas, confederate flags, and guns – lots of guns.  They were marching to defend another symbol – the statue of Robert E. Lee.  The goal of the rally was to bind white people together with a shared hatred of Jews, African Americans, and other minorities using claimed white victim-hood and racial purity. (BTW racial purity is a myth.  Skin color is the result of a not well understood interaction between about 100 genes rather than the presence or absence of a particular set of genes.  Commonly available genetic ancestry tests are causing real problems for those advocating a “pure white” society.)

For UVA students, “the lawn” in the center of campus is also hallowed ground.  Students rushed out, unarmed, to defend the Jefferson statue from the approach of the torch-bearing armed white supremacists.  The marchers weren’t planning on vandalizing the statue, but from the student’s point of view these particular marchers would have “contaminated” the statue if allowed to approach unopposed.  That’s because for a Jeffersonian, neo-Nazi’s are taboo.

That’s what the country saw.  Unarmed students spontaneously opposing an organized group chanting the worst slurs against Jews and African Americans and making Nazi salutes.  It was a desecration of our most cherished American story based on the belief that “all men are created equal”.  We all know that this creed is aspirational, but we demand that all of our political leaders accept this premise as a requirement to hold office.  Denying this premise is blasphemy.  As a result white supremacists, the KKK, and neo-Nazis are widely regarded as blasphemous outsiders.

We treat our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution as sacred texts.  We erect monuments to our martyrs.  We punish or shame anyone who ignores our documents or dishonors our martyrs.  We expect our president to play the role of high priest and chief unifier in times when those texts and martyrs seem under attack.

In Trump’s press conference on Tuesday August 15th, Trump fumbled his opportunity to play the role of the high priest and chief unifier because he failed to condemn the blasphemers exclusively.  In response to the public outcry, the President read a staff-written speech to right that wrong.  If it had stopped there, perhaps he could have recovered.  Instead just 24 hours later, he committed the greatest sacrilege of his presidency by saying that there were “very fine people on both sides”.  That’s because our basic belief is that Nazi’s aren’t just bad – they are taboo.

Trump has become taboo by embracing those that we have decided are taboo.  The moral stain of the blasphemers has rubbed off on him.  That’s why you saw such a scramble by all those who understood what he had just done.  Those who fail to distance themselves from the taboo will also become taboo, just as Trump has done.  That’s also why most people in this country were willing to condemn those who just walked in the march.  They didn’t have to carry a flag, shout a slogan, or salute.  Just being there made them taboo too.  They got fired.  They were disowned by their families.  People won’t want to live next to them any more than they would a sex offender.

You can’t apologize for breaking a taboo, particularly one as deep as the Nazi or KKK.  You can’t even use the excuse of ignorance because that would suggest ignorance of our basic values.  In Trump’s case, it doesn’t matter, because he is not going to admit that he did anything wrong.

the stain, the moral pollution, the taint, will linger on him and his administration for the rest of his term. Business leaders have quit his panels and projects; artists who were due to receive honors from the president have changed their plans. Pollution travels most rapidly by physical touch, so be on the lookout for numerous awkward moments in the coming months when people refuse to shake the president’s hand or stand next to him. It is unclear how far the contagion will spread, but it will surely make it more difficult to attract talented people into government service for as long as Trump is the president.

Further this is going to do generational damage to the Republican Party.

people’s political orientations are shaped for life by events that happen when they are young, particularly between the ages of 14 and 24. The young generation—iGen, as Jean Twenge calls them—is extraordinarily progressive and passionate about matters of race and prejudice. If Republicans stand by their tainted president rather than renouncing him, an entire generation of voters may come to see the GOP as eternally untouchable.

It’s hard to say what will come next, but right now the country is unbalanced.

Extraordinary sacrilege has occurred, but divine retribution has not yet come down from the heavens.  We have no priest and no scripture to guide us.  The country may suffer for failing to remove this apostate.

What I can see in the not too distant future, however, is an emotional pivot toward impeachment as a cathartic recovery of purpose and balance.  Trump will be blamed.  Some in his administration will go to jail.  All will be disgraced.  The country will heal.  I saw this happen with Nixon.  It could very well happen with Trump too.  All that is missing is the smoking gun of corruption or scandal and the game will be over.

 

 

Lincoln Wept

Monday, August 21st, 2017

Let’s take a step back and just review briefly the various defenses of neo-Nazi’s, white supremacists, and good old fashioned racists that we’ve heard so far.

Racism as free speech
It’s true.  Our constitution does protect racism as free speech.  Free speech, however, does not guarantee that you are free from other forms of punishment as a result of your speech.  Many employers have codes of behavior that allow employers to dismiss their employees for hate speech.  This is constitutional because the Supreme Court has been giving companies a lot of power lately.  Companies can’t fire people based on race, gender, or creed.  They can based on just about any other criteria that they choose to come up with.

Violence as free speech
This is not true.  There are limits to the expression of free speech.  Yelling fire in a crowded theater is the classic example.  Inciting or participating in violent acts is illegal and is not protected by the constitution.

Both sides engaged in violence in Charlottesville
It is true that there were violent clashes between both sides.  It is also true that there are extremists on the left and on the right.  There are also important differences.  The biggest difference is that the extremists on the right view violence as a tactic.  They have publically stated that their intent is to incite violence.  They feel that violence will force white people to choose sides.  They WANT a race war and ultimately they want to overthrow the government and dismantle democracy.  Those opposed, are not interested in dismantling the government.  They support democracy.  They oppose racism, white supremacy, and fascism.  They are NOT organizing demonstrations around the country in an effort to create confrontations with violent fringe right groups.  They are RESPONDING to the incitement of the right with the same level of aggression.  The response is NOT the same as the act that initiated the response.

Historical monuments
The civil war monuments erected across the south serve two purposes.  One is historic the other is sociological.  The historical purpose is to celebrate a particular point in history where the person may have done something heroic in battle.  The sociological purpose is to remind black people that white people are still in charge and to suggest to white people that cause of the south in the civil war was just.

On that last point, those who attempt to rewrite history suggest that the civil war was fought over state’s rights, or economic issues, or even cultural issues.  The issue was slavery.  The economy of the south was based on slavery.  The culture of the south was based on slavery.  Slave states succeeded from the union when an abolitionist President (Lincoln) was elected.  Many of the declarations of succession from Confederate states said exactly that.  Lincoln went to war to defend the union, not specifically to end slavery.  Lincoln ultimately put down a well-organized rebellion.  But clearly ending the practice of slavery was going to be the outcome of the war.

Only local communities can determine if the historic value of those statues are greater than the obvious sociological message.  This doesn’t mean that those statues have to be destroyed.  What it does mean is that they should be moved to some location where the signage can inform and educate those who are viewing the statue.  Typically those are museums rather than open public locations.

The reason why many communities are taking down statues is not because they object to the history or the art value.  It’s because they no longer support the sociological message.  Instead they want to project an inclusive message that is good for the community and good for business.  You simply can’t do that with a memorial to a confederate general sitting in your town square.

Pluralism, nationalism, and democracy
Our democracy is based on a simple notion.  Everyone is welcome regardless of race, color, or creed.  That’s the simple definition of pluralism.  Nationalism is the notion that your nation is better than other nations.  That concept is out of synch with the concept of a global economy.  If you want to be able to sell goods into my market, you have to provide me an opportunity to sell goods into your country.  But nationalism in and of itself is not a threat to democracy.  Racial nationalism, though, can’t co-exist within a pluralist democracy.  Large groups of disenfranchised people ultimately undermine any democracy.  Yet that’s what racists in this country are advocating.  That’s why there is no place in our country for those who refuse to accept the basic principles on which is was established.

It also should not be surprising to anyone that those who are the object of this racial bigotry, vigorously oppose those who advocate it.

The law does include a right of self-defense.  This right has recently been expanded on a state by state basis with the “stand your ground” laws.  Depending on the circumstance, you can respond with violence including a weapon, if you feel that you are in imminent danger as a result of something that someone else said or some threatening action that someone else has taken.  That’s why generally the person or group that is inciting violence has a weaker defense when claiming that they have been assaulted.

Summary
Several interesting things are happening.  Boston demonstrated that the number of neo-Nazi’s and White Supremacists WILLING to demonstrate when there is the possibility that they would be massively outnumbered is small.  We have also learned that there are personal consequences to outing yourself as a racist.  As those personal costs become better known, it appears that the number of people willing to pay that price is small.  There are also organizational costs to those who attempt to spread hate speech through the internet.  No legit social media, hosting, or domain organization is willing to help them.  Communities and institutions of higher learning are making sure that they have the appropriate use provisions in place to reject requests for these organizations to gather.  Finally, we are finding that when it becomes personal, very few socially maladjusted young men are willing to back up their offensive internet personas with an in-person appearance.  So for now, society has responded with the appropriate revulsion to these fringe groups.

The true test will be what happens in the 2018 election.  Will voters hold Trump and Republicans accountable for the rise in neo-Nazi, fascist, and white supremacist activity?  Will the threat of disenfranchisement drive more minority voters to the polls in an off year?  The wonder of democracy is that our speculation will come to an end in November, 2018.

What’s Next?

Wednesday, August 16th, 2017

via GIPHY

After the violent clashes in Virginia, America looked to the President for healing.  Instead Trump could only think about his own obsession of winning an argument with the media.

As a result, we have a President who insists those who support Nazi’s and white supremacists deserve the same respect and consideration as those who oppose those views.

It is true that the First Amendment protects even hateful speech.

It is not true that we have to provide a place in our society for racists and hate mongers.

It is true that the constitution does not protect those who choose violence as a means of protest.

It is also true that there were groups from both sides who came prepared to fight.

But the gathering in Virginia was organized by hate groups for the sole purpose of inciting a response from those who oppose those views.  There was only one person murdered.  A Nazi sympathizer used his car to kill a peaceful protestor.

In this country, the President and Vice President are the only two offices elected by all the people.  As a result, the President has a responsibility to be a moral leader for the country as well as a political one.

What happens when our President abdicates his moral responsibility to condemn those organizations that want to dismantle our democracy?

President Trump hasn’t done anything illegal.

Instead he fanned the flames of racial tension in this country which is exactly what these hate groups want.  His failure to condemn their views and hold them accountable for the violence that they incite will only embolden them.  This is not new news.  Hate groups have been fomenting race war for 150 years.

As Mitch McConnell said, “there are no good neo-Nazi’s”.  

There is no moral equivalency between Nazi’s or white supremacists and any other group in this country.

As long the person in oval office suggests that there is, these hate groups will escalate their plans to incite the widespread racial violence they feel is necessary to bring down our democracy.

 

The Credibility Gap

Sunday, June 11th, 2017

During the Vietnam War, there was a lot of public skepticism regarding statements that came from the LBJ administration.  Ultimately that led to Nixon’s election because he promised that he had a secret plan to end the war.  He lied too and instead expanded the war.  There were a lot of leaks including the Pentagon Papers.  Those internal defense department documents confirmed that both the Johnson and Nixon administrations had lied, not only to the public but also to Congress.  Daniel Ellsberg leaked those papers.  Nixon hired G. Gordon Liddy and Howard Hunt to break into Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office to plant bugs to acquire information that the Nixon administration used to discredit Ellsberg.  That same group went on to commit the Watergate burglaries.

The reason for this digression is that when Nixon eventually resigned, 24% of Republicans still supported him.

We are faced with a similar situation today.

Trump supporters are distrustful of any media that disagrees with them.  They are distrustful of any politicians that disagree with them.   In an April poll, 81% of self-described Republicans thought Trump was honest and trustworthy.  Only 38% of American’s share that view.  For those who attribute that 38% to some political bias, only 34% of those who self-describe as independents felt that Trump was honest and trustworthy.

Both of these things can’t be true.  Either he is honest and trustworthy or he isn’t.

It may be possible that Republicans have a different definition of honesty, but the accepted definition is that an honest person tells the truth.  By ALL objective measures, Trump lies on a regular basis.  Here’s a current running list of the 623 lies that he has told since his inauguration.  You may be able to dispute some of these, but it is difficult to suggest that they are all the result of media or political bias.

Republicans may believe that ALL politicians lie and Trump in particular is just a BS’er.  His lies are part of his method of negotiation.  But ultimately, they trust his motives and as a result excuse his tactics.  But that in itself is dishonest.  You can’t tell lies and be called honest.

But let’s give partisans a little bit of a break. They like Trump’s politics and suggest that all politicians lie because the media or the opposition won’t let them tell the truth, or else distort their statements to turn them into lies when in fact they were completely innocent.  But this a President who began his administration disputing the undeniable facts about the size of his inauguration crowd.  No, this President is different.

That brings us to the second topic of trustworthiness.  That is someone who does what he says he is going to do.  Someone who keeps their promises.

Trump fails this measure too.  He promised to release his tax returns.  He promised to put Hillary Clinton in jail.  He promised to pass a healthcare bill that would provide cheaper coverage to more people at a lower cost than Obamacare.  He promised to wipe out ISIS.  He even promised that he would never tell a lie.  I could go on, but I think the point is clear.  He doesn’t keep his promises either.  Worse, he doesn’t even acknowledge that he has failed to keep a promise.  Yet somehow Republicans feel he is still trustworthy.

Where does this come from?

From what I can see so far it is simple tribalism.  It doesn’t matter what Republican is in office, as long as there is an “R” next to their name, they are going to get the support of a large percentage of Republicans.  When the overall approval rating of Bush II fell into the 20’s in October, 2008 as the world-wide financial system began to collapse over 60% of Republicans still approved his job performance.

Another telling statistic that supports this view is what happened during the most recent primary season.

Just before Trump claimed victory, 46% of Republicans felt he was honest and trustworthy.  After the Republican convention, that number jumped to 69%.  Now it is at 81%.  Did Trump become a different person after the convention or after his surprising victory?  I don’t think so.

Here’s another example.  Only 22% of Republicans supported a missile strike on Syria during the Obama administration.  86% of Republicans supported Trump doing exactly the same thing for exactly the same reasons earlier this year.

So that brings us to Comey.

Will his testimony, that has been widely regarded a damaging to Trump and his administration, affect his support among his base?

Early indications are no.

Comey called Trump a liar.  Trump called Comey a liar, suggested there might be tapes to prove his case, and offered to testify in Congress under oath.  What he didn’t do is explain why he cleared the room before his conversation with Comey.

We recently learned that he had similar conversations with Preet Bharara before firing him.

Comey connected the dots between the FBI’s investigation of Flynn, to Trump’s request that the FBI drop those investigations, to his firing, to Trump’s statements that the firing was because Comey did not do what Trump asked him to do.  Trump’s defenders claimed it was just the fumbling of an inexperienced politician.  No harm was intended.  Why would an inexperienced politician make sure that all his conversations with Comey were private?  If nothing else, the reaction of Jeff Sessions, the “experienced” politician in the bunch speaks volumes.  He did not act to protect Comey.  Instead he quickly moved to dismiss him even though it may result in his prosecution because of conflict of interest.

Here’s why all this matters.

Trump is digging a deep hole that he may not be able to get out of.  He has not been vindicated.  The investigations are continuing.  Comey laid out the obstruction of justice case for Mueller to follow.  Mueller just hired a bunch of very high power lawyers who likely would not have signed on if there wasn’t the prospect of building a case against very high ranking members of the Trump administration.

We are long way from the Democratic House majority and the smoking gun that could result in a bill of impeachment.  But fivethirtyeight.com gives Democrats a 10% point lead over Republicans if the house election were held today.

What we do have is a widening credibility gap between a president, his supporters, and the rest of the electorate.  Every week, Trump’s actions and statements confirm the majority view of his credibility.  Those statements and actions also require his supporters to sacrifice their credibility in defense of Trump and out of allegiance to the Republican tribe.

This is not a healthy or balanced situation.  Eventually Trump will be held accountable for his actions and those supporters that remain will also be held accountable for enabling those actions.

Or else this will become the new normal and our country will continue to fracture in to warring camps where tribalism finally breaks democracy.

Sometimes It Takes More Than Looks

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017

harding2

Warren G. Harding is widely regarded as the worst President ever to occupy the office.

Many say he won the election because he “looked like a President”.   This was the tail end of an era where those who LOOKED like gentlemen were assumed to possess all of qualities and capabilities associated with gentlemen.  While Harding was popular during his term, the scandals which emerged after he left office relegated him to his status as a failed president.

We are now in an era of billionaires.  Those who appear to possess great wealth are assumed to possess special qualities and talents that set them apart.  Trump’s election is an example of the trust that some voters have in a wealthy person.  They elected a man whose only qualification to occupy the most powerful political office in the country is that he appears to be wealthy.

I think it is fair to say that in the first month and half, the Trump administration is struggling to find its way.  Even though it is early, there are seeds of scandal that are already blooming.

Russia

The White House has been working furiously to discredit a story that the NYT broke regarding contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia.

In a now famous interview with Chuck Todd of Meet the Press, Reince Priebus disputed the story alternately calling it “grossly overstated”, “inaccurate”, “totally wrong”, “total baloney”, and “garbage”.  He claimed that people in both the intelligence community and the congress confirmed this description.  The next leak was that Priebus asked the FBI to go on the record with what they had told him.  The FBI refused because the request would politicize the FBI even more than it is now.  Then Priebus assembled a group of intelligence community members and Republican members of Congress to rebut the story, but only anonymously.  This is particular ironic since Priebus (and later Trump) used anonymity of the NYT sources to question the accuracy of the whole article.

It is this sort of fake news stuff that is enormously important that, when you get a front page story of The New York Times without a single source on the record saying that your campaign had constant contacts– they didn’t say one contact. They didn’t say two contacts. It doesn’t matter. We have not been informed of even that. But to say, “Constant contact?”

In this process, however, the two points that the White House objected to in the story became clear.

  1. The story said “repeated contacts”. The White House has built a straw man by claiming that the story said “constant contacts”.
  2. The story said the contacts were with senior Russian Intelligence officials. We now know that the White House is trying to claim that the Russian conversations that DID occur were not with senior Russian Intelligence officials.

“NBC News was told by law enforcement and intelligence sources that the NYT story WAS wrong — in its use of the term ‘Russian intelligence officials.’ Our sources say there were contacts with Russians, but that the US hasn’t confirmed they work for spy agencies. We were also told CNN’s description of Trump aides being in ‘constant touch’ with Russians was overstated. However, our sources did tell us that intelligence intercepts picked up contacts among Trump aides and Russians during the campaign.”

We find out today that new AG Jeff Sessions was one of the people who DID have at least two conversations with a Russian official during the campaign and neglected to share that information during his confirmation hearing.

Testifying under oath before the Senate Judiciary Committee, he was asked in January by Al Franken what he would do if he learned of any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government during the 2016 campaign. “I’m not aware of any of those activities,” he responded. He added: “I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians.”

There’s more: Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) sent Sessions an additional written question: “Have you been in contact with anyone connected to any part of the Russian government about the 2016 election, either before or after election day?” The AG’s one-word answer could not have been more categorical: “No.”

Sessions response was that his conversations with the Russian ambassador did not involve the campaign, so he felt he answered the questions accurately.  He has also agreed to recuse himself from future congressional investigations.

Here’s the scope of this potential scandal.

There WERE conversations between the Trump campaign and Russians during the election.  Those conversations included Jeff Sessions, though he claims that their conversations didn’t touch on the campaign.  Sessions clearly had an opportunity to disclose his conversations during his confirmation hearings and chose not to.

The White House is disputing that these conversations (Sessions and others) were “constant”, that they were with Russians who worked for Russia’s various intelligence agencies, and that they were about the 2016 election.  Of course this begs the question of why the FBI or other intelligence agencies were listening to the phone conversations of “regular” Russians, but the larger issue is the nature of the White House’s attempt to bury this story.

The risk to the Trump administration is that their efforts to bury the story will ultimately be more damaging than the story itself.  Flynn was the first victim.  Fired for lying supposedly lying to the President. The second victim could be Sessions.  He could be on the hook for perjury.  The cover-up is always more dangerous than the story itself, but in this case the story about a foreign power intervening in a US election is unprecedented.

Yemen

The father of the Navy Seal that died in last month’s operation refused to meet with the President.  He is blaming his son’s death on a poorly planned and poorly executed operation.  He has demanded an investigation.

“Why at this time did there have to be this stupid mission when it wasn’t even barely a week into his administration? Why?” said Mr. Owens, who told The Herald that he had not voted for Mr. Trump. “For two years prior, there were no boots on the ground in Yemen — everything was missiles and drones — because there was not a target worth one American life. Now all of a sudden we had to make this grand display“  “Don’t hide behind my son’s death to prevent an investigation.”

“The government owes my son an investigation,” the father, William Owens, told The Miami Herald.

One of Trump’s campaign positions was that Clinton failed in her responsibilities to protect the lives of Americans in the Benghazi attack.  Trump criticized the Clinton investigations.  He claimed she was guilty even though the investigations produced no evidence to support that claim.  The Trump campaign produced an ad quoting some of the family members of those who were killed in the attack.  Several of them spoke at the Republican National Convention.  One was in the audience at the third debate.

Ryan Owens’ wife was at Trump’s first speech to Congress.  Trump recognized her for her sacrifice.  But he has also failed to take any responsibility for the failed mission.  He has instead blamed both the military and the Obama administration.

Here’s the scope of this potential scandal.

Will there be as thorough an investigation into this failed raid as Trump called for in Benghazi?

Will Ryan Owens’ father be as celebrated in his grief  as Ryan Owens’ widow?

Will the White House drop their claim that the raid yielded valuable intelligence – a claim that has since been disputed by intelligence officials?

The risk to the Trump administration will be similar to Russia.  If they oppose or interfere with an independent investigation, they will be putting the administration in jeopardy.  If the investigations reveal that decisions on either the raid or the speech were mainly political, they will lose the trust of voters.

Summary 

As these and other scandals continue to pop up and unfold, the façade of media bias as the root cause for Trump’s troubles will fall away.  What will be left are the tawdry facts that the Trump campaign DID have conversations with the Russians about the election. And the Trump administration DID approve a poorly planned, poorly executed mission that discovered no new information because there was political benefit to what appeared at the time to be an easy win.

The legacy of this administration will be similar to the business legacy of the President.  The claims of expertise and unique skill will all fail to produce any substance.  The bodies will stack up.  The collateral damage will mount.  The domestic and foreign mistakes will increase dissension and weaken our country.  At some point, enough people will realize that the only thing that Trump brought to this office was wealthy arrogance.  Once they realize that being President requires larger skill set, they will kick him out of office.  When they finally tire of his attempts to blame his failures on others, they will finally blame him for misleading them.  The fact, however, is that it was voters who misled themselves.  They assumed that wealth somehow qualified a person to be President.  Like Harding, voters will realize that wealth, just like looks, has little or nothing to do with competence or trustworthiness.

Get With The Program

Monday, February 6th, 2017

Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.

Thomas Jefferson

Jefferson and the other framers of the constitution made sure that our democracy included a free press.  They understood that it was a vital check on the power that they were investing in government

What happens to our democracy when a significant number of voters reject even the concept of an unbiased media?

The American Journal of Political Science recently released a study to answer the question of how this could happen.

Political affiliation is now a stronger predictor of behavior than even race.  People are much more accepting of someone of a different race as a potential spouse than they are of someone who has differing political views.

Many who are sharing fake news understand that it may not be accurate, but they share it none the less because it supports their point of view.  More importantly it also demonstrates to their peers that they are trusted members of that social group.

Conservatives may also be more fearful.

According to a study slated to be published in the journal Psychological Science, it might be true that conservatives are more likely to fall for false, threatening-seeming information, but it’s not because they’re dumb. It’s because they’re hyper-attuned to hazards in their world. If they spot a sign of danger, they figure trusting it is better than ignoring it.

That’s all fine and good for Facebook users.  But what happens when the President of the United States starts saying things are aren’t supported by facts?

You’ve got frivolous things like the size of the inauguration crowd (smaller than Obama physically and virtually), blaming his loss of the popular vote on illegal voting (voter rolls have problems, but no evidence of illegal voting, supported by recounts in Wisconsin and Michigan), the biggest Republican victory since Reagan (Bush I was bigger), and his standing ovation at the CIA speech (CIA officers stand until requested to sit.  He never asked them to sit.)

But then you have things that affect people’s lives.

An executive order that counters the dramatic expansion of the federal workforce when the federal workforce is the same today as it was 8 years ago.

A ban on Muslims from 7 countries including Syria, when no Muslim immigrants from those countries has ever committed an act of terrorism in this country.

Trump suggested that there were only 100 or so people affected.  His lawyers later testified in court that over 100,000 were effected.  How could he have been so far off?

Trump provided preference to Christians because he said that they were having a more difficult time previously getting into the country.  That’s not true either.  We admitted Christians and Muslims at roughly the same rate. The smaller number of Syrian Christians is due to the fact that they are only 5% of the Syrian population.

His administration cited a fictitious massacre in Bowling Green, KY as evidence that we should fear Muslim immigrants.  The data suggests that US citizens are MUCH more likely going to be the perpetrators of mass killings than immigrants.  This ban will likely only alienate the domestic Muslim population further, at the precise time that we need their help.

At home as well, Mr. Benjamin said, the president’s order is likely to prove counterproductive. The jihadist threat in the United States has turned out to be largely homegrown, he said, and the order will encourage precisely the resentments and anxieties on the part of Muslims that fuel, in rare cases, support for the ideology of the Islamic State or Al Qaeda.

In our country, journalists have the responsibility to hold elected officials accountable.  They do that by informing voters and speaking truth to power.  There is no one else.  Yet Trump is systematically delegitimizing the trustworthiness of the press.  Why is that?

Some claim that this is the influence of Bannon.  His world view is that the old order is corrupt and must be overthrown.  He believes that we are literally at war with an expansionist Islamic philosophy and the solution is to exert our own sovereignty.  Rather than make the world safer through alliances, he would prefer that the US protect itself through power and nationalism.  The press, in his opinion, is part of the problem rather than part of the solution.  That’s because he views himself as a radical and he feels his own cause justifies ANY ACTION.

This is an old and proven strategy.  Create fear of “the other”.  Convince people that the only way to be safe it to eliminate “the other” from our society.  The simple math is that you are either with us or you are against us.  If you are against us, you become part of “the other” should be treated in the same way that we are treating “them”.  You hear some of that language coming from the administration today in reactions to dissent.

In a democracy, we have to hold our elected officials accountable to telling the truth.  It is THEIR responsibility to separate belief from fact.  If we can’t trust that our elected officials are making their decisions based on the best facts available to them, our institutions begin to unravel because they can no longer be trusted to deal fairly with all people.  And that’s the key here. Bannon isn’t interested in dealing fairly with all people.  He is interested in a revolution where HIS OWN VISION of the future triumphs, not the vision of the founders, or even the vision of the majority.

The danger to democracy when people stop believing the press is that they will ultimately stop believing in the rest of the institutions that are the foundation for our society.  That’s the moment that demagogues can gain followers by claiming that they are the only ones that are willing to tell the truth.  The reality is that they are the ones manipulating the tribalism they create and the fear they instill to undermine democracy and usurp power.  It is a proven formula.  Don’t let it happen here.

 

Bias and Free Press

Tuesday, January 10th, 2017

freedom-of-the-press-big

One of the freedoms cherished by the founding fathers was a free press.

They felt it was an essential part of a robust democracy.

They also were not so naïve as to ignore the challenges that come with unfettered publishing.

The basic challenge is balancing the public’s right to know with the power that a biased press has to influence the public to advance its own political agenda.

There have been times when there were no restrictions on the press at all.  The press were propaganda arms of the political parties during Lincoln’s time.  At the turn of the last century sensational yellow journalism ruled.  Pulitzer and Hurst used their newspapers to start the Spanish American War.  They also advocated the assassination of McKinley which then occurred.  Pulitzer was so troubled by his “yellow sins”, that he dedicated himself to creating a new code of ethics for newspapers.  That code survives to this day, though only a handful of newspapers still support it.

The government had some better grounds to control the broadcast media because they were using public bandwidth.  The last vestige of government regulations controlling broadcast news coverage (The Fairness Doctrine and Equal Time Requirements) were eliminated during the Reagan administration.  Every attempt to restore at least those provisions, has been opposed by both conservatives and liberals.  Obama, for example, preferred net neutrality, caps on media ownership, and investments in public broadcasting as ways to encourage a wide range of media options for voters.

Public opinion STRONGLY supports the equal time requirements.  Similar majorities rejected the concept that news sites should be required to present opposing points of view (Fairness Doctrine).

Combine this with the “narrow casting” business model available to online and broadcast media, and you have the “something for everyone” landscape that we enjoy today.

The extreme of this phenomena is fake news.  The purpose of fake news is to sell advertising.  That is the same business model legit news organizations use.  The difference is that fake news outlets don’t actually report on anything.  Their stories are fiction intended to manipulate rather than inform their target audience.  The bulk of the fake news operations focus on conservative conspiracy theories because they’ve found that those get the most clicks.

The following graph does as good a job as any in attempting to explain the current landscape.

trusted-sources

Whether or not you agree with how individual news sources appear on this spectrum isn’t really the issue.  The issue is that this spectrum exists and the further you get from the middle vertically and horizontally, the less reliable the information becomes.

Bias

Bias does not mean that someone disagrees with you.

Bias means that a news organization’s political opinion influences either their news choices and/or the content of their stories.

As you can see from the above graph, there are very few news sources that meet the criteria of being free from partisan bias – NPR, BBC, WashPost, NYT, NBC News, ABC News, AP, and Reuters.  It does not include Fox or MSNBC.  It does not include Slate, The Atlantic, The WSJ, or The Hill.

Conservatives have spent decades disputing the claim that Fox is biased and the NYT is not.  There is no winning this debate.

But here’s the core of the discussion.

Democracy needs reliable sources of facts that we can all trust in order to move forward.

Fox fails this test because they blur the boundaries between opinion (they call it entertainment) and news.  Hannity is just one example.  He has a news show, but also was an official adviser to the Trump campaign.  His defense is that he claims to be an entertainer and not a journalist.  This is the same defense that John Steward used on the Daily Show.  The Daily Show makes no claims to be fair or balanced.  Fox does.

The WSJ also recently failed this test.  That’s because their editor has said that the paper will no longer fact check Trump.  Instead the paper will simply present readers information and let the readers decide whether or not Trump is telling the truth.

I honestly think it is pretty easy to sort all of this out.

Let’s look at what each news source says are their code of ethics.

Here’s what the NYT says:

The core purpose of The New York Times is to enhance society by creating, collecting and distributing high-quality news and information. Producing content of the highest quality and integrity is the basis for our reputation and the means by which we fulfill the public trust and our customers’ expectations.

Here’s what Fox News says:

The Fox Nation was created for people who believe in the United States of America and its ideals, as expressed in the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Emancipation Proclamation. It is a community that believes in the American Dream: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. One that believes being an American is an honor, as well as a great responsibility – and a wonderful adventure.

This is a place for people who believe we live in a great country, a welcoming refuge for legal immigrants who want to contribute their talents and abilities to make our way of life even greater. We believe we should enjoy the company and support of each other, delighting in the creativity, ingenuity, and work ethic of one and all, while observing the rules of civility and mutual respect and, most importantly, strengthening our diverse society by striving for unity.

The Fox Nation is committed to the core principles of tolerance, open debate, civil discourse, and fair and balanced coverage of the news. It is for those opposed to intolerance, excessive government control of our lives, and attempts to monopolize opinion or suppress freedom of thought, expression, and worship.

We invite all Americans who share these values to join us here at Fox Nation.

I tried to find an ethics or mission statement for the WSJ, but they appear not to have one.

In other words, NYT is committed to distribute high quality news and information.  Fox News is committed to creating an experience for a particular group of people who all share a common point of view.  The WSJ is going to do whatever it needs to do to make money.  All have been true to their stated goals.

Summary

It is possible to find unbiased organizations who strive to report the news in a straight forward manner and inform the public on what is true and what is false.

It is also possible to find biased organizations who will report the news, and in some case make up news, to suit their audience.  They have a particular point of view that they promote.  They filter and in some cases alter or invent what they call news in order to re-inforce that particular point of view.  Those who choose to rely on these sources of information and fundamentally misinformed.

Next up:  How does democracy function in an environment where at least some portion of the electorate are either uninformed or misinformed?

What Happened?

Tuesday, December 20th, 2016

what-just-happened-g

 

We elected Trump president.

He is by all objective accounts the least qualified person ever elected to this office.  Yes he is a businessman and by all appearances a very wealthy person.  We have elected business people to this office in the past, but never one with absolutely no government experience.  We have also elected wealthy people to this office in the past, but never one who claims to be as wealthy as this guy.  As a result, we have no idea how he will perform because we have no previous history to use as comparison.  The closest we can come is Herbert Hoover, and that didn’t work out so well.

In as a dispassionate way as possible, I’d like to figure out why and then perhaps lay out just a few of the challenges that he and we will face.

Change

Republicans began this race with a significant advantage.  US voters simply don’t like to give any particular party more than 8 years in the White House.

The Clinton campaign understood this challenge.  As it became clear that Trump would be the Republican nominee, they crafted a strategy to highlight the risks of electing someone with so little government experience.  They framed this election as a choice between change and risk.

Here’s an example of how Clinton discussed this choice.

Donald Trump’s ideas aren’t just different – they are dangerously incoherent. They’re not even really ideas – just a series of bizarre rants, personal feuds and outright lies.

He is not just unprepared – he is temperamentally unfit to hold an office that requires knowledge, stability and immense responsibility.

As proof of how effective her message was, Clinton won these points.

  • Just 38 percent of voters said that Trump was “qualified” to be president (52 percent said the same of Clinton).
  • Just 35 percent said Trump had the “temperament to serve effectively as president” (55 percent said Clinton had the right temperament to be president).
  • One in three voters said Trump was honest and trustworthy (36 percent said the same of Clinton).

But she still lost the popular vote in the key states of Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida.  That’s because the desire for change was stronger than the perceived risks associated with that change.  Four in 10 voters said the most important character trait in deciding their vote was a candidate who “can bring needed change” to Washington. Of that group, Trump won 83 percent to Clinton’s 14 percent.  In effect, all that Trump had to do is demonstrate that he was NOT part of the establishment in order to win this election.  For the change voters, particularly in the key battleground states that I listed, all of his objective weaknesses were strengths.

Demographics

I had thought that the Obama victories spelled the end of white angry male politics.

I was wrong.

Clinton still did well with emerging demographics.  The white male voter segment is getting smaller in every election including this one.  That vote increased 2% from 2012-2016.  In comparison the black vote increased 6%.  The Asian vote increased 16% and the Hispanic vote increased 17%.  The problem for Clinton was that most of those votes were in states like California rather than the battleground states where Trump was able to eke out narrow victories.

Clinton won 55% of the young vote, but they weren’t as large a percentage of the total vote in 2016 as they were in 2008 or 2012.  Clinton also improved as a percentage of 65+ voters over those who voted for Obama in 2012, though Trump won that demographic by roughly 10%.

Issues

The country continues to become more liberal as demographics change.

The vote on immigration this election was almost evenly split.  That is a dramatic improvement over the negative view of immigration a decade ago.  74% of Americans now believe that there should be a path to citizenship for undocumented workers.  61% oppose building a wall.

Large majorities of all voters support more aggressive actions on gun control including expanded background checks, keeps guns out of the hands of those with mental health issues, barring those on no-fly lists from purchasing guns, tracking gun purchases in a national database, banning the sale of high capacity ammunition clips, and even restricting the sale of assault-type weapons.

65% of voters are concerned about climate change and believe it is a real issue.

60% support same sex marriage and LGBT rights.  A majority also oppose “Freedom of Religion” laws.

Where We Go From Here

There are a number of issues that could easily derail a Trump presidency.  The basic challenges remain that he is deeply inexperienced AND that he has chosen to surround himself with others who can only be generously classified as outsiders.

He was certainly elected to “shake up” Washington.  But Washington isn’t going to welcome change.  The same is true with the rest of the world.

So here’s my list of the challenges that Trump is going to have to navigate to survive his first term and get re-elected in 2020.

China, Russia, Iran, Israel, and ISIS

The One China policy has allowed Taiwan and China to peacefully coexist for decades.  Trump upset that policy with one phone call.  China’s response was to grab some of our stuff.  Escalation is not a good formula here.  Trump is already talking about killing the TPP.  That agreement was crafted to provide the other Pacific Rim countries an alternative to accepting China’s trading rules.  If China controls the rules of trade in the Pacific, they will also have tremendous economic leverage over those countries.  That will make it more difficult for the US to oppose Chinese aggression in the region.  What will Trump do if China threatens Taiwan?

It would be great to have better relations with Russia.  But Russia has been aggressively expanding its sphere of influence in border countries by intervening in their elections and annexing territory.  What is Trump going to be willing to give (or take away from) Russia that will cause them to change their behavior?  Trump is in dangerous territory if it turns out that there were contacts between his campaign and Russian hacking during the election.  Trump is also in dangerous territory if ongoing Russian hacking expose the inner workings of the Trump administration in the same ways that it exposed the inner workings of the Clinton campaign.  What leverage does this give Russia?  Russian reactions to the assassination in Turkey could lead to a military escalation early in Trump’s administration.  Turkey is our NATO ally.  How will the Trump administration respond?  Trump also has real estate holdings in Turkey.  How will Trump respond to actions that threaten some of his properties?

Trump has said that he will move the US embassy to Jerusalem.  That move would signal the end of any two-state solution.  It will also give Israel free reign to continue their economic and military persecution of Palestinians.  How will the Trump administration respond to an Israeli crack down on a Palestinian uprising that resulted in a large number of Palestinians being killed?  How will a Trump administration respond to an increase in military actions by Israel’s neighbors in reaction to a brutal military crackdown of a Palestinian uprising?

That leads naturally to Iran.  Israel has every right to fear Iran, and Iran has every right to fear both Israel and the US.  Iraq used to be the balance to Iran, but our invasion of Iraq upset that balance and caused Iran to start their nuclear weapons program.  They’ve stopped that development because of their interest in joining the global economy.  But if Trump figures he can get a better deal and is also seen as a close ally of Israel, this whole deal could come apart.  What will Trump do to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon?  What will Russia, Iran’s close ally, do if the US or Israel take some aggressive action against Iran because of their resumed nuclear program?

ISIS will continue to attack around the world.  He has been curiously silent, for example, after the Berlin attack.  After Trump’s inauguration, I predict that his named properties will become targets.  This isn’t planned, but random.  How is Trump going to respond?  The reality is that there is little he can do.  He can attempt to bomb them, but if anything that will only increase the domestic terrorism that is now the bulk of ISIS action.  He will fail to be effective and ultimately voters will hold him responsible.

Conflict of Interest, Deal Making, Obamacare, Infrastructure, Tax Reform, and Republicans

Trump has a serious conflict of interest problem.  There are no indications that he is going to take steps to effectively insulate his business and his family from the potential benefits that would accrue to those businesses from his office.  Even worse, he also needs to insulate himself from the APPEARANCE of conflict regarding foreign contributions.  Just one example is the fact that he owns hotels.  Every time someone employed by a foreign government stays in one of his hotels, he is in potential violation of the constitution.  Congress and the American people will let him slide for a while, but he is taking grave risks against some future event that will paint him as corrupt.  I’m not sure how many of those events he is going to be able to survive, since he was elected to clean up the corruption.

Deal making is also going to be very difficult for him because that’s not how government business is done.  Deals are done politically, not financially.  It is ok to trade influence.  It is not ok to trade money.  There are a large body of regulations which prohibit favoritism in government contracting.  Trump could easily run afoul of these laws in his attempts to personally negotiate the country’s business.  The difference here is that, rather than a political backlash, he will get sued by whatever corporations felt that they were disadvantaged by one of Trump’s deals.  How many of those suits will have to occur before Congress decides that they have had enough?

It is going to be very difficult to replace Obamacare.  Collin Powell famously said of Iraq, “if you break it, you own it.”  The same is true of Obamacare.  If Republicans repeal it without a plan to replace it, even if that repeal is delayed until after the 2018 elections, the exchange structure could easily collapse.  If that happens, millions of people will either lose their insurance, or see their premiums rise dramatically.  This could easily turn into a daily drip-drip-drip of bad news, much like the financial collapse of 2008.  That bad news and the inability of the Trump administration to do anything about it, will result in a big 2018 backlash and the beginning of the end for Trump.  He will say that he did what the voters elected him to do, but voters are going to blame him because he promised to make it better.

Trump hired a budget hawk for his OMB director.  This budget hawk is going to have to figure out how to fund the massive infrastructure bill that is the foundation for Trump’s jobs program.  It is going to be very interesting to see how this plays out.  The infrastructure bank idea is an invitation to crony capitalism and will only work in big urban areas where investors have an opportunity to monetize their projects.  It isn’t going to help those vast under served rural areas where many Trump voters live.  The cuts to other federal spending that would be required to pay for this, if it isn’t financed through debt, will result in MORE job loss and hardship for those rural voters rather than less.  Their life will get harder, unemployment will go up, and they will vote for a different change in 2018 and 2020.

Tax Reform will be another give away to the rich.  This may turn out to be the least controversial of the programs that Trump takes on.  But it is also fraught with danger for Trump.  If Trump voters weren’t already sensitive to a cabinet filled with billionaires all getting big tax cuts, they will be.  If Trump hasn’t divested himself from his businesses, you can bet that the benefits that his family gets from Tax reform will be front page news and Trump’s hypocrisies will dominate social media.

Republicans are the most interesting piece of this puzzle.  Just as they rallied around Trump as it became obvious that he was going to win, they will abandon him if he appears to falter.  They will determine if they can mold him in their image.  When that fails, they will see if they can maneuver him politically to carry out their agenda.  When that fails, they will see if they can trip him up and get him out of the way, so that they can replace his agenda with theirs.

Summary

I will be surprised to see Trump complete his term.  I think that foreign intrigue will reveal his fundamental weaknesses and terrify voters.  Hopefully, we will avoid a conflict.  If not, it will go badly.  If he avoids foreign conflict, he will fumble Obamacare and the repercussions will cost him at least his senate majority in 2018.  The house will eventually impeach him for conflicts of interest and the post 2018 senate will confirm that impeachment making him the third president to go through an impeachment trial, and only the second one to lose.

I would prefer that this not be the script for the next four years, but Trump is sowing the seeds of his own destruction as we speak.  He is not taking the steps to insulate himself from potential conflicts of interest.  He is secretive and combative rather than transparent.  He trusts in his own ability to communicate with the public directly, but the public will soon be able to see for themselves whether the results match his promises.  He is picking fights with his intelligence agencies which makes him even more vulnerable to bad information.  His cabinet of outsiders will likely agree with him rather than oppose him.

We will face a challenge as a country too.  That’s because Trump will try to blame his failures on others.  We have to be vigilant to prevent Trump and his followers from using domestic turmoil to distract us from his administration’s failures.  He should have every opportunity to prove me wrong, but if he fails, he alone should be held responsible for the consequences of his failures.

 

Libertarians Big Fail

Friday, November 4th, 2016

If there were ever an election year when the Libertarian Party could make significant gains, this is the year.

The Bernie Sanders campaign caught fire and inspired a new generation of young people and rallied a cohort of progressives frustrated with eight years of cautious Obama politics.

Many of Bernie’s most ardent supporters were looking for a new champion when Bernie failed to win the nomination.

Donald Trump’s xenophobic populism abandoned traditional Republicans and their concerns about fiscal conservatism and government overreach.

The contest between Clinton and Trump quickly became a personality referendum. Issues took a back seat to an endless cycle of school-yard taunts, shocking revelations of personal weakness, and a deeply disturbing lord of the flies “kill the pig” frenzy.

Libertarianism had the perfect opportunity to assert its simple philosophy that people are perfectly able to make their own decisions and better decisions will be made if people are allowed to experience the consequences of their actions.

This also applies to governments. The world would be a better place, libertarians contend, if governments were less concerned with individual rights and more concerned with national defense.

So why is the Libertarian Party polling at less than 5% of the total vote?

My sense is that when push came to shove, the libertarian faithful including big money sources like David Koch, failed the Trump test.

Trump successfully turned this election into a reality show. Clinton became the villain. Trump became his own hero. His whole campaign is an effort to fan the flames of tribalism by drawing clear lines between us and them. Facts took a beating as every event was re-interpreted within the context of how “they” were biased, crooked, and untrustworthy and “we” were the only choice to save the nation from “them”.

The media, every established political party, the Clinton campaign, and the public have been challenged to respond.

The Libertarians had the opportunity to demonstrate that their philosophy was a better way.

Instead, their leaders and their followers could not resist the temptation to participate in this personality contest in hopes of attracting those who claimed that they disliked BOTH Trump and Clinton.

The issues with Clinton and the FBI are a perfect example. Early on both Johnson and Weld agreed with the FBI’s recommendation not to prosecute. This was consistent with the philosophy that individuals are smart enough to make their own decisions and don’t need government’s help. But when the FBI reopened the investigation, Weld was the only one who continued to stand on principle suggesting the FBI was “off the reservation”. Johnson followed Trump’s line in an effort to pick up some disheartened Clinton supporters. Weld on the other hand received the full wrath of the libertarian faithful.

On social media sites it is hard to distinguish the Trump trolls from the libertarian trolls when it comes to flaming anti-Clinton posts.

The challenge libertarians have always had is walking the talk.

Here’s a classic example from a book by a behavioral economist. The University of Chicago is a bastion of libertarian economists. Milton Friedman was their leader. When the University built a new office building for the economics faulty, there was the obvious challenge of how to allocate office space. Rather than setup a marketplace which would have resolved the issue using the principles that each of these academics spent a lifetime promoting, they essentially appointed a bureaucrat. He created a formula based on things like tenure, seniority, and individual contributions to the institution. That same person then applied the formula in a controlled fashion in an effort to reduce conflict. At the moment when these leaders of libertarian thought could actually put their theories to the test in their own lives, they trusted a government solution.

There are a lot of voters in this election cycle looking for a better choice. Libertarianism failed to gain their votes because libertarians lost track of their major asset which is their simple set of principles. Instead of demonstrating how principles can overcome tribalism, they became just as tribal, just as intolerant, and just as opportunistic as everyone else.