What if I told you there is a 37-year-old person of color running for the Democratic Party presidential nomination in 2020 who believes in health care for all, free public tuition, a $15 minimum wage, supports the Green New Deal, stands by our veterans, promotes intersectionality, advocates for upholding the rights of vulnerable subsets of the population, champions large-scale economic, political, and social reform, and holds rallies attended by thousands of enthusiastic young people across the country? You’d sign up for that candidate in a heartbeat, wouldn’t you?
OK. Now assume the same things about this candidate—only change that instead this individual is a 77-year-old white guy. Are you suddenly less enthused?
In a nutshell, I’ve just described Bernie Sanders’s platform and one of the common criticisms I’ve observed anecdotally in my interactions with various Democratic and left-leaning activist groups. Never mind that Bernie believes in criminal justice reform, demanding the wealthy and large corporations pay their fair share in taxes, empowering Native American tribal nations, expanding Social Security, fair trade and workers’ rights, getting big money of out politics, gun safety, immigration reform, investing in rural America, LGBTQ equality, racial justice, reinvesting in public education and teachers, standing up for the people of Puerto Rico, and Wall Street reform. At the end of the day, he’s just another old white male.
I get it. The U.S. presidency has been a bastion of white male privilege for, well, ever, with Barack Obama being the notable exception to the rule, and after him going right back to Donald J. Trump, who is pretty much the poster boy for this concept. For what it’s worth, I also happen to think the women of the 2020 presidential race haven’t gotten a fair shake thus far next to other candidates, especially Elizabeth Warren. Hell, Kirsten Gillibrand is getting killed in the polls, and beyond what you may believe about the authenticity of her leftward shift since she became a member of the Senate, that her being among the first in her party to call on Al Franken to resign may be a major factor in her low polling numbers seems more than a little plausible. So much for the #MeToo era. Female Democratic Party supporters, try to maintain some semblance of decorum as you throw one of your own under the bus and back over her just to run her over again. Sheesh.
But, yes, it strikes me as counterproductive that so many voters desperate to throw Trump out of office are evidently more concerned about the identity of the person running and whether he or she “can stand up to Trump”—a judgment predicated on hypotheticals, preconceived notions of leadership, and other subjective factors which may lack real credence—than the actual platform on which that candidate is running and what it might mean for the country. Admittedly, it may be a bit early for policy specifics roughly a year-and-a-half from November 2020, though going back to Bernie, he’s got a whole page of positions on key issues on his campaign website, so maybe not. An arguably more productive exercise would be to take these various candidates’ stances, divorce them from the individuals delivering them, and assess them in a blind “taste test,” so to speak. In theory, it shouldn’t matter who’s making the case as long as he or she is making the right case.
Such is why I bristle at the idea Bernie is too old or white or socialist or “not a real Democrat”—whatever that means. If Cory Booker or Kamala Harris or Pete Buttigieg were pitching the same platform, would we be having the same sort of discussion, looking for other ways to discredit them along demographic lines? Or would we be instead extolling their virtues as a black man, a woman of color, or a highly-educated gay man and veteran?
Though I believe there are other reasons why he’s not an ideal candidate for the Dems—and more than just that some would identify him as the creepy handsy uncle of the Democratic field—I fear 76-year-old Joe Biden, now officially running for president, may suffer from the same treatment. So he’s old and white. Does this mean he can’t do the job? After all, should he prove incapable at a point after getting elected, there’s a whole line of succession after him. Ladies and gents, there are safeguards in place.
This is the double-edged sword of identity politics. On one hand, it allows you to embrace a diverse field of candidates as it relates to ethnicity, gender, geography, religion, sexual orientation, and other identifying characteristics. On the other hand, it can cause you to miss the forest for the trees, getting you caught up in notions of “electability” and whether someone looks or sounds presidential rather than whether they possess the ideals and the vision for the job. This is before we even get to Pres. Trump, who sure doesn’t act or sound presidential but enough people voted for him so he got the position anyhow. If any member of the Democratic Party field isn’t presidential next to him, they’re actively trying not to be.
Of course, this may be much ado about nothing. Biden and Sanders are among the front runners in current polls, so being old white dudes sure doesn’t seem to have hurt them so far. Still, opinions change and polls have been known to be wrong, and once we get deeper into primary season, what amount to trifles now may loom larger if we’re still tearing down candidates irrespective of what they have to offer voters in terms of stated policy specifics or lack thereof. Unless we’re not serious about beating Trump no matter what. We are serious about that, aren’t we?
To paraphrase poet Robert Burns, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Identity politics, for their appeal to diversity, can be elaborated to absurd extremes that work against voters’ best interests. On a similar note, the current climate of concern about Russian hacking and influencing efforts with respect to our elections speaks to a very real concern for Americans across the political spectrum.
When not carrying water for Pres. Donald Trump re the state of immigration policy in this country, recently deposed Department of Homeland Security chief Kirstjen Nielsen evidently was concerned enough about Russian meddling to want to bring the issue up with the president, only to be warned against such a move by Mick Mulvaney as Chief of Staff. This is another one of those occurrences that is galling because it goes against what many of us believe is morally correct but, based on what we know and suspect of Trump as his sphere of influence intersects with Russian interests, it is not the least bit surprising.
This preoccupation with meddling, too, however, can be taken a bit too far. Amid the hypersensitivity about Russia compounded by Trump’s upset win in the 2016 election and the findings of the Mueller report coming out in dribs and drabs, though we are more than a year away from the general election, criticism of one Democratic Party candidate on the part of another’s supporters runs those detractors the risk of accusations of engaging in activity that “will help Trump get re-elected” or, worse yet, betrays their identity as Russian agents or bots.
Going back to criticisms of Joe Biden’s candidacy, to refer to him simply as “Creepy” Uncle Joe absent of additional context or insight only seems to invite the defensive, reflexive anti-Russia “J’accuse!” that is characteristic of Democratic loyalists in this zeitgeist. More constructive criticisms, meanwhile, would seem to be found in revisiting Biden’s past actions and legislative hallmarks. Roxanne Jones, a founding editor of ESPN Magazine, speaks to marks on Biden’s CV in musing that he is “losing his glow.”
Adding to #MeToo-era deliberations on the appropriateness of Biden’s interactions with certain women, Jones highlights other events which do not paint the former U.S. senator in the best light. As has been observed by numerous critics, for one, Biden played a critical role in questioning Anita Hill during Clarence Thomas’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing, doing so in a way that “devastated and shamed” a “credible, intelligent woman” and set women back who would’ve otherwise come forward with sexual harassment claims in hostile work environments. To make matters worse, he hasn’t apologized directly to Ms. Hill about his involvement as chair of the Senate committee presiding over the hearing.
There’s also the problem of Biden’s legacy as a principal author of drug crime laws which have helped fuel America’s ongoing mass incarceration problem as they have been elaborated and modified over the years. These laws disproportionately target people of color, with mandatory minimum sentencing and sentencing disparities giving rise to a prison population explosion that feeds an ever-hungry for-profit prison industry. And Jones doesn’t even address the issue raised by Elizabeth Warren and others that Biden has a rather cozy relationship with the health insurance and banking industries as a former legislator from Delaware. If a kickoff fundraiser bankrolled by telecom and health insurance corporate execs is any indication, Biden’s identity as a working-class hero and champion of the “every-man” is more problematic than perhaps many realize.
These are legitimate criticisms of Biden as a seeker of the highest political office in the nation. But are Biden’s steadfast backers and other Democratic Party supporters desperate to unseat Trump willing to listen? Giving little thought to qualms about Biden’s prior questionable actions, those apologists with whom I’ve interacted online have defended his character, his legacy of public service, and his willingness to stand up to Trump, in doing so casting aspersions on my personhood separate from being a Russian operative and lamenting how some people only want to a tear a “good man” down.
To the extent that some naysayers only wish to denigrate candidates as part of some never-ending purity test without offering an alternative or advancing a point of meaningful debate, I agree with such an assessment. Not everyone is a bot or stooge for Vladimir Putin, however. That some people would seek to squelch discussion along these lines says something profound about just how toxic political discourse can become when facts give way to feelings, distrust becomes an all-too-valuable currency, and arguments are “won” or “lost” based on who yells the loudest or who has the most followers on social media.
When we get this far, no amount of rational deliberation will make a difference, and in fact, those armed with logic can fall into the trap of wasting their time and effort on a lost cause. As the Republican Party under Trump has demonstrated time and again, such a pitfall may well be intentional—though the line between cold calculation and overall incompetence may indeed be blurry.
Focusing on the identity of the politician making appeals on policy matters or that of his or her objectors may provide us with some measure of satisfaction. But personality and individual attributes, charming or otherwise, are not substitutes for a well-developed party platform. If the goal is truly to beat Donald Trump next November, maybe we should worry less about who is leading the charge and pay more attention to appealing to what voters want the most.
The way President Donald Trump operates, it’s not like many of the remarks he made during his recent interview with Lesley Stahl for 60 Minutes were particularly surprising or groundbreaking. Many of his comments were riffs on the same songs he has sung before.
Even if they weren’t very earth-shattering or shocking, meanwhile, Trump’s comments were nonetheless disappointing to hear/read as an American who doesn’t share the same set of values. Stahl’s questions ranged across a fairly wide set of topics, but here are some of Trump’s most noteworthy insights:
Trump “doesn’t know” that humans have a role in climate change.
Pres. Trump seemed to walk back one-time comments he made that climate change is a “hoax.” In the same breath, however, he expressed doubt that it’s manmade, and when Stahl pressed him on the overwhelming evidence that it does exist and that we’re contributing to it, he suggested that this climate change could simply reverse somehow and that the scientists advancing the consensus theory have a “very big political agenda.”
That Trump would feign concern for the effects a shift away from fossil fuels might have on American jobs is commendable, at least by his standards. Trying to effectively deny our hand in climate change as part of a political agenda when the scientific consensus is such a strong one, on the other hand, is exactly the kind of thinking we don’t need at this stage in the game when more urgent action was needed yesterday.
Trump suggested there could be “severe punishment” for Saudi Arabia if found they were behind the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but didn’t provide specifics.
Trump admitted it was possible the Saudi government was behind the murder of Khashoggi, and indicated the vehement denial on the part of the Saudis. He then hinted that weapons deals could be at stake, but as he did with concerns about climate change, he pivoted to worrying about jobs at companies like Boeing and Lockheed Martin. So, while he acknowledged the possibility of sanctions, Trump doesn’t seem all that committed to endangering business ties with Saudi Arabia because of it. Astonishment of astonishments there.
At this writing, reportedly, the Saudis are preparing to admit Khashoggi died during a botched interrogation. Obviously, the interview was taped prior to these reports. What was worst about this segment, though, was that Trump said the matter was especially troubling because Khashoggi was a journalist, even making an aside about how strange it must be to hear him say that. Yeah, it is, and it comes off as more than a little disingenuous after regularly railing at members of the press and calling them the “enemy of the American people.” Pardon us if we’re not especially enthralled by your promises that you’ll get to the bottom of his disappearance.
Trump claimed that Barack Obama put us on a path to war with North Korea, and qualified his “love” for Kim Jong-un.
Evidently, under President Obama, we were going to war with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, but now—BOOM!—no more war and Kim is talking about nuclearization. You’re welcome, America. Get that Nobel Peace Prize nice and shiny for “the Donald.”
Within Trump’s logic, it’s his trust for Kim that has been such an essential diplomatic asset. This despite the possibility raised by Stahl that North Korea hasn’t gotten rid of any weapons and may actually be building more. Trump, attempting to further distance himself from Obama, intimated there are no plans to ease sanctions, but Stahl persisted on the topic of Trump’s stated “love” for North Korea’s despotic leader. Trump tried to minimize the language he used as a figure of speech, but Stahl belabored North Korea’s horrid human rights record under Kim and his father.
Trump’s admiration for dictators is nothing new, but hearing him downplay talk of gulags and starvation is yet bothersome. More on this to come.
Trump still has no idea how tariffs work, nor does he apparently have high regard for his supposed allies.
President Trump insisted China is close to negotiating on tariffs and other matters of trade. In the meantime, though, President Xi Jinping (another leader with dictatorial aspirations overseeing a country with questionable regard for human rights) and China are content to retaliate with tariffs, and Stahl questioned how long we will be content to try to strong-arm China into negotiation when it’s American consumers who are bearing the brunt of these tariffs. Is the point to use the people of each country as bargaining chips in an escalating trade war?
Trump argued with Stahl for a while about whether or not he called it a trade war, a skirmish, or a battle, but this is semantics (and he totally f**king did call it a trade war, according to Stahl). Alongside likely overstating our trade deficit with China, Trump once more communicated his faulty understanding re tariffs. What’s more, he seemed ambivalent as to the continued integrity of diplomatic relations with Europe as a function of NATO membership, and grew combative with Stahl on the point of levying tariffs on our allies and inviting disunion. As long as Trump and his advisers hold to the narrative that the United States is being taken advantage of by the rest of the world when it comes to defense spending and trade, the average consumer is the one who will be caught in the middle.
Trump believes that Vladimir Putin is “probably” involved in assassinations and poisonings.
But only probably. Continuing the earlier conversation about Pres. Trump and his love of autocrats, the man would not commit to saying that he believed Putin was behind attacks on critics and political opponents, professing that he “relies on” Russia and that it’s their country, so it’s essentially their business. I’d be eager to know what precisely he means when he says he relies on them, and it’s possible his drift is a more innocent one, but when so much seems to hint at Trump being compromised by Russian ties, it’s hard to give him the benefit of the doubt.
This sentiment only grows when considering his hedging on Russian interference in the election and his evasiveness on the Mueller investigation. When prompted by Stahl on meddling in the 2016 presidential election, Trump was quick to rebut by claiming China meddled as well. Even if that were true, however—experts say there is evidence of a pro-Chinese influence campaign at work, but no concrete evidence of Chinese electoral meddling—it’s a deflection. Stahl called him out on this tactic, only to be argued with in the spirit of whataboutism.
Additionally, Trump refused to pledge that he won’t shut down the Mueller investigation. In other words, um, yeah, you should still be worried about Mueller’s fate as special counsel. Particularly if the midterms go poorly for the Republican Party.
That whole family separation thing was all Obama’s fault.
When asked what his biggest regret so far has been, the first thing that jumped to Trump’s mind was not terminating the NAFTA deal sooner. Not the whole taking children away from their parents thing, as Stahl interjected. It’s not exactly mind-bending to witness Trump fail to recognize a policy bent on unmitigated cruelty as his worst mistake, but it still stings like salt in the proverbial wound if you fashion yourself a halfway decent human being.
To make matters worse, Trump defended the policy under the premise that people would illegally enter the United States in droves otherwise. Furthermore, he blamed Barack Obama for enforcing a policy that was on the books. To be fair, Obama’s record on immigration is not unassailable, as his administration was responsible for its share of deportations. But separating families is a new twist on trying to enact “border security,” and it ignores the perils immigrants face upon return to their native land, perils we have helped exacerbate. Try as he might to escape it, Donald Trump and his presidency will be inexorably tied to this heartless policy directive.
The country is divided, but that’s the stupid Democrats’ fault.
According to Trump, the country was very polarized under Obama, but now on the strength of the economy, he can see it coming together. You’re welcome, America. Stahl questioned him on this criticism of Obama and the Democrats’ contributions to political rancor when he and his Republican cronies just won on the Kavanaugh confirmation and he proceeded to immediately lambast the Dems. Trump predictably deflected by saying it’s the Democrats who don’t want the country to heal. They started it! They were so mean to Brett Kavanaugh! What a bunch of stupid babies!
In case you had any doubts, Trump doesn’t give two shits about Christine Blasey Ford.
Continuing with theme of Kavanaugh’s confirmation, Lesley Stahl addressed Trump’s mockery of Dr. Ford’s testimony before Congress, asking why he felt he had to make fun of her. Trump says she was treated with great respect. Stahl was, like, really? Trump was, like, anyway, who cares? We won.
That’s right, ladies and germs—the ends justify the means. It’s all about the W. You heard him.
The White House is definitely not in chaos. Definitelynot.
The on-air portion of the 60 Minutes interview ended with Stahl asking the president about the media reports of a White House in turmoil. Three guesses as to his reply. If you said “fake news,” you’d be correct. (If you didn’t, what’s wrong with you?) Trump also didn’t seem fazed about the high turnover within his administration. Hey, sometimes it just doesn’t work out! Along these lines, Trump wouldn’t commit to James Mattis as Secretary of Defense, nor would he give a ringing endorsement to Jeff “I’m Only a Racist on Days That End in ‘Y'” Sessions. Not that I have any great love for either of those men, but it’s still messed up when a man like Trump expects unflinching loyalty and yet stands by his appointees only when it’s convenient.
Trump also opined on his feelings of distrust of White House officials, consummate with his assessment of Washington, D.C. as a “vicious, vicious place.” Good news, though, fellow Americans: he now feels very comfortable as POTUS. Many of us might be continuously on edge, but he’s right as rain. Well, at least there’s that.
To some, Lesley Stahl’s 60 Minutes interview with Donald Trump was disappointing in that it didn’t break new ground. Sure, it further revealed that he is ignorant of how basic economic and scientific principles work, that he possesses a predilection for strongmen, that he will blame Barack Obama for pretty much anything, that he holds absolutely no regard for survivors of sexual assault, rape, and sexual violence, and that he has the temperament (and possibly the intellect) of a grade-school child. But we already knew all this. As noted earlier, it’s more salt in the wound for members of the so-called Resistance, but short of potentially alienating our allies with his public comments—which is not to be undersold or encouraged, mind you—but comparatively, his words are sticks and stones.
It’s where Trump’s actions and those of his administration have effect that should truly frighten us, meanwhile. As he so often does, Matt Taibbi provides excellent insight into the area of biggest concern: the U.S. economy. Stahl noted in voiceovers during the interview that Trump loves to talk about America’s economic success. After all, it makes him look good. Never mind that he may have a limited role in that success and that he inherited favorable conditions from his predecessor, but he wouldn’t be the first president to take advantage of others’ successes.
Trump was notably silent, conversely, when the Dow recently fell 1,377 points over two days amid a stock market sell-off. As Taibbi writes, this event is but a prelude to a larger economic disaster, and it stands at the confluence of three irreconcilable problems. The first is the Federal Reserve raising interest rates as a means of trying to rein in the excess of large companies taking advantage of quantitative easing and zero-interest-rate policy.
This might not be such a problem except for the second factor: the Trump/GOP tax cuts. As economic experts warned prior to their passage, the cuts were based on overly enthusiastic projections of economic growth. When the inevitable tax shortfall occurred, we would need to start borrowing more, as is already underway. Higher interest rates on increased borrowing means more of an economic burden.
All of this comes to a head when we consider the third problem: tariffs. To try to make up for the issues raised by higher borrowing rates and a revenue shortfall, the government this week debuted new Treasury bills in the hopes of generating immediate cash. The potential conflict arises when considering China is the primary buyer of U.S. T-bills and holds over a trillion dollars in American debt.
The assumption is that Chinese demand for Treasury notes will remain unchanged despite the tariffs. However, as Matt Taibbi and Lesley Stahl and others are right to wonder, what happens if the trade war’s tariffs hurt the Chinese economy to the point that China no longer can or is willing to subsidize our skyrocketing debt? It’s a purely theoretical question at this point, and a rhetorical one at that, but the fallout from the intersection of these trends could be devastating. Taibbi puts a cap on the gravity of the situation thusly:
As we’ve seen in recent decades, even smart people are fully capable of driving the American economy off a cliff. What happens when the dumbest administration in history gets a turn at the wheel? Maybe last week wasn’t the time to start panicking. But that moment can’t be far.
Ominous, but perhaps not hyperbole. Noting what happened last time when the economy nearly collapsed, when the next disaster strikes, it will undoubtedly be we, the other 99%, that pays most dearly. Especially as Mitch McConnell and his Republican partners would have it, now clearly eying cuts to Medicare and Social Security.
President Trump may enjoy schmoozing with Lesley Stahl and giving bad answers his base will eat up now. In the short to long term, though, the terrible choices of his administration and his party could prove costly to the American economy, and by association, the global economy. Though he undoubtedly won’t meet with our same burden, he should at least take more of the blame when it does.
While watching Super Bowl LII—and watching the Philadelphia Eagles win their first championship and defeat the New England Patriots’ evil empire (I may be a Giants fan, but the Pats are second only to the Dallas Cowboys on my hate list)—I saw a commercial that spoke to me. No, not the thirty seconds of black screen that befuddled a nation. No, not the myriad Tide commercials that made you think they weren’t Tide commercials until they were, and almost made you forget about people eating Tide detergent pods. Almost. Not the NFL commercial that saw Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr. dancing like they’ve never danced before. And certainly not the Dodge commercial that leveraged the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. to try to sell RAM Trucks. It was a commercial for CURE Auto Insurance, an auto insurance provider in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. No, not the one where its mascot, an anthropomorphized blue dot, calls Tom Brady and the Patriots dirty cheaters (essentially). The one where that blue dot says that GEICO and their gecko and Progressive Insurance and Flo, the most impossibly adorable insurance sales agent, well, both suck. It was shocking for its brazenness as well as for its use of mild language—CURE could just as well suck, and you or I wouldn’t know it unless we used their product and lived to tell the awful tale.
What stuck with me, though, is that these sentiments—”they both suck”—could well be applied to other contexts. Namely politics. The objections of CURE Auto Insurance to the likes of bigger names in GEICO and Progressive Insurance are not unlike that of independent/third-party objections to the dominance of the Democratic and Republican Parties in today’s political discourse. As with political affiliations outside the Democrat-GOP binary, it is not as if they don’t have skin in the game, so to speak; CURE wants you to believe that their smaller size will allow them to be more attentive to your needs as a consumer in order to bring you in as a customer, as those outside the Democrat-GOP binary would have you believe the two major parties have largely stopped listening to the wants and needs of their constituents and thus deserve your vote because they have your best interests in mind. In both senses, then, the aggrieved third party is selling something.
To the extent GEICO or Progressive is derelict in its customer service duties I cannot say or wouldn’t begin to speculate; according to J.D. Power’s 2017 survey, Amica Mutual reigns supreme in overall auto claims satisfaction with 5 of 5 stars (J.D. Power trophies?), while GEICO manages a 4/5 rating, and Progressive, a so-so 3/5. In the world of voter satisfaction, meanwhile, it should come as no surprise that neither the Democratic Party nor the Republican Party get high marks from the American public. In a January 2018 poll conducted by NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist, while the Dems and GOP beat out Congress as a whole (8%) in terms of those who expressed “great confidence” in the institution, the 10% garnered by Republicans and the 13% managed by the Democrats fail to inspire in their own right. Moreover, if the fallout from the #ReleaseTheMemo drama has any impact on these figures, it’s only likely to depress them (and me in the process).
So, let’s talk about the Nunes memo, as it has been called. Its namesake, Devin Nunes, and other people who supported its release, insist it is not a political hit job. But come the f**k on—it totally is. Before I get too ahead of myself, let’s talk about what the four-page memorandum actually says:
The crux of the fault-finding within the Nunes memo revolves around how the FBI and Department of Justice came to warranting, under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, a probable cause order and authorizing electronic surveillance of Carter Page, a Trump campaign foreign policy adviser and a person of interest in the special prosecutorial investigation helmed by Robert Mueller for his possible role as an intermediary between associates of Donald Trump and Russian officials, potentially including pro-Trump interference on Russia’s part in the 2016 election. The memo’s contention is that it was not properly disclosed that the so-called Steele dossier, information compiled by former British intelligence officer and FBI source Christopher Steele and which formed a significant part of the basis for the initial FISA application and its three subsequent renewals, was paid for by Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign to the tune of some $160,000, nor was it disclosed that law firm Perkins Coie and research firm Fusion GPS had facilitated this arrangement.
Also of apparent issue is Steele’s correspondence with the news media. According to the memo, the FISA application for Page’s surveillance heavily cited a September 2016 article by Michael Isikoff for Yahoo! News, which doesn’t corroborate the Steele dossier because it doesn’t have to—Steele spoke with Yahoo! and other outlets directly—and later spoke to Mother Jones for an October 2016 article by David Corn and revealed his identity. The bone of contention is that an FBI source shouldn’t be revealing his or her identity and compromising his or her usefulness as a source, and at the very least, that Steele should’ve made his media contacts evident for the purposes of the FISA application.
More on Christopher Steele: according to the Nunes memo and citing a documented account by Bruce Ohr, former Associate Deputy Attorney General of the DOJ, Steele’s involvement was about more than just the money. That dirty, dirty Clinton money. It was about his “desperation” and “passion” for Donald Trump not becoming President that he did his part regarding the dossier.
So, why is all this an issue? According to the memo, it’s because, as of January 2017 and per former FBI director James Comey’s own words, the Steele dossier was characterized as “salacious and unverified.” Also, did I, Devin Nunes, mention Steele was biased against Trump? Did you get that? Christopher Steele—Donald Trump—MASSIVE BIAS. Just wanted to make sure that was in there.
Somewhat surprisingly, the Nunes memo additionally mentions, while stating there is no evidence of cooperation between Carter Page and George Papadopoulos, another foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign and someone who has already pled guilty to lying to the FBI, that an FBI counterintelligence investigation began in July 2016 by looking at Papadopoulos, not Page. Of course, the memo also goes on to indicate that FBI agent Pete Strzok and FBI attorney Lisa Page were not only knockin’ boots, but had indicated their severe BIAS! against Donald Trump, and furthermore, that in their texts, orchestrated leaks to the news media and discussed an “insurance” policy against Trump winning the election with FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe. McCabe announced his resignation from this post on January 29.
In the wake of the memo’s release, many independent observers commented on just how remarkably, well, unremarkable its contents are. In terms of bombshell revelations, Nunes’ memo is about as earth-shattering as was the Benghazi investigation and Hillary Clinton’s involvement; in other words, much ado about nothing. Additionally, scrutiny of the memo raises its own set of questions about the motivations behind its release. Let’s do our own dive into the arguments raised within its text:
The Clinton campaign paid for the research that compiled by Christopher Steele. And? So? At worst, this would seem like an issue with the process of securing a warrant for surveillance of Carter Page, but this says nothing of the veracity of Steele’s claims. It’s my understanding that opposition research is a standard part of politics in today’s day and age. At any rate, if the intention was to prevent Trump from winning, it didn’t serve that purpose, so what’s the big deal at this point? The Republican candidate won. Get over it.
Steele’s interaction with the media and his disclosure of his identity as an FBI source, if anything, seems like an internal matter for the Bureau to handle, not for Devin Nunes to publicly criticize. Again, this would seem to be an issue of process, and highlighting Steele’s failure to disclose this aspect only serves as a blatant attempt by Nunes and others to undermine the FBI’s credibility.
Devin, bruh—a lot of people don’t like Donald Trump at this point. Trump’s approval rating may have gone up recently, perhaps thanks in part to his State of the Union speech of which a majority of Americans approve, but it’s still a minority of Americans who give him a thumbs-up at this point. These allusions to anti-Trump bias just look like a cheap way to gin up his supporters for his—and possibly your own—political benefit.
The memo highlights Comey’s indication that the contents of the dossier were “salacious and unverified.” Not only have some aspects of the Steele dossier since been confirmed (or disconfirmed), however, but other elements are simply still unverified, not demonstrably debunked. The mainstream media may distance itself from its contents, but that may have as much to do with lurid tales of Russian prostitutes and “golden showers” as much as anything, not to mention Buzzfeed’s apparently reckless release of the associated information.
Last but not least, the notion that an FBI investigation into Russian meddling in American affairs began not with Carter Page, but instead George Papadopoulos, would seem to somewhat undermine the central theme of this memo: that surveillance of Page under FISA was based on faulty intelligence from an unreliable source. If Papadopoulos’ involvement with Russia was sufficient to spark an in-depth look, this works against the notion that Trump’s detractors or even Mueller and his associates have nothing besides the Steele dossier on which to go. Besides, once more, the memo doesn’t suggest the intel on Papadopoulos is false, but merely drags Pete Strzok and his “mistress”—yes, the Nunes memo actually refers to Lisa Page as such—as if to suggest that their affair makes them less than credible. This morality-based character assassination has no bearing on the validity of the case against either Page or Papadopoulos. Talk about salacious.
Donald Trump and his supporters see this as proof that the investigation into his possible ties to Russia, including orchestrating interference in the 2016 election on his behalf, is nothing but a witch hunt. Fake news. Then again, Trump especially would say this. For many discerning onlookers not already blinded by loyalty to Pres. Drumpf, though, the public release of the Nunes memo—which was only made possible because the White House opted to declassify its contents, mind you—is intended primarily to erode confidence in the intelligence community and the Mueller investigation so that it will seem like a natural consequence that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is fired, his successor is named, and that individual can get rid of Robert Mueller. Because Trump and his associates are innocent. And all around him, people are heavily BIASED against him. SO MUCH BIAS. PUTTING THINGS IN ALL CAPS MAKES THEM MORE BELIEVABLE.
Both the Democrats and the bulk of the U.S. intelligence community were highly critical of the use of classified information in this way. Adam Schiff, Democratic member of the House of Representatives for the state of California and ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee—or “Little” Adam Schiff, in Trumpist parlance—CC’d on the release of the original memo, for one, asserts that the information included in the memo is cherry-picked in a manner designed to create a narrative that makes the President look like a target of a conspiracy. Not to mention its contents, it should be stressed, do not exonerate Pres. Trump, but merely cast aspersions on the reliability of the FBI, DOJ, and relevant sources.
Even if the revelations within are fairly tepid, meanwhile, the implications of the executive branch and members of the legislative branch of the federal government going after the American intelligence community are such that we of the rank-and-file persuasion should be concerned regardless of our political affiliation. As even some Republicans, including high-profile party members like John McCain, would insist, this interparty and interoffice conflict does Vladimir Putin and Co.’s work for them in sending public confidence in our political institutions downward yet further. This is not to say that FBI agents and DOJ personnel shouldn’t be held accountable for any misdeeds on their part, or should be afforded too little oversight owing to the broad notion that information related to investigations may be “sensitive.” By the same token, when Trump can take wild swings on Twitter at officials under his purview—including heads of agencies installed on his watch—and the media and its consumers can report and digest this all without batting an eye, one may get the sense we’re on shaky footing as a nation indeed.
President Trump’s tiff with Adam Schiff—the Schiff Tiff, if you will—and the resistance Nancy Pelosi showed in a marathon speech on the House floor in an effort to bring attention to the fate of Dreamers after the Senate reached an agreement on the terms of a budget proposal without any assurances that the immigration issue will be taken up in the near future, make for appealing political theater. The hullabaloo about the Nunes memo, meanwhile, paired with the recent vote to reauthorize FISA Section 702, makes leaders on both sides of the political aisle hard to support. On the Republican side of things, I was already predisposed to think less of Paul Ryan, but his defense of the release of the memo as standard operating procedure for Congress is disingenuous and cowardly when numerous GOP House members are either publicly criticizing Devin Nunes or abandoning ship by refusing to run for re-election in the midterms. On the Democratic side, meanwhile, Pelosi and Schiff’s public censure of Donald Trump and his Republican brethren rings hollow when they’re voting alongside their GOP counterparts to extend the surveillance powers of a President they deem to be untrustworthy. For their part, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and minority leader Chuck Schumer should be held accountable for this vote as well, the latter in particular. If 34 senators could say “Nay”—including seven Republicans—he could’ve joined his fellow New York legislator Kirsten Gillibrand in doing so.
In the era of President Donald Trump (still jarring to read or hear, by the way), every piece of news—good or bad—runs the risk of being exaggerated or sensationalized, especially when and where there are issues to sell and clicks to generate. Of course, there is also the risk of underselling the danger Trump presents to America, to democracy, and to the world at large, among those who either fail to comprehend this threat, or fail to be able to confront it in all the terror it induces. As it must be stated and restated, Trump and his presidency are not normal. His war against the media is not normal. His personal gain from use of his properties because of his refusal to divest is not normal. His nationalist rhetoric and the hate and violence he encourages is not normal. Pres. Trump, in obscuring, obstructing, and distracting from his ties to Russia, is potentially at the heart of a scandal yet worse than Watergate. He’s a fraud, and details like fake covers of Time magazine with his image on them hanging in his golf clubs would be laughable and piteous if this man weren’t such a prick and President of the United freaking States. Donald Trump can and should be resisted for these reasons and more.
As specifically regards attributing good news to Trump, caution should be taken before ascribing any boon to him or any other POTUS, for that matter. In the weeks after Trump’s election, the stock market was on the rise, prompting chatter about a “Trump bump.” That bump extended even to his first 100 days, with Trump enjoying the biggest increase in stock prices since George W. Bush. The seeming justification for this was the perception or prediction that Trump’s policies would generally favor business, hence reason for optimism on Wall Street. Since then—and not merely to kill one’s buzz—the Trump bump, as measured by the “yield curve” plotting the difference between 10-year and 2-year Treasury bond yields, has flattened out, and if analysts like Steve Denning are accurate in their assessment of what’s going on economically in the U.S., this kind of rise in stocks and shareholder value does nothing for jobs and stands to depress the real economy. Not to mention that “much of the markets’ movements arises from circumstances beyond any president’s control.” As #45 would have us believe, he inherited a real mess from Barack Obama, and the initial upward surge we saw was nothing short of miraculous, but the truth is Trump stepped into a better situation than either of his predecessors. Dubya was dealing with the dot-com bubble burst when he began his tenure. Obama was dealing with the financial crisis of 2007 to 2008 to 2009 to whenever one presumes it actually ended. Ol’ Cheeto Voldemort has had to deal with—what?—BuzzFeed and CNN being mean to him?
Along these lines, the recent announcement of a move by NATO members to increase defense spending by some $12 billion has less to do with Donald Trump than he or his supporters might otherwise lead you to believe. In a piece for Foreign Policy, Robbie Gramer suggests it is another autocratic strongman at the heart of this 4.3% uptick: Vladimir Putin. According to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, this increase, part of an ongoing upward trend, is specifically designed not only to confront terrorism and extremism in the Middle East, but to handle Russian aggression. According to sources cited in Gramer’s piece, the 2014 invasion of Crimea, in particular, was a catalyst for a pledge for NATO members to raise their level of spending to at least 2% of GDP spending by 2024 if not there already, with a number of governments putting plans into motion before November’s upset presidential victory. (It should not surprise you to know that the United States has already long since eclipsed that threshold.) Per Mr. Stoltenberg, these monies will be used for new military equipment and exercises better designed to address emergency situations and other unexpected events (like, um, invasions), as well as to fund pensions and salaries for troops.
In enumerating the justifications for this more robust commitment to defense spending, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg actually acknowledged President Trump’s focus. No, seriously. He is quoted thusly: “I welcome the strong focus of President Trump on defense spending and burden sharing, because it is important that we deliver. European allies should invest more in defense not only to please the United States, but they should invest more in defense because it is in their own interests.” OK, give the devil his due—even if to be merely diplomatic about the whole situation—but how much credit do we give a man for being right for the wrong reasons? Let’s assume Donald Trump has progressed, shall we say, in his thinking about NATO. It’s not a high bar to clear, mind you, but it would be an upward trajectory. As Robbie Gramer outlines, Trump not only characterized the North Atlantic Treaty Organization once upon a time as “obsolete,” but criticized its various members for essentially owing back dues and for intimating that the U.S. might not come to the rescue if they didn’t pony up. Ivo Daalder, former American ambassador to NATO, took to Trump’s favorite medium to drop some knowledge on him. Among his salient points:
The United States decides how much it wants to spend for NATO’s benefit. That is, no one forced America to spend the way it has.
The other member nations don’t pay the U.S. for its services. It’s not a transaction.
All NATO signatories have pledged to spend 2% or more of their GDP on defense spending. Besides the U.S.A., four already do (Estonia, Greece, Poland, and the United Kingdom), and the others are on their way.
America does commit a fair amount of financial resources to the purpose of NATO, but this is because it is in the country’s best interest to make sure Europe is safe. Much in the same way European leaders see increasing defense spending as vital for their own sense of security—and not merely to appease the “land of the free and the home of the brave.”
In short, sharing is caring, and for Trump to envision the rest of NATO as taking advantage of the United States’ hospitality is for him to seriously mischaracterize the whole situation. It should be noted, however, that Pres. Trump has since backtracked on his wholesale condemnation of NATO and has committed to endorsing Article 5, the NATO mutual defense clause. The administration has also earmarked nearly $5 billion in its 2018 defense budget for activities amenable to NATO’s cause and Europe’s protection.
Still, while the above elements are promising signs, let’s not lose sight of the 800-pound Russian dancing bear in this equation. On the subject(s) of Russia, Vladimir Putin, hacking, and trying to influence our presidential elections, Donald Trump, as he and other Republicans are wont to due when deflecting, has pointed to Barack Obama’s culpability in these matters. To be fair, the sanctions and other remedial actions approved by the Obama administration in response to evidence of Russian hacking have been criticized by any number of experts as fairly tepid. Nevertheless, as seems to be the pattern with Trump, his lashing out at anyone who is not a staunch loyalist is almost certainly a case of the pot proverbially calling the kettle black. At a recent hearing in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Nicholas Burns, a former State Department official and your company’s computer guy, testified with respect to Russian meddling in America’s elections. At one point, James Risch, Republican senator from Idaho, pressed Burns ever-so-partisanly on his statement that the “Obama administration should have reacted more quickly and vigorously” to Russian hacking, as it was aware that such attempts to undermine American institutions were going on.
Burns, however, maintained that part of the problem in Obama’s dilatory response was resistance from top congressional Republicans, notably the toad-faced Mitch McConnell, in going further on action against Russia despite the administration informing them of the hacking. Furthermore, he offered, while Obama and Co. could have done more, at least he did something to address the Russian threat. Pres. Trump has downplayed the seriousness of Russia’s involvement in our affairs, with he and some of his spokespeople even going so far as to call it all a “hoax,” but while buffoons like Tom Cotton may paint Trump as a superior Commander-in-Chief to Obama because of action in Afghanistan and Syria and for calling for steep (and overstated) domestic defense spending increases, Nicholas Burns is right to be concerned that not only will Trump refuse to act against his BFF Putin, but will even roll back those sanctions approved by Barack Obama, tepid as they were.
What’s striking about this exchange between Risch and Burns is that this is an example of a conflict that is being fought along the lines of the political divide, when matters of national security and defense should be above such posturing. If Cotton, Risch and their Republican colleagues in Congress were really concerned about protecting our homeland and holding people accountable, they would go after Donald Trump just as hard as they rail against Obama. You know, provide some checks and/or balances. After all, if this were Hillary Clinton in the White House instead of Trump, these kinds of hearings would be incessant and aimed directly at her actions. Just look at how the marathon hearing on Benghazi played out, a public event which was as much spectacle as it was legitimate inquiry into what happened to our diplomatic mission in Libya. And Hillary wasn’t even in office at that time! While we’re at it, let’s relitigate other questionable uses of our defense capabilities. Like, for instance, that time we got involved in a war in Iraq based on intelligence that proved faulty. That was a real humdinger.
Indeed, pretty much everything points to the assertion that we as Americans should be concerned about Russia’s attempts to weaken the United States of America, such that a unified defense on the domestic front (Democrats, Republicans, and independents alike) as well as a cooperative approach on the international front (i.e. NATO) is advisable. It is therefore highly disconcerting that, in advance of an upcoming planned meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, the former doesn’t have a set agenda. Because, as Yochi Dreazen, deputy managing editor of Vox’s foreign affairs wing, and others have illuminated, the latter definitely does. Among the things Putin seeks for himself and Russia are 1) that prized roll-back of sanctions for the invasion and annexation of Crimea, which prompted NATO’s rush to increase defense spending in the first place; 2) allowing him to operate more freely in Syria (nothing about a freer Putin sounds good, but maybe that’s just me); 3) the U.S. distancing itself from NATO (ol’ Vladdy is, as it turns out, not a huge fan); and 4) kindly look past trying to influence the 2016 United States presidential election. Presumably, then Putin would shrug his shoulders as if to say, “Come on—you know you want to.”
Almost objectively, one should expect, irrespective of political leanings, the answer to the above requests should be: 1) No; 2) No; 3) No; and 4) F**k no—why? But this is 2017, this is Donald Trump, this is Vladimir Putin, and honestly, do you have any great confidence that Trump will do what is in the United States’ and Europe’s best interests? Whether because Trump has admiration for Putin as a leader who rules with an iron fist and who uses his stature to neutralize the opposition—permanently, even—or because there is some illicit connection between Trump and Russia which compels him to kowtow to Moscow’s whim, or both, there is every reason to worry that the end result of this heart-to-heart will favor Russia at our expense. Despite his contention that he is the consummate deal-maker, if Donald Trump’s ability to “negotiate” a credible replacement of ObamaCare through Congress given majorities in both the House and Senate is any indication, then he’s, um, not all he’s cracked up to be. Now put him up against the likes of Vladimir Putin, a man Dreazen refers to as a “master tactician,” and one’s imagination may wander down some dark paths if one lets it. Or it could be a Putin-Trump love-fest. Anything could happen, which both inspires a small amount of optimism Trump might stumble upon the right course of action, and well-justified terror.
There’s another dread-provoking level to the drama inherent in U.S.-Russia relations, though, in addition to what Trump and his administration won’t do, and what Putin wants. As Yochi Dreazen explains, it’s how Vladimir Putin and others who think like him view the United States—and it’s not merely as a patsy, either. Citing intel by the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency, there apparently is a laundry list of “offenses” for which Russia suspects the U-S-of-A, including but not limited to the Arab Spring; the ouster of Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, currently in exile in Russia and wanted for high treason; revolutions in Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, and the Ukraine; and wars in Iraq, Kosovo, and Libya. Oh, and Putin thinks we are actively plotting to kick him out, too. In other words, Vladimir Putin sees the United States as an enemy. This is the man that Donald Trump has consistently exempted from criticism. This is the kind of threat that Trump has largely downplayed and over which he has resisted the credibility of the very intelligence agencies designed to furnish him with viable information. This is more than a passing concern, but it’s doubtful that our President fully grasps the very concept.
Returning to the beginning discussion of bad news vs. good news, the ultimate bad news is Donald Trump is still President of the United States, as it has been every week since he’s been elected. With respect to our relationship with our allies, both in Europe and elsewhere, Trump apparently likes to test the bounds of our diplomatic relations by very publicly calling out our allies, particularly when he feels that the United States is being taken advantage of. Which is pretty much all the time. Gotta keep producing those sound bites and playing to the base, eh? Trump’s most recent victim, if you will, is South Korea and newly-elected president Moon Jae-in, chosen to fill the void left by the impeachment of Park Geun-hye. Given his rhetoric on North Korea, there was some degree of expectation that Kim Jong-un and his nation’s ever-present threat would be more of a centerpiece of this meeting. Instead, very little was said by #45 in terms of specifics on a strategy for how to deal with North Korea, and the South Korean president was made to be lectured about its trade policies. With reporters entering the room just as Trump was essentially dressing down his South Korean counterpart. Yeah. Moon Jae-in agreed insofar as being open to revisit KORUS, the five-year-old treaty between the two nations, but what this means for the fate of the treaty and the reception of these events in Seoul is unclear. I know if I were on the South Korean side of things, I would certainly be hesitant to want to deal with President Trump—or even invite him to my country. And you could forget about buying any crappy Trump Home products.
The good news is that Congress may actually be willing to push back against Donald Trump on certain aspects of foreign policy, particularly regarding Russia. Maybe. The Senate just approved by an overwhelming margin a bill which would prevent Trump from rolling back sanctions on Russia. This still has to clear the House without getting watered down significantly, mind you, but that this measure had so much Republican support in the Senate may be telling of what GOP lawmakers think of the President’s temperament. Even more surprising was a vote of the House Appropriations Committee to repeal the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force that has allowed the United States to essentially continuously fight wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere, with the thinking that this now-15-year-old provision is too broad and should be debated/updated to reflect the current situation with ISIS and al-Qaeda. Of course, when not being criticized for being all but symbolic gestures, some of the actions taken in departure from Trump’s proposals would actually increase the defense budget. That doesn’t exactly enthrall me as a progressive. Still, that there is thinking outside Trump’s proposals and outside blind party loyalty gives one the minutest sense of hope.
Outside of Trump. Invoking this piece’s title, that seems to be the optimal perspective to take, especially when it comes to the global economy and defense spending. Don’t assign Donald Trump more blame than he deserves for factors largely outside his control, but certainly don’t give him more credit when our European allies are bolstering their defense spending—not when they already have made plans to do so and when the shadow of Vladimir Putin looms largest of all. And for the sake of our country’s national security, pray that whole G20 meeting goes well. Fingers crossed.
How many times have you heard the phrase “live each day like it’s your last?” It’s good advice, in theory. Certainly, you should be active in shaping your destiny and not waiting for things to happen to your benefit. Then again, taken to absurd extremes, this could be a dangerous mantra by which to live. At no point is it recommended that your drain your savings, spend it on alcohol, drugs, and other diversions, and throw the party to end all parties. Swimming pools full of liquor à la Kendrick Lamar. Sex with many anonymous partners. Fun, perhaps, yes, but not terribly prudent. If it seems like I’m a bit of a wet blanket in this regard, it’s only because, by all accounts, I am.
President Donald J. Trump, for his part, seems to subscribe to this way of thinking, or at least approaches running the country in this way. Risk the position of the Republican Party by insisting on a replacement to ObamaCare, an unpopular travel ban, a militaristic immigration policy and overall approach to criminal justice, and an expensive wall at the Mexican border, among other things? No big deal—Trump hasn’t been a very faithful member of the GOP, and basically ran his campaign without the full backing of the party’s leaders (in fact, that probably only helped him). Fire off crazy, unfounded remarks regularly on Twitter? Fine—the news media is happy with all the clicks and TV ratings it receives every time he makes his feelings known. Appeal to corporations and workers alike with a pro-business, anti-environment agenda? That’s OK—he’ll probably be dead by the time the worst effects of deleterious climate change hit (though at the rate he’s going, who knows).
More recently, however, it is the firing of FBI director James Comey that has people up in arms, particularly incensed about the decision of a man known for acting suddenly and capriciously. Now, was Mr. Comey a saint? Far from it, as evidenced by his rather brazen actions which directly influenced voters’ perceptions of the 2016 presidential race—which he testified as being absolutely sick about, because he had no intention of doing anything to sway the outcome. Sure, Jim, you’re really helping your credibility there. In fact, after Comey effectively threw hurdles in Hillary Clinton’s lane in the race for the presidency, many were calling for his head. You know, figuratively speaking. At least I think it was figuratively speaking. This past election sure dredged up some powerful feelings—and still continues to, if I might add.
Based on his guilt, then, James Comey doesn’t inspire a great deal of sympathy merely for losing his job. Where the outrage lies, meanwhile, is what the presumed motivations are for Trump deciding to fire Comey at this point in time. The White House has indicated it was because of Comey’s apparent bias and his lack of fairness in dealing with Hillary Clinton, among other things, but come on—nobody believes that. After all, why wait until May 2017 to make the determination to ax Comey if that were the case? Such reasoning is not only illogical, but it’s pretty damn insulting to our intelligence as readers, Tweeters, and viewers of the news.
No, the consensus opinion is that James Comey was fired because he was getting too close for comfort in his investigation of Donald Trump himself and other close associates. It is all but known that Trump and prominent members of his administration/campaign have direct financial ties to Russian oligarchs or had contact with Russian ambassadors prior to the election, and hacks of the Democratic National Committee’s and John Podesta’s E-mails raise serious concerns about whether or not Trump and his team were involved in an apparent plot to screw with American democratic proceedings and sway the election in his favor. In addition, viewed in the context of other firings within the Justice Department, namely those of Sally Yates and Preet Bharara, Comey’s removal is suspicious in that those individuals who have been involved with investigating Trump’s affairs have all been sent packing by the President. Sure, there’s no definitive proof these firings were all politically motivated—well, not yet, at least—but this trend raises one’s eyebrows. Heck, John McCain broke ranks with his fellow Republicans to express his disappointment in Comey proving to be a casualty of the Trump White House. When members of the GOP are publicly casting doubts about Trump’s motives, you know it’s a big deal.
Predictably, a number of his Cabinet members came to Pres. Trump’s defense, as I’m sure his fans on blogs, on Breitbart, and on talk radio did as well. The rationalization that stuck with me the most, though, was that of Nikki Haley, ambassador to the United Nations and, more recently, Donald Trump apologist. In an interview with George Stephanopoulos on his show This Week, Haley said that “[Trump] is the CEO of the country. He can hire and fire anyone he wants.” This is a striking assertion to me, not merely because Trump, as President of the United States, can’t just fire anyone he wants. A significant portion of Trump’s lasting appeal is his identity as a political outsider and a successful businessman (only one of the two is accurate), and in this regard, his presidency is almost an experiment of sorts in applying a business leadership model to a publicly-elected office. In talking with my close circle of friends about Donald Trump (spoiler alert: we’re generally not fond of him), we discussed how Americans who voted for the orange one may have been swayed by vague notions of wanting to see how the country could or would be run if it were handled like a corporation or other business. Given this frame of mind, Trump’s perceived success or failure and the future political prospects of other prominent Republicans could therefore be seen as a referendum on such an industry-focused approach.
Now well past the 100-day mark of Trump’s tenure, it’s worth considering whether or not more and more Americans who voted him into office might be suffering from a case of buyer’s remorse, not to mention contemplating just how well the Trump-as-CEO-President analogy fits. As John Cassidy, writing for The New Yorker, insists, if Donald Trump were a CEO, he’d probably be fired. To this end, and in his assessment of Trump’s tenure heretofore, Cassidy is pretty much unequivocal:
Donald Trump has built his political career on his reputation as a successful businessman, so it seems fair to assess his recent performance as President as if he were a C.E.O. running U.S.A., Inc. The report card isn’t pretty. Indeed, if Trump were the chief executive of a public company, the firm’s non-executive directors probably would have been huddled in a crisis meeting on Tuesday morning, deciding whether to issue him a pink slip.
In such a corporate scenario, the board members would likely decide they had no choice but to oust Trump to protect the reputation of the company and prevent further damage. During the past week, he has twice messed up monumentally, doing grave harm to his own credibility and undermining the country’s reputation around the world. And these were just his latest mistakes. During his four months in the corner office, Trump has repeatedly shown that he is patently unsuited for the position he holds, and he has also demonstrated a chronic inability to change the way he operates.
I would think more moderate Trump supporters and voters would be apt to concede that “the Donald” lacks the qualifications you might desire of a Commander-in-Chief, much in the way reluctant Hillary Clinton voters would likely concede their choice was—how can I put this delicately?—somewhat out of touch with working-class Americans. Those same people would also probably agree that flexibility and Donald Trump do not necessarily come part and parcel, though they might disagree to the extent this is a virtue or vice. For all those individuals who profess to want a negotiator who will work with members of both major political parties and knows how to compromise, there seems to be, if not an equivalent number of people, then a sufficiently vocal minority which believes the opposite: that refusal to compromise is an element of strong leadership, and that sticking to one’s proverbial guns is to be lauded, not decried.
In other words, John Cassidy would be remiss if he did not cite specific examples of how Donald Trump as POTUS and chief executive has failed. Thankfully, at least for his sake, he does not disappoint. Though I’m sure you can imagine which recent events top his list, here are the two big blockbusters that he cites to prove his point:
1. The firing of James Comey
We’ve addressed this in part, but Cassidy points out the incongruity in the public statements about why Comey was fired is a public relations disaster, and, though it almost certainly means nothing to Trump, he really hung Vice President Mike Pence out to dry by contradicting his account of why a vacancy at the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation now exists. Trump’s ensuing Tweets that appear to be warning James Comey that he had better hope there were no tapes of their conversations only further the notion that he (Trump) is the kind of unstable person who you wouldn’t want caring for your pet goldfish, let alone a company or the United States of freaking America. I mean, to put it another way, um, blackmail tends to be frowned upon in our society.
2. The disclosure of classified information to Russian officials
At a bare minimum, this is a case of bad optics, but in a different country or perhaps even in a different era, Donald Trump would stand to be harangued or tarred-and-feathered—or worse—for what some might argue is tantamount to treason. We all know of Trump’s affinity for Vladimir Putin and other world leaders suspected of crimes against humanity. But seriously, bruh, this is Russia we’re talking about here. You know, the country responsible for hacking our election? As Cassidy puts it, running with the metaphor of America as a corporate entity (realistically speaking, it’s not much of a stretch), “Just how much damage Trump’s indiscretions have inflicted on the company isn’t yet known. But it’s clear that he was guilty of a serious breach of trust, and another stunning error of judgment.”
For most of Trump’s tenure as “CEO,” other executives within the company (high-ranking Republicans like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell) and its most bullish shareholders (Trump supporters) have been willing to roll with the punches, but as of late, #45’s antics have made even them skittish. Thinking in terms of the big picture, there is a clear element of risk here, and in terms of economic hazards, not just political danger. With the unpredictability of Donald Trump’s actions and the civil unrest that has accompanied his rise to power, both domestically-based and foreign-owned companies are less liable to seek to invest in our nation. The same goes for those individuals who would study or travel or work here. If not worried about their physical safety, the fear may well be for what is called, in business parlance, the going concern of the company, or its ability to remain in business for the foreseeable future. In the case of the United States of America, not only are concerns about our debt and our infrastructure more than justified, but the prospects of a climate catastrophe or world war don’t seem all that remote either. The ticking of the Doomsday Clock grows ever louder.
Donald Trump’s behavior of late has intensified talks of impeachment. In terms of potential impeachable offenses, the reported request made by Trump of James Comey to effectively look the other way on Michael Flynn looms especially large, as it points to a deliberate attempt to obstruct justice. Then again, for months, critics have been circling, highlighting, and putting a bright neon sticky note on Trump’s and his family’s refusal to divest or put Trump Organization assets in a blind trust, saying this alone is sufficient grounds for removal based on violation of the now-famous Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Let it be stressed, though, that these calls for the deposition of Pres. Trump come with their own caveat. For one, cries for impeachment proceedings from the general public will likely need to be amplified by Congress, and the Republicans in the House and Senate don’t seem to give a serious enough shit to act to curb Trump’s wanton disregard for ethics, human decency, and said Constitution. Besides this, getting rid of Trump doesn’t mean that the leadership gets profoundly better based on who’s next in the line of succession. After Donald Trump—just to name a few—it’s Mike Pence (Vice President), followed by Paul Ryan (Speaker of the House), Orrin Hatch (President pro tem of the Senate), Rex Tillerson (Secretary of State), and Steven Mnuchin (Secretary of the Treasury). What a bunch of winners, eh? Hard to know which is slimier or more slippery than the next, and, yes, better than Trump, but as has been well established, that’s a low bar to clear.
President Trump’s reckless behavior, though, while it should be rightly admonished and while it forms the basis of much of John Cassidy’s analysis, doesn’t speak to the full scope of his ineffectiveness as CEO of the company-country. John Micklethwait, Bloomberg’s editor-in-chief, views things somewhat more holistically in terms of how well managed the White House is. As with Cassidy’s findings, meanwhile, the results are similarly unenthusiastic. Micklethwait’s piece is entitled “Would You Let Trump Run Your Company?” and hits on a number of the same themes that thus have been presented. The same antics that Cassidy enumerates are referenced herein, but the author quickly pivots to assessing the Trump presidency purely on its merits as a cohesive unit and the boss’s merits as a facilitator:
Behind this list of individual transgressions sit four larger failings: This CEO-in-chief has failed to get things done; he has failed to build a strong team, especially in domestic policy; he hasn’t dealt with conflicts of interest; and his communications is in shambles.
On the first count, you can basically spin the domestic policy wheel of fortune and pick an area where Trump and Co. have been unable to get substantive policy authored and enacted. The American Health Care Act, the GOP’s putative replacement for the Affordable Care Act, still has yet to be passed by both halves of Congress, and faces stern opposition not only from minority-party Democrats, but concerned constituents regardless of political affiliation. His proposed tax reform has yet to be even fully visualized. Ditto for his infrastructure plan, and to boot, several of his executive orders have (thankfully) been challenged in and stayed by the nation’s judiciary. So there’s that.
On the second count, Donald Trump is much further behind in filling needed posts than Barack Obama was at this point in his presidency. Even putting the drama with the quick-to-resign Michael Flynn aside, John Micklethwait points to a “whiff of cronyism” in the Trump administration ranks, capped off by positions of influence for Ivanka Trump and husband Jared Kushner despite their apparent lack of qualifications for their associated stature. As Micklethwait puts it: “There appears to be little structure in the White House. It’s more like a court than a company, with the king retiring to bed with a cheeseburger and spontaneously tweeting orders.”
On the third count, there’s Trump’s conflicts of interests, to which I’ve already alluded. Micklethwait highlights the contrast between how most—for lack of a better term—normal executives manage their personal investments next to those of their business, and how Trump, ever cavalier, has approached his affairs. In the author’s words once more:
In most businesses, this is something most incoming bosses deal with quickly and automatically. There’s an ethics policy, and you follow it. That policy usually has two levels: first, obeying the law; second, setting standards and following processes that avoid even the impression of any conflict. This second prohibitive level is crucial.
Again, and to make a long story short, the Trump family has failed this test, if you can even say that, because calling them failures implies they have at least nominally tried to comply with ethical and legal guidelines. They haven’t.
On the fourth and final count, there’s the communications aspect. Donald Trump is characteristically unpredictable, a quality he likely sees as a virtue because it keeps his would-be competitors guessing. Unfortunately, in terms of working with his so-called team, when figures like Nikki Haley and Rex Tillerson aren’t contradicting one another, Trump himself is Tweeting something that flies in the face of what Mike Pence or Sean Spicer or some other mouthpiece for the President says. Or he’s just flat-out lying, and unlike other CEOs who ultimately cop to their falsehoods and express some degree of contrition, Trump only doubles down on his assertions, and tries to bully or goad dissenters into silence. He’s not just merely falling short on this dimension—he’s helping create a dangerous world where facts are ignored or marginalized in favor of who has the loudest or sexiest argument.
In all respects, therefore, Pres. Trump is not proving an effective leader, and America is not “winning” nearly as much as he boasted we would because of it. In fact, we may be starting to lose outright. Stocks rebounded this past Thursday across major indexes, buoyed by strong economic data, but they had to rebound because uncertainty surrounding Donald Trump and whispers of impeachment sent the Dow Jones, for one, tumbling by more than 350 points. On one hand, two or three or four days does not a definitive economic trend make. Still, with a man in the White House whose penchant is unpredictability, that we might continue to see these individual “shocks” is reasonable, if not probable. When the fate of the markets is largely in the hands of reactionary investors, the question becomes how bumpy is too bumpy a ride before these shareholders want to get off.
In closing his op-ed, John Micklethwait offers these sentiments, essentially telling us it’s up to Republican Party leaders to decide whether or not it’s time to come get their boy Trump. You know, assuming he doesn’t suddenly become more presidential—and one is advised not to hold his or her breath to that end:
There is a semi-charitable explanation for much of this chaos. Trump does not have any experience as a CEO—at least in the sense that most of corporate America would recognize. One telling irony: Many of the banking executives now trying to curry favor with him would never have lent him money in the past. His skills were in dealmaking, rather than running a large organization. The core Trump company had barely 100 people. It’s possible that if he takes on some of the basic management lessons to do with structure, process, and delegation, then he may be able to run America. The question now is whether he has already made enough mistakes for the board to get rid of him. The closest thing America has to a board is the group of Republican senators who must decide what to investigate. Trump will hate the analogy, but at this moment, their leader, Senator McConnell, is his chairman—and the CEO has a lot of explaining to do.
In the lead-in to this post, I referred to Donald Trump leading the country like there’s no tomorrow. The GOP, too, has been playing a short-term game, doing what they can to approve the legislation and nominees they wish to have confirmed, even going as far as to use the “nuclear option”—changing Senate rules to overcome the power of filibuster. Otherwise, they have been performing a balancing act with their policy stances, eager not to alienate Trump supporters in possible bids for re-election. As the rocky road of Donald J. Trump as CEO of the US of A continues, however, how long will it be before they start to panic in their own right? For those who wanted a pro-business outsider from the private sector in the Oval Office, or simply someone who would advance a conservative Republican agenda, be careful what you wish for. You may not get the returns you’ve been seeking, and even worse, you may find your support for the CEO-President only serves to work against you after all.
By virtue of living in Bergen County, New Jersey, my family and I read The Record, known colloquially as The Bergen Record. I don’t follow the local news as much as I should, instead amusing myself with diversions like the crosswords and negative op-eds about Chris Christie. It was to my mild astonishment when I saw that The Record and columnist Mike Kelly, who has been with the newspaper since 1981 and who has appeared on various radio shows in the area, as well as NPR’s “Morning Edition,” Hardball with Chris Matthews, and CBS Evening News, had recently made national news on the count of their interviewee. That would be an unfortunately public figure and member of the Trump administration in the person of Kellyanne Conway. Kelly’s interview touched on a number of different topics, but on the heels of Donald Trump’s baseless allegations that Barack Obama and his administration had him wiretapped (remember, pieces on Breitbart do not count as actual news), and WikiLeaks’ subsequent revelations through the release of Agency documents that the CIA has outlined the use of instructions and tools to spy on individuals through vulnerabilities in Apple and Android smartphones, various messaging apps, and even Samsung smart TVs, one line of discussion that dominated headlines was the notion other devices could be used in surveillance of everyday Americans. Particularly microwaves. No, really—microwaves. According to Conway, monitoring could be done through “microwaves that turn into cameras,” and that “we know this is a fact of modern life.”
The Twitterverse and blogosphere alike were abuzz following these assertions by the Counselor to the President, heaping ridicule and microwave-oriented Photoshopped pictures upon her comments. To be fair, maybe Kellyanne Conway really does know something about the hidden capacity for state espionage buried deep within our General Electric appliances, and we’ll all have egg on our faces when it turns out she was right all along. Given her past loose association with the truth, however, and President Trump and his administration’s apparent war on facts, it is—how should I put this—not bloody likely. Recall that Conway herself is already synonymous with “alternative facts,” an abstract concept that is as ludicrous as it is dangerous with respect to how readily she and others within the President’s circle of trust are apt to deflect away from serious lines of inquiry by the press. These new claims are all the more troubling given how apparently flippant she is in this instance about matters of verifiability. “We know this is a fact of modern life.” Who is “we”? What evidence do you have that microwaves are being used in this way? As far as Kellyanne Conway seems to be concerned, the truth of what she said seems to be self-evident in the notion that this is the modern age and that it could happen, or that she’s banking on you having insufficient knowledge of the subject to disprove her. Either way, by the time you’re ready to challenge the veracity of what she says, Conway is already prepared to pivot to the next point.
Will Saletan, in a piece for Slate, explains the nature of her elusiveness when being interviewed, and why it’s effectively useless for members of the media to try to engage her on matters of fact or to get her to admit to an outright lie. From his article:
An interview with Conway is like a game of Crazy Eights with one rule change: Every card is crazy. No matter what you say, she’ll pick a word from your question and use it to change suits. Use the word “fact,” and she’ll ask, “Chuck, do you think it’s a fact or not that millions of people have lost their plans or health insurance?”
Ask her about Russian interference in the election and she’ll reply, as in [an] interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC: “A lot of people in the mainstream media interfered with our election by trying to help Hillary Clinton win.” Ask her about the intelligence on the Russian hack—“You don’t believe the intercepts?” asked CNN’s Chris Cuomo—and she’ll say, “Here’s what I don’t believe … that [this issue is] so darn important to you now.”
Tell her there’s “no evidence that there were millions of illegal votes,” (Stephanopoulos again) and she’ll fire back, “There’s also no evidence that a recount is going to change the results in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.” You’ll never win this game because you’ll have to use words. She’ll pick the one she likes and throw out the rest.
Saletan’s advice, therefore, for members of the press is not to ask Kellyanne Conway about right and wrong, but to stick to “simple factual queries,” and to move on immediately when she begins to veer away from a yes-or-no answer. As he reasons, “There’s no point in getting apoplectic at Conway. She’s never going to break. If you think the only way to beat these people is to make them admit their lies, you’re the one who will lose.”
Let’s take this a step further, though. Will Saletan’s advice assumes a desire to or even a need to talk Ms. Conway. From The Record‘s perspective, Kellyanne Conway is more relevant than she would otherwise be because she lives in Alpine, NJ, probably the most affluent town in an already-well-to-do county in Bergen County, generally speaking. Here’s the thing, though: what did we learn as a result of this interview? Sure, the bit about microwaves generates clicks, and certainly, as much of a train-wreck in the making Donald Trump as POTUS seems to be, his tenure has been entertaining. All the same, the failure of the media to hold Trump and his lot accountable—because the latter have done their part to avoid the press, restrict its access, and undermine its credibility so as to make the job of the former near impossible—means more extreme measures must be taken so as not to further lose ground in the public eye in terms of respectability, at least not with respect to the viewers who still value the mainstream media as a viable source of information. With Conway in particular, if she is not going to provide useful material to viewers, it begs the follow-up question: why bother talking to her at all?
This isn’t a new line of thinking either, with more qualified people than likely you and definitely I expressing similar viewpoints. As part of a recent CNN panel moderated by Don Lemon discussing these comments made by Kellyanne Conway on wiretapping and other possible methods of domestic surveillance, Carl Bernstein, well-known for his work as an investigative journalist during the Watergate scandal, noticeably grimaced before delivering these remarks:
You know, I suggest that it’s time we all stop taking Kellyanne Conway seriously—she’s not a serious person. It’s time for us to drop her from our news agenda, unless she very specifically has something to say that we know has been put out there by the President of the United States.
Lemon agreed, referring to these continued claims of wiretapping by the White House despite a complete lack of evidence and/or the refusal to definitively refute them as “nonsense” and “silly.” (Side note: if Don Lemon is referring to you as “silly,” you know you’ve got to be doing a pretty bad job.) But Bernstein wasn’t content to write off this matter completely, adopting a more serious tone. His response was as follows:
It’s not silly—it’s dangerous—the extent to which we take it seriously. We need to keep doing our reporting on the real stories, including what’s going on with the Russians, with Trump and the people around him. We continue to be destabilized by the Russians and what is going on. Putin has got our number here, and we need to be looking at all aspects of this including whether or not we have a President of the United States who is capable and responsible enough to deal with what is going on.
As noted, Conway’s comments make for good theatre, but Carl Bernstein is correct: they are a distraction. Russian interference in our affairs, including our elections, has been a hot topic of conversation ever since the DNC leaks, and WikiLeaks has long been suspected of having a benefactor in the Russian government of the kind of information that Julian Assange and Company have been able to disseminate across Internet channels. Even the timing of WikiLeaks’ latest release is fairly suspect, as valid or valuable as the information within may be. Max Boot, in an article appearing in Foreign Policy, speaks in rather damning terms to this effect, indicating from the very title that “WikiLeaks Has Joined the Trump Administration.”
Boot notes within the article that WikiLeaks has timed past releases for maximum effect, as with the DNC leaks, when revelations about Debbie Wasserman Schultz and others within the Committee acting to effectively sandbag Bernie Sanders’ presidential bid despite their professed neutrality were intended to cast doubt about Hillary Clinton after having sewn up the Democratic Party nomination—and likely to deter fervent Sanders supporters from switching their support to the first female presidential nominee of a major party in U.S. history. The contents of WikiLeaks’ latest data dump puts the American intelligence community on the defensive, at a time when Donald Trump’s claims of wiretapping and his contentious relationship with the CIA and other federal agencies critical to our nation’s security are worthy of our scrutiny, if only for how unreasonable they are. The shell game that is Trump’s relationship to Russia and that of others around him just grows faster and faster as we go. Where it stops—no one knows.
Kellyanne Conway is a glaring example of someone given a platform when it can be argued that all of her exposure primarily benefits the administration she serves and does little for the populace she is supposed to serve. She is not the only one, however, and not the only glaring example, at that. Much as Conway will lie and obscure her way to defending the man who appointed her, others within the media sphere will continually apologize for President Trump—and it is members of the media who enable such behavior, if only to appear fair and balanced. Let’s go back to CNN for a moment, and discuss why in the hell, if a professed leader in cable news such as they is to deem itself a respectable news network, they would have someone like Jeffrey Lord among their ranks. Jeff Lord got a degree in Government from Franklin & Marshall College in 1973. Where? Exactly—I didn’t know this place exists either, much less know it is based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Also, their mascot is the Diplomat, and Roy Scheider is a notable fellow alumnus. How do you like them apples? He also was apparently in the Ronald Reagan presidential administration from 1987 to 1988 as an associate political director—whatever that means.
Today, however, Jeffrey Lord is chiefly a political commentator and general annoyance on CNN and in various print and online publications. He also, more recently, has become a shameless defender of Donald Trump, and even wrote a book about the man entitled What America Needs: The Case for Trump. If that alone does not cast aspersions as to the soundness of his judgment, other controversial stances over the past few years have helped cement his reputation as being among the Piers Morgan ilk of ill-informed political douchebags (apparently, CNN has a penchant for hiring such wannabe click-bait). Jeff Lord once attacked the credibility of Shirley Sherrod, a former Department of Agriculture official, effectively over an issue of semantics about whether a relative of hers was “lynched” as opposed to beaten to death at the hands of a police officer. Lord also has compared Barack Obama when he was president to Mao Zedong and the Hitler Youth, has called on the Democratic Party and prominent figures within it to apologize for the party’s one-time support for slavery, and has defended his criticism of the Democratic Party on the basis that the KKK once supported them—hence, left-wingers today are apparently a bunch of bigots who “divide citizens by race.” The Democratic Party is not above criticism, and certainly, establishment bigwigs like Hillary Clinton are known for some egregious examples of pandering, but trying to vilify the Democrats of today for ties to the KKK and slavery is disingenuous, to say the least.
Not only is Lord feeding these “absurd” viewpoints, as fellow CNN commentator Van Jones referred to the last one in particular, and thereby giving credence to them due to his position of relative influence among cable news viewers, but other network personalities and guests must waste time pointing out the ridiculousness of his comments — time that could be better spent along the lines of what Carl Bernstein argues we should be discussing instead. This year alone, other political commentators have had to do all they could not to pull out their own hair trying to argue with Jeffrey Lord on points that really should be beyond debate by now. Robert Reich had, as Sarah K. Burris termed it, a “WTF moment” in reaction to Lord’s assertion that the intelligence community, specifically the CIA and NSA, were conspiring to try to bring down Donald Trump. A few weeks back, Bill Maher had Jeff Lord on his show, and had to shout “Don’t bullshit me!” to stop Lord from insisting that the Russians didn’t interfere in our election. Just the other day, meanwhile, Anderson Cooper was forced to “debate” with Lord on the subject of the Congressional Budget Office finding that some 24 million people stand to lose coverage with the passage of the American Health Care Act, the Republicans’ intended replacement for the Affordable Care Act. Jeff Lord pointed out that the CBO was off significantly in its initial estimate back in 2010 of how many people would be enrolled in a health insurance plan through the ACA by 2017, to which Cooper added context by highlighting the idea that the Office didn’t account for states opting out of the Medicare expansion. You know, because it was dumb of them to do so since it deprived their constituents of valuable federal funding, but these are politicians we’re talking about here, especially on the GOP side. To this Lord replied—and I wish I were making this up:
Right, but that’s my point, Anderson. We don’t know what the weather is going to be. It’s going to snow, but how much? I mean, we don’t know. We don’t trust weathermen, so why should we trust the CBO? Not that they’re not good people, but this is the problem perpetually in Washington.
Either Jeffrey Lord thinks weather is supremely easy to predict, forecasts of all makes and models are bullshit, or both, or possibly none of it all, but once again, Lord, like his idol Donald Trump, is seeking to undermine public confidence in government departments that contradict the President’s and the GOP’s regressive agenda, and in doing so, is using the inexact nature of statistical models as a means of diminishing math, science, and other subjects requiring sound professional judgment and a substantial degree of education. In other words, Jeff Lord is chumming the waters for the sharks watching at home and following on social media smelling blood in the water with the perception of Donald Trump’s win as a turning of the tide against the liberal elites who so long have been thumbing their noses at working-class America—or at least as they would have it. Not only is this dangerous for the mainstream media’s long-term survival, but as a subset of the cable news circuit, CNN itself is playing with fire by encouraging the “CNN is fake news” crowd and narrative. Down with the MSM! Down with Washington fat cats! Drain the swamp! MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN! Doesn’t anyone else here see a problem for CNN with trotting out Jeffrey Lord—at the very least, a credibility problem?
Kellyanne Conway plays a game of Keep-Away that presents a danger in distracting us from what the rest of the Trump administration and the Republican Party are doing to destroy our country, not to mention making the media look very foolish in trying to make sense of her brand of crazy. Jeffrey Lord is an unflinching sycophant whose knee-jerk defenses of Donald Trump undoubtedly bolster the confidence of other Trump fanatics at home. Perhaps the most dangerous of these kinds of people we haven’t even discussed yet, however, and that they are as brazen as they are is likely a sign of the times and the political-social environment Trump has helped create here in the United States and abroad. I’m talking about unabashed white nationalists and racists, a group of which Representative Steve King, a political figure at the freaking federal level, is a part.
King, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from the 4th Congressional District in Iowa, recently made headlines when he re-Tweeted Geert Wilders, far-right Dutch politician and founder-leader of the Party for Freedom, which has essentially made exclusionary politics its raison d’être. The Iowa lawmaker added his own commentary—as if Wilders’ original content wasn’t bad enough—declaring that “we can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” The media and Democrats alike were quick to pounce on this apparent flagrant violation of American ideals of fraternity and diversity among people of different creeds, races, and walks of life, and even prominent Republicans such as Paul Ryan and Donald Trump via Sean Spicer made apparent attempts to distance themselves from King’s inflammatory remark.
This is just one of Steve King’s boldly prejudicial claims of the last year or so, if not the last week. According to King’s prediction, as expressed to Iowa radio host Jan Mickelson and responding to Jorge Ramos’s suggestion that by 2044, whites, despite likely still being a majority in terms of political power and influence but, in terms of overall population numbers, would be a minority given current trends, “Hispanics and the blacks will be fighting each other before that happens.” Let this sink in for a moment—as mind-numbing as that may prove. There is so much wrong with this idea it’s hard to know where to begin. First, Rep. King seems literally unable to comprehend that this might happen—that whites are poised to become a “minority-majority” in the United States in a few decades’ time—and so he dismisses the very notion despite the proverbial writing on the wall. Second, he refers to them as “the blacks.” That’s like an older adult referring to the world’s preeminent search engine as “the Google.” It smacks of Jim Crow-era antiquated language. Lastly, the idea that African-Americans and Hispanics would fight because, you know, they’re predisposed to fighting and inciting violence, is wildly racist, not to mention wholly cynical. It has no basis in fact, and even if it did, you would think a politician would be loath to admit as much. And let’s not forget King’s questioning what other “subgroups” have done for Western civilization next to whites, which caused an immediate uproar from the MSNBC panel convened during the Republican National Convention and made it appear as if April Ryan was ready to slap some sense into him—something of which she would have been consummately justified in doing, by the by.
That these kinds of thoughts are coming from an elected official are somewhat astonishing, though not if we chart King’s past remarks and even relevant votes (King evidently was among those opposed to putting Harriet Tubman on the 20-dollar bill). Given his penchant for white nationalist xenophobia and concern for the preservation of white ethnic and cultural elements at the apparent expense of all others, it also is vaguely surprising Steve King—or, as I like to call him, Evil Ed Harris Look-Alike—manages to keep getting elected. Then again, he is from the state of Iowa, a state that is—shall we say—not as diverse as others. As Corky Siemaszko details for NBC News, Rep. King remains immensely popular among voters in his district, and has consistently fended off challenges to his post since first being elected to it way back in 2002. Much of this appeal is owed to his district being over 90% white, but if we’re going to give him credit for something, it’s that he’s also an effective public speaker and can connect with people on a personal level. Of course, he can also pander to the pro-gun, anti-abortion crowd, and play on the fears of a conservative, Republican-heavy electorate concerned about a shrinking working class, changes in the American landscape, and attacks from abroad, but many Iowans see him as a personable, relatable kind of guy. We see another Donald Trump, but his neighbors see, well, a neighbor.
His popularity at home notwithstanding, why EEHLA is allowed to spew his white supremacist garbage on national television is beyond me, as I fail to understand why The Record would opt to interview Kellyanne Conway and her nonsense, or CNN would dare keep Jeffrey “Andrew Jackson’s Secret Descendant” Lord on their payroll. OK—I get that media outlets feel the need to report on Steve King’s outrageous statements. He can and should be called out for his divisive rhetoric, despite his insistence that he is interested in bringing people together. Beyond that initial reporting, though, the story can end there, or if nothing else, can do without further inquiry of King. And yet, who was interviewing him in the aftermath of his babies comment but—you guessed it—CNN. On-air personality Chris Cuomo asked Rep. King to clarify his remarks, as if to intimate that he might want to apologize for seeming like a racist asshole, but King was unfazed.
Here’s the thing: I feel as if CNN should’ve known Steve King wasn’t going to walk back his comments, that they couldn’t in this instance try to claim moral superiority and make him squirm. On some level, I feel King believes he’s right, and by now, he’s obviously not worried about alienating his constituents back in Iowa, many of whom likely agree with him. The only way to “win,” so to speak, is not to play. Don’t have him on at all. Bringing this discussion back to its central point, this is a lesson I feel the network should have learned with Kellyanne Conway, and why Jeffrey Lord stands to be such a losing proposition for them. You want to be purveyors of truth and go after obvious bigots and liars like Steve King and Trump’s cronies. For those who see Conway and King and Lord and don’t dismiss what they say, though, you’re merely feeding the narratives these people want to believe.
Throughout the presidential campaign, there was no shortage of critics pointing out Donald Trump’s follies and factual inaccuracies. And look where it got him: the White House. The lack of appeal to reason or even morality, in the minds of many, should be enough to disqualify Trump and the other aforementioned individuals. But it obviously doesn’t for enough Americans, and organizations from CNN to the Democratic Party need to start understanding this evident sea change in American politics and tap into what Trump voters/Republican voters care about. Sure, they may not see eye-to-eye on a whole lot with this new audience, but these bastions of “fake news” and “liberal elitism” can at least facilitate a conversation with everyday people rather than putting a bunch of clowns on camera who play up the crazy just to satisfy vague ideas of “fairness” or to garner a greater share of ratings, or attacking these public figures without clearly communicating an identity for themselves and thereby undermining their own credibility.
For the media in particular, though, and to put it succinctly: stop enabling apologists, liars, and racists. You’re still losing by the mere fact of giving them a platform, and may only succeed in hastening your own demise as a result.
Think President Donald Trump is doing a good job in his present role? Yeah, well, sorry to inform you, but you’re in the minority on this one, and in fact, this may well be the first time you’ve been considered or have considered yourself to be a part of a minority group. Hey—cheer up—there’s a first time for everything.
You may not care about this bit of happenstance, or may decry the polls as inaccurate or even “fake,” but here’s the information we at least are given. As of February 24, according to Gallup, Trump’s approval rating nationally stands at just 43%. Philip Bump, meanwhile, writing for The Washington Post, has a more nuanced look at polling data, both current and from the 2016 presidential election. In a shocking—shocking!—twist, Bump finds that the only group or groups with a majority approval rating for the President is/are Republicans and whites without college degrees. Independents also garner a majority when FOX’s polling data is considered, but they are at or below 40% for the other five major polls (CBS News, Gallup, McClatchy-Marist, NBC-SurveyMonkey, Quinnipiac University), raising questions about FOX’s methods, FOX News’s viewership, or both. As you might expect, Pres. Trump fares worst among Democrats, and particularly poorly among black and Hispanic women. The Republican Party already has had a persistent problem with these demographics, and if Trump’s numbers are any indication, that inability to draw support from them has only been amplified.
What Philip Bump’s analysis does not show, however, and where my level of interest is primarily, is where Donald Trump’s supporters and defenders rate on their views of some of his more notable policies. That is, they may approve of Trump on the whole, but they also may be concerned about particular aspects of his and the Republicans’ agenda. Jennifer Rubin, who authors the Right Turn blog, a conservative opinion conduit under the Washington Post banner, recently penned an article going into depth about some of the issues that matter most to Trump supporters, and thus, might give us a starting point in conducting such an analysis. In particular, Rubin cites three matters of domestic policy that Trump promised to address if he were elected, and as such, three matters that might matter to his base of support should he not follow through: ObamaCare/the Affordable Care Act, tax reform, and border security.
On the first count, Jennifer Rubin noted that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, for one, sure has been sending a lot of E-mails out to Republican supporters, but with each successive message and little substantive material revealed with each iteration, the situation smacks of the GOP being long on talk of repeal and short on a credible replacement. How bad is this lack of a cohesive strategy to deal with the ACA? Well, let’s just put it this way: if Republican lawmakers like Senator Bob Corker know of a superior plan with which to supplant ObamaCare, they either possess quite the proverbial poker face, or they have no g-d clue. Put Corker, perhaps surprisingly candid about this subject, in the latter category. When asked about the Affordable Care Act by Huffington Post, Sen. Corker admitted he was unaware of any set plans, though he opined that this could be a good thing in that the GOP should take its time on any set proposal. What’s more, Senator Corker questioned the very theory of what the Republicans were trying to do, in particular, regarding the role of revenue:
If you repeal the taxes on the front end and you end up with, say, a Medicaid expansion, or even if it winds up being refundable tax credits, you’re still expending dollars. And if you repeal all the sources of income on the front end, then it’s difficult to me to see how you ever get to a place where you actually fund what you’re expending. And then you’ve self-created the doc-fix scenario, where each year it just keeps getting extended, you’re piling up the deficits, because I don’t see Republicans voting for a tax increase. That’s why to me it’s important that this happen simultaneously. I don’t see a scenario where people are pushing to insure less people. You’ve got to have money to pay for that.
On the second count, Rubin explains that tax reform was liable to be a problem in Republican circles to being with, and with the prospect of a theoretical border tax on companies who import goods produced in facilities located outside the United States, or even raw materials not readily available domestically that must be procured abroad, the movement for reform is further muddied and therefore far from unified. There is concern among industry leaders that such a border tax would force businesses to pass the related cost onto the consumer, a notion that could place companies large and small in jeopardy if this comes to fruition. So, in short, tax reform looks sketchy as well. Potentially 0-for-2—not especially encouraging for Donald Trump and the GOP.
Last but not least, we have border security. First, there’s the issue of the wall at the Mexican border, which is expensive and ineffective. Second, there’s the issue of targeting sanctuary cities, which has encouraged threats of pushback from the cities and regions that stand to be affected by the associated executive order, including that of local lawmakers and law enforcement. Thirdly, there’s the whole travel ban, which has tied up the White House in litigation and is as unpopular if not more so than these other provisions. The seeming absurdity of the wall has made its prospects somewhat dim, though nothing is over until it’s over, and reportedly, we are mere months away from assignment of the contracts to build a monstrosity at our southern border. That considerable resistance has been felt on the other aspects of Trump’s anti-immigration agenda, however, makes it all the more likely that the wall and hallmarks of the other issues—ObamaCare and tax reform—will be met by similar legislative gridlock.
If this is so, the Democratic Party could capitalize on any related loss of support. Jennifer Rubin closes her article by talking about what President Trump and the GOP would need to do to maintain their appeal to their collective fan base:
If those issues [the ACA, border security, taxes] aren’t going to produce concrete legislative results, how else could Trump and Republicans earn voters’ continued indulgence? In essence, Trump promised a better life for the down-and-out in the Rust Belt and the resentful anti-elitists everywhere. What will be the evidence of that? Unemployment presumably would need to go even lower, coal jobs would need to return, and productivity would have to spike, resulting in wage growth. Take-home pay would have to rise, at the very least. And accomplishing those end goals may be even more challenging than passing an Obamacare replacement.
Whatever Trump thought he’d deliver may prove elusive because the problems of working-class Rust Belt voters are the result not of “foreigners stealing their jobs” or “dumb trade deals,” but long-term, knotty problems that have no easy solutions. Trump certainly has no idea how to make the transition to a 21st-century economy while making sure millions don’t get left behind. He never even talks about juicing productivity, let alone puts forth a plan to do so.
In sum, if Trump does not deliver on his major policy initiatives and does not bring about an economic renaissance for the “forgotten man and woman,” will they stick with him and with GOP majorities or stay home in 2018? Like it or not, 2018 will be a referendum on Trump and Trumpism. That’s why Democrats shouldn’t be too pessimistic about their near-term political prospects.
Rubin, if you ask me, gives the Democrats too much credit. Still, her point about the political dangers Donald Trump’s extreme positions and boastful rhetoric present is well taken. If matters of economic performance, health care reform, and immigration policy are key concerns for Trump supporters/Republican voters, unfulfilled promises may cast a pall over the party as a whole. For those of us Trump detractors on the outside looking in, the hardest part of it all would likely be the waiting until Trump’s and the Republican Party’s house of cards falls down.
Let it be stressed that the topics addressed by Jennifer Rubin represent only a subset of what those who voted for Donald Trump may actually care about. Then again, it likely is a rather large subset; according to CNN exit polls taken during the presidential vote this past November, a significant amount of those individuals who chose Trump did so because of their concern about terrorism and illegal immigration. What Rubin’s analysis does not consider, though, and what is vitally important to confront because Trump’s list of executive orders since he was sworn in includes a number of mandates on this dimension, are social issues. President Trump’s anti-immigration agenda, as discussed above, because it so strongly impacts the Hispanic and Muslim communities, can be considered under this purview. For other groups whose rights have been under attack by the Republican Party for some time now, their freedoms have similarly been targeted, although perhaps not as dramatically as, say, deportation raids or a ban on entry into the United States. The reinstatement of the so-called “global gag rule” which pulls American aid to organizations that discuss abortion as a family planning option. The decision to remove protections for transgender students in schools over their use of bathrooms. The revival of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipeline projects. The reversal of a late-tenure policy enacted by President Barack Obama that prevented coal-mining operations from dumping their waste in streams. I’m sure I’m missing some, but this gives you an idea of the adversarial tone Pres. Trump has taken toward environmentalists, the LGBTQ community, and women. It begs the question from those of us onlookers who never supported Donald Trump in the first place: who’s next? African-Americans? Other religious minorities, including atheists? Democratic socialists? People with disabilities?
This disconnect with the consequences of the Trump administration’s actions, and those aided and abetted by Republican majorities in Congress and the GOP’s own regressive agenda (e.g. the dismantling of the ACA), I believe, informs to a great deal the oft-referenced cultural divide between those on the left who champion equality for all as a raison d’être, and those on the right who feel political correctness limits us as a nation, as well as those on the far-right who legitimately subscribe to the view that whites are superior to people of all other races. Even if the majority of Trump supporters aren’t racists, and indeed defend his policymaking or their vote for him as based on economic or political principles, it becomes that much more mystifying to us non-supporters why Donald Trump’s more jeered-at actions and words aren’t a bigger deal. This includes Trump’s “greatest hits” from the campaign trail, seeing as we are only a few months removed from the presidential race, not to mention the idea there is no statute of limitations on being a douchebag. How are we supposed to accept Trump’s insinuation that Mexico is a country full of drug lords and rapists? How are we supposed to ignore the belittling of Serge Kovaleski, a disabled reporter? How are we supposed to forgive and forget his callous remark that when you’re rich and famous like him you can grab women “by the pussy”? How are we supposed to tolerate the denigration of Khizr and Ghazala Khan, parents of fallen United States Army Captain Humayun Khan? How are we supposed to react positively when Trump and members of his Cabinet reject the science that illustrates the role man plays in climate change?
Speaking of adversarial tones, and to invoke that last environmentally-conscious thought, what is concerning to many Americans and what should be concerning to yet more is the apparent attack of the White House and of supportive right-wing media on facts, on freedom of the press, on science, on transparency, and on truth. President Donald Trump is flanked by flunkies like Kellyanne Conway, Sean Spicer, Sebastian Gorka, Stephen Bannon, and Stephen Miller who defend his ranting and raving on Twitter; deny past statements made by the President despite recorded, verifiable proof; excuse his putting forth of opinions based on false or misleading statistics; flout ethics rules and standards of journalistic integrity; hand-pick members of the press and news organizations who are favorable to Trump to ask questions during press conferences and even to attend certain events; intimidate dissenters and intimate reprisals for those who criticize and challenge their credentials; make up events such as the Bowling Green Massacre, misdirect or refuse to answer direct questions from reporters; and suggest “alternative facts.” They lie constantly, and even go as far to depict the mainstream media as the “enemy of the people,” a sentiment so reprehensible it caused Chris Wallace of FOX freaking News to come to Barack Obama’s defense, saying even he never called them an enemy. This is the kind of behavior we’d expect out of Nazi Germany or even Vladimir Putin’s Russia, not the United States of America.
As for Putin and Russia, that members of the Trump administration, the Trump campaign, the Trump Organization, and even President Trump may—may!—be compromised by their ties to Russian interests should concern all Americans. Along these lines, why shouldn’t we be allowed to see for ourselves to make sure? What exactly happened that provoked the resignation of Michael Flynn, and if it were known about his transgression in speaking to Russian officials even earlier, why did he have to resign at all? That is, why wasn’t he removed from his post then and there? Why are we more concerned with the size of electoral victories and Inauguration Ceremonies than the breadth of Russian interference in our elections and hacking into the Democratic National Committee’s communications and the affairs of other citizens? Why are we so intent on lifting sanctions on Russia and, in the process, disregarding the reports from our own intelligence community? And for f**k’s sake, what is in your tax returns that you don’t want to show the world, as other Presidents before you have done? If there’s nothing to hide, why not, in the name of transparency, turn over all the cards? For someone who demanded accountability for Hillary Clinton concerning her E-mails and for Benghazi, and who helped spearhead an absurd campaign to prove Barack Obama was secretly born in another country, and likely would have done for Ted Cruz if he had somehow captured the Republican Party nomination, the hypocrisy speaks volumes—and by now, none of us should be surprised to hear it.
The totality of this trampling of individual liberties and American interests for the sake of one man’s vanity, alongside the collective failure of Republican lawmakers to condemn Donald Trump and to stand against his excesses, as well as the abandonment of the working class by the Democratic Party for the sake of corporate and wealthy donors, and the unwillingness of pillars of the media to stand with one another and to stand up to Trump rather than to simply seek out a boost to ratings and website clicks—all this in no uncertain terms and to be quite frank makes me embarrassed to be an American right now. I know I’m not alone in these feelings of shame, either. Going back to the analysis of our friend Philip Bump, according to recent polling by McClatchy-Marist and Quinnipiac University, a majority of Americans are embarrassed by Donald Trump as President.
Granted, there is a large partisan divide on this question—while 58% report feelings of embarrassment overall, Democrats really push the average up; a similar majority of Republicans, though not quite to the extent Democratic respondents report being embarrassed, say they feel “proud” of the job Trump is doing (independents, in case you wondering, by slightly more than the poll average are embarrassed by Trump). It’s still early in Trump’s tenure, mind you, and there’s a chance that voters for the two major parties are more likely to hew closer to center as we go along. By the same token, however, they could just as well become more and more entrenched in their views. If nothing else, this underscores the profundity of the aforementioned cultural divide—and the magnitude of the effort needed by Democrats and members of the Resistance to defeat Donald Trump, congressional Republicans, and other down-ticket members of the GOP. For progressives, simply replacing establishment Republicans with mainstream Democrats may not even be enough.
I already concede my readership is limited, and thus, the likelihood of any Trump supporters reading this blog is slim to none. Nonetheless, in closing out this piece, my final considerations have this audience in mind. First, let me say something on the subject of criticism. I am critical of Donald Trump in this post, as I have been leading up to the election and ever since. By and large, these are not personal attacks, and at any rate, disagreeing with the President based on the issues and calling him out when we believe something he says or Tweets to be false is OK. In fact, it’s one of the hallmarks of a healthy democracy. Our elected leaders are people, not gods, or even the supposedly infallible Pope. They are prone to error, if not deliberately misleading statements. Disagreeing with them doesn’t make you any less patriotic or mean you don’t love America, as was the case if and when you decried Barack Obama for any and all he didn’t do during his two terms. Nor does it make the press the enemy of our people. It is in the American tradition to stand up to authority when we deem it worthy. Sure, you may deride me as a crybaby liberal snowflake and tell me to move to Canada, but by criticizing my ability to criticize, you’re flying your American flag right in the face of what it means to be a free person in the United States. Besides, you may scoff about people leaving the country, but even if they don’t leave, foreign nationals from countries not affected by the travel ban likely will start to refuse to come here. Great—you’re thinking—keep them over there! Right, except for the idea foreign nationals who come to live, study, and work here are vital to the U.S. economy. According to the Economic Policy Institute, from the period between 2009 and 2011, immigrants’ share of the country’s economic output was 14.7%, larger than their share of the population. That’s no small potatoes, and just one reason why a climate in this nation that immigrants and concerned citizens alike feel is inhospitable is dangerous for the United States of America.
The other message I have for Trump supporters, if you’re listening, is that though some of us may resist against the President, his advisers, his Cabinet, and Republican leadership, we don’t hate you. We want you as part of a unified United States, as redundant as that sounds, and we certainly will need you if we are to elect people who we feel will be better representatives for their constituents two and four years from now. That’s why I encourage you, in earnest, to think about what President Donald Trump has done, is doing, and will do for you. Forget about other people if you need to—even though that isn’t exactly encouraged. As noted earlier in this piece, Trump has made a lot of promises. Politicians usually do, even if he doesn’t consider himself one. But he’s the President now, and he should be held accountable for what he says and does. If all his talk ends up being just that, and you find your life and that of others’ lives around you hasn’t dramatically improved, remember what I and others have said. And get angry—angry enough to do something about it. Like, contacting your senators and representatives angry. Not so much shooting up the place angry.
With each story of undocumented immigrant parents ripped away from their children, headstones being toppled over at Jewish cemeteries, and violence and insults directed at our Muslim brethren, scores of conscientious Americans and I are angered, saddened, and—yes—embarrassed about what is happening in our country. We may love America deep down, but that doesn’t mean we necessarily love everything about it, nor should we be expected to. And while we all bear some level of culpability, chief among us members of the Democratic and Republican Parties and the media, let us not exonerate our Commander-in-Chief. In fact, we should hold him to a higher standard, as we have done with the previous 44 holders of his office. This is not Donald Trump’s America, or that of any one person. It is all of ours, and anyone who would elevate himself above that equality written about by our Founding Fathers should be embarrassed in his or her own right.
We had the 2016 presidential election, which sucked. We talked about why the 2016 election sucked. (Short answer: because the candidates both sucked and half the country made a stupid choice.) We’ve discussed just how much it’s going to suck should what we think what is going to happen actually comes to fruition. Therefore, in contemplating just how profound the suckitude, if you will, will prove, we have put the election behind us and are ready to move on and steel ourselves for the politics of the years to come. Right?
Not so fast. By now, most of us get the gist of what went down but a few weeks ago both in terms of the Electoral College and the popular vote. Concerning the former, which is what counts given our current system, Donald Trump carried Election Night. His 306 electoral votes, ahem, trump Hillary Clinton’s 232, an advantage secured by winning 30 states to his rival’s 20. Conversely, with respect to the latter, Clinton had the better showing; as of this writing, over 125 million votes have been counted, and her tally of 64.8 million bests Trump’s figure of 62.5 million, more than 2 million more. Percentage-wise, it’s still close—Hillary captured about 48.0% of the vote to Trump’s 46.3%—but no matter how you slice it, the woman of 1,000 pantsuits won the popular vote. You can’t take away the historic nature of her nomination as the Democratic Party nominee for President of these United States, and you can’t act as if, to borrow a Trump-ism, Hillary Clinton got “schlonged” in the general election.
These realities of the election seem pretty much ironclad. So what’s the lingering preoccupation with the results, especially on the part of people who supported and/or voted for Hillary? Aren’t they just kidding themselves, living in a state of denial? While on some level this may be the case, to be fair, some of the outcomes of individual states were close contests. Like, really close. In Michigan, for example, Donald Trump captured 16 electoral votes on the strength of a margin of victory of less than 10,000 votes, a difference of only about two-tenths of a percent. In Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, too, a divide of only about 1% separates who won and who lost, with the victor (Trump) earning 10 or more electoral votes despite the slim advantage. Noting these narrow wins, which would appear to fall within some sort of margin of error, it wouldn’t be outrageous to think that error alone could have swayed the results in one candidate’s favor. Or, perhaps something more nefarious.
If only there were some way to verify whether or not the purported vote totals in key states are accurate, or at least more accurate than previously determined. Oh, wait—there is. It’s called a recount. As in counting again. When the tallies are this close between candidates, it’s not only advisable to effect a re-running of the ballots through the machine, but one might argue it should be necessary. If the results in swing states and other close contests are enough to potentially sway the election, shouldn’t it be incumbent upon the powers-that-be in these jurisdictions to revisit the vote counts for the peace of mind of the electorate as well as their own sense of self-respect for wanting to do their jobs correctly? Suppose a county clerk in one of these states went rogue and inserted the ballots of 20,000 dead people and fictional characters for his or her candidate of choice. If Darth Vader and Kylo Ren voted for Donald Trump in Lancaster County, PA (they totally would vote Trump if given the choice, by the way—you know they would), I, as a voter from this area, would want to know as much. From what we know of history, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that local voting officials might try to game the results coming out of their district.
This last scenario speaks to more than just the possibility of error in the processing of people’s ballots, but in line with the idea of something more “nefarious” happening, electoral fraud occurring within the 2016 election. Now, with all due respect, even during the primary season, reports of fraud and voter disenfranchisement were rampant on the Internet and social media. Anecdotally, I observed a number of Bernie Sanders supporters/political conspiracy theorists indiscriminately hurling around accusations that Hillary Clinton’s campaign and its friends in high places were rigging the electoral process in her favor. With yet more due respect, as Wikileaks has helped convey, the Clinton campaign, the Democratic National Committee, and members of the news media were more than a little chummy with one another, and especially on the part of the DNC, deliberately operated and spoke against the Sanders campaign. Within the specific sphere of influence of primary voting, however, a lot of these reports are, if not unfounded, then otherwise unproven. As much as I might be loath to admit it, Hillary Clinton fairly easily outpaced Bernie Sanders in the Democratic Party primaries, and even if independent voters were allowed to cast ballots for one of the two in these party primaries (many states did not permit this), Clinton likely still would’ve come out ahead. Of course, we’ll never know for sure what would’ve happened had Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and Co. not acted so conspiratorially and/or undeclared voters had been given an authentic voice, but let’s not act as if fraud completely got her the nomination.
With all this in mind, though, let’s also not completely negate the possibility that something underhanded occurred with respect to voting in one or more key regions, and furthermore, that those instrumental in influencing American votes were based outside the United States. While Hillary Clinton and her campaign were awfully quick to throw out the specter of Russia as a deleterious force in our electoral process (that is, while the Russians were likely behind hacks of the Democratic National Committee which led to the Wikileaks DNC E-mail dump, they didn’t coerce the officials represented in those messages to say the disagreeable shit they did), at the same, we shouldn’t consider it impossible that skilled Russian operatives could hack the software used in our voting machines. J. Alex Halderman, professor of computer science at the University of Michigan, recently wrote a piece about this very hypothetical scenario.
As Halderman reasons, Russia has already been asserted by multiple government agencies to be behind hacks of the DNC and the E-mail of John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign chairman, as well as voter registration systems in Arizona and Illinois, not to mention the vote-counting infrastructure in Ukraine during its 2014 presidential election, almost causing the wrong winner to be announced completely. What’s more, as Prof. Halderman cites, we’ve been able to hack our own machines. Princeton professor Andrew Appel was able to do it with the help of graduate students—Halderman himself being one of them. J. Alex Halderman is reasonably certain he and his own grad students at Michigan could pull off the same caper, and with numerous states reading ballots using machines with severely-outmoded software, lacking the resources or perhaps the urgency to update what they have, the risk is all the more widespread. The solution, as Halderman and election security experts reason, seems counter-intuitively old-fashioned, but nonetheless may yet prove more effective in deterring fraud: checking the paper trail. To quote the Professor:
I know I may sound like a Luddite for saying so, but most election security experts are with me on this: paper ballots are the best available technology for casting votes. We use two main kinds of paper systems in different parts of the U.S. Either voters fill out a ballot paper that gets scanned into a computer for counting (optical scan voting), or they vote on a computer that counts the vote and prints a record on a piece of paper (called a voter-verifiable paper audit trail). Either way, the paper creates a record of the vote that can’t be later modified by any bugs, misconfiguration, or malicious software that might have infected the machines.
After the election, human beings can examine the paper to make sure the results from the voting machines accurately determined who won. Just as you want the brakes in your car to keep working even if the car’s computer goes haywire, accurate vote counts must remain available even if the machines are malfunctioning or attacked. In both cases, common sense tells us we need some kind of physical backup system. I and other election security experts have been advocating for paper ballots for years, and today, about 70% of American voters live in jurisdictions that keep a paper record of every vote.
To interpret what J. Alex Halderman is saying for my own purposes, maybe voting and the necessity of paper ballots is something with which we shouldn’t f**k around. Additionally, maybe—just maybe—we should check these records in the event of an inquiry, because these matters of choosing a president are kind of a big deal.
So, about this whole idea of a recount now. We know where we might opt for to revisit the tallies for each candidate. We know why it might be prudent to go ahead with such an electoral review. We even know who might be hacking our dadgum machines. How do we make a recount reality? Just ask Jill Stein. Wait, the Green Party presidential candidate? One and the same, reader, one and the same. As someone who voted for Stein in the general election knowing full well she wouldn’t win, it’s vaguely amusing to see opinions of her change now that she has been instrumental in fundraising and otherwise spearheading a campaign for a recount in the pivotal states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. For some voters, opinions aren’t really changing, but rather are being formed in the first place, as there’s a good chance they had no idea Jill Stein was the Green Party representative, or a representative for any party, for that matter. For the Democratic Party voters who dismissed Stein as a lightweight candidate and annoyance as a potential spoiler for Hillary Clinton’s hopes to become the United States’ first female President, many are likely regarding her with a newfound sense of appreciation, and at any rate, probably figure it’s the least she could do after taking votes from their candidate.
But about her supporters and those within the Green Party ranks? Daniel Marans, writing for Huffington Post, helps to map out the tangled web of approval and disapproval that has met Jill Stein in her quest for a three-state recount, and concerning the Green Party, Stein’s choice to challenge results in these states and primarily for the benefit of Democrats, at that, has these Green Partiers, ahem, seeing red. So, what’s got Jill’s critics up in arms? Let’s review the charges, if you will:
1. The recount doesn’t help Green Party in its efforts to build and grow.
Right, although this is the beginning of December, the election just happened, and the window to file a recount is tighter than Chris Christie in skinny jeans. One jurisdiction Marans cites in the article that Green Party brass would rather Jill Stein focus on is Texas, where a Green Party candidate almost captured the 5% of the vote to keep the party on the ballot for the 2018 midterm elections in the state. On one hand, I am sympathetic to the cause of Andrea Merida Cuellar, party co-chair, and others who feel this is an important battle to be fought for the sake of the Green Party’s initiatives and values. On the other hand, however, Stein, as the face of the party, is generating publicity for their movement, even if she happens to be “serving the interests” of Democrats in doing so. In the big picture, Stein may be doing more good for third parties than her supporters otherwise might think.
2. There are more pressing issues facing election integrity in this country.
From a purist’s standpoint, yes, there are serious problems facing the electoral process in the United States. As Kevin Zeese, adviser to Jill Stein’s campaign, notes, issues with voter registration and the prevention of people voting are pressing concerns, the kind that tends to get glossed over in the winner-takes-all format of the Electoral College. Still, Zeese and other like-minded critics behave as if these concerns are the likes of which can be quickly resolved, or that by raising support for a recount, these other pursuits will be done irreparable damage. America’s electoral system is indeed riddled with flaws, but they will not be solved overnight, and it is not as if calls for a recount do not expose additional liabilities of individual state systems.
3. If the recount is not done manually, inherent inadequacies of our electoral system will be not exposed.
It seems kind of silly that a “recount” of the balloting in key states would involve anything other than a by-hand review of the tallies for each candidate, but yet that is what is being contemplated in Wisconsin, for one, where a judge ruled that Jill Stein’s campaign could not compel the state’s 72 counties to actually count their ballots, though Daniel Marans’ Huffington Post piece notes that a majority voluntarily obliged anyhow. Otherwise, though, what would suffice as a recount would be merely re-running the votes through the machines and seeing if anything else comes out. Presumably, this could turn a spotlight on any attempts at computer fraud or external hacking, but it still seems just as likely that this would provide little solace or new information. As far as Stein is concerned, though, as with votes for the Green Party, she’ll probably take what she can get.
4. Depending on the level of Democratic Party involvement in the recount, the integrity of the results might be doubtful.
Merely petitioning for a recount, an act which might benefit Democrats, has raised suspicion among Green Party activists. Throw in the fact that Jill Stein’s representation for the sake of the recount in Michigan, Mark Brewer, was once chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party, and you can understand from the appearance of things why independents and party supporters might be upset. Especially in the minds of progressives, neither the Democratic Party nor the Republican Party are particularly trustworthy institutions right now. That said, I think a good part of the antipathy to Stein’s mission for multiple recounts is that she apparently decided to crowd-fund and solicit the recount petitions in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin of her own volition—that is, without consulting Green Party leadership. Jill Stein is a bit of a political neophyte still, and it’s very possible she didn’t think she had to let anyone know first. From the gist of Marans’ report, though, Green Party die-hards aren’t real happy with her decision, and this could be the beginning of the end for Stein as the face of the party. It’s never easy to serve in such a role, is it?
At this writing, Wisconsin’s recount is ongoing, though Trump supporters have filed a lawsuit and request for a temporary restraining order in federal court in hopes of bringing it to a stop. Donald Trump’s camp and the Pennsylvania Republican Party have also asked a court to dismiss a recount request in Pennsylvania, where Trump’s lead has shrunk from 1% to 0.8% as some of the final votes in some counties have come in. And in Michigan, a request to prevent a recount was issued by—guess who—Donald Trump supporters, but with the state elections board vote ending in a deadlock, the case will proceed later next week unless a forthcoming court order supersedes this result. The common theme with these individual state recounts, viewed through the lens of opposition to them, obviously is that the Trump campaign and his followers really, really don’t want any recounts to occur. The reason behind this is likewise painfully clear: President-Elect Trump has everything to lose from a challenge to the results of the votes already tabulated, having secured enough electoral votes to garner victory. Bested by more than 2 million votes in the popular vote, and with potentially less than a percentage point separating the winner and loser in valuable swing states, there is sufficient reason for concern on his point. Anytime a candidate fails to win a convincing majority, I feel there should be at least some concern that a recount could produce a materially different outcome.
Jill Stein, for her part, has averred that she is asking for a recount with the best intentions. That is, she only wishes to confirm the integrity of the results—not anticipating a meaningful change in the counts already observed—and is not soliciting a review of the tallied ballots to curry favor with the Democratic Party or anything of that nature. Indeed, even with her penchant for conspiracy-theory-type disbelief of what the mainstream media tells us, she is not the one who has cast the most doubt on the veracity of the American electoral process this cycle. No, in his usual baffling, counterproductive style, it is Donald Trump himself who has cast aspersions on the fidelity of the counts thus recorded. As noted, Trump has everything to lose from challenges to the totals in key states, having captured the win with narrow margins in a few of them.
But, lo, it his losing the popular vote which has truly set him off. The self-centered egotist that he is, Trump has built his legacy on the iconography of being a “winner”—of course, with a healthy heaping of helping from his father, as well as his evident ability to lie, cheat and steal his way to greater fortune—such that winning the presidency is not good enough for him, apparently. Indeed, losing the popular vote has stuck in Mr. Trump’s craw, to the extent he has challenged the results in his own grouping of states, and most reprehensibly, says he would have won if not for the “millions of people who voted illegally.” He’s not saying it directly, but you know he’s saying it in a way for his faithful to interpret in such a way: he’s accusing undocumented immigrants of voting for Hillary Clinton. Non-citizens, as we know, are unable to vote in presidential elections, and to wit, election officials and reporting news media outlets have found no evidence that such widespread fraud occurred in the 2016 election. What’s more, to have millions of people voting illegally for the same candidate suggests collusion on the part of Democrats. It’s believable enough for the crackpots among us, but reckless as f**k otherwise. It’s not like this is the first time we’ve heard this charge from the man, either. Even before Election Day, Donald Trump preemptively insinuated the election would be proven as “rigged” if he lost the state of Pennsylvania. He still might, mind you, but why even invite this allegation for a specific state? To your non-supporters, it only makes you seem more suspicious. What can you say, though? Dude’s worse than a sore loser—he’s a sore winner.
Whatever you call him, insinuations of this sort are a dick move on Trump’s part, as the American people’s flagging confidence in politicians and voting doesn’t need any more grease to help it along a downward path. According to this article by Daniel S. Levine on Heavy.com, an estimated 57.9% of eligible voters voted in the 2016 presidential election. That’s better than half, but still low by international standards. Moreover, according to survey information, even fewer have deep and abiding confidence in the electoral process as a whole. In a Pew Research report authored by researchers Betsy Cooper, Daniel Cox, Rachel Lienesch, and Robert P. Jones and published less than a month before Election Day, 43% of the individuals surveyed said they had great confidence that their vote would be counted accurately, and a significant gap was found between the confidence of intended Clinton voters and Trump supporters—with those riding the Trump Train pulling down the overall average. Donald Trump isn’t just casting a single line in the hopes of eroding public confidence in the electoral process—he’s chumming the water. And a significant portion of Americans, like sharks smelling blood, are eating it up. This would be fine if it were Shark Week, but it’s not, and this country doesn’t need help in fomenting its innermost fears. I mean, if Trump said snakes and spiders were attacking Americans on the regular and thus presented a present danger to the United States, I tend to believe too many of us would have clubs and tissues on hand, ready to bludgeon and squish these creatures in a spirit of bloodlust and wanton destruction. As far as many of us are concerned, it’s a scary time, politically speaking, in this country.
Now that I’ve mentioned sharks and snakes and spiders, you may be dredging up all sorts of personal nightmares, so let’s bring this discussion back to its central thrust. Should we have a recount in crucial swing states? Sure, it couldn’t hurt, and if we are really concerned about pervasive fraud, we should encourage such examinations of the accuracy of the vote, right, Mr. Trump? What does Jill Stein’s involvement in recount efforts mean for the future of the Green Party? I don’t know, but all the pissing and moaning about potentially helping the Democratic Party’s cause seems rather short-sighted. We get it—major parties are not to be trusted—but occasionally, the interests of both parties do coincide, especially when Donald Trump is up to no good. What do we make of Trump’s ranting and raving about millions of people voting illegally? Quite frankly, very little, and once again, it’s upsetting the mainstream media is not more vocal in denouncing his false claims. For an institution like the news media, you would think they would understand the importance of maintaining and bolstering public confidence when they have faced their own difficulties in attracting and keeping customers, but as usual, the lure of short-term ratings numbers are evidently too much to ignore. Finally, where does all this leave us? As with the future of the Green Party, one can’t tell for sure, but one thing is certain: though a winner has been called, the 2016 presidential election is far from over. Unfortunately.
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.
We’re roughly two weeks away from the general election, and I, for one, can’t wait for it all to be over. I know—this could bring us closer to Donald Trump winning, and this would be my least preferable scenario. Still, the whole process has been an ugly one, no matter what side you support (or even if you support a side; I’m voting for Jill Stein, even if she has issues with understanding how quantitative easing works). I am, as a function of wanting to vote for Bernie Sanders in the New Jersey state Democratic Party primary, a registered Democrat, and have donated to Sanders’ campaign prior to its suspension, as well as his new fledgling progressive-minded organization Our Revolution.
Between my newfound party affiliation and Bernie lending his support to Hillary Clinton, I can only think it was between these two sources that Hillary, the Dems and her campaign got access to my E-mail address. The result? The other day, following the final presidential debate, I counted, out of my 50 most recent messages, how many were from HRC or HillaryClinton.com. There were 21 of them—42%. That’s approximately two of every five E-mails. Factor in pleas from Barack and Michelle Obama, and we’re over the 50% mark. If these messages were sent in any other context, and perhaps if there were not the perceived threat of the worst presidential candidate in modern history hanging over our heads, I would consider this harassment.
Speaking of the last presidential debate, if you follow me on Facebook (hint, hint, follow me on Facebook), you’ll know I didn’t watch it. It’s not even because I’m refusing to vote for either candidate—it’s because these affairs have been brutal to watch since the start of the whole presidential campaign, to be honest, and I’m sure many of you share this belief. Reading the transcript, here’s the briefest summary I can give (note: I am not know for my brevity) for the topics they discussed:
Supreme Court justice nomination
Wait, didn’t Barack Obama already nominate Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court? Oh, that’s right, Mitch McConnell and other douchebag Republicans have refused to hear him. So, Chris Wallace of Fox News fame posed the first round of questions for the night on this subject, and how the Constitution should be interpreted by the Court. Hillary Clinton, as is her style, more or less pandered to any group who would listen sympathetic to liberal/progressive causes, throwing in the decisions in Citizens United and Roe v. Wade in for effect. Donald Trump, meanwhile, after whining about Ruth Bader Ginsburg a.k.a. the Notorious RBG going in on him, affirmed his commitment to being a pro-life candidate and to upholding the sanctity of the Second Amendment.
In his follow-up, Wallace first asked Clinton to respond to this reference to guns and gun control, in doing so, invoking the 2008 Supreme Court ruling in District Columbia v. Heller which stated that Second Amendment protections apply to handgun ownership, including for the purpose of self-defense. HRC opined that she supports the Second Amendment, but that she favors restrictions on gun ownership. For our children. Cue the emotional-sounding music. As for Trump, Chris Wallace addressed his stance on abortion and reproductive rights, pressing the GOP nominee for specifics on how he would advocate the Supreme Court handles such matters and whether or not he would call for a reversal of Roe v. Wade. Taking a page out of his standard playbook concerning answering questions on concrete policy points, Donald Trump, unsurprisingly, deferred on this matter, saying if overturned, the matter would go to the states, and refusing to comment on whether or not he would like to see Roe v. Wade reversed. That’s right, Donald. Squirm like a fetus in the womb anytime someone tries to nail you down on substance.
Ever opportunistic, Hillary Clinton seized on Trump’s past and present comments on women’s right to an abortion like an evangelical attacking a Planned Parenthood supporter. Without being asked, she criticized her opponent for suggesting he would de-fund PP and would punish women for terminating their presidencies. Chris Wallace then queried the Democratic Party nominee more pointedly on whether or not the fetus has constitutional rights and why she supports late-term partial birth abortions. And Hillary was all, like, BECAUSE IT’S 2016 AND IT’S A WOMAN’S RIGHT TO CHOOSE WHAT SHE DOES WITH HER OWN F**KING BODY. Except she was, um, more politically correct in her answer. That emphasis is mine. And I mean every word. Including the f**k part.
Donald Trump, by the by, when also prompted about this subject, in particular, late-term partial birth abortions, replied that he was absolutely not OK with tearing the baby out of the womb “in the ninth month, on the final day.” But this implies that ending pregnancies in the final trimester is a common practice, when statistics indicate this practice is more rare. To Clinton’s credit, she denounced Trump’s talk as “scare rhetoric” and “unfortunate.” Which it is. If there’s one thing Donald Trump likes, beside suing people, it’s scaring the hell out of them.
And invariably, the candidates had to talk about immigration. Bleh. I bleh because we already know where there is going for Donald Trump. Amnesty is a disaster. We need strong borders. People are getting killed all over the country by illegal immigrants. Drugs are pouring in. The Border Patrol endorsed me. Talk about scaring the hell out of people. Although I might also bleh with respect to Hillary Clinton. Not because she favors amnesty. Or that she pointed out the idea “rounding up” undocumented immigrants and deporting them is unfeasible. Or that she vows to introduce comprehensive immigration reform in her first 100 days. It’s that she leads with a story about “Carla,” a woman from Las Vegas who’s worried her parents will be deported because they immigrated illegally. Do people actually get swayed by these personal stories brought up in the context of debates? What about my friend Emilio who immigrated illegally from Costa Rica, works three jobs, and once saved a school bus full of children from careening off a cliff? I just made him up, but how would you know for sure unless I told you?
The two candidates then squabbled about whether or not Donald Trump’s trip to Mexico was a success (it pretty much was a disaster), whether or not Hillary has supported border security or a wall (she supported a fence), and whether or not, under Clinton’s plan, you would have open borders or a continuation of Obama’s legacy of deportation (hard to say, but why weren’t the candidates asked more about this?). Also, Trump used the word “bigly.” I think. Or was it “big-league.” This is probably the biggest debate within the debate, and either way, the man who uttered it sounds like an idiot. Even if bigly is, apparently, a word.
This is where the debate started to veer off into the realm of the childish. The rancor between the two candidates was set off in this instance by Chris Wallace’s question about a quote from Hillary Clinton from a speech given to a Brazilian bank for which she was paid $225,000 and in which she uttered the line, “My dream is a hemispheric common market with open trade and open borders.” Clinton asserted she was talking about energy in that case, an excerpt from a speech which was made known through a Wikileaks release, and then quickly pivoted to the idea Russian hacks have made this information possible. Taking this line of discourse and running with it, she connected the dots, as many have, to Vladimir Putin deliberately trying to influence the results of the U.S. presidential election, and went on the offensive against Donald Trump, lambasting him for not condemning the attacks and actually encouraging hacks against her and the Democratic National Committee.
Because the name “Putin” out of HRC’s mouth is apparently a trigger word for him, this started Trump frothing at the mouth about how she, the “17 intelligence agencies” she cited, or anyone else in America could know for sure whether it was Russia, China, or Elliot Alderson behind the hacks. Then Hillary said she wasn’t quoting herself. Then Donald said she had no idea, and that she only hated Vladimir Putin because she had outsmarted her “every step of the way” in Syria. Then Chris Wallace tried to intervene and point out that, you know, it probably was the Russians who did it. Then Donald Trump said he and Putin were totes not friends, and that Russia is building warheads and we aren’t, and that is soooooo not cool. Then Hillary Clinton said it’s funny you talk about nuclear weapons, Donald, because you can’t be trusted with them. Then Trump was, like, nuh-uh, I have a bajillion generals who support me—Mr. Wallace, she’s lying! Then Clinton was, like, you said it. Then Trump was, like, did not! Then Clinton, was, like, did too! Then Wallace threatened to turn the car around and go back home if the candidates did not behave themselves, and that they wouldn’t get to go to McDonald’s if they kept fighting.
Conversation about how to “fix” the American economy between Democratic and Republican candidates tends to be a study in contrasts, and in the case of Hillary Clinton’s and Donald Trump’s competing plans, so holds the model. Clinton’s agenda, as she frames it, hits on the now-firmly-established progressive Democratic Party platform goals: more jobs in infrastructure and clean energy, raising the minimum wage, equal pay for women, debt-free college, raising the corporate tax rate, etc. Put more simply by her, though, her plan is better because it’s not Donald Trump’s plan. Trump, meanwhile, shot back by saying Clinton’s scheme would significantly raise taxes for the average American. And then he complained about NATO and NAFTA, claimed he would renegotiate trade deals, and vowed to cut taxes on businesses. Because America is “dying.” So, um, yeah.
Hillary rebutted by saying that Trump’s tax plan would only add to the national debt, and that trickle-down economics marked by cutting tax rates for the wealthy haven’t worked, both of which I believe is true. Of course, when she did, she invoked her husband presiding over an economy which saw the production of a surplus—even though any president’s direct positive influence over economic affairs tends to be minimal—and played the Barack Obama card, touting his success in the face of a terrible recession despite having nothing to do with it personally, and using his track record as an unconvincing answer to Chris Wallace’s question about how she would improve upon Obama’s efforts. Thankfully for HRC and her supporters, Donald Trump’s answer to the same question was even worse. Wallace directly confronted the Republican candidate about the lack of realism in his plan, and Trump countered by once again blaming NAFTA and talking about how his opponent called the Trans-Pacific Partnership the “gold standard” in trade deals. Which is true, but that doesn’t illuminate anything new or fundamentally sound about your economic goals.
The candidates said some more things about the economy, but it was mostly self-congratulatory bullshit. I, Hillary Clinton, came out strongly against the TPP—when it was convenient for me to do so. I, Donald Trump, built a tremendous company single-handedly—with my family’s name and a million dollars of Daddy’s money. At the end of the day, it’s vaguely insulting for either of these candidates to try to insinuate they care genuinely about the middle class in this country, because they are so far removed from it they seem to lack the ability to see things from the requisite perspective. Let’s move on to the next segment before I start to lose it here.
Fitness for President
If you ask me, neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton is particularly fit for the office, but let’s give this its own recap anyhow. Trump claimed all those women who accused him of sexual advances were liars. Clinton said, “What? Not hot enough for you, Donald?” Trump said he never made disparaging comments about his accusers, and that no one has more respect for women than he does.
The audience laughed. As they should have.
Donald Trump then pivoted to Hillary’s scandals. Hillary Clinton, predictably, pivoted off Trump’s pivot, going after him for making fun of Serge Kovaleski and starting a war of words with Khizr and Ghizala Khan. Chris Wallace then steered the discussion back to alleged Clintonian misdeeds, specifically charges of “pay to play” within the Clinton Foundation while she was Secretary of State. Hillary said everything she did as Secretary of State was for the benefit of the American people. Trump and even Wallace called bullshit on that. Of course, Donald Trump tried to claim 100% of the donations to the Trump Foundation went to charitable purposes. Bullshit all over.
Hillary fired back by saying there’s no way we could know this for sure, because someone won’t release his tax returns. Trump fired back at this firing back by saying that if Clinton didn’t like him taking advantage of tax loopholes, she should have rewritten the laws. Chris Wallace then closed this round of questioning by asking Donald Trump about his claims that the election is “rigged” if he doesn’t win, and that he will accept the results of the voting regardless of the outcome.
And Trump wouldn’t. He said he’d keep us in suspense. The audience didn’t laugh. Because it’s not funny. Not at all.
Ahem, no, we’re not talking about places outside the United States where Hillary Clinton can use Wi-Fi on unencrypted devices. Chris Wallace started the segment by asking Hillary about having a plan after the removal of ISIS from Iraq and other areas in which a “vacuum” may be created by tearing shit up. A pertinent question, if you ask me, for a woman who seemingly never met a regime change she didn’t like. Hillary threw out some vague details about Iraq and Syria that communicated to the audience she knows things about the Middle East and foreign policy. Mosul this. Raqqa that. More intelligence at home. No-fly zones. Sounds good, Hill. You did your homework.
Donald Trump—ugh. Do you really think he had anything constructive to say on this topic? Whatever the case, Hillary Clinton harped on his initial support for the Iraq War. Trump was all, like, I don’t know what you’re talking about. Clinton then literally told the audience to Google “Donald Trump Iraq.” Ugh, again. Donald Trump brought in Bernie Sanders’ criticisms of Clinton’s judgment from the primary season. Hillary Clinton was all, like, well, look who’s supporting me now. Trump was all, like, shut up. Clinton was all, like, make me.
Chris Wallace then threatened to put both of these children in “time out,” and quickly moved the conversation along to Aleppo. Wallace basically called Donald Trump a liar, liar, pants on fire about past remarks he’s made about the Syrian city. That it has not fallen. That the Russians have, in fact, been bombing resistance fighters and not ISIS. Trump talked about…Iran? Hillary was then asked about the potential perils of a no-fly zone. Which she answered by commenting on the vetting of refugees and that picture of the 4-year-old with blood pouring down his face. CAN SOMEONE PLEASE DIRECTLY ANSWER A F**KING QUESTION? YOU’RE RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT! YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE TO DEAL WITH THIS KIND OF SHIT IF YOU WIN!
Finally (read: mercifully), Moderator Wallace brought the debate to the final topic of the night: the national debt which looms over the head of the United States like a cheaply-made Chinese version of a guillotine. Donald Trump was queried about why he doesn’t seem to give much of a shit about matters of this nature, because his plan economic plan sucks eggs. Trump had some sort of answer about a “tremendous machine” and negotiating trade deals again. So, yeah, it sucks eggs. Hillary Clinton said she wouldn’t add a penny to the national debt, and how she would rebuild the middle class. For families. For America. And a gentle breeze blew through her hair, while over the arena, one lone bald eagle was heard cawing. It sounded like…freedom. Or maybe that was the sound of Susan Sarandon trying not to throw up in her own mouth.
Chris Wallace closed by asking both candidates about entitlements as drivers of the national debt. Donald Trump talked about cutting taxes. Wallace replied that this wouldn’t help with entitlements, dumbass. Well, he didn’t say “dumbass,” but he probably was thinking it. Trump replied to this reply with some junk about ObamaCare. Thunk, thunk, thunk. Sorry, that’s the sound of my head hitting the wall. Hillary Clinton answered by saying that we would put more money in the Social Security Trust fund—somehow. She also took a potshot at her rival by saying her Social Security payroll contribution would likely go up, and that his would too unless he found a way to get out of it, which prompted Trump to call her a “nasty woman.” Which, not for nothing, gives HRC’s feminist supporters ammunition, because they hear “nasty woman” and think over a century of patriarchal oppression. It’s probably not how Donald Trump meant it, let me note. After all, no one has more respect for women than he does. Seriously, though, he was in all likelihood just reacting like the petulant child he is deep down.
The candidates, even though they were not asked to prepare closing statements, were nonetheless entreated by Chris Wallace to indulge him with something off the cuff. Hillary reached out to Americans of all political affiliations, and vowed to stand with families against powerful interests and corporations. Yeah, sure, Hillary. Donald Trump said we are going to rebuild our military, take care of our veterans, respect the police, fix inner cities, lift up African-Americans and Latinos, and overall, Make America Great Again. Yeah, sure, Donald. On that inspiring note, the final presidential debate was concluded. May God have mercy on all our souls.
The final presidential debate, seemingly, was focused a lot more substantively on the issues than previous forums. Unfortunately, that still didn’t necessarily mean the audience in attendance or at home got too much out of it. On one hand, you have a bloviating (good SAT word!) blockhead with few defined policy goals and little respect for other human beings. On the other hand, you have an arrogant panderer repeatedly trying to goad her opponent into personal attacks and seemingly content to take a victory lap three weeks before the general election. Indeed, from a media perspective, the three biggest takeaways from the event seemed to be: 1) “bigly,” 2) the “nasty woman” comment, and 3) that Donald Trump refused to commit to accepting the results of the election unless he won. On the third count, the liberal media was especially shocked and appalled, but at this stage, are we really that surprised? If the election is “rigged,” then you didn’t really lose, right? Except for the fact the mainstream media propped you up as your campaign gained traction for the sake of ratings, meaning you had an unfair advantage over a number of your Republican opponents during the primaries. But sure, the whole thing is rigged. Democracy is dead. Stick a fork in it.
Like I said, I’m, like, so over the presidential election, and chances are you are too. But that might not be such a bad thing. Roughly a fortnight away from the general election, I would like you to consider that come November 8, you stand to be voting on more than just the presidency, and these candidates and initiatives may have their own lasting consequences, perhaps more so than the executive office itself. First of all, let’s speak to the various referenda that will dot ballots across the United States. Numerous states this election are considering such issues as the death penalty, marijuana legalization, and the state minimum wage. These are important issues, and in the case of capital punishment, it’s quite literally a matter of life and death. And there are other referendum votes which, if you’re a liberal like myself, could be devastating if enough people don’t turn out to vote or otherwise don’t care enough to sift through the verbiage. Both Alabama and Virginia are weighing whether or not we should make unions weaker. Louisiana has a measure on the statewide ballot to decide if college boards for public colleges and universities should be able to establish tuition and fee rates without legislative approval. Going back to the idea of the minimum wage, South Dakota has a proposal for a youth “sub-minimum” wage for anyone employed under the age of 17. Not only am I against such a measure on principle, but logically speaking, how do you have something below the minimum? It’s like giving someone an F-minus. You’ve already f**king failed the person—now you’re just being a jackass on top of it.
And yes, there are implications for the U.S. Congress as well, particularly in terms of the Senate, where 34 of the 100 seats are being contested, 24 of them held by Republicans. If Democrats win enough seats—at the current breakdown of 54 Republican, 44 Democrat, and 2 independent, a net gain of six would guarantee it—they would take control. The implications of this? As Paul Ryan warned his supporters, this means the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, who is an independent and caucuses with Dems, would take the reins. In case you suffered amnesia or are too lazy to scroll to the beginning of this post, guess who that is. Yup, a guy named Bernard Sanders. As the Vox article linked above indicates, progressives have used Ryan’s warning as a rallying cry, and in the span of two days raised almost $2 million. That’s no small potatoes. While even I, as a Sanders supporter, would actually be nervous at such a situation because of Bernie’s lack of willingness to compromise at times, noting the GOP unabashedly promotes its agenda to the point it regularly plays chicken with government shutdowns, I am encouraged about having a strong voice for the American people in a position of prominence. Plus, if it pisses off Paul Ryan, I’m generally all for it.
So, yes, the presidential election is vitally important. Democrats who enthusiastically support Hillary Clinton, in particular, need to show up at the polls. Even if you hate both Clinton and Trump, though, don’t stay home. There’s more than just their names on the ballot. After all, you could always vote for a third-party candidate or write in the candidate of your choice. (Deez Nuts, anyone?) More than that, though, I’m talking about down-ticket candidates and critical ballot initiatives. Those lawmakers resisting positive change for the sake of their constituents and for the American people at large are counting on voters to be apathetic or uninformed, and to not protect their (the voters’) interests and rights. When you press the button in the voting booth on November 8, I encourage you to think of those “regressive” sorts. And when you do, use your middle finger—for me. It’s your vote. F**k ’em.