Category Archives: GOP

donald trump authoritarianism

The Alpha Male of a Chimpanzee Colony

The Primal President

Donald Trump appealed to millions of Americans through sheer primal dominance.  His bluster, his unpredictable and easily inflamed temperament, his agenda driven by extreme narcissism, and his story of (white) American warriors constantly fighting in a Hobbesian world of (racial and cultural) change made him appear as an alpha male, a force with which to be reckoned.  But really, Trump’s psychological appeal that preys on those who lust for authoritarianism makes him the alpha male of the chimpanzee colony that is now the Republican Party. 

Prestige Psychology and Statesmanship

In an ideal polity, humans embrace prestige psychology, a somewhat recent evolutionary gain that has prepared our brains to respect honor those with culturally valued skills.  These skills usually contribute to a society’s well-being and are wielded for benevolence.

Prestigious individuals apply their talents not for self-aggrandizement, but to help others.  Members of society respond by elevating these individuals to positions of leadership and revere; they seek to emulate these cherished individuals and to respect the prestigious leader’s proclivity to collaborate with other experts (prestigious themselves) and act with degrees of “magnanimity, generosity, forbearance, and dignity in their leadership roles.”



Today, we would call those individuals patricians, or statesmen.  Such qualities can be attributed to some of our best presidents, including, namely, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, two men whose actions created and saved the Union while furthering liberty for all.

Donald Trump, of course, shuns statesmanship and his appeal did not draw on prestige psychology.  He won because his rhetoric appealed to primal human psychology: Social dominance.



Chimpanzee Politics

To understand Donald Trump’s appeal, we have to look at chimpanzees.  Chimpanzee societies are dominated by a single top-chimp – the alpha.  He earns his position through a mix of aggression, intimidation, and threat (which will often devolve into outright violence to squash insurrections and to completely assert social dominance through physical injuries).  The alpha chimp also manages to forge coalitions of pragmatism, allying himself with other forces to maintain leadership or, once dethroned, instantly supporting the new alpha in order to keep some vestiges of power.

Humans often act in similar ways.  Affinity for social dominance hails from from our ancient history – whereas prestige psychology developed around 100,000 years ago, social dominance became engrained some 5 to 7 million years ago.  It’s this truly primal psychology that explains Trump’s appeal.

Trump’s intemperance and (mental) instability means he’s constantly at risk of exploding – he often does this while watching Fox News in the mornings or evenings.  His looming aggression and stalking during the second presidential debate show an aggressive man lusting to pounce or charge his opponent.  Early morning Twitter tirades insult opposition (often with violent undertones), vent, and relentlessly self-promote such that the uninformed are almost bullied into believing Trump’s competency.



Primal Fear

Fear, too, permeates chimpanzee politics – and Trump’s success.  Alpha chimps must instill in their potential challengers a sense of fear, a belief that any attempt to overthrow the existing regime would be futile, resulting in pain and even death.  Trump uses fear in two ways: To solidify standing among his base and to bully other Republicans into acquiescence.

Trump portrays certain minorities as rapists (Mexicans) and terrorists (Muslims) who hope to destroy the American experiment and undermine Western civilization.  By identifying entire groups – large groups, nonetheless – as existential threats to continued existence, he instils in his base a sense of fear.  They obviously want to alleviate this fear and so flock to Trump because of his harsh rhetoric towards those groups.  And, when irrationally scared, the ends always justify the means.  That’s why people supported Trump even after his announcement that he would ban Muslims from entering the country and floated shutting down Mosques and establishing a Muslim database.  Anything would be justified to make us safe.



With a solid base unwavering in their support, Trump can bully Republican lawmakers by the implicit (or explicit) threat of a primary challenge.  Politicians are cautious creatures.  They fear losing and will go to great lengths to avoid real challenges, even if it means compromising on principles (as with most Americans, politicians don’t understand statistics and thus greatly overestimate the probability of losing to a primary challenger).  Trump can threaten to endorse and campaign for a rubber-stamp challenger and his base, so the argument goes, will follow him.  To avoid that, Republican legislators, in fear of the chimpanzee base, rally behind the president.

Transactional Coalitions

This same alpha will also be willing to enter coalitions so long as they benefit himself.  He views all relationships as transactional and will end any connection once it ceases to be useful.  Hence why Donald Trump ran as a Republican despite having little in common with the party – he needed its resources.

Similarly, after spending months denigrating the RNC and his competitors, he gleefully accepted their endorsements and help; most notably, after claiming that Ted Cruz’s father had been a part of the JFK assassination, Trump accepted Cruz’s endorsement when Cruz ignored his own “vote your conscience” convention speech.  It also explains why Trump abandoned Jeff Sessions after the latter’s recusal from the Russia probe: Sessions no longer had anything to offer Trump.



Authoritarianism

Trump’s appeal, in its primacy, relied on authoritarianism.  As mentioned, Trump’s hostile rhetoric towards minorities created a good versus evil false choice in which members of the proposed in-group – (white, Christian) Americans adhering to traditional values – came into conflict with the out-group, bad people (Mexicans and Muslims) who wanted to end the American way of life.

At worst, authoritarianism results in the utter dehuminziation of the out-group.  This is how violence and genocide happen.  The out-group becomes a subhuman with no natural rights and which must, by all means, be destroyed.

As humans think about conflict with out-groups – whether naturally or at the prompting of a malicious actor – support for highly dominant, authoritarian leaders increases. 



Authoritarian Personalities among Voters

Authoritarianism defines the alpha as well as his followers.  The (right-wing) authoritarian personality – the best predictor of Trump’s electoral support – desires nationwide values that revolve around traditional norms, submission to (strong) authority figures to either embody or reinforce those norms, and virulent antipathy to those who dare challenge the existing social order.

Trump perfectly fits the needs of those with authoritarian personalities.  His extraversion (social dominance, gregariousness, reward-seeking) and low levels of agreeableness (humility, altruism, care, empathy) cultivate a strongman image seemingly dedicated to a strict and traditional social order.

With no political philosophy, Trump acts out of pure narcissism.  He wants, above all, to promote himself.  This plays into the authoritarian dynamic as those looking for salvation and safety in an authoritarian figure feel vindicated in their choice when the leader believes himself to be a savior, that his “his superior intelligence, his charismatic dominance, his single-minded devotion to a grandiose self will triumph in the end.”  That, of course, perfectly defines Trump, a man who constantly (and wrongly) brags about his intelligence.



Conclusion

Donald Trump is the primal president, a man whose support and ascent to power can best be understood by studying chimpanzee politics.  He’s an authoritarian who seized the fascination of those with authoritarian personalities and expanded that solid base through fear, intimidation, and coalitions of practicality.  His support does not come from political philosophy or long-held ideology.  It’s not because of his prestige and skills or natural statesmanship.  It’s because Donald Trump tapped the tribal dominance that we evolved millions of years ago but thought we had left behind after the Enlightenment and with the embrace of civil, democratic societies.





graham-cassidy

What is the Graham-Cassidy Healthcare Plan?

Graham-Cassidy is the GOP’s last breath in the partisan healthcare fight.

With budget reconciliation – the parliamentary procedure that allows the Republicans to overhaul the healthcare system with only 50 votes – expiring on September 30, the GOP has introduced and rallied behind one final attempt to repeal the ACA: The Graham-Cassidy bill.

What is Graham-Cassidy?

A healthcare bill introduced by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) along with cosponsors Dean Heller (R-NV) and Ron Johnson (R-WI).

What does it do?

It ends the Medicaid expansion



Graham-Cassidy eliminates the Medicaid expansion in which the federal government encouraged states to expand their Medicaid programs to cover individuals and families earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.  Thirty-one states as well as the District of Columbia expanded Medicaid with the federal government subsidized at least 90 percent of new beneficiary costs.

Instead, the money once deigned for the Medicaid expansion would be reallocated as block grants for states to spend as they choose (funding would expire in 2027).  This means that states who accepted federal dollars to expand health insurance would lose money to states that resisted the ACA – it’s a redistribution from the states that helped residents afford health insurance either through Medicaid or helping people sign up for insurance through federal exchanges to resistant states that did not try to help residents afford health insurance.

Money given to states by Graham-Cassidy’s block grants would not need to be used to help residents afford care.



Graham-Cassidy also ends cost-sharing subsidies and the tax credits that helps low- and middle-income Americans pay for insurance premiums.

What about the individual and employer mandate?

Graham-Cassidy repeals the individual mandate to purchase coverage and offers no replacement to induce people to buy health insurance.

The individual may be unpopular, but it’s absolutely needed to make health insurance affordable.  Healthier individuals, those with relatively low expected medical spending, help subsidize costs for more expensive healthcare consumers.  Remove healthy individuals from the risk pool, as would happen without an individual mandate, and insurers would be forced to raise premiums to pay for an unhealthier and costlier universe of policy holders.

Couple ending the individual mandate with eliminating the ACA’s tax subsidies, and healthy individuals will have little reason to sign up for insurance; the failure to dilute risk would lead to a death spiral.  



What about preexisting conditions?

Graham-Cassidy allows states to ignore the ACA’s ban on preexisting condition discrimination.  In other words, Graham-Cassidy would let insurers charge those with preexisting conditions exorbitant rates that may price society’s most unfortunate entirely out of coverage.  This would, at best, bring healthy individuals back to the market, but even if it does, price discrimination would keep those who need health insurance most from affording it.

Graham-Cassidy does offer states a way out of this problem. It allows them to waive out of the Obamacare ban on preexisting conditions. This would give insurance plans the ability to charge sick people higher premiums, possibly excluding them from coverage altogether. That builds a market that functions well for healthy people but is terrible for sicker and lower-income Americans.



What does the CBO say?

We don’t know.  The CBO has yet to release a Graham-Cassidy score and it won’t before the September 30 reconciliation deadline.  Republicans may vote on a bill that touches 1/6 of the economy and with the potential to disrupt tens of millions of lives without knowing what the bill will do.

Independent analysis from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities finds that Graham-Cassidy will provide “$239 billion less between 2020 and 2026 than projected federal spending for the Medicaid expansion and marketplace subsidies under current law” (italics original).

These estimates likely underestimate the destructive effects of Graham-Cassidy because the bill has a Medicaid per capita cap.  Block grants won’t adjust for higher costs related to recessions, “public health emergencies, new treatments, demographic changes, or other cost pressures,” leaving states on the hook for covering those costs.

Tens of millions would likely lose insurance.



Who loses?

“In 2026, the 20 states facing the largest funding cuts in percentage terms would be Alaska, California, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. These states’ block grant funding would be anywhere from 35 percent to nearly 60 percent below what they would receive in federal Medicaid expansion and/or marketplace subsidy funding under current law.”  These states all either expanded Medicaid or pushed for residents to sign up in the federal exchanges.


Anything else I should know?

Yes, Graham-Cassidy will greatly disrupt the health insurance market with the ability to collapse it in the long run.

In the short-term, all 50 states and DC would need to create their own coverage programs without guidance, standards, or administrative infrastructure.  Market rules would also have to change.  This means that come 2020, after the transition period has ended, insurers will not know what the individual markets in which they operate will look like.  Insurers, who make decisions based on risk pools and risk expectations, won’t have any idea what the risk pools would be.  They would, at best, increase premium rates to account for uncertainty and, at worst, exit the market entirely.

Ten years from now, in 2027, Graham-Cassidy’s block grants simply expire (as does the ability for states to opt-out of ACA preexisting condition protections).  “Insurers in all states would face a market without an individual mandate or any funding for subsidies to purchase coverage in the individual market yet be subject to the ACA’s prohibition against denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions or charging people higher premiums based on their health status.  Many insurers would likely respond by withdrawing from the market, leaving a large share of the population living in states with no insurers, as CBO has warned about previous repeal-without-replace bills. ”



Will it pass?

Maybe.  It needs the support of 50 senators and right now it has around 48-49.

Who’s against it?

Rand Paul, though his rhetoric now matches what he said about the BCRA before he voted for it.

Who’s undecided?

Susanne Collins (R-ME), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and John McCain (R-AZ).

Who should I call?

The above senators and Shelly Moore Capito (R-WV).

 





Institutional Combat and Republican Takeover in the Reagan Era

An in-depth look at Democratic entrenchment, the Republicans offensive, and institutional combat.

The election of 1932 forever changed the course of American politics and American society. 1932 ushered in an era of liberal feelings, expanding government, and an all-together Democratic entrenchment. For the next four decades, the government continued to expand its role and a strong system of benefits (welfare) was created and expanded, primarily through Presidents Roosevelt, Kennedy, and Johnson. Since the 1930s, the Democrats have become entrenched in Congress and government agencies, allowing the New Deal, New Frontier, and Great Society programs to stay in place and fight the Republican offensive of the 1980s. Though the Republicans were (and so far are) unable to remove the programs and strip away the welfare system, they were successful in creating intense institutional struggles that have become the focus of politics and many discussions throughout the nation. Moreover, continued institutional combat stops the two parties from acting in the best interests of America – rather, the two parties act in fashions deemed best to bring down the other.

Following the onset of the Great Depression, Democrats were entrenched in Congress for six decades. This was possible thanks to the New Deal coalition, which included labor unions, farmers, the elderly, southerners, Jews, Catholics, and, of course, liberals. The New Deal coalition was formed because the general populace was seeking a change from the failed laissez-faire policies of Republican Presidents Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover. Roosevelt offered hope and new ideas to help the country escape the throes of depression. His policies of government intervention in the private markets on behalf of citizens were quite popular throughout the country and allowed for the coalition to remain intact. Such a far-reaching and inclusive coalition kept the Democrats in Congress for close to 60 years, and in the Presidency for 36 years (asides from Eisenhower, whose policies would be considered somewhat liberal today). Though FDR intended for the New Deal programs to temporary, he soon made them “permanent features of the American governmental system” (84). Being the dominant party in Congress and controlling the Presidency for numerous terms allowed the Democrats to create many social welfare programs, thus becoming entrenched in the domestic state.



Democratic entrenchment in Congress and in the Presidency allowed them to gain a firm footing in “federal social service[s], labor and regulatory agencies, and government bureaucracies and nonprofit organizations on the state and local levels that help administer national social programs” (81). At first, it was easy for the Democrats to maintain control because a liberal Congress and Democratic president allowed for safe passage of agency funding. Even when the White House was run by a Republican, Democrats are able to maintain high levels of influence and control on the aforementioned government agencies and subsidiaries. This is due to those who work in the agencies, bureaucratic networks, and administrative capabilities. Individuals who work in the agencies are generally “committed to these organizations’ goals” and are “commit to the public sector”, a trait generally found in Democrats rather than Republicans (82). Bureaucratic networks let Democrats establish links directly with voters, which played a key role in the creation of Democratic voting tendencies amongst “unionized workers and ethnic minorities” as well as “some middle-class homeowners, professionals, and members of the business community” (83). In these ways, agencies are able to resist efforts “by Republican presidents to redirect or limit their activities” (84).

By the 1960s, the Democrats were reeling and became “fully dependent on its base of power in the domestic state” (88). Perhaps the biggest challenge to the New Deal coalition was the Democratic support of civil rights for African-Americans. While Northern Democrats were “sympathetic to the plight of the blacks” (88), southern conservatives (who voted Democratic out of tradition) were not. Civil right legislation passed in the New Frontier and Great Society caused a party dealignment, with Southern Democrats slowly leaving the party to vote Independent or Republican. Blacks soon replaced white Southern Democrats. Federally funded community development corporations, community action centers, and neighborhood service centers “provided an institutional framework through which blacks could be organized to provide local political support for [Great Society] programs” (90). When blacks go out and vote, Democrats almost always win. However, the struggle for liberals is getting African-American citizens to vote, a problem President Obama was able to solve through his nationality and focus on Get Out The Vote initiatives.

During Lydon Johnson’s presidency, the conflict in Vietnam escalated into a war. Due to this, liberals within the administration and throughout the country “launched a full-scale attack on the national security establishment”, seeking to “subject the military-industrial complex to stricter external control” (91). This attack was successful in cutting defense spending throughout the 1970s. However, Democrats were charged with weakening national defenses to a critical level following the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Republicans were thus able to gain support in the South and West among those who had a stake in defense spending, hence further challenging the New Deal coalition.

The 1968 Democratic National Convention saw numerous changes designed to show the party’s racial acceptance as well as to pass reforms for primaries and campaign finance. Considered by many to be the biggest change, a new rule required that “delegations to future national conventions be composed of blacks, women, and youths in a ‘reasonable relationship to their presence in the population of the state’” (93). Another platform agenda was encouraging states to use open primaries and caucuses in order to limit the “slate-making efforts of party organizations” (93). The Common Clause group sought campaign finance laws that would include limitations on individual contributors. These proposed reforms by the liberal Democrats steered the party in the direction of middle-class citizens and racial minorities. However, this came with the destruction of the local party organizations, leaving the Democrats even more “dependent upon their bastions within the domestic state” (94).



After a few years and elections of political turmoil, following Nixon’s demise at Watergate and the failure of the Carter administration, Republicans were successful in winning back the presidency in 1980 and began to implement an agenda with an idea of undermining Democratic strongholds and dismantling the social welfare programs. In order to curtail the Democratic entrenchment, Republicans used a mixture of tax reductions, domestic spending cuts, and deregulation. Doing so “diminished the Democrats’ ability to achieve their policy objectives…and provide benefits to groups allied within the party” (103). Significant tax decreases resulting less money for the government and a ballooning annual deficit. To remedy this, a number of domestic spending cuts ensued, putting domestic programs under pressure by cutting of funding (the Anaconda plan). New programs could not be created and funding levels for existing programs were always at risk of being cut. Republicans also sought to deregulate key industries, including transportation, energy, and finance, which limited regulatory agencies as they were not “able to intervene against business on behalf of groups disadvantaged by market process” (106). Deregulation also helped business break with labor, weakening the unions and thus the Democrats. Through these means, the “Republican Offensive” was successful in damaging the Democratic entrenchment; however the election of Bill Clinton in 1992 prevent the destruction of Democratic control.

As the Republicans undermined the “capacities of institutions” (107) controlled by Democrats, they also began to weaken the Democratic social base and New Deal coalition, focusing on business, the middle-class, blue-collar workers, and white southerners. Republicans were able to take business from the Democrats with Reagan’s promises of cutting “costly social programs”, weakening the “influence of labor”, and deregulation. These promises lured businesses to the right, where many of them remain today. In order to win over the middle-class, conservatives “attempted to convince” them that they weren’t “beneficiaries of federal expenditure programs”, but rather “taxpayers” (110). They were successful in creating an issue out of taxes; there was a 21% increase in voters who identified taxation as a problem between 1976 and 1984 (111). By focusing on the aspect of taxation rather than benefits, Republicans were able to lure away middle-class voters with promises of lower tax rates, stealing another block of the Democrat’s New Deal coalition. Republicans won blue-collar workers by stressing “moral and religions convictions” as well as patriotic appeals (114). In addition, Republicans subtly used the issue of race to win over blue-collar workers (115). The race issue, as well as moral convictions and beliefs – such as abortion – , helped Republicans win the votes of white Southerners, who were mostly Evangelicals. By taking these voting groups, Republicans were successful in dismantling the New Deal coalition.



Republicans also made popular bounds with their national security platform and monetary and fiscal policies. The first Reagan term saw the “largest peacetime military buildup” (117). Doing so let Reagan claim the Republican Party was the one of power, both domestically and abroad. It has been acknowledged that the Department of Defense is a Republican entrenchment. While the Reagan administration’s policies led to a soaring national debt, the decline of the dollar, and a growing trade deficit, his policies made it impossible for Democrats to campaign on their core issue: entitlement programs. Since there was a large deficit, it was impossible to run with idea of creating new domestic spending programs, hence hurting Democratic candidates. All in all, national security and monetary and fiscal policies by Republicans strengthened their institutional standing and their capacities of governance all while weakening the Democrats.

Unfortunately, rather than serving the people, the two major political parties have come to use the institutions of government as a means of battling the other. For example, budget deficits via tax cuts were used as a Republican weapon to prevent new spending programs that would have benefited many people throughout the country. Luckily, the debt was financed by foreign governments who sought to capitalize on the high interest rates used by the Federal Reserve to tame inflation. Democrats responded by passing the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Act to try and pressure Reagan into tax increases. They also pursued protectionism as a means of cutting off the foreign investment that financed the burgeoning debt. This political fighting hurt the country as markets were sent into a flurry of panics, culminating in Black Monday. In national security, the Reagan administration spent huge sums of money to appear powerful and make Americans think that Republicans were the party of power. Coupled tax decreases, Reagan managed to run extraordinarily high deficits, resulting in the aforementioned disempowerment of Democrats. Federal courts of expanded their powers by “rescind[ing] the abstention doctrine” and by “creat[ing] new rights” (147). Socially, institutional combat deprived America of health care reform when a Republican Congress blocked the Clintons’ health care plan. Impeachment charges, ironically led by Newt Gingrich, were brought on Clinton despite his lack of breaking any formal law. Clearly, rather than focusing on how to best help Americans, the two major parties instead focused on how to damage the other.

Overall, institutional combat and struggles between the two major parties deprives the country of a governing body devoted to advancing policies best suited for the progression of societal well-being. Ever since the Democratic entrenchment of Congress, the presidency, and other agencies in the 1930s, Republicans have sought a way to demean the Democrats and shift the country right. This manifested itself in 1980 after New Deal coalition slowly disintegrated and the Democrats found themselves in a crisis, per se, with a crumbling base and a number of issues that seemed bound to destroy the party – among them national security and the military, as well as growing inflation caused by ample government spending. The reestablishment of the Republican Party has only served to worsen institutional combat as now the two sides are on equal grounds from which to wage political war. As long as institutional combat continues, little will be accomplished by the government and the general populace will suffer as a result.

kid rock for senate

The Insanity of Supporting Kid Rock for Senate

Our History Demands Better than Kid Rock for Senate

Believing that the Kid Rock for Senate shadow campaign should be successful – believing that Kid Rock has a place in the Senate – shows nothing but contempt for the Founding Fathers.  Those who created the Senate envisioned a prestigious chamber dominated by political and social elites – those versed in policy, eloquent in speech, and able to create a deliberative chamber removed from the tempests of public will.  The Senate would inspire awe; the country’s finest would fill its ranks and act as true patricians debating on behalf of the states and the country, controlling foreign policy, checking the easily-swayed House of Representatives, and preventing the president from acquiring undue power.

For a while, the senators fulfilled that vision.  Foreign observers such as Alexis de Tocqueville idolized and heralded the American Senate.  Citizens, too, had the utmost admiration for the body.  Visitors often filled the galleys for speeches by renowned oratorsschoolchildren later memorized these very speeches.  Ideas and compromises flowed as great statesmen rose from their desks and embraced the dreams of the Founders.

The Senate has since fallen from its glory.  Corrupt actors have mangled the Senate’s image through demagoguery, process destruction, and using the Senate as a post-Reconstruction and Civil Rights Era tool to maintain systemic white supremacy, especially in the South.  These disgraces, though largely a thing of the past, tarnished the chamber’s image, and rightfully so.



Today’s senators have done little to restore the body to its former glory.  Senators act as puppets of their president.  Voters, too, bear a lion’s share of the blame: They fail to treat the Senate with the seriousness it deserves, which leads to the election of eggheads and process destruction (Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has abused the Senate’s long-standing process during his tenure and has faced no backlash from those charged with holding him accountable).

Voters fail to understand the purpose of the Senate (and, for that matter, the presidency).  Political incursions by know-nothing hobbyists have devalued elected offices and encouraged voters to treat elections as sports and games, not serious matters with long-lasting repercussions (see: Donald Trump’s election).  Such hobbyism among those seeking prestige, power, and profit should be restrained by voters, but instead voters, not taking the Senate seriously, flirt with ludicrous candidates.

Michigan voters exemplify just that.  Kid Rock, profane and ungifted musician who knows nothing about politics, let alone public policy – a hobbyist looking for money whose political ramblings should never be taken seriously – has teased a possible Senate run and already voters have rallied behind the blowhard.  A Trafalgar Group poll found him leading a hypothetical matchup with incumbent Debbie Stabeow by 3 points (49-46).  Kid Rock has no campaign, no discernible policies, and no reason to run for office.  He’s the antithesis of our Founders’ vision for the Senate.



So why do people lust for the idea of Senator Rock?  Because in their delusions of populist supremacy – in the grips of the death of expertise – voters think perceived elites should be scorned while ignorant fools (that is, people who sound like the average voter) supported and touted as the American political ideal.  But that’s idiotic.  We have elites for a reason.  Politics is not easy – nor should it be.  Our country needs public servants committed to the Constitution, to fighting for their constituents and the country as a whole, and to serving selflessly.  We need senators that fit the elitist chamber purposefully created by the Founding Fathers.

Republican officeholders and party leaders must also be ravaged for their role in promoting pathetic political hobbyism and degrading our once-valued and estimable institutions.  Worthless Vichy Republicans fell in line behind Donald Trump, a true demagogue, bigot, and obvious threat to liberal democracy and our existing democratic institutions.  That didn’t stop them.  Rick Perry, who called Trump a “cancer on conservatism,” now serves in Trump’s cabinet.



This trend continues with Kid Rock.  Texas governor and human abomination Greg Abbott loves the idea of “shaking up Washington” by electing Kid Rock.  Former New York governor and brief presidential afterthought George E. Pataki also endorsed Kid Rock for Senate.  Pataki’s support makes no sense considering he has no future in electoral politics.  In other words, he has nothing to gain by supporting Rock; without ulterior motive, it may simply be concluded that Pataki, too, has failed to study our founding.

Anyone who’s studied our history and cares about our institutions would be embarrassed to support Kid Rock for Senate.  And yet here we are, awaiting the decision of a fool, one that could see a further tragic American political development and a new low point in the Senate’s fall from grace.

kid rock for senate

Kid Rock and Anti-Anti-Trumpism

Kid Rock for Senate?

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

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

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

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

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



Anti-anti-Trumpism

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

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

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



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

What it means

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

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



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

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

2017 elections

The 2017 Elections Bode Well for Democrats

Democrats made large gains in the 2017 elections

The 2017 elections have seen a large swing to Democrats vis a vis their results just one year ago.  Special House of Representatives elections held in ruby-red, long uncompetitive districts have seen Democrats come tantalizingly close to major upsets.  While Democratic wins remain elusive, victories only tell half the story: The near-20 point swing towards Democrats in the 2017 elections indicate that 2018 may very well be a landslide year.

Chart 1 shows that the Republican margin in each district fell, on average, by 17.7 points.  Democrats dramatically improved upon their 2016 House showing, due in part to an energized base, an unpopular Republican president, and a national swing to Democrats, as evidence by congressional generic ballot polls.

2017 elections
Chart 1: Though Republicans won, the 2017 elections show a definitive trend away from Republicans.

Kansas 04

Donald Trump clobbered Hillary Clinton by 27 points (60-33) in the 84 percent white district.  Since 2002, the closest congressional race saw the Republican candidate win by 22 points.  Clearly, Democrats are traditionally not competitive in this R+15 state.



Yet Democratic candidate James Thompson lost to Ron Estes, then the Kansas State Treasurer, by only 6.8 points, a dramatic turnaround from both the 2016 presidential and congressional results.  Overcoming a 15 point structural disadvantage would be incredibly difficult — clawing back some 9 points and forcing high-profile Republicans to make campaign appearances deep in the GOP’s heartland shows that Donald Trump’s historically low approval among the American people can make competitive safe seats.

Montana At-Large

Montana has a weird dynamic: It happily elects Democrats as senators and governors, but opts for Republicans at the congressional and presidential level.  Since the state has one district, the constituencies are the same at each level.  In 2016, it elected a Democratic governor while overwhelmingly voting for Donald Trump and then Representative Ryan Zinke.

Thus, when Greg Gianforte, who lost the gubernatorial race in 2016 decided to try again in the 2017 elections, he stood as the overwhelming favorite.  His opponent, Rob Quist, had no political experience and was not a particularly gifted candidate.  But the race soon tightened, prompting Donald Trump Jr to venture to the state in hopes of propping up the millionaire Republican.

On Election Day eve, the race took an unexpected twist when Gianforte assaulted reporter Ben Jacobs.  This act of violence threatened to tilt and already close contest to the Democrat, but Gianforte survived due in large part to the early vote: Around 2/3 of Montanans had voted before the incident.  A poll taken on Election Day showed movement towards Quist, but not enough to overcome the already-cast ballots.



Still, the race showed Democratic competitiveness well away from diverse urban centers, which, along with the KS-04 results, portends a diverse House battleground in next year’s midterms.

South Carolina 05

The race to replace for House Freedom Caucus member Mick Mulvaney flew under the national radar.  Mulvaney won the district by 21 points in both 2014 and 2016; Trump underperformed Mulvaney but still won by 18 points, better than his numbers from South Carolina as a whole.

Yet Democratic challenger and political novice Archie Parnell nearly pulled a dramatic upset, falling just shy of defeating state representative Ralph Norman.  Parnell benefitted from the race remaining local, allowing the candidates to compete without millions from outside groups being spent or with visits from high-profile officials.  The non-nationalized race shows an energized Democratic base and a Republican base in need of massive investments in time and money to be driven to the polls.

Georgia 06

The most expensive House race in history drew extraordinary national attention and saw a campaign season last longer than many countries’ national elections.  Democrats pinned their hopes on former congressional aide and documentarian Jon Ossoff whereas Republicans opted for Secretary of State and former gubernatorial and senatorial candidate Karen Handel, a well-known politician.

For once, high turnout hurt Democrats.  Ossoff failed to improve on his Round 1 results because turnout in the R+8 district that in 2012 voted for Mitt Romney by 23 points.  He did, however, dramatically improve upon his 2016 Democratic predecessor, meaning he attracted some Republican support to pull 48% of the vote.



When a heavily Republican district experiences general election level turnout for a special election, Democrats suffer.  The other 2017 elections show that Democrats are energized to vote — lower turnout in GA-06 likely would have meant Republicans staying home.  Instead, Republicans spent tens of millions of dollar and sent Trump administration officials to the district to spur turnout.  And given there are more Republicans than Democrats in GA-06, it follows that more voters would mean more Republicans voting for Handel.

What do the 2017 elections mean for 2018?

The 2017 elections may leave some Democrats discouraged, but they needn’t be.  Across the board swings towards the party coupled with high base turnout and lagging Republican turnout indicates that 2018 will be a swing year.  If the 2017 elections Democratic swing is applied to all districts, Democrats will walk away from the midterms with a hefty majority.

Of course, such a pronounced swing is unlikely to happen.  But the results largely echo the aforementioned generic congressional ballot polls.  Taken together, Democrats — as of this writing — may well see a 6-10 point swing across all House districts.  That would be enough to make them the majority party.  Furthermore, the competitiveness of the 2017 elections in a diverse swarth of districts shows that Democrats will have many battlegrounds in their quest for 2018.

Conclusion

Don’t be discouraged by losses.  Recognize the political environment and the pronounced swings to the Democratic Party.  Be encouraged for the midterms.  Keep organizing, mobilizing, and persuading.  These results point to a great election ahead.

congressional republicans trump

Republicans: It’s Okay to Oppose Trump

Really.  You Can Do It.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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



The Constitution Matters.

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

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

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

It’s okay.  You can do it.

trump syria strike

Trump’s Syria Strike: Needed, but Illegal

Trump attacked Syria, a needed, yet unconstitutional, move.

Bashar al-Assad is a monster.  His atrocities have claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and displaced millions.  He’s committed war-crimes, most notably multiple chemical gas attacks against Syrian rebels, resulting in hundreds of death and unimaginable agony for women, children, and all dissidents.  Make no mistake: Assad belongs behind bars; regime change – democratization – is absolutely necessary.  The despot must not remain.

American intervention has long been needed.  Our failure to act over the course of four years has condemned too many to suffering or death.  It’s allowed Russia to assert itself into the region to support the autocratic regime, nominally in the name of fighting ISIS, but actually fighting Syrian rebels.  We need to act, but, as a nation of laws, we must only do so with respect to domestic and international law/

Trump’s surprise airstrikes that followed a dramatic policy shift, overturning in just 48 hours beliefs he held since 2013, are illegal.  They find no justification in domestic or international law.  Let’s break it down.



Domestic

Congress, not the president, has the power to declare war.  Such a constitutional design emerged from the Founders’ brilliant separation of powers.  There are, of course, exceptions to this general rule: The president “is bound” to respond to any attack on the country regardless of congressional approval for such actions.  But the true extent of the president’s unilateral authority remains hotly contested with constitutional purists giving the president little war-making leeway while some analysts declare that to preserve national security and promote national security interests, the president has broad powers to commit military strikes without receiving explicit approval from Congress.

The Supreme Court has not fully grappled with or solved this difficult balancing act.  That said, Justice Robert Jackson’s concurrence in Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer guides constitutional and jurisprudential thinking on the subject.  He divides executive power into three categories:

  1. Full congressional approval. “When the President acts pursuant to an express or implied authorization of Congress, his authority is at its maximum, for it includes all that he possesses in his own right plus all that Congress can delegate.”
  1. When Congress has been silent. “When the President acts in absence of either a congressional grant or denial of authority, he can only rely upon his own independent powers, but there is a zone of twilight in which he and Congress may have concurrent authority, or in which its distribution is uncertain.”
  1. When the president acts against the wishes of Congress. “When the President takes measures incompatible with the expressed or implied will of Congress, his power is at its lowest ebb, for then he can rely only upon his own constitutional powers minus any constitutional powers of Congress over the matter.”

Into which bucket did Trump’s action fall?  Certainly not the first – though President Obama (and likely President Trump) use an early-2000s authorized use of military force (AUMF) to fight ISIS, though many analysts do not believe the AUMF covers ISIS engagements, that certainly does not cover attacking a standing regime that poses no international terror threat.  Likewise, his actions probably don’t fall into the third bucket.  Congress has not explicitly forbidden strikes against Assad or the Syrian regime.  Back in 2013, both chambers refused to consider an AUMF desired by Obama and many members still in power today voiced their opposition to such an action.  That may be the “implied will” of some members, but certainly not the chamber writ large, especially given that in recent days, many representatives and senators have supported some sort of American action to punish Assad for his most recent war-crime.  It could, however, be easily and validly argued that since, in 2013, 100 representatives urged Obama to receive explicit authorization from Congress before attacking Syria, Congress would expect the same request after a less horrendous gas attack in a more complication geopolitical situation.  Trump’s actions probably fall into the “twilight zone,” the most difficult to analyze.



The White House Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) provides justification for executive action.  Though, as Jack Goldsmith (from whose writing much of the following paragraphs is based) notes, the legal reasoning presented by the OLC carries no judicial weight, it still serves roughly as precedent for administrations as they grapple with unilateral executive military authority, especially action in the “twilight zone.”  In interpreting Article II, the OLC “sets forth a two-part test for determining when a presidential use of military force abroad is consistent with the Constitution”:

  1. Does the president have “presumptive authority to use force unilaterally”?
  1. What is the (anticipated) nature of the strike or engagement?

America’s “national interest” permeates answers to the first question.  The OLC believes the president can unilaterally act if doing so furthers the “national interest,” especially if such an action does not risk dragging America into a long-term engagement (ie, if the action is of limited nature and scope).  Trump’s actions quite likely fulfill the second question’s requirements.  A one-time airstrike against Syrian airfields that gave advanced notice to other state actors whose military supplies and assets lived near the targets risks little escalation.  Of course, Trump being Trump, there’s much uncertainty as to whether he is content with a single airstrike.  The favorable news coverage he’s received might push him into further action; such speculation, though, is not reason to question whether this strike broke the OLC’s second test.

Though the second criterion is likely fulfilled to legal satisfaction, the first is not.  What “national interest” is Trump defending or promoting by attacking Syria?  We have few assets in the state – just 1,000 troops.  Regional stability and peace could satisfy the test, though pointing to such actions, a step removed from the immediate national interest, puts the president on still shakier ground.  Even those are lacking in Trump’s actions.  Risking Syrian, Russian, and Iranian retribution or escalation would greatly destabilize the Middle East.  Similarly, a central argument against overthrowing Assad is the fear that doing so would create a power vacuum form which ISIS or another extremist organization could emerge, especially if in the process chemical weapons are dispersed among disparate and antagonistic parties.  Little immediate regional stability can be gained.  Attacking Assad should discourage further use of chemical weapons, therein promoting peace, but the opposite could be true as well.  Assad could react by refusing to help fight ISIS, putting Russia in an uncomfortable position of naked regime support without the guise of fighting terrorism.  The lack of clear consequences is another reason why unilateral action should not have been taken: These questions and discussions should be debated by the body with war-declaring authority so we can publicly examine all potential consequences and act without haste.  Neither our national interest nor the region’s stability are augmented by unilateral executive action, meaning that Trump’s strikes fall short of the OLC test.



It’s important to note that by its very executive branch nature, the OLC takes an expansive viewpoint of executive authority.  The office seeks to make legal broad presidential power – their reasoning might not be accepted by a court of law.  If actions fail to meet lenient OLC tests, they almost certainly wouldn’t find favor by constitutional jurists.  Therefore, it’s reasonable and logical to conclude that while Trump’s actions fell in the “twilight zone” of authority, his actions are unconstitutional.  His strike needed congressional approval.

International Law

Trump’s actions also break international law.   As Marty Lederman notes, “done in the absence of a U.N. Security Council resolution, and without any apparent justification of self-defense (as the Pentagon explained, its function is to “deter the regime from using chemical weapons again,” presumably against Syrian nationals),” Trump’s attack “violate Article 2(4) of the United Nations Charter, which requires the U.S. and all other signatory states to ‘refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.’”  The UN charter is a treaty and thus the supreme law of the land.  Violating the treaty without congressional authority (Whitney v. Robertson, Chae Chan Ping v. US, and Breard v. Greene) is tantamount to violating Article VI of the Constitution.

This is notably different from Obama’s actions in Libya because, despite having no congressional authorization, he had cover from the United Nations Security Council.  Similarly, using President Bill Clinton’s Kosovo bombing as precedent does little to make legal the Syria strike.  Ashley Deeks, another Lawfare blogger, emphasized the important distinction between a legitimate and a lawful action.  Humanitarian concerns make legitimate any American actions, but legitimacy does not equate with legal.  Another glaring difference immediately emerges: NATO and the EU both condoned military action in Kosovo; no international organization approved such action against the Assad regime.  So while the Kosovo precedent further strengthens the legitimacy of the strike, it doesn’t address legal questions, leaving Trump in violation of international law.



Conclusion

The United States needed to attack or otherwise punish Assad.  However, the use of military force requires congressional authorization, an argument made repeatedly by the likes of Paul Ryan in 2013.  There is no domestic legal or argued precedent for such unilateral behavior.  International law similarly provides no such cover.  As a nation of laws and process, we must follow those principles even when facing monsters.  Trump violated the Constitution.  He must immediately ask Congress for an AUMF and not act in Syria again until he has such authorization.

jason chaffetz donald trump

Jason Chaffetz is the Worst Person in Congress

Dereliction of Duty Spawned by Rabid Partisan Allegiance

Jason Chaffetz is a surprisingly unscrupulous man.  Charged with the awesome role as the House Oversight Chairman, he’s extended his power in a decidedly partisan – and entirely unprincipled and wasteful – manner.  Chaffetz launched numerous high profile investigations into Hillary Clinton’s emails, charity, and alleged Benghazi…something (Republicans are never quite clear on what Clinton supposedly did wrong surrounding the tragedy).  All of these investigations, which cost taxpayers millions of dollars, yielded zero evidence of any improprieties or political ammunition effective on any aside from the nation’s most ignorant (so much for fiscal conservatism).  Even after the election, on Inauguration Day, Chaffetz, in a crude message, announced that he will continue the fruitless and politically motivation witch hunt into Clinton’s affairs.  Based on this irrational activity and clear desire to throw his political power into nothing-burgers, surely Chaffetz would jump at the opportunity to use his committee to investigate actual improprieties.  Right?

Wrong.  President Donald Trump’s innumerable scandals have already shrouded his young presidency in doubt and an air of illegitimacy.  Just a few weeks into his tenure, his approval rating dropped to 35 percent, lower than President Barack Obama’s at any point in his 8 years, and the lowest approval rating at this point in a presidential term since such data collection.  Trump’s scandals range from Russian interference in the election – a small act of war – to constitutional violations (Trump has violated both the foreign and the domestic emoluments clauses) worthy of impeachment.  Yet when asked whether he was concerned with Trump reaping financial rewards from unconstitutional behavior, Chaffetz responded, with a shrug: “He’s already rich.  He’s very rich. I don’t think that he ran for this office to line his pockets even more. I just don’t see it like that.”

That from the same individual who’s squandered taxpayer dollars trying – and failing – to prove that the Clintons used their charity, which literally saves millions of lives, to benefit financially while Hillary led the State Department.



It also demonstrates Chaffetz’s shocking ignorance and total inability to grasp the personality of his party’s leader – that, or a willful ignorance since his investigation could endanger Donald Trump’s presidency.  Trump, of course, acts only to “line his pockets even more.”  Back in 2000, Trump claimed that “it’s very possible that I could be the first presidential candidate to run and make money on it.”  And he did just that.  The Trump campaign solicited and accepted millions of dollars from the working and middle class; they then took that money and paid Trump-owned firms and businesses millions of dollars.  After his victory, the pattern continued as Trump took the unprecedented action of refusing to fully divest from his sprawling web of businesses.  This has led to him and his companies reaping millions in benefits because of Trump’s position as president.

Trump’s DC hotel – his continued ownership of which violates its leasing agreement – has attracted an incredible amount of foreign business.  For instance, the Bahrain embassy held a lavish celebration at Trump’s DC hotel a few weeks after Trump’s surprise victory, likely spending millions at a venue from which Trump continues to profit.  Now, Trump has reversed an Obama-era stipulation that Bahrain must improve human rights conditions before purchasing US fighter jets.  President Trump, months after receiving a large windfall from a foreign government hosting an event at his property, made it easier for that foreign government to purchase fighter jets, human rights concerns be darned.  This is the exact type of dubious dealing that the Founders sought to curtail with the Foreign Emoluments Clause.  It’s a textbook constitutional violation, one that ought to be investigated by Jason Chaffetz’s committee, but one that won’t be because Chaffetz figures it couldn’t possibly harm us or the world if Trump becomes a little richer while in office.



Similarly, when asked about Jared Kushner’s family “exploring a $400 million deal with a Chinese company while he serves as a foreign policy adviser to the president,” Chaffetz determined that, too, does not merit an investigation because “I don’t see how that affects the average American and their taxpayer dollars.  Just the fact that a staff person’s family is making money? It’s not enough.”  Never mind that we’ve already seen kickbacks from the Trump administration to those who give him money (not to mention that Trump’s executive order that seeks to make legal his desired Muslim ban conveniently excludes countries in which he owns property).  Never mind that Kushner, a largely unsuccessful businessman thrust into the real estate limelight because his father was jailed, would see an extraordinary windfall from this deal at exactly the time he’s advising the president on how to proceed with North Korea and an increasingly regionally dominant China.

This amounts to a clear dereliction of duty.  Jason Chaffetz, who hounded Clinton for much less, frivolously spending taxpayer dollars as he did so, refuses to investigate Trump’s clear constitutional violations and extraordinary conflicts of interest that entangle Trump’s top advisers.  These conflicts risk America’s interest being put behind the financial interests of those running the executive branch.  It is precisely Jason Chaffetz’s duty to investigate such violations and conflicts to ensure that the executive branch works for Americans, not the solely the Trump clan.

Jason Chaffetz is a scoundrel, a weakling whose word means little and whose principles – or lack thereof – shaped a man motivated by partisan animosity, not love for country or a patriotic sense of duty.

 

 



trump joint address

Deceit and Demagoguery in Trump’s Address to Congress

President Donald J. Trump’s address to the joint session of Congress reeked of demagoguery and deceit, the two defining characteristics of his rise to power.  Through the speech, Trump appealed to base, bestial emotions, preying on tribal instincts to pit his base – the white working class – against those with different backgrounds and skin colors.  His emphasis on “radical Islamic terrorism,” perhaps the most emphatic phrase he uttered, broke with Barack Obama and George Bush’s administration as well as the wishes of his national security adviser, Lt. General H.R. McMaster.  Steve Bannon’s rhetorical triumph centers the terrorism debate on Islam rather than other issues surrounding individual decisions to renounce humanity and risks alienating valuable Muslim allies.  There’s a reason Obama, Bush, and countless national security officials eschew the label.  (Such phrasing also runs into immediate conflict with Trump’s denunciation of antisemitism that headed the speech – antisemitism, when acted upon, is terrorism and yet its perpetrators are not labelled “radical Christian terrorists”).

Furthermore, Trump, who began his campaign by labelling a large percentage of a subset of immigrants “rapists,” devoted a portion of his address to vilifying illegal immigrants by spotlighting some of their crimes.  Such blatant race-based demagoguery — Trump clearly sought to increase favor for his ineffectual border wall and ramped-up deportations by strengthening the implicit connection between illegal immigration and deadly crime – is the 1988 Willie Horton campaign ad in speech form.  It also renounced statistics.  Immigrants, legal and illegal, tend to have lower rates of crime than the native-born population.  That is lost on Trump (or, he doesn’t care).

Deceit, too, defined the speech.  Misleading the public on the economic and criminal consequences of (illegal) immigration fell far short of Trump’s biggest moment of deceit: His portrayal of the botched Navy Seal raid in Yemen.  Trump, who earlier in that day blamed his generals for the failed raid, told Congress that the raid yielded crucial information about al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).  He then spoke directly to the widow of Ryan Owens, a Seal killed in the raid, and complemented her and Owens’ valor and bravery; after a long and deserved applause for the widow, Trump remarked how Owens smiled down from heaven because he “broke a record” for sustained applause.  Such disrespect for the hero – most, Navy Seals especially, have not even a fraction of Trump’s astounding vanity – becomes more abhorrent as one reads about the raid.  Administration officials admit that information seized is not “actionable” or “vital”; Trump reportedly authorized the raid without having read intelligence reports.  He chose not to remain in the Situation Room during its occurrence.  And yet Trump, who so clearly botched his first counterterrorism effort, stood at the dais and lied to Congress and the American people about the raid.  He lied to a widow and then used her as a prop in his speech.



Demagoguery and deceit should have no role in American politics, especially not in the White House.  And yet those two words so perfectly describe Trump and his admittedly authoritarian appeal.  America deserves a better leader – Trump, lest he want to further erode the presidency and our standing in the world, should change his behavior, immediately.