I know you’re out there, and this is for you. What you’re weighing, it’s not as easy as you think. But it can matter more than anything else you do with your professional life.
Washington is awash with leaks; if they were real water we’d all drown. The American people feel they are seeing the inner most workings of government, and it is not pretty. Powerful people are falling. Our democracy may be at risk. President Trump and his team have no intention of watching from the sidelines. There is a struggle going on, and people are taking sides.
So if you’re a government employee sitting in a cubicle in Washington DC, what are you thinking? To leak or not to leak? Will you blow the whistle?
I know more than a little bit about your decision. With 21 years of service at the Department of State, I was assigned to wartime Iraq in 2009. For me, when the waste, fraud, and mismanagement of the reconstruction program under Presidents Bush and Obama reached the limits of what in good conscience I could participate in, and after failing to see any change going through channels, I blew the whistle, via a book, We Meant Well. The State Department in response flirted with sending me to jail, tried to fire me in part for “lack of candor” in refusing to participate in their investigation, and in the end pursued me into an early retirement.
I learned the decision to contact a reporter, or otherwise to blow the whistle, is a hard one. In the end you have to ask yourself one seemingly simple but actually complex question: is the juice worth the squeeze?
As for that squeeze, an anonymous leaker must expect people to come looking; you’re taking on the President of the United States after all. If the past (including my case) is any guide, much of the action that follows a disclosure will be aimed at the leaker, not the information leaked. You will be scared going in, but the fear should make you cautious. You will need to learn what intelligence officers call tradecraft; you may end up trying to hide your actions from them. Whatever journey you embark on, fear will travel with you.
There are real things to be afraid of. Following the example set by the Obama administration, someone exposing classified information may be subjected by the Trump administration to Espionage Act prosecution, with the near-certainty of Federal prison time if convicted.
Think you’re too unimportant for an investigation? Safe because your leak was, as in my own instance, nothing remotely classified? Maybe. But the most effective way to silence the next person in your position is to have them afraid to even try. Your now-adversaries would love to get the high level leakers, but won’t care too much if the heads on display come from the lower ranks instead. Either way the point to those others out there still considering leaking is made.
The administration will fight back in other ways, too. You are an anonymous source, an unnamed official, someone “with knowledge of the discussion.” It’s your word against that of a person who can appear on a major news program to offer up information (real or not) that discredits yours. Americans tend to assess truthfulness these days in line with preconceived beliefs, and that’s running about 50-50 on any given day in the Trump Era.
That’s the squeeze for a leaker. Now the juice.
You may not have the evidence of a still-smoking gun to “bring down” anyone. But you can contribute to a larger story, supply a missing puzzle piece, or nudge an investigative process forward. A big mosaic is made of little pictures. What you know likely does matter, and the people have a right to know what matters about their government. Who besides someone on the inside – you – can tell them?
Things can change significantly if you decide to blow the whistle, as opposed to leaking. While there are legal definitions, the key difference is a whistleblower purposely gives up their anonymity; Edward Snowden is the best known example. The risks scale up geometrically after that – you are saying “here I am, come after me.” Legal protections exist, including the Whistleblower Protection Act, but they do not snap into place easily. You will need a good lawyer well before you blow any whistle.
The returns for blowing the whistle can be significant, and it was this calculus (plus a dollop of ignorance I’m afraid) that lead me away from leaking into a full public disclosure. Standing up by name, you earn credibility against attacks ad hominen, and for the information you supply. Your presence encourages and empowers others. Your motivations are on display; you are more easily seen as a patriot than a partisan. And you aren’t just passing on information. You are bearing witness, at risk to yourself.
As one who has been there, my counsel is to think practically, not emotionally. Think larger than yourself, and think larger than political gossip. If I had the chance, I would remind every potential leaker or whistleblower their oath of service was to the Constitution, not to any particular leader or party, neither the one in, nor out, of power. So act on principle, not ego or revenge or ambition; the power to disclose carries with it a responsibility to act ethically. Your conscience will then be bulletproof, something very important as you will spend a lot of time in there. No guarantees, but an ethical disclosure may be easier to defend as well.
People of conscience, leakers and whistleblowers alike, we’re made. We’re made by what the government does and fails to do, and by what we witness. If government acted as the Founders expected it should, we would not be here, like mushrooms that didn’t pop up on a dry lawn.
It’s what all of us share: a love of country, if not necessarily its politicians. It’s in your hands to be on the right side of this struggle. One courageous act of conscience can make a difference in an America gone astray. That will be your anchor on an unsettling and fearful journey. I made a choice to be a whistleblower. I’d do it again. To me, the juice was worth the squeeze. You?
Copyright © 2017. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
Joe Biden would have beaten him.
Think about why Trump won. He was by sheer accident the more or less least worst choice. Despite his behavior, he kept failing upward, right into the White House.
A large portion of this election was about income disparity, cultural and economic displacement, a sense that the country had abandoned too much of its center. I don’t know how many of those people voted for Trump per se, but some percentage voted against for Hillary Clinton (spare me the popular vote bit, we’re dealing with the reality of the system which was here in 2016 and will be here in 2020.)
Biden has always been able to speak to many of those who voted for Trump. His roots are in Pennsylvania, his background blue collar. His son served in uniform. He has dealt with personal tragedy and understands it in others. He talks and displays real empathy in a way Hillary could never do, and embarrassed herself when she tried. Biden in the Midwest would have exposed Trump as a fake populist because Biden would have come across as a real one.
A significant number of voters “like” or dislike a candidate; some of an election is a popularity contest, and everyone likes and trusts Biden. Clinton could never get past herself on that. She was the kid on the debate team; Joe was class clown.
Think Comey hurt Hillary somehow? Think the Democratic National Committee emails showing Clinton’s dirty tricks against Bernie hurt her? Think the Clinton Foundation, quid pro quo, pay-to-play, the server and coverup, Bill’s sexcapades, Huma, Weiner, health questions, maybe even Benghazi, think any of that cost her votes (it did)? Well, none of that would have touched Biden. Most of America still wouldn’t know who Comey is. Putin could have leaked all the emails in the world and… nothing. Trump could not have played off hiding his tax returns with Clinton hiding her Goldman-Sachs speeches.
Trump would have had to talk policy and issues. Nothing for Congress to investigate, no scandals. Nothing for the right wing media to feed on. Nothing for the left wing media to have to keep defending.
Meanwhile, the strengths Clinton had — experience in government, claimed foreign policy skills, whatever good will could be inherited from Obama — would all be there for Biden. Without any baggage. Biden was in the room when bin Laden was killed, too, for whatever that is worth.
It’s likely Biden would have run a more respectful campaign against Bernie than Clinton did, as he would have been driven, but without being obsessed by fear of failure. He might have run a positive general election campaign, not one that was a continuous flow of hit pieces on Trump that left voters unsure what Hillary had to offer herself.
That might have brought more Bernie voters out who chose instead to stay home on election day. Biden would have been able to choose a vice president such as Elizabeth Warren that would not have been seen inside the party as a threat to Clinton. Biden, himself a once forever Senator, might even have chosen Bernie as his VP. Imagine a VP choice that inspired, instead of a cynical move like disposable drone Tim Kaine selected just to (barely) grab Virginia’s electoral votes.
There was much talk abut why Biden didn’t run, centering around the death of his son Beau. It was a major factor. However, sources are clear that pressure was applied to Biden the old-time party man to stand aside, that this was Hillary’s turn, arrangements had been made, deals done. Biden could have whatever else he wanted (other than VP…), choice of cabinet jobs, an emeritus position as ambassador somewhere, appointment to a presidential commission created for him, just name it, Joe.
Biden said post-election “The family was broken, and I was more broken than I thought I was. How broken? I don’t know what I’d do if I was in a debate and someone said, ‘You’re doing this because of your son,’ I might have walked over and kicked his ass.”
And in that moment the election would have been over.
Many Americans outside the coastal media were unconcerned about an old tape of Trump being crude, and did not see his statements as “sexual assault.” They were skeptical about decades old allegations of sexual harassment that seemed to appear on cue just before a debate. But you don’t mess with someone’s dead son, a veteran at that, and had Trump insulted Beau and Joe Biden slugged Trump live on TV, every American who supported Trump would have understood what a bully was and every one of them knows what to do about bullies.
In the end, you win this way:
— Pull votes away from the other guy (blue collar Biden)
— Secure your base (experienced, Obama-Dem Biden) and
— Don’t lose voters (baggage-free Biden.)
Clinton failed on all three counts, and it is now President Trump.
The point here is not just a thought experiment, a political argument to hash out over beers. There’ll be another election in 2020, and Trump will run against another Democrat. If the Democrats can’t understand what election they are running in, and can’t objectively weigh out their candidates’ strengths and weaknesses instead of assuming succession based on internal party logic, they will lose again to Trump.
Copyright © 2017. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
Nobody has a lot of hope left, so we got Trump.
I’ve taken to doing this thing Kurt Vonnegut used to do, semi-randomly calling people I haven’t spoken to for awhile. No emails, a phone call, the numbers I can track down online. The phone rings on their end and announces I am demanding to talk with them. It’s selfish. I want to know what’s going on in America. I ask them that.
The way things work, these people have dispersed themselves all over America. Most of the people I speak with are in their 50s, nobody younger than about 35. They are representative only of “people I still sort of know.” The whole thing is about as scientific as the smell off a pile of dog crap.
I’ve found nobody with a lot of hope left. They seemed to have used it up.
I haven’t run across anyone who voted for Trump who said “Well, that’s that, time to sit back and watch things get fixed.” A lot of these people voted for Obama, at least in 2008, and not because he was going to be America’s First Black President but because they really believed in his promise of Hope. The Bush years had worn out. We stayed scared enough, but then no post-9/11 attack came, the wars dragged on, and most of the stuff that was supposed to make us feel safe just ended up somewhere between inconvenient and bullying.
People have no sense of being in control of their lives. They know they have a lot less money than they used to, they don’t see their kids doing better, but they see on TV that some few seem to have most of everything. They can figure if they have less and someone else has more where that more came from.
“Hope” means different things but it one way or another meant change for the better and that didn’t happen. Depending on who you were and where you lived, things stayed about the same or they got worse. The news said another 20,000 jobs were created but they still worked at Target. The news said solar and coding and Internet of Things and self-driving cars and they still made $7.25 an hour when their grandfathers made $23.50 with benefits. In 2017 they could not afford health insurance, stuck between not having enough money to buy it and not having too little enough to get subsidized. And they know health insurance and healthcare are not the same thing, as in high deductibles and Bronze plans that never seemed to cover things, or cover them fully. They know that, and deeply resent anyone who tells them it’s not really that way and they are better off.
You can’t tell a person soaked in water they aren’t wet.
Having been fooled, prepped for years, they looked at the 2016 election and saw a choice between a guy who was so cynical about providing hope he didn’t even bother to offer anything beyond a vague exhortation to be great on a cap, and a women who didn’t even bother with that, just a selfish demand for affirmation, “I’m With Her!” going through the motions enroute to what she thought was hers already.
They knew Trump was a bully, a cheat, someone mean, and did not need to be told. They resented being seen by Clinton as too dumb to get that on their own and needing a lecture. Same now for the endless late night mockery and Washington gossip by “sources” that passes for news. Nobody cares about Nordstrom’s or who the spokesperson is when they’re hungry, and they resent the people who do not get that.
Economist Thomas Piketty found the share of U.S. national wealth claimed by the bottom 50% of the country dropped to 12% from 20% in 1978, along with a drop in income for the poorest half of America. That level of change will not go unreacted to.
It wasn’t that most of them hated Blacks and gays and the people of so-called identity politics, it was just that they did not care all that much about them either way. People in smaller places all know about Mr. Saunders the “confirmed bachelor” and while he couldn’t hold hands with his “roommate” around town, really, otherwise, who cares, I’m down to canned tuna and cereal the last week of the month when my food aid money runs out waiting for the first of the next month. Sorry equal rights for everyone isn’t in place, but let’s fix some other things first. We’ve all taken a beating.
You don’t have to like it, but that’s what a lot of people think. And unlike a fair number of other voting blocs who need to be made to show up on election day, these people turn out. They don’t need buses, they drive themselves.
So to hell with it they said, I’ll vote for the guy, being fooled knowing I’m being fooled. It doesn’t matter if Trump pisses off the Prime Minister of wherever. My kid will fight that war, like he fought the last war, because he can’t find another job and joins the Army, and Cory Booker’s nephew or niece won’t and if they does somehow join the service they’ll be a pilot or work intel or some other clean hands job and won’t be up on the line. Can my other kid go to college? Maybe, but she’ll eat debt for 20 years for a throwaway degree that isn’t worth much. We want our daughters empowered because we know that offers them a good life, but we first want them fed and employed.
We were promised that. Didn’t happen.
None of those people are going to have their minds changed by pussy hat marches or Lady Gaga at the Superbowl which just brings an eye roll from the men and women at the bar, and they don’t appreciate being called racists, nazis and fascists by millennials who have never really met one and fling those words around to enrage each other into shaking their heads at each other. They are unaffected by protests not against some policy, but against the idea that the candidate they voted for won.
Meanwhile, if someone who is a real nazi or fascist offers the people at the bar even a touch of hope they’ll put up with some of the rest even though they don’t care for it personally. Most people really don’t want to live like it’s the 1950s Deep South again, but they’ll take a cleaned up version of 1969’s economy.
See, “resistance” is part of the long-failed stay negative Democratic policy, the same one that lost the 2016 election. Find something to be for, Dems, or you’ll lose in 2018 again.
So if you want to really throw up a wall between America as we want it to be and the America you’re afraid it will become, shut the hell up and create some jobs. Just do that, dump some money out of the pot and build some bridges and highways. Start. People who wear black shoes and white socks don’t really care whether you fund the National Endowment for the Arts as long as you also fund a new water plant for every Flint, and there is or will be one in every state. That’s a big gulp of what stopped real fascism from catching hold in 1930s America.
But right now people out there are heading toward accepting an awful lot of hateful things because they want to believe someone will help them.
Every year we wait makes it harder and less likely we’ll get out from under this blue dusk. The party or candidate that can really do this — create some jobs, give people back their pride, allow them to take care of their families, throw out a little hope — will win every election they want to run in.
We’re not headed into authoritarianism per se. We’re headed into giving up. That’s the demon that’ll destroy us. There’s the weight of emptiness out there and something’s gonna fill it up.
I know I can’t keep “we,” “you “and “they” separate in the essay above and after spending a lot of time trying to fix that I realized it was meant to be that way.
Copyright © 2017. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
For those who say “This is not who we are,” well, look again. It all seems to be exactly who we are and have been.
President Donald Trump’s executive order banning travelers, immigrants and refugees from seven predominantly Muslim countries is only the latest twist of dark threads that have always been present in America and its immigration policy. The executive order is not unprecedented. It is evolutionary, predictable, nearly an inevitable step.
The Seven Targeted Countries
Begin with the targeted countries, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. America has bombed or used drones and special forces in six of them, and attacked the seventh with cyberwar. The Muslims there have suffered far in excess of a travel ban at the hands of America. Indeed, many of the refugees leaving those nations became refugees as a result of American war-making, often under the guise (Libya, Iraq, Syria) of “protecting” those people from an evil dictator, some Sunday morning talk show version of genocide, or a red line few outside the White House could see.
The countries in Trump’s executive order have long been singled out for special treatment under American immigration law.
Though Trump in his crude style talks about “extreme vetting,” such a process has been in place since the George W. Bush administration, continued under Obama, and is operating today. It has a nicer, if somewhat Orwellian name, “administrative processing.” On the list of nation affected: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. People from these nations, and a few others, go through an alternate visa processing procedure that delays their travel. The process involves various intelligence agencies vetting the traveler. Some applications are left to pend indefinitely, a de facto travel ban.
The seven nations also were a part of the Bush-era Muslim registry, known as NSEERS.
Trump’s seven nations also appear on an Obama-era list. That list, the equally Orwellian-named Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act, disallows use of America’s visa-free travel program to persons who even once visited the targeted nations. So, for example, a British citizen otherwise eligible to enter the United States without a visa must instead appear for questioning at an American embassy abroad if she, for any reason, even as a journalist, stepped foot in Iran.
That nations long-held to sponsor terrorism such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are not on Trump’s list is not surprising. They haven’t appeared on most of Bush’s or Obama’s lists either.
Refugees Not Welcome
Following Trump’s directives aimed at refugees it quickly became almost mandatory for celebrities and pundits to come up with a personal story or two about their family’s immigrant ties, and preach a bit about the Statue of Liberty and freedom.
Left unsaid was that the number of refugees admitted to the United States is small compared to many other nations.
The U.S. admitted a record number of Muslim refugees in 2016, some 38,901 of the nearly “>85,000 total refugees allowed into the U.S. Go back to 2006, and the total number of refugees admitted drops to under 50,000. Though there have been refugee “surges” into the United States such as Holocaust survivors following World War II (650,000 people) and the Vietnamese “boat people” (100,000) after the end of that war, Americans historically feared refugees, not welcomed them. Since 1980, the United States has accepted less than two million refugees overall, and 40 percent of those were children accompanying their refugee parent(s). The U.S. sets an annual ceiling on refugees admitted, currently 85,000. Refugee number 85,001, no matter how desperate her case, must wait until the next year.
In contrast, among Syrians alone, Canada in 2016 took in about twice as many refugees as the United States. Some 25 percent of the entire population of Lebanon are refugees. Germany expects to admit 300,000 refugees from various nations in 2016, following close to one million in 2015.
Discrimination by Nationality
Following the 1965 Immigration and Naturalization Act, 8 U.S.C. 1152 Sec. 202(a)(1)(A) makes it unlawful to ban immigrants (i.e., Legal Permanent Residents, Green card holders) because of “nationality, place of birth, or place of residence.” The law however allows banning nonimmigrants such as tourists or students, as well as refugees, for almost any reason. Challenges to this are near-impossible. American courts have consistently upheld that they cannot exercise judicial reviewability over visa decisions made abroad in the specific, and more broadly, generally do not extend the protections of American law to foreigners outside the U.S. The Supreme Court has also long-acknowledged immigration law’s “plenary power” doctrine, which generally immunizes from judicial review the substantive immigration decisions of Congress and the executive branch.
And even though legal immigrants are not banned by nationality or place of birth per se, restrictions on the number of legal immigrants from certain nations are limited to the point of near-virtual bans. For example, the restrictions are such that some Filipino and Mexican relatives of American citizens face a 24 year wait (another Orwellian term, “priority date”) for a Green card. It is not uncommon for applicants to pass away before their turn comes.
However, the most evolutionary aspect of Trump’s executive action on immigration, and the inevitable hardening and expansion of such positions, is the underlying driver of it all: fear.
The government of the United States, from September 12, 2001 through the present day, has constantly fanned the flames of fear of terrorism. Despite the well-known statistics of how an American here at home has a greater chance of being struck by lightning than dying in a terror act, that following 9/11 only a handful of Americans have fallen victim to acts of terror inside the United States, and despite the fact that few of any terror attacks inside the Homeland were committed by the poster child of fear, the foreign terrorist who infiltrates the U.S. specifically to do harm, Americans remain terrified.
For over 15 years, three presidents have used fear (they called it security) as a justification for, well, nearly everything. And Americans bought the line nearly every time. Fear of the smoking gun being a mushroom cloud. Fear of terrorists slipping through the net justifying NSA spying on Americans. Fear of more terrorism justifying torture, drone attacks, leaving Guantanamo open, militarizing Africa, having us take our shoes off at the airport, not being able to bring a bottle of water on a plane, no longer being able to enter a growing range of buildings without some sort of security check and bag search, background checks, showing ID, and the No-Fly list. 30 American governors said they’d refuse to accept Syrian refugees into their states if they could.
Trump’s use of executive orders to accomplish his immigration goals is also nothing new. Both Bush and Obama did the same. In fact, Franklin Roosevelt used an executive order to establish the World War II Japanese internment camps.
The Ugly Truth
Of course nothing Trump has done or has proposed regarding immigration will realistically make America safer. That is true, and it is irrelevant. Like much of the security theatre that has become normalized post-9/11, safety is not the point. Keeping fear alive and maintaining the politically-driven myth that government is on the job protecting the Homeland is what matters. Trump knows this, as did Obama and Bush.
The ugly truth is despite the airport protests, a large number of Americans remain afraid of foreigners and want what Trump did. The ugly truth is there is unfortunately nothing here unique to the Trump era.
BONUS: Those who focused last weekend on the two Iraqis who translated for the American military in Iraq at great risk to their lives and were detained at a New York airport may wish to read about the decades-long struggle of translators from Iraq and Afghanistan to escape those nations for fear of their lives, and the poor treatment they have received at the hands of now three administrations.
I am still not getting the “everything is different” argument. Everything seems sort of the same way it always has worked. Sure, the policies are different, but the process is working the same as always. The system is not breaking down.
Trump was elected by the same electoral system in place for over 200 years. There have been four other elections where the winner of the popular vote lost the Electoral Vote. Sometimes elections are close. Close doesn’t count, popular vote doesn’t win. That’s just the way it is.
Trump was elected by people who want him to make changes and he has and will continue to do so, like every other president (ex. Carter to Reagan, Bush to Obama.) About half the country, maybe more, will disagree, as usual. The president’s popularity will go up and down and everyone will argue about the statistical methods used. The same party currently controls the Congress and Executive. Nothing unique, happens often in history. The president will try and fill the courts with judges who agree with him. Political appointees will be seeded throughout government. Business as usual.
Congress has steadfastly chosen not to pass a law that requires the president to release his taxes, and so Trump has not. So maybe somewhat unique, but seriously, you think you’ll find a 1099 form in there for “Misc Espionage Work, Russia?” A yellow sticky saying “Owe money to China, be nice to them?” The taxes have become a strawman argument, something opponents can throw up (likely forever) and then say “See, he won’t release them!” as proof that Trump has something to hide.
The press can choose for itself what role to play (so far, it is largely that of Chicken Little.) People will protest, sometimes a lot of them at once. Some policies and decisions will work out better than others. Cabinet members will disagree with the president and either be pulled into line, kept as alternate opinions, or fired.
Any panic that Trump will start a nuke war is based on nothing but fear based on fear; hell, if it makes you feel better, he won’t start a nuclear war because it’ll be bad for his business. On the other hand, the last two presidents started and/or continued plenty of wars. And hey, maybe some reassuring news, Trump has made his first drone strikes, on Yemen, continuing Obama’s policy. He plans to keep Gitmo open, just as Obama did for eight years. He wants to restart torture, like Bush did and Obama silently allowed to pass without prosecutions.
The only significant thing that seems new is that yes, absolutely, Trump is crude in his manner and speech. We’ll agree is is a pretty lousy human. But he’s in the White House now and that reality has to be dealt with as a reality. If you feel better calling his wife a classless whore and his son autistic, sad for you, but whatever. People are welcome to hate Trump for the person he is, but that is not the same as being terrified of everything that might happen and concluding the Republic is finished. Most of the rest seems stuff people just don’t agree with and which would not have changed under Clinton and they can’t accept that.
What does seem new is the scary willingness of people, in and out of the press, to make giant leaps of terrified pseudo logic. For example, the people who clapped for Trump at his CIA speech were White House staffers. not CIA –> the CIA hates Trump –> Trump will not accept information from the CIA and/or they won’t provide it –> another 9/11! Seriously?
The one thing that does seem unique this election is the continuing efforts to believe somehow Trump can be made to “un-win.” So we had Jill Stein’s failed campaign to recount critical states, followed by Michael Moore’s, et al, failed campaign to sway so-called faithless electors to not vote Trump, followed by the IC’s failed campaign to scar Trump as a Russian super agent, followed by the lame hope Congress would not certify the election results, plus Meryl Streep and Madonna’s calls to Les Barricades. Now it is on to the Emoluments Clause with the idea that that will lead to Trump’s impeachment.
Quick note: since the Republicans control the House for at least two more years, there’s not going to be any impeachment for at least that long.
Disclaimer: It seems these days any article that does not simply insult and criticize Trump is deemed to be pro-Trump, and, often by extension, racist, sexist, etc. I do not like Trump, I disagree with most of his positions (I am no TPP fan, and I like the idea of disengaging with Syria and negotiating with Putin as needed) and certainly did not vote for him. Please touch in with reality and read critically if you can. Thanks!
NOTE: The following is a rebuttal to my own article explaining how stopping speech you disagree with via violence is wrong. I am reprinting the rebuttal in its entirety and with permission. I received a lot of comments on what I wrote, and this one below is pretty typical, albeit without as much profanity and personal threats/insults as the others.
Jesus H. Jones,this infernal debate continues. Peter Van Buren, possessor of such a nice Aryan name and a defence so strident of Nazis right to free speech that he will probably not be in danger of imprisonment, execution or genocide if they win, has written a piece in The Nation as a riposte to Natasha Lennard’s article in the same publication.
Van Buren’s argument comes from the standpoint of the first amendment to the constitution of the USA, the one that protects, on paper anyway, the right to free speech, freedom of religion and freedom of the press.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Let’s stop here for a second and consider the words of that amendment. They look very nice, don’t they? But there’s a reason I said “on paper anyway”; Look closely and read between the lines. You’ve noticed haven’t you? First amendment rights have routinely been cast aside when they clash with the interests of the US American ruling class. People who agitated against the first world war were imprisoned for as little as printing pamphlets and newspapers or speaking in public, during the nineteen forties and fifties, people suspected of being communists were brought before the House Un-American Activities Committee, and now Trump wants Muslims to have to sign a register. So much for rights.
Poor people too have ‘first amendment rights’ but rarely get to use them in the way the Van Buren is advocating for Neo-Nazi mouthpieces. When was the last time you saw someone from the slums of Detroit being interviewed about their political views on national television or publishing pamphlets or writing newspaper opinion pieces? I am reminded of the words of Anatole France in Le Lys Rouge, “In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets and steal loaves of bread.” The first amendment to the US constitution protects the right to free speech for rich and poor alike, but that means nothing to someone living in poverty, or someone being burned out of their home for being the wrong colour or for practicing the wrong religion.
In the article, Van Buren says that if you condone the act of punching a Nazi then you must condone the act of ripping a hijab off a woman’s head. That he considers these two things equivalent speaks volumes of the ‘moderate’ tendency to empty acts, and indeed words, of their meaning. Ripping a hijab off a woman’s head is an act of oppression. It says that this woman, who has said or done nothing to threaten anyone is a legitimate target for hatred and violence. Punching a Nazi on the other hand, is an act of self defence. Nazi’s are not just using words to get their point across, they are organising physical violence against people of colour, Muslims, LGBT folk and left wing radicals; They are actively threatening the lives of people who are different or who disagree with their world view. Their world view is to eradicate freedom in it’s entirety for the vast majority of human beings. That’s why they should be physically confronted, that’s why their movement must be smashed before it can wreak too much havoc.
He also reduces the fight against the Nazis in WW2 to a “70 year old struggle between nation states.” No doubt, the entry of various states into war against the Nazis was prompted by threats to their Imperialist hegemony – in particular the USA entered the war because of the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbour, but people fought in their millions against fascism, from well before the war in Europe broke out, specifically because of what Nazism and Fascism represent – midnight for the human race, the victory of unreason over reason, racial nationalism, anti-communism, or as Orwell put it “a boot stamping on a human face forever.” (Orwell meant authoritarianism in general – both right and nominally left).
If we don’t want to relive the horrors of Nazism, the racial laws, the genocide, the stamping out of all political freedoms, not to mention the war, that ravaged Europe in the mid 20th century, it is necessary to stamp it out in it’s infancy. It is a threat across the globe, here in Ireland the far right is small, but there is larger minority among us who will flock to them if they feel it is safe to do so. Until now they have feared to raise their heads above the parapet, and this is a good thing. When white nationalist movements have tried to go public, they have been physically beaten back. These actions protect the freedom of the vast majority of humanity. But now, in the wake of Brexit and Trump’s victory, the racists, the authoritarians everywhere are raising their voices. The comment threads in online publications are a cesspool of embryonic fascist thought. It only takes a small breakthrough for a far right organisation to rally these people behind its banner, and the likes of Peter Van Buren, and our own Irish liberal establishment, who enjoy debating fascists to prove their intellectual superiority, make those breakthroughs more likely.
In Britain, France, Germany, Austria, Greece and the USA, the far right is a tangible threat to the freedom of the vast majority of humanity. Constitutional rights won’t stop them, only an organised anti-fascist movement that is well organised, prepared to take the fight to the fascists, to snuff out their ideas in their infancy and keep fighting until their movement is back in the dustbin of history where it belongs. We will be harshly judged by the future generations if we let them rise again.
No, we should not.
Condoning, applauding or giggling over the idea of punching people in the head whose political positions, however abhorrent, we don’t agree with is so wrong I am not even sure why it is necessary to talk about it. However, given the events of this weekend, it seems we have to talk about it.
“Is it OK to punch a Nazi for what he said?” is a question bouncing around the media and the Internet after an attack on Richard Spencer following the Trump inauguration. Spencer created the term alt-right. On video, he was explaining the meaning of Pepe the Frog, a silly cartoon figure somehow adopted as a mascot by the racist, far-right fringe movement Spencer promotes as anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic and anti-feminist.
The punch was captured on video:
There are over 4,500 comments on YouTube alone, and most condone the punch. The most popular format is to say “I don’t condone violence BUT…” and then go on to condone violence. Another popular comment is to mention Hitler, WWII and the defeat of the Nazis, and somehow see the video as a part of that 70-year-old global struggle fought between nation states.
The main thrust of commentary is that violence is now justified as a response to speech by the right some do not care for. More than a few people have suggested punching someone in the head is in fact a form of protected free speech itself, and others seem to think whatever they label as “hate speech” is a crime. Others mouth stuff along the lines of “the end justifies the means.”
A popular meme is to put different songs, many calling for violence themselves, behind the punching video. Jon Favreau, a former speechwriter for Barack Obama, tweeted “I don’t care how many different songs you set Richard Spencer being punched to, I’ll laugh at every one.”
Where to begin?
— If violence against those exercising their First Amendment rights (speech, religion, etc.) can ever be condoned, why wouldn’t that also condone tearing off a woman’s hijab, or lynching someone? See how the “violence is justified” argument can work?
— There are no laws against hate speech. Details here.
— Punching people is not a form of protected speech. Expressed legally in a number of ways, Supreme Court Judge Oliver Wendell Holmes stated “The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.”
— Free speech protection covers all the things people want to say, from the furthest left to the furthest right. You can burn a flag, display a nude body, fill a fish tank with urine and call it art, put on a KKK uniform and march past a Black church, and say whatever Richard Spencer was saying. It means I can write this article.
— The First Amendment and the broader traditions of free speech are there to protect the most challenging awful mean terrible hateful racist sexist anti-American garbage people can spew out. The protections are not there to cover the easy stuff most people agree with (though they do.) That is the whole point.
— The ACLU has defended the right of both Nazis and the KKK to speak.
It saddens me greatly to see even one person suggest violence as a proper response to the exercise of our precious right to free speech.
It saddens me even more when everyone of us cannot see thinking you are opposing fascism by beating up those who ideas you disagree with.
John Lewis, Barack Obama, hell, any Democratic politician, waiting on you to denounce this. Also, everyone on Twitter and elsewhere saying I personally support genocide, is it possible for you to understand I support the concept of free speech in its purest form, and none of that implies support for any specific position, from naked art photos to Holocaust deniers to the films of Jerry Lewis. I am simply astounded how many people are unable to distinguish between support for speech itself from support for what someone says. I expected this from the right someday, am gobsmacked that it hit me from the left. Sigh.
One of my favorite quotes includes the lines “I awoke this morning to find that it was not judgment day – only morning. Morning: excellent and fair.” I think that sums up a part of my thinking, but certainly not all.
A nuclear reckoning, war with China, or anything else quite so violently apocalyptic is imminent, or even underway, as far too many of us think. I live in one of those bubbles, the sum of which make up America now. Many of the people I talk to, in person and here online, seem to believe, truly believe, the world is coming to something of an end. These are by and large educated, once-rational people, some of whom have been voices of reason in the past. They are not that way now.
We are however falling, some important threads of our nation being teased apart, and our best days are behind us. But this did not start on November 8, 2016, or January 20, 2017, thoough historians will note those dates as significant milestones (same as September 11, 2001.) But not because of Donald Trump. Because his name just happened to be attached to what has been growing inside us since the end of WWII.
The Russians did not elect Trump. They may or may not have tried to get involved in the election, but we did this to ourselves. As the historian you have probably not read but should read Morris Berman predicted years ago, we are eating each other.
We are consumed most of all by our fears. Fear of what the Soviets, and maybe the Chinese, would do after WWII. We created a nuclear arsenal measured in how many multiples of times it could destroy the world. We dragged our country through disasters like Vietnam, that murdered so many and cracked apart our nation. Our fear of race, our war on drugs, and then of course our fear of a world beyond our control after 9/11. Another quote that seems to fit is “The leader of genius must have the ability to make different opponents appear as if they belonged to one category.”
The fears were encouraged at every opportunity by those who profited from them, either by rawly making money, or by acquiring power and control, or in most cases, both. We are unconcerned — it’s normal — that politicians routinely leave office wealthy despite modest salaries. We have so much, and share so little. We enthusiastically abandoned so many of the good things about America, such as our Bill of Rights. America’s pre-WWII Constitutional Era was grossly imperfect. Yet for its obvious failings, there was a sense of the possibility of progress; halting, awkward, unfinished, but, well, for lack of a better word and to use a word that has become a symbol of modern irony, hope.
Of course none of that was close to perfect, but it was good and it is gone in some arenas and going away in most of the rest. We’ll still be allowed to rant on Twitter, a modern day bread and circus, but the real stuff of standing up and speaking back to government will happen only with handfuls of whistleblowers who will sacrifice their lives and freedom to say what they need to say.
I thought we had a chance at change in 2008 but instead was proven to be a dupe. I thought he might turn it all around, in those first weeks he could have asked the rivers to flow backwards and they just might have. He could have grounded the drones, torn up the Patriot Act, held truth commissions to bring into the light our tortures, re-emancipated America in ways not unlike Lincoln did in the 1860s. Slam shut the gates of Guantanamo, close the secret prisons that even today still ooze pus in Afghanistan, stop the militarization of Africa, bring the troops home, all of it, just have done it. What a change, what a path forward, what a rebirth for an America who had lost her way so perilously. One man could have made a difference and when he did not even try, he helped solidify in America a sense of cynicism and powerlessness that empowers evil people further. If there was no Obama there would be no Trump.
A new generation, and me again, thought there was another chance with Bernie Sanders. We were stupid. He was a distraction, and showed his true colors throwing away everything he said previously to support a candidate of the same old old school we’ve been voting for since WWII.
Trump is at best/worst a symbol of all this. How powerful people play us against each other and exploit our differences. How fear (currently fear of Trump filtered through fear of Putin) can be used to manipulate us. How the ideas of democracy can be so easily tossed aside so that our most progressive thinkers are convinced elections are illegitimate, and anything from silly name calling to demands for something akin to a coup are justified when the enemy is as perceived evil as Trump. Echoing the famous lines from Vietnam, it is in their minds necessary to destroy democracy in order to save it.
I’ve written here before open letters to my daughters, talking about the world they are maturing into. This is in that spirit. Somebody, maybe them, is one day going to stop and wonder how they got to where they ended up, an oligarchy that profits from mouthing the nice words of our Founders while ignoring them. Maybe they will find this essay, dated for convenience only, January 20, 2017.
Chelsea will be free in May!
With more than a little irony, while I was in Iraq working for the State Department, Chelsea Manning’s office was across the hall from mine. While I was winning the war by writing emails to the embassy, Manning was across the hall capturing the texts of hundreds of thousands of State Department cables, famously released by Wikileaks, showing that was could never be won.
My war in Iraq ended in near-complete failure. What Manning did will have an impact far beyond that terrible struggle. In this video, I ask the question of why I didn’t do what Manning did, and challenge the audience: when faced with history, would you have the courage to do what Manning did?
Skip ahead to about 2:30
The United States will release a gold coin featuring Lady Liberty as a Black woman, the first time she has been depicted as anything other than white on the nation’s currency.
“Part of our intent was to honor our tradition and heritage,” stated a spokesperson from the Mint. “But we also think it’s always worthwhile to have a conversation about liberty, and we certainly have started that conversation.”
Good for everyone. Only the most dark hearted could be upset that a fictional character is represented in any particular way. This can’t be bad.
…Unless we acknowledge that America is apparently satisfied with “having conversations,” raising awareness about race, and various other symbolic gestures. The Academy Awards are coming up, and lots of people will be keeping track of how many are given out to non-white men and making much of the tally, their “much” depending on which side the scale tips. Gestures of all types are all good enough on their own, but they never really affect much. The issues of race stretch back to the Founders, well before we elected a Black president and then elected one who throws racist statements around on Twitter. We’re still dealing with the same questions.
The same day the new liberty coin was announced, the Department of Justice released a terrifying report describing the failures throughout the Chicago Police Department, saying excessive force was rampant, rarely challenged and chiefly aimed at African-Americans and Latinos. The report was released as Chicago faces skyrocketing violence, with murders are at a 20-year high, and a deep lack of trust among the city’s Black and white residents. And yeah, of course, the police force is very, very white.
Where was this report a year ago, or eight years ago, or ten years ago? Because the implication here is that the Obama administration issued this in its final days, allowing it (and not any solution or progress) to be part of his legacy. Suspecting Trump will not make dealing with these issues a priority, Obama’s DOJ can take credit for “starting a conversation” about Chicago while walking away from the heavy lifting of helping fix it. Hell, DOJ might as well have issued a commemorative coin in lieu of the report.
We all know the rest: 1 in every 15 African American men are incarcerated in comparison to 1 in every 106 white men. According to the Bureau of Justice statistics, one in three Black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime. Once convicted, Black offenders receive longer sentences compared to white offenders. You can find similar numbers for poverty (nearly a quarter of blacks are living in poverty, almost the same as in 1976), unemployment (double that of whites), life expectancy, and voter disenfranchisement.
Clearly over the last seven decades somebody could have fixed some of that. It can’t all be impossible.
Now, there has been some progress. America wrapped up formal slavery in 1865, only 76 years after the Bill of Rights. And then it was only another 100 some years before the Civil Rights laws tried hard to grant Blacks the rights the 1865 victory gave them. We don’t have lynchings and killings much anymore (though the Chicago PD keeps its hand in) and places that wish to discriminate against Blacks have to do it much more subtlety.
I’m not making light of suffering, but I am using sarcasm to show how angry I am about lack of real progress. We seem content to see presence as progress — first Black major leaguer, first Black Supreme Court Justice, first Black _____, first Black president. Again, there is nothing bad there, but now that the top box has been checked, what happens next?
In other words, we get Martin Luther King day as a Federal holiday while at the same time we don’t get the values King embodied. There you go. As one person put it “The Dr. King we choose to remember was indeed the symbolic beacon of the civil rights movement. But the Dr. King we forget worked within institutions to transform broken systems.” Change is not organic; it must be made to happen.
It is hard to come to any conclusion other than we as a society just don’t care. There are so many excuses (he was blocked by the Republicans, they’re still a tiny minority in Congress, the media, etc.) but even America’s Black president failed hard to make much of a real difference. We seem satisfied with symbolic gestures, blowing them out of proportion while the real problems sit in plain sight, unattended. What people will characterize over the next four years as sliding backwards on racial progress seems more like business as usual, albeit without the eloquent speeches.
BONUS: Someone will label me a racist for this. Someone on Twitter will tell me to go f*ck myself. Many people will tell me because of my race I have no understanding, even no right, to talk about these issues. Others will claim I shower with Trump. OK if any of that makes you feel better, but none of that changes what I’ve said.
EXTRA BONUS: Just got accused of “white-splaining” because of this. Apparently that is a thing.
People talk of the Deep State, a kind of shorthand to refer to the entrenched parts of the government, particularly inside the military, intelligence, and security communities, who don’t come and go with election cycles. The information they hold, and their longevity, allows them to significantly influence, perhaps control, the big picture decisions that change the way America works on a global scale. Who the enemies are, where the power needs to be applied, which wars will start and what governments should fall.
One of the features of the Deep State is that it prefers to work behind the scenes, in the shadows if you like. The big name politicians are out front, smiling for the cameras, and the lesser pols have to tend to the day-to-day stuff of government. The Deep State doesn’t trouble itself with regulating agriculture or deciding which infrastructure bill to fund. That is in large part why there will never be a full-on coup; why would the Deep State want to take on responsibility for the Department of Transportation?
When the Deep State does accidentally expose itself, it is often by accident, such as in the panic right after 9/11 when the president was sitting around reading a children’s book while Cheney, Rice, and Rumsfeld were calling the shots. Same for in the 1980s when a set of cock-ups exposed U.S. arms sales to Iran to pay for U.S. proxy forces in Central America while with U.S. support the Saudis paid for jihadists to fight in Afghanistan, laying the early groundwork for what would become the War on Terror.
Forget for a moment what you think of their actions, but pay attention: both our domestic intelligence service (the FBI) and our overseas intelligence service (the CIA) played significant roles in our election. Still not sure what the Deep State is? It’s that.
Forget what you “agree” with, and focus on what happened. In July the FBI exonerated Hillary Clinton of any wrongdoing in connection with her private email server. Yep, there was highly classified material, but that didn’t matter. Nope, the Russians and/or everybody else never hacked into her server, and nobody on her staff ever clicked Podesta-like on a phishing link. Nothing to see here. And then in October the FBI swung again and said well maybe there was something to see, buried conveniently on known-idiot Anthony Weiner’s laptop already in their possession. Funny about that. Anybody seen once marked-to-go places Huma Abedin lately?
As for the CIA, they managed to leak like Grandpa’s adult diapers throughout the campaign that Trump and Putin… something. Trump owes money to Russia. Trump’s computers communicate with Russia. Trump’s advisors work for Russia. Trump wants to build hotels in Russia. When none of that really stuck, it turned out the hacks into the DNC servers were done by Russians — in cahoots with arch-villian Julian Assange — ordered personally by Putin to elect Trump. All because Trump was Putin’s stooge, as the argument completed its circle.
UPDATE: When last week’s intelligence community report that “proved” the Russians did the DNC hack failed to really do much past a news cycle or two, it should be no surprise at all that this week a leak dropped on CNN that the Russians may have “compromising material” on Trump. Now, that leak supposedly came from anonymous sources from a classified synopsis included in a version of last week’s report that was based on allegation made public in the summer but only very recently “confirmed” by a former British intelligence officer who worked privately doing opposition research for an unnamed Trump Republican opponent.
If Trump could not be defeated, he would be delegitimized. Overnight the left/liberals/progressives/whatever turned into red-blooded supporters of the CIA and 21st century Cold Warriors, with anyone from that one asshole on Facebook you argue with to Pulitzer-prize winning journalists who disagree, labeled as Russian stooges, spies, fellow travelers and the like.
The result? A new Cold War, sold to the American people over the course of about a month.
When the Soviet Union collapsed and the old Cold War wrapped up, there was left a gaping hole for the Deep State. They nearly literally had nothing to do. Budgets were being cut, power in Washington defused. 9/11 was a helpful and timely accident; the War on Terror would provide the much-needed Cause to blow up spending and reconstruct status and power.
And the War on Terror started off with great promise for the Deep State, dovetailing nicely with long-sought Conservative projects such as remaking the Middle East and controlling the Persian Gulf. The future was wide open, Afghanistan a stupid but necessary prelude to the real first act in Iraq.
But despite the power of the Deep State, mistakes are made and nature finds a way. The War on Terror became a global clusterf*ck. Failures accumulated: Iraq and Afghanistan, of course. Libya, Syria, the messy Arab Spring, relations with Pakistan. You can’t really trust any of those folks to get it, we want a war that doesn’t end but looks good. Beheadings on TV simply stir people up at home and there is not much we can do about them.
Now, to be fair to the War on Terror, it had a good run. It normalized domestic spying and the omni-presence of security everywhere in America, and set up a nice bureaucracy to manage all that in Homeland Security. It got Americans used to see armed military, and militarized cops, on the streets.
But what was needed was a global struggle that made us look like we were winning without it ever ending.
If only there was some sort of model for that…
The Russians. Every American fear rolled into one guy, Putin, who might as well come from a Hollywood super-villian workshop. Unlike messy terrorists, who wanted, whatever, Sharia or a Caliphate, damn foreign words, Russia wanted old-fashioned territory, stuff on maps like Crimea and the Ukraine that mattered not a whit to America, but could be played domestically as Struggles for Freedom (C). The Russkies had troops with actual uniforms, and all the old propaganda materials were laying around. The Russians also knew how to play ball, blasting back through their RT and Sputnik channels nobody really watches but are right there to label as threats to our democracy. The Russian version of the Deep State knows a good deal when they see one, too.
Clinton was the perfect figurehead, already warm friends with one of the last dessicated Cold Warriors, Henry Kissinger, and already more than predisposed to cast the Russians into their role. Trump, well, he didn’t seem to get it, and, when it was becoming clearer he might win, he needed to be made to get it. The Deep State appeared to have some internal dissension; that publicly popped up when it appeared the FBI and CIA were not sure which horse to back in the latter days of the campaign and how to do it. Hey, mistakes were made, sorry, even the Deep State is kinda human.
Well, it was messy and dragged on past the actual election, but everything is settled now. The intelligence report that just came out made things clear: Russia is the bad guy, Trump now the cuck of the Deep State, things are back to “normal.” Funding will pour into the military, intelligence, and security communities. Since the war will be a cold one, the U.S. can declare periodic victories just like in the old days over things like the Olympics, chess matches, dissidents saved, spy stuff We Can’t Tell You About but will leak out anyway. We can have proxy wars and skirmishes that seem like huge deals but can usually be managed in scope. Any troublemakers at home, in or out of the White House, can be labeled Russian sympathizers on CNN and Maddow and dealt away quickly.
Overall, the 1950s weren’t that bad now were they?
BONUS: One currently outstanding question is whether the manipulations of the Deep State in our election became public by accident, such as after 9/11, or whether someone (us? Trump? Putin?) was meant to see them for some purpose. Hang on to that question.
MORE BONUS: Yes, yes, this is all conspiracy nonsense. The moon landings were faked and 9/11 was an inside job by the Mossad. There is no Deep State, or Trump really is a Russian Manchurian candidate, or the spiders from Mars are actually pulling the strings or I am reading those weird Geocities-like websites for preppers and soon will be posting cheesy animated GIFs of flags waving, whatever. I’m also a Russian, or Edward Snowden, or being paid by someone to write this. Whatever you need to tell yourself, and you should never believe what I say and say how sad it is that this is what I’ve come too. I’ll kill a puppy in your honor. Thanks!
For those who would like to become a progressive columnist in the world of Trump, here’s a guide for your first and every subsequent article:
— Everything was pretty freaking close to perfect on November 7. Yeah, tough about Bernie, but Clinton was going to be great.
— Putin, Comey, media, maybe Bernie, everyone you hate and fear, elected Trump because 62 million Americans are white, misogynists, and Nazis. They also are wrong about not having good jobs; don’t people in the Rust Belt read the job statistics?
— Anyway, Trump is an oaf and/or an evil genius.
— He is out to destroy America; riff off this for the next forever.
Your First Essay Example
And if you’d like a good example on how to do it, turn to Neil Gabler’s essay on the otherwise intelligent blog from Bill Moyers.
Here’s how that essay starts:
America died on November 8, 2016, not with a bang or a whimper, but at its own hand via electoral suicide. We the people chose a man who has shredded our values, our morals, our compassion, our tolerance, our decency, our sense of common purpose, our very identity — all the things that, however tenuously, made a nation out of a country.
Whatever place we now live in is not the same place it was on November 7. No matter how the rest of the world looked at us on November 7, they will now look at us differently. We are likely to be a pariah country.
First of all, points for the “bang and whimper” cliche, followed by the happy bullsh*t about how wonderful America was last month as described by phony Hamilton the musical lyrics. I bet the show’s cast could make values, morals, compassion, tolerance, decency, common purpose, and identity rhyme.
Dude, we are a helluva people! Exceptional!
Because prior to the election results we weren’t a nation founded on a slave economy, which 250 years later still has its cops imprison and murder Blacks, who doesn’t have the highest incarceration rate in the world, mostly for small amounts of weed that has been long legalized in other western nations. Our compassion is set to full, except if you are different than me in your race, religion, or views on guns, gays or abortions. Of course we don’t really do much for women, and unlike say India, Israel, the UK, Burma, and a whole mess of other places, have never had a female chief executive.
Yeah, whatever, all that.
And lovely, that bit about American becoming an international pariah. Could happen. Luckily the world has overlooked so far that we are the only nation to have used atomic weapons (twice, on civilians), stayed at war, spied and overthrown governments in their countries pretty steadily for 70 years, set the Middle Easton on fire over fake WMDs, drone kill wherever we like, torture people, and run an offshore penal colony right out of Les Miserables. Man, Trump, amiright?
No More Democracy for You
Later in the article, author Gabler throws in a whopper: “Republicans… haven’t believed in democracy for a long time.”
Yep, one of the two parties in America, in fact the one that’s been out of power for the last eight years and which was voted into office via an election, does not believe in democracy. Makes sense. And to throw us off the trail, the sneaks are conducting a peaceful transition of power!
Luckily the Democrats over the last eight years have only drone killed American Citizens without trial (Fifth Amendment), spied on all of us (Fourth Amendment) and racked up the worst Freedom of Information Act response rate since the Act was created (First Amendment.)
This is the End
Wrapping it all up, Gabler says:
But the disempowered media may have one more role to fill: They must bear witness. Many years from now, future generations will need to know what happened to us and how it happened. They will need to know how disgruntled white Americans, full of self-righteous indignation, found a way to take back a country they felt they were entitled to and which they believed had been lost. They will need to know about the ugliness and evil that destroyed us as a nation after great men like Lincoln and Roosevelt guided us through previous crises and kept our values intact. They will need to know, and they will need a vigorous, engaged, moral media to tell them. They will also need us. We are not living for ourselves anymore in this country. Now we are living for history.
So there you go. It’s pretty much the fault of us white guys, except for great white guys like Lincoln and Roosevelt. Other once-famous white guys like Jefferson, maybe Kennedy and Carter, didn’t make the list. Hell, Carter was even a southerner.
There are going to be troubles ahead. Trump will not be a good president, and he is surrounding himself with inept people. The world is a complex place and even the best of our great white men have struggled with that. But for f*ck’s sake, stop imagining an America that never existed on November 7, and creating a dystopian nightmare that you imagine popped into being a day later.
A clear view of history is a necessary starting point as we edge into 2017.
BONUS: Neil Gabler is not otherwise an idiot. His biography says he is the author of five books and the recipient of two LA Times Book Prizes, Time magazine’s non-fiction book of the year, USA Today’s biography of the year and other awards. He is also a senior fellow at The Norman Lear Center at the University of Southern California, and is currently writing a biography of Senator Edward Kennedy.
I survived. America, and the world, and you, survived. We awoke the first day of 2017 to find that once again, using the extraordinary power of fear, we again held off the terrorists. And Putin. And Trump, nationalists, racists, hackers, alt-Right fascists, CNN, persons of all colors, genders, shapes, sizes, and goddamn religions.
Fear Classic: Terrorism
Hard as it is to persuade a constantly re-frightened American public, there have been less than 100 Americans killed inside the Homeland by so-called Islamic terrorism since 9/11.
Argue the number, hell, go ahead and double or triple it, and it still a tragic, sad, but undeniable drop in the bucket. Throw in a few mysterious “foiled plots” the government never seems to have many specifics on to share and tack on some more to the terror body count. No matter how hard you drive, you just can’t get the number of Americans killed or even in clear danger of being killed to a very large number.
And do spare the tired trope of “well, security measures such as at our airports have saved us from who knows how many attacks.” Leaving aside the idea that the argument itself demands a kind of negative logic (the “who knows” part) to even make sense, a test by the Department of Homeland’s own Inspector General’s Office, posing as travelers, showed 95 percent of contraband, including weapons and explosives, got through during clandestine testings. If a failure rate of 95 percent did not have planes falling from the sky, one must conclude security does little to affect terrorism.
CNN on the Eve told us that almost two million people were in Times Square to see in the New Year, along with 7,000 cops and 65 giant trucks filled with sand to stop the 2016 fad (actually two cases, in Europe) of car/truck driving terrorists. More Americans died of alcohol poisoning (booze terror!) last night than terrorism.
A shout-out here also to a benevolent Allah, who mercifully did not tell any terrorists that while Times Square was secured on the Eve, the rest of the large crowds elsewhere in New York were pretty much not, and a suicide bomber could have ridden in on a camel. Same as the days after New Year’s, when there is the usual lack of any serious security everywhere but at Trump Tower. Luckily ISIS couldn’t figure any of that out. Whew.
Our New Fears for 2017
And despite the new fears, actually two old ones recombined, our such as it is democracy is still hanging around. The new fears are quite creative, lopping together that old standby, The Red Menace and its global evil genius Vlad Putin, and “hacking,” the computer thingie that scares old peoples and is why you need to go home every Thanksgiving and reboot grandpa’s PC so he can play Solitaire again.
We endured the fear-mongering of the autumn that our Very Way of Life was at risk, because John Podesta’s emails were released and because the Electoral College was full of meanie rats who wouldn’t do something something Hamilton and elect Hillary like the script said they should. If only the Russians and FBI and Clinton Foundation and email server and Bernie Sanders and the nine votes cast for Jill Stein and the recounts that actually cost Clinton a few votes and 62 million Americans hadn’t interfered, we would be entering 2017 basking in the warm and eternal glow of Dear Leader Hillary Clinton leading us from bondage. Dammit.
Trump has also failed (so far!) to start any wars with China, Planet Mongo, or Russia by breaking up with Putin and refusing to give the ring back. He has not instituted Sharia law or martial law or the Nuremberg laws or rounded up people who write liberal tweets or made all LGBTQ people marry illegal aliens and wear boring clothing to NASCAR races. That may come, it’s early in 2017, but so far, not yet.
But don’t believe me. “We should be absolutely terrified in 2017—perhaps more than at any other point in the 20th century,” said Robin Kelley, historian of social movements in the U.S. at the University of California Los Angeles.
Or maybe, believe me. It is all panic-mongering, designed to keep us in a state of fear. Fearful people are easy to manipulate. So stop being afraid.
BONUS: Many have written in to ask what I get in return for being a Russian puppet. To be honest, not much, mostly just a hobby. I do get to crash on Snowden’s pull-out when I’m in Moscow for reeducation sessions, and that saves me a few bucks.
I understand why all of the often false, usually bombastic, reporting on Trump is angering me.
You know the stuff — take a “fact,” real or fully made up, and conflate it with some apocalyptic prediction. Watch: Trump alternates between wearing boxers and briefs. Will his indecisiveness cause him to pull back when America is attacked by the Russians?
The other story everyone writes now is based on the journalist’s apparent post-November 9 discovery of an element of fascism, racism and/or parts of the Constitution and presidential practice. And so someone is shocked that Trump will be able to choose drone kill targets, or have access to everything the NSA sweeps up about his enemies.
The first type of stories are just pathetic, kiddies with pencils seeing what they can get away with, journalists working out in public their disbelief that someone like Trump won, people witnessing their first presidential transition and not dealing with it well. Those stories will fade away, or move to the tabloids where they’ll find a home aside Elvis and Roswell.
The latter stories, the ones worrying about what Trump will do with the power of _____ are more worrisome. The ascribe fear of executive power and a government run amuck to one man, someone they loathe, Trump. They ignore that these powers, of which we should all be legitimately terrified, are not of a man but of our system.
Trump, per se, for example, doesn’t control drone killings, the executive does. Bush killed, Obama killed, the president after Trump will kill. Same for the NSA — they all had, and future presidents will have, the ability to spy on anyone.
By focusing on one man, we imagine any solutions will rest in getting rid of this man (recount! electoral college! impeachment!) That is dangerous.
Any solutions (I’m not optimistic) must be changes to the system of ever-growing executive power. In that sense, perhaps the election of someone so obvious in his erratic statements, so oafish in his behavior, may be for the best. A bucket of cold well water to the face might be what’s needed for a citizenry that allowed one president to sell all his acquisition of power via a faux-sincere monologue of fear mongering, and another on the strength of his coolness and personal trust.
The change has to be to the system, not the person. In that sense, perhaps Trump will be the president we need, if not the one we wanted.
Once you let the genie out of the bottle, you can’t stuff him back in.
Attempts to overturn the results of our election, or to delegitimize a president before he even takes office, are attempts to overturn the system of transfer of power that has served America since its earliest days. There is no measure of exaggeration here; Americans are questioning the results of the election because roughly half don’t like the guy who won.
Somehow things are… special this year. In most elections, a good-sized group of us see our candidate lose, grumble, and move on to some degree. I don’t think Trump will be a good president, but I also do not think he will burn civil rights to the ground, destroy life on the planet, sell Alaska back to Russia, or invade China with Omarosa some drunk weekend.
In what in another era would be left for conspiracy theorists to contemplate, for the first time in our nation’s history powerful mainstream forces are trying to change the results of an election. Shocked by Trump’s victory, and fearing his presidency, they want to stop him from entering the White House. The belief seems to be that he is such a threat that it is necessary to destroy a part of democracy in America to save it.
Some efforts are silly, online petitions demanding, somehow, Clinton become president (here’s one asking the Supreme Court to invalidate the election,) or bleating that her popular vote victory matters somehow within the existing electoral process. Others call for a magic do-over, a new election.
But after that it gets very serious. America’s foreign intelligence service, the CIA, via anonymous leaks to the New York Times, NBC, and the Washington Post, declared Russia actively and purposefully interceded in our election in favor of Donald Trump. Trump was elected, in part, by the work of Russian cyber blackops.
It is important to unpack what the accusations driving this are: someone working for the Russian government broke into the Democratic National Committee servers and Clinton campaign head John Podesta’s Gmail account, delivered those emails (which the Clinton campaign by and large said were bogus or altered) to places like Wikileaks, and that the emails few voters read influenced the election such that Trump, not Clinton, won the electoral vote. Trump’s strengths as a candidate and Clinton weaknesses were not significant enough on their own to have swayed the electoral count 74 votes in Trump’s favor. At the same time, for these accusations to matter, President Trump will act in favor of Russian interests (choosing hard liner John Bolton as number two at the State Department already seems counter to that) and against those of the United States.
The accusations against Trump can rise to the level of treason (some are speculating Trump was a willing participant in any Russian ops), a capital crime, the most serious crime an American can commit against his country.
All is supposed to be revealed in the form of some sort of investigation.
Leaving how clever use of redactions can present “evidence” in misleading ways, intelligence assessments are rarely black and white, especially when seeking to explain why an action took place, its ultimate political goal. An intelligence service can conclude with reasonable confidence (for example) that Country X executed 12 dissidents last week. It is much harder to say why, or why now, or why those 12, or why not a different group, or what those executions mean in the longer game of local politics. So while technical means may be able to point to a hacker with connections to Russia (though hackers include in their tradecraft leaving false clues), moving from whether any hacks were standard information gathering as engaged in by all sides, or an active part of a campaign to change the course of our election, is a tough job. So those who expect a black and white report on what they Russians did, why they did it, and how it affected the election, are very unlikely to get it.
So what will be done?
The current focus is on the Electoral College voting on Monday, December 19 to put Hillary Clinton into the White House. That would require breaking with some 224 years of practice, moving against the will of about half of American voters who acted in good faith under the current system believing their vote would be assessed by the rules and practices in place, and destroying the orderly transfer of power that marks a democracy.
But if Trump prevails in the Electoral College, what next? There is no Constitutional allowance for a “second election.” Bomb Moscow? Keep Barack Obama in power? Dispatch a lynch mob to Trump Tower?
Well, of course not. Probably.
Instead we will enter a new administration with a delegitimized president, under the shadow of multiple conspiracy theories, accusations, hearings, investigations and likely threats to of impeachment proceedings. Every decision President Trump makes, as with his every Cabinet choice now, will be weighed against the accusations. America’s Russia policy (in Europe, the Middle East, Asia) will be held hostage to rumors and leaks. A divided America will become more divided.
The Bush-Gore election of 2000 was contested right into the Supreme Court. The differences, however, are significant. The post-election fight took place between two men still candidates, to decide a winner. Trump is the President Elect, and the process, whatever it is, seeks to overturn, not decide, that result. In Bush-Gore, once the Court declared a winner, the results were accepted, albeit reluctantly by some, and America moved on. Lastly, the struggle between Bush and Gore took place in open court, not via leaks and classified documents.
There is also the argument, basically a variation of “if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear” that Americans should be willing to submit to post-election recounts and investigations, themselves often inconclusive or subject to another round of questions, to “prove” nothing went amiss. There is danger in confusing a potential body blow to the electoral process, seeking to overturn a completed election, with casting it all as benign verification.
An additional danger is in the McCarthy-esque conflating of opposition to these efforts with a lack of patriotism, and by invalid extension, support for America’s enemies. To remain skeptical is to stand against the United States. To question the CIA is to disrespect our intelligence professionals. Journalists who do not support the accusations are said to be either active Russian agents of influence or “useful idiots” too dumb to know they are being manipulated.
The real impact of all this will be felt long past Trump’s tenure.
Democrats, Republicans, and players such as the CIA will have four years to consider how this process of delegitimizing a President Elect could work more effectively next time. The people who support extra-Constitutional steps now because of Donald Trump will find those same step will be available in later elections, to use against a candidate they favor. Voting can potentially become only a preliminary gesture, with real struggle only starting after the election itself.
Many are deeply upset Hillary Clinton lost. Many are unsure, even fearful, of a Trump presidency. But once you let the genie of trying to overturn an election loose, you won’t be able to stop it next time.
The pattern is near-identical: a Muslim woman who has very publicly made defeating Islamophobia part of her political work suffers a hate crime after Trump’s election.
She reports the crime only through the media, who sends what she says viral without asking any critical questions, despite some issues that might be worth questioning. The story is added to the tally of such crimes, as another example of what people want to believe.
At issue? If a hate crime is real, it must be prosecuted publicly and aggressively. We live in a vulnerable, volatile time. Anyone who would commit a hate crime needs, within the law, to be made an example of, lest the next one be the spark that starts a larger fire. At the same time, if a hate crime did not occur, that too must be prosecuted fully. Every false or exaggerated report adds to the arsenal of false reports that negate real reports.
Minnesota State Representative-elect Ilhan Omar in January will become the country’s first Somali-American state legislator. She was in Washington DC, including a visit to the White House, last week for a conference. In a post on Facebook and Twitter, Omar claimed she and her sister were victims of a hate crime by a D.C. cabdriver who picked the two women up as they exited the White House. The driver called her ISIS and threatened to remove her hijab.
No Police Report
In her Facebook posting immediately after the alleged incident, Omar stated she would only file a report with the police after she returned to Minnesota, citing concerns for her safety because the driver knew the location of her hotel.
Omar did not suffer any further harassment, and had no further contact with the driver. The story went viral.
Once back in Minnesota, Omar stated she changed her mind and would not file a police report. Instead, saying she “believes criminalizing hate is not a solution and will only strengthen individual malice,” Omar instead only reported the incident in an unspecified format with DC’s Department of For-Hire Vehicles and the DC Office of Human Rights.
The former has the power to suspend a driver after a hearing. It is unclear what enforcement powers the Human Rights office has. Under the heading of “Reporting Taxicab and Vehicle-For-Hire Discrimination,” the Office focuses on denials of service, if, for example, a taxi refuses to pick up a passenger who is handicapped. Omar’s situation does not seem to be addressed.
— Omar did not address the fact that by posting the incident to Facebook, as well as doing interviews with The Rachel Maddow Show and others, she more than alerted the driver. If he wanted revenge or to attack her, there it was.
— She also did not address that by choosing not to report the act immediately to the police, the driver would be free to continue to harass other Muslim women. In fact, since there was no arrest, he is driving around DC right now. Perhaps he even seeks out Muslim women passengers as targets? Omar seems to have a responsibility here to other women and the public she is ignoring.
— Omar has not provided information about the cab she took, nor a fuller description of the driver who in her statement she described only as an “African immigrant.” Since she was picked up outside the White House, a fully surveilled area, it seems likely Omar’s cab and driver would be relatively easy to identify. Unless the driver told her “I am an immigrant,” it is unclear how Omar would know he was not born in the United States.
— Omar has not explained how the driver might have been able to remove her headcovering given the plexiglass barrier in DC cabs.
BONUS: Here’s an example of a newspaper who actually pulled a story after realizing it could not verify what happened. But oh, the story was about a guy playing Santa Claus at a sick kid’s bedside, not an alleged hate crime…
We have and have had for 224 years an Electoral College system. The popular vote is not and has never been how we elect a president.
This is the 6th time in U.S. history the candidate chosen has lost the popular vote, nothing new. The country has muddled on, with some of those presidents being better than others.
In addition, because of the electoral college system, candidates campaign for electoral votes, not the popular vote. That is the basis for their strategizing how to allot their limited time and resources.
So, for example, knowing he had little chance to win Democratic strongholds California and New York, Trump did not campaign extensively there even though they are big states. That’s how Clinton won the popular vote, because her campaign aimed at those (big) states where she thought she would win the electoral vote. The size of the popular vote garnered is more a reflection of the way the system works than it is a gauge of popularity.
You just got woke to the electoral college system after napping through high school civics class? Good for you. You don’t like it? Also cool. Now read up on how the Constitution gets changed. It is a long, slow process, and intended to be that way just to avoid knee jerk reaction such as are underway today. So best to contact your legislators today and get them started doing something abut the Electoral College no one has otherwise done in over two centuries.
There is no system or method for overturning an election, and people are very wrong to talk about trying to do so based on claimed Russian meddling. For that to have validity someone would have to show conclusively and without doubt (we’re talking about dismantling a 224 year old system here, folks, not simple WMDs):
The hack took place –> The Russian government did it –> The Clinton campaign lied when they said the hacked emails were frauds and/or altered –> The hack itself was more important than the contents of the emails –> That any of this, if true, truly changed the results of the election in favor of Trump.
That’s a pretty big bite. If you can’t prove that, you have no case to even think about negating the system, throw away the votes of some 62 million people, and plunging the nation into chaos that it may or may not ever recover from.
And while there may be untried methods to make it possible for the Electoral College to vote for Clinton, can vote isn’t the same as should vote. An awful lot of people voted themselves in anticipation that their votes would be reflected by their electors. That was the system they entered the game under, not something along the lines of “let’s see how this voting thing plays out on November 8 and if don’t like it let’s try something else.” You think disenfranchising all those voters is just gonna happen without any problems?
For the most part, the media as a whole fetishized the Clinton candidacy (first woman ever! most experienced candidate ever! dynasty!) and treated Trump as an oaf when they weren’t calling him Hitler and parading any person who wished to accuse him of something before the cameras. That pattern continues now, though the accusations have changed from sexual harassment to near-treason on behalf of Putin.
Alongside this circus were scum stories on all facets of the campaign attributed to… no one. “Sources close to the campaign said,” or “Officials who could not be identified” and so forth. It almost gave the impression reporters were just making stuff up. Alongside that were many media outlets that simply reprinted others’ stories, so that a piece of journalistic garbage flew around the Internet without anyone asking any questions or verifying the contents.
It was sad. The result was the media at large has little credibility left with the public. When people have a hard time figuring out whether or not you’re reporting fake news, you have a problem.
So, as a public service, here are some credibility tips for journalists:
— Don’t just write apocalyptic stories warning what Trump might do (impose tariffs, restrict abortion) without also telling us what would have to actually happen for the change to take place. Will he simply need to sign an Executive Order? Get Congress to pass a law? Take a case to the Supreme Court? Because screeching about something that might happen without letting us know how realistic that happening is is poor work.
— Along with the above: go easy on the might happen stuff. Don’t whisk your readers from a phone call with Taiwan’s president to war with China by this weekend. Think twice before publishing any headline that includes “Trump Might…”
— On a similar note, try to work in some of the following to your pieces: context, named sources, perspective, explanation, less undergrad simple conjecture. So, for example, in a story about the Million Woman March being denied a permit to protest on the grounds of the Lincoln Memorial, mention that (to date) no one has been issued any permits, it’s too early. Tell us it has been since at least the 1980s that a large scale protest permit has been issued for the Memorial. Explain that the decision to issue/refuse is made by the National Park Service, which is under the control of Obama, not Trump. Note that since the 1980 Reagan inauguration protest space at the ceremony has consistently been reduced. That makes a much better article than a headline screaming “Trump Denies Women’s Right to Protest.”
— In fact, more fact and less bombast in general is a good thing. Separate fact from conjecture from opinion, old journalism school style.
— Remember the words alleged and accused. Use them not only for criminals, but when an (alleged) victim makes a statement claiming a politician or celebrity assaulted them.
— Alleged and accused are especially important words when reporting on hate crimes. Reports of hate crimes stir up a lot of explosive motions. Report responsibility. Victim shaming is bad; exercising healthy journalistic inquiry is essential. It is your job.
— And those anonymous sources. There are important roles for anonymous sources, but not to report smears, gossip, innuendo, political speculation, or to play into political manipulation. If you don’t have on-record sources, and you’re not reporting on the next Edward Snowden, check to see if you have a story you can report responsibility.
— Question the information, less the source, but stay awake that all sources have an agenda. If you don’t know what it is and how you are playing into it, stop and figure that out before you go to print.
— Control your partisanship. Journalists, remember a few years ago when Fox became so grossly overtly one-sided, and how little you thought of them? That’s what a lot of people think of you now.
Here’s what’s left of democracy in America.
We had an election, and the candidate favored by Washington, media, and many business elites did not win. Here’s what happened next.
— CIA unambiguously but without documentation or evidence presented says, via anonymous leaks, that Russia interceded in the election to help elect Donald Trump.
— Democratic Congresspeople, alongside several media outlets, have called for investigations into whether or not Trump colluded with the Russians to influence the election. That would be an impeachable offense, a criminal offense, treason.
— The underlying message is that the Russians believe Trump as president will so favor them (for some reason) that they risk war, or a cyber version of war, to see him in power. Trump’s legitimacy is now undermined, and his every action toward the
Soviet UnionRussia will be tainted.
— Though this “information” was known in Washington since at least the election, it was only released 10 days ahead of the Electoral College vote.
— Meanwhile, Jill Stein, as proxy for Hillary Clinton, raised $7 million over a long weekend after claiming the vote count in three key states was wrong and/or the counting machines (not connected to the web) were hacked and cannot be trusted. A recount could have sent Clinton to the White House.
— Clinton supporters continue to try and get the Electoral College to do something it has never done in some 220 years, select a candidate who did not win the most electoral votes.
— Hillary Clinton has re-emerged, making speeches and public appearances, concurrent with all of the above.
— Democrats as a group continue to insist winning the popular vote entitles Clinton to… something.
— Clinton supporters earlier claimed the FBI interceded in the election to defeat Clinton.
— Candidate Clinton claimed during a debate the now president-elect is a stooge working on behalf of Putin, literal treason.
This is banana republic crap, people, that looks to negate the votes of some 62 million Americans. We no longer believe in our own system. When the candidate many people did not support wins, the response is to seek to negate the democratic process, via accusations that make McCarthy in the 1950s look like a sad amateur.
What we have are anonymous voices at an intelligence agency supposedly dedicated to foreign intel saying the Russians helped elect our next president. That says the process is flawed and cannot be trusted, and that Trump will owe a debt to the Russians and can’t be trusted. It will keep alive the idea that Clinton should have won if not for this meddling and undermine for his term the legitimacy of Trump. Via the classification process, the CIA will only need to make public the snippets of info that support its contention.
This is an attempted coup as sure as it would be if there were tanks on the White House lawn. The CIA might as well have tried to shoot Trump during his next trip to Dallas.
To date, all of these accusations have been based on anonymous sources and leaks. The president of the United States remains silent.
And we are so easily manipulated — liberals/progressives who have rightly attacked the CIA for decades for domestic spying, WMD lies, overthrowing foreign governments, torture, drones, renditions, etc., overnight now believe and support every word the Agency says.
America, our goose is cooked. You worry about an autocracy? It doesn’t have to be in one man. It can be via an Agency.
The problems many are now predicting under the Trump administration did not start on November 8. The near-unrestrained executive power claimed by the Obama administration will be transferred to the president-elect. Here’s what that means.
Obama did not prosecute, fire or discipline anyone for torturing people on behalf of the people of the United States. He did not hold any truth commissions, and ensured almost all of the government documents on the torture program remain classified. He did not prosecute the CIA official who willfully destroyed video tapes of the torture scenes. He has not specifically disavowed secret prisons and renditions, just suspended their use.
As with the continued hunting down of Nazis some 70 years after their evil acts, the message that individual responsibility exists must stalk those who would do evil on behalf of a government. “I was only following orders” is not a defense against inhuman acts. The purpose of tracking down the guilty is less to punish and more to discourage the next person from doing evil; the purpose is to morally immunize a nation-state.
Because of these failures President Trump can, as he has proposed, restart the torture program at any time. Some claim the CIA won’t participate. Some always will of course, and if not at CIA, then a contractor will be found. And if another terror attack or two take place, then people at CIA and elsewhere in government will be lining up to conduct the torture as they did last time. They know they will never be held accountable. Indeed, Trump is apparently considering the CIA official who destroyed the torture tapes, Jose Rodriguez, to head up the agency.
Obama legalized, formalized, and normalized drone assassinations on a global scale, including the killing of American citizens without due process in direct violation of the Fifth Amendment, on the president’s order alone. The only real restraint he codified is self-restraint. When you leave a door open, you never know who will walk in.
Because of this President Trump can do the same thing. Trump is unlikely to blow up the entire world with the nuclear codes, but please do not act surprised when his choice of American citizen targets may not match up with yours.
Obama never closed Guantanamo as he promised. He could have, simply by depopulating it regardless of what Congress might have said. In 2014 when Obama needed to trade five Taliban from Gitmo for U.S. Army soldier Bowe Bergdahl in Afghanistan, Obama simply ordered those Taliban freed. He could do the same with anyone else there. He could have applied the full pressure of the U.S. on various countries to accept freed prisoners. He could have ordered the show trials to be conclude.
Obama did not do these things. He instead normalized indefinite detention as a policy of the United States, and alongside that, as with torture and drone assassinations, the use of secret, convoluted legal opinions to justify such executive powers.
So if President Trump choses to start refilling the cells at Guantanamo, and reminding the world of the lengths a frightened America is willing to go to imprison a single man, it should not be a surprise. And with the “legal” opinions, including ones still secret, behind such policies, stopping Trump will require years of counter-litigation never even begun under the Obama administration.
Obama prosecuted more federal whistleblowers as spies under the Espionage Act than all previous U.S. presidents combined. He sent to jail people who exposed torture, and people who allegedly leaked information to journalists showing American complicity in dangerous acts abroad. He had Chelsea Manning prosecuted for exposing war crimes in Iraq. He used the Espionage Act to destroy the lives of others who under any definition except his own would be considered political heroes.
Obama and his Justice Department created the playbook for how to use the hereto obscure Espionage Act to do these things.
So if President Trump, perhaps with an attorney general Rudy Giuliani, uses that playbook to lock up whistleblowers, journalists, and people you might call dissidents and political prisoners, remember to again look the other way.
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
The Obama administration set a record for redacting government files or outright denying access to them in fiscal year 2014 – some 77% of FOIA requests were redacted or denied outright. More than any previous administration, Obama took longer to turn over files, said more often it couldn’t find documents and refused a record number of times to turn over newsworthy files quickly absent lawsuits brought to force the government’s hand. In the case of Hillary Clinton, files considered “unclassified” in one context were redacted in whole in another.
Though the backlog of unanswered requests grew by 55%, the administration cut the number of full-time FOIA employees by nine percent. Despite the critical nature of the documents, the State Department was allowed to do its FOIA screening of the Clinton emails largely with an ad hoc crew of retirees. The impact on journalists, and the right of the people to know, was immeasurable.
So don’t be surprised if the Trump administration does not end up as the most transparent one ever.
Obama never realistically reigned in the NSA after the Bush-era Patriot Act allowed the agency to turn its surveillance tools on the Homeland. Absent a few cosmetic changes, NSA continues to gather the full spectrum of Americans’ communications in violation of the Fourth Amendment, abetted by the secret FISA court and vaguely Constitutional tools such as National Security Letters and parallel reconstruction. Information lives forever, and the NSA is building bigger data warehouses to keep storing it.
President Trump will have that information about you at his disposal. And so all who bleated “they had nothing to hide and thus have nothing to fear” during the Obama (and Bush) administration, out of trust for a president or fear of terror, well, now you can join the rest of us who have been terrified for a very long time.
Trump has done more than become the most prolific social media communicator in political history. He has discovered the Holy Grail of presidential-media relations: the ability to ignore the whole damn Fourth Estate. This is a new paradigm for political power, one that at a minimum pushes the media another circulation drop closer to irrelevancy. Oh well, they’ll always have the weather and sports to report. Craigslist already took the classifieds away.
The latest online thrust by Trump has been a series of tweets directed personally against a reporter who said the president-elect claimed without evidence his popular vote total suffered because of extensive voter fraud. Jeff Zeleny, CNN’s chief Washington correspondent, said Trump was a “sore winner,” adding the president-elect had “zero evidence” to back his claim he won the popular vote. Commentators agreed with Zeleny, saying Trump’s ego couldn’t accept the insult of losing the popular vote.
Trump responded with a series of tweets and retweets condemning Zeleny. All of the tweets saw “likes” in the tens of thousands, and endless websites excerpted and embedded them out to an even larger audience. Just another episode in the Trump reality show, right?
As the media missed the overall populist appeal of Trump right up until election night, so are they missing the populist power he is wielding and likely will continue wield via social media for the next four years.
While Obama claimed the title of first “Internet president” by virtue of his online fundraising, brilliant datamining, and seeding of the 24-hour news cycle, the bulk of his efforts were essentially repurposing technology to do the traditional things politicians have always done, albeit faster and better. Evolution, not revolution.
Trump has discovered something much, much bigger: he does not need to depend on the media to communicate to the electorate. As the once-upstarts such as HuffPo, Buzzfeed, and the Daily Beast pushed the TV networks into the background, so now is social media Trump-style stepping forward.
Sure, OK, the Internet is a powerful tool for global communication, social media blah blah blah, Kanye something something Instagram, this stuff’s taught now in Communications 101: The Modern Age at community college.
But social media for Trump is not simply a display board to pin policy statements to as Obama has used it. Social media is a tool that first allows Trump to bypass everything and speak to individual citizens/voters, and then force the traditional media to amplify what he says as part of its own thirst for “content.” There really isn’t any news anymore when Trump has it on Twitter as his own scoop. Ignore the tweets so as to starve the beast? The worry is more that the audience will ignore you because they can read the tweets themselves.
Every president who’s left a record has expressed some level of disdain for the media of his day, and a desire to circumvent it. But no president could afford to ignore them, or to truly anger them. Influence them, of course: presidents would leak juicy stuff to one reporter, cut off another, but at the end of the day media and the president needed each other to do their respective jobs. A president would once upon a time have had to be careful chiding a columnist for the New York Times to her face for fear of being slaughtered on the editorial page. President Lyndon Johnson, after hearing CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite had spoken out against the War in Vietnam, famously said, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost the country.”
Access now only has to be courted one way. Trump can afford to insult reporters because he no longer has any real need for them, except perhaps as foils for his anti-establishment rhetoric. He treats them with contempt because in his mind, all they really do is retweet him. Who cares what CNN’s Jeff Zeleny, thinks of you? How many followers on Twitter does he have anyway? Zeleny = 135k. Trump = 16.3 million.
Trump has also mastered, via social media, the art of Internet logic. His tweets often read like the “Comments” section on some political blog. Make a bold statement unsupported by facts. When challenged, demand the challenger provide proof you’re wrong (often meaning to prove the negative) and then mock them if they don’t respond. Dispute sources, not facts — X can’t be true because it was reported by a media outlet that favored Clinton. Attack ad hominem, and goad others into doing the same. The enemy isn’t just CNN, it is Jeff Zeleny himself. Then stand back and disavow what happens, up to and including death threats. And, for the triple score, issue an appeal for calm with a conspiratorial wink.
Social media Trump-style also offers the unprecedented ability to control the agenda. Should a troublesome story appear, a handful of bombastic tweets changes the conversation. If no one seems to be listening after some rude remarks about the musical Hamilton run their course, just yell louder — flag burners should lose their citizenship! All in real, real time; Trump is no stranger to sending out 140 characters of white noise at 3 am.
With its reliance on “friends” and “followers,” social media also creates a personal bond between Trump and individual Americans not really experienced since Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Depression-era fireside chats. As those radio broadcasts brought Roosevelt into the living room, Trump’s tweets put his policies, opinions and rants into the same feeds as Aunt Sally talking about Christmas plans. It creates intimacy, and by association (who doesn’t like Aunt Sally), may increase trust.
And make no mistake about it; unlike most politicians’ social media, which sounds like robotic ad-speak, Trump’s tweets come from Trump. It’s him talking to you. Look at many of the responses to Trump on social media; people are writing back to him in the first person, using the informal language of the web. This is a personal connection. He is part of your world and part of your day. And unlike TV, you can speak back to him, and maybe get an answer of sorts; Trump has been known to retweet messages from his followers.
While many will advise him to tone it down, or perhaps switch his Twitter to a more “presidential model,” it seems unlikely Trump would set the whole thing aside when the clock strikes midnight on inauguration day. These are very powerful tools. They played a significant role in electing Trump. They will allow him for four years to pick and choose how and when, or if, he wants to engage with the traditional media. With that on one side of the scale, and with Trump being both the president, and, well, being Trump, who is going to make the argument that pulling back is in Trump’s interest?
Media ignore Clinton’s weaknesses and Trump’s strengths for 18 months to epically blow election predictions.
No calls for recounts.
No calls for recounts.
Despite over 200 years of the electoral college system, and this being the fifth presidential election where the winner did not receive the majority of the popular vote, Clinton supporters begin bleating about her winning the popular vote so, whatever, she should become president. Many seem surprised to learn of this “electoral” system;
No calls for recounts.
Clinton supporters hold street protests.
No calls for recounts.
Effort made to talk electors out of voting for Trump fails to gain traction.
No calls for recounts.
Two weeks after the election in the midst of the Trump transition OMG the Russians hacked the election Putin is controlling America with RT.com thought waves and fake news so we gotta recount it but only so faith in American democracy is restored.
Jill Stein, who received zero electoral votes and has absolutely nothing to gain from a recount somehow raises more money in a few days than in her entire previous campaign.
We gotta have a recount!
Clinton campaign joins in demand for a recount.
(Standby for cries that the recount, which will show Clinton still losing, is itself crooked as it was done by the same local election officials under the same mind control of the Soviet Bear)
My point is nowadays (i.e., 1950) any criticism of the Clinton is taken as de facto “evidence” of Russian agency. The Catch-22 is that if it cannot be shown that you work directly for the Russians, it is said you are a “useful idiot” too dumb to realize you are secondarily under their influence. Everybody is thus part of the Soviet global threat.
In most third world societies, when people don’t like the results of an election, they take to the streets. In America, we take to the Internet.
But the end result is the same. The system is undermined because we do not like the results it yielded. Accusations of something unfair having happened are slung around, usually either unsupported by facts, based on faux “statistical anomalies,” or via a small data set that is blown up into something general to prove “the system is unfair/corrupt/wrong/inaccurate” to people who already believe that to be true but need talking points for their Facebook pages.
Of course a nice tag-along is if this can all be blamed on an outside third party. Dissatisfied people have little interest in blaming themselves, their flawed candidate, or acknowledging the strengths of the opponent among a large segment of voters. Nope, easier to blame someone else. For that, a person who has been molded into a one-word symbol of, well, everything and anything Americans fear, Putin.
And so a recent article in the Washington Post terrifies me. It is at a level of journalism that previously was reserved for conspiracy theories on Geocities’ style web sites. Here’s a selection from the article:
The flood of “fake news” this election season got support from a sophisticated Russian propaganda campaign that created and spread misleading articles online with the goal of punishing Democrat Hillary Clinton, helping Republican Donald Trump and undermining faith in American democracy.
Russia’s increasingly sophisticated propaganda machinery — including thousands of botnets, teams of paid human “trolls,” and networks of websites and social-media accounts — echoed and amplified right-wing sites across the Internet as they portrayed Clinton as a criminal hiding potentially fatal health problems and preparing to hand control of the nation to a shadowy cabal of global financiers.
So: Clinton lost because Russia wanted Trump to win because Trump will favor Russia so Russia created fake news which influenced over 62 million Americans to overlook Trump’s flaws and vote for him. Got it.
Proof? Stuff on Facebook. Main source of that proof? A group of unknown origin, financing, and makeup (“an independent team of concerned American citizens”) called PropOrNot, i.e., propaganda or not. The group also “strongly suspects that some of the individuals involved have violated the Espionage Act, the Foreign Agent Registration Act, and other related laws.”
A second source quoted by the Washington Post is Clint Watts, a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute (which has been around in one form or another since the 1950s, dedicated to the Cold War), who says of the Russians “They want to essentially erode faith in the U.S. government or U.S. government interests.” Watts’s report on his work appeared on a blog this month as Trolling for Trump: How Russia Is Trying to Destroy Our Democracy. That piece claims without any real evidence at all that “Russia is actively trying to put Donald Trump in the White House… And the evidence is compelling.”
I encourage everyone to read some of the linked articles. This is seriously scary Cold War paranoia stuff.
And guess what? The ProporNot group has created a (black)list of websites that it claims are controlled/influenced by the Russians. While — dammit — this website in not included, I take some solace in noting that I have written for or been reprinted by 11 of them.
“They use our technologies and values against us to sow doubt,” said Robert Orttung, a George Washington University professor who studies Russia, quoted in the article.
And that sounds dangerously close to saying our First Amendment’s freedom of speech provisions seem to be the root of this threat to American democracy.
Green Party candidate Jill Stein (Disclosure: I voted for Stein) is calling for a recount in key states, and has raised some $3 million for that purpose. Her funding page estimates the total cost, including lawyers, will be $6-7 million.
There is a lot of media being generated by all this, but I haven’t found anyone who did some math. Here it is.
The deadlines in the three key states Stein is seeking recounts for are fast approaching. This Friday, November 25, is the deadline for requesting a recount in Wisconsin, where Trump’s winning margin stands at 0.7%. In Pennsylvania, where his margin is 1.2%, the deadline falls on Monday. In Michigan, where the Trump lead is 0.3%, the deadline is Wednesday, November 30.
Because of the numbers (below) if Stein fails to file in all three states for a recount, there is no way for Clinton to win.
To date, no other candidate has publicly called for a recount. It has been over two weeks since the election.
As for electoral votes, Pennsylvania has 20, Michigan 16, and Wisconsin 10. Trump won 290 Electoral College votes to Clinton’s 232. If all three states’ votes went fully to Clinton, and all electors voted “faithfully,” Trump would lose the electoral vote.
A recount could yield more votes for candidates other than Clinton; the presumption is that any “hacking” unfairly favored Trump. Scenarios, such as Wisconsin only going to Clinton, would not change the final election outcome. If Michigan and Wisconsin alone went to Clinton, neither candidate would have the required 270 electoral votes to win.
Current vote counts show Trump leading by about 27,000 votes in Wisconsin, over 68,000 in Pennsylvania, and more than 10,000 in Michigan. In some ways not massive leads, but they’d all have to go Clinton’s way.
If no candidate receives a majority of Electoral votes, the House of Representatives elects the President from the three Presidential candidates who received the most Electoral votes. Each state delegation has one vote. Thus a tie is technically possible. In reality, the state-by-state party tilt is decidedly Republican.
There are clearly scenarios through which Clinton could win, but they seem long shots.
So for the recount to change the results of the presidential election, the only reasonable scenario would be for all three contested states to shift their vote totals from advantage Trump to advantage Clinton. That would almost certainly trigger additional calls for re-recounts, as well as possible Supreme Court actions as with Bush v. Gore in 2000, or perhaps simply mass chaos across the U.S. It is unclear how long all this would take.
Recounts are not free.
Wisconsin states that if the vote difference is less than 2% (as it is), then the fee is $5 per ward. There appear to be 70 wards in the state, meaning the filing fee is $350, not the $1.1 million Stein is requesting for the state without legal fees. I cannot account for the discrepancy.
The fees for the Michigan and Pennsylvania recounts are $500,000 and $600,000, respectively. These match with the amount requested.
It is quite sad to see so many well-meaning and otherwise intelligent Americans embarrassing and deluding themselves that Hillary Clinton didn’t lose the election held over two weeks ago.
I hear many using words like mourning, markers of the kind of feelings that follow an actual death. If that is the case, then it is time to move on into some form of acceptance.
In addition to the clueless bleating about the electoral vote not matching the popular vote (you win at baseball with more runs, not more hits), Hillary Clinton is now being urged by a group of prominent computer scientists and election lawyers to call for a recount in three swing states won by Donald Trump. The story, somehow, despite the scientists not speaking on record and only to the Clinton team in private, has gone viral across the same media (HuffPo, Vox, you know them) that never saw the flaws in Candidate Clinton and still doesn’t.
The group believes they’ve found “persuasive evidence” results in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania may have been manipulated or hacked. Let’s take a look at that.
The sole evidence presented so far, according to New York magazine, which broke the story is (emphasis added):
In Wisconsin, Clinton received seven percent fewer votes in counties that relied on electronic-voting machines compared with counties that used optical scanners and paper ballots.
Based on this statistical analysis [NOTE: this is not a statistical analysis, just counting], Clinton may have been denied as many as 30,000 votes; she lost Wisconsin by 27,000. While it’s important to note the group has not found proof of hacking or manipulation, they are arguing to the campaign that the suspicious pattern merits an independent review — especially in light of the fact that the Obama White House has accused the Russian government of hacking the Democratic National Committee.
So let’s unpack that:
— Assuming the counting is accurate, there is no known connection between the vote tally and anything else. At best this is a correlation, in likelihood it is just a tally. There is no evidence of any suspicious pattern. Ballots are not “patterns.” They’re just ballots.
— There is no evidence of any hacking or manipulation. Even if it is true (a big if given the lack of evidence) that someone connected with Russia hacked the DNC, that does not in any way connect to a handful of voting machines in Wisconsin reviewed as a very small sample.
— Though pitched as a “Save Hillary” effort, there is no evidence to suggest any recount would favor Clinton.
— The reporting on this says the scientists have shared the information only with the Clinton campaign. Why not the Justice Department? If they really have something, it is evidence of a grave felony. Why not share it with the people who can really do something about that? Put up or shut up time.
— Are these otherwise intelligent scientists really, truly, claiming that Russian hackers reached into individual voting machines in Wisconsin somewhere to throw a small number of votes Trump’s way?
Bottom Line: Some people didn’t like the election results so they are throwing themselves on the ground like a soccer player trying to claim a faux foul.
Disclaimer: I hate Trump. I hate racism and sexism and nazis. I am not now, nor have I ever been, a racist, or sexist, or nazi. This is not a pro-Trump article just because it criticizes Clinton in part. Stop acting like *ssholes. Please.
For those who woke a week ago to discover the First Amendment is under attack, I lost my job at the Obama/Clinton State Department in 2012 for writing We Meant Well, a book the government did not like, and needed the help of lawyer Jesselyn Radack and the ACLU to push back the threat of jail.
My book was critical of actions in Iraq under both the Obama and Bush administrations. One helped protect the other.
Braver people than me, like Thomas Drake, Morris Davis, and Robert MacLean, risked imprisonment and lost their government jobs for talking to the press about government crimes and malfeasance. John Kiriakou, Chelsea Manning, and Jeff Sterling went to jail for speaking to/informing the press. The Obama administration tried to prosecute reporters from Fox and the New York Times for stories on government wrongdoing.
Ray Maxwell at the State Department went public with information about Clinton’s email malfeasance before you had even heard of her private server. The media called him a liar, an opportunist, and a political hack and he was pressed into retirement.
Indeed, Obama prosecuted more federal whistleblowers under the Espionage Act than all previous United States presidents combined, including Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.
The Obama administration also set a record (77%) for redacting government files or denying access to them in fiscal year 2014 under the Freedom of Information Act.
More than any previous administration, Obama took longer to turn over files, said more often it could not locate documents, and refused a record number of times to turn over time-sensitive files quickly, requiring years-long legal actions to be brought to force the government’s hand. In the case of Hillary Clinton, files considered “unclassified” in one context were redacted in whole in another.
Though the backlog of unanswered requests grew by 55%, the administration cut the number of full-time Freedom of Information Act employees by 7.5%. Despite the critical nature of the documents to the election, the State Department was allowed to do its Freedom of Information Act screening of the Clinton emails largely with an ad hoc crew of retirees. The impact on journalists, and the right of the people to know, was immeasurable.
So spare me. The war on our freedoms was well under way before last week. Where the hell were you and your safety pins then?
Chris Hedges just wrote this about the Trump Era:
“The repression of dissents will soon resemble the repression under past totalitarian regimes. State security will become an invasive and palpable presence. The most benign forms of opposition will be treated as if they are a threat to national security. Many, hoping to avoid the wrath of the state, will become compliant and passive… exonerating militarized police forces for the indiscriminate murder of unarmed citizens, while he unleashes the fossil fuel industry and the war industry to degrade and most probably extinguish life on earth.”
Um, Chris, your verb tenses are all wrong.
These things have been ongoing for the past 15 years. Obama prosecuted more dissidents, er, “whistleblowers,” than all previous presidents combined, and he did by calling them spies under the 1917 Espionage Act. The NSA as state security has been monitoring you under two administrations.
Militarized police forces received their tanks and other weapons from two presidents. All of the terrible events that lead to Black Lives Matter took place before the election, and the killers were for the most part left unpunished by both the judiciary for criminal murders, and by the Federal-level Department of Justice for violation of civil rights. Unlike during the 1960s when the Feds stepped in and filed civil rights charges to bust up racism among local and state governments, the last two administration have not.
When people do bad things and know they’ll get away with them, that is “normalization,” not just some hate words we have sadly all heard before.
As for war and fracking, um, the U.S. has been engaged in global wars for 15 years, and set the Middle East on fire. Fracking has been destroying our nation for years, and oil dumped into the Gulf back in 2010.
Fascism did not start on November 8. We have been living in a police state of sorts for some time before you all discovered it will start next year.
BONUS: As for the idea that Trump was elected by dumb white men, here are some statistics from the New York Times on the vote count. Yes, yes, most are above 50%, but really not that much above half that the claim that this is some sort of cracker revolution holds up.
For Trump, 58% of all whites, 53% of males, 50% of suburbans of all flavors and, yes, 67% of whites without college.
As for this election being a vote for misogyny, can you at least allow for the possibility — just that, the possibility — that people were not opposed to a woman president, they were opposed to one specific person who happened to be a woman, and that opposition was not based on gender but on a range of issues? Just maybe?
For the people now protesting, good for you to make your views known. It is important.
May I also suggest you use the remaining time to protest Obama’s refusal to prosecute torture, curtail the NSA, fail to close Gitmo, his jailing of whistleblowers, his decision not to use his Justice Department to aggressively prosecute police killers of young Black men under existing civil rights laws, his claiming of the power to assassinate Americans with drones, and his war on journalists via gutting of FOIA?
Because silence on those issues means Trump inherits all of that power.
May I also suggest volunteering for some of: homeless shelters, LGBTQ and vet’s crisis lines, Planned Parenthood, Congresspeople who will work for these causes, ACLU, Occupy (who addresses the economic inequality that drove many Trump voters) and the like?
And make a long term commitment, because many of those groups are used to people showing up for a few days after some bad event happens and then disappearing soon after.
Please also unsubscribe from media that fed you false narratives for 18 months about those damn emails, the Clinton Foundation, pay-for-play, etc., leading to the election “surprise.” Check the election results. Apparently they all did matter and you should seek out new information sources so you are not fooled again.
To educate yourself during the coming years, consider foreign media. Look at the range of choices and start reading. Many present a much more dispassionate and balanced view of America than our own corporate infotainment. FYI, the “Daily Show” is satire and comedy, light commentary at best. It is not news. A warning, though, that some of what you read will be challenging and make you think outside your own bubble.
Stop embarrassing yourselves by claiming “well, Hillary won the popular vote.” True but irrelevant. We’ve had the albeit imperfect electoral college system for some 220 years. The fact that you recently discovered it when your preferred candidate lost does not impress. This election is the fifth time in U.S. history a candidate won the popular vote but lost the election.
May I also suggest you read the full text of Roe v. Wade (not just Wikipedia!) so you are prepared to rebut in detail the various state-allowed restrictions, particularly the balancing tests, because that is where the attacks may likely come.
Nothing wrong with “solidarity” and “raising awareness,” but stopping there, like wearing safety pins, like changing your Facebook profile photo, feels good, but working for real change hurts.
‘Cause talk is cheap.
Among the exceptional things about America is that, along with North Korea, we are one of a very few nations that have our schools begin the day with a pledge of allegiance.
Unlike North Korea, however, our pledge also includes a reference to God. We do enjoy pretending all of this is optional because of “rights,” just as we pretend that the reference to God is perfectly “OK” in a nation that claims it is secular.
(Fun Thing: Have your child substitute “Allah” for “God” in the pledge at school and see what happens!)
The pledge is a short expression of allegiance to the United States. Originally written in 1887, Congress formally adopted it as the official pledge in 1942 as the U.S. was entering WWII. On Flag Day 1954 the words “under God” were added, in time of the Cold War and McCarthyism.
In signing the words “under God” into law, President Dwight Eisenhower said:
“From this day forward, the millions of our schoolchildren will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and rural schoolhouse, the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty… In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America’s heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country’s most powerful resource, in peace or in war.”
The pledge is recited out loud, typically with one’s hand over one’s heart. Want an example of how the pledge is used as a vehicle for a whole range of “patriotic” indoctrination? Here.
The Right Not to Pledge
The most common place for reciting the pledge is in public schools. Teacher’s are not required, and in most cases do not, inform little kids they have a right to not participate.
Most schools’ policy does allow students who otherwise learn about their rights outside of class to refrain from participating as long as they don’t interfere with other kids from doing so, generally interpreted as not protesting or acting in an affirmative manner and just standing with their damn mouths shut. There is a wide dollop of leeway on what constitutes “disruptive behavior,” as seen recently in the fury over some people’s decision to take a knee during the playing of the national anthem, another American ritual.
This is all more or less in line with the landmark 1943 Supreme Court ruling in West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette, where the justices voted 6-3 on behalf of Jehovah’s Witnesses refusing to stand for the pledge on religious grounds. The Court held that expelling the students, as was done in a West Virginia school, violated their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
Justice Robert Jackson, who wrote the opinion, didn’t believe the government, including school officials, was constitutionally allowed to use punishments to make people say things they don’t mean:
“To sustain the compulsory flag salute, we are required to say that a Bill of Rights which guards the individual’s right to speak his own mind left it open to public authorities to compel him to utter what is not in his mind.”
Not every justice on the court agreed, however, Justice Felix Frankfurter wrote in dissent “freedom of religion did not allow individuals to break laws simply because of religious conscience… Otherwise each individual could set up his own censor against obedience to laws conscientiously deemed for the public good by those whose business it is to make laws.”
And an exceptional free nation certainly could not have citizens running amok acting on their consciences.
So How’s That Working Out for Ya?
In late October, only 73 years after the Supreme Court decision, word apparently has not yet reached Florida, because a middle schooler in Tampa was kicked out of the classroom after refusing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.
Mark Dawson was yelled at by his teacher and made to leave the classroom after he refused to stand for the daily pledge at the ironically-named Liberty Middle School. A school spokesperson quickly admitted the teacher didn’t know the school district’s policy — as well as the actual Constitution of these United States — allowed for Dawson’s behavior.
Or did they?
Florida state law actually requires students to get written permission from parents if they want to abstain from the pledge.
Although the Supreme Court holds that the Bill of Rights applies to minors, Florida says well, it sort of doesn’t. Florida state courts have upheld the local law by technically treating the matter as an issue of parental authority, as granted or withheld by the state legislature. The law operates under the assumption parents would make their kids stand for the pledge if they happened to be in the classroom at the time.
Florida’s actions have not yet been tested before the Supreme Court.
Do Other Countries Say Some Sort of Pledge of Allegiance in School?
Despite America being “the essential nation” who serves as that “shining city on the hill” (we do have a lot of those kinds of expressions, don’t we?), America more or less stands alone in sort-of, kind-of, compelling/pressuring kids into stating out loud in the presence of their peers allegiance to the nation.
North Korea also has its school kids say a daily pledge, but that’s a bad thing. The Guardian described the scene as:
“They are barely seven years old, but these glum-looking children are already being drafted into a tyrannical regime hell bent on waging nuclear war with the world. Standing in arrow-straight rows, their faces are hardly the picture of happiness as they are forced to pledge their allegiance to North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and call him ‘father’.”
Yeah, yeah, I get it, different words, but basically the same idea: a stated pledge to a national symbol. Only kids in North Korea aren’t happy because, whatever, like the U.S., their country has nuclear weapons.
Fun Fact: South Korea has a pledge, too. But not Canada, Britain, France or the other democracies of Europe.
It’s not about left and right anymore, not about Black and White. It is all about up and down. And it elected Donald Trump via a bumpy road. The next candidate to really figure it out will sweep into power.
And what it is is stated succiently by former McCain campaign chief strategist Steve Schmidt: jobs, specifically the loss of jobs to technology and globalization, and the changes to our society that that is causing.
The defining issue of our times, says Schmidt, is the displacement of workers, particularly those who traditionally held working class roles. America is watching a leveling down unprecedented in its history, a form of societal and economic devolution.
“I think that’s going to be the new fault line in American politics,” Schmidt said. “And the voters, the Bernie Sanders voter and the Trump voter — like fish netting, the fish can swing through the netting from left to right very, very easily.”
Schmidt focuses on Silicon Valley. “Let’s look at the Silicon Valley wing of the Democratic party and be clear about the partisan nature of all of these companies. We have these arguments about minimum wage — $12, $15. We’re 18 months away in this country from a robot in the window at the McDonald’s handing you your cheeseburger.”
“The number one job for not-college educated men in America is driving something somewhere. So when we talk about an era now of driverless trucks, driverless cars, where do those jobs go? Where’s that displacement?” Schmidt continued.
In essence, the growing irrelevance of American workers.
What started with the globalization of the 1980s, the literal export of jobs to places abroad chasing cheaper labor, is transitioning into its next phase, the “export” of jobs into the hands of automation. Traditional employment once considered secure (albeit low paying) that cannot be physically exported because it needs to happen at a specific geographic location, such as with service tasks, is doomed as sure as those jobs that used to be done by steelworkers in Ohio but now are performed in Shenyang.
Of course someone reading this will be mumbling something about to hell with those workers, let them get an education, retrain, whatever Darwinian crossed with dystopian curse they can conjure. The problem is long after you take away the jobs the people are still going to be there.
And while no one in Washington really cares about what happens to those workers per se, as long as they can vote they will matter to politicians.
It takes a special kind of demagogue, one with even more cynicism than usual, to fully exploit those workers’ literal fears for their lives, but s/he will emerge. Think of Trump as version 1.0, a kind of beta test. Trump likely never knew what he had within grasp, and spoke to this displaced group largely cluelessly and without the sophistication of a proper strategy.
But the next Trump will have the “advantage” of another four years of economic displacement, a slicker media profile undistracted by Trump’s crude buffoonery, as well as advisors like McCain campaign chief strategist Steve Schmidt, whispering lines in his or her ear that sound like bastardized versions of Springsteen lyrics. The hate mongering, racism, and name calling will be toned down for wider appeal.
Now there’s something to be afraid of.