Category Archives: Illiberalism

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.





what is democratic socialism

What is Democratic Socialism?

What is Democratic Socialism? Lipstick on a Pig

A new mania has gripped the American left: Democratic socialism.  The ideology embraced and popularized by Bernie Sanders has seen rapid growth, predominately among young political actors who hope to fundamentally overhaul the American economic system, but recognize that the traditional “socialist” label only polarizes.  So, to dress the dead ideology, they’ve conveniently stuck a loved word — “democratic” — in front of it and have taken their anger to the internet to commence a “political revolution” (whatever that means) one meme at a time.  With that said, what is democratic socialism, really?

Even democratic socialists struggle to answer that question.  The Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) lauds “our socialism” as a means to “a humane social order based on popular control of resources and production, economic planning, equitable distribution” of goods, presumably, and “non-oppressive relationships.”

That sounds wonderful until you realize it’s the meaningless collection of buzzwords that drive masters of the English language insane.



 

What is democratic socialism’s goal and how is it implemented?

What does this mean?  How does a government implement the popular control of resources and production?

Herein lies the rub.  Democratic socialism organizes around a core belief that the people should control resources and production through democracy.  But, at best, this is impossible, and, at worst, it’s a sure road to oppression and tyranny.

Democratic ownership and allocation of resources and production immediately cannot naturally happen because, in a nation of any size, considerable disagreement about the control of resources will arise, making any sort of popular, or democratic, agreement impossible.  But that assumes democratic socialists want all individuals to equally participate in incredibly complex decisions, naturally a terrible idea and an impossible feat of coordination.

So perhaps democratic socialists don’t mean an active democratic control but rather democratic control through free and fair elections in which various candidates submit proposals for how state-owned/centralized resources and capital should be distributed among the population.  Except this would also fall to pieces immediately.



Minimal-winning coalitions explain why.  The theory, introduced by William Riker, contends that any political party or faction would expand to a size just big enough to win an election or ensure passage of a desired bill.  Doing so enables the coalitions members to compromise as little as possible.

democratic socialism what is it

Take a simplistic example in which a five-member legislature debates a stimulus bill that needs majority support.  The legislators have ideal points (the amount of spending they believe to be most effective for the economy) as follows: A) $100 billion, B) $75 billion, C) $60 billion, D) $40 billion, E) $25 billion.  Lawmaker A introducers her $100 billion spending bill, but no one signs on.  So she proposes an admit to lower spending to $75 billion and lawmaker B then supports the measure.  They still need one more to guarantee passage and so offer another amendment bringing the number down to to $60 billion and achieve the minimal winning coalition.  If the coalition tried to attract more support, they could only do so by lowing the stimulus and moving the successful package further away from their ideal points.  In short, a minimal winning coalition (versus an expansive supermajority) ensures legislation that maximizes ideal points for its members.

Of course, that problem can be alleviated by mandating supermajority support for bill passage, but that moves away from the proclaimed goal of popular control.

This logic extends to any number of issues a polity faces.  Coalitions seek maximum benefit even though it my displease others.  Consider, too, that across a broad range of issues, some coalition members might care little and simply support the proposals offered by concerned members.  Such logrolling (to be a bit unfair) helps establish “long coalitions,” or parties (see “The Party Decides” for an in-depth explanation) that exist to win elections and deliver ideological goals to its constituency without necessarily turning outside of itself for the support needed to pass legislation (action that would necessarily require compromise and thus a deviation from ideal points).



A democratic socialist society in which each election became a referendum on the distribution of society’s resources and goods would naturally incite many arguments about optimization and result in displeasure for some, perhaps many.  Any given coalition could become malicious, recognizing that by establishing a minimal winning distributional coalition it could monopolize government resources and simply ignore the needs of its opposition.  Democracy and democratic control could actually exacerbate the very inequality against which democratic socialists rail.

So if direct and indirect democratic control won’t work, perhaps DSA members would prefer the traditional socialist central planning in which the state controls the means of production and unelected technocrats distribute goods based either on contribution or need, both of which are purportedly democratic.

Except that’s not democratic and it invites corruption and kleptocracy.

Those are the best case scenarios: It simply doesn’t work and the system collapses or enacts market-based reforms to salvage itself (some argue that democratic socialism embraces the market so long as all needs among the citizenry are met.  If we classify those needs as solvable by welfare benefits, we’ve described social democracy, not democratic socialism.  Scandinavian countries, heralded as democratic socialist utopias are actually market-based social democracies).

democratic socialism

At its worst, the democratic ownership of the resources and production simply invites tyranny.  Democracies already invite corrupt actors who seek, largely through democratic means, to assume and consolidate power for their own vanity or profit.  Add to that natural incentive borne from the inherent corruption of humankind the spoils of state-owned resources, and demagogues have every incentive to gain power no matter the cost because its payoffs are so high.  Controlling the means of production means controlling society.  The leader and her political party can reward loyalty while punishing opponents into poverty.  They can skim from the state and, by starving opposition of economic life, nip their ability to meaningfully compete in elections.

Democratic socialism’s implementation by any of the means outlined above simply enables and invites tyranny through centralized economic control.



So, what is democratic socialism?

In short, a disaster waiting to happen.  The ideology relies on lofty dreams that ignore human reality, as evidenced by the entirety of our history.  It assumes a level of beneficence amongst all people that simply does not exist and dreams of utopia without outlining the steps needed to get there.  Like any fairytale, it arouses the imagination, but could never be implemented.

What is democratic socialism?  A resuscitation of a failed ideology that either could never exist or, if brought into existence, would quickly devolve into tyranny.



illiberal democracy

Ascendant Illiberalism

Illiberal democracy is on the rise

Across the globe, illiberal democracy has emerged as a potent force.  The discontents caused by the Great Recessions, coupled with other structural economic issues that exacerbate inequality while failing to lift the incomes of the middle and working classes, have left many yearning for change of any sort.  That desire has manifested itself in a resurgent populist movement, both from the left and the right.   Unfortunately, most so-called populist candidates have a decidedly authoritarian bent that challenges liberal democracy, though not democracy itself.

Liberal democracy refers to a representative democracy in which a constitution bounds the actions of lawmakers and preserves the fundamental liberties of individuals to protect any given minority from the possibly tempestuous whims of a majority coalition.  Citizens choose lawmakers in free and fair elections in which all who qualify have the equal opportunity to participate.  The system thrives of vibrant discourse and national unity largely free from identity politics and grievances.  It does not refer to a government controlled by a left-wing political party.

Illiberal democracies have the opposite values: Lawmakers rarely feel meaningfully constrained by a constitution which can be easily amended or simply ignored and that does not guarantee the rights of all residents.  Instead, minorities can see liberties abridged by the majority.  This typically happens for easily defined groups based on ethnicity, but can extend to religion, economic status, or any other discernible characteristics.  Though such polities have elections, they are not typically free and fair.  Citizens may find it difficult to vote either because of limited polling access, voter intimidation, or brute voter suppression.  At worst, elections exist for show only with the outcomes already predetermined by the in-power party (who, in most cases, acts to consolidate and preserve attained power).  It’s a system that can quickly devolve into authoritarianism.



Yet politicians who believe and embrace such illiberal principles have recently seen electoral success in western democracies (or democracies that, in recent decades, have sought to be considered western).  Turkey, Hungary, Poland, and the United States all exemplify ascendent illiberalism.

In Turkey, President Erdogan has transformed a liberal democracy into an increasingly autocratic state.  He’s done so through a variety of reforms that strip powers from the prime minister and instead place them in the president (ie, himself), a position that’s traditionally been ceremonial.  Though a national referendum supposedly endorsed these reforms, many critics have complained about electoral irregularities, claiming that Erdogan fixed or manipulated the vote to ensure the desired outcome.  The referendum itself took place under conditions of fear: In the year since the failed military coup, Erdogan has jailed some 45,000 oppositionists (and 150 journalists), purged around 130,000 from the civil service ranks, and shut down around 160 media outlets.  Erdogan supports such actions by claiming the jailed or fired individuals supported the coup and thus posed a threat to Turkey, a ridiculous lie few believe.  Together, the referendum and ongoing state of emergency point to a country partially embracing illiberalism and partially having shoved down its throat.

Hungary has seen a popular lurch towards authoritarianism, with Prime Minister Orban winning a “landslide” reelection despite his known illiberal attitudes.  Orban himself, inspired by the likes of Russia, China, and Erdogan’s Turkey, declared he will build a new, “illiberal state” in Hungary to lead the nation “in the great global race for decades to come.”  His tenure has seen “an erosion of the independence of the judiciary, the packing of courts with political loyalists, a wholesale political purge of the civil service and the chief prosecutor’s office, new election rules that advantage the governing coalition and the intimidation of the news organizations (who can be issued crippling fines for content deemed “not politically balanced” by a government-appointed panel).”  When stopped or challenged, he’s simply used a large parliamentary supermajority to amend the Constitution.  Freedom House proclaims the upcoming 2018 elections to be a critical juncture for Hungary: If Orban emerges victorious, Hungary may become the illiberal state once thought to be confined to Europe’s dark past.



Poland, too, has moved in an illiberal direction under the leadership of the far-right populist “Law and Justice” party.  The party, legitimately elected, has broken “the constitution, both in letter and in spirit,” by undermining the constitutional court, politicizing the civil service, and subverting public media.  These actions create cronyism and a government that serves the party, not the people.  Once all institutions have been coopted, they can be successfully turned against opposition, thereby creating a de facto one party state.  Luckily, Poles have not bowed down to such illiberalism.  While a large percentage of the country supports Law and Justice and its illiberal aims, a large, liberal sect of the population widely protested laws that would fundamentally overhaul the constitutional court’s composition, subserving it to the will of the ruling party.  The Polish president vetoed both bills because of the popular backlash.  More judicial reforms, however, have been promised.  Poles need to continue resisting illiberal intentions and not let Law and Justice create an illiberal state.

Lastly, America, democracy’s shining beacon, has moved in an illiberal direction with Donald Trump’s election.  Trump campaigned on a variety of illiberal themes and identity politics that relied on vilifying an ever amorphous “other” — in his case, illegal immigrants and Muslims comprise that villain/enemy group.  He’s attacked the judiciary and questioned its legitimacy.  His belief in US intelligence agencies remains doubtful.  He fired James Comey because of the Russia investigation and has sought other methods to curtail its scope and authority, even threatening to fire special investigator Robert Mueller.  Trump’s routinely attacked the press and even labelled them “enemies of the American people.”  Many of his campaign positions would violate the constitutional rights of minorities.  And yet he retains the support of almost the entire Republican congressional caucus and most Republicans in the nation.  His clearly illiberal bent should worry Americans, but thankfully, unlike in Turkey, Hungary, and Poland, our institutions have thus far been resilient to Trump’s illiberalism.



Illiberalism is ascendent.  The above cases only mention the most obvious — other examples of illiberalism include UKIP’s influences in Britain, Alternates for Deutschland in Germany, and the National Front in France.  Across the western world, these populist movements manifest themselves in illiberal forces that all traverse the road to authoritarianism.  We must resist these populist temptations and instead stay committed to the long-standing liberal values that promote and defend our natural liberties.

sheriff joe arpaio pardon

Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s Pardon is an Abuse of the President’s Power

Sheriff Joe Arpaio: Pardoned, to the Detriment of Civil Rights

And the Rule of Law

As a category 4 hurricane – Harvey – barreled down on Texas, threatening some 8 million people with catastrophic flooding, Donald Trump decided to pardon former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio for his contempt of court conviction.

Sheriff Joe routinely violated the constitutional rights of Latinos by specifically targeting them for their skin color and presumed ethnicity during traffic stops and other raids throughout the Arizona county.  Further, in a ruthless crackdown on illegal immigration that could only be successful by tossing constitutional rights aside, Arpaio illegally detained hundreds for presumed illegal immigration status (presumed because of skin color) and no other reason.

Of course, no distinguishing characteristic marks illegal immigrants; a presumption of illegality can only be gathered by race and racial profiling violates the Constitution.

And yet even after a 2011 court injunction ordered Arpaio to stop his holding “individuals solely on the belief they were in the country illegally” (requiring those held to be “accused of a state crime”), Arpaio continued his unconstitutional practice.  Over the following 17 months, Arpaio’s office illegally detained (again, based only on skin color) and turned over to ICE 171 individuals, in “flagrant disregard” to the court’s order.

That led to a conviction for criminal contempt of court.



American Values

Our country cannot be about jailing individuals because of their skin color.  That’s not who we are.

But it’s who Donald Trump is.  While campaigning, he promised, at various times, to deport all illegal immigrants within two years.  Again, on appearance, nothing differentiates an illegal immigrant from a legal immigrant.  Without justifiable reason to detain someone (ie, a crime committed), they only means by which Trump could achieve his goals would be to indiscriminately round up all who look like illegal immigrants — that is, Latinos.

Obviously, that’s unconstitutional (law furthered by Melendres v. Arpaio), but it is reminiscent of Arpaio’s actions in Maricopa County.  Trump sees a kindred spirit in Arpaio.  The pardon reflects Trump’s harshest immigration rhetoric and clearly says to other corrupt actors: If you violate the Constitution by routinely using racial profiling and illegal detentions as a means of cracking down alleged illegal immigration, President Trump will offer his support, support that could culminate in a pardon.

Law and Order

That last point also runs in the face of Trump’s “law and order” campaign and presidential theme.  Arpaio pointedly stated that “nobody is higher than me.  I am the elected sheriff by the people.”  Clearly, Arpaio thought his election elevated him to a position of being the law.  He – not the courts – would declare which laws should be followed and, as sheriff, only he could enforce the laws.  It necessarily follows that the law would not apply to him since no one had authority to apply it to him.



In no way does that align with a “law and order” pledge.  “Law and order” must apply to everyone, including elected officials.  The second it ceases to do so, authoritarianism can easily arise.  Unrestrained officials can enforce and assert policies of their choosing without fear of legal retribution.  People live in perpetual fear knowing that while laws apply to them, it does not apply to the enforcers – the enforcers would not be held accountable for any of their actions.

Trump seems to think government works in that outlined authoritarian fashion.  He bristles at the Russia probe and has long-sought to undermine it through whatever means necessary, generally through obstruction of justice or assaults on the separation of power.  It comes as little surprise, then, that a president with such disdain for the rule of law, despite his campaign rhetoric, would pardon someone with a similarly authoritarian political philosophy.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s pardon is yet another instance of Trump’s disregard for fundamental civil rights.  He doesn’t believe that one’s race should not be a determining detention factor and he doesn’t think the rule of law should apply to elected officials (at least to those whose ideology aligns with Trump’s).  This move undermines the rule of law and shows that Trump neither understands nor cares about American values.

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.

do americans believe in democracy

Do Americans Believe in Democracy?

Americans aren’t enthusiastic about liberal democracy

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

Our Political System

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

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

Americans Dislike the Perceived Costs

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

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



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

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

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



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

Liberal Democracy and Donald Trump

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

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

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

donald trump free press

Donald Trump and The Free Press

Donald Trump: An American in Name Only, Part 1

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

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

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

Perhaps Thomas Jefferson said it best.

“The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.”



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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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



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

 

america decline

The Decline of a Nation

 

Demagoguery destroys nations.

America.  Conceived under tyranny and borne by patriots fighting for freedom and liberty.

Its ideals – our ideals – ring through our founding documents.  Our Declaration of Independence boldly states that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The Constitution recognizes fundamental and natural liberties destined to remain ever untouched by the corruption of mischievous faction.  These rights, to be heralded above all, constrained government and set forth the vision of our nation: A state dedicated to the equal liberty of all its residents.

declaration of independence

To be sure, our nation has not always lived up to its ideals.  The tree of liberty has been occasionally watered with the blood of citizens fighting for righteousness and always with an eye towards expanding liberty, both within and outside our country.

But now our country finds itself in unchartered territory.  For once, the denigrating forces of demagoguery have consumed enough voters to find itself in the Oval Office.  This presents dual problems for the country.

First, Donald Trump’s gross incompetence and actions motivated solely by animus, whether at racial or religious minorities or those who dare criticize him, threaten the global order and the continued democratic traditions here at home.  His political career started by alleging incorrectly that the country’s first black president was born in Kenya, not the United States.

While campaigning for president, he called for a complete ban on Muslims entering the country; claimed that challenger Ted Cruz’s further had been involved in the JFK assassination plot (another lie); called for Hillary Clinton to be jailed; and continuously railed (incorrectly, again) that outside forces would collude to steal the election from him.

national enquirer cruz oswold
Trump pushed this obviously false story in hopes of hurting Ted Cruz’s presidential bid.



Now, as president, he’s wrongly furthered the notion that 3 to 5 million ballots had been cast illegally.  He called Russian interference into the 2016 election a “witch-hunt” and “hoax.”  His tweets and virulent diatribes against the media as well as other foundations of our democracy threaten long-standing democratic mores and encourage millions of voters to live in willing ignorance.

Secondly, and intimately related to the dangers Donald Trump himself poses, his core supporters fervently embrace and believe all that Trump says – and only what Trump says.  That endangers democracy as the only person who can reach and influence millions of Americans is Donald Trump, a man whose lies as president already near 1,000.

trump fake news
Not one Trump supporter can actually explain why CNN is “fake news.”

These supporters have, by and large, foregone the values that make America great.  They care little about the Constitution or the democratic norms that have long brought success to our grand experiment.  Fundamental freedoms and liberties mean little so long as their abrogation benefits Donald Trump.  Charlie Sykes best described the phenomena when he decried conservatism’s morphing into an ideology that abandoned principles to instead annoy liberals.



Trump supporters lust for, or seeming desire, authoritarianism led by Trump (who many proclaim to be the “God Emperor”).  Demagoguery’s potent appeal leave many inebriated from the violent, ignorant, and condescending rhetoric from a man whose cult of personality attracts the constitutionally and ideologically ignorant.  And to them, Trump can do no wrong and his actions need not be motivated by the pursuit of constitutionalism or constitutional rights.

Bizarre propaganda.
Bizarre propaganda.

Now, their fervent belief that press critical of Trump is at best “fake news” and at worst, as adviser Kellyanne Conway put it, “unpatriotic.”  That precludes them from learning about policy, truly judging Donald Trump’s character, and challenging their fanaticism.  Instead, they turn to the likes of Fox News, which has portrayed itself as a de facto state media outlet, often ignoring information or revelations that would hurt Trump while attacking liberals or Democrats in a (succeeding) effort to further tribalize political divisions.

This leaves the country with increased polarization driven not so much by ideology but by different sets of facts and different truths, as irrational and impossible as that may be.  It’s possible these voters cannot be reached by any outlet with integrity.  Would that extend to Democratic politicians or activists?  Probably.  Divisions, then, may be insurmountable.



Such a phenomenon, of course, is neither new nor confined to Trump supporters.  Factions motivated by demagoguery have arisen throughout American history.  Democracy has long been known to suffer from a demagoguery problem, but America has largely remained safe from such forces due to a fervent belief in natural rights and our Constitution – democratic mores, in the worlds of Alexis de Tocqueville.  But as mentioned above, those democratic mores seem to be disappearing, perhaps as collective memories of the horrors perpetuated by illiberal and autocratic regimes fades.

The far-left also suffers from such a problem.  Democratic socialists and their even more radicalized comrades similarly distort history and facts to abandon constitutional rights and advocate instead for a revolution – democratic or otherwise – to change the regime.  They, however, number far fewer than those on the Trumpian right and so, for now, pose less a threat to our democracy’s success.

Socialism, of course, has never worked.
Socialism, of course, has never worked.



And so we see ourselves in the midst of our nation’s decline.  Liberties, rights, and democratic behavior becomes increasingly unimportant to large swaths of the population interested only in promoting their tribe (in this case, Donald Trump).  We’ve been here before and we’ve already emerged a stronger nation.  But it’s always taken a national emergency or collective, bipartisan action, the likes of which seems unlikely in this highly polarized time.

The best remedy may be a return to fundamental American values.  We must promote natural rights and use our history as a common building block to unify the nation and return political discourse to how we can best collectively protect and further these liberties to all Americans.

tulsi gabbard

Tulsi Gabbard is a Tyrant Apologist

Tulsi Gabbard Has No Place in Washington

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

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



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

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



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

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



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

safe spaces

Illiberal Leftists

The Far-Left and Far-Right Have All Too Much in Common 

Far too many liberals and Democrats forget that authoritarianism is a horseshoe.  The extremes of both ends of the political spectrum tend towards totalitarianism wherein the state suppresses, to the best of its ability, the viewpoints of dissidents and critics.  This can be done in many ways – governments can pass laws forbidding contrarian speech, condone violence and physical retribution against those speaking in opposition, or it can discriminately apply frivolous labels meant to “poison the well” or otherwise taint the perspectives of those who stand against empowered group.  All of these methods serve the same end purpose: Monopolizing thoughts and ideas.

While it is of course easiest to pursue any of these avenues while in the majority and holding the seats of power, plural or minority factions can embrace the latter two means of muzzling nonconformists in efforts to squelch opposition and create a homogenous group.  Donald Trump has, throughout the course of the past 18 months, encouraged violence against protesters and applied meaningless and incorrect monikers to outlets and individuals who disagree with him.  See how he and his supporters deride the “mainstream media” as “fake news” or dismiss liberals as “libtards” or “communists” or “treasonous insurgents.”  Many (but not enough) have railed against such labelling and suppression of ideas, especially when it comes to the media as the news organizations help educate a wanting electorate.  But what Democrats, facing the brunt of this well-poisoning, seem to ignore is that such silencing also occurs in their own ranks

College campuses have been the focal-point for leftist censorship, and rightly so.  Students care too much about “microaggressions” and other slights to feelings and, as a result have sought to curtail free speech and free expression.  But these illiberal sentiments continue once students descend from the ivory towers.  Leftists, those on the fringes of the Democratic Party and liberalism, continue the college belief that speech with which they disagree – or speech which they find, in any way, racist, sexist, or condescending – should be banned.  How is that any different from the illiberal ideas of Trump, who blacklisted outlets critical of him, or his supporters, who want to see constitutionally-protected speech (such as flag-burning) outlawed because they disagree with the argument being presented?



These leftists also love to quickly and easily dismiss speakers with different views.  Innumerable speakers have been disinvited from schools because of potentially offensive viewpoints.  Not even liberals are immune from leftist censorship: When the illiberal left is faced with disagreements from Democrats or other liberals, they don’t try to have a dialogue or come to an understanding with the other party.  Rather, the illiberal left condemns critics as “racist” or “condescending” or “intolerant.”  Many antagonists are simply ignored by virtue of being a “straight white man” (I’ve been told my opinions or use of logic aren’t welcome because I’m white and rationality is somehow, and I kid you not, a racial construction).  Suddenly, immutable characteristics, rather than being something to defend and protect, are reason to dismiss opinions and thoughts just because they hail from a historically privileged demographic.

And so, by labelling as “racist” or “intolerant” or “bigoted” those who bother to disagree with the far-left, leftists alert other leftists than a speaker or writer is to be ignored.  It is de facto censorship within a community, creating an ideological echo-chamber and the makings of authoritarianism should the faction ever somehow come power.  Much as Trump and Trumpian thought is a cancer on conservatism, leftists and leftist thought are quickly becoming a leech on liberalism of which Democrats must be wary lest they follow the Republican Party down the road of authoritarianism.