Monthly Archives: May 2017

tulsi gabbard

Tulsi Gabbard is a Tyrant Apologist

Tulsi Gabbard Has No Place in Washington

Tulsi Gabbard should face a primary challenge.  She is no liberal, certainly no Democrat, and while she masquerades as a progressive, her record speaks otherwise.  In fact, Gabbard’s actions reveal that she is a renegade with a cause celebrated only by tyrants.

The congresswoman’s secret trip to Syria perfectly exemplifies her foolishness and affability to brutal authoritarianism.  She failed to alert government leaders that she would visit a country with which we do not have diplomatic relations; upon her return she refused to say whether she met with strongman Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (it turns out she did, which, given that her positions are dramatically at odds with U.S. foreign policy, might have run afoul of the Logan Act); now, she won’t disclose who funded the trip, signing and submitting incomplete ethics forms.  Her conclusion from the trip?  The war-criminal should remain in power as only his repressive regime can restore order to a region his undemocratic, illiberal actions helped destabilize in the first place.

Gabbard went to Syria on a “fact-finding” mission.  Why, then, did she allow the trip to be curated entirely by government figures?  Why did she allow to accompany her two of Assad’s henchmen, who hail from a virulently anti-Semitic party with a history of fascism?  After viewing a Syria portrayed solely from the government’s point of view, Gabbard returned with renewed belief in Assad’s beneficence – an American falling victim to Assad’s propaganda (the same propaganda used by dictators throughout the world to portray democratic societies as tyrannical or otherwise flawed and repressive).

In case you’re wondering, yes, this is the same Bashar al-Assad who dropped chemical bombs on his own people.  Yes, it’s the same Assad whose massacre of Aleppo generated thousands of refugees and gave us images of the war-torn city and injured children that tug at one’s heartstrings.  She, like Vladimir Putin (Assad’s ally in Aleppo’s slaughter) and Donald Trump, wants to see the same Assad that brutally cracked down on all dissent, on those aligned – however loosely – with perceived opposition remain at Syria’s helm.

It’s little wonder that Steve Bannon, alleged anti-Semite and former executive at white nationalist site Breitbart, takes a fancy to Gabbard: Like Trump, her foreign policy inherently views Islam as a terrorism problem and her solutions involve maintaining dictatorial regimes.  For her part, Gabbard, the lone House Democrat to vote against a resolution condemning Assad for his crimes, also bucked her party by refusing to sign a letter urging Trump to fire Steve Bannon, a senior adviser who nihilistically views war with China as inevitable and already thinks we’re in a global conflict with Islam.

Gabbard’s populist roots – the aspiring child of demagoguery – find her favor in the White House even while lending legitimacy and support for authoritarian regimes.  What proclaimed progressive can look into the eyes of a refugee and say “I stand with your oppressor?”  Our leaders need to stand up to dictators and urge democracy’s shining light to spread across all corners of the globe (and this does not necessarily entail military force, though presenting that false choice bolsters Gabbard’s weak arguments).  At a time when the White House wants to strengthen tyrants – when far-right European parties a step removed from power wish the same – authoritarian apologists must not walk the halls of Congress.

Hawaiian voters must hold Tulsi Gabbard accountable for her actions and undemocratic (and certainly not progressive) viewpoints.  Someone – a real Democrats who understands the intricacies of the 21st Century economy and who believes that a (small-l) liberal world order in which a society of states exists without the repressive hand of dictators promotes stability and peace – must primary challenge Tulsi Gabbard.

impeach trump

8 Reasons to Impeach Trump

Congress should immediately impeach Trump

Here are all of Donald Trump’s constitutional violations and other high crimes and misdemeanors – in other words, here are the reasons Congress should immediately impeach Trump.

1. Foreign Emoluments Clause

Article 1, Section 9, Clause 8: “[N]o Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them [the United States], shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”

Any market transaction – regardless of “fair” price – from which an employee or stakeholder benefits financially constitutes an emolument, as our Founders understood and used the word.

Corporations owned by foreign governments fall under the Foreign Emoluments Clause, as do foreign government agencies and diplomats spending foreign government money.  Even if they do not pay above the fair market rate for their leases or rooms, the definition of “emolument” covers the transaction and, as the money originates from a foreign government and Trump, as a financial stakeholder in the Trump Organization, ultimately receives part of it.

Donald Trump’s refusal to divest himself from his sprawling, global businesses that frequently interact with (agents of) foreign governments means he has violated the Foreign Emoluments Clause since his first day in office.  A few examples include:

  1. The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, a massive financial entity largely controlled by the Chinese government, rents space in Trump Tower New York.
  2. Abu Dhabi’s government tourism agency rents from a Trump-owned building.
  3. The Trump Hotel DC has drawn international visitors as well as diplomats and other foreign agents who book rooms at the president’s hotel in hopes of currying his favor.

Congress should immediately impeach Trump for violating a clause so serious that in 1810, a constitutional amendment stripping the citizenship from anyone receiving a foreign emolument fell one state short of ratification.  That state chose not to ratify the amendment because legislators found it redundant given the existing Foreign Emoluments Clause.  The potential for the president to be corrupted by foreign actors – or in any way be subject to a conflict of interest that causes the president to act without regard for the country’s best interest – greatly worried our Founders (see Federalist No. 22).  We should not take this impeachable offense lightly.

2. Domestic Emoluments Clause

Article 2, Section 2, Clause 7: “The President shall, at stated Times, receive for his Services, a Compensation, which shall neither be encreased [sic] nor diminished during the Period for which he shall have been elected, and he shall not receive within that Period any other Emolument from the United States, or any of them.”

In other words, the president’s compensation for his duties may not exceed the predefined presidential salary.  The president cannot receive any other emoluments from the government, thus preventing government officials at the federal and state level from tapping department or local coffers to buy favor with the president, causing the president to be biased in favor of certain states (much in the same way the Foreign Emoluments Clause seeks to prevent the president from being biased towards foreign interests).

Steven Mnuchin (Secretary of the Treasury), Linda McMahon (who heads the Small Business Administration), and Gary Cohn (economic adviser) all call the Trump DC hotel home during the work week.  They are paid by the government; they use that pay to live in the Trump Hotel; Donald Trump has a financial stake in the Trump Hotel and profits from each dollar spent in the hotel.  Therefore, Trump receives an emolument from the United States above and beyond his presidential salary (and also unfairly increases the demand for his hotel because patrons may stay there – and be tempted to pay more – in hopes of spotting Trump or a cabinet secretary).  Impeach Trump for this constitutional infringement.

3. Obstruction of Justice

Donald Trump fired then-FBI Director James Comey because he “faced great pressure because of Russia,” which he figured had been “taken off” by dismissing the actor leading the Trump-Russia investigation (to boot: He gave this reasoning to Russia officials).

Comey’s firing occurred not long after Trump begged Comey to stop investigating Michael T. Flynn, former National Security Adviser.  “Let this go,” pleaded Trump, “he is a good guy.”  Furthermore, Trump had reportedly grown ever-more incensed that Comey refused to support Trump’s obviously false allegation that President Barack Obama wiretapped him.  Trump repeatedly asked for Comey’s sworn allegiance, which Comey – having sworn his loyalty to the Constitution, not a fallible politician – refused to give.  This, too, angered Trump and, combined with Comey’s devout interest in the Trump-Russia investigation (rather than identifying administration leakers), led Trump to fire the director.

Clearly, doing so represents obstruction of justice: Infuriated that Comey would not back down from the Trump-Russia investigation, drop the FBI’s investigation into Flynn, or swear loyalty to the president, Trump attempted to kill the probe by removing its head.  This obstruction well aligns with earlier administration actions:

  • The Trump administration selectively leaked classified information to Devin Nunes, who originally headed the House investigation into Russia’s 2016 influence, which Nunes then leaked to the press and public, hoping to stall the investigation. Nunes had to recuse himself.
  • Trump and his aides tried to block former acting Attorney General Sally Yates (whom Trump fired) from testifying before Congress. Yates, as would be revealed, cautioned Trump that Russians had compromised Flynn; Trump ignored those warnings and kept Flynn in the White House.  Naturally, Trump didn’t want such damaging information to be revealed, so he tried to block Yates from sharing her story with Congress and the American people.

Impeach Trump for doing his best to hinder investigations into his campaign and preventing those involved with the investigations from delivering correct information or testifying before Congress.

4. Witness Intimidation 

Worried that recently-fired James Comey would contradict publicly made statements, Donald Trump threatened to release White House tapes of conversations between the two actors (we still do not know whether these tapes exist).  Doing so constitutes witness intimidation as Comey, whose memos had recently leaked to media outlets, would almost certainly be called to testify before the House and Senate (indeed, not long thereafter, he was).  This threat, likely empty, represented an attempt to silence a potential witness in order to obstruct justice, preserve a narrative, and not be contradicted by someone more credible than himself.

This follows Trump’s attempts to silence Sally Yates and, before her testimony, more tweeted threats that amount to intimidation and witness discrediting.  It should hardly be a surprise, then, that Donald Trump – against direction from the White House Counsel – reached out to Michael Flynn, witness and subject in an FBI investigation, urging him to “stay strong.”  Such a message perhaps intimidates Flynn to silence; regardless of its result, Trump tampered with a potential witness to reassert his own interests.  Congress need not tolerate such behavior – the legislative branch should impeach Trump for his attempts to silence, intimidate, or otherwise tamper with (potential) witnesses.

5. Abuse of Power

 The actions described above constitute an egregious abuse of power: While the president of course has authority to fire the FBI Director, doing so in the midst of an FBI investigation into the president’s campaign and top aides politicizes the agency and shows that Trump believes he is above the law – or at least that he should be.  Impeach Trump for abusing the powers of the president.

6. Violating the First and Fourteenth Amendments

Trump’s initial travel ban executive order, since struck down by court and abandoned by the administration, would have given refugee preference to Christians (necessarily at the expense of Muslims).  Preferring Christians to Muslims violates the First Amendment – “the clearest command of the Establishment Clause is that one religious denomination cannot be officially preferred over another” (Larson v. Valente).  The same case holds that the government “may not aide or oppose any religion,” constitutional law clearly at odds with Trump’s original desire to give Christian refugees precedence vis a vis Muslims and spells out, in six simple words, why Trump’s campaign promise to bar Muslims from entering the country would never stand constitutional scrutiny.  Even though courts blocked the original travel ban, Trump still signed an unconstitutional order that ran against the First Amendment. That’s grounds for impeachment.

“An executive order or law displays unconstitutional animus and thus violates the Equal Protection Clause when it has the ‘purpose and effect of disapproval of a class recognized and protected by state law,’ as Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the Supreme Court in U.S. v. Windsor” (Corey Brettschneider, Politico Magazine).  The intent of Trump’s travel ban couldn’t be clearer: Prohibit as many Muslims as possible from entering the country.  Such an interpretation, of course, finds support throughout Trump’s campaign and even from top Trump supports.  Rudy Giuliani stated in an interview that prior to signing the first travel ban, Trump called him in hopes of advice on how to make the campaign’s Muslim ban legal.  The resultant ban, then, emerged as an attempt to make legal a blanket religious ban, one obviously motivated by animus.  That, according to the principles laid out in Windsor, violates the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

7. Unfaithfully Executing Laws

Realizing that a blanket Muslim ban would surely be struck down by the courts, Trump unveiled the two immigration executive orders that trade a religious ban for a country-specific one.  However, in doing so and in hoping to executive such an order, Trump violated the 1965 Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA), which forbids discrimination on the basis of national origin.  He knowingly signed an executive order that broke a legitimately enacted law; enforcing the executive order necessarily mean failing to enforce the 1965 INA – the two cannot coexist.  In hoping to do so, Trump violated Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution, which holds that the president “shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”  Impeach Trump for neglecting to do the president’s most import duty.

8. Inciting Violence

Three protesters have sued Donald Trump for inciting violence at one of his riots.  Recently, a federal judge ruled it “plausible” that Trump “incited a riot.”  At the rally, Trump screamed to his crowd: “Get ‘em out of here!” in reference to peaceful protesters.  Such charged rhetoric led to violence in other rallies, too, often driven by Trump’s own words (see: Mashable).  Trump glorified campaign violence, going so far as to encourage, in a likely form of stochastic terrorism, for “Second Amendment people” to stop Hillary Clinton from taking their firearms (which she obviously had no intent to do).

As CNN reports, “Judge Hale reiterated that Bamberger began pushing the protesters on Trump’s order and that as Trump’s supporters began shoving protesters, the would-be president said, “Don’t hurt ’em.”

“Presumably,” the judge wrote in dismissing Trump’s free speech defense (incitement is not speech), “if Trump had intended for protesters to be escorted out by security personnel, Trump would have instructed the intervening audience members to stop what they were doing, rather than offering guidance on how to go about it.”

In fact, the two attendees who attacked the protesters “blame Trump for their behavior at the rally, saying he encouraged the violence by telling the crowd to “get ’em out of here,” referring to protesters. At earlier rallies Trump had promised to pay his supporters’ legal fees if they got in trouble,” a clear indication that Trump appreciated and supported efforts to violently put down protests (why else would he be willing to foot the legal bills?).

Trump’s a threat to protesters and others seeking to exercise their right to free speech. Impeach Trump for encouraging violence and the suppression of dissent.

fake news

What is Fake News?

How is fake news so hard to understand? 

Fake news has become the newest political buzzword for casual observers and presidents awake at 3am furiously tweeting rather than doing something productive with their time, such as, say, reading policy briefings (though to be fair, Fox News doesn’t yet have any 3am shows to occupy the simple minds of these presidents).  Donald Trump frequently hurls the word; his supporters, not to be outdone by the Monkey-in-Chief, take to Twitter and decry anything they dislike as “#FAKENEWS.”  Of course, in doing so, Trump and his cult demonstrate they fundamentally misunderstand the term and risk our Republic’s prosperity and very existence by demeaning and dismissing the writing of their discontent.

What is Fake News

Discerning fake news should be world’s easiest endeavor.  Fake news, by its very definition, puts forth demonstrable and obvious lies as facts and then typically uses these fictitious points to ramble into a delusional and often malicious article meant to denigrate a politician’s standing.  This is, presumably, a definition agreed to by all – for how could it not be?  Determining “demonstrable and obvious lies” is a little more difficult, but should still be so easy and obvious that a sophisticated gorilla could accomplish such a task.  A story from an unknown blog or site (an objectively disreputable source) that asserts as fact, for instance, a candidate’s deathly illness or a vast conspiracy about pedophilia and rape without any sources is fake news designed only to prey on ignorance and cognitive bias to slander a leader.  That’s fake news.

What isn’t Fake News

Stories from reputable sites that cite “unnamed” sources are not fake news.  Those “unnamed sources” are administration officials speaking candidly on the condition of anonymity so their sharing information doesn’t result in their being fired.  News organizations – and this means the oft and ignorantly reviled “mainstream media” – have set standards for “unnamed sources”: Journalists, of course, know the name of the source (as do editors) and such stories are corroborated with a second source to prevent misinformation from being given.  Even if the sources give incorrect information, the story is not fake.  It doesn’t seek to destroy character for pleasure or political aim.  It conveys to the public information as given to the organization by a well-placed source(s).

Similarly, opinion pieces that analyze motive, outcome, or make commentary based on accepted facts are not fake news.  They couldn’t be because they are opinions built off facts.  Opinions can’t be fake and these stories are not portrayed as absolute fact.  There’s a clear distinction between a journalistic piece and an opinion piece.  One conveys facts and does not delve into subjective speculation; the other does.  That people point to opinion pieces as evidence of a source being fake news shows our society is plagued by the morally and intellectually bankrupt.

And to that end, those who either mistakenly or purposefully accept fake news while dismissing actual news as fake for political ends – essentially what the president does on a daily basis – endangers political society.  A Republic relies on a well-informed populace to make informed decisions when electing leaders.  News organizations, the Fourth Estate, play an integral role in a Republic by supplying the electorate with needed information.  Dismissing this information and encouraging others to do so as well means voters will make ill-informed decisions – especially when they satiate their appetite for news with sources that manipulate and lie.  Ignorant voters opt for demagogues or other authoritarian inspired strongmen who act for sake of power and self-interest.  That’s self-evident and it’s self-evident, too, that electing enemies of a Republic endangers the entire regime.  History is our lesson: Democracy dies in darkness and an assault on knowledge and information spearheaded by the President of the United States and carried forth by millions of willing minions does not portend well for the future of our country.

democrats 2020

Democrats 2020: Who Might Run?

For Democrats, 2020 comes with a wealth of options.

With no heir apparent and no clear national leadership, many politicians — and even some political hobbyists — will run for the Democrats’ 2020 presidential nomination.  The list of potential candidates includes a handful of representatives, many senators, a sizable number of current Democratic governors, as well as other (long-standing) party leaders.

Of course, not all will run or catch fire with the primary electorate.  Some may spend years courting Democrats for 2020 aspirations only to see little party and activist support, forcing the potential candidate to abandon his or her plans.  Others may have a bleak outlook, but will run anyway in hopes of getting lucky.

The table below lists potential candidates for Democrats in 2020.  Aspirants are listed by current position (in order of strength); the last column provides a subjective initial standing, to be updated at various points in time.

Democrats 2020 Potential Candidates

RepresentativesSenatorsGovernorsOther Party LeadersPolitical Hobbyists
Seth MoultonElizabeth WarrenJerry BrownJoe BidenMark Cuban
Keith EllisonBernie SandersTerry McAuliffeJason KanderOprah Winfrey
Joaquin CastroCory BookerAndrew CuomoGavin NewsomTom Steyer
Tim RyanKirsten GillibrandJohn HickenlooperMartin O’MalleyHoward Schultz
Tulsi GabbardTim KaineJay InsleeXavier BecerraMark Zuckerberg
Sherrod BrownJohn Bel EdwardsDeval PatrickSheryl Sandberg
Kamala HarrisTom WolfThomas PerezGeorge Clooney
Mark WarnerSteve BullockAntonio VillaraigosaCaroline Kennedy
 Michael BennetDan MalloyJulian CastroJamie Dimon
Amy KlobucharMark DaytonEric Garcetti
Chris MurphyJack MarkellMitch Landrieu
Al FrankenJay Nixon
Brian SchatzAlan Grayson
Chris van Hollen

Top 15

1. Elizabeth Warren

elizabeth warren 2020

Pros: She leads early polls, is viewed quite favorably by Democrats, and has strong name recognition.  Furthermore, she’s a thorn in Trump’s side, ensuring she stays in the national dialogue.

Cons: If she and Bernie Sanders run, the Democratic Party’s left-wing will be divided, perhaps preventing both Warren and Sanders  from seizing the nomination.

2. Bernie Sanders

bernie sanders 2020


Pros: Rabid support among his base and a proven ability to raise vast amounts of money.  Sanders has emerged as a leading voice in the party that could help him in the Democrats’ 2020 race.

Cons: Many Clinton supporters partially blame Sanders  for her 2016 loss.  Such lasting animosity could divide the party and lead to a faction bitterly fighting a Sanders candidacy.  He might also be too far to the left of the party to clinch the nomination.

3. Joe Biden

joe biden 2020


Pros: Loved by all and has long expressed interest in again running for president.

Cons: He’s old and the Democrats’ 2020 choice might want to contrast with Trump’s age.  Biden has run for president multiple times and has never gained traction.  Might be too moderate for a party quickly moving leftward.

4. Cory Booker

cory booker 2020


Pros: Young, energetic, and frequently discussed as a 2020 candidate.  Has strong initial name ID and already has die-hard supporters.

Cons: Already has enemies who view him as too close to large corporations.  Not yet polished on the stump or as a candidate (his first Senate campaign inspired few).

5. Terry McAuliffe

terry mcauliffe 2020


Pros: Proven fundraiser, hails from a swing state, and clearly wants it.  Would be a strong candidate from the right wing of the party.

Cons: A close Clinton ally, many view McAuliffe as overly friendly to businesses and all too moderate.

6. Kirsten Gillibrand

kirsten gillibrand 2020


Pros: Loved by many, would quickly gain many endorsers from the Senate, and is positioned well as compromise candidate that splits moderate and left-wing wants.

Cons: Not yet nationally known and hasn’t indicated an interest in running.

7. Tim Kaine

tim kaine 2020


Pros: Swing-state senator and former governor; nationally known from the 2016 campaign.  A folksy gentleman with an impressive record of public service and someone who could campaign on ending the imperial presidency — an important contrast to Donald Trump’s actions and views of the executive.

Cons: Moderate, an uninspiring campaigner, and doesn’t seem to have a desire to be president.

8. Jerry Brown

jerry brown 2020


Pros: Successful governor of the nation’s most populous state.  Track record of getting things done.

Cons: Old, has run for president multiple times and fizzled during each campaign.  Might be considered too centrist/bipartisan.

9. Sherrod Brown

sherrod brown 2020


Pros: Young, populist, represents a swing state, is quite liberal.

Cons: Not well known and has a tough 2018 reelection that would hamper his maneuverings in the Democrats’ 2020 “invisible primary.”

10. Kamala Harris

kamala harris 2020


Pros: Young, energetic, and already a strong voice in the Senate where she has earned the accolades of many liberals through her tough questioning in Senate hearings.

Cons: Inexperienced — come 2020, she won’t have served a full term in the Senate.

11. Mark Warner

mark warner 2020


Pros: Swing-state senators continuously in the news as the ranking member of the Senate Intel Committee.  Wealthy and can raise money.

Cons: Potentially too moderate; couldn’t rally establishment support in the early days of the 2008 invisible primary.  Might instead strive for Senate leadership.

12. Seth Moulton

seth moulton 2020


Pros: Youthful and liberal.  Focused on driving an economic message.

Cons: Not a faithful colleague — quickly turns on Democrats who lose, offering lousy campaign analysis and distorting happenings.

13. Keith Ellison

keith ellison 2020


Pros: Appeals to the Sanders wing of the party.

Cons: No longer an elected official and has a past that will attract many oppo dumps.  Is Muslim, which unfortunately might hurt him in a general election.

14. Jason Kander

jason kander 2020


Pros: Ran one of the best 2016 Senate campaigns.  Loved by many.  Youthful and energetic; a continued voice in the party with a strong social media presence.

Cons: Lost his one statewide race.

15. Mark Cuban

mark cuban 2020Pros: Wealthy.  Might Democrats want a loud-mouthed businessman of their own to take on Trump?

Cons: Brash and cocky political novice.


congressional republicans trump

Republicans: It’s Okay to Oppose Trump

Really.  You Can Do It.

Congressional Republicans have, throughout Donald Trump’s norm-destroying presidential campaign and four-month presidential tenure, managed to stand by his side, offering weak defenses for his petty, dangerous, and abusive actions.  They stick with talking points Trump himself dispels in tweets or interviews.  They run from reporters when reporters question them about the most recent Trump scandal.  They bend over backwards to protect and defend a man best understand as a low-information voter.

But why?  Why do congressional Republicans continue to shield Trump?

Trump, of course, has no interest in the Republican party.  He has no interest in conservative policies, save slashing taxes on the wealthy so he and his children can further avoid paying their civic dues.  There’s no doubt that Trump is indifferent to the very real plight of many Americans.  It’s easy to understand Trump’s desire: Self-enrichment.

Unlike his predecessors, Trump refused to release his tax returns.  Nor did he divest from his business interests (and neither has Ivanka, a handbag designer who finds herself tasked with overseeing foreign policies that affect countries – namely, China – in which she has extensive business interests), resulting in doubtless foreign and domestic emoluments clause violations.

Trump visits his own properties every three days in an effort to drive up their value and membership costs as members would have the chance to see and speak with the President of the United States.

Why defend this behavior?  Why demean yourself to protect a man acting out of self-interest?

Republicans, are you scared of Trump’s bite?  I assure you, his teeth are weak and while his bark may be loud, those who fail to speak softly rarely carry a big stick.

Take, for instance, his attitude towards the House Freedom Caucus.  After his firth healthcare bill failed, he angrily took to Twitter and viciously attacked HFC members.  But just a few weeks later, he directed Paul Ryan and other legislative leaders to give the HFC everything it wanted in the healthcare bill.  Trump entirely conceded, despite his vitriol.  There were no repercussions – they got everything they wanted.

Do you fear being primary challenged?  You shouldn’t.  Trump only received 42 percent of the competitive primary vote and no congressional candidates who contort themselves to fit his mold have succeeded.

It must not be forgot that while Trump may now be popular with Republicans, he barely skated by in the primary, receiving only a plurality of the votes and not topping 50 percent in states until his competitors dropped out.  He’s not popular when given another conservative choice.

This is further proved by Trump-esque congressional candidates all failing to win.  A Trump wannabe primary-challenged Paul Ryan and though he earned the ardent support of Breitbart and alt-right members everywhere, Ryan utterly vanquished him in the primary.  Kansas Republicans had an opportunity to choose a Trumpian candidate to run for a recently vacated House seat, yet they demurred.  The Trump wing of the party may have seized the presidential nomination, but it is unable to overthrow sitting representatives and senators.  You have nothing to fear.

The Constitution Matters.

It’s time to put the Constitution above your party.  Trump has abused his power by firing the man leading an investigation against his campaign because that man refused to swear loyalty to the president.  He endangered US sources and future intelligence acquirement by sharing highly classified information with a foreign adversary – an adversary that meddled in our election to boost Donald Trump!  He routinely breaks norms and undermines faith in democratic institutions by, for instance, comparing our intelligence agencies to Nazi Germany, accusing (with no evidence or semblance of credibility) his predecessor of illegal wiretaps, and diminishing the very necessary free press by referring to it as “fake news,” rhetoric which serves only to promote willful ignorance among his base.

Our Republic depends on congressional Republicans checking Trump’s power.  Why let him abuse and consolidate power; right now, all that’s stopping Trump from fundamentally challenging our system is his easy distractibility and fundamental incompetence.  But why rely on that?  Why not proactively work to defend the government created by the Founding Fathers?

You swore to uphold the Constitution of the United States.  So do so.  Don’t let a chauvinist brought to politics only by hobby and hopes of boosting himself undermine the very document you claim to treasure and have promised to defend and protect.

It’s okay.  You can do it.

democratic demagoguery

The Road to Democratic Demagoguery

Anti-party reforms welcome demagogues

Our Constitution’s intricate separation of power, its checks and balances both between governing branches and between the government and the people, and republican emphasis emerged from the Founding Fathers’ fear of direct democracy and majoritarian temptations.  They purposefully designed a Republic and left its maintaining to posterity (“a Republic, if you can keep it”).  On that front, we have largely failed – democratizing reforms, including the direct election of senators and primary elections to choose party nominees, redistributed political power to the masses, leaving government susceptible to flaring passions and fleeting factions.  That, by nature, encourages demagoguery.  Political aspirants need only appeal to emotions to rile and form a majority which they can ride to party nominations and, thanks to strong partisanship, general election contention.  Democratic demagoguery, then, once attained will be as dangerous as its right-winged counterpart.

The Republican Party has succumbed to demagogic temptations by nominating Donald Trump.  Democrats, though behind many of the democratization initiatives, have thus far avoided descending into the irrational throes of a malevolent actor.  But that might not always be the case.  The recent assault on DNC and party legitimacy, launched by Bernie Sanders’ quixotic 2016 presidential bid and carried on by the frothing mass of his most die-hard supporters, threatens to further democratize the party and leave it vulnerable to a presidential hopeful who stokes the redistributive and vindictive passions lit by Sanders himself.  In other words, by working to delegitimize the national party and build class-based animosity and distrust, Bernie Sanders has set the Democratic Party – an entity with which he doesn’t even affiliate – down the road to Democratic demagoguery.

That democratization invariable increases the risk of demagoguery is readily evident for as Alexander Hamilton noted in Federalist No. 1, “paying an obsequious court to the people commenc[es] demagogues and end[s in] tyrants.”  This is not surprising: Few in a fully democratic electorate have the time, will, ability, or interest to learn, in depth, about all political issues a district faces.  True following the American Revolution, such a statement is even truer today as politics competes with a near-infinite supply of other time-consumers, ranging from sports and movies to bars and books.  Add to that a seemingly ever-increasing number of issues on the ballot in the form of initiatives, referendums, candidates for offices many don’t know exist and it becomes incredibly difficult for the entire electorate to master politics.  And so they don’t, relying instead on cues from those who specialize in the field.  Unfortunately for those who eschew demagogues and the temptations of passion, relying on authority can quickly lead voters astray should the leading figure act to manipulate interests, push falsehoods, and legitimize ignorance or bigotry.

A Well-Designed System

Unlike the Republicans, the Democrats erected roadblocks – well, hurdles – that make it challenging for a demagogue to overcome the party’s interest.  Superdelegates, for one, have no obligation to vote for the delegate leader.  Fearing a demagogue or other potential nominee dangerous to the party or country, superdelegates can block a nomination, throwing it to the convention floor, or put another candidate over the top (assuming, of course, the candidate does not attain a majority of delegates).  Democratic demagoguery can thus be avoided.  There are not enough superdelegates to single-handedly decide the nominee or bolster an “establishment” candidate that simply flounders through the primary.  Supderdelegates can make a difference, but only at the end of reasonably close contests.

Secondly, Democratic caucuses and primaries are proportional.  There are no winner-take-all contests.  Plurality candidates would struggle to earn a majority of delegates – similarly, other candidates would have little incentive to drop out as an insurgent demagogue would not necessarily win the nomination prior to the convention.

Third, some states hold closed primaries or caucuses (the same is true on the Republican side).  This encourages voters to take an active political step – affiliating with a party – that increases allegiance with the organization and, through that allegiance, forms (ideally) a lasting coalition in which voters are not just mobilized by temporary arousals, but also with an eye toward the party’s long-term health, which a demagogue might endanger.  Bernie Sanders and his supporters have attacked the first and last of these procedures.

How Democratic Demagoguery Arrives

The Sanders wing of the Democratic Party hopes to further democratize presidential selection by eliminating superdelegates and opening the caucuses and primaries to the entire voting-age population.  Both ideas have the potential to imperil the Democratic Party, especially given that reform-empowered voters have already shown a willingness to embrace, with little question, far-from-center rhetoric and ideology.  Removing superdelegates vanquishes the party from its own nominating affair – no longer would party elites, workers, officeholders, and elder statesmen have a say in who represents their party atop the ballot.  Without the presumably tempering influence of such partisans, Democratic presidential nominations would be left to that which feared the Founders: Direct popular whim.  John Adams claimed that popular rule “soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself.  There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”  There’s no immediate reason why this statement shouldn’t apply to parties.  The Republicans, though victorious, might have effectively killed or at least thoroughly poisoned the party with Trump’s nomination and election.  Removing superdelegates would only increase the chances that a mischievous and momentary majority within the Democratic Party could doom the entity to history’s disgraces.

Similarly, opening the primaries to those who care little about the party as whole and instead act to satisfy immediate interests without regard to the party’s long-term standing risks demagoguery.  Independents, contrary to public opinion, are not moderates; they’re closet partisans who often inhabit the ideological wings and vote for far-right or far-left candidates.  In contested open primaries, Donald Trump won 12 of 17 contests (or 71%) whereas in contested closed contests, he won ­13 of 22 contests, or 59% (data from Ballotpedia).  On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton carried self-identified Democrats by 27 points while losing independents by 31 (per FiveThirtyEight).  Open primaries allow ideological wingers – those most prone to a demagogue who legitimizes and furthers those viewpoints – to challenge and perhaps emerge victorious over the staid center.  In short, it eliminates another potential party defense against demagogues.

Don’t Encourage Demagogues

Combined, these desired changes – eliminating superdelegates and thus profound party influence in its own nominating affair as well as opening all primaries to independent voters with no attachment to the party’s long-term health and standing – erode republican institutions that, in a sense, protect voters from their primal selves.  It’s worth pointing out that these reforms arise from perceived (though non-existent) DNC corruption and unfounded belief in a “rigged” primary.  These themes themselves have been pushed by demagogues (Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders)!  Clearly, it’s a self-serving cycle: Diminish the party’s standing in order to decentralize the nominating affair and open the door to demagogic victory.

To avoid following the Republicans down the path to charlatan-led extremism, to avoid Democratic demagoguery, Democrats must recognize that while republican institutions do not fully empower they electorate, the checks on popular temptations serve the party itself and the country as a whole.  For, as Alexander Hamilton so eloquently said: “We are now forming a Republican form of government. Real Liberty is not found in the extremes of democracy, but in moderate governments. If we incline too much to democracy, we shall soon shoot into a monarchy, or some other form of dictatorship.”  Let the parties that control our government follow those same guidelines.

birth of a republic

The Birth of a Republic

Resisting the Demagogue

Democracy exists as a paradox: Only through unfettered democracy do the demos, or people, have absolute sovereignty, yet it is precisely through total political control that democracy invades and destroys the sovereignty of the demos, for democracy’s death is endemic unto itself.  Only the birth of a Republic prevents the demos’ destruction.

The demos bring about their own subordination by falling prey to the hunting demagogue.  Demagogues are ruthless predators – constantly prowling unwitting individuals through whom ambition can manifest itself in power, the demagogue can easily seize support in parties and countries with institutions ill-designed and ill-prepared to stand resolute against the fiery passions of a demos ignited by the thrill of rhetoric or the promises of a time deemed lost whose return the demagogue, and only the demagogue, can promise, either in or outside the rule of law and long-accepted norms.

This demagogue feasts on the susceptible (truly on the demos, for the word, as understood in its Greek origin, applied to the low- and middle-class rabble) and uses them simply as tools.  Promises of grandeur, of a nation again made great or an empire rekindled, are made insofar as they align with power’s seizure and will be followed only to the extent that their enactment furthers the power and/or riches of the enterprising demagogue.  But the demos, whose connection with a constitution – written or unwritten – and liberal political values is weak, at best, either overlook, accept, or otherwise don’t realize the dangerous ends to which the demagogue aspires.  Human fallibility destroys democracy.  We treat democratic politics as special, as a beloved ideal that brings responsibility to the empowered demos and requires logic, research, and commitment to age-old values.  But while we herald the idea, we fail to follow through with the actions necessary for pure democracy to thrive.  So a cult of personality, an aura of strength, redemption, and populist power, enthralls the demos.  Emotional appeals rise above their logical counterparts.  Add to emotional susceptibility the vilification of the undesired – of minorities whose threat (often imagined) the demos assume prevents national glory – and the demagogue rides a swell of devoted popular uproar to electoral strength and political victory.

Without institutions to curtail the passions of the demos, either by hindering the demagogue’s ascent or removing the demos from direct power, demagogues can easily rise to power – in fact, in poorly designed systems, the demagogue need not even acquire majority support to sweep into power.  Once at the government’s helm, the demagogue can enact campaign promises that almost by nature hurt opponents, for demagogues may enjoy the love of many, but by that very virtue, encourages the hate of others.  Those who hate the demagogue – the demagogue’s political enemies – are often cast as an amorphous other by the demagogue, which builds popular support for the “other’s” oppression.  The demagogue, with eyes towards consolidated power backed by the passions of a large faction, then moves to silence his critics and dissidents.  Such actions usually require deviance from accepted norms, but whenever a majority exists in a democracy, the rules can change to favor those currently in power.  And so opponents are sidelined and the rights of some infringed.  Without fear of oversight or challenges to power, the demagogue can reward supporters, enjoy centralized power, and work on self-enrichment.

As the demagogue consolidates power and steals from the state, democracy is lost.  Any wise demagogue brought to power by democracy would immediately curtail democracy so it exists only in name.  The people may vote in plebiscites, but the demagogue would not accept any result that doesn’t empower him.  He profits from the state, skimming taxpayer dollars or simply dipping into the treasury for funds – why shouldn’t he?  With no challenges to power and charisma to win the demos, the democratic demagogue has no reason not to become an authoritarian.  The demagogue, “ending a tyrant,” destroys the very democracy that enabled his rise.

The birth of a Republic prevent democracy’s inevitable path to suicide.  Republics remove the direct link between the demos and the leaders; it is that link – the direct connection between the demagogue and the demos – that enables democracies to self-destruct.  The demagogue relies on the demos as his extralegal motivations, rhetoric, and eventual actions cannot happen in a Republic.  In pure form, Republics water-down the demos’ influence by having indirect elections (or a mixture of direct and indirect elections); Republics protect minority rights and are often resistant to majoritarian whims by virtue of separating power between multiple branches of government.  Well-created Republics remove from popular influence the judiciary, ensuring that those charged with interpreting and upholding the laws cannot be removed or swayed by public fervor.

Republics check the demos as well as the leaders installed by the demos or otherwise appointed.  Power rests squarely with no one and all political actors are constrained by a constitution that delimits power and coordinates expected policy outcomes.  A Republic fights the demagogue and protects democracy from its worst temptations.

But even a Republic can be corrupted.  When the democratic elements of a Republican government – ie, parties – open themselves up to unfettered democracy with few or no institutional hurdles or power separations than define Republican institutions, the demagogue can still weasel his way into power.  The likes of parties should emulate the government to which we send their standard bearers.  A party that places complete faith in the demos quickly succumbs to the demagogue – whenever parties adopt simple majoritarian rules (or rules in which a candidate can emerge victorious with a simple plurality), the path reopens for a demagogue.  He need only appeal to half of a party to win the nomination.  Once the nominee, the demagogue can ride party ties to power.  Tribal allegiance – a fundamental human behavior in all fields, including politics – ensures the demagogue a base of support; from there, he need only wield his rhetorical and emotive prowess on swing voters.

It becomes quite easy to attain power once the demagogue skates through primary funneling.  However, a Republic’s beauty also rests in its ability to curtail empowered demagogues.  Unlike a democracy, in which rights can be subverted and rules changed with the ease of a majority, Republican rules exist in a Constitution and other actors, put in power by appointment or the people at various points in time, can stand in a demagogue’s way.  Courts especially act to preserve a Republic from the demos’ worst temptations.

Of course, the same mechanism through which the demagogue began his Republican ascent – a democratic nominating process – diminish the will of same-party lawmakers to curtail the demagogue.  Primary challenges, or the potential thereof, with the winner decided by the same demos that elected the demagogue give many lawmakers pause, eroding a systemic check on demagogues and potentially eroding the separation of powers.  Thus democratizing the entities that supply our Republic with elected officials empowers demagogues and weakens the Republican experiment, though its core functions and design remain.

Demagogues thrive and are inevitable creations of purely democratic processes.  Democracy’s death comes in darkness – the darkness created by a demagogues arousing primal passions rather than logical behavior.  And so occurs the birth of a Republic, with democratic designs at heart with institutions and rules immune from the demos, in whom ultimate power does not solely and unchecked lie. The parties and institutions that compromise a Republic should also be republican in nature; overly democratizing aspects of a Republic endangers the whole by welcoming demagogues.  We must recognize that for any element of democracy to persist, the demos must be checked.  Democracy destroys itself.  Republics and republican institutions stave off death from the demos.  The birth of a Republic saves the people from themselves.