Category Archives: Donald Trump

clinton russia collusion

No, the Clinton Campaign Did Not Collude with Russia

Upon the Washington Post’s report that the Hillary Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee helped pay for the Steele dossier, right-wing media went into a frenzy declaring that the Clinton campaign, and not Donald Trump, colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election.  Such claims are complete hogwash.  The Clinton campaign did not in any way, shape, or form collude or have connections with Russia, a fact so stunningly obvious that any claims to the contrary shows the extent to which the right-wing apparatus has engaged in Orwellian DoubleSpeak simply to defend a president all know to be dangerously unit for the job.

These orgies of accusations, whose participants include Donald J. Trump, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Fox News, Sean Hannity, the National Review, the Federalist, Jeb Bush, and the Wall Street Journal editorial board, ignore that the Washington Free Beacon — a conservative publication — partnered with Republican megadonor Paul Singer to fund the dossier during the primaries.

They also ignore reports last year that Democrats took over the dossier project after Trump won the Republican nomination.  No new information, just confirmation of previous reports and a pretty evident event: Many in Washington knew of some opposition research into Trump that included Russian improprieties — why would the Clinton campaign not pay a firm to probe for information?

Opposition Research is not Collusion

I should emphasize “pay a firm to probe for information.”  The Clinton campaign hired Fusion GPS to conduct opposition research on Trump.  Fusion GPS then hired former British spy Chris Steele for the investigation.  Steele collected raw intelligence; that obviously included speaking with Russians.  Undoubtedly, many of these Russians, speakingly disconcertingly freely, likely had lines fed to them by the Kremlin, whose efforts to influence our election and voters (of both parties) has been well documented.

But that’s not collusion (except, perhaps, in the delusional world of those who truly believe everything 1,200 time liar Donald Trump says).  Collusion involves a secret agreement or cooperation for some deceitful purpose — say, agreeing to meet with Russian agents after they promise dirt on your political opponent, which Donald Trump Jr did.  Hiring a firm for opposition research and then that firm hiring a spy and then that spy conducting routine raw intelligence collection is not by any means collusion.

Did the Clinton campaign coordinate responses with Russia?  Did it directly go to Russian operatives in hope of collecting dirt on Trump?  Did an agent of the Clinton campaign beg a de facto Russian outlet for hacked Trump emails (Cambridge Analytica, a Steve Bannon production with funding from alt-right Robert Mercer, solicited Clinton’s emails from Russian puppet Julian Assange).  The answer to all of these questions is a resounding no.

A Lack of Logic

Let’s also walk through the wholly foolish logic of those claiming Clinton/Russia collusion:

  1. Fund the bombshell dossier
  2. Say nothing about
  3. Let Russia hack your emails
  4. Lose election in large part because of leaked emails hacked by Russia
  5. Profit!

It’s utterly bizarre and entirely nonsensical that people think the Clinton campaign would break all sorts of laws and arguably commit treason to coordinate with Russian and then not use the document during the campaign to win the election.  How does that make sense?  Like all of the right-wing attacks, it doesn’t.

Paying for opposition research is not collusion.  By not stretch of the imagination is it collusion.  These new attacks, conveniently emerging in the same week as special counsel Robert Mueller’s first indictment, are only misinformation driven by stakeholders of the Trump administration who will go to any lengths to defend their Great White Hope — he who will take healthcare from millions and cut taxes on the wealthy all while enabling the GOP’s most racist and deplorable faction.

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A Race-Baiter’s Party Now

Former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie barely defeated Prince William County Supervisor Corey Stewart to win the GOP nomination for Virginia’s gubernatorial election.  No one expected the race to be close: Gillespie, a former adviser to President George W. Bush and candidate Mitt Romney, led all polls by at least 15 points and Stewart never impressed with his transplant knowledge of the state.

No one expected Corey Stewart to earn 42.5% of the primary vote because no one understood the true depths of irrational nativist anger that now defines a substantial faction — perhaps the most important faction — within the Republican Party.  The GOP is no longer the party of conservatism.  It’s the party of race-baiters.

Stewart ran a despicable campaign centered around issues of proclaimed heritage, by which he meant protecting the glorification of those who waged war against the Union in an effort to continue an engrained system of crimes against humanity.  In other words, Stewart’s campaign drew on support for traitors.

His rallies became cesspools of Confederate-loving individuals wrapping their obvious bigotry in the high-handed guise of “preserving history” — the history of the Confederate flag, which so many displayed as they cheered a vicious know-nothing.  Speeches descended to diatribes against proclaimed “political correctness,” a catch-all phrase used to decry those who think that states and localities maybe shouldn’t proudly display emblems of secession.


We shouldn’t really be surprised by Stewart’s campaign antics.  After hearing the Access Hollywood tape in which Trump bragged about sexually harassing and assaulting women — a tape which preceded two dozen accusations of such behavior, which Trump dismissed because some of the women were “too ugly” to harass — Stewart organized a rally outside of the RNC headquarters to protest the organizations lack of support for their predator candidate.

Even the Trump campaign, the same campaign that lead calls to lock up a political opponent (a highlight in banana republic campaigns) and which ran against the Constitution and the soul of our nation, tired of Stewart’s antics and fired him from his unpaid position.

But Trump’s ultimate victory — a victory made possible by voters overlooking bigotry, predation, and disturbing ignorance — emboldened Republican primary voters to free themselves of the Enlightenment’ shackles; hatred empowered, they no longer saw a need to keep up their facade of constitutionalism.  So 42% of them voted for Stewart and far-right populism.  Only the DC explants residing on Northern Virginia (briefly) saved the state from Stewart’s bombastic nativism (but he’ll be back, running for Senate against Tim Kaine in 2018).

With Stewart defeated by the slightest margin, Gillespie had two choices: Continue a campaign of decency wherein he would combat the most insidious factions of the Republican Party and try to shed conservatism of its fetish for demagogues or continue the campaign Stewart won.  To his shame and that of the GOP writ large, Gillespie chose the latter.

Gillespie decided to further kowtow to race-baiters because today’s GOP is so rotten that any ambitious politician now has to adopt racially biased principles to escape a primary and consolidate support for a general election.  That’s why actual conservatives such as Jeff Flake opt not to run for reelection.  Values would have to be surrendered to the scourge of far-right populists yearning for a nationalism that legitimizes naked hatred of Mexicans and Muslims.

The Republican’s campaign has devolved into running clear race-baiting ads that feature heavily tattooed Latinos and the threats of menacing gangs, such as MS-13.  “MS-13’s motto is Kill. Rape. Control,” screams one. “Ralph Northam’s policy? Northam cast the deciding vote in favor of sanctuary cities that let illegal immigrants who commit crimes back on the street, increasing the threat of MS-13.”


Sanctuary cities play a central part in Gillespie’s rallies.  “Do we need to have sanctuary cities here in Virginia?” Gillespie asks rally-goers. “No!” they yell in response, not understanding that sanctuary cities don’t help criminals, do not led to increases in crime, but do help victims of domestic abuse and violence contact police without fear of deportation.

But there aren’t any sanctuary cities in Virginia.

What end, then, could these ads that link Democrat Ralph Northam with muscular, tattooed, Latino gang members serve?  Race-baiting.  Nothing else.

This is the Republican Party now.  Candidates have to invoke racial fears, prejudices, and grievances to rally Lost Cause troops behind their campaign.  The state that witnessed a Nazi drive through a crowd of protesters, killing one, now sees a gubernatorial candidate embrace the exact same principles — saving statues.

Between Gillespie and Roy Moore, racist extraordinaire, we’re seeing how the GOP and its base will act in the years to come.

Emboldened by Trump, they doubled-down on nativism, hatred, and ignorance.

trump and corker

Trump and Corker Feud: The Facts

Donald Trump continues to lash out at all those who speak critically of him.  No one is immune: Not Gold Star families, first-responders to national disasters, or senators from his own party.  His feud with Tennessee senator Bob Corker is just another case of Trump’s gaslighting and lies that come when faced with dissidence.  Of course, in the Trump and Corker feud, Trump has the facts wrong.

Trump and Corker: Presidential Endorsement

Bob Corker opted not to run for reelection in 2018 despite being a fairly popular senator (he won 2012 reelection with 64 percent of the vote and has a +23 approval rating) and holding a key committee chairmanship (Foreign Relations).

Trump, in a series of tweets, claimed Corker decided not to run because the president refused to give his endorsement.

But that’s not true.  Corker’s Chief of Staff told NBC News that “President Trump called Senator Corker and asked him to reconsider his decision not to seek re-election and said I would have endorsed you.”  That followed a September conversation in which Trump pledged to campaign for Corker should the senator have ran again.  Multiple witnesses and people familiar with the conversations agree that Trump’s tweets have no basis in reality.

The Iran Deal

Trump’s obsessed with ending the Iran Deal, a deal he despises despite Iran abiding by it and thoroughly curtailing its nuclear capabilities.  Ending the Iran Deal threatens our foreign policy and sanctity of our word.  With misplaced anger towards the deal, Trump launches invective at all those who support it.  And somehow, despite all facts to the contrary, Trump thinks Corker gave us the Iran Deal.

In the land of facts, Bob Corker vocally opposed the Iran Deal, writing op-eds against it and urging his colleagues to vote against the agreement.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, when asked to defend Trump’s blatant falsehood, spat out another lie, claiming that Corker’s cosponsorship of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act paved the way for the Iran Deal.  That’s “astonishingly wrong,” said Richard Nephew, a senior research scholar on global energy policy at Columbia University, as the act “gave Congress the most direct way of killing the deal, quickly and easily.”

Corker also voted against the Iran Deal, which can be easily fact-checked by checking voting records (here’s the vote to end cloture that would then allow the Senate to vote on cancelling the deal).  Why would Trump bother to lie about something so easily fact-checked?

Corker “Couldn’t get elected dog catcher in Tennessee”

One of Trump’s favorite insults is alleging that his enemies couldn’t be elected dog catcher in their respective states.  Attacking the electoral abilities of politicians seems odd for a man who only received 46 percent of the popular vote, only slightly more than Thomas Dewey received in 1944 and Michael Dukakis earned in 1988.  Most Americans don’t recognize those names.

But of course, when Trump and Corker compare electoral histories, Corker wins.  Corker won his 2012 reelection with 64.9 percent of the vote; Trump received 60.7 percent of the vote in Tennessee.  In other words, Corker earned a higher vote share in Tennessee than did Trump despite 2012 being a better year for Democrats (Barack Obama took around 51 percent of the popular vote to Hillary Clinton’s 48 percent).

As mentioned, Corker has a solid approval rating: 52 percent approval of Corker’s job as senator and only 29 percent disapprove.  Trump holds a 52 percent approval in Tennessee, but also a 42 percent disapproval, leaving him +10 whereas Corker is +23.  I suppose by Trump’s logic he also could not be elected Tennessee’s dog-catcher.

Corker’s Stature

Trump has little understanding of world affairs.  Corker, on the other hand, does.  Until Trump can explain North Korea’s rationale for developing nuclear weapons, until he can explain the religious differences in the Middle East and which factions fight which, until he can display even the slightest understanding of foreign policy, his criticism of the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations for work on foreign policy really has little merit.

Lastly, a note on Trump’s character.  Trump and Corker initially got along well — Corker supported Trump and helped the candidate develop foreign policy.  Trump even considered making Corker his Secretary of State.

He chose not to for the worst reason imaginable: He’s only 5’7″.  Seriously.  A deciding factor in Trump’s pick for Secretary of State was height, not competency, knowledge, or respect from global leaders.  I suppose it’s little surprise that the reality TV show president cares only for appearance.

But the world cares about substance and, as in almost every single issue, this Trump and Corker fight — from its inception with Trump’s vanity — shows Trump’s a pathological liar hellbent on deceiving the American people.

losing faith in the free press

Losing Faith in the Free Press

A long history of political science literature teaches us that Americans tend to take cues from elites — that is, as a natural byproduct of being unable to thoroughly analyze each issue they face, they accept the conclusions of those they respect.  Perhaps no where is this more true than in politics, a complicated subject made ever more difficult by the nuances of legislation.

Unfortunately, Americans also base their belief in political norms on the thoughts of such elites.  Political norms — those that adhere our society to liberal democratic values — must be taught and passed from generation to generation.  They should not be eroded on the basis of one rather rogue leader.  But that idealized notion does not exist.  Instead, when charlatans such as Donald J. Trump routinely attack our norms and institutions, Americans follow suit.

Losing Faith in the Free Press

Faith in the free press has suffered under Trump’s baseless and incorrect bashing of the so-called “fake news,” a concept he clearly does not understand.  A recent POLITICO/Morning Consult poll found that a full 46 percent of all voters think the media makes up stories about Trump and his administration.  This includes some 76 percent of Republicans (only 11 percent of Republicans don’t think the media makes up stories) and 44 percent of proclaimed independents.

The media, of course, does not make up stories about Trump and his administration.  All stories from reputable news sources go through a thorough vetting process and multiple rounds of verification, especially if sources refuse to go on the record.  Of course, Trump himself cannot actually point to a story he finds fake.  Neither can his supporters.

Just 37 percent of voters believe that the media does not fabricate stories.  Fewer than four in ten Americans trust our press enough to believe in the veracity of all they publish.  And yet they have no reason to believe the opposite, except that Donald Trump — and, shamefully, other elites within the Republican Party — have latched onto this false idea that any report that criticizes or disparages the president in any way must be fake news, and called such for millions of gullible voters to believe.


It doesn’t stop there.  Nearly three in ten Americans — 28 percent — think the government should have the power to revoke broadcast licenses of major news organizations the government says make up stories.  Put another way, 28 percent of all voters think the government should define what constitutes “fake news” and then act to ban its creators from broadcasting.

Remember that the First Amendment states that “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom…of the press.”

Blinded by Partisanship


Unsurprisingly, it’s primarily Republicans who support these proposals because it’s a Republican (or somehow who calls himself a Republican when he’s really a self-serving demagogue running on the Trump First platform) making the outrageous and blatantly anti-First Amendment claims.

We need to step back and realize that we’re letting an illiberal actor transform our beliefs in needed democratic institutions.  The free press keeps us informed.  It holds power accountable by helping voters understand the issues facing the country, the ongoings of Congress and the executive, and providing a transparent government where we can analyze for ourselves the actions of elected leaders rather than relying on government-controlled messaging.

A free society needs a vibrant press.  It’s the press that uncovers abuses of powers — without a dedicated press, Watergate would have gone unpunished.  Sexual abuse and harassment stories would never come to light.  Administration officials would still be spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to fly from DC to New York on chartered planes.  We wouldn’t know what’s happening because power tends to corrupt and that corruption is defended through lies.

Imagine a society in which Donald Trump’s 1,000+ lies went unchecked and unchallenged, that an unknowing populace — ignorant for the lack of government critique — simply believed all he said because they had no basis on which to form doubt.

Democracies need the press because democracies need informed voters.  That’s precisely what Trump’s attacking through his rhetorical attacks on the press, eroding support among the media and causing many — especially his supporters — to doubt everything said by certain outlets.  That’s not how a free, democratic society lasts.  We must cherish the free press regardless of what our political leaders say.

As Thomas Jefferson said, “were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

hamilton jefferson election 1800

Republicans Could Learn from Alexander Hamilton

The election of 1800 pushed the young American republic to the brink of a constitutional crisis.  Just the fourth election, and the first truly competitive one, the Federalist and Republican parties — though they would bristle at such a label — organized candidate tickets, John Adams and Charles Pinckney and Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr, respectively.

This innovation, a devolution into faction which so frightened the Founders, threatened the Electoral College because prior to the 12th Amendment, Electors had no way of differentiating between the president and vice-president.  Designed without parties in mind, each elector cast two votes and the top two electoral vote getters receiving at least a majority (in 1800, 70 votes) would become president and vice-president.

However, with a party ticket and partisan electors choosing from preferential candidates rather than dispassionately selecting a president from the population, electors had to coordinate votes to ensure that they didn’t each cast their ballots for the president and vice-presidential hopeful; one elector had to cast one vote for a third candidate lest the presidential and vice-presidential designee end up with the same number of electoral votes.

Failing to do so would throw the election to the House of Representatives.

A Republican Coordination Failure

Federalists managed this feat, no easy task given difficultly of coordination in a nation that moved at the speed of horses, with one elector giving a vote to John Jay, leaving John Adams with 65 electoral votes and Charles Pinckney with 64.  Republicans failed to execute their similar plan.  Their electors cast 73 electoral votes for both Jefferson and Burr and the tied election went to the Federalist-controlled House of Representatives, which threatened to overturn the election, nullify results, or even pass legislation to install an interim chief magistrate.

In the House, state delegations each cast one vote for president with a majority (9) needed for victory.  While Federalists dominated the chamber — they lost their majority in 1800, but the new Congress would not be seated until March — they only controlled eight delegations, short of a majority.  Republicans controlled seven states and one, Vermont, had a split delegation.

All knew that Republicans picked (or intended) Thomas Jefferson as their presidential nominee, but that did not bind Federalists, most of whom despised the former vice-president.  They wanted to deny him the presidency and so a number of them voted for Burr: Six Federalist delegations initially voted for Burr (all seven Republican delegations as well as Federalist Georgia voted for Jefferson).  Vermont, split, cast a blank ballot.  Maryland had five Federalists and three Republicans in its delegation — four Federalists voted for Burr while one voted for Jefferson along with the Republicans, leading to a blank ballot.  No president had been decided.

These divisions — six states for Burr, eight for Jefferson, two blank — held for 35 ballots.

Hamilton’s History with Jefferson

Throughout the affair, Alexander Hamilton urged his Federalist colleagues to vote for Thomas Jefferson, his longtime nemesis, because he trusted Jefferson’s character and virtue whereas he found Burr unscrupulous and too self-serving, perfectly exemplified by his unwillingness to stand down after the election went to the House despite knowing his designation as vice-president.

It’s hard to overstate the depths of the animosity that flowed between Hamilton and Jefferson.  Hamilton considered Jefferson’s political views as “tinctured with fanaticism,” and, as a person, “a contemptible hypocrite.”  During the 1796 election, Hamilton wrote a series of some 25 essays under the pseudonym Phocion attacking Jefferson.  The most notable of the works, all published in the Gazette, accused Jefferson of having an affair with one of his female slaves.

For his part, Thomas Jefferson lambasted Hamilton and funded James Callender, a sensationalist Republican journalist who frequented the muck to attack Federalists, primarily Hamilton.  Callender helped destroy Hamilton’s career and public reputation through false accusations of corruption and the popularization of Hamilton’s affair with Maria Reynolds.

The Callender Affair

In 1792, information came to light that made then-senator (and future president) James Monroe believe Hamilton used his position as Secretary of the Treasury to enrich himself through speculation.  Such accusations naturally angered Hamilton, who prided himself on virtuous leadership that sacrificed his own interests for those of the country.  That disinterested leadership defined his views of government and explains his eventual support of Jefferson over Burr in the 1800 election.

When Monroe and other Republicans confronted Hamilton, they learned Hamilton dallied with Reynolds, but did not act corruptly or abuse his powers.  Monroe and his counterparts understood the distinction between public and private life, realizing that indiscretions in marriage did not equate to corrupt or insidious public action.  The investigation ended without leaks.

Some four years later, Callender uncovered the papers related to the Hamilton investigation, perhaps leaked to him by Jefferson, though more likely released by former House clerk John Beckley, a Jefferson ally.  He published the documents and further editorialized the affair, lambasting Hamilton’s moral standing and falsely accusing him of corruption.

Hamilton responded in a lengthy pamphlet that he assumed would end the confrontation and restore his stature — after all, the same defense and revelation of facts had ended Monroe’s intrigue.  Unfortunately, the pamphlet, in which Hamilton admitted the sordid details of his affair but denied all allegations of corruption, reached a mass audience and that audience assumed Hamilton’s moral indiscretions exposed a rotten character.  Callender’s efforts, funded by Jefferson, thoroughly disgraced Hamilton.

Differences Aside

And yet, when it came to the tied 1800 election, Hamilton put his long-standing rivalry and antipathy towards Jefferson behind him and fervently wrote Federalist congressman urging them to make Jefferson, not Burr, president.

Hamilton worried that the country would suffer, that the government would be subverted or otherwise harmed, by “an unprincipled man [who] would exploit public passion.”  He warned of a latter-day Catiline (a constant fear of Hamilton’s), the Roman senator who led a populist uprising against the Republic.  Burr’s populism — he was the first (vice) presidential candidate to canvass for office and helped establish the first political machine in New York — and ambition made him such a man.

Federalists believed that Burr, who held few core principles and profited from the Hamiltonian economic system, would maintain the Federalist program.  But Hamilton, who did so much to consolidate government and design the Federalist programs, willingly sacrificed their rollback for character in the presidency.  “Great Ambition unchecked by principle…is an unruly Tyrant,” he wrote.

“As to Burr there is nothing in his favour. His private character is not defended by his most partial friends. He is bankrupt beyond redemption except by the plunder of his country. His public principles have no other spring or aim than his own aggrandisement per fas et nefas. If he can, he will certainly disturb our institutions to secure to himself permanent power and with it wealth.”

The Lesser of Two Evils

Jefferson, on the other hand, had greater ability than Burr and was not “zealot enough to do anything in pursuance of his principles which will contravene his popularity, or his interest. He is as likely as any man I know to temporize — to calculate what will be likely to promote his own reputation and advantage; and the probable result of such a temper is the preservation of systems, though originally opposed, which being once established, could not be overturned without danger to the person who did it. . . . Add to this that there is no fair reason to suppose him capable of being corrupted, which is a security that he will not go beyond certain limits.”

“He is of a temper to undertake the most hazardous enterprises because he is sanguine enough to think nothing impracticable, and of an ambition which will be content with nothing less than permanent power in his own hands.  The maintenance of the existing institutions will not suit him, because under them his power will be too narrow & too precarious; yet the innovations he may attempt will not offer the substitute of a system durable & safe, calculated to give lasting prosperity, & to unite liberty with strength. It will be the system of the day, sufficient to serve his own turn, & not looking beyond himself.”

“The truth,” Hamilton wrote, “is that under forms of Government like ours, too much is practicable to men who will without scruple avail themselves of the bad passions of human nature.”

Hamilton put his hatred towards Jefferson and concerns over the longevity of his system to support a candidate with character fit to be president, eschewing his party in the process.  He recognized the dangers posed by a self-serving individual without ideology of which to speak and no clear attachment to the constitutional system.

How Republicans Can Learn from Hamilton

Republicans should learn from that.  Donald Trump has no interest in protecting the Constitution — in fact, his actions as president have undermined it through violating the foreign emoluments clause, the domestic emoluments clause, undermining the separation of powers, and trying to erode the First Amendment’s protections of free speech and press.

Obviously, Trump is not fit for office.  He promotes falsehoods, lies to the American people, and blunders about without a clear understanding of policy, domestic and foreign.  About 1/3 of his presidency is spent on properties he owns, mingling with donors and lobbyists who pay companies in which he maintains a financial stake hundreds of thousands a year simply to have access to the president.  The Founders never wanted such a businessman to be president because that individual would have innumerable conflicts of interest and act on in a self-serving manner; the fears Hamilton had of Burr come true in Trump.

Trump’s authoritarian minded.  He has offered a tacit endorsement of political violence and degraded political discourse through slander, libel, and countless lies told about the opposition.

Our institutions do constrain him, and that’s a testament to the efforts of Hamilton and other Founding Fathers to create precedents of separated power and checks and balances, not risking the early republic for personal or factional interests, but instead recognizing the gravity of their decisions.  Precedents can be overturned and the normalization of an authoritarian president coupled with weak congressional opposition does not bode well for the country going forward.

Hamilton acted for the country, not for himself.  He worked ceaselessly to protect the country from the dangers of an ambitious and self-serving character.  Republicans need to learn from Hamilton’s actions and recognize that our country would be best served by abandoning Donald Trump.

For more on election of 1800 and the histories of Hamilton and Jefferson, checkout Gordon S. Wood’s “Empire of Liberty.”  Click the image to buy.

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john kelly niger

John Kelly’s Shame

Many days after American soldiers died in Niger, Donald Trump finally decided to call the grieving widow of one of the lost soldiers.  He bombed spectacularly, telling the widow her husband “knew what he was signing up for, but I guess it still hurt.”  A car full of mourners heard the president disregard an American death because they should have seen it coming and been emotionally prepared.

Donald Trump, when faced with the natural outrage that followed his most recent stunning lack of basic human empathy, decided to attack Congresswoman Wilson, a longtime family friend of the deceased, on Twitter, labelling her account of the conversation as fake.

As usually happens when Trump claims to have proof that vindicates his side of the story (see his threat of releasing tapes on James Comey which the White House ultimately conceded did not exist), Trump lied.  He’s lied to the American people well over a thousand times; this one just so happened to concern a Gold Star family, a label which Trump has long disrespected.

To soothe things over, the administration trotted out Chief of Staff John Kelly, a retired general whose son died while serving the country.  Kelly, faced with the impossible task of defending Trump’s callous and entirely heartless remarks, decided not to and instead resorted to the logical fallacy of whataboutism.

Whataboutism, a common propaganda technique, shifts focus from one wrong to another (whether real or imagined) to dilute outrage and signal loyal partisans that the offending party actually did nothing wrong, or is simply the lesser of two evils.

In Kelly’s case, he decided to attack the family friend and congresswoman present with the family during the phone call, saying “it stuns me that a member of Congress would have listened in on that conversation. Absolutely stuns me. I would have thought that was sacred.”  What Kelly fails to mention, however, is that the family invited the congresswoman to listen to the call, putting it on speakerphone when all were together.  

Kelly decried Wilson’s “selfish behavior,” but not the president’s callous remarks.  He attacked a friend supporting a widow faced with raising children alone, but admitted that the president spoke without sympathy or empathy and offered no support in such a trying time.  

John Kelly tried to create phony outrage by slandering a widow’s friend while letting the president off the hook for his ineptitude.  That’s perfect whataboutism — shifting the focus from the president to the supposed evils of someone else.

It’s also a complete lie, and John Kelly knows it.  He purposefully lied to the American people in an effort to help a man who said he prefers military members “who weren’t captured.”

Mr. Kelly, I must ask: What is wrong with you?

cost-sharing reductions

Congress Must Appropriate Cost-Sharing Reductions

Donald Trump announced that the federal government halt cost-sharing reductions with insurance companies, threatening the stability of the insurance marketplace and raising premiums for all as well as increasing the federal deficit by $194 billion.

Unfortunately, though Trump’s sabotaging the law, he has good reason to end cost-sharing reductions: They’re probably unconstitutional because Congress never appropriated the funds spent by both the Obama and Trump administration.

Congress, and Congress only, has the power of the purse.  Whereas parts of the ACA have a permanent appropriation — the tax credits given to low- and middle-income Americans do not have to be reappropriated every year — the cost-sharing reductions are not included in those provisions.

The Obama administration unsuccessfully argued that Congress intended for the cost-sharing reductions to be grouped with tax credits and their permanent appropriation, an argument similar to the intent argument made in King v. Burwell.  A federal judge did not buy that reasoning.

We won’t know the case’s ultimate outcome as the Trump administration will drop its appeal (Trump’s decision made it moot).  Regardless of intent, or what a court would divine as intent, the hastily-written ACA final text did not permanently appropriate cost-sharing reductions.

And Congress has not appropriated them since the Republicans took over the House of Representatives in 2010.

It must do so now.  As mentioned, ceasing the subsidies increases premiums and gives insurance companies a reason to leave the marketplace in 2018.  The poor see access to healthcare restricted and the federal government spends more to cover rising premiums.

Let’s be smart and appropriate cost-sharing reductions.  Failing to do so hurts everyone.

cost-sharing subsidies

Cost-Sharing Subsidies Stabilize the Insurance Market

Donald Trump, after mulling the issue for months, has decided to end the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) cost-sharing subsidies, a move that could drive insurers from the market place and which will raise the cost of insurance, especially for those hovering at or just above the federal poverty line.

Cost-sharing subsidies make healthcare affordable for low-income consumers

These cost-sharing subsidies help consumers who earn between 100 and 250% of the poverty line afford copays and deductibles if they purchased select healthcare plans through the ACA exchanges.

The plans that qualify for cost-sharing subsidies tend to have high deductibles — the Silver Plan, for instance, had an average deductible of more than $3,000 in 2016 — that would otherwise render purchased insurance all but useless for low-income consumers.  Cost-sharing subsidies help make the Affordable Care Act affordable.

Payments, made directly to insurance companies, total around $7 billion a year.  Without these subsidies, health experts fear insurers would drop out of marketplaces.  Those that remain would have to raise rates to “cover the costs of reducing cost sharing while ensuring solvency.”

Ending cost-sharing subsidies leads to uncertainty

Before Trump announced an end to cost-sharing subsidies, uncertainty around future payments caused insurers to raise rates in case the administration cutoff reimbursements.  Insurance companies had to insure themselves against the possibility of the Trump administration signing an executive order; unfortunately, the premiums for that insurance fell on consumers.

That’s not all.  On top of insurers leaving the markets and premiums rising, ending cost-sharing subsidies would actually increase the deficit by $194 billion over 10 years.  This paradoxical finding by the CBO — federal spending actually rising by the president cutting some spending — will happen because of premium increases.  As premiums rise for those with low incomes, government subsidies will also rise, costing the government hundreds of billions over the course of a decade.

Trump’s decision and his rhetoric leading up to it have sabotaged the ACA and the healthcare markets by creating instability, discouraging insurers from entering the marketplace, raising premiums, and, as subsidies end, increasing the deficit.

The Founders Did Not Want a Businessman as President

The Founding Fathers never wanted businessmen elected to public office and they certainly did not want one to become president.

Public officials, the Founding Fathers believed, should act disinterestedly — that is, with virtue, willing to sacrifice their own interests, and those of their peers, for the benefit of the country.  Patricians should lead the government as only they, free from avaristic influences of occupation, could rationally and dispassionately consider policy.

Businessmen could not for their commercial interests and bias would skew public policy towards a special interest.  Considerations would ignore the state as a whole and instead focus on, at best, enriching peers and patrons, and, at worst, themselves.

The Founders’ Warning

Alexander Hamilton warned that electing those representing special interests, such as businessmen (as well as men from other occupations), would take government’s focus away from the polity and shift it towards helping specific factions.  Writing in Federalist No. 35, Hamilton asked “Will not the merchant understand and be disposed to cultivate, as far as may be proper, the interests of the mechanic and manufacturing arts, to which his commerce is so nearly allied?”

To free government from such influence, he advocated electing statesmen free from conflicts of interests.  These statesmen would have studied government and its science and “feel a neutrality to the rivalships between the different branches of industry,” making them “likely to prove an impartial arbiter between them, ready to promote either, so far as it shall appear to him conducive to the general interests of the society[.]”

Adam Smith, father of modern economics, also voiced similar concerns.  His Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations argued that “The interest of [businessmen] is always in some respects different from, and even opposite to, that of the public….The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from this order…ought never to be adopted, till after having been long and carefully examined…with the most suspicious attention. It comes from an order of men…who have generally an interest to deceive and even oppress the public.”

The Constitution’s framers and other influential thinkers understood that electing a businessman to public office would risk conflicts of interest that pitted the financial stakes of the individual with the concerns of the country.  And, understanding the greed so natural in mankind, they knew which interest such an official would pursue.

Donald Trump and his Conflict of Interests

These warnings are particularly prescient today.  Donald Trump’s sprawling business empire from which he refused to divest leaves him susceptible to innumerable conflicts of interest as well as chancing his violation of both the Foreign and Domestic Emoluments Clauses.

We’ve already seen Trump’s personal interests butt heads with the interests of the country.  He spends a disproportionate amount of time at his private golf clubs, mingling with donors and lobbyists who spend hundreds of thousands of dollars a year be with the president at such resorts.  As Puerto Ricans — American citizens — suffered a humanitarian crisis in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, Trump golfed at his own club.

Trump has shown no ability to place America’s interests ahead of his business interests.  That is precisely the unenlightened leadership our Founders and other enlightenment thinkers so greatly feared.

To learn more about the Founding Fathers and the birth of the new American nation, checkout Gordon Wood’s The Empire of Liberty, linked below.  PoliticalEdu may receive a commission for purchases made through that link; such money helps maintain the site.

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end the iran deal

It Would be a Mistake to End the Iran Deal

Donald Trump wants badly to end the Iran Deal, which he has wrongly lambasted as “one of the worst deals ever created.”  The Iran Deal has successfully stopped Iran’s nuclear development and triumphed diplomacy over armed action.

To end the Iran Deal, to renege on an agreement from the previous administration, would dissuade other (rogue) regimes from negotiating with the United States as Trump would increase the costs and decrease the benefits of civilized issue resolution while making it clear that the United State’s word is only good as long as its speaker remains in power.

A Victory for Sanctions and Diplomacy

The Iran Deal represents the victorious conclusion of economic sanctions.  We never intended to hurt Iran’s economy indefinitely; instead, we hoped to bring them to the negotiating table by offering a clear benefit — relief from crippling sanctions — in return for ending its nascent nuclear program.  That succeeded.

Iran, once mere months from building a small nuclear stockpile, has followed the terms of the deal and now stands a decade (or more) from attaining a nuclear weapon.  Its centrifuges have been cemented and uranium stockpiles reduced some 98 percent.  Relatively moderate leaders have even used sanction relief to gain power in the state, reducing tensions with Israel and the West.

Should Trump fail to uphold our end of the deal, as he seems likely to do, Congress will have to decide whether to reimpose sanctions on Iran.  If it does, the Iran Deal will fall apart and, without sure support from our allies (who, aside from Israel, want the Iran Deal affirmed), only weak sanctions could be levied.

Iran Walks Away and Doesn’t Come Back

These sanctions would not, as before, bring Iran back to the negotiating table so Trump can work his faked dealmaking magic.  Iran will be free from its nuclear obligations and could resume work on weapons of mass destruction.  That sets Trump’s successor(s) up with a dilemma similar to what he faces with North Korea: How to handle an aggressive regional power with, or close to having, nuclear weapons.  And the Middle East has a lot more fluid parts than does North Korea.

Importantly, if we end the Iran Deal and manage to apply meaningful sanctions, it’s highly unlikely that Iran could be brought back to the negotiating table to hammer out a new deal.  They did so once and ended their nuclear program, abiding by all of the deal’s terms.  But that hasn’t stopped Trump from doubting the deal and continuously threatening to tear it up.  If he does so, why should Iran trust us again in the future to uphold our side of the bargain?

Can’t Negotiate with Other Rogue States

This breach of trust hurts us with other states.  Take North Korea.  We can only hope that North Korea could be induced to diplomacy to curtail its nuclear development.  While this might not seem likely — and seems especially unlikely when President Trump continues to throw cold water on the idea — it’s not impossible and is a partial hope of sanctions.

However, should Trump end the Iran Deal, North Korea will have no reason to ever negotiate with the United States.  What possible benefit could they get from it?  A brief respite from sanctions that could be reimposed at the whim of a tempestuous president?  An agreement at risk with every new election?

Without standing by our agreements, one president’s word — one Congresses action — means nothing.  Continuity in foreign affairs is incredibly important.  Signaling that our words and deals means little takes away whatever benefits other states might gain from negotiating with us: Following the agreement hurts their interests and may not help them in the long run if the United States backtracks from our word.

Don’t End the Iran Deal

Should Donald Trump end the Iran Deal, we will see our foreign policy become much more complicated.  Rogue nations will double-down on nuclear development and will avoid making deals with the United States.  We’ll increasingly isolate these states and they will increasingly build arms and increasingly become a threat.

Mr. President, please don’t end the Iran Deal.