Posts Tagged ‘Donald Trump’

‘Rigged’ election claims then and now

September 30, 2022

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President Biden and other leading Democrats are aghast that so many Donald Trump supporters don’t accept the results of the 2020 election. But as these two videos by Matt Orfalea show, the shoe was on the other foot for the 2016 election.

First there was the campaign to persuade members of the Electoral College to vote for candidates other than the ones the voters chose.  

Then came the charges that the election result was somehow the result of a conspiracy between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.  All the specific claims in the bogus Russiagate scandal were debunked.  

Nevertheless Democrats proceeded with an impeachment trial on the claim that Trump had tried to obstruct the investigation of the nonexistent crime, which failed.  

Then they tried again for impeachment on the claim that Trump urged the President of Ukraine to investigate a corrupt corporation in his county for the purpose of discrediting Joe Biden.  This, too, failed.

Now they are pursuing criminal investigations of Trump’s business dealings and of his failure to turn over classified information.  Of course Trump may well be guilty of something and, if tried and convicted, he should pay the usual fine.

I think the motive for these investigations is to find something – anything – that would discredit Trump or possibly prevent him from running again.  I recall Democrats took a different stance about Hillary Clinton’s problems with handling classified information.

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Here’s the thing.  It is not a crime to claim that an election is rigged.  It is not a crime to deny that an election result is legitimate.  If you believe that, and say so, this is an expression of your right to free speech. 

I myself think there is a strong possibility that the 2016 election result was swayed by hacking of voting machines.  Tests of certain voting machines showed that the results could be altered, both on-site and remotely, and that there was no way to detect the results.

I’m not claiming this is evidence that Russians could have hacked these voting machines.  I’m claiming it is proof that almost anybody could have hacked these voting machines.

There were also widespread attempts to illegitimately purge voter rolls of black people.  Investigative reporter Greg Palast has been on this topic like a bulldog.  

I am certain that the result of the 2000 election was determined by illegal purging of voter rolls in Florida and may also have been influenced by a miscount of ballots.

It also is very possible that there was ballot-tampering in the 2020 election, although, if it was, it is just as likely that it was done by Republicans as Democrats.  Yes, Republicans are the ones making the most noise about this.   Recall the strategy of Karl Rove was to accuse one’s opponents of the thing you are doing yourself.

Once the election is held, it is too late to change the result.  There is a fine line between protesting the results of an election, which citizens have every right to do, and making an insurrection or coup to overturn the results.

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Forget the issues: It’s all about Trump!

September 27, 2022

Three to six months ago, the conventional wisdom was that the Democratic Party was headed for disaster in the coming elections. The reason given was President Biden’s failure to cope with inflation and other serious national problems.

Now the conventional wisdom is that the Democrats have an even chance or better of holding on to their majority. Why? The change is due to the focus on Donald Trump.

Overall, many political observers and Democratic leaders think Trump-backed candidates in the Republican primaries are wackos that will be easy to defeat.

Operating on this theory, Democrats reportedly donated $53 million to Trump-backed candidates.

Here is the Washington Post’s rundown how the Democrat-backed pro-Trump candidates fared and the amounts the Democrats contributed.

WON.  Illinois Governor.  $34.5 million spent.

LOST.  Colorado U.S. Senate. $4 million spent.

LOST.  Nevada Governor.  $3.9 million spent.

WON.  New Hampshire U.S. Senate.  $3.2 million spent.

LOST.  Michigan Governor. $2 million spent.

WON.  Maryland Governor. $1.7 million spent.

LOST.  Colorado Governor.  $1.5 million spent

WON.  Pennsylvania Governor $1.2 million spent.

WON. Michigan 3rd District, U.S. House. $425,000 spent.

LOST.  Virginia 2nd District, U.S. House.  $300,000 spent.

LOST.  California 22nd District, U.S. House.  $200,000 spent.

LOST.  Colorado 8th District, U.S. House.  $250,000 spent.

WON.  New Hampshire 2nd District, U.S. House.  $100,000 spent.

Total $53,275,000.

I don’t want to overstate the significance of this.  Democrat money wasn’t necessarily the deciding factor in any of these races.  

And Trump endorsed nearly 200 candidates in all.  BBC News reported 92 percent of them won.

What the contributions reflect is that Democrats think that focusing on Trump is a winning victory strategy.

Of course this strategy could backfire.  The Clinton campaign in 2016 tried to “elevate” Trump, figuring that he would be easiest to defeat in the general election.  It didn’t work out the way they thought it would.

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The passing scene: Links & comments 9/13/2022

September 13, 2022

Asia’s Future takes shape in Vladivostok, the Russian Pacific by Pepe Escobar for The Cradle.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

Putin in Vladivostok

Pepe Escobar, reporting last week on the Russia-hosted Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, says the world’s center of economic gravity is shifting to Asia, with China as leader and Russia and India as its main partners.

 I have my doubts that the Chinese-led new order will be as utopian as Escobar predicts, but the Chinese magnetic pole is a more powerful attractor than the U.S. pole.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization, led by China, now includes China, Russia, the Central Asian republics, India, Pakistan and Iran, while 11 more nations, including Turkey, seeking to join.  

The reason is not hard to see.  China promises benefits to its economic partners; the NATO alliance demands sacrifices.  As the old saying goes, you can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.

The Specter of Germany Is Rising by Diana Johnstone for Consortium News.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

Scholz meets Zelensky

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz advocates an expanded, militarized European Union with Germany as the dominant force.  

It would include all of Eastern Europe and the Balkans, plus Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia.  It would have a common foreign policy, consisting of a permanent Cold War against Russia, and make decisions by majority vote, not by consensus as now.

Germany dominates the smaller Eastern European countries economically.  The further east the European Union goes, the greater the influence of Germany, the less the influence of France and the stronger the possibility of a war policy being adopted over French objections.

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Why I didn’t watch the Jan. 6 hearings

June 18, 2022

I don’t think the Jan. 6 investigations revealed anything new.  They reached a pre-determined conclusion on an issue most Americans had already made up their minds about, and few Americans care about.

The investigations would have had merit if they can explored why it was the police presence in Washington, D.C., and Capitol Hill specifically, was too small to deal with the mobs.  And why videos showed some Capitol police welcoming the Trump protesters into the Capitol building.  There are innocent explanations for both things, but I would like to know more.

There also would have been merit on hearings on whether legislation is necessary to protect the integrity of the presidential election process at the state level.  Some Republican states are considering legislation to give state legislatures the power to set aside the popular vote and make their own choice of Presidential Electors, or otherwise tampering with the voting process in presidential elections.   This is a real threat to the integrity of the election progress.

There was no chance that Vice President Pence could have changed the outcome of the election.  If Pence had refused to certify the electors, there would have been an emergency appeal to the Supreme Court calling on him to do his Constitutional duty.  If he refused to comply, there would have been some sort of work-around.  If neither of these things happened, the offices of President and Vice-President would have fallen vacant on Jan. 20 and, in accord with the Constitution, the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, would have become chief executive of the United States.

The whole national military-police-governmental-business establishment was opposed to Trump overturning the election.  If Sanders had been the Democratic nominee, the establishment might have allowed the election to be overturned, but he wasn’t.

Why Trump won in 2016 and lost in 2020

December 16, 2021

Donald Trump would have won the 2020 election if not for the Covid pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests, according to political scientist Thomas Ferguson.

He explained why in an academic paper he co-wrote in November and an interview a couple of days ago on Paul Jay’s theAnalysis podcast.

Ferguson is known for his “investment theory of political parties.”  He sees American politic as a conflict between powerful economic interests, not between voting blocs.  The economic interests select and invest in candidates; the public gets to choose between the candidates the investors select.   

Trump was on the verge of losing in 2016 and was saved by a last-minute surge in campaign funding by wealthy donors who feared he would take the Republican Party down with him, Ferguson said.

Trump got campaign support from the oil and gas, coal mining, timber, agri-business industries, which he favored, The Koch brothers, for example, get their wealth from energy and other resources industries. 

I notice that these industries are based in parts of the USA in which states are over-represented in the Senate and Electoral College in proportion to their populations.  This was a big factor in 2020.

While Trump appealed to racial and nativist prejudice, Ferguson said this did not determine the outcome.

His protectionist trade policies were popular with industrial workers as well as manufacturing CEOs.  He got support from farmers because his administration compensated them for losses as a result of trade wars with China.  

All these things, together with the relatively good performance of the economy, put Trump in a good position to win in 2020, Ferguson said.

But his ineffective response to the Covid crisis cost him support from corporate executives and also college-educated Republicans who otherwise might have voted for him out of party loyalty.

The voters’ response to the 2020 strikes and protests movements is interesting and not easy to explain.  Usually, when there are civil disorders, there is a backlash in favor of the police and law-and-order.  This time was different.

Ferguson’s analysis showed that there was a correlation between counties in which there was an upsurge in Black Lives Matter, environmental and others kinds of protests, and counties in which there was strong support for Joe Biden.  The only exception to this were counties with large Hispanic populations.  Also, there was no correlation between Biden voting and wildcat labor strikes.

The point is that it is premature to count out Donald Trump and his followers.  President Biden and the Democrats need to do more than just be anti-Trump if they are to retain office.  They can’t afford to let the economy falter or Covid spread. [*]

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Is the USA a democracy?

Paul Jay asked Ferguson whether he thinks the USA is a democracy.  Ferguson said democracy is an “honorific” term, not an analytical term.  No voting system, in and of itself, can empower the public to overcome the enormous concentration of wealth that exists in today’s USA, he said.

He said wage-earners in the USA and other rich Western countries do still have more rights than they do in Russia or China (although Ferguson acknowledged China’s economic achievements.)

And political disorder in the United States has not yet reached the point as it did in the late Weimar Republic, where political killings by para-military militias were an almost daily occurrence.

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How worried should we be about a Trump coup?

October 29, 2021

Alfred W. McCoy, who’s observed many a military coup, thinks that a coup to keep President Donald Trump in power was, and still is, a real danger.

Trump’s attempt came in three stages, he wrote.

First there was a proposal by Michael Flynn, a former national security adviser, to invoke martial law to overturn the election.  

This was taken so seriously that all 10 living former Secretaries of Defense, including Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, issued an appeal to the armed forces to remain neutral in the coming struggle.  

Then a Trump loyalist in the Justice Department suggested the department intervene to challenge the legitimacy of the election result by charging fraud.  

When Acting Attorney-General Jeffrey Rosen refused, Trump threatened to replace him.  He only backed down when Trump’s own appointees at Justice, including the President’s counsel, threatened to resign as a group.

Finally there was an attempt to use the threat of force to prevent Vice President Mike Pence for certifying the election results.  A crowd of protesters broke through police lines to enter the Capitol (and in some cases were allowed in).  

The Defense Department refused a request by the Mayor of Washington, D.C., to send in the National Guard, which was on stand-by alert.  Finally the Secretary of the Army, bypassing the chain of command, gave permission for the Maryland National Guard to intervene.

Mike Pence, unable to find a legal justification for refusing to certify the vote, did his constitutional duty.

All this shows is that there is still respect for the rule of law in the USA, even among Trump appointees.  US American freedom and democracy aren’t quite dead, although they’re in bad shape. 

But the failure of the Trump coup also shows that he does not have the support of the types of people who support military coups in other countries.  I mean the top levels of the military, the “intelligence community,” the super-rich and the heads of big corporations.  

None of them have any reason to feel dissatisfied with Joe Biden.  I think the outcome would have been very different if the alternative to a Donald Trump had been someone such as Bernie Sanders, who threatened their power and wealth.

Then, too, conditions in the USA are much as if a kind of military coup has already taken place.  

The billionaire class is able to thwart popular and necessary legislation.  People live in fear of losing their livelihoods for saying the wrong thing.  A lawyer is going to prison for the crime of having won a lawsuit against a big oil company.  Torturers have impunity while truth-tellers are punished.

And yet, people whom I respect, argue that there is a real and present danger of something worse.  

And it’s true.  Things could be a lot worse than they are now.  Things haven’t reached the point where I, personally, think I have reason to fear—not yet.

LINKS

American Coup: a Recurring Nightmare? by Albert W. McCoy for Counterpunch.

The Whole Country Is the Reichstag by Adolph Reed Jr.

Thomas Frank on anti-Trump authoritarians

August 8, 2021

AFP via Getty Images

Thomas Frank, writing in Le Monde diplomatique, points out that the hard core Trump haters are just as authoritarian as President Trump himself.

I remember, back in the 1950s, that the conventional wisdom among college-educated liberals was that if you wanted to fight Communism, you had to understand and address the reasons why poor and down-trodden people saw Communism as an answer.

Those liberals also perceived that threats to liberty could come in many forms: not just fascism, but Communism; not just Communism, but the followers of Joe McCarthy and the Ku Klux Klan.

In the era of Donald Trump, establishment liberals lack this insight.  They do not look at the reasons why ordinary people might turn to someone like Donald Trump, and they fight dissent by trying to silence dissenters.

Here’s how Thomas Frank puts it—

….. Millions of ordinary Americans despise the well educated elite. Why?

Look at the opioid epidemic that raged through middle America in the years before 2016 — a gift of Big Pharma and the medical profession.

Look at the de-industrialization that afflicted the same geographic areas — a product of our brilliant free trade deals.

Look at the global financial crisis and the bailouts — the deeds of America’s greatest math and financial geniuses, who faced almost no consequences for their actions.

Look at the Iraq War — the toast of the foreign policy establishment.

Look at the incredible fact that American life expectancy was actually declining in the years before 2017 rather than increasing.

Trump did nothing to solve any of these problems.  But everyone knows they exist.

One side talks, lectures, scolds and instructs, and the other side — silent by definition these days — seethes with resentment.

Everyone knows this awful dynamic had a role in elevating the racist demagogue Trump to the presidency.  Everyone also knows this country is primed to explode.  [snip]

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Why the U.S. failed to avert the pandemic (2)

July 21, 2021

Like Michael Lewis’s The Premonition, Andy Slavitt’s Preventable is a story of how people in authority disregarded warnings and allowed the COVID-19 virus to gain a foothold in the United States.

But while Lewis described the efforts of a number of far-sighted prophets, Slavitt concentrates on just one—himself.

Slavitt is an interesting figure—a political operator and member of the professional-managerial class, who influences policy, moves back and forth between government and the private sector, but would be unknown to the public except for this book.

He was an investment banker with Goldman Sachs, a consultant for McKinsey & Co., and founder of a company called HealthAllies, and then worked for United Health Group after it acquired HealthAllies. 

He served the Obama administration as head of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services from 2014, and was a medical adviser to the Biden administration during its first few months.

His power comes from being embedded in a network of politicians, corporate CEOs, wealthy philanthropists and academics, who all answer his phone calls and listen to what he has to say.

Preventable is about how he tried to alert the public to the danger, while also trying, from behind the scenes, to influence the Trump administration to take action before it was too late.

His book is a good overview of the Trump administration’s pandemic response and of the inadequacies of the American medical care system generally.

Much of the criticism of Trump is based on a knee-jerk response to his vulgar and offensive comments on Twitter and elsewhere, which don’t matter, and on a gullible acceptance of charges of collusion with Russian and Ukrainian leaders, which were either bogus or trivial.

Slavitt did a good job of showing the real problem with Trump, which was his inadequacy as an administrator and leader.  Trump refused to face unpleasant facts.  He thought of policy only in terms of public relations, not in terms of consequences, and he failed to think ahead even about public relations.

He calculated that closings are unpopular and openings are popular, so he shifted responsibilities for closings onto governors of states while positioning himself as the champion of openings.

As damning as Slavitt’s portrait of Trump is, it will not change the minds of Trump’s admirers because of Slavitt’s obvious bias and partisanship. 

The only named persons he holds accountable for the COVID-19 pandemic are Trump supporters, members of Trump’s administration and Donald Trump himself.  Democrats get a free pass.

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Things fall apart

May 23, 2021

In the USA, the dominant forces in both major political parties reject basic principles that are necessary to the democratic process.

Republicans seek to hold onto political power by suppressing the vote of certain demographic groups.

Democrats seek to hold into power suppressing the expression of certain opinions.

Not all Republicans are blindly loyal supporters of Donald Trump. But no Republican politician are afford to be a critic of Trump.

Not all Democrats are committed to so-called “woke-ism.” But no Democratic politician can afford to be a critic of the new ideology.

My evaluation of the two parties’ leadership is that, at this point in history, MAGA Republicans are crazier, but Woke Democrats are more dangerous, because they have powerful institutions behind them—the national security establishment, the elite universities and the leading newspapers and broadcasters.

Ezra Klein Interviews Nicole Hammer in the New York Times.

Nicole Hammer, a scholar who follows the conservative movement, says the Republican Party is “post-policy.”  She says the hard core of the Republican Party is committed to nothing except to supporting Donald Trump, no matter what he says and does, and opposing the Democratic leaders, no matter what they say and so.

It is remarkable how many commentators hark back to the United States of the 1850s, and the vain attempts back then to avert a civil war.  A significant number of people in that era, and also in the Western nations before the two world wars, were frustrated, apprehensive and ready to go to war and settle things, as they thought, for once and for all.

Reflections on the Upheaval in France by N.S. Lyons for The Upheaval.

In April, 20 retired French generals published a letter denouncing “the disintegration that is affecting our country” caused by woke-ism and failure to integrate France’s Muslim minority.   This letter and a follow-up letter were signed by a total of more than 287,000 people, including 2,000 serving soldiers.

A public opinion poll indicates that a majority of French people support the soldiers’ letter.  The whole article is interesting.

They all fall by Sam Kriss for Idiot Joy Showland.  Some reasons for the failure of Jeremy Corbin and left-wing populism in England.

Inside the Military’s Secret Undercover Army by William M. Arkin for Newsweek.

Corporate Media’s Double Standard: They Attack Whomever They Want, But You Cannot Criticize Them by Glenn Greenwald.

Big Corporations Now Deploy Woke Ideology the Way Intelligence Agencies Do–As a Disguise by Glenn Greenwald.

House Democrats, Targeting Right-Wing Cable Outlets, Are Assaulting Core Press Freedoms by Glenn Greenwald.

The Sovietization of the American Press by Matt Taibbi for TK News.

American conservatives and Republicans don’t have a great record of defending First Amendment rights.  But that doesn’t mean they are fair game for censorship. 

There used to be a saying that a conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged.  Well, then, a liberal is a conservative who’s been canceled.

The Danger of the Moment by Bob Bauer for Lawfare.  [Added 5/28/2021]  Republican voter suppression didn’t begin or end with Donald Trump.

Trump blocked from bringing U.S. troops home

May 20, 2021

Then-president Donald Trump sent a secret memo to the Pentagon after he lost the election pushing them to withdraw US troops stationed around the world, according to a new report.

One of Mr Trump’s closest aides, John McEntee, handed a handwritten note to retired Army Colonel Douglas Macgregor on 9 November 2020, saying: “This is what the president wants you to do.”

The note said to “get us out” of Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. It instructed the Colonel to “complete the withdrawal from Germany,” and to “get us out of Africa,” according to new reporting by Axios.

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A lot of people have worried about what happens if you get a reckless President who goes to war on impulse.  Are there legal or governmental mechanisms to stop him?

With President Trump, there was a different problem.  He impulsively tried to end wars.  And there were institutional mechanisms that stopped him.

Writers of an article on Axios told how all through his administration, he wanted to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, and how the generals resisted him and told him it couldn’t be done.

It isn’t as if Donald Trump was a consistent lover of peace.  He broke the agreement President Obama and other foreign leaders had negotiated with Iran.  He stopped the normalization of relations with Cuba.

He left the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia and opposed renewal of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), thereby increasing the possibility of nuclear war.

But at the same time, he wanted to wind down all the wars that the Obama administration had been waging.

Anytime he made a step, there was something to stop him—some atrocity story, later discredited, or some leak from Pentagon or intelligence source explaining why this would be a disaster.

Then, in his lame duck period, he wanted to order all troops withdrawn from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Germany and “Africa” before Joe Biden was sworn in.

In typical Trump fashion, he at first did not issue the order himself.  Instead he told an underling to tell the generals that was what he wanted.

The generals, quite reasonably, wanted a written order, and after some fumbling the order was issued.  By then, it was too late.

This was being done in secret.  There would have been a rebellion in Congress, not to mention the Washington press corps, if this had been known.

This is partly a story of Trump’s incompetence and weakness.  Recall that the Mueller investigation could not produce evidence that he obstructed the Russiagate investigation because he was never organized enough or forceful enough to actually obstruct anything.

But it is also a story of how Washington is biased toward war.  President Obama was more savvy than Trump, but he didn’t think he was able to overcome the generals’ resistance to ending the war in Afghanistan.

Continuous war is now normal.  It is the default position.  It no longer needs a justification, other than avoiding the humiliation of defeat.  We Americans depend on a war economy to create jobs, generate business profits and fund scientific research.

As in Germany in the time of Bismarck and Kaiser Wilhelm, as in many South American and Middle East countries today, the military is an independent or semi-independent part of government with its own policy.

President Biden decided to renew START, which would have expired in February.  He set a new deadline with withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, but there are reports that the U.S. will continue to intervene there by means of flying killer drones and covert operations.

Whether he will ramp up the new cold war with Russia and China, or wind down other wars, remains to be seen.  I’m not hopeful, but maybe he’ll surprise.

A President determined to end the forever wars would have to have an iron will.  He would have to face the possibility of being a one-term President.

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Despotism or paralysis? Which is the problem?

March 16, 2021

Donald Trump never was a potential dictator, as so many Democrats and progressives feared. 

Rather he was part of a continuing a rear-guard action by conservatives and Republicans to thwart the will of the majority.

That’s the view of Corey Robin, a political scientist writing in the New Yorker.

Robin noted that Trump accomplished virtually none of his announced goals, not even when Republicans controlled both houses of Congress.

That’s because Republicans and conservatives are a minority, he said. 

The GOP failed to get a popular vote majority in four of the last five elections.  No conservative or right-wing group had the massive support that the Black Lives Matter protests did last year.  Religious conservatives such as Rod Dreher rightly note that they are losing the culture wars.

The problem, according to Robin, is that the U.S. Constitution gives right-wingers the power to thwart the will of the majority because of the undemocratic nature of the Senate, the Electoral College and the Supreme Court.  The result, he wrote, is paralysis.

There’s something to what he says, although our 18th-century Constitution did not prevent Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson, or, for that matter, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, from enacting ambitious political programs. 

The Constitution is not preventing change now.  What’s holding back change is the reluctance of the Biden administration to keep its promises.  Nothing prevents the Democratic majority in the Senate from abolishing the filibuster, as the Republican majority in the House of Representatives did way back in 1888.

Nor does anything prevent the calling of a convention to rewrite the Constitution and ask for ratification by the voters.  But the ones calling for a new Constitutional convention are the Koch brothers and other conservatives.  Liberals and progressives generally fear what a new convention would come up with, and cling to the Constitution as it is.

Then, too, paralysis only in one direction.  Nothing holds back or limits appropriations for the military.  Nothing hold back war-making by the President.  Nothing holds back upper-bracket tax cuts or bailouts for big financial institutions.

Paralysis does not hold off dictatorship.  Rather people come to accept dictatorship as the only possible solution to paralysis.

Authoritarian governments in the 20th century have arisen in three ways.  Revolutionaries take power from weak ineffective governments.  The military takes power to prevent revolutions.  Pseudo-revolutionary movements take power with the silent consent of the military, the landowners and big business.

Trump antagonized the military, and was regarded by Wall Street as a loose cannon, so he never had a chance of becoming an authoritarian ruler.  He did do a lot of damage to the normal functioning of government, but that is a separate issue.

I think there is a strong possibility of some future crisis, in which some right-wing pseudo-populist could succeed where Trump failed.  But for now, there is no reason for the military or big-money donors to be dissatisfied with the Biden administration.

There is also such a thing as creeping authoritarianism, which I think is what we’ve got now.  I think the proposed “domestic war on terrorism” is a greater threat to what’s left of American freedom and democracy than anything proposed during the Trump administration.

Rulers of empires in decline all had broad powers to wage war and crush dissent, but they were paralyzed when it comes to reforming themselves.

LINKS

Trump and the Trapped Country by Corey Robin for The New Yorker.  “For years we debated whether Donald Trump would topple democracy.  But the threat continues to come from the system itself.”  I say it all depends on what you mean by “the system.”

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Trump really did try to instigate an insurrection

February 11, 2021

The video above, introduced as part of the prosecution’s impeachment case against Donald Trump, underlines that the violence in the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6 was more than just a riot.

I had some doubts before as to how big a threat it was.  I don’t have such doubts any more.

The insurrection was intended to intimidate the Senate, and in particular Vice President Mike Pence, into refusing to certify the vote of the Electoral College.  It failed.  Vice President Pence and a majority of the Senate did their constitutional duty.

I don’t think that there ever was any serious possibility that the election results would be overturned.  Pence’s refusal to certify would not have changed anything in the end.

The harm that was done was to convince tens of millions of Americans that they are living under a government to which they owe no allegiance, any more than Americans of 1776 owned allegiance to King George III.

What bothers me is the thought of now things might have played out if the White House had been occupied by an authoritarian leader a little bit more self-disciplined and a little bit more astute than Donald Trump.

Such a leader would not have waited until after the votes were counted to question the voting system.  He and his followers would have sought court injunctions a year ago to block the changes they’re objecting to now.

When the game is over, it’s too late to question the rule book, because there’s no way to know how the game would have come out under different rules.

Such a leader would have a way to convince the FBI, the Pentagon, the CIA and the rest of the Homeland Security complex that he was on their side.  Experience in other countries shows that the police, the military and the intelligence agencies get along perfectly well with authoritarian rulers.

Such a leader would have had a real para-military force at his disposal—something comparable to Mussolini’s Blackshirts or Hitler’s Brownshirts (SA).

Trump gave winks and nods to encourage the Proud Boys and other authoritarian right-wing groups to think he was on their side, but he never (thank goodness) gave them effective leadership.  He never arranged for his supporters to secretly give them funds for recruitment and military training.

What happened on Jan. 6 could be a dress rehearsal for a right-wing coup to come.  A more astute authoritarian right-wing leader might well see all the possibilities that Trump’s attempt revealed and not make the mistakes that Trump made.

LINKS

Emotive video dominates day one of Trump impeachment trial by Niall Stanage for The Hill.

Insurrection TImeline: First the Coup and Then the Coverup by Steven Harper for Moyers on Democracy.  A more detailed timeline.

The martyrdom of Mike Pence by Sidney Blumenthal for The Guardian.  [Hat tip to Steve from Texas]  In the end, Pence did his duty.

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The fallacy of the single evil

January 13, 2021

C.S. Lewis wrote somewhere that the devil always sends his temptations in twos, so that in backing away from one, you are liable to stumble into the other.

That’s very true of political temptations.

The cult-like behavior of hard-core Donald Trump loyalists, and of Q-Anon followers in particular, is a great danger to functioning of American democracy.

How can I engage in democratic discourse with people who are disconnected from reality as I see it?

But the drive to censor MAGA Republicans, including Q-Anon, is an equal danger.

How can I engage in democratic discourse with people and at the same time deny them a voice?

People who are silenced do not think they are refuted.

And I would be naive if I thought that censorship will be limited to persons and causes I disapprove of.

LINKS

Q-Anon and the Fragility of Truth by Nathan J. Robinson for Current Affairs.

The Man Who Saw the Coup Coming Is Surprised It Wasn’t Much Worse by Cam Wolf for GQ.

QAnon Woke Up the Real Deep State by Nicolas Grossman for Arcdigital Media.

The Terror of Liberals in a Time of Insurrection by Ian Welsh.

The Boot Is Coming Down Hard and Fast by Caitlin Johnstone.

Images via vitaliketh on Twitter.

Why flawed election results should be accepted

January 12, 2021
Click to enlarge.

A new poll shows that a majority of American voters believe that fraud determined the outcome of the 2020 Presidential election. This is astonishing.

For this to have happened, there had to have been a vast conspiracy, implicating, at a minimum, election officials in half a dozen states, state and local legislatures and governments, judges up to the Supreme Court, and the national press, news networks and social media.

They would all have to be complicit in stealing the presidential election while nonetheless allowing the Republican Party to gain House seats and state legislatures. The entire apparatus of the American government would be implicated in such a belief.

As improbable as all these seems, millions of hard-core Trump supporters believe it.

Of course it’s not as if Democrats would have accepted the results if Donald Trump had been re-elected.  After the 2016 election, some Hillary Clinton supporters tried to influence Electors pledged to Trump to vote for Clinton

I think that there are some voting irregularities in almost every election, and also some attempts by foreigners to influence the outcome of the election.  But the time to deal with these issues is before the election is held. 

Once votes are cast, it is too late because there is no way to know how the outcome would have been if the irregularities hadn’t taken place.  It is like asking the results of the baseball World Series be changed on the grounds that an umpire made bad calls.

The time to deal with voter suppression, voting fraud or election fraud is before the election.  The time to start fixing the system is the day after the previous election.

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Some thoughts on democracy and insurrection

January 7, 2021

Protesters in Senate chamber. Source: ABC News

The basis of democratic government is a peaceful transition of power to the victor in an election.

If you think the result was wrong, you get a chance to try again the next election. If you think the voting process is corrupt or otherwise flawed, you have to fix it before the vote is held. 

Once you participate in an election, you commit to accept the result.  Otherwise the only appeal is to force.

The mob who stormed the Capitol yesterday did not accept the rules of democracy.

They may have done relatively little harm to life and property, compared to rioters in protests earlier this year and also compared to post-election rioters in other countries.

They only delayed the certification of the Electoral College vote for a few hours.  It wasn’t as if Congress was driven out and had to meet in a hotel somewhere.

And it is not clear to me at this point whether they really thought they could prevent the Electoral College vote from being certified, or whether they saw their action as a purely symbolic protest.  But whatever they thought they were doing, they were wrong.

The mob assembled in Washington in response to President Trump’s appeal to “stop the steal.”  It’s not clear to me that he intended what happened.  His record shows he does not think about the consequences of his actions.  He is like a vicious child playing with matches in a dynamite factory.

The Capitol Police were restrained and passive in dealing with the insurrectionists, compared with the way police often deal with peaceful environmental, anti-war or Black Lives Matter protestors.  I think that, under the circumstances, this probably was the right call.  A bloodbath would have been worse than anything that actually happened.

Still, many right-wing protestors in the United States think of themselves as supporters of the police, and many police appreciate this support.  Historically, revolution occurs when the police and military go over to the insurgents.  I think the events in Washington show there is potential for a more skillful demagogue than Trump to bring about a coup.

I don’t think that Republicans, self-described conservatives or even Trump supporters as a group are necessarily anti-democratic.  I don’t think that Democrats, self-described progressives or Trump haters are necessarily pro-democratic. 

I think yesterday’s insurrection was mild compared to the violence that would have been unleashed if Trump had won again by a narrow margin as he did in 2016.  Maybe I’m wrong about this, but I’m glad my thought wasn’t put to the test.

The various federal judges did not see evidence of voter fraud on a scale large enough to have changed the results of the Presidential election.  Indeed, based on the reporting of Greg Palast, I think Republican voter suppression is a bigger factor than anything Democrats have done.

But there are millions of devoted Trump supporters who think the election was stolen and the government illegitimate.  They constitute a threat to democratic government. 

The mainstream news media and the social media companies will respond to them by stronger measures to silence those who “sow discord.”  This, too, is a threat—possibly a greater one.

LINKS

It’s official.  Congress has formally recognized Joe Biden’s victory by Andrew Prokop for Vox.

MAGA Cosplayers Seize Capitol While Cops Flounder by Yves Smith for Naked Capitalism.

Capitol riots: Who broke into the building? by the BBC Reality Check Team and BBC Monitoring.  [Added Later]

Trump’s Wiemar America by Rod Dreher for The American Conservative.

Religious Meaning of MAGA Riot by Rod Dreher for The American Conservative.

Trump Has Proven the Country Is Ripe for a Right-Wing Coup by Ian Welsh.

MSM Media Already Using Capitol Hill Riot to Call for More Internet Censorship by Caitlin Johnstone.

Violence in the Capitol, Dangers in the Aftermath by Glenn Greenwald on Substack. [Added Later]

The legacy of Trump

December 13, 2020

What I Saw at the Jericho March by Rod Dreher for The American Conservative.  Very revealing.  This craziness isn’t going to go away anytime soon.

It’s No Longer Enough to be Merely Anti-Trump by Kevin Drum for Mother Jones.

COVID deaths highest in U.S in rural Republican-leaning Kansas county by Trevor Hughes for USA Today.

Speculation swirls over Ivanka Trump’s potential run for US Senate in Florida in The Guardian.  [Added 12/14/2020] (Hat tip to Steve from Texas).

The lasting military legacy of the Trump era

December 7, 2020

President Trump lasting military legacy, according to  Michael T. Klare, is not how Trump waged or failed to wage the global war on terror.

It is something far different—the conversion of the U.S. military from a global counterterror force into one designed to fight an all-out, cataclysmic, potentially nuclear war with China and/or Russia.

In the Cold War years, Western strategists generally imagined a contest of brute strength in which our tanks and artillery would battle theirs along hundreds of miles of front lines until one side or the other was thoroughly depleted and had no choice but to sue for peace (or ignite a global nuclear catastrophe).

Today’s strategists, however, imagine far more multidimensional (or “multi-domain”) warfare extending to the air and well into rear areas, as well as into space and cyberspace.  In such an environment, they’ve come to believe that the victor will have to act swiftly, delivering paralyzing blows to what they call the enemy’s C3I capabilities (critical command, control, communications, and intelligence) in a matter of days, or even hours.

Only then would powerful armored units be able to strike deep into enemy territory and, in true Patton fashion, ensure a Russian defeat.  The U.S. military has labeled such a strategy “all-domain warfare” and assumes that the U.S. will indeed dominate space, cyberspace, airspace, and the electromagnetic spectrum.

In a future confrontation with Russian forces in Europe, as the doctrine lays it out, U.S. air power would seek control of the airspace above the battlefield, while using guided missiles to knock out Russian radar systems, missile batteries, and their C3I facilities.  The Army would conduct similar strikes using a new generation of long-range artillery systems and ballistic missiles.

Only when Russia’s defensive capabilities were thoroughly degraded would that Army follow up with a ground assault, Patton-style.

Russia is a nuclear power on a par with the United States, and China also has nuclear weapons.  So the administration’s 2018 Nuclear Posture Review called for development of a new generation of unclear weapons, including battlefield weapons.

 It called for the introduction of two new types of nuclear munitions: a “low-yield” warhead (meaning it could, say, pulverize Lower Manhattan without destroying all of New York City) for a Trident submarine-launched ballistic missile and a new nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missile.

President Trump scrapped the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, which limited short-range nuclear missiles in Europe.  He has refused to renew the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which expires Feb. 5, 2021—just two weeks after Joe Biden’s inauguration.

At best, this commits the United States to an expensive new arms race at a time when government on all levels is short of money to maintain basic infrastructure and provide for basic needs.  At worst, it threatens a nuclear war that would destroy industrial civilization and a large fraction of the human race.

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Does Trump want peace or war? Does he know?

November 19, 2020

End Three Wars, Then Blow Up Iran? by Matt Purple for The American Conservative. What exactly is going on in the mind of Donald Trump?

Was Trump too incompetent to create a crisis?

November 8, 2020

Donald Trump (Getty Images)

I worried a lot about the possibility of a Constitutional crisis following this year’s national elections.  I feared Donald Trump would somehow sabotage the election process.  I worried about possible violence.

None of my fears of come true. We Americans can look forward to a peaceful transition of power, with nothing worse than hard feelings by the losers.

Maybe my fears were overblown.  But maybe we Americans dodged a bullet.

Rod Dreher, an editor of The American Conservative, noted that President Trump had threatened a massive legal challenge to the election results—like the Florida recount, but spread across many states.

But he never did anything to bring this about.  Dreher quoted the Wall Street Journal—

Some advisers have privately said they see little path forward, politically or legally, that would prevent Mr. Trump from becoming the first president to lose reelection since 1992.

Among the president’s advisers, finger-pointing over the campaign’s legal strategy has intensified in recent days, White House and campaign aides said. 

Aides have expressed acute frustration over what many see as a slapdash legal effort, complaining that—even though Mr. Trump spent months telegraphing his intent to fight the election outcome in the courts—there wasn’t enough planning ahead of Election Day and has been little follow-through on decisions made this week. 

For days after the election, advisers said they didn’t know who was in charge of the strategy.

Dreher himself added—

You got that?  Trump has known for months that this thing might conclude with a hellacious legal fight, but hasn’t bothered to put together a legal team to fight it.  The WSJ also reported that Trump has named longtime conservative political operative David Bossie to head his legal team.  Bossie isn’t a lawyer.  This is not a serious effort.  MAGA is done.

I can’t see the up side of fighting for Trump at this point, not only because this Biden win seems decisive, but also because Trump hasn’t taken the fight to defend his presidency seriously.  The Journal story is pretty incredible … but about what you would expect from a president whose mouth writes checks the rest of him can’t cash. 

Seriously, how is it that you spend months telling your supporters that you are going to fight this in court if you have to, but then half-ass the legal prep? 

When the GOP went down to Florida in 2000 to wage legal war in the Bush-Gore contest, they sent the lawyer equivalent of Seal Team Six.  Now?  The fact that Trump doesn’t take this seriously telegraphs to conservatives how seriously we should take him from now on.

Yesterday the WSJ editorialized that Republicans are correct to put an eagle eye on voting, especially in Philadelphia, but said that Trump is going to have to prove his allegations in court. 

So far, it doesn’t seem that Trump’s claims are very strong.  My sense is that most Americans are going to want this thing settled, and don’t have the stomach for a long, drawn-out argument.  Civil society is pretty fragile right now.

Source: Rod Dreher.

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Glenn Greenwald on the crimes of Trump

November 7, 2020

President Bush and Vice President Cheney

Those who want to insist that Trump’s evils are unprecedented — such that their own service to or support for prior presidents should not exclude them from the realm of the Patriotic, the Decent and the Noble — should be prepared to explain which acts of Trump’s compete with the destruction of Iraq, or the implementation of a global regime of torture, or the “rendition” kidnappings and CIA black sites and illegal domestic eavesdropping under Bush and Obama, or imprisoning people for decades with no due process, and on and on and on.

No Matter the Liberal Metric Chosen, the Bush / Cheney Administration Was Far Worse Than Trump by Glenn Greenwald.  None of this is an excuse for Trump, of course.

The 2020 election hasn’t really settled anything

November 6, 2020

Trump’s election plan (in addition to standard voter suppression, like having almost no machines in poor ridings [election districts]):

  1. Tell Republicans not to vote by mail, and claim there is a lot of fraud.
  2. Have DeJoy, his man in the Post Office slow down and damage mail delivery, slowing down ballot delivery and losing ballots.
  3. Have Republican legislatures in important states forbid counting mail in and early vote ballots before election day.
  4. If the election is close, go to court to stop the counting of votes after election day.

Source: Ian Welsh

As of this morning, it looks as if this strategy has failed, mainly because the courts didn’t co-operate, and Joe Biden is virtually certain to win an Electoral Vote majority.

But if President Trump hadn’t mishandled the coronavirus pandemic, or hadn’t had so many obvious character flaws, he might well have won the election fair and square.

The basic reason Biden gave voters to support him is that he isn’t Donald Trump.  Anybody else would be better, and Biden was someone else.

The Democrats in this election were backed by big business.  In money terms, they massively out-raised and out-spent the Republicans. 

Joe Biden’s campaign promises were (1) to not enact Medicare for All, (2) to not support a Green New Deal and (3) to not ban fracking. 

The main achievement he boasted of was beating Bernie Sanders.  The main reason he gave for voting for him was that he wasn’t Donald Trump.  That was enough—but just barely.

Democratic support among key constituencies continued to erode, as it did in the previous two Presidential elections.

Let’s be very clear: the Democratic Party screwed this election up massively.  Trump actually did better than he did in 2016 in areas with high COVID-19 deaths.  Union members in Ohio appear to have gone for Trump, and most of the people who saw the economy as the top issue voted for Trump, even though this should theoretically be the issue on which the Democratic Party is strongest.

Source: Current Affairs.

Preliminary exit polls indicate that the Republicans increased their vote share among woman, African-Americans and Hispanics, including poor Mexican-Americans in south Texas who’ve historically been reliable Democratic voters for maybe a century.

The result is that Republicans will probably keep control of the Senate, increase their representation in the House of Representatives and keep control of enough state legislatures to keep their gerrymandering advantage.

Neither Democrats nor Republicans have the upper hand.  What this means is that things will continue just as they are, except that Donald Trump will no longer be using the White House as a stage for his psychodrama.

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Trump gains in all groups but white men

November 4, 2020

I didn’t see this coming.

According to the Edison Exit Poll, President Trump increased his share of the vote among Hispanics, African-Americans and white women this year compared to 2016, but lost some ground among white men.  The same was true of Trump’s vote in 2016 compared to Romney’s in 2012.

LINK

Trump gains with Latinos, loses some white voters by Chris Kahn and James Oliphant for Reuters.

A choice between bad and worse

November 2, 2020

I voted by mail several weeks ago for Howie Hawkins, the Presidential candidate of the Green Party.

My idea was to send a message that neither Donald Trump or Joe Biden is acceptable.  I would vote for Jo Jorgenson of the Libertarian Party if she were the only alternative.

The question is not, as in the last few Presidential elections, which candidate has the best policies. 

The question is whether either of them are capable of dealing with the coming perfect storm of emergencies—the pandemic, unemployment, a financial crisis, disruptions in international trade and emergencies caused by drought, fires, floods and storms brought on by global warming.

Based on their records, I have no confidence in either of them.

I live in New York state, which is virtually certain to go for Joe Biden, so nothing was at stake in my vote.

I think there is great danger of civil disorder if Donald Trump claims victory tomorrow night on the basis of early returns or if he actually ekes out a narrow victory.

His margin of alleged or real victory, if there is one, would almost certainly be the result of purging of voter rolls or manipulating the election progress. Greg Palast has done good reporting on this.

And most major and many small U.S. cities have had George Floyd protests, so there is a core group that is ready and able to mount a protest on short notice.

I don’t know how I would have voted if I lived in a swing state. I certainly would not have voted for Donald Trump, but I don’t think I could have brought myself to vote for Biden.

LINKS

The Day Before the U.S. Election by Ian Welsh.

Donald Trump Exposed Truths About Both Parties by Ross Douthat for The New York Times.

How Trump damaged science—and why it could take decades to recover by Jeff Tolletson for Nature.

Deluge After the Donald? by Ted Rall.

We Can’t Follow Obama Back to Brunch by David Sirota and Andrew Perez for The Daily Poster.

(more…)

Donald Trump’s big accomplishment

October 24, 2020

Trump’s Biggest Economic Legacy Isn’t About the Numbers by Patricia Cohen for the New York Times.  Hat tip to Steve from Texas.

From Obama to Trump

October 22, 2020

I came across this interview with Frank Luntz, a Republican pollster and campaign strategist, on the Naked Capitalism web log today. 

It was done back in January.  I happened to turn it on and kept watching until the end.  It’s an hour long, another video that’s a little long to watch on a computer screen, but you can listen to it while doing something else, such as making and eating breakfast.

I don’t agree with everything Luntz had to say, he’s more inclined to give some people the benefit of the doubt than I am, but he is someone who gets around and who actually listens to people, and he had interesting things to say. 

I’m not sure the whole PBS Frontline series is worth watching,  but here are the links if you’re interested.

America’s Great Divide: From Obama to Trump, Part One.

America’s Great Divide: From Obama to Trump, Part Two.