Category Archives: Donald Trump

roy moore molestation

The GOP is Rotten to the Core

Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, the twice-former Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court (removed on two occasions for refusing to follow the rule of law), and avowed theocrat allegedly molested a 14 year old girl when he was 32 and predatorily pursued relations with a 16, 17, and 18 year old.  These accusations, all tightly sources and well vetted by the Washington Post, should end any politician’s campaign and public career.  Pedophilia has never been accepted by respectable Americans, but for many in the GOP — the same GOP that endorsed and voted for a president 16 women accused of sexual assault and harassment — such actions do not come with consequences.  They come with continued support and a renewed attack at a press that holds power accountable.  Without a doubt, the GOP is rotten to the core.

Following the revelations, a number of high-ranking Republicans denounced Moore and said “if the accusations are true, he must step down.”  This phrase has a hole the size of Texas: Allegations about improprieties made 30 years ago have little chance of being proven true in a court of law and exactly no chance of being “proven true” to any degree of legal satisfaction in the month preceding Alabama’s election.  Republicans use this weaselly phrase to appear against Moore without actually calling for his campaign to end and for him to pay penance for past sins.  As Mitt Romney correctly pointed out, while the burden of proof certainly does not fall on Moore from a legal standpoint, from a political standpoint, do Republicans and voters really want to support a man accused of molesting a minor?



Unfortunately, Romney’s largely alone in these sentiments (others, such as Jeff Flake and Rob Portman have expressed similar sentiments).  Many others found it satisfactory to simple express disgust with the accusations — much the same way that these Republicans offer ceaseless “thoughts and prayers” after gun massacres, but then avoid even the simplest solutions to help the problem.

John Cornyn, Senate majority whip, proved his feckless leadership and detestable values by refusing to withdraw his endorsement of Moore after the Washington Post story.  That a Republican would endorse Moore after his legal improprieties and disdain for the Constitution shows a true lack of judgment and an obvious ambivalence for the rule of law, but avoiding the best opportunity to right a wrong further proves that many in the Republican Party will tolerate any behavior as long as the political actor can help cut taxes for the likes of Donald Trump.  Is the moral and political degradation of a nation worth a tax cut for your donors?



More despicable still have been the responses from local Alabama Republican leaders.  Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale reached out to each county chair and asked for reactions to the story.  Responses shock the conscience and should make any respectable human nauseous.  Here are some of the responses.

It’s strange to defend molestation by pointing out the 14 year old — a young high schooler approached by a 32 year old man — didn’t explicitly not consent to sexual advances.  It’s stranger still to overlook this depraved action simply because he doesn’t want a Democrat (who prosecuted members of the Ku Klux Klan for murdering young black girls) from holding office.



Sexual abuse can be ignored if it keeps the Senate seat in Republican hands.  (And, of course, the story couldn’t possibly be true because the Washington Post wrote it, yet another example of how Trump’s “fake news” rhetoric has consequences more serious than the foolish president can begin to understand.)

He sincerely wanted to have relations with underage women.



When partisanship inures you to sex crimes, you have a problem.

Christian conservatives they are not.

With these defenses of a possible sex crime — of saying they would support and vote for Moore even if it were legally proven that he committed a crime — it’s little wonder Moore defiantly denounced the story and even fundraised off it.



This is today’s GOP.  It’s rotten to the core.  Officials and voters overlook or even condone bigotry and sexual abuse.  They don’t care about the Constitution and have no mind for policy.  They just want to keep Democrats out of office and will support anyone — literally, anyone — capable of doing that.

It’s time for the party to disband.

trump cult

Irrational Trumpkins

Donald Trump’s election depended on bigotry aided reinforcing cycle of ignorance.  As a candidate, Trump race-baited constantly and lied ceaselessly yet with such repetition that those with only a marginal attachment to politics and the facts of a nation came to believe his confidence and opted to forego even the slightest independent analysis or fact-checking that might prevent them from falling prey to a demagogue.  Trump’s ignorance begat an ignorance that spread unchecked to others through the course of normal human interaction and a frank unwillingness to put forth any effort in casting an informed and rational ballot.

These voters often deluded themselves into assumed respectability by claiming, or at least intimating, that if Trump failed to enact his various outlandish promises, they would cease to support him.

But because man — and especially Trump voters — is an irrational creature who logic usually bypasses, these presumed intentions haven’t materialized.  And they won’t.  Bigotry won’t let them.



Trump Voters, Uncensored

Politico reporter Michael Kruse ventured into Trump Country, Pennsylvania to interview some of the president’s original supporters to learn of their thinking a year from Election Day.  His findings should sober us all.

A year ago, Johnstown, PA residents gave Trump a timeline to fulfill his promises.  “Six months to a year,” catering company owner Joey Del Signore told Kruse.  “A couple months,” said another.  “He’s just got to follow through with what he said he was going to do.” All had the same undertone: “or else.”

How things change in a year.  Whereas one resident insisted she wouldn’t vote for Trump again if he broke promises, when asked a year into a so-far failed agenda, she remarked, “Support Trump? Sure,” she said. “I like him.”

Others recognize no change with the Trump presidency.  We “didn’t see any change because we got a new president.” They remain infatuated. “He’s our answer.”

Could anything cost Trump their support?

“Nope.”



Embracing Tribalism

To no one’s surprise, reasons for Trump’s support have nothing to do with policy.  Racial grievances — shrouded bigotry and its more obvious cousin — rally much of Trump’s core base to him.  They have no commitment to limited government or conservative (what we once thought of as conservative) philosophy.  Ideology falls to populism’s curse: Vilification of an ever amorphous “other.”

“His supporters [in Johnstown], it turns out, are energized by his bombast and his animus more than any actual accomplishments. For them, it’s evidently not what he’s doing so much as it is the people he’s fighting. Trump is simply and unceasingly angry on their behalf, battling the people who vex them the worst—“obstructionist” Democrats, uncooperative establishment Republicans, the media, Black Lives Matter protesters and NFL players (boy oh boy do they hate kneeling NFL players) whom they see as ungrateful, disrespectful millionaires.

And they love him for this.”

They love him for the fights he picks, not the policies he promotes.  He channels their anger and legitimizes it; no longer must they hide their inner hatred — Trump accepts it and encourages it.  In him, they saw a ringleader, the reverend of resentment.



Infallible

Like most men carrying Gods message, Trump can do no wrong.

“Everybody I talk to realizes it’s not Trump who’s dragging his feet. Trump’s probably the most diligent, hardest-working president we’ve ever had in our lifetimes. It’s not like he sleeps in till noon and goes golfing every weekend, like the last president did.”

Trump has already gone golfing at least 73 times (his staff tries to hide these outings) with an estimated cost to taxpayers of $77 million.

Deceived, but why?

“Ninety-nine percent of the time I watch Fox.”

De facto state media helps.

Others recognize the grim outlook for coal and surely must be able to read reports such as that issued by BMI Mining, which projects coal to grow year over year, but not because of “an expectation for President Donald Trump to revive the sector and our longer-term view out to 2021 remains decidedly downbeat.”

Still, with irrational exuberance, one Johnstown business owner expects a 30 percent jump next because of Trump’s “pro-business mood.”

Moods don’t grow the economy.



Others simply love the idea of mining jobs magically returning because it absolves them of effort.  “Some of the later-in-life blue-collar workers who are still here can be loath to learn new trades. ‘We’ve heard when working with some of the miners that they are reluctant because they’re very accustomed to the mining industry,’ said Linda Thomson, the president of JARI, a nonprofit economic development agency in Johnstown that provides precisely the kind of retraining, supported by a combination of private, state and federal funding, that could prepare somebody for a job in Polacek’s plant. ‘They really do want to go back into the mines. So we’ve seen resistance to some retraining.’”

These core Trump voters don’t mind his childlike tweets that proudly display his authoritarianism.  They appreciate how he’s handling North Korea, even though Trump’s irrationality increases the chances of a nuclear conflict.



Policy Failures Mean Nothing

And as further proof of their ambivalence towards policy, none care that the Trump agenda has fallen on its face because many don’t know Trump has utterly failed to get legislation passed.

“He’s kept his promises.”  Which ones?

“Border security.”  There’s no wall.  “No fault of his.”

“Getting rid of Obamacare.”  It still exists.  “Well, he’s tried to.”

“Defunding Planned Parenthood.”  Nope.  “Not his fault again.”

Should Trump be blamed for, eg, his failure to repeal the ACA on day 1, as he promised?

“I’m not going to blame him.  Absolutely not.”

A great businessman, an accolade these supporters wrongly apply to Trump, accepts responsibility for failures and owns shortcomings.  Trump doesn’t and voters don’t hold their fashioned “chief executive” of the country responsible for anything.



Bigotry

Trump has succeeded in his culture war.  From defending the Confederate statues that glorify traitors who fought for slavery to defending an authoritarian conception of patriotism, Trump has played racial prejudices perfectly.

Black athletes protesting police brutality during the national anthem really irks Trump supporters.

“As far as I’m concerned,” one said, “if I was the boss of these teams, I would tell ’em, ‘You get your asses out there and you play, or you’re not here anymore.’ They’re paying their salaries, for God’s sake.”

“Shame on them,”another told Kruse. “These clowns are out there, making millions of dollars a year, and they’re using some stupid excuse that they want equality—so I’ll kneel against the flag and the national anthem?”



The Declaration of Independence told us that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”  To Trump supporters, this lines ring true unless you’re a black athlete.

In case you had any doubts opposition to such protests stemmed from racial animus, let Trump supporters dispel it.

“Well…I hate to say what the majority of them are….”  Others happily finished that sentence.

“The thing that irritates me to no end is this NFL shit.  I’m about ready to go over the top with this shit.”

The NFL is “niggers for life.”

“For life,” his wife added.

So the cult speaks and in their uncensored words we hear the true call of Trumpism and its not ideology, commitment to American ideals, or patriotism.

It’s bigotry.



trump att time warner merger

Vengeance from the Oval Office

The vast — too vast — powers of the executive branch provide unscrupulous actors with the ability to punish dissidents through a variety of contrived regulatory methods.  President Donald J. Trump, in whom opposition always recognized a decidedly authoritarian bent, has just the vindictive streak that makes an overbearing executive so dangerous: As Politico reported, Trump’s Department of Justice threatened to black the proposed AT&T and Time Warner merger unless they offload CNN.

Trump’s war on the free press knows few bounds.  He’s wrongly labelled critical reports as “fake news,” a concept he completely fails to grasp but in whose rhetorical repetition he’s found great success (foreign leaders now use the same technique to mask crimes against humanity), and constantly undermines a democratic institution needed to provide an informed electorate.  Now that fight bleeds over from words into economic livelihood.

“The only reason you would divest CNN would be to kowtow to the president because he doesn’t like the coverage,” Politico‘s source said. “It would send a chilling message to every news organization in the country.”



The New York Times reported in July that the White House had discussed using the pending merge as “a potential point of leverage over their adversary” — ie, CNN.  An American administration views CNN and the press as its adversary and wants to hold up a merge of its parent company to exact concessions from the outlet.  How would we respond to this in another country?

While there are economic reasons to oppose the merger — some fear concentration of power as a result — this thinking does not emerge in reported administration hesitation and dissatisfaction.  In fact, the new DoJ antitrust chief stated, prior to his nomination by Trump, that he didn’t see the merger as a “major antitrust problem.”  Now that he’s beholden to Trump, his views have changed.



Those connected to the Trump world, though outside of government, have suggested using the deal remake CNN.  As Politico noted, “Trump’s longtime associate Roger Stone suggested in a tweet last month that a ‘house cleaning’ of CNN personalities like Don Lemon, Jake Tapper and Ana Navarro will take place once AT&T completes its acquisition of Time Warner.”

This is a political incursion into the free market that shows Trump’s willingness to use coercive state powers to punish administration critics.  That, of course, is authoritarianism.  Regulatory powers should never be wielded as a weapon to bully into submission any individual or outlet that has a platform with which to criticize the president.  De facto censorship and plain bullying has no place in democratic America.



populism

Poisonous Politics

Populist insurgencies in both major parties threaten democratic norms through the vilification of certain population subsets.  For the Republicans, the party best unifies over racial grievances and fears — candidates, most notably Donald Trump and even one-time establishment favorites such as Ed Gillespie, prey on fears of America’s changing color and tie minorities and immigrants to crime and economic anxiety.  Democrats have long toyed with coalitions against the wealthy, though overt vilification of the rich has been avoided.  Now, however, socialist tendencies lead today’s left to blame all problem’s on the wealthy and propose radical policies against a small population subset, similar in vehemence to Republican efforts against minorities.

Republican Vilification of Minorities

Republican vilification of minorities began in earnest with Richard Nixon’s “southern strategy,” which succeeded in breaking the Democratic stronghold in the Sold South after the party pushed and passed civil rights legislation.  Nixon’s overtly racial campaign helped realign the South and welcomed to the GOP society’s most racist and hate-filled individuals, such as Strom Thurmond and the ardent supporters of Theodore Bilbo.



Racial grievance then largely flew under the radar, but always emerged when Republicans worried about electoral success or needed to rally its base for any given purpose.  Welfare queens, the ever-looming menace of gang violence, campaigns centered around toughness on crime always had a racial undertone.  George H. W. Bush’s infamous Willie Horton ad clearly shows the willingness of otherwise respectable politicians to race-bait for electoral purpose.

From Blacks to Immigrants

Recently, Republican race-baiting has shifted from African Americans to other minorities, especially immigrants and Muslims.  The themes remain largely the same, but with the addition of “economic anxiety.”  Economic anxiety stems from the loss of American manufacturing due in part to trade, but mostly from the computer and the upheaval of the economy as a result (transitioning from a manufacturing economy to a service one).  For many, though, economic anxiety simply makes more legitimate underlying dislike for immigrants.  Candidates and believers tie economic anxiety to immigrants — legal and illegal — by claiming those entering the country take jobs from “hardworking Americans,” despite this being an economic falsehood.



Latino gang violence also prevails in race-baiting campaigns as do tough on crime proposals related to terrorism — meaning Muslims.  It’s little surprise that Republicans don’t center their law and order rhetoric around white men who commit massacres but rather the rare instance of violent illegal immigrant crime or the deplorable acts of terrorism by a deranged individual.  They tap into racial grievances and fears by explaining society’s continued change — a change many Republican voters dislike immensely — on those not native to country; on those of different races and religions that don’t necessarily align with the white, evangelical vision for America too many in the Republican base hold.  It also panders to these voters by telling a relaxing lie: Your problems are not your fault — they’re caused by outsiders with different skin tones and beliefs.  You are not to blame.

With Donald Trump’s election, this insidious yet usually underlying force in Republican politics came to the forefront and now, feeling empowered, racial grievances unify the Republican Party more than does ideological commitment to a limited government.  The stoked and cultivated fear that Republicans likely assumed they could control now defines the party.  Hence true Republican ideologues now must court Republican voters through overtly racial messages, such as attacking sanctuary cities based on false premises, accusing professional athletes who kneel in protest of police brutality of disrespecting the flag and country,  and vowing to preserve public monuments that idolize those who waged war against the Union simply to protect a system of human bondage.  Racial grievances no longer exist in the Republican background as a force that can be exploited but only with shame.  It now dominates the party.



Democrats and Vilification of the Rich

Democrats are moving in a similar populist direction.  Socialist tendencies within the party, led by self-proclaimed democratic socialist Bernie Sanders, leads to vilification of the rich, another small group that a mob-like majority can easily come to view as the enemy.  In fact, it’s the vilification of the rich and the possibilities for “democratic excesses” to threaten their property rights that led the Founding Fathers to call a constitutional convention to strengthen the federal government.  State legislatures, increasingly occupied by men the Founders considered rabble, pitted the poor against the wealthy and provided equal rights only to some.

While the Democrats have long toyed with class-based issues and often campaign on raising taxes on the wealthy to fund greater social programs, rhetoric has never slipped into obvious vilification of the highest socioeconomic class and hatred has never even simmered.  This lack of development comes largely from weak class connections in America.  Rarely have those with similar economic interests from disparate parts of the country united behind an economic or ideological platform that would pit their interests against those of the wealthy.  That’s because race has often divided or defined coalitions.  Poor blacks and poor whites don’t unite largely because poor whites from certain areas of the country have a predisposition to bigotry and support racial rhetoric more than class rhetoric.

The Democratic Party has now largely lost those not committed to full racial equality and so its internal coalitions and power structures no longer have to contend with the interests of bigots.  Near unanimity in the race issue has allowed class-based grievances  to surge into prominence with clear divisions between the party’s moderate and liberals who don’t favor class warfare and the leftists who seem eager to bring redistributive issues and anger to the party’s forefront.



Leftists want to vilify and blame the rich for stagnating wages and resultant economic inequality.  They view the wealthy as having an outsized influence on government, so outsized, in fact, that many claim America has devolved into oligarchy.  Large corporations control institutions and conspire to keep everyday Americans down.  Sinister forces of an economic elite cause all of our problems, from war to climate change and poverty.  The growing contempt and anger for the wealthy has led to a socialist resurgence that applies the same rhetoric as do Republicans that blame minorities for society’s woes.

Populism’s Poison

Populism within both parties threatens political discourse and the norms of our society by blaming minority groups for all issues facing the country.  These movements inspire hatred, fear, and disgust for forces they believe work to undermine America’s greatness and degrade our country into a Third World society or an evil oligarchy.

Democracy and politics don’t work when groups blame minorities for all problems.  Tribalized majorities unified by hate rather than ideological belief does not lead to enlightened policy.  It doesn’t lead to rational politicians leading the country dispassionately.  It leads to demagogues who manipulate these fears to gain personal power (and often wealth) while eroding democratic norms and backsliding our democracy through authoritarian calls tolerated because these calls target a vilified group.

Both parties must expel from their ranks such populist anger and instead work towards unified moderation that addresses the real issues in our society without condescending to tempers and passions.



l'etat c'est trump

L’Etat, C’est Trump

Donald Trump has an authoritarian understanding of presidential power.  He thinks he has

the unilateral authority to enact sweeping policy legislation, declare war on nations, and steer the federal government in the direction his hypocritical and ignorant mind feels best.  In short, he believes l’etat, c’est Trump — that Trump is the state.

This has been Trump’s clear governing philosophy from his inauguration, but rarely has he explicitly stated the extent to which he believes he can — or should — control the government.  In a recent interview with Laura Ingraham of Fox News, Trump sadly remarked “the saddest thing is that because I’m the president of the United States I’m not supposed to be involved with the Justice Department, I’m not supposed to be involved with the FBI, I’m not supposed to be doing the kinds of things I would love to be doing and I’m very frustrated by it. I look at what’s happening with the Justice Department, why aren’t they going after Hillary Clinton with her emails and with the dossier and the kind of money…?”



In other words, Trump thinks that, by virtue of being president, he should control every action of the entire executive branch.  As the head of state and government, Trump believes he should dictate what the FBI investigates and how the DoJ operates; justice naturally flows from the singular authority at government’s apex.  Such a conception of presidential power is entirely monarchical and authoritarian.

He went on to add that “a lot of justice…[is] tied up forever in the court system.  You look at some of the cases that are going on forever and you have them dead to rights? Now, the justice system has to go quicker and it has to be, really, stronger and fairer.”  Justice should move at the speed of what Trump deems proper.  Rights, so Trump’s answer implies, do not come from nature and are not enshrined by the Constitution and should be curtailed at his direction.  Too many rights block administration of what Trump considers justice.

Trump’s next morning tweets continued this theme of ignoring the political insulation of the FBI and DoJ and the existing notions of fair justice as he called for his political appointees to investigate Hillary Clinton and the Democrats, a truly authoritarian idea.  As the state, Trump believes he should have the ability to call for investigations and, angry that he can’t, he does the next best thing: Urges investigations against dissidents, putting the FBI and DoJ in an impossible situation by either opening politically-motivated investigations over non-scandals or ignore the president who can summarily dismiss them.  If can’t openly control the state’s actions, he tries to coerce certain behavior.



Where he does have flexibility, Trump seizes it.  Foreign policy provides presidents with their best ability to act unilaterally as Congress, especially the Senate, has ceded much policy power to the president.  Trump’s an irrational actor and has failed to appoint many key State Department positions.  He’s tangled with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and undermined his job by directly contradicting Tillerson’s statements and tweeting, on numerous occasions, on the futility of North Korean diplomacy.

Undermining the Secretary of State and taking diplomatic tools off the table while weakening the State Department through vacancies doesn’t matter because, as Trump says, “I’m the only one that matters because…that’s what the policy is going to be.”  He has monopoly over foreign policy and no one else matters, not the chief diplomat, not the thousands of consulate and embassy staffers, not the scholars and wonks in Foggy Bottom, no one.

L’etat, c’est Trump.

Or so he thinks.



trump authoritarian

Trump Calls for the DoJ and FBI to Investigate Hillary Clinton

Following Donna Brazile’s wildly revisionist and entirely wrong allegation that the Hillary Clinton campaign took over the Democratic National Committee and somehow wielded its power over an impotent organization to rig an election whose rules date back to 2010, Donald Trump unsurprisingly took to Twitter to attack these falsehoods (and to spread some of his own).  But his tweets took a dark turn when he called for the Department of Justice and the FBI to investigate Clinton for alleged dishonesty — though no dishonesty occurred and, of course, dishonesty isn’t a crime.  These calls are explicitly authoritarian and that we’ve become inured to Trump’s rhetoric shows just how far our democracy has backslid since Trump first declared his presidential candidacy.



The Clinton campaign signed a well-documented and widely publicized joint fundraising agreement with the DNC wherein the campaign agreed to keep the financially insolvent organization afloat.  Bernie Sanders’ campaign signed a similar agreement just three months later.  Trump himself had a join fundraising venture with the Republican National Committee and the same money laundering and campaign finance laws (words that should not be capitalized) of which he wrongly accuses Clinton could, in his apparently ideal society, be said of him.

Misunderstanding of the law aside — Trump’s an ignorant fool who dumbs down society through his reckless tweets and routine spreading of false information while calling all information remotely critical of him “fake,” which has consequences of which he cannot begin to fathom — he’s explicitly calling for a federal investigation into a political opponent (a defeated one, nonetheless) and tacitly hopes law enforcement jails a leading administration dissident.





This isn’t how democracy works.  The FBI announced Clinton did not act illegally with regards to her emails; Uranium One is one of the most laughably dumb scandals ever proposed by a party infatuated with Hillary Clinton; “Podesta” means nothing and is just a name, not an issue; the server circles back to the aforementioned innocent emails; and there is no “plus, plus….”

Trump wants his political appointees and hires to target opposition leaders over non-scandals — and, even if ever so slightly scandalous, not remotely close to illegal behavior.  Imagine conservative reaction had President Barack Obama urged Loretta Lynch to investigate Mitt Romney for any contrived bullshit.

Imagine if Obama urged Lynch to investigate Trump’s tax returns!  Conservative outrage would rightly dominate weeks of political coverage because this is not normal.  But now right-wing media, acting as a state propaganda outlet, simply echoes these calls and promotes inane conspiracies about the opposition during widely-watched prime-time TV shows.



Republican officials reuse to comment on Trump’s tweets despite their direct attack on democratic norms — ie, the norm that the in-power party won’t use its position to harass and investigate the opposition when no cause to do so exist.  Their silence, defeaning, as silence so often is, lets Trump continue his authoritarian rhetoric that millions of wide-eyed supporters accept, internalize, and spread to their social network.

Voters take cues from elite actors.  When these elite actors simply let slide authoritarian rhetoric and arguments, voters come to accept it.  Americans have a weak connection to liberal democracy, partly because it’s messy and slow.  A demagogue such as Trump can easily prey on existing authoritarian undertones to undermine faith in democracy and the democratic norms that underpin our society.  He’s had great success at doing this with the press.



Imagine seeing this in another country.  How would we — how would you — react if a far-right party in Germany gained power and then called for federal investigations into Angela Merkel or other centrist parties?  I have to imagine it would chill you at least a little bit.  Trump’s actions should do the same.  We have a long history of liberal democracy and institutions designed well to withstand someone like Trump.  But as the Founders understood, democratic faith and continuance comes from the people.  When they stop believing in those norms, liberal democracy will slowly wither.

That we have muted outrage to Trump’s continued authoritarian tweets shows just how far our democracy has backslid since his emergence on the national stage.  We simply shrug off authoritarian calls as the angry ramblings of an overwhelmed old man.  To protect our democracy, we mustn’t do that.  We must demand that elected officials condemn Trump’s remarks and urge more to make speeches similar to Jeff Flake’s in which he condemned Trumpism and stood for the values that truly matter to a free and democratic society.


To learn more about authoritarianism, see Timothy Snyder’s “On Tyranny.”

on tyranny timothy snyder
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illegal immigrant crimes

You Can Race-Bait with Immigrant Crimes, but not Mass Murders

The tragic death of Kate Steinle in July, 2015 furthered an already volatile debate over sanctuary cities.  Immigration conservatives used the slaying to levy false attacks on sanctuary cities by arguing these cities harbored violent criminals, a phrase they rhetorically attached to “illegal immigration.”  Legislation offered and talking points presented and popularized by the likes of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz revealed dramatic and over-the-top solutions to a relatively insignificant problem.

Their unwillingness to act on guns shows that the ilk of Trump and Cruz seize nativist sentiments that always flair after these tragedies to enact xenophobic laws.  Steinle’s horrific death provided a race-baiting opportunity make the country less safe for immigrants; gun deaths, such as the Las Vegas massacre that saw over 600 casualties, provide no such opportunity and so fade quickly and often quietly, with no reform move pushed by the far-right.

Contrary to popular belief and Trump’s claims, illegal immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than the native population.  The incarceration rate for illegal immigrants stands at 0.50 whereas it’s 1.53 percent for native-born Americans.  Similarly, far from being hotbeds of crime, sanctuary cities are actually safer than their non-sanctuary counterparts.



Statistics didn’t stop Trump from directing the Department of Homeland Security to publish a weekly “comprehensive list of criminal actions committed by aliens and any jurisdiction that ignored or otherwise failed to honor any detainers with respect to such aliens.”  To incite racial fears, Trump directed DHS to compile and distribute a report of all crimes committed by illegal immigrants.  Imagine the outrage had President Barack Obama asked for a list of crimes committed by those here legally, or of gun crimes.

The reflexive desire to make cities safer for all should be honored.  That’s not the case with Trump and Cruz’s proposed reforms, which vilify all illegal immigrants and would make it more difficult for them to report crimes or utilize the judicial system without threat of deportation.  That, of course, makes illegal immigrant communities less safe and, for instance, could consign individuals to continued domestic abuse as going to the police could result in their own deportation.



Furthermore, Trump and Cruz’s utter refusal to act on gun safety legislation show their commitment not to public safety, but to race-baiting and using resurgent nativism to gain political power and enact xenophobic reforms.  Guns kills around 30,000 a year in a variety of manners: Suicide (about two-thirds), homicide (about 30 percent), domestic violence, accidental death, etc.  A small percentage of gun deaths from terrorism or mass shootings.

There are a number of simple reforms that would lower the number of gun deaths in a given year.  Truly universal background checks that cover all transactions, including private ones, would make a difference.  So would ending default proceed and closing the intimate partner loophole.  These reforms target the vast majority of gun related deaths and while they obviously wouldn’t bring the rate to zero, they would almost certainly lower the overall gun death rate.

Other reforms to target mass shootings wouldn’t affect the death rate much because mass shootings account for such a low percentage of total gun deaths.  That said, supporting those reforms would be in line with reflexive action to national tragedies and could prevent future bloodshed.  A very simply reform would be to ban bump stocks, modifications that make guns act like automatic weapons.



Automatic weapons are illegal.  Shouldn’t aftermarket additions that make a gun de facto automatic also be outlawed?  No one pretends this would solve the gun problem, but it seems like such an obvious reform — and one, had it been in place, that could have saved lives in Las Vegas — that even the NRA hinted at not opposing such actions (publicly, at least).

But Trump and Cruz don’t support such an effort.  The two who seized Kate Steinle’s death to push major immigration overhaul not only refuse to back gun legislation aimed at the overall problem, but won’t endorse minor legislation that in no way comes close to challenging the Second Amendment and whose logic seems so self-evident, especially after the worst mass shooting in America history.

Trump and Cruz don’t care about public safety.  They care about mobilizing racial grievances and underlying bigotry to enact sweeping legislation that casts immigrants as villains and makes communities less safe.

Two fluky events and two very different responses for one reason: You can’t race-bait with a white man killing 58 and injuring 546 others.



governing through executive order

Governing through Executive Orders

Throughout President Barack Obama’s tenure, and especially in its waning years, conservatives lambasted his governing through executive orders.  They have a point: The Constitution specifically gives Congress the power to legislate, limiting the president to faithful execution of those duly enacted laws.  Over time, however, the growing power of the president — the imperial presidency — has seen these chief magistrates increasingly assume quasi legislative powers.  But this rightful critique of Obama falls way to praise for President Donald Trump when he acts unilaterally to enact sweeping policy decisions; Trump carries further Obama’s tendency to executive orders and has used this extra-constitutional power [more in 9 months than Obama did in 8 years].  Conservatives, to retain credibility, must also hold Trump accountable for his governing through executive orders.

Trump signed 42 executive orders in his first 200 days whereas Obama only signed 22.  Trump’s on pace to sign 67 executive orders this year, almost double Obama’s yearly average of 35.  That would be the highest yearly average since Jimmy Carter.



To be sure, not all executive orders show an overbearing president encroaching on Congress’s power to make and pass laws.  One Trump executive order established an infrastructural advisory council, clearly not a move that will change public policy.  But others have been far more sweeping: Both travel bans, ending DACA protection for minors here illegally, exempting states from certain Affordable Care Act guidelines and requirements, and ending cost-sharing subsidies (a move which will destabilize the healthcare markets and increase the price of healthcare for many) all either stress the limits of presidential power or alter existing legislation.

The travel bans represent a significant increase in proclaimed presidential power.  Whereas the 1965 Immigration and Naturalization Act precludes discrimination based on national origin and the commerce clause of the Constitution gives Congress the power to regulate foreign commerce (a category in which people naturally fall), Trump’s bans assume the president’s authority to transgress those bounds in the name of national security.  Multiple courts found the executive failed to provide an adequate basis for national security concerns, saying that the president cannot simply use that phrase without a legitimate basis.  Unfortunately, the Supreme Court, which always treads too carefully in these areas, allowed Trump’s sweeping orders.



Executive orders undermining duly enacted legislation shows both an assumption of legislative power and a willingness to bypass the legislature to accomplish policy goals.  Undermining and putting into doubt the future of existing legislation is obviously a legislative feat, especially considering the president is tasked with faithfully executing the laws, not picking some of which to let the legislative will slide.  It blurs the line between two separately empowered branches of government and leads to overlap of duty which the president, as head of state and government (and the only elected official representing all people), uses to declare supremacy and thus assume more power.  This becomes especially important in times of mixed legislative control or when a weak president fails to get his legislative program passed through Congress.  Trump, of course, failed in his healthcare repeal and replace attempts, so he’s deliberately undermining existing law to grease the skids for a future repeal attempt.  On top of hurting Americans, it’s a power grab paradoxically made possible by Trump’s very weakness as party leader.

Trump’s actions have a direct, and at times coercive, effect on the American people, a power wielded generally just by the legislature (and, even then, only with the pulling of many teeth).  He stretches the bounds of presidential authority by assuming legislative powers and failing to faithfully executive the laws (his oath of office).  Conservatives and Republicans rightly criticized Obama for reliance on executive orders; they must now do the same to Trump, whose reliance on such actions surpasses Obama’s.  Though actions may be favored, for sake of logical constituency and to avoid hypocrisy, conservatives must speak against Trump’s executive orders and actions.



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Donald, Your Desperation’s Showing

Long ago, we had president’s who delivered fireside chats to calm an anxious electorate, labored over short speeches to memorialize lost soldiers and whose contents would be remembered for generations, and carefully watched their every step knowing that their actions would serve as precedent for generations to come.  Now, we have a president whose early morning tweet storms reveal a deeply insecure, illiberal demagogue trying his hardest to salvage a failed administration through lies meant to rally a base willing to overlook bigotry, sexual predation, and ignorance.

And recently, these tweets — to which we can set our alarms — have sounded increasingly desperate.  It seems the looming threat of Robert Mueller indicting his campaign staff and other aides coupled with a 35% approval rating and an inability to enact any of his promised agenda leaves Mr. Trump riddled with anxiety that he tries to clear through boisterous tweets.  Maybe he needs to spend more time golfing.

Trump’s 10/29 morning tweets might have shown a new low, which says a lot given he used Twitter to falsely accuse President Barack Obama of wiretapping his phone.  A Department of Justice investigation found the obvious: Trump lied.  Again.  Yet despite that libel, Trump’s tweets on 10/29 show a new low because of their desperation and further descent into illiberal rhetoric.



Here Trump touts the unity of the Republican Party even though earlier in the week, Republican Senator Jeff Flake took to the Senate floor to decry Trumpism and the rotten nativist populism it inspires among the electorate.  Another GOP senator, Bob Corker, said the White House amounted to an “adult daycare center.”  John McCain, in a notable speech, decried the “spurious nationalism” that now plagues the race-baiting Republican Party.

With regards to the Steele dossier, it seems strange to deride as “Fake” a document that encouraged an FBI investigation and whose central point — Trump’s liability to Russian influence — certainly seems truer by the day (why did Trump retain Michael Flynn after pointed warnings about Flynn’s susceptibility to Russian blackmail?).

Furthermore, why should there be any investigation into the Clinton campaign funding routine opposition research?  Unlike Donald Trump Jr holding a meeting with Russian agents after being promised dirt on his father’s political opponent (a meeting attended by then campaign manager Paul Manafort and digital strategist Jared Kushner), hiring a firm to conduct research is not collusion and certainly not a crime.



The Uranium One deal, to which right-wing propagandists have latched as an effort to vilify a now private citizen — the only way to boost Trump’s image — is perhaps the most ridiculous “scandal” ever presented by Clinton haters.  No facts support their claims, but falsely alleging corruption shits focus away from Trump’s improprieties.

Trump’s accusation of a “Comey fix” makes no sense, unless Trump doesn’t understand the law and ignored Comey’s press conference wherein he correctly stated that “no reasonable prosecutor” would recommend charges be brought against her.  It also seems strange to allege some “fix” when James Comey’s letter to one of the most unscrupulous member of Congress tilted the election to Trump.



Donald J. Trump led the racist birther crusade that wrongly claimed Obama was born in Kenya, not America (because all blacks are born in Africa, specifically Kenya, right?).  This endeavor lasted years and only months before Election Day did Trump disavow his crusade that caused millions to doubt Obama’s legitimacy and which mobilized, for the first time in generations, the angry nationalists who later became Trump’s core base.

He also accused Ted Cruz of having multiple affairs and claimed Cruz’s father participated in the John F. Kennedy assassination.  He’s claimed that vaccines cause autism (they don’t) and called climate change a “Chinese hoax” (it’s not).

Looking into collusion with a foreign enemy to win an election is not a “Witch Hunt.”  It shouldn’t even be a partisan issue.



There are no facts pouring out.  Trump lies about alleged Democrat and Clinton guilt because he needs a foil.  Importantly, though, he’s casting the political opposition — dissidents — as guilty of corruption and as an illegitimate political force.  How would conservatives react if Obama unilaterally condemned the GOP as guilty and urged Democrats in Congress to investigate the opposition party?

How would we react if a far-right party somehow assumed leadership in Germany and then called for the Bundestag to investigate the Christian Democrat Union or other centrist parties?  Questioning the legitimacy of political opposition is a purely authoritarian move.

Trump’s desperation leads to illiberal calls on Twitter for an authoritarian investigation into political opposition.  No dedicated democrat — small “d,” meaning those who support free and fair elections and political competition — should tolerate Trump’s rhetoric.  Scared as he may be, he’s normalizing creeping authoritarianism and, as in most democratic backslides, too few stand in his way.



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Trump’s Cries of “Fake News” Have Serious Consequences

Donald Trump loves to deride all news unfavorable to him as “fake“.  It’s his go to insult whenever confronted by the media.  To no great surprise, outlets that ingratiate themselves to Trump — Fox News and its many anchors, One America News Network, and Breitbart — escape such labels despite peddling conspiracy theories and giving white supremacists a platform to wallow in hate.  Trump’s derision comes baselessly, but has real effects: Almost half of all Americans think the media makes up stories about Trump, meaning that our nation begins to operate with different facts as it loses faith in democratic institutions.  An alternative reality emerges for those who choose to accept universal administration claims of “fake news.”  Foreign leaders are taking note of this phenomena.

Seeing how Trump’s simple dismissals of criticism and negative coverage can goad millions into thinking the same, foreign leaders responsible for atrocious crimes and conditions follow a similar authoritarian playbook, falsely stating that media lies in its stories of horrors.



Rodrigo Duterte

Since 1988, Rodrigo Duterte, now president of the Philippines, has encouraged and endorsed the extrajudicial murders of suspected drug dealers and alleged addicts as part of his literal war on drugs.  It began with the Davao Death Squad, which emerged when Duterte was mayor of the city, and accelerated upon his election as president.  Some 7,000 have been killed since June of 2016, all without trial or anything other than whatever evidence the police decide warrants killing (often times, the police fabricate evidence).  Duterte himself has bragged about murdering suspects, including throwing one from a helicopter.

These well-documented illegal killings — crimes against humanity — shock the world and our sense of justice, but many in the Philippines continue to support Duterte (so, apparently, does Donald Trump, who praised Duterte’s handling of the drug problem).  Filippinos may support Duterte’s lethal efforts because they simply don’t believe the depths of its violence.



“I have been demonized. And well, of course, I will assure you upon my oath as a lawyer and before God that some are true, some are not. And the extrajudicial tag that has been placed on me is simply not true,” Duterte said during a gathering of ASEAN Law Association Governing Council in Malacañang.  In other words, Duterte’s claiming to be a victim of “fake news” (Duterte’s campaign spent around $250,000 to trolls who flooded the internet with actual fake news that supported the candidate.  Another organization, the Duterte Diehard Supporters — DDS, borrowing the acronym from the Davos Death Squadroutinely posts fake news and in return has its regulars promoted to government positions).

Duterte, like Trump, latches onto the idea that media is fake — or, at least, that he can make people believe the press is fake.  This give shim cover for his illegal and atrocious actions by undermining the sources of independent information, the information that doesn’t align with administration talking points or desires.



Aung San Suu Kyi

In Myanmar, more than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to neighboring Bangladesh after Rohingya insurgents attacked police posts in late August, prompting a massive military crackdown.  This crackdown has resulted in the slaughter of babies, the cutting off boys’ heads, the gang-rape of girls, and arson achieved by throwing grenades into houses.  Soliders have summarily executed unarmed male villagers.

Between 1,000 and 5,000 have been killed — we don’t know the exact numbers because Myanmar won’t let the United Nations into the affected areas — in what the UN calls “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.  Bodies wash up in the tide in coastal Bangladesh.  The military has razed 288 villages and organized massacres in what human rights organizations call a systematic effort to erase Rohingyan communities.  It’s the largest human dispersion since the Rwandan genocide.

Myanmar’s de fact leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, somehow a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, told Turkish President Recep Erdogan, himself an aspiring autocrat, that “fake news [helps] terrorists” in the Rohingyan communities.  She further said that the crisis in Rakhine state is being distorted by a “huge iceberg of misinformation”.  And this defense is working.  Millions of Buddhists in the country stand by Aung San Suu Kyi and simply deny reports on the crisis as “a lot of fake news.”  The government’s defense of a crisis under control but made worse by fake news, rumor, and innuendo spread by the media has resonated with a population predisposed to disliking the Rohingyan Muslims.  In other words, claiming “fake news” plays into religious/racial bias and helps citizens ignore ethnic cleansing in country’s northern region.



The Trump Effect

As Samantha Power, author of a powerful book about the Rwandan genocide, states, this is “the Trump effect in action.”  Foreign leaders see the benefit of crying “fake news” at everything critical; they realize loyal partisans and supporters will believe them, especially when the victimized group is already detested.  But they take the fake news defense a step further by using it to excuse inaction in crimes against humanity or ethnic cleansing.

That’s the real danger of the leader of the free world leading the fake news defense charge: It can be appropriated by borderline evil leaders trying to coverup atrocities while retaining popularity.

Undermining the press has serious consequences.  Donald Trump needs to learn that.  He’s an example to the world, unfortunately, and others learn from what he does and apply it to suit their needs.  Be wary, Donald.