Reportedly, former Ohio governor John Kasich is slated to speak at the Democratic National Convention next month. If you’re keeping score at home, that’s a Republican speaking at a gathering designed to prepare the Democrats for the looming presidential election.
Does anyone else see a problem here?
Clearly, I am not alone in having reservations. In a piece for The Nation, Elie Mystal expresses his mystified incredulity at Joe Biden’s and Co.’s choice. From the jump, there’s the matter of some of Kasich’s values, which seem patently incompatible with Democratic Party values in 2020. Kasich is anti-abortion, pro-gun, opposed anti-LGBTQ discrimination laws during his tenure, and supported legislation that labor and its advocates reviled as a “union-busting attack.” This appears largely out of step with the values of a significant segment of the left-leaning electorate.
What makes the decision to feature Kasich especially egregious, though, is that it isn’t a one-off either. Kasich’s elevation is emblematic of a pattern of behavior and thinking within Democratic circles that by accruing endorsements from more “reasonable” GOP figures (at least compared to Donald Trump), they’ll win the ever-coveted working-class white vote. The problem? At least in the short term, that’s not going to happen.
Instead, Kasich’s endorsement of Biden will not only fail to capture that sought-after voting bloc, but it won’t appeal to any others, be it people of color, women voters, or both. Kasich’s speaking time, moreover, would be better served giving a platform to Democratic candidates on the rise within the party ranks or otherwise actively trying to unseat a Republican incumbent. Kasich’s inclusion is, on multiple levels, unproductive.
As Mystal believes or is starting to believe, that may be design on the part of the right and the center-right. The involvement in Democratic circles by Kasich, the Lincoln Project, and other “Never Trump” Republicans is not about doing the right thing, but rather propping up a centrist candidate whose power likely will already be circumscribed by a Republican-controlled Senate.
As evidence of this, Mystal points to all the times in recent memory Republicans, you know, failed to do the right thing by holding up a recklessly conservative agenda. There are numerous examples cited within the article—backing the likes of Brett Kavanaugh, George W. Bush, and Sarah Palin chief among them. By showcasing reality-show “talent” like Palin and staying silent when a conservative majority in the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, the GOP have fueled the sort of conditions that gave rise to Trump in the first place. That they’ve somehow learned their lesson or weren’t already being somewhat disingenuous in appearing more moderate is therefore ludicrous.
Consequently, that some Democrats can’t see through this speaks either to their incompetence or their misguidedly slavish devotion to the idea they can hope to thrive on white working-class males at the potential expense of people of color and/or women, the essence of their base as it is right now. To this effect, Mystal highlights how Sherrod Brown, who won going away against his Republican challenger in 2018, did so not on the backs of whites without a college degree, but on the strength of his advantages with women and black voters. Such is why Brown would be a more natural fit for the Convention than Kasich, not to mention the fact that Brown is an actual bleeping Democrat.
Mystal closes with these thoughts:
Joe Biden is not going to win white men in Ohio in 2020. He’s not going to win them nationally, either. Unless John Kasich has some plan to inspire women and Black people to vote for Biden, neither he nor any Never Trump Republican is going to be all that helpful in the upcoming election. The sooner Democrats accept that the uneducated white man is not coming back to the party, the better their chances of defeating Donald Trump.
Certainly, a Democratic Party that appeals to working-class voters of all make and model is the long-term goal for the Democratic Party establishment and progressives alike. In the interim, however, with an election to win against a dangerously unhinged incumbent, it’s best to play to the Dems’ existing strengths and natural appeal to the Latinx/youth vote as opposed to trying to cajole or convert disaffected Republicans. Mere months away from the general election, that Democratic operatives don’t understand this is disconcerting to say the least.
As referenced earlier, what’s particularly problematic about John Kasich’s sanctification at the hands of the Biden campaign and the DNC is that it is one in a growing line of Republicans propped up at the expense of exposure to members of the Democratic Party and despite misgivings about their records. When John McCain died, Democratic Party figures tripped over themselves to commemorate his life and service to his country, conveniently leaving out that he was an unrepentant war hawk and that he only sometimes criticized Donald Trump. The rest of the time, he voted in line with a Republican agenda. Evidently, not folding completely to Trump and his supporters is to be considered a major achievement these days.
Similarly, bestowing hagiographic treatment on George W. Bush because of his relative civility (as with McCain standing up to Trump, again, low bar to clear) is a nauseating exercise in whitewashing his tenure as president. When not appearing downright incompetent, Bush, flanked by the soulless Dick Cheney, manufactured a war in Iraq based on fabricated intelligence, yet another costly conflict the United States willing threw itself into marked by rampant human rights abuses. He certainly shouldn’t be celebrated by Democrats—nor should he and Cheney be venerated even by Republicans as they are better considered war criminals.
Listen—John Kasich was by many accounts the most agreeable candidate running for the Republican Party nomination in 2016. That ain’t saying much, though. Regardless of his standing in the GOP, for a party in the Democrats facing a rapidly changing electorate and a vocal progressive contingent hungry for real progress, Kasich is a terrible choice for the Democratic National Convention and one of limited electoral advantage, to boot.
The Dems can’t—and shouldn’t—try to rely on “Never Trump” Republicans in 2020 and beyond. If they can’t fill a convention speaking slate or generate excitement with their own brand, how are we supposed to have confidence in and enthusiasm for them heading into November?
As Democratic Party operatives would have you believe, if Joe Biden fails to win the 2020 presidential election, it won’t be because he’s a weak candidate who doesn’t generate enthusiasm. It won’t be that he squandered a double-digit polling lead running against a buffoonish, cartoonishly stupid incumbent in Donald Trump whose administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic leaves something to be desired—and that’s putting it charitably. It won’t be that he, the nominee with the backing of an entire party, failed to make his case to Americans of voting age.
Nope, if Biden loses in November, it will be because Bernie Sanders didn’t do enough to rally his base and donors. Oh, and something about Russia and China, too. Those countries are always lurking, waiting to mess with our steez.
While not to completely dismiss legitimate foreign attempts to hack or influence our elections, that Democratic loyalists are already concocting excuses for Biden should give us pause. For progressives in particular, it should be as galling as it appears.
What is Bernie doing or not doing to raise the concerns of Biden’s backers? Because everything ultimately comes down to money for the Democratic Party establishment, he’s not raising funds for the former vice president and is daring—gasp!—to focus on races other than the presidential race.
A June 21 report appearing in The Hill by Amie Parnes and Jonathan Easley found that some Democrats unaffiliated with the Biden campaign are “worried that their party unity is fraying five months out from the presidential election as several contested primaries pitting progressives against mainstream Democrats go down to the wire.” In particular, they are afraid that Bernie has been “consumed with down-ballot elections at the expense of promoting Biden’s bid for the White House” and that he “needs to do more to make sure progressives fall in line behind Joe Biden in November.”
The very language of these reservations fails to appreciate key elements of the progressive mindset. For one, Democrats—progressives included—arguably haven’t focused on down-ballot politics enough, the potential existential threat that President Trump represents notwithstanding. Establishment Dems tend to regard primary challenges from the left as threats to the order of things, believing the debates raised within this context to be divisive exercises that only serve to weaken the winner’s chances in the general election. Progressives, meanwhile, see these intraparty battles as needed efforts to push the party left if not remove do-nothing incumbents from their ranks. Progressive darling Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is so popular precisely because she symbolizes real, representative change for her district and for the Democratic Party as a whole.
In addition, the idea that progressives should be expected to “fall in line” reflects a fundamental misunderstanding about how many leftists approach politics. For progressives, especially younger voters, a candidate’s policies and their commitment to humanitarian values are what are most likely to drive turnout. It is not as if Bernie or any other progressive politician should be expected to be able to crack the proverbial whip and bring their followers to heel. These supporters are free thinkers who must be talked to and wooed, not talked at and coerced into making a deeply inauthentic choice. In this sense, the voters have the ultimate power, not the political figures and party leaders seeking to dictate their agenda.
With these things in mind, that even someone as revered on the left as Bernie couldn’t be expected to compel some progressives to vote—let alone spend their hard-earned money during a period of pandemic-fueled economic downturn to bolster a candidate they have to accept begrudgingly—should be well understood to someone like Philippe Reines, a longtime Clinton adviser cited in the piece.
Instead, Reines et al. either don’t understand this much—or they do and just willfully disregard it. From the article:
Philippe Reines, a longtime adviser to Clinton, said that the biggest area of need from Sanders is on the fundraising front. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) raised $6 million at a virtual fundraiser for Biden. Another event co-hosted by Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) raised $3.5 million.
Sanders, who crushed his competitors in fundraising during the primary “could in one hour raise Biden north of $10 million, and the symbolism would be worth twice that,” Reines said.
“The opportunity cost of him not doing significant events of any type isn’t simply leaving money on the table. It can be construed that he’s not fully on board,” Reines added.
It can be construed that way, Mr. Reines, yes—if you’re a f**king idiot. Bernie dropped out in April, before many of his supporters and likely some objective observers were probably anticipating he would, his mounting primary losses aside. Even while campaigning, he repeatedly referred to Biden as his “friend,” seeming to pull punches when he perhaps should’ve gone for the jugular. As the Parnes and Easley piece also notes, he has appeared in a virtual event with Biden and has told his supporters to tone down their attacks on Biden, saying publicly it would be “irresponsible” not to vote for his one-time rival for the Democratic Party nomination.
Anyone remotely familiar with the state of U.S. politics today gets it—winning elections costs money. At least as far as the current system is construed, even down-ballot races can cost millions and millions of dollars. By the same token, however, money isn’t everything. At this writing, Charles Booker is leading Amy McGrath in the Kentucky Democratic Party primary for the right to take on Mitch McConnell and oust the Senate Majority Leader despite being more than $40 million short in the fundraising department.
What’s more, the Biden campaign reportedly raised more money in May than the Trump campaign—even without Bernie’s help. Sure, there’s something to be said for not being complacent even with Biden’s advantage in the polls. Then again, if the aim is to change the hearts and minds of members of problem constituencies on an ideological front, throwing more money at them isn’t necessarily going to do the trick when money in politics is already seen as a big problem and when the core message hasn’t much changed. When Medicare for All is automatically off the table, for instance, how do you appeal to people who are struggling financially and might have lost their health insurance as a function of losing their jobs? Having “access to affordable health care” means less when you’re struggling to meet even your basic needs.
Instead, as noted earlier, the focus is on what Bernie is doing or not doing, as it was with Hillary Clinton in 2016. Not, you know, why Joe Biden isn’t more visible or whether he can get through a scripted event with a teleprompter, let alone lead the country. As usual, it’s progressives who have to answer for the theoretical failures of the centrist candidate—and more than five months from the general, this is all pure conjecture—because they didn’t win the election for them. Evidently, seeing Bernie lose in back-to-back primaries isn’t enough salt in the wound.
At this point, the Democratic Party’s inability to accept responsibility for its absence of a coherent winning electoral strategy or party platform borders on the pathological. Picking up with Hillary, she evidently hasn’t forgiven Bernie Sanders for—allow me to check my notes here—doing all that campaigning for her leading up to the election four years ago.
Rather than own up to her own shortcomings and acknowledge where her campaign went wrong, she’s opining from her Hulu documentary series (!) about how no one likes Bernie and how no one wants to work with him. After seeing her endorse Eliot Engel only to see him fall to earth against his progressive primary challenger Jamaal Bowman in New York’s 16th congressional district, Hillary’s negative appraisal might be more of a blessing than a curse. Besides, one shouldn’t go to Capitol Hill expecting to be well liked or to sit at the cool kids’ table. You’re there to represent and serve your constituents first and foremost.
Alas, this is the pattern with the Democrats. Al Gore didn’t lose to George W. Bush because he is a cyborg. No, it’s because of Ralph Nader and third-party voters. Forget all the Florida Democrats who voted for Bush instead of Gore. Forget that Gore couldn’t even carry his own home state. 20 years after the fact, Dems are more apt to forgive Bush himself, a bonehead who, with his administration’s help, manufactured an entire g-d war, than Nader, a lifelong consumer protection advocate and champion for environmentalism and governmental reform. This would all be laughably absurd if not for the fact that the Democrats outside of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have been losing winnable elections for the better part of three decades. Some have been close calls and not without their share of shenanigans, but some might argue they shouldn’t have been that close to begin with.
Could Bernie do some fundraising for Joe Biden? Sure. Knowing Bernie’s draw, with the backing of the Democratic Party national infrastructure, he probably would do quite well. As critically important as this upcoming presidential election is, though (when isn’t the election an important one?), the movement progressives are building is also vital in breathing life into a party and a political system marked by rigid exclusion of people outside “elite” spheres of influence.
To have one of its standard-bearers shill for donations and risk alienating adherents, thereby blunting that momentum, would be counterproductive in its own right. Disappointed as I was by Bernie’s early departure from the presidential race and subsequent endorsement of Biden, I’ve never felt outright betrayed by him. To have him pump me for money or if—God forbid—Bernie ever gave away access to his campaign’s donor roll to the DNC, I know I’d feel different. People less forgiving than me might up and revolt against the Democratic Party altogether. You can only mess with people for so long.
The Democratic Party is a “big tent” party to be sure. Being petty and accusing certain members of not doing enough—members who are technically independents, a notion party leaders and supporters alike will invoke whenever they choose to denigrate progressives in the Sanders mold as not “true Democrats,” mind you—obscures the structural deficiencies the party faces.
“When in doubt, blame Bernie.” Fine, but if one man who’s no longer running can bring down an entire party infrastructure, quite frankly, that says more about the party than him.
Though I wouldn’t wish death on anyone, for the sake of George Herbert Walker Bush and his legacy, he “picked” a good time to die.
This time, of course, is an era in which Donald Trump is President of the United States and the effective leader of the Republican Party, and unrepentant obstructionist Mitch McConnell is the Senate Majority Leader (and yet has the gall to call for Democrats to put partisanship aside!). If we’re judging by modern standards—and by “standards,” I mean that which may be eroding before our very eyes—”George Bush Sr.” is preferable to the boorish and petty Trump, a man who would rather denounce LeBron James than neo-Nazis and other white supremacists.
Perhaps simply being better than Trump—not exactly hard, but the idea remains—isn’t the sole factor in Bush’s lionization. That is, the bipartisan praise he has received in passing probably reflects genuine admiration for the man. Looking back at his legacy through rose-colored glasses, however, arguably doesn’t tell the whole story when it comes to Bush’s presidential record.
Indeed, as some tell it, Bush Sr.’s political past was a checkered one. In a well-considered post for The Intercept, Mehdi Hasan speaks to “the ignored legacy of George H.W. Bush,” one involving obstruction of justice, racism, and war crimes. Hasan frames his considerations as such:
In the age of Donald Trump, it isn’t difficult for hagiographers of the late Bush Sr. to paint a picture of him as a great patriot and pragmatist; a president who governed with “class” and “integrity.” It is true that the former president refused to vote for Trump in 2016, calling him a “blowhard,” and that he eschewed the white nationalist, “alt-right,” conspiratorial politics that has come to define the modern Republican Party. He helped end the Cold War without, as Obama said, “firing a shot.” He spent his life serving his country — from the military to Congress to the United Nations to the CIA to the White House. And, by all accounts, he was also a beloved grandfather and great-grandfather to his 17 grandkids and eight great-grandkids.
Nevertheless, he was a public, not a private, figure — one of only 44 men to have ever served as president of the United States. We cannot, therefore, allow his actual record in office to be beautified in such a brazen way. “When a political leader dies, it is irresponsible in the extreme to demand that only praise be permitted but not criticisms,” as my colleague Glenn Greenwald has argued, because it leads to “false history and a propagandistic whitewashing of bad acts.” The inconvenient truth is that the presidency of George Herbert Walker Bush had far more in common with the recognizably belligerent, corrupt, and right-wing Republican figures who came after him — his son George W. and the current orange-faced incumbent — than much of the political and media classes might have you believe.
In writing these words, Hasan fairly notes that Bush had his good moments, as people do—but that we shouldn’t overlook his bad ones either, especially not given his influence as President of these United States.
For one, focusing on George H.W. Bush’s tenure as president ignores how he got there: namely, by using the racist trope of a black man attacking a white woman to appeal to voters’ fears and prejudices. A political ad sponsored by a PAC with ties to Bush’s campaign invoked Willie Horton, a convicted murderer who escaped a weekend furlough program in Massachusetts and raped a Maryland woman. By the logic of the commercial, Democrat Michael Dukakis, governor of Massachusetts at the time, was to blame, and a later ad from the Bush campaign depicting criminals going through a “revolving door” struck a similar chord.
Bush dismissed the notion that the “Weekend Passes” ad in particular was racist, but today this would be roundly criticized by objective observers as one big dog-whistle playing on stereotypes of the black male criminal. Lee Atwater, who ran Bush’s campaign, even went as far as to apologize on his deathbed (Atwater died at age 40 from brain cancer) about the tactics used against Dukakis, which he characterized as an exercise in “naked cruelty.” Even if the idea to run this advertising didn’t originate with Bush, he signed off on it just the same.
Once Bush actually became Commander in Chief, there’s also the matter of how we justified our involvement in the first Gulf War. According to multiple investigative journalists familiar with the intelligence behind the military commitment in Iraq and Kuwait, we justified the use of military force there based on a fabricated, propagandized buildup of Iraqi troops threatening U.S. oil supplies on the Kuwait-Saudi Arabia border. And when we got there, oh the war crimes. Civilian casualties. Destruction of infrastructure used by civilians in an effort to gain leverage over Saddam Hussein.
Bush Sr. additionally did his part to continue and ramp up the war on drugs perpetuated by his predecessors. Here, too, was a largely fabricated situation—a young drug dealer was essentially set up by the White House so that Bush could use the arrest as a selling point for more spending on jails, prisons, and the like. All the while, his administration turned a largely deaf ear to the AIDS epidemic, fueled by adherence to ideology and misconceptions about the gay community. We may not have been bombing civilians in other countries, but here in America, the result was pretty much the same: more deaths and destroyed lives.
There are other points where #41 isn’t above reproach either. As vice president, he refused to cooperate with Special Counsel Lawrence Walsh in an investigation into the details of the Iran-Contra affair. There’s also the matter of his alleged groping of eight different women. As Hasan and others would therefore suggest, for all his ballyhooed “civility” and irrespective of how many first pitches and coin tosses in which he participated at sports contests (really, who cares?), George H.W. Bush has more in common with his son George W. Bush (see also going to war over faulty intelligence) and Donald Trump (see also groping, obstruction of justice) than his postmortem tributes will allow. It’s revisionist history, and a bad rewrite at that.
The treatment George Herbert Walker Bush and his legacy are getting is not unlike the hagiographic elevation John McCain received following his passing early this year. His military service, one-time defense of political opponent Barack Obama, and public rebukes of Trump overshadowed a legislative career that saw him vote in line with the current president in most cases and espouse the views of an unrepentant warmonger.
The unsavory elements of his presidential campaigning, notably selecting Sarah Palin as a running mate and unapologetically continuing to use a slur directed at Asians, likewise were glossed over by many journalists in the act of “celebrating his life.” A key aspect of that, no doubt, was the uncharacteristically robust access McCain and his campaign gave them while on the campaign trail. In an era when Trump is openly vilifying the press and aiming to restrict their privileges in covering White House business, McCain looks all the better by contrast. Is that good enough, though?
As for whether Bush was a “good man,” I can’t really say. On one hand, as Mehdi Hasan tells, he served his country dutifully and was a beloved patriarch. On the other hand, he engaged in obstruction of justice, propaganda campaigns to advance his agenda, race-baiting, and war crimes. It has oft been said that history is told by the winners. If Bush Sr.’s story were told by its victims, what would it look and sound like? What would the victims of the Gulf War say? Or the victims of the war on drugs? Or the people who have felt the ravages of HIV/AIDS? Are they remembering him so fondly? Does it matter that their voices are not so loud?
On that last note, it should. It’s great that people love their country and have respect for the office of President of the United States. It’s another to overlook their faults because of their outward civility, respect for the dead, or what-have-you. George H.W. Bush had his merits, but he was no saint. The same can be said for Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, and for that matter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
At the end of the day, these holders of the top political office in the land are human beings, flaws and all. In the name of demystifying the political process and telling hard truths, it’s time we stopped painting them in such a glorifying light.
At points during the 2016 presidential campaign and in the onset of his tenure as President of the United States, Donald Trump emphasized an “America First” mentality. Never mind that the phrase “America First” is evocative of a movement circa World War II that resisted America’s involvement in the war and counted Nazi sympathizers among its ranks. Even if there were no historical subtext behind this newfound use, the abstract concept behind the phrase is bigoted enough to invite condemnation. This line of thinking, after all, helps explain a dangerously intensified attention to illegal immigration that has resulted in mass deportations and raids, often involving undocumented immigrants whose only crime has been immigrating illegally, as well as a thinly-veiled ban against Muslims entering the country—well, at least from those Muslim-heavy countries in which Trump doesn’t do business. Aside from keeping out or booting out those brown people many of Trump’s supporters don’t seem to like too much, the America First mantra also is designed to guide the U.S. economically. We’re going to encourage consumers to buy American goods and for companies based in the United States to produce their goods here—you know, even if our President has relied on foreign labor and capital to satisfy his own manufacturing needs. We’re going to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure. We’re going to dismantle those awful regulations that have been holding back our energy production and killing jobs—you know, even though renewable energy is a much better job creator than fossil fuels. And one more thing: we’re not going to get involved in more costly wars. This coming from a man who didn’t support the Iraq War—you know, even though he totally f**king did.
With this all considered, it was vaguely surprising that President Trump would authorize the launch of close to 60 Tomahawk missiles at a target in Syria. As a retaliation against the apparent use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime against the Syrian people, observers across America and even internationally supported the move, assuming this was the intent of the strikes. Shortly after that, Trump OK’d dropping the so-called “mother of all bombs” on an ISIS stronghold in Afghanistan, which certainly was an impressive show of military might on our country’s part, although the justification for this attack is less evident than with the aforementioned use of force against the Syrian government. Certainly, though, one group which was not too thrilled with these operations, which is fairly significant given its steadfast support of Trump heretofore, is the alt-right. As Matt Kwong reports for CBC News, Donald Trump’s behest of military intervention in the Middle East goes against the alt-right belief in isolationism, and as such, numerous prominent far-righters consider these acts a betrayal of sorts. Alex Jones, Kevin MacDonald, Milo Yiannopoulos, Richard Spencer—all have made their disappointment in #45 explicit. The essence of their discontentment lies in their rejection of neo-conservative hawkishness, of which the missile strikes and MOAB deployment are clearly evocative, as well as their disenfranchisement with the newly-reduced role of Stephen Bannon in the Trump administration in favor of the likes of Jared Kushner, whom they regard derisively as a “globalist.” Of course, for those not enmeshed with the alt-right movement, the hurt feelings of a group synonymous with unabashed racism and xenophobia inspires little pity. Still, the idea that Pres. Trump’s support could be eroding from a part of his base that has been among his most entrenched and enthusiastic followers is some measure of encouragement for those who count themselves among “the Resistance.”
To what extent the alt-right’s outrage at Trump’s policy about-face compares to, say, that levied against the all-female remake of Ghostbusters is hard to say, not being a member. If their reaction is one of shock, however, it seemingly is a response that they and a select other few would possess, for while at times Trump has expressed sentiments of non-intervention in foreign entanglements, on other occasions, he has espoused the characteristic views of a strongman. McKay Coppins, staff writer at The Atlantic, asserts that it was only a matter of time before Donald Trump went full hawk based on his worldview. Coppins explains his reasoning, while addressing the feelings of betrayal from Trump’s buddies on the far-right, accordingly:
President Trump’s decision this week to launch airstrikes against the Syrian regime has come as a bitter disappointment to those who cast their votes last November for “America First”-style isolationism. But the betrayal shouldn’t come as a surprise. While this episode may have been the one to finally debunk the pundit-pleasing myth of “Donald the Dove,” the truth is that Trump’s mutation into a missile-lobbing interventionist was, most likely, always inevitable.
That’s because, as with everything else, Trump’s approach to matters of war and peace appears to be more attitudinal than philosophical—motivated by instinct, manifested in tough talk, and rooted in a worldview that holds up the cultivation of fear as the most effective way to win respect and obedience.
Though Trump lacks the level of knowledge and grasp of history necessary to form an all-encompassing foreign policy doctrine, he has consistently articulated a belief that America’s enemies around the world can be terrified into submission—if the commander-in-chief is willing to send a strong message. Even if Trump had opted to stay out of the Syrian conflict, that belief of his—paired with a general aversion to the compromises of diplomacy—likely would have led him to abandon whatever isolationist tendencies he harbored sooner or later.
If Coppins’ assessment of the President is accurate, he (Trump) might respond much as Michael Scott of the U.S. version of The Office did when asked about whether he, as a leader, would rather be feared or loved: both—he wants people to be afraid of how much they love him. Indeed, it appears that most of Donald Trump’s interactions exist somewhere between looking to inspire admiration or seeking to instill a sense of terror in the other. Thus, as regards dealings with North Korea or Syria, the non-specific vow that the United States will act if need be—that Kim Jong-un and his regime has “gotta behave” and that “something should happen” regarding Bashar al-Assad’s control over his country—Trump seems to be relying on his unpredictability and his proven willingness to use military weaponry in a game of chicken with the despots of the world, one bully to another. In other words, he is trying to get these leaders to realize that he is every bit as crazy as they are, and that his finger is on the button. The thought scares me, and in theory, I wouldn’t even be on the receiving end.
Again, though, if one has been paying attention to Donald Trump’s comments on foreign policy within the last year, this is consistent with what he has been saying, as McKay Coppins underscores in his piece. He claimed he would “bomb the shit out of ISIS.” He has waffled disturbingly on whether or not he would go after the families of terrorists to send a message to other would-be jihadists. He vividly described the mass execution of Muslims by General John Pershing and bullets dipped in pig’s blood—which was totally false, mind you, but it got the point across. He has even refused to take nuclear weapons off the table. In light of these things and more, we should not be flabbergasted by the salvo in Syria or the attack in Afghanistan.
What’s more, if we look at our presidential history, the trend toward hawkishness dictates that based on the odds, Trump was likely to make the jump from isolationist to interventionist regardless of his fickle nature. Julia Azari, associate professor of political science at Marquette University, recently penned an essay about the established path from isolationist to hawk among American presidents, detailing the history of policy shifts to reflect more flexing of military muscle. It’s not as if Azari is short on modern examples either. Barack Obama preached the virtues of not getting involved in “dumb” wars, only to expand the use of drone strikes and to preside over lengthy occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq. George W. Bush obviously got us to Iraq in the first place, despite campaigning on the notion that we would be seeing less involvement in the development of other nations if he were President. LBJ promised not to escalate the conflict in Vietnam—and then did. Woodrow Wilson stood for neutrality—that is, until World War I rolled around.
One might interject by saying that circumstances often changed over the course of these presidents’ tenures—in my lifetime, 9/11 certainly stands out above the rest—such that objections to necessarily lumping certain iterations of POTUS into this category are not unfounded. Regardless of arguing the merits of individual presidents’ engagement in armed conflict, there are points to be made regarding both the role of politics in these decisions and where bipartisan enthusiasm for throwing America’s weight around, metaphorically speaking, lies. Some additional and perhaps critical observations made by Julia Azari:
Disagreements over isolationism vs. interventionism have caused rifts even within political parties: Azari cites the examples of William Jennings Bryan’s resignation as Secretary of State of the Wilson administration and the debate over foreign intervention as a critical divide between Dwight D. Eisenhower and Robert Taft in the running for the 1952 Republican Party nomination, but even as recently as the 2016 presidential cycle, the contrast between Hillary Clinton, a Democrat even more hawkish than her Republican nominees, and Bernie Sanders, critical of his primary opponent for being too fond of regime change, was a salient one. Thus, even with Democrats tending to be more “dovish” and Republicans more “hawkish,” there are layers to attitudes toward interventionism within both parties.
That said, politics still matters: Especially when considering the role of a congressional majority to dictate or thwart the direction of the executive’s authority as Commander-in-Chief. Both sides are guilty, so to speak, in this regard. Prof. Azari points to prominent Dems criticizing Dubya for plunging us into war in Iraq and then getting awfully quiet about our involvement there once Obama ascended to the Oval Office. Today, numerous members of the GOP in Congress are gung-ho about intervening in Syria and perhaps even ousting Assad by force, but back in 2013, they voted against retaliation when the Syrian government reportedly used chemical attacks similar to the ones alleged in recent weeks on its own people. Given this, while there are subdivisions within the Democratic and Republican Parties, frequently enough, the identifying party in the White House can arguably matter more than the substance of the policy being contemplated.
And yet, Congress tends not to be much of a roadblock concerning military intervention: Pres. Trump made headlines when he requested a $54 billion increase for the defense budget, but this figure was an inflated one, calculated based on the cap referenced in Pres. Obama’s proposed defense budget for his final year in office, a number his administration moved to exceed anyway. As is often the case with Trump, this is meant to influence perception as much as it is to author distinctive foreign policy. Though Congress alone has the power to declare war, over the years, POTUS has been given an increasingly large amount of leeway over authorization of military operations—both with and without congressional consent. As Julia Azari muses, it is easier for presidents to execute foreign policy and utilize said defense budget than to pass reforms related to domestic policy. Hence why we can drop a $16 million bomb on ISIS, but we can’t guarantee health care for millions of Americans. Le sigh.
Over the short term, President Donald Trump may have received the support of political figures on both sides of the political aisle, especially as it regards Syria, and he, um, has yet to piss off enough world leaders or the kinds of bat-shit crazy totalitarians necessary for World War III—and I stress, yet. Over the long haul, however, there’s everything to suggest his strategy or lack thereof regarding the Middle East and North Korea may damage his political prospects and his already-sinking approval rating. Going back to McKay Coppins’ essay, the author opines that Trump, for all his bluster, lacks the qualities that have made past presidents perhaps better-suited for protracted conflict abroad. Per Coppins:
Beyond fighting terrorism, Trump has often said the U.S. needs to be more “unpredictable” on the world stage. While running for president, he pointedly refused to take the potential use of nuclear weapons off the table, even in places like Europe. That probably wasn’t because he had big plans to bomb Estonia; it was because he wanted to place as few constraints on himself as possible, believing that the more nervous he made the world as commander-in-chief, the less likely it was that adversaries would mess with America. Some have identified this approach as a return to the “Madman Theory,” Richard Nixon’s belief that if his enemies thought he was unbalanced, he would have a stronger negotiating position against China on the Vietnam War.
But, of course, Trump does not have Nixon’s discipline or depth of knowledge, nor does he have George W. Bush’s level of conviction, or Barack Obama’s cerebral patience—all qualities that could have come in handy for a president who hoped to defy the vast Washington establishment in pursuit of a radical departure from foreign policy orthodoxy. Instead, Trump entered the Oval Office with a bone-deep belief in vengeance, a tendency toward impulsiveness, and a history of saber-rattling rhetoric.
To recall, Coppins’ main thrust of his article concerns what he sees as Trump’s “inevitable” hawkish pivot in line with #45’s identified personality traits, but if we are thinking long-term, and to invoke the disillusionment of Milo et al., “the Donald” has already begun along a slippery slope toward eroding his enthusiastic base. Now let’s factor in the impact prolonged operations in foreign lands can have on the perception of a president’s handling of policy—particularly as it may turn negative. Julia Azari ends her discussion of trends in presidential deviations from isolationist promises with the following:
While presidents enjoy a great deal of leeway in the short term, however, the long term is another story. Sustaining a prolonged military engagement requires support in Congress and, ultimately, the electorate. If Trump’s actions turn into longer-term involvement in Syria, the country will need to pay for these interventions, and Congress ultimately holds the purse strings. Lingering military involvement can drag down a president’s esteem with the public, as Johnson found out with Vietnam and Bush found out with Iraq. Democrats, already eyeing the 2018 midterm elections, could try to go back to some of the anti-war appeals of the 2006 and 2008 campaigns.
Trump also leads a generally hawkish party, but his own campaign promises rested on the idea that he wasn’t a typical Republican. The evidence is mixed as to whether his core supporters in the Republican coalition are likely to support foreign interventions. FiveThirtyEight’s Dan Hopkins noted last spring that Trump supporters were less likely to support staying in Iraq than Rubio or Cruz voters but were more hawkish overall. A YouGov poll found that Republicans in general, but especially Trump voters, were more likely than others to cite terrorism as a top concern. Linking military action to the prevention of terrorism might persuade those voters to support longer-term involvement. Recent history suggests, however, that voters sour on military action the longer it continues. If Trump pursues this course in Syria, it will likely open up opportunities for other candidates to enter the 2020 field with promises to end the fighting.
To make a long story about the long term short, war is costly. It requires a considerable investment of money, time, and human beings, the first two of which people feel they never have enough, and the last of which any loss is regrettable. Besides the politicians on the left who would use an ill-conceived military campaign as fodder for their own political campaigns, many everyday Americans are apprehensive to downright resistant to invading another country, even if for primarily humanitarian reasons. What’s more, seeing as Señor Pussygrabber isn’t exactly known for being a humanitarian, and seeing as his refusal to divest of his assets or even show his tax returns puts his every motivation into question, it is not unreasonable to think he—and, by proxy, we—have other reasons for involvement in Asia. I believe you know where I’m going with this, and that’s deep into the ground.
Before Trump even took the reins of the country, he already had oil on the brain. As Michael T. Klare writes for Foreign Policy magazine, on the campaign trail and in the nationally televised Commander-in-Chief forum with Matt Lauer—remember that dumpster fire?—Donald Trump expressed the view that while we occupied Iraq, we should have “taken the oil.” Just like that. He has also spoken about seizing oil in Libya. As Klare outlines, however, while this idea has been bandied about at different points in American history, most recently by the George W. Bush administration, the notion that “taking the oil” in Iraq specifically would be an easy prospect is a fallacy. He writes:
It is abundantly clear, then, that there never was a time when the United States could have “taken the oil.” Even at the peak of American power, in the spring and summer of 2003, such a move would have led to disaster; to think it could have been accomplished at a later date, as Trump asserts, is sheer madness. Consider his greatest folly: the claim that Bush, in his last months in office, or President Barack Obama, in his first, should have left a residual force in Iraq to guard the oil fields (presumably under U.S. control) as America’s main combat units began their withdrawal. This would have ignited rebellion from every faction of Iraqi society, requiring not only a halt in the troop withdrawal but also a second “surge” of American forces on an even grander scale than the first. Whether or not the Islamic State would have arisen under these circumstances is difficult to determine, but there is no doubt we would have seen the emergence of many other insurgent groups, equally deadly.
So, President Trump’s aptitude for war is a poor one, his involving the U.S. in a bloody conflict stands to further drive down his approval rating and threaten the GOP’s position elsewhere in government circles, and his potential reasons for invading foreign countries are perilously ill-advised. Beyond the silver lining for those of us who have stopped supporting Trump or never supported him in the first place that more and more Americans are waking up to the realization he sucks, though, this obvious does little to inspire confidence or enthusiasm. Moreover, all this military might makes you wonder—or at least should make you wonder—just how much of it is intended to put “America First” and how much is purely designed to serve Trump and his ego first. What great boon did we experience from the President’s authorization of a raid in Yemen that got Navy SEAL William “Ryan” Owens and several civilians killed? What tremendous benefit did we receive from bombing a mosque in Syria last month, an attack which killed at least 38 people, involved a failure of the forces involved to take necessary precautions, and reportedly included the targeting of civilians with Hellfire missiles as they fled the mosque? Unless we’re striving to lead the world in civilian casualties. A dubious honor that would be, to be sure.
Sadly, while Donald Trump is American jingoism and a hard-on for things that go boom in the worst and most absurd extreme, irrespective of party and even outside of the spheres of influence of Congress and the White House, our national fetish for defense spending and for serving as the world’s self-appointed protector makes it such that while Trump should and must not go unchecked for the military interventions he signs off on, the stronghold that the military-industrial complex has on our government and on our economy also needs to be addressed at the same time. When there are lucrative contracts to be awarded to manufacturers and when Brian f**king Williams of all people can live on air describe the firing of Tomahawk missiles with a perverse sense of splendor, it is no wonder that we as a nation are perpetually embroiled in war. “America First?” Not when the war hawks are at the top of the food chain.
As part of his presidential duties, Barack Obama pardoned, in time for Thanksgiving, the final turkeys of his tenure from the highest political office in the nation. As a lame duck president, if Obama wants more than the sparing of two birds to add to his legacy in his final days as POTUS, he should stand with the people of Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota and their supporters—before it’s too late.
Let’s walk things back a bit, though. What exactly is President Obama’s legacy, and what do we make of all this business in Standing Rock? On the first count, well, it’s complicated. Ask five different people what they think about Barack Obama’s eight years in office, and you’ll likely get five different responses. According to the most recent Gallup polling, at any rate, on approval of the job President Obama is doing, from the period spanning November 14 to November 20, 2016, 56% give the man a thumbs-up. This figure is under the high watermark of 69%, the average set across the three-day period from January 22 to January 24, 2009, when Obama was just settling into his new role as leader of the free world, but significantly better than the 38% nadir he registered numerous times after that 69% zenith, most recently in September of 2014. To put this in historical perspective, Barack Obama’s 32nd-quarter rating is about four percentage points higher than that of U.S. presidents across history. It is roughly equivalent with the approval rating enjoyed by President Ronald Reagan at the same point in his presidency (57%), a few points behind that of Bill Clinton (63%), and, ahem, leaps and bounds ahead of George W. Bush (29%). So, per the vox populi, Pres. Barack Obama is in line with what we’d expect from a person of his stature, and even slightly better.
While public opinion can inform history’s larger judgment of a president’s impact on the country, perhaps it would prove more instructive to view Obama’s two terms through the lens of major events within them. Accordingly, let’s review his seven-plus years and change and see what stands out:
Stimulus package/Economic policy
Even the most hard-hearted Republican critics of Barack Obama as President of the United States would probably tend to acknowledge the guy was handed a pretty rough deal in light of economic happenings at the time. The country was reeling from the global financial crisis known here in the U.S. as the Great Recession, and in a move designed to prevent the American economy from complete collapse, President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009, which authorized $787 billion in spending to combat the negative effects of the recession. The Obama administration contended that the various measures enacted under ARRA were necessary to avoid an even worse fate for the nation. Of course, this argument seemed all but lost on GOP lawmakers; in an example of the kind of partisan conflict Barack Obama’s initiatives would experience throughout his time in office, ARRA would only make it to his desk to be signed on the strength of Democrats’ votes, with just three Republican senators voting yea as the bill worked its way through Congress. Emergency spending bills, threats of government shutdowns—Jesus, the GOP really likes to play chicken with the U.S. economy, don’t they?
The Obama administration lobbied for a second such “stimulus package” later in the year, but this would fail to pass. By this point, Republican assassination of the legacy of the ARRA was well under way, with the idea of a “stimulus” bill proving wildly unpopular with the public. Still, it is not as if President Obama’s policies didn’t make an impact even beyond the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Speaking of large cash infusions to institutions, Obama presided over a second auto bailout to the tune of $9.3 billion more. Pres. Obama also signed into law a federal minimum wage increase up to $7.25, which is great for the workers it affects but falls well short of the $12 minimum wage Barack Obama himself had sought and which Hillary Clinton had stressed as a part of her economic plan during her campaign.
As for post-recession trends during Obama’s two terms, median income has yet to rebound from its 2007 pre-recession rate, prompting fears those incomes will never return. GDP growth has been positive, but not overwhelming. Short-term interest rates only recently increased after staying near zero for most of the Obama presidency. Finally, unemployment has seen a decline from its 10% peak in 2009, and lately has been hovering around a rate of 5%, but this figure is somewhat misleading owing to things like comparisons between part-time and full-time workers as well as inability to account for those who have given up looking for work. Broadly speaking, one might judge Barack Obama’s presidency, in economic terms, as one which averted disaster, but otherwise has been uneven to minimal in the benefits it has promoted in these key areas.
Other economic policy stances
The political hot potato that it always seems to be, the national debt has also been a topic of considerable discussion during Obama’s tenure as POTUS. While other countries faced austerity measures related to the global financial crisis, U.S. government debt has grown under Barack Obama’s watch, paving the way for conflicts along politically ideological lines concerning whether or not spending should be slashed in key areas. The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, or the Simpson-Bowles Commission, was commissioned in 2010 to address ways in which the United States might significantly lower its debt. Numerous individual measures were suggested as part of this report, though the analysis that resulted from the Commission was broadly encapsulated by calls for spending cuts (e.g. cutting into our bloated military spending) and tax increases. Of course, suggesting we spend less on the military and take more from wealthy Americans generally doesn’t sit well with the GOP, so perhaps unsurprisingly, these proposals never received a vote of approval in Congress. Oh, well. The academic exercise was fun, wasn’t it?
Even before Barack Obama took office in 2009, Republican lawmakers were primed to give him hell on matters of the nation’s debt ceiling. When the GOP, buoyed by surging popularity of Tea Party Republican politics, cleaned up in the 2010 mid-term elections, and their voice got that much louder in the House of Representatives, debates over whether or not to raise the debt ceiling and/or effect significant cuts in areas like entitlement programs and military spending grew that much more contentious. Obama, to his credit, tried to negotiate with John Boehner and the other House Republicans on these matters. Predictably, that didn’t work in terms of a “grand bargain.” Instead, we got the Budget Control Act of 2011, which raised the debt ceiling, kicking the proverbial can down the road as per the usual, as well as established the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, which also didn’t work, and provided for budget sequestration, which would automatically take effect in case Democrats and Republicans couldn’t reach an agreement through the Committee. Which, of course, it did.
Later on in Obama’s presidency, in October 2013, there was a fun little government shutdown, again resulting from an impasse on concerns of a budgetary nature—this time, over whether or not to defund ObamaCare. The end result of that political kerfuffle was a resolution to end the shutdown, fund an omnibus spending bill, and raise the debt ceiling—again. The above conflicts, viewed out of context, can be viewed as a hallmark of a presidency helmed by a divisive leader. In reality, though, it takes two to tango, and since achieving a majority in the House and the Senate, Republicans have been every bit the stubborn obstructionists we might expect from lawmakers deferring to party politics. In other words, for all the griping about Batack Obama’s failure to reach across the political aisle, GOP lawmakers were awfully quick to slap at his hand on the occasions he did eke it out.
There’s so much material here it’s difficult to know where to begin. We might have to look at some of the highlights within the highlights, so to speak. Here are just some of the areas that helped define Barack Obama’s time as the so-called leader of the free world:
1) Afghanistan and Iraq
Much as President Obama inherited an economic shit-storm with the advent of the Great Recession, the man inherited a veritable quagmire in the Middle East after George W. Bush plunged us headlong into armed conflict in not one, but two, countries. Noting the challenges presented by America’s continued involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, Obama should be afforded some understanding with respect to the tough decisions he was forced to reckon with as Dubya’s successor. Of course, this is not to absolutely meant to exonerate him either. On one hand, Barack Obama, a vocal critic of the Iraq War during his initial campaign, was instrumental in the substantial drawing-down of troops stationed in Iraq, at least prior to the rise of ISIS.
On the other hand, as advised by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Michael Mullen, Obama authorized the expansion of American servicemen and servicewomen to a high mark of 100,000 in Afghanistan before signing an agreement to leave major combat operations to Afghan forces. If there’s one major criticism of the Obama administration’s handling of the ongoing situations in Afghanistan and Iraq, from my perspective, it is that it has been too eager to spin a narrative of success and close the book on our efforts in these countries when the ever-present threat of al-Qaeda, ISIS, and, within the former, the Taliban, exists and causes unrest. By the same token, this is not to meant to overstate their danger, but only to consider that the way in which we fight wars is changing, and to put a timetable on completion when deep ideological divisions lie behind conflicts on international and national levels almost invites that schedule’s destruction.
2) China/East Asia
China has been a toughie for Barack Obama as President, no lie. While more recently, the emerging power has seen a slowing of its economy, its overall improvement in stature on the world’s stage has meant that President Xi Jinping and Co. have been eager to whip their dongs out and swing them around. In particular, the U.S. and China have shared a rather tentative relationship of late, with periodic spats over issues like arms sales to Taiwan, climate change, cyber-security, handling of North Korea, human rights, and territorial disputes. If nothing else, though, the apparent declining support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)—an agreement meant, if nothing else, to assert American economic presence in Asia alongside the People’s Republic—seems to have saved Obama from a potential stain on his legacy.
Speaking of North Korea, by the way, um, it’s still there, and still working on nuclear weaponry. Sweet dreams.
So, that whole thing about Cuba being on the State Sponsors of Terrorism list is done with. Also, recently, diplomatic relationships have been restored between Cuba and the United States, and economic restrictions have been loosened. Shit, Obama even went to see a baseball game down there! Cuban-American relations, in short, seem to be on the upswing. Then again, if Fidel Castro’s parting words before his recent passing are any indication, the U.S. would be wise to proceed with caution, and perhaps vice-versa. Castro wrote caustically that Cuba does not need any gifts from “the Empire,” and furthermore, that Barack Obama has not tried to understand Cuban politics. While it may seem as if everything is hunky-dory now, seeds of resentment toward America may yet exist in Cuba and elsewhere in lands touched by communism.
4) Drone strikes
Perhaps one of my biggest gripes with Barack Obama’s foreign policy stances over his tenure was that his administration saw an expansion of the drone warfare program set upon by George W. Bush. The predominant criticism with this bit of policy shift is that for all the terrorist figureheads “neutralized” by strikes in Pakistan and elsewhere in the Middle East, numerous civilian casualties have resulted, including those of American citizens. A drone strike was even used to intentionally take out Anwar al-Aulaqi, an American citizen and Muslim cleric with ties to al-Qaeda, controversial in its own right for essentially being an extrajudicial killing OK’d by the Commander-in-Chief.
It seems more than vaguely hypocritical for the United States to police the world and portray itself as a white knight of sorts when it goes around bombing other countries, killing innocent people, and apologizing with a note saying “Oops!” We may not be terrorists per se, but indiscriminately flexing our military muscles with little regard for collateral damage is a sin in its own right. And Obama is guilty in his own right, to be sure.
The obstruction of Republicans notwithstanding, that President Obama has been unable to close the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay as intended—a goal he has reaffirmed year after year, at that—has got to feel like a disappointment for both he and human rights advocates. Sure, strides have been made in reducing the number of captives at the naval base there, as well as ending the practices of “enhanced” interrogation techniques and referring to those being held in detention as “enemy combatants,” but that detainees can still be held indefinitely without being charged is gross overreach on the part of the United States government. From where I’m sitting, Gitmo’s legacy is a stain on our national character, and potentially giving Donald Trump and his appointees broad access is deeply troubling.
Republicans tend to get all worked up about where we are in our relationship with Iran, with two main triggers in this regard. The first is America’s resolution with Iran concerning the latter’s agreement to limits on its nuclear program and access to International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors in return for reducing sanctions. To be fair, it doesn’t exactly warm the cockles of one’s heart to have to negotiate with a country that has more or less made “Death to America” a national slogan. Nonetheless, outside the realm of Congress and with no disrespect to Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu, it would seem as if there is high approval for such an accord, and I, for one, feel better about having some sort of understanding in place and approaching the situation with a greater sense of diplomacy than George W. Bush and his hawkish administration did.
The other issue that gets GOP politicians and conservative theorists alike all hot and bothered is a supposed $1.7 billion “ransom payment” (includes interest) to the Iranian government in return for the release of three American prisoners. The timing was suspicious, as I’m sure many on both the left and right can agree, but not merely to minimize this controversy, but I also don’t know what evidence there is that these monies were wired for the express purpose of hostage release. It’s bad optics, yes, but there is the possibility it is just that.
By now, most of America’s fixation on Libya seems to involve the events surrounding the attack on Benghazi. I remain critical of the Department of State’s handling of this situation, as I believe requests for more security and resources at the diplomatic mission were ignored by Hillary Clinton’s department, and suggesting she isn’t culpable because she wasn’t made aware of the deteriorating situation in Libya rings hollow when it can be argued that she should have been more aware, especially when she and others within the Obama administration were instrumental in pushing for Gaddafi’s deposition. While perhaps not the most egregious chapter in the book of Barack Obama’s presidency, America’s involvement in Libya during his two terms also doesn’t do much to allay concerns about our nation’s “shoot first, ask questions later” attitude when it comes to addressing international and national disputes.
8) Osama bin Laden
Oh, yeah. We killed that f**ker. Moving along.
Relations between the United States of America and the Russian Federation seemed to be moving in a positive direction, at least during Obama’s first term. Our president and their president signed a major nuclear arms control agreement. Russia joined the World Trade Organization, and the two countries were doing business again. The U.S. and Russia—Russia and the U.S.—we were like BFFs! And then Vladimir Putin took the reins again in Russia, and that got shot to shit. With actions such as the annexation of Crimea, repeated incursions into the Ukraine, and propping up the deadly regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, Putin’s militarism has put his country on a course directly at odds with the “reset” Barack Obama had envisioned for U.S.-Russia relations. Most recently, probable interference of the Russians in American electoral affairs—needless to say, so not cool. Obama has caught a lot of flak for not meeting Putin’s shows of force with the same contentious spirit, but I applaud his administration’s levelheadedness, as too much fuel on the fire could lead to an escalation of any conflict, armed or otherwise. Sometimes, restraint is the best policy. Looking at you, President-Elect Trump.
Speaking of Syria, it’s a mess. Assad, insurgent forces, ISIS, Russia, and the U.S. launching airstrikes—and the proud people of a country with a rich history caught in between. It’s a devastating situation, and no doubt you’ve seen some of the photos of the carnage. In November of last year, Barack Obama announced a plan to resettle some 10,000 Syrian refugees in the United States. If you ask me, the number should probably closer to 100,000—conservative Republican rhetoric be damned. Though the civil unrest is a conflict of a military nature, the suffering within Syria is a fundamentally human issue. Pres. Obama did not cause this war. He and Hillary Clinton did not give rise to ISIS. As such, he alone cannot solve the complex problems within the Syrian state. Alongside cooperation with neighboring countries, what we sorely need is compassion for the people affected by the fighting in Syria.
Social policy/domestic initiatives
Again, there’s a lot of ways we could go with topics under this heading, but seeing as we’ve already been through a lot of material, I’ll try to be briefer on this end. The domestic initiative most synonymous with Barack Obama’s presidency is, of course, the Affordable Care Act, known colloquially as ObamaCare. There are a lot of ObamaCare haters out there, and in light of this antipathy, even staunch Democrats have found themselves hard-pressed to defend the ACA. For my part, though the initial execution may have been flawed (recall all those early problems with Healthcare.gov), this initiative does put us closer to where we need to be in terms of universal healthcare—which is a right, mind you, or should be. The notion of any sort of mandate, be it required of employers or individuals, it would seem, really sticks in the craw of its detractors, but despite the hooting and hollering about government overreach from the right and railing about the burden on small businesses, having large numbers of uninsured Americans creates its own costs, and potentially larger ones at that down the road. ObamaCare is not perfect, but to label it an outright failure is more than a little misleading.
On other dimensions of domestic policy, Pres. Obama’s initiatives, if not particularly far-reaching, can be once more understood within the context of an obstructionist Congress. Barack Obama signed into law a repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” but only on the strength of support from Democratic lawmakers. Though the Obama administration saw a record number of deportations, Obama himself has been a vocal supporter of the DREAM Act, and signed the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy into law—even though he has been fought tooth-and-nail on both issues. Attempts to pass sensible gun law reform have been, in a word, cock-blocked by Republicans’ subservience to the NRA. And anyone thinking Obama’s ascendancy to the presidency would magically fix what ails the nation in terms of racial prejudice has full permission to go screw. As recent political events have brought to the forefront, there is a lot of deep-seated racism present in the United States, the likes of which Jesus Himself couldn’t hope to overcome. To those who would brand Barack Obama as a divider and not a uniter, I must express my doubts about how seriously you were willing to be united in the first place—that is, on terms other than your own.
Full disclosure: I used and thank Wikipedia’s page on Barack Obama’s presidency for serving as a template for my personal opinions on his administration’s policies in light of the challenges he has faced. If you do check that link, you’ll notice I omitted two sections. One is science, technology, and the environment, a lot of which I found to be dry and uninteresting, quite frankly, and since this post is long enough already, I opted to scrap it, though environmental concerns are related to the discussion soon to follow. The other section, meanwhile, is ethics, and it is at this point which I’ll strive to make the connection to Standing Rock. Overall, I feel Barack Obama, who easily outpaces George W. Bush in leadership skills and sound foreign policy navigation (not exactly the most difficult achievement), if I may say so myself, has done a fairly good job at steering the nation along a path of incremental progress, a job made that much more difficult by the obstinacy of the GOP.
This notion of the virtue of incremental progress, however, in itself a limiting factor, and thus, in general terms, is at the same time a major criticism of the Obama occupancy of the White House—that his policies haven’t gone far enough, even noting Republican resistance. Don’t get me wrong—I like Barack Obama. As a person, I think he’s got a great personality, not to mention a beautiful family and a wife and First Lady in Michelle who may be as capable a leader as he, if not more so. Nevertheless, there are points where I disagree with the President, a notion some Democratic Party loyalists treat as tantamount to disrespect or even heresy. On an economic front, as alluded to earlier, I disapprove of Obama’s stubborn adherence to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. As a true Bernie Sanders devotee, I also find fault with his administration’s seeming unwillingness to go beyond the provisions of Dodd-Frank, as many would agree is necessary to keep Wall Street in check, including but not limited to reinstatement of Glass-Steagall, not to mention his extension of the Bush-era tax cuts. Within the sphere of social policy, too, for all the reforms made in the intersection of the criminal justice system and drug laws, the war on drugs still rages on, and the DEA is still wont to equate marijuana with a drug like heroin, while substances like alcohol, opioids and tobacco are easily accessible.
Additionally, invoking again matters of ethics, for a president who vowed that lobbyists wouldn’t find a place in his White House and that his administration would be the most transparent in history, Barack Obama has waffled if not deliberately violated these precepts. If we add the revelation of the existence in 2013 by Edward Snowden of the PRISM mass electronic surveillance program as a function of the NSA, the willingness of the Obama administration to cross ethical lines, if not legal and constitutional lines, is all the more unsettling. If we bring contemplations of social and moral responsibility into the mix, meanwhile, while, again, Obama has fared significantly better than his predecessor, as regards the environment, it’s yet a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand, Pres. Obama has identified climate change as the biggest threat the nation and world faces, and has set forth legislation on numerous occasions designed to cap carbon emissions and overall reduce the United States’ emissions footprint. On the other hand, Obama has only nixed domestic offshore drilling and other projects like the Keystone XL extension because they weren’t economically viable, not for strict adherence to environmental principles. Do as I say, not as I’d do if the money were better.
Enter the Dakota Access Pipeline and Standing Rock Indian Reservation. Some background information, first. Energy Transfer Partners, a Fortune 500 natural gas and propane firm, seeks to construct a pipeline that would run from the Bakken Oil Fields in North Dakota to a point in southern Illinois, going underneath the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers and part of Lake Oahe near Standing Rock in the process. According to the Army Corps of Engineers, the proposed pipeline would have little to no impact on the surrounding area. This assessment, however, has been judged by outside observers as being rather limited in scope, failing to analyze the situation in terms of a potential area-wide environmental impact, and since being asked to conduct a full-scale review by various related agencies, even the Corps has acknowledged it needs more time to make an adequate assessment on the impact the Dakota Access Pipeline could have.
That’s the good news, the delay. The bad news comes with how little attention the progress of the Dakota Access Pipeline project and the protests of its completion have received until recently, and just how severe the backlash has been against protestors from security guards contracted by those involved with the pipeline project as well as law enforcement siding with the corporate entity. There have been reports of guard dogs and pepper spray used on protestors, as well as concussion grenades, rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons in freezing conditions, not to mention the use of the criminal justice system to intimidate and silence journalists. Even if some protestors were being unruly, though, as North Dakota state police have alleged, this use of force appears disproportionate and harsh. What’s more, this treatment would seem to run at odds with how other superficially similar situations have unfolded. Making an allusion to the extended occupation of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon by armed militants, the coiner of the term Black Lives Matter, Alicia Garza had this to say:
So let me get this correct. If you’re white, you can occupy federal property … and get found not guilty. No teargas, no tanks, no rubber bullets … If you’re indigenous and fighting to protect our earth, and the water we depend on to survive, you get tear gassed, media blackouts, tanks and all that.
The disparity seems pretty telling. In America, the sanctity of Indian lands and water sources evidently pales in comparison to the whims of the fossil fuel industry and white privilege. If you’re pumping vast sums of oil or you’re Caucasian and packing heat in vague protest of government overreach, you stand to fare better than a Dakota Access Pipeline protestor or, say, a black person stopped by the cops for a minor traffic violation.
Thankfully, in light of the apparent brutality shown toward these protestors, along with the sheer number of people who have stood with Standing Rock, not to mention several entertainers and other celebrities who have drawn attention to the plight of the reservation’s Sioux citizens and others who have suffered for the cause (for Christ’s sake, they arrested Shailene Woodley, of all people! Shailene Woodley!), average Joes like you and me are taking notice. One voice above all, though, would carry considerably more weight, and since I spent some 3,000 words talking about him just now, I think you know to whom I’m alluding. Barack Obama has been notably silent on matters of Standing Rock and the Dakota Access Pipeline, as were Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton once it became, for all intents and purposes, a heads-up contest for the presidency.
It’s not like his involvement hasn’t been sought, either. Chief Arvol Looking Horse, a spiritual leader and voice for the Great Sioux Nation, has pleaded with Pres. Obama to keep his word with recognition of treaties with native peoples and to act when they are violated. Bernie Sanders has spoken at a protest in front of the White House and personally appealed to the President to act against the Dakota Access Pipeline, and other senators have urged him and his administration to do a more thorough environmental assessment of the project’s impact, as well as consider consulting more directly and openly with tribal representatives. Obama himself has even acknowledged Standing Rock Reservation and the associated protests by name on more than occasion.
Acknowledgment of the problem helps, and I encourage those of you who support resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline to use the hashtag #NoDAPL in your social media posts and dialogs. But we need action—not just from people like you and I—but from our leaders, those with the most direct path and power to affect change. And Barack Obama is at the top of the list. As noted, Obama and Co. has killed offshore drilling projects and the Keystone XL extension—though not necessarily for the purported altruistic reasons. Going back to his legacy, though, if ever there were a time to stand for something on principle, it would be now, and standing with the people of Standing Rock and the future of the planet over the Dakota Access Pipeline and the fossil fuel industry. President Obama, if I may address you directly, sir—you are a lame duck president. Your political party just had its ass handed to it in the election, despite the results of the popular vote for the president, in part because people are fed up with politics as usual and the incremental progress paradigm of yesteryear. And while party loyalists and more moderate liberals may support you no matter what, those of us disenfranchised with the status quo are asking for more, and to boot, those on the extreme right are intent on destroying the best points of your legacy.
Which is why, Mr. President, now is the time to act. Stand with Standing Rock, because Donald Trump almost certainly won’t. Re-write the narrative. Leave one final meritorious page in the storybook of your presidency. I, concerned citizens around the world, and the planet itself will thank and remember you for it.
I’m reasonably sure you’re familiar with Ralph Nader. If you were eligible to vote in the 2000 election, then you’re definitely familiar with the man. Nader, who has made a career out of activism on behalf of consumer protection (his book, Unsafe at Any Speed, is considered influential on safety standards for motor vehicles, not to mention consumer advocacy as a whole), environmentalism, humanitarianism and principles of democratic government, has run for president several times—either as a write-in candidate on individual state ballots, or as an official nominee of the Green Party or Independent Party.
It was the 2000 presidential election, however, where Ralph Nader’s third-party bid became perhaps the most relevant, at least in terms of perceived influence on the outcome. As you may recall, in the swing state of Florida, George W. Bush beat Al Gore by a margin of less than 1,000 votes, an amount Nader garnered more than 97 times over. The easy reading was that Ralph Nader cost Al Gore the election and left us with a man-child as the President of the United States. As Nader and others pointed out, however, and quite rightly, I might add, there were other factors at play. For one, there was a whole recount fiasco—hanging chads and all—that necessitated a controversial Supreme Court ruling and prompted critics to insist the Republicans stole the 2000 election. Also, it’s not as if there weren’t Democrats who voted for Dubya, aside from the notion that it’s not as if Ralph Nader intentionally set out to sabotage Gore. Moreover, Al Gore didn’t even win his home state of Tennessee in 2000. On those three counts, or three strikes as it may be, the “Nader as spoiler” theory swings and misses.
In this election in 2016, Ralph Nader will not have a bearing on the outcome—real, imagined or otherwise. With respect to third-party options, the names most likely to serve as flies in the proverbial ointment are Gary Johnson, representative for the Libertarian Party, and Dr. Jill Stein, Green Party nominee. Nonetheless, as a political commentator in an election cycle in which both major-party candidates are disliked by a significant portion of the potential pool of voters—and thus, choices outside the Republican-Democrat red-blue binary stand to have a real impact—Nader’s voice carries a certain amount of weight. When asked by Jorge Ramos for his thoughts on Bernie Sanders’ recent endorsement of Hillary Clinton, Ralph Nader expressed the belief that the move, in its enumeration of meritorious policy positions on Clinton’s part, was more politically calculated in his (Bernie’s) favor than others might read or spin it:
He set her up for political betrayal, which would allow him to enlarge his civic mobilization movement after the election and after she takes office. So I think it’s a very astute endorsement.
“Betrayal.” Not mincing words, are we, Mr. Nader? I’m not sure Bernie Sanders is being quite as scheming as Ralph Nader would give him credit for, as I believe Sanders’ top priorities are 1) beating Donald Trump, 2) promoting a truly progressive agenda for the Democratic Party, and 3) mobilizing support within the Democratic Party among workers and younger voters—as well as encouraging the Democrats to do their part for less wealthy Americans and the middle class. Then again, as a Sanders supporter throughout the primary, I might be naturally more inclined to believe Bernie threw his influence behind Hillary for the best reasons.
What intrigued me most, though, concerning Ralph Nader’s opinions put forth in the Ramos interview, was not his musings on Bernie Sanders’ political machinations, but rather what he thought about voting for someone other than Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. As is no huge surprise, Nader said he would most likely be voting for the Green Party or Libertarian Party candidate, but as regards what you should do with your vote, Nader is one of those dreadful sorts who believes in voting based on your conscience—for crying out loud! In Darth Nader’s own words:
I always believe, Jorge, in voting your conscience. Not tactical votes, not least-worst votes. If you do tactical, least-worst votes, you’ve lost your bargaining power over the candidates. They never look back when you basically say to them, “Well, I don’t like either candidate but you’re not as bad as the other one.”
This man can’t be serious, can he? After all, this is America! It’s Democrat or Republican! Blue or red, red or blue! We don’t need another party confusing things! Unless, God willing, that party is the Bull Moose Party! Loves me some Bull Moose. But, yes, Ralph Nader, we can’t afford to play games with this election! The stakes are too high! When will I stop yelling?!?
Before we so quickly dismiss Ralph Nader’s assertions as the ramblings of a crazy person, might there be some validity to what this madman is saying? Have we, by implicitly giving our consent to party politics and feeding the “lesser of two evils” trope over the years, paved the way to our own dissatisfaction now manifested in a likely two-horse race between Hillary “Never Met a War I Didn’t Like” Clinton and Donald “No Mexican Wall Is Too High” Trump? Isn’t now the perfect time as a people to vote third-party and give the Democratic and Republican Parties their due comeuppance?
On the heels of the Republican National Convention, let’s first address the elephant in the room—the state of the Grand Old Party. Given the four-day scope of the event this past week in Cleveland, I initially thought about doing a whole post recapping it—though you’ll soon see why I’m covering it in (somewhat) abbreviated fashion. Donald Trump and the way he’s conducted his campaign have put him at odds with a number of Republican leaders and figureheads—as well as non-politicians with half a brain in their head. In fact, the public figures who made it known they would be skipping the Convention reads like a “Who’s Who” of Republican leadership over the past 15 years or so, or more: George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, Jeb Bush, John Kasich, John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Mitt Romney, Governors Matthew Mead and Brian Sandoval, of Wyoming and Nevada, respectively, and others.
In their absence, though, there were apparently enough B-list celebrities, crazy people and idiots to go around. Here are some of the highlights—if you can call them that:
Monday: “Make America Safe Again”
For some reason, Scott Baio was there. Yeah, you know, Charles in Charge, of our days and our nights, as well as our wrongs and our rights? He had some fairly generic comments to be made: it’s not about getting free stuff—it’s about sacrificing; Donald Trump is not the Messiah but a man who wants to “give back..to the country that gave him everything;” Hillary Clinton sucks. You know the deal. Nothing particularly illuminating. Thanks, Scott. You can go back to being all but irrelevant as an actor now.
Willie Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame said something about both he and Trump having wives hotter than they are. How exactly does this “make America safe,” again?
Rudy Giuliani, touting his record on crime, actually addressed keeping American safe, albeit with a heaping helping of pointing out the dangers of “Islamic extremist terrorism.” His remarks were largely straight out of the GOP playbook: Obama made a shitty nuclear deal with Iran, Hillary Clinton sucks and had a shitty response to Benghazi, Syrian refugees are all potential terrorists in the making. Are you sensing a theme with respect to Hillary yet?
The speech of the night, however, belonged to Michelle Obama. I’m sorry, Melania Trump. It’s easy to get those two confused. Before I get to the story that Melania Trump’s speech became, let me first say that I find it highly odd, even for the ever-strange Trump campaign, to have a Slovenian immigrant born Melanija Knavs as the keynote speaker on a night devoted to keeping America safe from foreign influence. Just putting that out there. Now, let’s get to the speech itself. It soon became apparent that Melania’s address bore more than a passing resemblance to the one Michelle Obama gave at the Democratic National Convention eight years ago. I’m not sure what the standards are like at the University of Ljubljana—from which Melania dropped out but insists she received an architectural design degree—but at most universities, that’s the kind of thing that could get you kicked out for plagiarism. If Melania Trump was hoping to distinguish herself as more than just a pretty face through her speech, this controversy sure didn’t help matters.
Tuesday: “Make America Work Again”
Another day, another round of Trumps. Among the headliners on Day 2 were not one but two members of the Trump Tribe. Donald Trump, Jr. took to the podium, but in as similar vein as with Melania’s speech, discussion of its actual content was lost in the ensuing conversation about parts of his speech being hand-me-downs from a previously published article in American Conservative by F.H. Buckley. Even if sanctioned by Buckley himself, for Trump Jr. to deliver an address with borrowed material only a day after allegations of plagiarism with Melania Trump’s speech raises questions about the campaign as a whole. Tiffany Trump, whom I previously believed was only a myth, also made a rare appearance in support of her father. Tiffany, a recent graduate of Penn, made a speech that seemed like something you would hear out of a university commencement, and tried to make her dad seem, you know, human. People seemed to think it was a good speech, I guess, though being able to talk coherently for an extended period of time is a fairly solid achievement for that crowd. Also, it probably helps that she’s a cute young blonde. Whatever. As with a Slovenian waxing political on a night devoted to border security as an extension of foreign policy, there would seem to be a certain degree of irony inherent in two of Trump’s spawn—privileged descendants of a likewise fortunate heir of his father’s name and legacy—being centerpieces of a night devoted to getting the average American back to work. Then again, rarely do things make much logical sense in the political world of Donald J. Trump.
Checking in on Dr. Ben Carson—yup, still insane. His speech, in a stunning turn of Six Degrees of Separation, somehow tried to link Hillary Clinton to famous organizational guru Saul Alinsky to…Lucifer. Yes, that Lucifer. In this respect, the presumptive Democratic Party nominee is not only connected to the Beast himself, but by a slender two degrees, at that. Dr. Carson, I’m not sure what you’re smoking, but whatever it is, I think I want some.
And then there was Chris Christie, who not only failed to win Donald Trump’s pick to be his running mate, but apparently failed to secure a spot among the Tuesday headliners. As he exhibited in the primaries, Christie committed to talking about the one political topic he can seem to discuss with conviction and regularity: just how much the Republicans in attendance hate Hillary. In particular, Chris Christie hearkened back to his experience as a prosecutor to submit evidence of Clinton’s guilt in various foreign policy dealings, as well as the unending well of criticism from which the GOP can draw attack material ad nauseum: the State Department E-mail scandal. Again, nothing to do with the economy or jobs. Just rehearsed, tired attack points against Hillary, which, even if legitimate, sound desperate coming from Christie, not to mention hypocritical noting his own history with investigations of impropriety. Chris Christie, sir, you are a heel.
Wednesday: “Make America First Again”
Also known as the Vice President and Also-Rans portion of the program. Because it wouldn’t be a day at the Republican National Convention without hearing from at least one Trump, on Wednesday, we heard from Eric Trump, who, guilty by association, has had to assert the notion he didn’t lift his speech from an existing document. Regardless of who wrote his words, Eric spared no shred of Republican rhetoric we’ve grown accustomed to absorbing: our current foreign policy is inept (*cough*, Obama, *cough*, Hillary, *cough*), the Second Amendment and Christmas are under attack, the national debt is too high because of Obama and high taxes (warning: may or may not be true), foreign countries are taking all our jobs, and so on and so forth. After that, Trump began the obligatory deification of his father, painting him as a man who has “revitalized run-down neighborhoods, shaped skylines across the country, and turned dreams into reality his entire career.” (Warning: may be seriously untrue.) Eric Trump finished by, among other things, extolling Donald Trump, Sr.’s record of giving to charities, which, as I’m sure you can guess by now, may or may not be true. Eric, I’m glad you’re so proud to be a Trump, but this does speech does nothing for me—or for the people who might actually believe it.
We also heard from Newt Gingrich, the man who almost was Trump’s VP pick, and Mike Pence, the man who, for whatever reasons, is that pick. Gingrich talked about keeping America safe, which he and the convention organizers apparently failed to realize was more appropriate for the first day of the Convention, but OK. He had a lot to say, but it basically boils down to these essentials: radical Islam wants to kill us all, Hillary Clinton is dishonest, we need a big military and a big wall, our police are great and so is Donald J. Trump. Stop me if you’ve heard this all before. As for Pence, whom Trump finally allowed to speak and who formally accepted the Republican Party’s nomination for Vice President, I’ll allow Katie McDonough of Fusion to put it succinctly: “Indiana Gov. Mike Pence accepted the Republican vice presidential nomination on Wednesday night with a speech designed to communicate one thing: He is boring.” ‘Nuff said.
Last but not least, we had the also-rans. Wisconsin’s shitty governor Scott Walker said some things, and presumably, made a point, but evidently is not worth the trouble it takes to find the transcript of his commentary. Marco Rubio was there in video form, and more than one observer said his delivery resembled, more than anything, a hostage being filmed. And then there was the show-stealer himself, Ted Cruz. Cruz, despite not being well liked by, well, most people and small children, will likely run again for President in the future. This may at least partially explain why he delivered a speech, but somewhat surprisingly, ended it not by endorsing Donald Trump, but rather asking the convention-goers to vote their conscience. A regular Ralph Nader, this guy! Whatever his reasons, this was my highlight of the Republican National Convention, in that it was so straight-up gangsta of him to not endorse Trump. Ted Cruz, you may have heard boos that night and may continue to catch grief from other Republicans from bucking the trend, but I, for one, give you mad props. Respect, Felito.
Thursday: “Make America One Again”
With Big Papa himself officially accepting the Republican Party nomination, could there be a better theme for the ultimate night of the Convention than “Make American One Again?” This coming from the ultimate uniter, Donald Trump. (Please, try to hold back your eye-rolls, smirks and snickers.) Before the main event, you did have your fair share of notable “undercard” speakers. Republic National Committee chair Reince Priebus, whose name sounds like it belongs in the Game of Thrones universe, made an appeal to unity for Republicans—you know, to beat that dadgum Hillary Clinton. Prince Rhombus, sorry, Ranch Prius, dammit, Reince Priebus had this to say about what separates Republicans from Democrats: “What separates Republicans from Democrats is our belief in better. We believe in better schools. A better health care system. A better economy which rewards hard work no matter where or when you punch the clock. And most of all, we believe in a better chance at the American Dream for everyone.” Because Democrats want everything to get worse? Whatever, Ponce Rebus. Sell what you need to sell.
Peter Thiel, German-born co-founder of PayPal, entrepreneur, hedge fund manager, and venture capitalist, also took to the mic. As a foreign-born homosexual man living and working in Silicon Valley, you’d think Thiel would be a weird choice for the closing night of the Republican National Convention. And um, you’d be right. Matt Rosoff, in a piece for Business Insider, notes how Peter Thiel made numerous points that seem to be at odds with mainstream Republican thinking, particularly on the subjects of investment in science and technology, and the invasion of Iraq. Otherwise, though, he’s unfortunately on board the Trump Train. And, for whatever reason, he’s got a real bugaboo about who uses what bathroom.
Ivanka Trump, apparently the member of the Trump Tribe with highest standing outside of “the Donald” himself, served as the lead-in to the man with top billing. I’m not going to dissect Ivanka’s eloquent and impassioned speech except to say that numerous critics said she sounded more like a Democrat (probably in an effort to woo independents and women voters) than anything. In addition, and as has been argued repeatedly, with Ivanka impressing as much as she did and does, um, it looks like the wrong Trump is running for President. I mean, I know she’s only 34, but she’ll be 35 come November. That works, right? Shit, if Canadian-born Ted Cruz can run for President, why can’t Ivanka Trump?
Finally, the event we were all waiting for—sort of. Donald Trump, ever the strongman, depicted himself as the law-and-order candidate. In doing so, he delivered an address that the media roundly characterized as “dark.” In his tone of doom and gloom, Trump argued that anyone who doesn’t recognize the dangers that exist for the United States (hmm, could that be someone like Hillary Clinton?) is unfit to lead it, and that the time for political correctness is over. He also rattled off a number of “facts” about what a shitty state the country is in. And then he went in on Hillary directly, describing her legacy as one of “death, destruction, terrorism and weakness.” The rest was a mish-mosh of his familiar themes: putting “America first,” I am not a politician or a member of the establishment, Hillary this, Hillary that, the police are great, so is Mike Pence, say no to Obama and the Syrian refugees, sanctuary cities are bad, walls at the border are good, laws should be enforced, laws should be enforced, did I mention laws should be enforced?, we’re going to bring jobs back to America, we’re going to lower taxes, we’re going to repeal ObamaCare, we must protect freedom of religion and the Second Amendment, MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN! There. I just saved you more than an hour. You’re welcome.
This is where I’m supposed to warn you not to let the crazies get the keys to the asylum. This is where I’m supposed to tell you not to let bigots like Donald Trump, Steve King and David Duke think they’re right by openly running on platforms characterized by a belief in white supremacy. This is where I’m supposed to point out that “putting America first” is a red herring when, for all our griping about terrorist attacks in Orlando and shooting of cops in Baton Rouge and Dallas, we can kill 85 Syrian civilians in an air strike, call it an accident, and sweep it under the rug. This is where I’m supposed to plead with you to consider that Trump is a bully, a fraud, and someone who still won’t release his tax returns, even though the IRS literally has no problem with it.
So, yes, in short, there is every reason not to vote for Donald J. Trump, and likely a great deal of merit in voting strategically to keep him away from the White House. At the same time, however, if we are thinking in Naderian terms and voting based on our conscience, how many of us can say we’re all in on Hillary Clinton, and not just because she’s someone other than Donald Trump? Speaking purely for myself, I know that I can’t endorse Hillary on her merits alone. Moreover, even though I’m putting forth my personal views, I know I am not alone in this sentiment.
Even before Wikileaks’ latest “gift” to the world, I have had my reservations about voting Democratic on the basis of feeling as if the Democratic Party has done little to earn my vote and yours. But let me tell you—the DNC E-mail leaks just dropped on the world don’t help matters from my perspective, nor do they inspire a sense of confidence in Hillary or desire for party unity among fervent Bernie Sanders supporters and serial Clinton haters. Sanders supporters, I will concede you, have looked and will look for evidence of a conspiracy against their candidate of choice, and for months have alleged Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz has been less than impartial in her dealings with Clinton and Sanders, arguing that she (Wasserman Schultz) has been influential in tipping the proverbial scales in the former’s favor.
For all their talk of a “rigged” political system and claims of the Sanders campaign that they have had to fight an uphill battle against an entrenched Democratic, if the DNC leaks show one thing, it’s that the conspiracy theorists are, well, at least somewhat right on this point. With nearly 20,000 messages recovered from a hack of the DNC’s E-mail server(s), credited to the mysterious “Guccifer 2.0” and believed to be the product of Russian intelligence, I am not about to try to parse through the entire message dump. Besides, most of these messages feature rather uninteresting and benign details within DNC operations. A prized few, however, shoot through the idea that Debbie Wasserman Schultz and other key figures within the Democratic National Committee were neutral in their private handling of Bernie’s and Hillary’s campaigns. Furthermore, their communications with the press—including figures such as CNN’s Jake Tapper, MSNBC’s Chuck Todd, and Polirico’s Kenneth Vogel—suggest a favoritism toward Hillary Clinton, and worse, that the DNC may have worked to influence their content and undermine Bernie Sanders’ bid for the Democratic Party nomination. In a piece for Heavy credited to Stephanie Dube Dwilson, a number of “the most damaging” E-mails are cited and highlighted. Among the revelations or potential revelations referenced in the article/slideshow:
The Democratic National Committee may have planned a joint fundraising party with The Washington Post.
Staffers, in talking about Rhode Island, a state that was reducing its primary polling locations and in which Bernie Sanders led in the polls at the time by a slight margin, derided the Sanders camp, suggesting they’d probably complain about the outcome regardless, and referred to the state’s governor, Gina Raimondo, as “one of ours.”
Mark Paustenbach, DNC staffer, suggested an anti-Bernie Sanders narrative to Luis Miranda, DNC communications director and the most-cited figure in the DNC leaks.
Miranda wrote simply, “lol,” to a report that Sanders welcomed an agreed-upon fourth debate in California in advance of the primary.
Debbie Wasserman Schultz E-mailed Chuck Todd, saying that MSNBC on-air personality Mika Brzezinski calling for her to resign was “outrageous” and that “this needs to stop.”
DWS, responding to Sanders campaign Jeff Weaver’s comments on the unrest at the Nevada Democratic Convention, called him a “liar.” (In a separate E-mail, Wasserman Schultz refers to Weaver as an “ass.”)
Kenneth Vogel allowed the DNC to review an article about Hillary Clinton’s fundraising prior to publication.
The DNC may have crafted fake Craigslist ads for employment with Donald Trump’s organization, referring to Trump’s oft-cited disparaging attitude toward women.
The DNC may have planned to attack Bernie Sanders on his faith, implying he is an atheist to hurt his support among more religious Democrats.
Wasserman Schultz, after a CNN story in which Bernie Sanders insisted he would try to remove her as committee chair should he get elected president, wrote, “This is a silly story. He isn’t going to be president.”
The Clinton campaign may have violated Federal Election Commission laws by making out donations checks to the DNC.
Donna Brazile, who had professed her neutrality on matters concerning the Democratic Party, said she would “not touch” a story on reservations held by the Sanders camp about adequate representation on the Democratic Party platform and in the Democratic National Convention, adding “because she would cuss them out.”
Luis Miranda referring to a New York Times piece by Nicholas Confessore as “good as we could hope for,” as the DNC “was able to keep him from including more on the JVF (the Joint Victory Fund).”
Paustenbach laughed when Sanders commented on state Democratic parties not having enough resources and the more undemocratic aspects of the primary process.
DNC staffers elected not to reference an MSNBC story talking about favorable unity within the Democratic Party among voters, as it was a “heavy Bernie piece.”
The DNC may have had people inside the Sanders organization as effective “plants” reporting information back to them.
Reportedly, Debbie Wasserman Schultz will resign from her post as Democratic National Committee chair following the Democratic National Convention, a move Bernie Sanders had called for following news of the DNC leak being made public, and one for which Sanders supporters had been clamoring for months. At the minimum, DWS’ removal as DNC chair needed to happen for general principles. That much was a given. The damage, meanwhile, in terms of perception, may be done, and this in turn feeds all sort of “Clinton-Lucifer” degrees of separation connections. OK, maybe that stretch is Ben Carson’s alone to make. But it does make one wonder whether or not all the Committee’s machinations made a difference in the race to the Democratic Party nomination, or if not, like Tom Brady and his deflated balls supposedly, why they needed to engage in chicanery in the first place.
Support for Hillary Clinton among Bernie Sanders supporters and progressives, theoretical or otherwise, has been an issue for the Clinton campaign and mainstream Dems for months now. On the eve of the Democratic National Convention, hopes for party unity have been seriously rattled by the one-two punch of the Wikileaks E-mail dump and the nomination of Tim Kaine for vice president. On the latter count—surprise, surprise—the mainstream media thought it was a great pick. “Clinton follows her heart!” “Clinton employs sound strategy!” “Kaine is able!” Lame last-name-related puns aside, as far as the rest of the potential voting pool is concerned, however, the choice of Tim Kaine as VP is either boring, infuriating, or infuriatingly boring. As comedian W. Kamau Bell reacted to the news on Twitter, “One glass ceiling at a time everybody. 🙂 — Hillary Clinton in a group text to Cory Booker, Julian Castro, Elizabeth Warren.” Progressives, too, are not very enamored with Kaine, and a lot of it stems from his perceived support for the big banks in his signing of multiple letters aimed at regulators to loosen regulations for community banks, as well as his past support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership and fast-tracking it through Congress. Add to this the notion Bernie Sanders delegates have had to argue and compromise with top Democratic leadership to try to reduce the influence of superdelegates, a much-hated hallmark of the primary voting system, and you wonder whether or the Convention in Philadelphia will be even more “messy” as Sanders himself predicted months ago.
In his most recent essay on the state of the election, economist Robert Reich asks the pertinent question, “Does Hillary get it?” Likewise a critic of the choice of Tim Kaine as running mate for Hillary Clinton, he opens his post thusly:
Does Hillary Clinton understand that the biggest divide in American politics is no longer between the right and the left, but between the anti-establishment and the establishment?
I worry she doesn’t – at least not yet.
A Democratic operative I’ve known since the Bill Clinton administration told me “now that she’s won the nomination, Hillary is moving to the middle. She’s going after moderate swing voters.”
Presumably that’s why she tapped Tim Kaine to be her vice president. Kaine is as vanilla middle as you can get.
In fairness, Hillary is only doing what she knows best. Moving to the putative center is what Bill Clinton did after the Democrats lost the House and Senate in 1994 – signing legislation on welfare reform, crime, trade, and financial deregulation that enabled him to win reelection in 1996 and declare “the era of big government” over.
In those days a general election was like a competition between two hot-dog vendors on a boardwalk extending from right to left. Each had to move to the middle to maximize sales. (If one strayed too far left or right, the other would move beside him and take all sales on rest of the boardwalk.)
But this view is outdated. Nowadays, it’s the boardwalk versus the private jets on their way to the Hamptons.
The most powerful force in American politics today is anti-establishment fury at a system rigged by big corporations, Wall Street, and the super-wealthy.
If what Reich believes is correct, Clinton’s “safe” pick is not all that safe given the current state of the American electorate. And now, because I feel compelled, let’s bring Ralph Nader back into the mix, and return to our main point. If, regarding the Republicans, we are taking Nader’s and Ted Cruz’s advice, and voting our conscience, rather than simply voting against Hillary Clinton, then Donald Trump, a man who preys on voters’ fear and hate, should never appear with an X on one’s ballot. If you don’t understand this by now, brother or sister, you’re reading the wrong blog. As for the Democrats, though, if you’re voting strategically for Clinton to Trump, then there is concern that you’re implicitly sanctioning their own bad behavior, in the form of arrogance, tone-deafness, and an unwillingness to play by the rules, and thereby thinking they’re in the right, or worse, that this much simply doesn’t matter. Under this assumption, the Democrats, like the Republicans, can turn around after the election and say, “Well, you voted for us.” In this scenario, give the Nader his due—we, as voters, will have lost all leverage in convincing both parties to reform to better reflect the wishes of their constituents.
Ultimately, when it comes to my advice for your vote, I’ve already been very clear that voting for Donald Trump—are you hearing this, Ben Carson?—is really making a deal with the Devil. However, if you’re voting for Hillary Clinton, more and more I’m convinced the only reason to do so is to choose the lesser of two evils, and even that seems likes a poor justification when the Democratic Party has seemingly done everything they can to screw the pooch on this election, and again, little to earn your vote. So, if you’re planning to “throw your vote away,” as the saying goes, and come November, give Jill Stein or Gary Johnson your consideration, maybe you’re not wrong. Maybe this is your chance to tell the Democratic and Republican Parties to clean up their act or else stick it where the sun doesn’t shine, to send a message that we deserve better. Either way, you can fire back at your critics and say—however condescendingly—”Well, I didn’t vote for either Clinton or Trump.” Besides, regardless, even if, like in 2000, the presidential race is as close as could be in 2016, when it comes to brass tacks, it won’t be Johnson or Stein which costs either side the election. It will be Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton who loses.
Brace yourself—I’m about to reference a movie that came out over 15 years ago with respect to the current election cycle.
I’m pretty sure you’re familiar with a particular scene from The Matrix. You know, the first one—before the then-Wachowski Brothers ran the story into the ground with the next two installments. The sage Morpheus offers the hacker Neo/mild-mannered computer programmer Thomas Anderson a choice between two pills: a blue pill, which will restore him to the life he knows (or thinks he knows), and a red pill, which Morpheus describes as allowing him to “stay in Wonderland” and him showing Neo/Anderson “how deep the rabbit hole goes.”
This U.S. presidential election cycle, the American people essentially have a choice between two “pills”—the red one (Donald Trump) or the blue one (Hillary Clinton)—though with much different possible side effects. In the former, many prospective voters are desperate to avoid the “Wonderland” that Trump insists his presidency would create, believing the country would instead be that much worse for it, and look at those who have swallowed the red-pill-laden Kool-Aid of “making America great again” with an air of horrified incredulity.
As for the latter, meanwhile, a good percentage of Americans are confronting the reality they might have to swallow a bitter pill in voting for Hillary. Many of those who have already willingly taken the required dosage to be “with her”—believing what they want to believe, as Morpheus puts it—look at those who have yet to gulp down the blue pill with a certain degree of condescension or derision, especially those dadgum “Bernie or Bust” types. Why doesn’t Bernie just find a nice rocking chair somewhere (even though he’s less than a decade older than Hillary) and pat himself on the back in running a fine race? Why don’t his supporters fall in line and support history in the making? WHY ARE THEY SAYING #HILLNO INSTEAD OF #HILLYES?!?
While Red Pill Donald has received the lion’s share of media coverage in spite of a lack of substantive policy and an abundance of vitriol, Hillary Clinton has garnered quite a bit of press in her own right—and even more now that she’s the presumptive Democratic Party nominee. Much of it, for better or for worse, has had to do with the notion she is preeminently unlikable. (Donald Trump is yet more unlikable, but as with one-time rival Ted Cruz, this reality is pretty much taken as a fact of life.) This has led to all sorts of pieces on why HRC is unlikable, why she is very likable, why the question of her likability is based on an unfair double standard related to gender, how male voters tend to have a problem with strong women, how Sanders supporters are often sexist, misogynistic thugs who have no regard for how the real world works and are only looking for a handout (sorry, got carried away on that last one). In whatever form, much of the discussion about Clinton’s support has been in the form of reactions to the folly of this anti-Hillary prejudice, usually peppered with an illustration of just how qualified the former Secretary of State is.
Is the writing on the wall with respect to the Democratic Party nomination? Yes, and on newspapers, blogs, Facebook Walls and across the “Twitter-verse.” Is Hillary subject to a different standard than that of many of her male contemporaries? Definitely. Have some Bernie Sanders supporters and other right-wing detractors been guilty of prejudice and worse toward women? I fully admit as much. But is a resistance to supporting Clinton in her bid to be the first female president in U.S. history necessarily a failure on the part of those who resist?
As someone who begrudgingly would vote for Hillary in the general election, I submit the answer to that last one is a resounding no. I mean, it’s nothing personal, Ms. Clinton. You’re just not “the One.”
Why aren’t you the One, former Madam Secretary? It’s not you—it’s me. Sorry, I have that the wrong way. It’s not me—it’s you. That is, it’s your politics, not your gender, or my latent chauvinism, or that cackle. OK, so the cackle probably doesn’t help. But, yes, it’s what you represent. Anis Shivani, in a lengthy piece in Salon that makes even my usual “TL;DR” status blush, outlines how the choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump facing the majority of pragmatic American voters represents a “neoliberal nightmare,” even going as far as to identify the crux of neoliberal theory which explains why the Clinton-Trump binary is so troublesome. At its core, explains Shivani, “Neoliberalism presumes a strong state, working only for the benefit of the wealthy, and as such it has little pretence to neutrality and universality, unlike the classical liberal state.”
For someone like Clinton who boasts of her identity as a “progressive who gets things done” in contrast to someone like Bernie Sanders, this is indeed a problem, for a strong state that works only for the benefit of the wealthy is decidedly not progressive. As Shivani goes on to say:
It should be said that neoliberalism thrives on prompting crisis after crisis, and has proven more adept than previous ideologies at exploiting these crises to its benefit, which then makes the situation worse, so that each succeeding crisis only erodes the power of the working class and makes the wealthy wealthier.
In this way, the neoliberal tradition seems particularly, dare we say, insidious, for, within this purview, it is not only responsible for widening disparities of wealth and power, but gets excused for its role in promoting such inequality. As Shivani argues, the market is the ideal structure for the neoliberal politician, such that attempts to regulate the literal markets or rein in this philosophy are met with swift rebuttal. A particularly instructive example would seem to be found in the Salon piece’s example of Hillary Clinton’s hesitancy to support regulation of Wall Street and commercial banking under the premise that we as Americans have to “abide by the rule of law” (Bernie-or-Busters, please try to hold your laughter at the apparent hypocrisy), in which everyday individuals are subjugated in favor of the corporation.
By no means is Hillary the only influential neoliberal in politics today; Obama is also referenced heavily in Shivani’s thought piece, as is Mr. Clinton and even George W. Bush. That said, its author views the presumptive Democratic Party nominee as the example par excellence, and views her espoused policies—many of them critical points of contention for Sanders supporters—as indicative of the internalization of the neoliberal mindset. The attack on trade unions, climate change and a messy break with fossil fuels and fracking, Clintonian criminal justice and welfare reform, debt/deficit reduction and slashing taxes, the $15 minimum wage, free college tuition—these issues and the people behind them matter. In Clinton’s neoliberal world, however, people are more or less “human capital,” as her shameless pandering to and trotting out of minorities in her campaign ads suggests. Even the references to her “firewall” among African-American voters in the deep South are, for all intents and purposes, dehumanizing. There is a wide range of experiences and opinions among the larger black community in the United States, and terminology such as this sends the wrong message about politicians thinking they do not and perhaps should not have to earn each and every vote.
The antithesis to the neoliberal movement marked by figures such as Clinton, Dubya and Obama has been identified by Anis Shivani and other social critics in the persons of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. A growing negative reaction to neoliberalism’s maintenance of the status quo within the American people, characterized by an anger toward established economic and political institutions, is seen as a key reason why both politicians have maintained such a high profile until the end of the primary season. In fact, many pundits envision Sanders and Trump as two sides of the same red-faced coin. In reality, the objects of scorn for Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are quite different, as is their level of insistence on a reform of the political process to benefit the public. For Sanders, political reform is his raison d’être; for Trump, such matters are of secondary performance because the Republican primary produced a winner—him.
Accordingly, it is Bernie who has taken it upon himself to wage a personal war against the erosion of the middle class in the United States and the influence of money in politics that makes our vaunted American democracy so disturbingly undemocratic—and helping lead a revolution against our so-called corporate overlords. Returning at last to the Matrix analogy, this would make the 74-year-old secular Jewish democratic socialist from Brooklyn Neo—or maybe Morpheus—I’m still working out the kinks on this whole Matrix parallel thing. His path, one of freedom from the cycle of pay-to-play, my-more-expensive-vote-counts-more-than-yours politics, I believe, is the true path, and I also hold to the belief that the establishment politics of figureheads such as Barack Obama, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Hillary Clinton and Paul Ryan—the “Matrix” of moneyed interests—is living on borrowed time.
So, addressing you directly one more time, Ms. Clinton, consider yourself lucky. If not for the threat of a Donald Trump presidency and all hell breaking loose, you might not be on the march to the White House that you find yourself. For all your hard work in playing the political game and for your decades of professed service to the American people, because of your neoliberal politics—more than any other factor which might lack legitimacy—you are playing the wrong game, and serving the wrong interests. Hillary, if I may call you that, you may be the first female POTUS, reaching a long-overdue milestone in U.S. politics, and you may have my vote come November, but in spite of yourself. Though your attitude betrays a sense of entitlement that your coronation is a long time coming, you’re not the One. Not by a long shot.