do americans believe in democracy

Do Americans Believe in Democracy?

Americans aren’t enthusiastic about liberal democracy

Democracy.  The theory underpinning our Republic; the heart of the American experiment; the principle for which millions dedicate their lives.  It’s the pillar of our country’s identity and a principle we have long sought to export.  Yet despite democracy’s centrality in our political life, do the American people actually believe it?

Our Political System

America is a liberal democracy.  That means our Constitution enshrines rights unalterable by an elected majority to preserve the liberty of all inhabitants, regardless of the likes of race, gender, creed, religion, and so on.  Elections are fair and free with suffrage near universal for those of age.  Scholars such as Francis Fukuyama have heralded such a governing system as the “end of history” (that is, the final point towards which all governing systems evolve).

A liberal democracy protects citizens against tyranny of the majority or the minority.  In so avoiding authoritarianism, other minor inconveniences of a diverse state arise: Viewpoints differ among the population, meaning arguments – vicious at times – will be had; government will often be gridlocked as members of different political parties butt heads on how to best achieve common goals; policies will not be perfect as only through compromise will necessary steps ever be taken.

Americans Dislike the Perceived Costs

Americans dislike those messy drawbacks to liberal democracy, a phenomenon that leaves many susceptible or even willing to accept arguments proffered by demagogues with a decided authoritarian or otherwise illiberal bent.

In “Stealth Democracy,” John Hibbing and Elizabeth Theiss-Morse examined how Americans feel about the political system.  The results, a bit dated and likely worse now, should scare those who believe in liberal democracy.

A whopping 86 percent of the American people believed that “elected officials would help the country more if they would stop talking and just take action.”  In other words, elected officials – namely, the president – should act unilaterally and without concern to those who disagree with them to advance ideological aims.  That, of course, is invited (democratic) authoritarianism: Americans elect someone and then encourage that person to act as (s)he sees fit.

60 percent think “compromise is really just selling out on one’s principles.”  Governing is impossible without compromise because never at any point in time will a polity experience 100 percent agreement on any given subject, no matter how trivial.  For non-trivial matters, majority support for any given policy will never overwhelming, especially in a legislative chamber.  To pass legislation – to do anything – compromise is needed.

60 percent also believe “government would work best if it were run like a business.”  Governments must care for the people (“common welfare”).  Businesses care only for profit (as, arguably, they should).  These diametric purposes almost certainly cannot be meshed and, when tried, results are disastrous.

31 percent would forego the democratic part of liberal democracy and simply hand the government over to “nonelected, independent experts rather than politicians or the people” and simply hope that these individuals somehow decide to protect liberty and act for benevolent purposes.

Liberal Democracy and Donald Trump

Last year, the study’s authors repeated the surveys and found very similar results while also noting that those least inclined to support liberal democratic values favored and felt positively towards then-candidate Donald Trump.  In other words, illiberal, anti-democratic Americans found their favored candidate.  And that should come as no surprise for Donald Trump broke numerous democratic norms throughout his campaign and has continued to do so while in office.

It should frighten us all that a large minority of Americans have only marginal affection for liberal democracy and that they have found an illiberal politician who now extolls those beliefs from the Oval Office.

A thriving liberal democracy depends on citizens believing in its values and passing those beliefs onto children.  These democratic mores protect democracy from the flaws that befall it – especially its susceptibility to demagogues.  As those beliefs crumble and are made further mainstream by a candidate who earned 62 million votes, the continued vibrancy of our liberal Republic may be threatened.

donald trump russia sanctions

Donald Trump Hates the Constitutional Separation of Powers

He Wants Congress to be Impotent

Donald Trump has proved time and time again that he’s no fan of the separation of powers.  He sees the presidency as an authoritarian figure, one who wields all of the nation’s power and who through unilateral action can shape policy and make decisions with immediate impact.  These delusional visions have of course met with reality.  Our Constitution divides power among three branches, with the legislative first of the equal.  Trump’s found himself and his goals blocked or slowed by Congress.  And he’s no fan of that.

At various points in his presidency, Trump has sought to rebalance governing power by exerting his authority over members of Congress.  This stems from his campaign rhetoric, a central of theme of which held that he alone could fix the nation’s problems.  Those words had no room for Congress to act; in fact, Trump seemed to entirely forget the institution, figuring that, if elected, he would be the one true sovereign.  Now, as the executive, he’s tried to subvert a coequal branch by continually threatening lawmakers who dare oppose his agenda or stand up to him.

Most recently, after signing into law sanctions against Russia stemming from the country’s interference in our election – a fact which Trump continues to deny – Trump continued his frightening assault on the separation of powers, writing “I built a truly great company worth many billions of dollars. That is a big part of the reason I was elected.  As President, I can make far better deals with foreign countries than Congress.”

First of all, Trump greatly overstates his deal making ability.  His riches, contrary to what he says, stem from inheritance.  In fact, Trump is multiple billions of dollars poorer than he would be had he passively invested his inheritance rather than trying to play businessman.  Trump’s declared bankruptcy numerous times and nearly ran a casino into the ground (his father bailed him out by illegally infusing the casino with $3,000,000 in chips to circumvent lending regulations).  Not to mention other failed ventures, such as Trump Steak, Trump Airlines, Trump Magazine, Trump Water, and Trump Vodka.  Or the times he’s been sued for stiffing contractors.  No, Trump is not a great dealmaker.

Trump’s continued fabrication about his deal making prowess, however, is not the worrying part of his statement.  The second sentence, in which he touts his unilateral ability to make better deals than all of Congress, fundamentally attacks the separation of powers and seeks to delegitimize Congress, its ability, and its lawmaking authority.

The Founding Fathers gave Congress, especially the Senate, broad authority over legislative affairs, including foreign policy (there’s a reason the president must seek senatorial ratification for treaties).  Congress has an explicit prerogative to regulate foreign commerce, a central component of foreign policy.  Yet Trump’s words undermine the separation of powers by implying that he alone should be charged with foreign affairs and Congress should either cede to him all authority in that front or simply rubber-stamp all of his decisions.  The words reek of contempt for Congress.  He yearns for unilateral authority unchecked and unquestioned by another governing branch.  In other words, he wants – and feels entitled to – a fundamental overhaul of the separation of powers simply because of his self-assumed greatness.

Trump’s statement also seeks to delegitimize Congress by implying the body is incompetent when it comes to foreign affairs – and its incompetence means America is worse off than had Congress simply sat back and allowed Trump to work his magic.  This implication serves only to undermine any actions taken by Congress by leading people to immediately doubt any congressional creation, especially when it comes to foreign relations.  Why should I trust Congress when the president himself has said the body is ineffectual when it comes to making deals?  Why not just let Trump make deals and pass legislation?  Why bother with Congress at all?

Lastly, Congress worked in a bipartisan and nearly unanimous fashion to craft these Russian sanctions, yet Trump nonetheless attacked the reason, ability, and effect of Congress’s work.  Rarely do all members of Congress come together for something as important as the Russia sanctions – if the president claims that 99 percent of Congress can’t work together to do something as well as he could alone, how bad must be the laws passed by a bare majority?  It implies that the bipartisan work of Congress cannot ever match the abilities of the president himself, a rather dictatorial sentiment.  Trump’s saying that Congress, working in near unanimity to fulfill its explicit constitution duties, should not be making laws because the deals struck are subpar, especially when compared to what he could do.  And that’s dangerous because it no longer assumes Congress should proactively perform its fundamental duties; rather, Congress should wait for the president to act and only follow the whims of the enlightened, dear leader.

This rhetoric should not be tolerated by any lawmaker who loves the Constitution.  Attacks on Congress’s legitimacy and authority to carry out its constitution prerogatives should never be made by the president and never accepted by members of Congress.  Representatives and senators should band together to unanimously pass a joint resolution stating the legislative branch’s authority to pass laws pertaining to foreign relations and issue a stern warning to the president: Undermine Congress at your own peril; your support is fleeting, the Constitution is forever.

left-wing populism

Left-Wing Populism and Liberal Democracy

Populism is Dangerous

Populism is a force antithetical to liberal democracy, if not democracy itself.  Liberal democracy tempers pure, majoritarian democracy by introducing a written set of rules (a constitution), separation of powers and resultant checks and balances, and, most importantly, by protecting fundamental rights for all people (especially minorities).

Regardless of immutable characteristic – that is, race, creed, national origin, sex, gender, religion, etc – all individuals within the polity have fundamental rights, namely those of life, liberty, and the pursuit of property.  Populism’s appeal attacks this fundamental tenet of a liberal society.

Populism’s Origins

Populism generally emerges after economic shocks or during prolonged economic malaise.  Following the first event, voters naturally rebel against the status quo and search for an answer, no matter how outlandish or irrational, to calamitous events outside of their control.  During periods of economic stagnation in which voters may find economics stalling and inequality rising, populism gains traction by promising to revitalize or overhaul a system not necessarily broken.  This speaks to human nature: Restlessness and a desire to change even what’s working.

Left-Wing Populism

Left-wing populism emerges when voters perceive financial elites and society’s wealthiest as wholly responsible for an economic calamity and see that class as unduly benefitting from an economic recovery (made worse when incomes, by and large, stagnate).  Though same may doubt whether left-wing populism can actually threaten liberal democratic values, its discontents should be obvious: A temporary majority designs policies that directly target a minority class (in this case, the wealthy), often in hopes of stripping them of their property.

Financial elites and the capital-hoarding upper-strata owns the government and entirely rigs the economic system to ensure capital-holders benefit while laborers slave away for mere dollars and bear the brunt of the burden when the economy crashes.  Therefore, the left-wing populist argues, policies must be crafted to tax or take away the wealthy’s property.  They must be vilified and have income and perhaps even assets seized and then redistributed to society’s workers, in a just and equitable manner as defined by a central authority (one that nationalizes and so owns the means of production).

It promises fairness as supposedly defined by the masses (though how the masses decide what constitutes a fair distribution of collective goods remains an unsolved question, even in the most radical of proposals and ideologues).  What better way to guarantee fairness for all than by seizing the excess of those whose greed has condemned so many to poverty?

Dangerously, such rhetoric and ideas appeal to many because a vast majority stand to benefit whereas a select few suffer.  A large majority may find vindication for actions that target a specific minority because the majority itself is so large and the cause so normatively pure.  But such efforts violate a central idea of liberal democracy: Property rights.  Liberal democracies ensure that the government cannot wantonly seize assets regardless of majority whims.  Property itself drives the economy – without property (ie, money, goods, etc), individuals would not be driven to work and innovate and so the state itself would collect no tax revenues, no goods would be produced, and the standard of living would fall dramatically.  Furthermore, it creates a precedent in which any majority coalition can seize the property of a detested minority, whether an economic minority or a racial or religious one.  Liberal democracy falls to individuals’ lust for revenge.

[See how right-wing populism attacks liberal democracy.]

right-wing populism

Right-Wing Populism and Liberal Democracy

Populism is Dangerous

Populism is a force antithetical to liberal democracy, if not democracy itself.  Liberal democracy tempers pure, majoritarian democracy by introducing a written set of rules (a constitution), separation of powers and resultant checks and balances, and, most importantly, by protecting fundamental rights for all people (especially minorities).

Regardless of immutable characteristic – that is, race, creed, national origin, sex, gender, religion, etc – all individuals within the polity have fundamental rights, namely those of life, liberty, and the pursuit of property.  Populism’s appeal attacks this fundamental tenet of a liberal society.

Populism’s Origins

Populism generally emerges after economic shocks or during prolonged economic malaise.  Following the first event, voters naturally rebel against the status quo and search for an answer, no matter how outlandish or irrational, to calamitous events outside of their control.  During periods of economic stagnation in which voters may find economics stalling and inequality rising, populism gains traction by promising to revitalize or overhaul a system not necessarily broken.  This speaks to human nature: Restlessness and a desire to change even what’s working.

Right-Wing Populism

Right-wing populism most obviously attacks and undermines liberal values: It appeals to voters by vilifying minority racial and religious populations.  Minorities cause economic catastrophes, so right-wing populists claim.  Immigrants lower wages and dilute the true population with inferior genes, morals, and values.  They draw undue funds from the government and contribute little to the nation’s culture; it amounts of an invasion of a state’s sovereignty.  Moreover, immigrants, especially those of different religions, threaten law and order by illegally entering the country, sympathizing with terrorists, and working to undermine the nation from within.

The vilification, then, arises from a mixture of contrived rationality as well as typical demagogic rhetoric that centers around xenophobia and the inherent inferiority of those different from the nation’s native stock.  Only by dramatically curtailing immigration, doubling down on law and order, and enacting reforms that limit religious practice to prevent extremists from meeting and planning terrorist attacks can the nation be salvaged.

Or so the right-wing populist argues with rhetoric that establishes a national “golden age” to which current conditions can be compared.  This golden age, often contrived, benefits from memory’s ability to ignore the bad and focus solely on the good – the golden age becomes a period of full employment, accepted national morals, low crime, and no threat from terrorism.  It contrasts perfectly with a threatening world in which low-skill jobs become increasingly sparse and terror attacks, though rare, dominate news coverage and the fears of millions.

This naturally appeals to many.  It takes agency away from voters and the existing system.  One person’s unemployment isn’t due to mismatched skills or any fault of his own; rather, it’s due to an outside force who undercuts wages while also failing to assimilate with the existing culture.  Fear motivates voters.  They come to believe carnage dominates society, whether from crime or terrorism.  And so vilifying immigrants and religious minorities becomes the means by which the country can be salvaged (and united in a front against assaults on sovereignty and national values) and returned to its golden age.

But obviously this is at odds with existing liberal values.  Minorities lose rights under such populist administrations.  Liberal democracy is the problem because it protects enemies of the state.  Its pillars must be struck down to allow the native majority to govern and protect the nation, often by whatever means necessary.  In the end, such democracy really is rule by the mob.  A fleeting majority riled by emotions and stirred to passion through hateful rhetoric leads to rights for some and tyranny for all.

[See how left-wing populism attacks liberal democracy.]

obama trump voters

Why Clinton Lost, Part 1: Obama-Trump Voters

8.4 Million Obama-Trump Voters

Obama Voters Abandoned Clinton

President Barack Obama won two elections with a robust and resilient electoral coalition that propelled him to easy wins throughout the Midwest.  His coalition, resilient though for him, did not remain intact for Clinton.  According to the American National Election Study, 13% of Trump voters cast a ballot for Obama in 2012.  That amounts to around 8.4 million individuals.[1]  By comparison, of Clinton’s voters, only 4% voted for Mitt Romney in 2012 (totaling around 2.5 million people).

Makeup of Clinton/Trump Voters by 2012 President VoteObamaRomney
Clinton77%4%
Trump13%66%

Extrapolating those numbers to individual states and adjusting for state swing from 2012 to 2016 yields the following Obama-Trump voter estimates and compares that to Trump’s margin of victory.[2]

Estimated Obama-Trump VotersTrump’s Margin of Victory
Iowa 182,024 147,314
Michigan 449,036 10,704
Ohio 545,985 446,481
Pennsylvania 481,434 44,292
Wisconsin 253,924 22,748

In each state, Obama-Trump voters more than account for Trump’s margin of victory (though, again, see the caveats).  Even accepting flaws in these estimates, it’s readily apparent that a sizable number of Obama voters had to flee from the Democratic Party: How else would Iowa have swung 15 points; Ohio, 11; Michigan, 9.7; Wisconsin, 7.7; and Pennsylvania, 6.1?

These gains came predominately from the white working-class.  A pre-election survey in Pennsylvania found that of Obama’s white working-class voters, some 18 percent planned to vote for Trump over Clinton.  In Iowa, Obama won the white working-class by around 3 points in 2012 whereas Clinton lost it by 20 just four years later.  Macomb County, Michigan, went to Trump by 11.5 points but Obama by 4.  Trump took Erie County, Pennsylvania, by 2 points.  Obama won it by 17.

The exact reasons Clinton failed to retain white working-class voters who supported Obama continue to be debated.  Cultural and economic anxiety quickly come to mind, as does Donald Trump’s demagoguery, critical rhetoric aimed directly at this sprawling constituency.  Regardless of why the white working-class abandoned the Democratic Party, this instance of the Obama coalition’s partial collapse spelled disaster for Hillary Clinton as the voters with which she aimed to replace them simply did not reside in swing states.

Coming soon: Part 2 – An Inefficient Electoral Coalition

————————————————————————————————————————-

[1] Such survey results do come with caveats: Respondents routinely misremember (or lie) about for whom they voted in the preceding election.  In this case, 58% of ANES survey takes claimed to have voted for Obama in 2012.  Obama only received 51% of the vote.  Research posits that individuals tend to say they voted for a socially acceptable answer – in this case, that means saying they voted for Obama (who has a high approval rating) where in following 2004, more claimed to have voted for John Kerry than for George W. Bush.

[2] These numbers suffer from the same drawbacks explained above.  Furthermore, these are just estimates and may well be off (this is also single-party crossover; the numbers don’t look at Romney-Clinton voters).  I tried to account for partisan swing by treating the 13% of Trump’s voters who cast a ballot for Obama as a baseline adjusted upwards based on how much the state swung to the Republican Party in 2016.  That means states with the largest GOP swing is estimated to be home to more Obama-Trump voters than that state’s share of the nation’s total voting population.

a better deal minimum wage

A $15 Minimum Wage is a Terribly Misguided Policy

A $15 Minimum Wage Will Create Dramatic Regional Inequality

Liberals and progressives hope to eliminate society’s inherent inequalities in hopes that all who call this country home have the equal opportunity to compete and thrive in the free market.  As such, the government should not interfere in the market when doing so would necessarily create inequality.  Far too many on the left fail to realize that endorsing a $15 minimum wage increases regional inequality by favoring those who live in low cost of living areas over expensive cities.

Different towns, counties, and states have dramatically different costs of living.  $1000 in Boise goes much further than $1000 in San Francisco because Boise is cheap – its rent is a fraction of San Francisco’s.  Why, then would the federal government, when crafting a national minimum wage, treat the two as equals?  Let’s break this down to see how a $15 minimum wage increases regional inequality by favoring Boise residents.

LocationLiving WageLiving Annual Salary$15/hr SalaryBirthplace Bonus
Boise$10.34$21,505 $31,200 $9,695
San Francisco$16.13$33,553 $31,200 $(2,353)

By virtue of birth and location of employment, a Boise resident would be $12,000 better off than a San Francisco resident if the federal government implemented a national $15/hr minimum.

That means two identical minimum wage workers, one in Boise and one in San Francisco, have dramatically different standards of living.  The Boise worker is relatively affluent whereas the San Francisco struggles to pay living expenses; this means, implicitly, that the government values the Boise resident $12,000 more than the San Francisco resident.  And Boise isn’t even the nation’s cheapest locale.

Liberals should not stand for such inequality made possible solely based on where one lives.  The two workers act no differently; they demonstrate no different abilities or work ethic and yet they are paid, in real terms, substantially different sums simply because the government ignores the cost of living when dictating economic outcomes.

A Better Solution

Ideally, the minimum wage should be left to cities, counties, and states.  That, however, is not entirely feasible: Republican-controlled states often refuse to raise the minimum wage.  It takes initiatives for citizens to force the government into acting.

If the federal government decides to enforce a living minimum wage, as well it should, then the legislation must account for economic variances across the nation.  Rather than proclaiming one wage for the country, a hypothetical bill should read “the minimum wage for any given town or city shall not be lower than that town or city’s previous year’s living wage, as determined by the Bureau of Labor statistics, multiplied by one plus the expected inflation rate.”

Such legislation would ensure that all areas have a living wage without erroneously assuming nationwide cost of living unanimity.  This creates no regional inequality while ensuring that all workers can subsist on their wages.

Liberals must stand against the government creating inequality; thus, liberals should be against a $15/hr national minimum wage.

kid rock for senate

Kid Rock and Anti-Anti-Trumpism

Kid Rock for Senate?

Conservatism continued descent into intellectual bankruptcy and anti-anti-Trumpism took another step with Kid Rock’s proposed Senate candidacy and the immediate support from the one-time conservative intelligentsia it quickly garnered.

Kid Rock, like Donald Trump, knows nothing of policy, has no political experience, and has no real interest in pushing for legislation or truly working for the public.  As with Trump, Kid Rock surely just wants to benefit himself, either by parlaying a potential Senate campaign into a concurrent marketing gimmick for his forthcoming album or simply enjoying the power and prestige that comes with serving in the Senate.  But that didn’t stop a Townhall writer from immediately embracing Kid Rock and calling for his election:

“The news that Southern-fried rock/rapper Kid Rock will be running for some timeserving Dem hack’s Senate seat in Michigan should make every normal American smile and spill a 40 to his homies. The future Senator Rock deserves your eager support for two critical reasons: First, it will drive the liberals insane. Second, it will make George Will and the rest of Team Fredocon soil themselves.”

This endorsement doesn’t mention policy.  It doesn’t mention how or why the writer thinks Kid Rock will help Michigan voters.  The writer has shown no awe for Kid Rock’s policy know-how and his vision for America.

No, this ringing endorsement arises for one reason: Kid Rock’s anger would anger those who don’t like Trump.

Anti-anti-Trumpism

Increasingly, conservatism has fallen from its intellectual bedrock to a coalition of trolls determined to stand against those who oppose the likes of Donald Trump and in favor of policies insofar as they annoy liberals.

This can be seen throughout right-wing media, with outlets such as The Federalist and the National Review, which once warned and stood against Trump, defending the president usually by pointing out liberal reactions or descending to whataboutism (“but what about Hillary and her emails?”) or, always the failsafe, attacking the mainstream “fake news” media.

Fox News is the leading example of anti-anti-Trumpism.  Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson spend the majority of their shows launching diatribes against liberals and their opposition to the president.  They don’t defend Trump’s ideas and policies on their merits – no one has offered a succinct or persuasive defense of Trumpcare – but rather imply that if Trump’s actions anger liberals, they must be good. QED.

This stems from and furthers tribal politics.  Loyalty is to the group (in this case, the Republican Party), not some higher set of principles or to an ideology.  Since Trump leads the tribe, loyalty naturally flows, by and large unquestioningly, to him and as with any tribe, an attack on the leader is attack on them all.  Similarly, any actions taken by Trump that weakens or hurts the other tribe must be good – the Republican, ostensibly conservative, tribe scores a win while the others lose.  Details about the supposed win be damned.

What it means

Such tribalism and a determination to defend the leader by the sheer virtue that the other side so dislikes him obviously hurts the country.  When politicians focus on forcing losses onto the other side, we end up with lousy policy created simply to hurt or anger a subset of the country.  Lawmakers don’t write bills to help the country as a whole; they write them to take away from the opposition.

It also means that we erode the strength of our democratic institutions.  Continually attacking the press because it criticizes the president has undermined faith in an institution that exists to help inform voters and hold politicians accountable for their actions.  Beyond the press, such anti-anti-Trumpism invites absurd candidates to run for office simply because their victory would really irk anti-Trumpers.

Democracy has always suffered from a demagogue problem, but throughout our history, fealty to the Constitution and not a political tribe has prevented such disastrous individuals from attaining power.  Now, that’s not the case: Increased tribalism, party polarization, and geographic sorting have all contributed to a degraded political system that’s susceptible to demagogues who emerge with rhetoric and ideas aimed at identity politics and really bothering the other side.  Since that now counts as a win, the most tribal voters – the most rabid partisans – now have every reason to seek out and support the candidates who will most bother the opposition.

So when populists and potential demagogues such as Kid Rock express interest in running for Senate – the upper chamber of what the Founders hoped would be the first branch among equals; the legislative body whose deliberations and grand oratory once commanded the respect of the nation and the world – rather than laughing at the very idea and condemning the political hobbyist to electoral nothingness, voters and the leaders from whom voters draw cues instead embrace the very idea and hope it will come to fruition because what could be better than angering and upsetting those who stand against you?

but her emails

An Assault on Reason and Reality

Donald Trump: An American in Name Only, Part 2

By now it should be overwhelmingly clear that Donald isn’t exactly a gifted reasoner.  His meandering thoughts and nonsensical arguments — if one can even give his ramblings that label — show a man incapable of basic rationality who largely bases his points of view off a world that doesn’t at all resemble reality.

In doing so, and given his voice’s volume, refusal to backtrack on his obvious lies, and now his position as president, Donald Trump parlays his shortcomings into those of the nation.  Whenever someone commands 46 percent of the vote and a base so rabid it ignores all words that don’t fawn in favor over their hero, that person has a frightening ability to shape the thoughts of others and to fundamentally change what a broad swath of the population believes.

Donald is doing just that.

Reason

“But her emails” has become a popular joke on the left precisely because it’s seemingly all Trump supporters and voters know how to rebut an argument.  Trump led them to believe that Hillary Clinton’s emails somehow showed a nefarious character secretly working to undermine American greatness by putting service members lives at risk, allowing foreign powers easy access to classified information, and exposing a woman, paradoxically, both so incompetent and yet so conniving and plotting as to have a private server.

Never mind that the Clinton email case never deserved the attention it received.

Never mind that Vice President Mike Pence used a personal email for work during his tenure as Indiana’s governor.

Never mind that Trump transition officials acted carelessly with sensitive information.

Never mind that Trump himself blurted out highly classified information to a foreign adversary simply to brag about all he’s told.

It doesn’t matter because Clinton had a personal email server and deleted 33,000 emails.  (Of course, they don’t realize she deleted personal emails.  That takes thought to understand.)

This is called “whataboutism,” a propaganda technique used to point out another side’s shortcomings, often when unable to defend your own point of view.  It perfectly describes how Trump and his supporters rationalize their beliefs.  Rather than defend Trump or his policies on their own terms, lawmakers and supporters simply say “well, what about [x]?”

(Interestingly, conservative outlets have already risen to the defense of whataboutism, a further example of the intellectual dishonesty and atrophy in the Trump-supporting right.)

We see this throughout the “healthcare” debate: No supporter of Trumpcare bothers to defend the policy on its merits; they instead say “what about Obamacare?  It’s completely failed.”

Trump himself frequently resorts to whataboutism on his Twitter account, ignoring and failing defend his shortcomings but saying “what about her emails?” or “what about Clinton receiving a debate question?” or “what about Obama?”

Those are neither arguments nor reason to support a politician and his policies.  But when actions, beliefs, and the president are so indefensible, it becomes natural to simply abandon reason and instead cling to Soviet propaganda techniques that arise only from being on the wrong side of history.

Reality

Trump’s campaign speeches — and even his “American carnage” inaugural address — painted a dying America beset by crime, riddled with terrorism, and at risk of losing its sovereignty to…someone, or something.  These speeches managed to convince supporters that the United States was burning and that we needed a strongman — even, perhaps, a slight authoritarian — to crackdown on those destroying this country in order to revive civility and American greatness.

The world Trump described and which his supporters began to see does not exist.

His speeches of imminent doom find no support in the reality of American life yet by continuing to push demonstrably false outlooks, Trump’s creating an alternate world in which he and his supporters live.  He then crafts — and his voters adamantly support — disastrous policies designed for another world, policies that are disastrous for our reality.

Take the murder rate.  Trump constantly says murder is at a 40 year high.  That’s simply not true.

murder rate

Or illegal immigrants, who Trump, in his very first speech as a candidate, labelled as “rapists” and “criminals.”  But that’s also not true.

Illegal immigrants have a lower rate of crime than the native population.

The reason for that should be clear: Always at risk of deportation, committing a crime would make such an action a near certainty.

Similarly, Trump and his supporters view sanctuary cities as liberal hellholes devoted to protecting illegal immigrant criminals.

In reality, sanctuary cities encourage undocumented immigrants to turn to local law enforcement without fear of deportation.  That makes communities safer.

Or take terrorism.  Trump sees an America at constant threat of being attacked by “radical Islamic terrorists” and wants to ban all Muslims from entering the country.  His most deplorable supporters simply want to ban Islam, no questions asked, and either deport or kill the Muslims living in America.

But terrorism hardly qualifies as a threat.  You’re more likely to die from furniture than you from a terrorist.likelihood of dying from terrorism

probability of terror attack

But that doesn’t stop Trump and his supporters from irrationally fearing 1.6 billion people, a feat of which people are capable only if they live in an alternate world.

Conclusion

Trump’s delusions and his supporters’ susceptibility to the rhetorical appeals of a demagogue leave all too many voters and American citizens ignoring reason and reality.  The dangers for democracy and our country cannot be overstated.

Politicians and voters no longer try to defend candidate or policy merits.  Instead, they point to a bogeyman and scream “WHAT ABOUT HER?!?!”  This requires no reason and no understanding of the issues at hand.  It leaves people vulnerable to irrational fears and biases that lead to unenlightened and wholly irrational decision making.

Similarly, creating and supporting policy based on lies endangers us all.  It forsakes addressing real problems with addressing non-existent ones contrived by a power-seeking candidate and which often wrongly vilify or target minority populations (scapegoats for the nation’s problems).  Policy comes from hate and fear rather than a desire to better our current reality.

And so we must resist these types of appeals.  We must truly rationalize our support for a candidate or policy with real arguments.  We must reach out to those caught up in a cult-like faction and try to return them and their thoughts to reality.

We must end this senseless and disastrous war on reason and reality.

donald trump free press

Donald Trump and The Free Press

Donald Trump: An American in Name Only, Part 1

President Donald Trump holds very few patriotic or American beliefs – unless ignorance and obtuseness now define the American character.  His principles don’t originate from natural rights or a devotion to liberty.  They stem from a malicious character hooded in hate, versed in vengeance, and shrouded in stupidity.

For a man whose oath of office calls for him to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States,” Trump deviates from the words and rights enshrined by our founding document at every twist and turn of his volatile presidency, a continuation of his assaults on the Constitution and democratic norms that so defined his campaign (and, embarrassingly, appeal).

Of all constitutional protections, Donald J. Trump has most assailed a First Amendment right integral to the creation of our country and its preservation: The free press.  We cannot understate the vital importance the free press plays in maintaining a healthy Republic.  Voters unversed in issues and unaware of candidate beliefs and character cannot be expected to make informed decisions.  Transparency, a fundamental democratic tenet, withers without a hounding press that demands information from officials, elected and otherwise, and holds administrations to account.

Perhaps Thomas Jefferson said it best.

“The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and 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. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.”

Trump’s disdain for the press knows no bounds.  He frequently dismisses valued news organizations as “fake news” simply because they publish articles critical of him and his presidency.  However, for all of his verbal attacks, and angry early-morning or late-night tweet tirades, Trump cannot point to specific instances of actual “fake news.”  The president, on whom the burden of proof falls, fails the first step of constructing a persuasive argument – supporting his assertion.

Most recently, Trump’s pointed to a retracted CNN article as evidence that network spews nonsense designed solely to degrade him.  But that obviously misses the mark.  CNN retracted its story and issued a humbling apology which the story’s subject accepted.

Three employees then resigned, a clear sign of journalistic integrity and accountability that demonstrates CNN commitment to providing its readers and viewers with the truth.  Its admission of error actually boosts its credibility: Rather than wrongly standing by its story and acting defiant in the face of evidence, it took actions to resolve a wrong and correct the record.  That’s integrity and the exact opposite of how a “fake news” network would react when confronted with its mistake.

Trump doesn’t realize that (or he does, but his frustrations with critical coverage still provoke him into fits of uncontrollable rage in which he lashes out with little regard for the deleterious effects he has on public discourse and the institutions that make democracy possible).

Instead, he retreats into the dens of Sean Hannity, Alex Jones, or Breitbart.  The former recently denigrated himself into the pits of hell by peddling the nonsensical and wholly debunked conspiracy relating to DNC staffer Seth Rich’s murder, alleging – without proof and in the face of official police statements and findings – that the Clintons had him murdered.  Fox, for its part, has done little to ensure its viewers and online readers understand that Hannity’s delusions, as with all delusions, fly in the face of all evidence.

Alex Jones, on whose show Donald Trump has spoken and who Trump called shortly after winning the presidency, lambasts 9/11 as an “inside job,” believes the government carried out the Sandy Hook shooting, and fervently promotes every other lunatic conspiracy imaginable.  His outlet has no integrity, no accountability, and no regard for the truth.  If anything should be classified as “fake news,” it’s InfoWars.  That doesn’t stop Trump from enjoying its content.

And, lastly, Breitbart News markets itself to white nationalists in an effort to corner the news market for avowed racists.  Its content either fabricates information or distorts in such a sensational way that context fades to oblivion and instead bestial and tribal mental processes control the brain and bring bigotry to its forefront.  Breitbart operates with racial motive and cares little for nuance or truth, especially truth that in any way undermines its nationalistic and borderline segregationist outlook.  Trump frequently tweets and praises the outlet.

Clearly, Trump doesn’t actually take issue with fake news (though he does enjoy hanging fake Time magazine covers in his golf resorts).  He takes issue with critical coverage.  Sean Hannity, Alex Jones, and Breitbart all wax poetic about the president and so Donald Trump ignores their journalistic malpractices and endorses their products.  But the likes of CNN, the New York Times, and Washington Post bother with the press’s actual purpose – guarding our liberty to ensure our Republic (to paraphrase Jefferson).

We must treat his actions seriously.  Trump’s vitriolic rhetoric – rhetoric echoed by his staff, favorable media outlets, and, most shamefully, some members of Congress – causes millions to, at best, doubt the press and, at worst, fall into the same derisions while simply ignoring information needed to understand the country and world.  This Trumpian assault hurts the country by undermining its bedrock.  It promotes ignorance and willing stupidity.  It’s an effort to subvert democracy to the statements of a deranged demagogue.

 

bernie sanders frontrunner

Is Bernie Sanders the 2020 Democratic Front-Runner? Not Yet.

Elizabeth Warren’s presence means there is no early front-runner.

Vox’s highly talented Matt Yglesias wrote a provocative and persuasive piece explaining why he believes Bernie Sanders stands as the Democrats’ 2020 front-runner.  To be sure, Sanders has a lot going for him: The 2016 runner-up has established a national brand with high name ID, rabid supporters willing to donate and volunteer, and a continued foot in the political circuit as he tours the country holding rallies for like-minded politicians and in hopes of advancing his primary legislative goal, universal healthcare.

However, Sanders also suffers from lasting animosity churned up during the 2016 campaign.  A number of Clinton supporters blame Sanders, at least in part, for Donald Trump’s upset victory.  They chastise him for not leaving the primary in the early spring months and not working hard enough to prevent his supporters from either staying at home or casting a third-party ballot on election day.  These critics hold some truth — Sanders should have eased himself from the national stage following Super Tuesday — but other points miss the mark.  Regardless, tensions exist.

But on top of lasting 2016 anger, old-age (he’ll be 78 come 2020), and policy ideas still to the left of many Democrats, Sanders is not the 2020 front-runner for one simple reason: Elizabeth Warren.

Warren running would complicate matters for Sanders

Naturally, we don’t yet know whether Warren will run, but her actions show someone interested in running for president.  She’s become a constant thorn in Trump’s side and has released a book and traveled the country promoting it.  Her standing among Democrats remains quite favorable.  From Warren’s actions stems “nevertheless, she persisted,” a ready-made slogan for Warren allies to promote a nascent candidacy.

Warren endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2016, but largely remained aloof of the primary.  As such, she earned no hatred or ill-feelings from members of the competing camps.  That would work to Warren’s benefit if Democratic primary voters hope to put 2016 behind them.

Building on that point, Warren could be seen as a compromise candidate.  Warren’s considered more moderate than Bernie Sanders, though her congressional voting record actually places her to the left of the proclaimed democratic socialist.  She appeals to the fervent Sanders supporters; more moderate Democrats would likely prefer her to Sanders and be willing to accept her as an alternate to more establishment Democrats such as Cory Booker or Kirsten Gillibrand.

If Warren runs, she would fracture the Sanders coalition while also putting pressure on moderates.  Her lane would be that of compromise: Peal voters from the middle and wings.  By nature, that would preclude any one candidate from becoming a front-runner as the ideological lanes would become blurred as the moderate, left, and compromise candidates draw similar numbers.  Sanders would be especially hurt as the party’s left-wing does not yet claim a majority of primary voters — unity would be essential to mount a victorious campaign.

Without Warren, Sanders would be the front-runner

Should Warren choose not to run, Sanders would indeed be the front-runner.  His lane would be clear from notable challengers.  The logic also works the other way — if Sanders decide to forego another run, Warren would assume front-runner status, largely by virtue of name ID (Biden would pose another challenge, but his centrism would likely alienate too many voters despite his endearment to the party).

It should be no surprise that two years before the 2020 campaign enters its first leg we have no front-runner.  Nor will we have one until early 2019 when Warren, Sanders, and others decide whether to jump into the race.  Until then, jockeying will continue as party leaders try to establish their brand and win the invisible the primary.