Let’s Examine the Defenses of Trump’s Anti-immigrant Order

The National Review – standing athwart history, yelling, “Build that Wall!” – has posted a defense of Trump’s executive order on its website, titled “Trump’s Executive Order on Refugees – Separating Fact From Hysteria“.  Among other things, the article states: “the order imposes a temporary, 90-day ban on people entering the U.S. from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen. These are countries either torn apart by jihadist violence or under the control of hostile, jihadist governments. The ban is in place while the Department of Homeland Security determines the “information needed from any country to adjudicate any visa, admission, or other benefit under the INA (adjudications) in order to determine that the individual seeking the benefit is who the individual claims to be and is not a security or public-safety threat.” It could, however, be extended or expanded depending on whether countries are capable of providing the requested information. The ban, however, contains an important exception: “Secretaries of State and Homeland Security may, on a case-by-case basis, and when in the national interest, issue visas or other immigration benefits to nationals of countries for which visas and benefits are otherwise blocked.” In other words, the secretaries can make exceptions — a provision that would, one hopes, fully allow interpreters and other proven allies to enter the U.S. during the 90-day period. To the extent this ban applies to new immigrant and non-immigrant entry, this temporary halt (with exceptions) is wise. We know that terrorists are trying to infiltrate the ranks of refugees and other visitors. We know that immigrants from Somalia, for example, have launched jihadist attacks here at home and have sought to leave the U.S. to join ISIS.

Except:

The rumors of Somali terrorists have not borne out. However, the terrorists who did attack us on 9-11 were from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, and these countries are conspicuously not on Trump’s executive order. Not coincidentally, these countries, along with Turkey, are among several countries where Trump has business dealings and are also not on Trump’s executive order.

The secretary of DHS has not issued any exceptions to the executive order.

The order affects legal residents with green cards– who presumably had thus been vetted.  It is literally as I write that it was announced that the policy does not apply to green card holders, even though a DHS spokesperson had said they would need additional vetting.

The order has been described as giving priority to Christians. Except that among those sent back were Syrian Christian refugees.

And Trump’s defenders, including the National Review, insist that the order is NOT a “Muslim ban.” How do we know this? Because when invited to Jeanne Pirro’s Fox News show, Rudolph Guiliani said  “OK. I’ll tell you the whole history of it. So when he first announced it he said “Muslim ban.” He called me up and said, “put a commission together, show me the right way to do it legally.” I put a commission together with Judge Mukasey, with Congressman McCaul, Pete King, a whole group of other very expert lawyers on this. And what we did was we focused on, instead of religion, danger. The areas of the world that create danger for us. Which is a factual basis. Not a religious basis. Perfectly legal, perfectly sensible, and that’s what the ban is based on. It’s not based on religion. It’s based on places where there are substantial evidence that people are sending terrorists into our country.  ”

See? Not the same.

As Vox reporter Dana Lind put it,  “The best argument the Trump administration has in response is that the executive order doesn’t do anything to single out Muslims — it bans people based on nationality, and the vast majority of Muslims don’t live in the seven countries singled out. (The administration has implied that it will exempt Christians from those countries, but that’s not happening in all cases.) It’s going to be much harder to make that argument when there’s a quote, in the public record, from someone claiming to have been involved in developing the policy, all but saying that the intention of it was to ban Muslims — but in a way they could sneak past a judge. In fairness, Giuliani does emphasize that the way to “legally” ban Muslims is to ignore religion and focus on “danger” instead. But in order for the government to argue in court that that’s what the executive order does, it’s essentially going to have to argue that even though the president wanted to violate the Constitution, he was successfully prevented from doing so. That’s a trickier argument than just saying he wasn’t trying to violate the Constitution at all. ”

Something else must also be brought up in all this. Some apologists have brought up the point that nowhere in Trump’s order does it specify countries except for Syria. The press had been reporting bans from seven specific countries: Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. This was in accordance with existing Obama Administration protocol from 2015 and 2016.  (Of course most conservative critics who point this out are the same ones howling and screaming about the increased number of Syrians Obama let in before leaving office. But I digress.)

This Obama Administration action is quite real. And on this page, I have brought up  articles mentioning concerns from both libertarians and liberals about how it is a matter of concern that even a relatively progressive administration was willing to undertake actions that can undermine the rule of law, and are now a matter of concern when a non-liberal is in charge. The main reason legal opposition can be raised to Trump’s maneuver is because, according to Vox,  “Steve Bannon is the chief White House strategist and former Breitbart chief, while Stephen Miller is a former Jeff Sessions aide who now serves as the top policy aide in Trump’s White House. And according to this report it is the two of them — Trump’s “two Steves,” as he calls them — who are deciding how this executive order text should be interpreted, and holding the fates of hundreds of thousands of green card holders in their hands.  CNN also reports that the Homeland Security Secretary and his department’s leadership only “saw the final details shortly before the order was finalized.” The White House didn’t seek feedback from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel — usually an ordinary part of the process — either.”

The reporter also implies that the Homeland Security Secretary was not asked for input. This is what happens when you only trust your legal decisions to people whose previous resume entries consisted of “Local Zoo, responsibilities: scratching balls and flinging feces.”

But it also means that such legal justification that does exist for the order was only possible because of previous officials who DID know how to do their jobs. All this is why libertarians (and others who are suspicious of government even when their ‘team’ is in charge) have been criticizing the real and disturbing power grabs by both parties, especially as the “War on Terror” becomes a permanent government posture. This case is a concrete example of that very point. As I said recently, “Donald Trump has neither the intellect nor the political grounding to formulate policy himself, and neither do most of his plutocratic supporters/Cabinet members. Apologists might argue that such unscrupulous people would seize power regardless, but Democrats, specifically Obama, made it that much easier for them by initiating expansions of the state – when they were not approving them under George W. Bush.”

The bad news is that it seems that after only nine days, Trump and his team really do want to create a fascist dictatorship. The good news is that so far Trump seems to be just as incompetent at that as he was at running Atlantic City casinos. The REAL bad news is that it may not matter, because there is now an institutional trend towards giving the executive power carte blanche, which Trump is counting on, and even if most of the country and its legal institutions are now on to him, it may not be enough.

The Trump Administration has already passed the point where supporting it amounts to active opposition to the principles of American government. And since the Administration IS the government, that means that those who want to support the government are going to have to make some hard choices.

 

Alt-Facts

The very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common. They don’t alter their views to fit the facts. They alter the facts to fit their views, which can be uncomfortable if you happen to be one of the facts that needs altering.

-Doctor Who, “The Face of Evil”

Well, it’s only been one week in the reign of King Donnie, First of His Name, and prior to all the stupid shit that happened just on Saturday January 28, the Trump Administration became noteworthy for a set of events that happened in the wake of Donald Trump’s inauguration, starting with the fact that his speech was  written by either special advisor Steve Bannon or Walter Kovacs.  But after the speech, the press reported, in accordance with aerial photographs and other evidence such as Washington Metro subway passenger figures, that attendance at the 2017 inaugural was considerably less than attendance at Barack Obama’s 2009 inaugural ceremony. In response to media feedback, White House press secretary Sean Spicer, at his first press briefing, insisted to the media that Trump’s inaugural was the “largest audience ever to witness an inauguration – period”. The day after that, Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway appeared for an interview with Chuck Todd on NBC’s Meet The Press, and not only insisted that “there’s no way to really quantify crowds” but when Todd insisted that Spicer’s claim was a “provable falsehood”, Conway responded, “Don’t be so overly dramatic about it, Chuck. You’re saying it’s a falsehood, and … our press secretary, Sean Spicer, gave alternative facts to that.” To his credit, Todd stated what had been obvious before Trump ran for president: “Alternative facts are not facts.  They are falsehoods.”

The Trump Administration’s blatant confrontation of the press when corrected is of a piece with their antagonistic relationship to the rest of the Washington establishment. On Saturday January 28, while everyone was screaming about Trump banning legal immigrants from Middle East countries and sparking a confrontation with a New York court that suspended his executive order on a national basis,  it was less reported that on the same day, Trump signed an executive order rearranging the National Security Council so that his “chief strategist” Steve Bannon would be included along with National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, while excluding the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Director of National Intelligence. Bannon is the same guy who publicly stated that “the media here is the opposition party.”  All of this was parallel to the hostility Trump expressed toward the CIA when evidence kept piling up about Russian partisanship in the 2016 election.

In some respect this is all typical of the modern “conservative” contempt for information in general, especially the institutions that America traditionally relied on for information. Not that there isn’t some objective evidence for suspicion.

But what we’re dealing with is not the Administration’s enemies being caught in a lie, but the other way around. We are not dealing with alternative facts in the sense of facts that are not considered or emphasized by mainstream media. We’re dealing with “alternative facts” as in things that did not happen and claims that are not true, because partisans want to rewrite reality. Or as some liberal critics call it, “alt-facts.” In the same way that “alt-right” does not mean an alternative to the oldthink of establishment Republicans so much as an alternative to being right.

But this makes sense given that most of the Trumpets I’ve talked to are really not stupid per se, just possessed of a stubborn, blind faith that would make Torquemada look like a postmodern atheist. And the more that faith contradicts the reality, the more clear it is that such faith is based on a pre-existing concept of reality that was in place even before Donald Trump entered the picture. It was often said of Barack Obama that he was something of a Rorschach test (to his critics and especially his fans) in that they projected what they wanted to see on him. That is no less true of Trump “conservatism.” Again, that’s how David Duke, and Sheldon Adelson, and Christians and Ayn Rand fans can all think he’s their guy, and how each is inevitably going to be disappointed, at least to the extent that they do not deny evidence.

But given that Trumpets are immune to airy fripperies like “facts,” “logic” and “evidence”, alt-facts really aren’t needed for them. As we’ve seen, alt-righters and other Trumpets have a lot more experience in lying to themselves than Sean Spicer has in lying to the Washington press, and they’re actually more subtle about it. The goal of the disinformation campaign is to convince the rest of the unconvinced public that Trump’s opinion, changeable as it is, is the new normal and must not be questioned.

Because the one area in life where Donald Trump has demonstrated competence is in avoiding the legal and social consequences of his otherwise perfect incompetence. I had said previously that on some level, Donald Trump must be aware of this, and ran for President because that was the only way he could justify his own self-image to himself, by attaining the one position that actually would make him all-powerful and unaccountable. Living in a world without consequences for failure, Donald Trump is himself uncertain of any reality beyond social construction. And it’s an attitude that has gotten him this far. Thus when he receives any objective data that contradicts his fantasy, he at first angrily rejects it and then becomes obsessed with remaking reality through the media, as though agreement constituted fact.

This would explain an odd contradiction in Trump’s posture versus his behavior. He accuses the press of lying, he accuses intelligence agents of being Nazis,  and yet when asked where he got his information, candidate Trump said he watches “the shows” –  that is, the same media he bitches about as being “fake” and biased. Why does Trump refuse intelligence briefings when that would give him more information than anyone else in the world? If he thinks that the press are a bunch of liars, why is it that he spends so much time watching TV news shows?

The Left loves to refer to the Trump team’s strategy as “gaslighting”  – explained in the Wikipedia entry as follows: “Sociopaths and narcissists frequently use gaslighting tactics.  Sociopaths consistently transgress social mores, break laws, and exploit others, but typically are also convincing liars, sometimes charming ones, who consistently deny wrongdoing. Thus, some who have been victimized by sociopaths may doubt their own perceptions.” But gaslighting is not needed for Trump cultists and others whose sense of reality, however wrong, is secure. Gaslighting is used to undermine a target’s sense of reality and then to replace reality with the fantasy of one’s imagination. Yet this mindset may reveal a crucial vulnerability.

If Trump is simultaneously paranoid and not prone to examine his information sources, that is a critical weakness in that he cannot verify his own knowledge. If he is a narcissist, he cannot help but obsess over even negative media, as long as the media is about him. And if Trump is simultaneously “gaslighting” and prone to projection and overcompensation in all aspects of his life, that implies he is vulnerable to gaslighting and manipulation himself.

So if for instance, someone Photoshops a picture of Trump’s head onto the body of a guy wearing lingerie, Trump is less likely to say, “oh, some schmuck on social media doesn’t like me” and more likely to say “WHERE DID YOU GET THAT????

At the same time, Trump has survived the most prurient sexual allegations about him, because they play on the image that the “base” has of him. The key is that the new info does less to present Trump as transgressive (in a rebellious or macho sense) and more to present him as small, petty and impotent.

That is why it is very important that the press keeps maintaining the point that Trump and his crew lie about his inauguration attendance, and that he is lying when he says he won the popular vote (‘if you don’t count illegals’) because remembering the facts that Obama had a higher inaugural turnout, and that Clinton got more votes, serves to remind both Trump and the nation at large that MOST AMERICANS ARE NOT ON BOARD WITH HIS BULLSHIT.

And given the ineffectiveness of rumors, it would be better if Trump’s enemies were to find real data on him, specifically his financial activities, as his financial status seems to be at the core of his self-image. The key here is to make him choose between revealing a legal but humiliating truth and preserving his public image by cover-up, even to the point of being prosecuted over it. Hell, the only reason that this didn’t work on Bill Clinton is that he was both popular and competent.

But then again, no. For such a strategy to work, there would have to be an organized campaign of media manipulation. And neither the American press nor the American intelligence community would ever do something so unethical. I mean, the only reason they would even think of it is if Trump had done something to actively antagonize them.

 

 

 

Every New President Somehow Lowers The Bar

Rule of law implies that every citizen is subject to the law, including lawmakers themselves. In this sense, it stands in contrast to an autocracy, dictatorship, or oligarchy where the rulers are held above the law. Lack of the rule of law can be found in both democracies and dictatorships, for example because of neglect or ignorance of the law, and the rule of law is more apt to decay if a government has insufficient corrective mechanisms for restoring it.

-Wikipedia entry, Rule of law

Our Constitution is a remarkable, beautiful gift. But it’s really just a piece of parchment. It has no power on its own. We, the people, give it power – with our participation, and the choices we make. Whether or not we stand up for our freedoms. Whether or not we respect and enforce the rule of law. America is no fragile thing. But the gains of our long journey to freedom are not assured.

-Barack Obama’s Presidential Farewell Speech, January 10, 2017

I have said there are certain axioms I go by, especially in politics. The first is, “it is possible for two different things to be true at the same time.” The second is, “every new President somehow lowers the bar.”

Recently Reason magazine’s online site published an opinion piece by Nick Gillespie in which he took the position- shared by some others- that President Obama’s use of executive powers and unilateral actions set the stage for Donald Trump or another conservative to take even more questionable actions. I posted the Reason link on my Facebook page and my advocacy for Gillespie’s position was rather unpopular. Perhaps because of the subheader, “Where were Democrats when Obama was going power-mad? Egging him on, mostly.” Now as we know, Facebook does not adhere to the human conceit of linear time, so I cannot retrieve the conversations I had on the subject, but among other things, I’m told that the problem with the libertarian position (for example, Gillespie, and myself) is that we think government should be kept small and relatively powerless because bad people will get into power. Which is simplistic. The realist position is that, in any case, we have a large government, and it is not impossible that it can have bad actors in it. As James Madison said, “Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm.”

This skepticism towards power is not a specifically libertarian position. In fact, the Founders wanted a government that was more powerful than the Articles of Confederation.  The Federalist Papers (written mainly by Alexander Hamilton and James Madison) endorsed a constitutional system with a strong executive branch and a separate judiciary. It was necessary for the Federalists to write these papers to advocate for the project because, believe it or not, the idea of a strong federal government did not have universal support at the time. The Constitution was ratified because public debate, including the Federalist letters, clarified the principle of enumerated rights within the system as well as the separation of powers, or “checks and balances” between the branches to ensure a balance between them so that the necessity of a strong government did not threaten liberty. It was around this time (1780) that John Adams, in helping write the Massachusetts Constitution, devised the phrase “a government of laws and not of men.”  In other words, a good government can survive bad people because the “system” – both the written laws and the adherence to them – prevents an unscrupulous individual from abusing his power. Indeed, the need for checks and balances becomes MORE important the more powerful you want government to get.

However, the key is that the laws are adhered to. And this has been a problem especially since the 20th Century, when the necessities of the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War caused the Congress and the public to ignore many of the restrictions on the President, especially on his role as Commander in Chief. This standard gave presidents a lot of leeway, and eventually led to our involvement in Vietnam. That in turn led to a backlash which led to the passage of the War Powers Act in 1973, which has been less and less invoked by Congress since then, even as the country gets more and more involved in war (indeed, Barack Obama is described as the first president to spend two full terms at war). Thus, the Congress doesn’t even enforce the after-the-fact measure that it enacted after admitting it had given the president too much power. That is only one concrete example of how the inertia of tradition, or deference to authority (or just political expediency) undermines the primary safeguard for holding authority accountable.

But the main objection I got to that point, believe it or not, is that what the president does does not set a precedent that his successors are expected to follow. This is a position that seems to conflate the general use of “precedent” with the legal concept of stare decisis.  In terms of what I’ve described, the actions of both the president and Congress create a change in the political atmosphere that affects what is possible.  For instance, I asked that if a president’s use of unilateral executive orders could simply be reversed by the next president’s unilateral orders, why didn’t Obama simply get rid of Bush’s Guantanamo Bay prison? And I was reminded that closing Guantanamo was actually one of President Obama’s first executive orders, which has since been effectively blocked by Congress through various means, including blocking of funds needed to transfer prisoners.  So there is that. But if anything it only proves the point. Once government does something, even if it’s immoral or legally questionable, actually questioning it gets seen as un-American. It all comes down to politics.  In response to my counter-arguments, I was told that given the current composition of the Republican Party, the issues with the Democrats, whatever they may be, don’t change the point that the Democrats are clearly superior. Republicans are not going to hold their own accountable any more than Democrats are. Thus we should only elect the “right” people.

This idea, even to the extent that I agree with it, is disturbing not merely for the implication that American government is only as good as the current King on the throne. More broadly, the implication is that for some time now, we have only had one real political party, because the modern conception of government is now impossible outside allegiance to the Democratic Party, and if you have any disagreement with it, the only escape is to join the overgrown babies screaming, “get your socialism out of my Medicare!” To say nothing of the point that the traditional adversarial relationship between various groups in the system becomes less a matter of each side holding each other accountable and more the “in” group defending the indefensible versus the “out” group trying to score points on them so they can take over. So much for “a government of laws and not of men.”

Because if only one party is (even halfway) responsible, that just makes social precedent all the more relevant. Gillespie started his article by alluding to the now-famous Meryl Streep speech at the Golden Globes awards this year,  where she talked about Donald Trump’s public impression of a disabled reporter: “this instinct to humiliate, when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life, because it kinda gives permission for other people to do the same thing. Disrespect invites disrespect; violence incites violence. And when the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.” Streep is saying that such behavior from a politician is a challenge to the political norms that had hitherto prevailed, and that if such a challenge is not defeated, it becomes the new standard. In other words, a precedent.

During the Clinton Administration, moral conservatives, back when such creatures existed, were making the argument that Bill Clinton’s exposure as a pathological liar and sex maniac meant that he was disqualified for the office of the President. At the time, Democrats scoffed. Now Hillary Clinton has lost an election because a strong plurality of Americans are okay with the idea of the president being a pathological liar and sex maniac. I believe this is what some Eastern religions call “karma.”

If there is no such thing as precedent, even on a social level, and what the President does doesn’t change the standard for his successors, why is Meryl Streep, or anyone, so worried about what Trump does? Why then do judgment and critique matter less and not more when your party is in charge, and you want to KEEP them in charge?

Is it really as simple as “it’s okay when it’s our guy?”

Government is not a matter where you can grade on a curve, even when your kid is a C student and the other kids are riding the short bus.

When a Reason article speculates that a president has left “a loaded weapon lying around”  for his successor to use, that is not just libertarian rhetoric. It is a fact. Consider that Donald Trump has neither the intellect nor the political grounding to formulate policy himself, and neither do most of his plutocratic supporters/Cabinet members. Apologists might argue that such unscrupulous people would seize power regardless, but Democrats, specifically Obama, made it that much easier for them by initiating expansions of the state – when they were not approving them under George W. Bush. In this way, Democratic dysfunction facilitates Republican dysfunction. Indeed, I could make the case that Republicans need Democrats to help them destroy the country. Because if they can’t even come up with a fake half-assed plan to replace Obamacare after more than six years of huffing and puffing about it, then Republicans clearly have no capacity for new ideas.

A government by the majority will require the majority to be people of character and self-control, able to restrain their passions rather than assuming that government exists to indulge them. It is in this respect, more than in terms of an Evangelical religion that did not exist in his time, that John Adams said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”  In previous ages, it would have been a conservative making that point. But these days, conservatives are that much more devoted than liberals are to the mentality of “it’s okay when it’s our guy.” So for guidance, they’re worse than useless.

I bring this stuff up, and I’m asked, “Do you seriously think Donald Trump would pay any attention to these limits at all?” Such a position is itself naive, or paradoxically, naive cynicism. If you do not demand even conditional standards from officials on “your team” you are in no position to enforce standards on officials who do not want them at all. Which only encourages a perception among the apolitical that “both sides are the same.” Which in turn serves to legitimize the other side, no matter how dysfunctional and immoral it is, thus increasing the odds of the scenario liberals say they want to avoid.

Liberals are correct in emphasizing the mistakes and overall evil of the Trump team and the new Republican Congress, because that’s the threat we’ve got to deal with now, and because, whether conservatives and libertarians want to admit this or not, the Republican agenda is much more destructive to the country than the Democratic one. But let us be clear on something. As long as the first-past-the-post political structure and the schemes of the duopoly ensure that you can only have two feasible parties in this country, it will be that much harder for people to think outside that box, which means the only escape from Republican tyranny is Democratic rule, and vice versa. For Democrats to regain power, they have to convince people, including some of those who ought to be most in agreement with them, that the Republicans would not be better for the country. And that is where Democrats have been falling down. The lesson of this election should be that the Republicans could have nominated a two-headed sewer mutant with an IQ of negative 6 (just as long as he was anti-abortion) and the average non-Republican would have said, “It may be a freakish imbecile, but at least it’s not Hillary Clinton.”

But I’ve talked about this online, and I bring up Gillespie’s thesis that Obama has lowered the bar, and I get denial. And then I share a Vox article where the reporter makes much the same point as Gillespie, only with that much more history and documentation. And that gets blown off too.

I am beginning to realize that conservatives are not the only ones immune to evidence.

Which is why, as Donald Trump starts his first week as President of the United States, I despair for the future of this country. Because I am not sure what is worse: “Conservatives” who insist on acting like apes, or liberals who ACT like they’ve got some sense but cannot draw logical conclusions from available data.

 

The Obama Administration: An Obituary

Now that we are in the last day of the Obama Administration, it seems like time to review his presidency in full, especially since it’s likely that after January 20, Trump will end up selling the Internet to the Russian FSB.

Some have argued that the president’s biggest mistake was using up all his political capital to push the Affordable Care Act, but I think that probably would have been an issue anyway, given the costs of healthcare to the private sector, and I think Obama was gambling on the long term. As both liberals and their right-wing critics know, once a bill becomes law, it is almost never repealed, expired, or gotten rid of, even when it is flawed and unpopular. In this case, the ACA is not merely flawed and unpopular, but flawed, unpopular, and the only thing allowing a bunch of high-risk patients to get medical coverage when previously they could not.

There are some other areas where people have found flaws with the president’s policies and others where he gets probably more credit than he is due. These opinions vary mainly on one’s political persuasion. My opinion, which I think will be shared by some professional analysts, is that as a President, Barack Obama was good but could have been better, and in a couple cases was not only disappointing but created consequences that helped lead to a rather dire situation in both diplomacy and domestic politics.

It comes down to two examples, since in both cases, the fault is an assumption – possibly a naive assumption – that challenges have no meaning, whether offered against you or whether made by you.

The first challenge: During this administration, Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell was famously quoted as saying “the single most important thing we want to achieve is for Barack Obama to be a one-term president.” Even this matter has a certain context that we need to examine in retrospect. Contrary to popular belief, McConnell didn’t make his statement on “Day One” of the Obama presidency, but just before the 2010 midterms when the Democrats lost their Congressional majority.

Specifically, a Washington Post article examining the quote also mentioned a speech McConnell gave after the 2010 midterms, where he said: “Over the past week, some have said it was indelicate of me to suggest that our top political priority over the next two years should be to deny President Obama a second term in office. But the fact is, if our primary legislative goals are to repeal and replace the health spending bill; to end the bailouts; cut spending; and shrink the size and scope of government, the only way to do all these things it is to put someone in the White House who won’t veto any of these things. We can hope the President will start listening to the electorate after Tuesday’s election. But we can’t plan on it. And it would be foolish to expect that Republicans will be able to completely reverse the damage Democrats have done as long as a Democrat holds the veto pen.”

Mitch McConnell has no ties to Vladimir Putin or Bashir al-Assad. Whatever you may think of him, he is an American, raised within the American political system to be a reasonable politician. Or at least he was. But then he decided to ride the tiger of the Tea Party and Trumpism, which were direct reactions to Barack Obama being president (remember, Donald Trump was one of the first celebrity ‘birthers’ demanding Obama’s birth certificate, even before running for president). And that meant that McConnell had to gauge whether being unreasonable was going to pay off. Clearly that was what the “base” wanted. But to work, that strategy had to be unchallenged by the opposition. It paid off because the Democrats under Obama’s leadership did not grasp how serious Republicans were about challenging the Obama Administration, even as they were losing the Congressional seats they needed to prevent Republican obstructionism. Indeed, gaining the majority was the major step the Republicans needed to get to where they are now. They did not actually make Obama a one term president. But if their goal was to undo was President Obama did, they had to get a Republican to replace him. It just ended up taking two terms.

When your opponent tells you what he’s going to do, take him seriously. McConnell and the Republicans didn’t actually say they wanted to stop Obama on “Day One.” But they were able to make that statement when they got a Congressional majority two years into Obama’s eight-year term. At that point, Democrats knew that Republicans were basing their campaigns on repealing Obamacare and other Obama initiatives, and that this required Democrats to lose seats in addition to the White House. That meant the Democrats had six years and three Congressional elections to react. And in response, Democrats under Obama ended up losing more House seats under Obama than under any president since Harry Truman. Moreover, between 2008 and 2015, the Democrats ended up losing a total of 10 percent of their seats in the US Senate, 19 percent of their seats in the House of Representatives, 20 percent of their strength in state legislatures AND almost 36 percent of their state governors.

Why was this, exactly? Liberals love to blame the gerrymandering of states by Republican legislatures, but this is blanking out the point that Republicans needed to win a majority in state governments to do that in the first place. A large part of this is that state populations in the Midwest and the former industrial areas of the country are becoming less Democratic and more Republican. These same areas used to be very important bases for the Democratic Party’s union support, but union jobs are not as common as they were in previous decades, which gets into the other matter that the “worker’s” party is not doing a good job of protecting workers. (Incidentally, Democrats, the fact that you didn’t get votes in the middle of the country during the last election is for the same reason you were losing seats in the previous midterm elections, independently of whether the Electoral College exists or not.) In any event, by the point of McConnell’s declaration, if not much earlier (say, when the Republicans voted to a man to reject Obama’s stimulus package and the Affordable Care Act), Obama and the Democrats should have realized that their old concepts of bipartisan compromise were not going to apply and they had to do things themselves, which ultimately means they needed to keep and get more seats in Congress. As any NFL fan will tell you, you could have the greatest quarterback in the world and it won’t matter if his offensive line is tissue paper and he keeps getting sacked.

The other challenge was the one Obama made himself and failed to back up. On August 20, 2012, President Obama commented on the civil war in Syria and Bashar al-Assad’s oppression of his own people, specifically saying, “A red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus.” Well, in 2013, the Administration reported that Assad had used sarin gas on its own people, but Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel also said “We still have uncertainties about what was used, what kind of chemicals was used, where it was used, who used it.”  In other words, Obama drew a red line against Assad and allowed him to cross it without consequences.

In his defense, Obama probably could not have done much, given the depletion of our military under George W. Bush and the likelihood that Republican obstructionism would extend even to the president’s role as Commander in Chief. But in that case, he didn’t have to make a statement that would only weaken American “soft power” knowing that it was unlikely that hard power would back it up. Especially given that even now, people disregard the consequences of the Administration’s passivity in the conflict. Syria is now the main source of the wave of Arabic-speaking refugees that move primarily through NATO allies Greece and Turkey into the central European Union countries such as Germany, in such large numbers that allegedly liberal countries are obliged to deal with their own xenophobia as well as the practical limits of their public support systems. This instability in the center of the NATO alliance strengthens the position of Russia, which along with its ally Iran is the primary support for the Assad regime. That is probably not a coincidence. At least it doesn’t seem so to me, although it seemed to be a surprise to the Administration, given that it took revelations of Russian spying against Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign for Obama to increase sanctions and take action against Russian diplomats in this country- after Clinton had already lost the election. So again we have a case where the Obama Administration didn’t seriously consider the challenge against it until it was directly damaged, and even then the response was too little, and way too late.

I have often thought of Obama as a conservative. Not in the modern “we hate abortion and gays” sense of the political alignment, but in the generic sense of the word, referring to someone who plays it safe and doesn’t try to change institutional norms too much except where warranted. Overall, I consider that one of his good points. He was not some fatigue-wearing socialist trying to take everybody’s guns. He was the reasonable, decent person who was exactly what America needed at this point in its history. But that temperamental conservatism also was a weakness in that he did not challenge the institutions even when such challenge was warranted, for example in not taking punitive measures against Wall Street’s destructive financial practices at a point when that would have been popular with liberals AND conservatives.

Barack Obama was a good president, but in large measure the Obama Administration is a giant missed opportunity. This even considering that he was dealing with a Republican Party caught in a downward spiral of hatred toward him in particular, and as we now see, has no idea of how to do things better than the Democrats, because hate is all they have. But when Democrats are the only party with a policy, it still has to be judged on its own merits, and if it fails, it cannot be expected to prevail, whether an alternative exists or not. However the need to judge the relative merits of the Democratic Party seems to undermine the need to judge the objective merits of the Democratic Party, at least as far as its partisans are concerned. In other words, we can see where the Republican Party has undermined the system but liberals aren’t willing to judge where Democrats have undermined it. I intend to address this in my next post.

Looking for Yellow Journalism? Then You’re In Luck!

Hi, Trump voters!

As you know, after the election, the Obama Administration commissioned an intelligence report to determine whether or how Russia interfered with the 2016 election. Last Friday President Barack Obama and president-elect Donald Trump were briefed on this report by the heads of the major intelligence agencies, and the capsule description of that report was released to the mainstream media on Tuesday.  However, a dossier, only slightly redacted, was leaked to Buzzfeed and released by them Tuesday night.  And it contained rather specific details on how Russia – allegedly – compromised Donald Trump to use as a friendly asset to influence the American government through his election.  And while in his January 11 press conference, Trump grudgingly admitted Russia “might” have interfered with the elections, he angrily denied the gist of the reports.

But while compromising Trump most likely was a project going back several years before the 2016 campaign, since that campaign it’s become eminently clear that however thin-skinned Donald Trump is, he is immune to blackmail or even embarrassment.  Recall, this guy started his campaign by generalizing Mexicans as drug smugglers and rapists.  He got caught telling Billy Bush, “Grab ’em by the pussy, you can do whatever you want.”  It is NOT NEWS that Donald Trump is a disgusting pig.  That is what he campaigned as, AND THAT IS WHY YOU VOTED FOR HIM.  He’s not politically correct, and he doesn’t play nice.

The thing is, even if the most salacious rumor turns out to be not true, or a 4Chan troll of the press, it doesn’t matter.  Because it fits the image that Trump has deliberately cultivated for himself.  And when your reputation is bolstered by the likes of 4Chan and Breitbart, accusations of “fake news” are a bit cute.  As an acquaintance told me, it’s like a reverse Boy Who Cried Wolf.  And Trump is a public figure.  By now, he ought to be used to having egg on his face.  So to speak.  But even if Trump is a disgusting pig, not everyone who voted for him is.  And it is those people that I need to address.  Because you need to take responsibility for your choice.

Look, Trump fans: I know you’re pissed.

And you have a right to be.  This trumped-up accusation is the lowest form of yellow journalism.

But you’re going to have to accept that from this day forward until he leaves office, Donald Trump is going to be a steady stream of embarrassing news for you.  And you’re going to be in the same position of the Hillary Clinton fans, trying to defend her reputation from the constant, daily, drip, drip, drip.

And it doesn’t take a huge whiz to figure out why.

Trump has made an enemy of the American intelligence establishment.  He’s made an enemy of the Luegenpresse.  And you know how they are.  If they want to go after you, they’ll just keep splashing stuff against the wall until something sticks.

It’s like that Russian military doctrine: Spray a giant hose of ammo downrange over a wide area, and you’re bound to hit something.  I don’t know what the Russian word for it is, but I think the US military calls it “the Golden PP Theory.”

Again, Trump voters, I know you’re angry.  You’re probably feeling a bitter, or at least salty, taste in your mouths right now.  But again, you knew that this was what you were going to get, and you voted for it anyway.  My suggestion is to make that anger work for you.  You need to take a hard, serious look at this president-elect, and the other Republicans you voted for, and then flip the switch on them.

Because personally I think it is better to be pissed off, than pissed on.

 

What Now?

Well, on December 19, our last hope of avoiding Orange Julius Caesar was supposed to be the official Electoral College vote, which various liberal press outlets were telling us might have been subverted, with people like Lawrence Tribe saying at least 30 Electors were discussing voting against Donald Trump. As it turned out, only two (Texas) Republican electors voted against Trump, but not for Hillary Clinton. Meanwhile, five Hillary Clinton electors went against her (three for Colin Powell, one for Bernie Sanders and one for a protestor at the Standing Rock site) and others would have voted against Clinton if they had not been shot down by their state officials. So it’s now confirmed: Hillary Clinton is THE worst presidential candidate in American history.

I am now a lot more convinced that (whatever the likelihood) we need to get rid of the Electoral College, not only because the institution that was intended to prevent a foreign-sponsored conniver with “Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity” from getting the presidency is the vehicle being used to enact that result, but that the ostensible threat of an unqualified candidate becoming the president would not have been possible – in this case and almost any others – if the presidential election was a national popular vote.

In fact- and this is just my theory here, and I’m going out on a limb with it- but it may be that the process of devolving political power to as many citizens as possible serves to make it less likely that bad decisions will be made in government, compared to government by an absolute monarch or cabal. Contrary to liberals, the Electoral College in theory serves two legitimate purposes. The one that we actually pay attention to is that it addresses the interests of states and regional communities as opposed to just collecting a national vote that would give that much more influence to large population centers like California and New York. But the other, according to The Federalist #68,  was “that every practicable obstacle should be opposed to cabal, intrigue, and corruption” including “the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils [by] raising a creature of their own to the chief magistracy of the Union”, and BOY did the EC fail there. So the Electoral College may have served the first purpose of federalism/regionalism but by utterly betraying the latter, and far more important, purpose.

But given all that, we all have to figure out where we are, which partially means figuring out how we got here, and then figuring out where to go from here.

Democrats: The lesson here is that the Republicans went out of their way to nominate the most repellent and incompetent presidential candidate of all time, and the Democratic National Committee took that as a challenge.

Basically, a good message beats a bad message, but a bad message beats no message. And on a national level, Democrats really had no message besides “stay the course” (which you may recall, didn’t work for George H.W. Bush in 1992).

As I keep trying to tell people, it is possible for two different things to be true at the same time. It is true that Trump won because enough voters really are that Goddamn STUPID. It is also true that Gary Johnson also ran in 2012 and was not a factor against Barack Obama’s victory, that Obama won two elections against respected Republicans McCain and Romney (despite being a biracial Commie Muslim), and that if your opponent is less intelligent and less handsome than Charles II of Spain, and you can’t convince enough people in enough states that you would make a better president than him, You. Have. FAILED as a candidate.

But even beyond all that, it’s more of an existential issue. Americans are just getting sick of it all. Sick of this bureaucratic, technological society. The “American dream” of decent living standards is getting harder to come by. We have to have more and more qualifications to get jobs that pay less and less. Health insurance, whether employer-based or the ACA, is becoming more and more of a hassle. Streets and shops are more and more crowded. Every telephone service is being run on answering machines and call centers. Bluntly, Americans want a Zombie Apocalypse. They want a Zombie Apocalypse and the related population die-off and technological collapse to set existence back to basics. But since zombies are scientifically impossible, voting for Trump is the next best thing.

Or, there’s another way to look at it.

You might remember that in 2012, after Mitt Romney lost a presidential run to incumbent Barack Obama, the Republican National Committee commissioned a “growth and opportunity project” –  more commonly referred to in the press as their post-election “autopsy” – in which the feedback they got in surveys, focus groups and other methods indicated that the GOP was faulty at “messaging”, that young people in particular “are rolling their eyes at what the Party represents” and “many minorities wrongly think that Republicans do not like them or want them in the country.” The proposed solution was for the party to “stop talking to itself,” basically meaning outreach to other people who don’t already agree with the doctrinaire Republican position, as opposed to catering to the stupid bigots fortified by talk radio and alternative media. And the response from the “base” and Republican organizers in the 2014 midterms was “we SHOULD TOO cater to the stupid bigots, because they’re the ones who show up and VOTE, and vote for the hardcore conservatives who fight for us.”

That’s what you had with the Tea Party after Obama was elected, and that’s why Republicans took back both houses of Congress from Democrats. But it still wasn’t enough to win against Barack Obama in the national elections of 2008 and 2012. What Republicans needed to compete on a national level was a leader who represented what they truly believed, a politician who did not project contempt for his “base” but actually embraced and encouraged their stupidity and vulgarity. And then Donald Trump ran for President.

Now, as with the Romney Autopsy, Democrats ought to do the opposite of what they’re being told. That doesn’t mean they should nominate another dull party hack who has no grasp of the victory conditions for a presidential election. It also doesn’t mean you should emulate Republican psychology. You will never top Republicans when it comes to tribal, us-versus-them, persecution-complex, “the only way to stop Satan is to self-lobotomize and vote for the lesser asshole” mentality, and if you try, you will defeat the purpose of claiming to be different from them. But you can learn what they learned from their defeat: First, find the people who will vote for you no matter what, and cater to them. Second, wait for their leader to show up.

Republicans:

You can say that Americans voted for Trump because they were sick of leftist political correctness. You can say that people were tired of losing in the economy and being weak on foreign policy.

The fact is that America, led by the Republicans, has committed a strategic mistake somewhere between invading Russia without winter supplies and producing a Metallica album with no Kirk Hammett solos on it.

This is not the same as the liberals’ previous nightmare scenario in 2000, because while Bush Junior was a dunce and an ideologue, he could at least do outreach to other people. Trump is that much more “my way or the highway” than Bush, and that much more allergic to concepts like “humility”, “foresight” and “learning.” I did not vote for Bush. Either time. I did not agree with most of his policies. But contrary to liberal opinion, he WON Florida, and the 2000 election, and I spoke out against “Bush Derangement Syndrome” and liberals who spouted things like “He’s Not My President.” But then, Bush wasn’t a walking conflict of interest who had his head so far up Vladimir Putin’s ass that it turned his face a non-Caucasian skin color. If Trump’s administration turns out to be only AS bad as Bush’s, it will be a damn miracle.

When Trump’s presidency blows up in your faces like a badly-timed money shot – and with Trump’s temperament, that is a When, NOT If – you are creating a danger that America will end up a one-party state. That one party being the Democrats. Because depending on exactly how things play out, they may get the public support needed to outlaw Republican Party membership as being either associated with treason or as medical evidence of subnormal intelligence.

This isn’t really advice, since, as with the Democrats, I think you’re too stubborn and stupid to take it. I just wanted this on record so that in the aftermath I can quote your prophet and go “See, I Told You So.”

Because if there’s one thing your party has in common with Democrats, it is an overbearing and completely undeserved level of vanity. Specifically, the notion that you will have a permanent majority despite history telling you it never lasts. This is why both parties pass laws to strengthen government on the assumption that they will be able to permanently remake society in their image, only to have all that power given over to their enemies, because people only need eight years or less to get sick of you running things. You should have learned that much from Bush. Of course, you get away with this thinking precisely because the only alternative to one party is to elect the other disagreeable party to the majority, and all Party A has to do is wait for people to get sick of Party B. Then vice versa. There is only one way out of this trap, and that leads to-

Libertarians: The Libertarian Party did not achieve its goal of getting 5 percent of the vote this election, which would have qualified them for federal campaign support (which for Libertarians in particular is a very contradictory goal). It did however achieve 4 million votes, which was the highest vote total for a third-party candidate since Ross Perot in 1996. The Libertarian Party is now the first party other than the Democrats and Republicans to have 500,000 registered members. The fact that the LP achieved this despite the numerous gaffes of candidate Gary Johnson and the tacit support of Hillary Clinton from Johnson’s running mate William Weld indicates that the audience for (L)ibertarian ideas is growing. More broadly, given that about 45% of American voters did not turn out at all, and when two-party politics is based on the premise that “you MUST vote for Candidate A, no matter how rotten they are, because if Candidate B is elected, the world will go to Hell”, and there was more objective evidence for that belief than ever, the fact that Candidate B got elected anyway was, I think, a case of the American electorate calling the political system’s bluff.

However, the trap that the duopoly has placed us in is that either A or B is going to get elected, so the only way to get rid of one party is to replace it with the other, no matter how bad IT is. The only way to really call the bluff is to have a credible alternative in place versus A and B. And in 2016, the Libertarians and other “third” parties were clearly not ready. My advice to them:

As I have said, you need to have a plan for what you would do on Day One, as opposed to being like the Republicans who kept going on for years and years about how they were going to “repeal AND replace” Obamacare, and now that they are in position to DO so, have no plan for a transition besides “your diabetic aunt dies for lack of coverage.”

The Affordable Care Act is also a case study in whether Libertarians can make a proactive case for their philosophy towards government. Even some liberals are willing to admit that the ACA is flawed at least in execution. But the reason it passed in the first place is because it met a demand. If a public demand is not met by the private sector, THAT’s how you get socialized medicine. If there is a better service than the ACA available through the private sector, Libertarians need to promote that. If there IS no such service, Libertarians need to admit that, and look at what we have.

Needless to say, the same auditing process applies to other issues.

Of course in order to be in that position, you need to have representatives in office, not only in a presidential year but in the midterms and the years between. However tempted one may be to think the president can make all the difference, especially with Trump being an outlier in his own party, he still needed a popular and organized party to win, and he needed a base in Congress to make that win count for something. The need for downballot candidates is that much more critical for one reason that became clear in the 2016 election: “ticket splitting” is more rare than ever. And when you don’t even field candidates in a lot of districts, it makes it that much less likely that people will see the point of electing your presidential nominee. So “third” parties need to admit that you need to elect Congresscritters first to get a president, not the other way around. (Incidentally, Democrats: that advice goes for you, too.)

Nevertheless, the Party will need a presidential candidate for the sake of symbolism and the representation of the Libertarian platform on a national level, along with the strong possibility that the 2020 duopoly candidates will be even worse than they were this election. So we have to consider what we need in light of what we learned with Gary Johnson- namely, that the media will focus on a “third” party candidate only for purposes of tearing them down. The party nominee has to be ready for that, and to present their case through “the enemy” without antagonizing too many people by overtly treating the press as the enemy. The nominee has to be someone who is articulate not only on libertarian philosophy but philosophy in general. Someone who doesn’t freeze in the headlights when confronted with a question. The nominee has to be someone who is capable of defending libertarianism and the party platform, but with a good sense of humor. And that means the person nominated has to be somebody who is already media-savvy and with experience in talking to journalists about libertarianism, someone who already has a strong public presence.

I am seriously thinking we should draft Penn Jillette to be the Libertarian Party nominee for President in 2020.

I mean, Penn actually was IN Celebrity Apprentice, and apparently that’s all the qualification you need these days.