Both Political Parties Have Abandoned Principle

The 2016 election was a low point in our politics, with each party totally abandoning principle. Donald Trump ignored key ideas of the conservative movement, while Hillary Clinton became the establishment neocon candidate, running for George W. Bush’s third term. Newspaper columnists have noted this, with each party vulnerable to criticism for a lack of principles.

At Politico, Bruce Bartlett wrote Trump Is What Happens When a Political Party Abandons Ideas:

…conservatives—who, after all, believe in liberty and a system of checks and balances to restrain the government to its proper role—have plenty of reason to be upset by those actions Trump has taken that transcend our traditional right-left ideological divide. He’s voiced not only skepticism of NATO, but outright hostility to it. He’s pulled America back from its role as an international advocate for human rights. He’s attacked the notion of an independent judiciary. He personally intervened to request the FBI to ease up on its investigation of a former adviser of his, then fired FBI Director James Comey and freely admitted he did so to alleviate the pressure he felt from Comey’s investigation. For those conservatives who were tempted to embrace a “wait-and-see” approach to Trump, what they’ve seen, time and again, is almost unimaginable.

And yet as surprising as this all has been, it’s also the natural outgrowth of 30 years of Republican pandering to the lowest common denominator in American politics. Trump is what happens when a political party abandons ideas, demonizes intellectuals, degrades politics and simply pursues power for the sake of power…

One real-world result of the lobotomizing of conservative intellectualism is that when forced to produce a replacement for Obamacare—something Republican leaders had sworn they had in their pocket for eight years—there was nothing. Not just no legislation—no workable concept that adhered to the many promises Republicans had made, like coverage for pre-existing conditions and the assurance that nobody would lose their coverage. You’d think that House Speaker Ryan could have found a staff slot for one person to be working on an actual Obamacare replacement all these years, just in case.

With hindsight, it’s no surprise that the glorification of anti-elitism and anti-intellectualism that has been rampant on the right at least since the election of Barack Obama would give rise to someone like Trump. Anyone who ever read Sinclair Lewis’ “It Can’t Happen Here,” which imagined a fascist dictator taking power in 1930s America, recognizes that Trump is the real-life embodiment of Senator Buzz Windrip—a know-nothing populist who becomes president by promising something for everyone, with no clue or concern for how to actually accomplish it. Windrip was“vulgar, almost illiterate, a public liar easily detected, and in his ‘ideas’ almost idiotic,” Lewis wrote. “Certainly there was nothing exhilarating in the actual words of his speeches, nor anything convincing in his

While  I might not agree in all of his goals, Bruce Bartlett did express ideas as to what he wants the Republican Party to represent. The Democratic establishment lacks such a vision. Hillary Clinton’s campaign suffered from never being able to express a good reason why she should be present beyond the mistaken view that it was her turn. Democrats have lost every special election, most recently in Georgia with a centrist campaign which failed to stand for anything. Their strategy is limited to attacks on Trump, and raising hysteria about Russia which has gained no political traction.

Dan Baltz wrote in The Washington Post that Beyond opposing Trump, Democrats keep searching for a message:

The loss in last week’s special congressional election in Georgia produced predictable hand-wringing and finger-pointing inside the Democratic Party. It also raised anew a question that has troubled the party through a period in which they have lost ground political. Simply put: Do Democrats have a message?

Right now, the one discernible message is opposition to President Trump. That might be enough to get through next year’s midterm elections, though some savvy Democratic elected officials doubt it. What’s needed is a message that attracts voters beyond the blue-state base of the party…

History says a president with approval ratings as low as Trump’s usually sustain substantial midterm losses. That could be the case in 2018, particularly if the Republicans end up passing a health-care bill that, right now, is far more unpopular than Obamacare. But Trump has beaten the odds many times in his short political career. What beyond denunciations of the Republicans as heartless will the Democrats have to say to voters?

Though united in vehement opposition to the president, Democrats do not speak with one voice. Fault lines and fissures exist between the ascendant progressive wing at the grass roots and those Democrats who remain more business-friendly. While these differences are not as deep as those seen in Trump’s Republican Party, that hasn’t yet generated a compelling or fresh message to take to voters who aren’t already sold on the party.

Hillary Clinton, whose rhetoric often sounded more poll-tested than authentic, never found that compelling message during her 2016 campaign. She preferred to run a campaign by demonizing Trump and, as a result, drowned out her economic platform. This was a strategic gamble for which she paid a high price…

The long-running debate over the Democrats’ message probably will intensify as the party looks to 2018 and especially to 2020. It is a debate that the party needs. Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg, writing in the American Prospect, sees a problem that goes beyond white working-class voters to those within the Democratic base who also were left behind by the post-2008 economic gains. He argues that the party’s problem is with working-class voters of all types, not just whites.

Greenberg has long been critical of the tepidness of the party’s economic message and puts some of the blame on Obama. He believes the former president’s economic message in 2012 and 2016 focused on progress in the recovery largely to the exclusion of the widespread pain that still existed. “That mix of heralding ‘progress’ while bailing out those responsible for the crisis and the real crash in incomes for working Americans was a fatal brew for Democrats,” he argues.

For progressives, the answer to this problem is clear: a boldly liberal message that attacks big corporations and Wall Street and calls for a significant increase in government’s role in reducing income and wealth inequality. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has been aggressive in promoting exactly that, as he did during the 2016 campaign, with calls for a big investment in infrastructure and free college tuition at public colleges and universities. He has said he intends to introduce legislation he calls “Medicare for All.”

Unfortunately, as has been the case in many articles of this nature which point out the lack of a message from the Democrats, Baltz ignored some key matters. Americans have become so accustomed to the wars started under George Bush and continued under Barack Obama that this was barely mentioned during the campaign. Even worse, Hillary Clinton has backed far further military interventionism than has been supported by Barack Obama–or George Bush and Dick Cheney.

It is sad that Reaganite Bruce Bartlett wrote that conservatives “believe in liberty and a system of checks and balances to restrain the government to its proper role,” but we see little concern among Democrats regarding these matters. Democrats don’t even think of opposing the increase in government surveillance and restrictions of civil liberties in the name of supposedly fighting terrorism. Neither major party candidate had any respect for First Amendment liberties, and Clinton has a far right record in backing restrictions.

With neither party standing for anything, we are seeing an unprecedented degree in dissatisfaction with both major parties, with a recent icitizen poll showing that, “seven in 10 Americans believe the two major parties do not represent them well and that a third party is necessary.” While Hillary Clinton calls third party voters crazy, showing a disdain for democracy in attacking voters for being unwilling to vote for her, this might be the only principled option unless the major political parties are reformed. One of the most vile arguments from establishment Democrats is that we must vote for the Democrats as lesser of two evils to stop Republicans while ignoring the evil promoted by their own party. This is a sick argument to say that we should have voted for a corrupt war monger like Clinton, endorsing her wars, right wing views on the First Amendment, and economic policies, while ignoring how she has used government positions to amass a fortune through influence peddling. Voting for the lesser of two evils over the years has only led to increasing how evil the nominees of both parties are.

Is It A Violation Of First Amendment Rights When Donald Trump Blocks Critics On Twitter?

Blocking people on social media is commonplace, but what  happens when the President uses Twitter to make pronouncements on public policy and blocks those opposing? Is this just engaging in normal behavior on social media, or censorship? Some of those blocked by Donald Trump on Twitter are now protesting that their First Amendment rights are being violated. Bloomberg News reports:

President Donald Trump’s Twitter account is once again the subject of debate, as the Knight First Amendment Institute urged him to unblock individuals in a letter sent to the White House on Tuesday.

The institute, a nonprofit organization affiliated with Columbia University, said it believes his account is a “designated public forum” and threatened legal action if the president didn’t comply. In a letter addressed to Trump, his counsel, press secretary and social media director, the institute wrote on behalf of Holly O’Reilly and Joseph M. Papp, both of whom criticized the president on the social media platform in recent weeks and said they were blocked.

“The blocking of users from your Twitter account suppresses speech in a number of ways,” the letter stated. “Users who have been blocked cannot follow you on Twitter, and they are limited in their ability to view  your tweets, find your tweets using Twitter’s search function, and learn which accounts follow you. They are also limited in their ability to participate in comment threads associated with your tweets.” Replying to messages posted by Trump on Twitter, often in the form of a thread, is common practice on the platform, both by fans and detractors of the Republican president.

The article goes on to note that Sean Spicer has said that Trump’s tweets should be considered official statements, which lends credence to arguments that blocking someone from Donald Trump’s account is not the same as a regular Twitter user doing so. As I noted yesterday, Trump is expected to be live tweeting his views when James Comey testifies tomorrow.

One of those blocked by Donald Trump has an op-ed in The Washington Post explaining why she believes her rights have been violated:

Press secretary Sean Spicer said just yesterday that Trump’s tweets are considered “official statements by the president of the United States.” When Trump blocks people for disagreeing with him, he isn’t just deciding not to hear our voices; he’s cutting us off from receiving these official statements. So, by blocking people on Twitter, Trump is effectively removing the radio from his version of FDR’s fireside chats, or more accurately, closing the door of a Town Hall meeting to everyone except people who agree with or say nice things about him.

In March, a Virginia federal judge dismissed a lawsuit against Loudoun County for allegedly deleting a comment left by a local resident who criticized a decision not to appoint a special prosecutor. The judge ruled that the deletion was constitutional because the plaintiff had attempted to “hijack the discussion” in violation of a government social-media policy that permitted the removal of “clearly off-topic” comments. The case is on appeal.

The ACLU of Indiana last year filed lawsuits against three small cities in the state for allegedly censoring critical Facebook users. Before a judge weighed in, the cases settled with the municipalities agreeing to lift the Facebook bans on the users who went to court.

The First Amendment Institute’s letter focuses on Mr. Trump’s @realDonaldTrump account, which currently has 31.7 million followers. It makes no claims about the other main White House Twitter feeds, @WhiteHouse and @POTUS, nor does it discuss Mr. Trump’s predecessor.

The Obama administration said it never blocked people from following @POTUS. The former president’s @BarackObama account specified that it wasn’t part of the government but run by Barack Obama‘s political arm.

The article also quotes  Ken Paulson, dean of media and entertainment at Middle Tennessee State University:

It’s a novel and ambitious argument and certainly in the public interest, but also feels like a tough sell. Is the president’s Twitter account, established well before he was elected, a public forum where interactive free expression is expected or more like a newsletter, where the communication is all one way?

I do think municipalities that establish Facebook pages and invite citizen input are in fact establishing public forums, but I’m not sure that Donald Trump’s brief bursts of opinion are the same thing.

Propublica cited additional examples of pubic officials blocking critics on social media.

Matt Taibbi On How The Democrats Need A New Message

Matt Taibbi used the victory by Greg Gianforte in Montana to review what is wrong with the Democratic Party. If this was just a loss in Montana it could easily be ignored as a case of people in a deep red state voting for party regardless of how awful the candidate was. The real message is how often the Democrats have lost:

The electoral results last November have been repeated enough that most people in politics know them by heart. Republicans now control 68 state legislative chambers, while Democrats only control 31. Republicans flipped three more governors’ seats last year and now control an incredible 33 of those offices. Since 2008, when Barack Obama first took office, Republicans have gained somewhere around 900 to 1,000 seats overall.

There are a lot of reasons for this. But there’s no way to spin some of these numbers in a way that doesn’t speak to the awesome unpopularity of the blue party. A recent series of Gallup polls is the most frightening example.

Unsurprisingly, the disintegrating Trump bears a historically low approval rating. But polls also show that the Democratic Party has lost five percentage points in its own approval rating dating back to November, when it was at 45 percent.

The Democrats are now hovering around 40 percent, just a hair over the Trump-tarnished Republicans, at 39 percent. Similar surveys have shown that despite the near daily barrage of news stories pegging the president as a bumbling incompetent in the employ of a hostile foreign power, Trump, incredibly, would still beat Hillary Clinton in a rematch today, and perhaps even by a larger margin than before.

Tabbi next ran through a long list of excuses the Democrats give for losing and correctly dismissed them:

The unspoken subtext of a lot of the Democrats’ excuse-making is their growing belief that the situation is hopeless – and not just because of fixable institutional factors like gerrymandering, but because we simply have a bad/irredeemable electorate that can never be reached.

This is why the “basket of deplorables” comment last summer was so devastating. That the line would become a sarcastic rallying cry for Trumpites was inevitable. (Of course it birthed a political merchandising supernova.) To many Democrats, the reaction proved the truth of Clinton’s statement. As in: we’re not going to get the overwhelming majority of these yeehaw-ing “deplorable” votes anyway, so why not call them by their names?

But the “deplorables” comment didn’t just further alienate already lost Republican votes. It spoke to an internal sickness within the Democratic Party, which had surrendered to a negativistic vision of a hopelessly divided country.

Things are so polarized now that, as Georgia State professor Jennifer McCoy put it on NPR this spring, each side views the other not as fellow citizens with whom they happen to disagree, but as a “threatening enemy to be vanquished.”

The “deplorables” comment formalized this idea that Democrats had given up on a huge chunk of the population, and now sought only to defeat and subdue their enemies.

Many will want to point out here that the Republicans are far worse on this score. No politician has been more divisive than Trump, who explicitly campaigned on blaming basically everyone but middle American white people for the world’s problems.

This is true. But just because the Republicans win using deeply cynical and divisive strategies doesn’t mean it’s the right or smart thing to do.

After further discussion, Taibbi got to his main argument that Democrats have no message other than to attack Republicans:

They’re continuing, if not worsening, last year’s mistake of running almost exclusively on Trump/Republican negatives. The Correct the Record types who police the Internet on the party’s behalf are relentless on that score, seeming to spend most of their time denouncing people for their wrong opinions or party disloyalty. They don’t seem to have anything to say to voters in flyover country, except to point out that they’re (at best) dupes for falling for Republican rhetoric.

But “Republicans are bad” isn’t a message or a plan, which is why the Democrats have managed the near impossible: losing ground overall during the singular catastrophe of the Trump presidency.

The party doesn’t see that the largest group of potential swing voters out there doesn’t need to be talked out of voting Republican. It needs to be talked out of not voting at all. The recent polls bear this out, showing that the people who have been turned off to the Democrats in recent months now say that in a do-over, they would vote for third parties or not at all.

This is a far more realistic look at politics than we saw from Hillary Clinton last week when she called third party voters crazy, as she repeated her long list of excuses for losing. Personally I think it would have been far crazier to vote for a corrupt warmonger like Clinton or a xenophobic racist like Trump than to vote based upon principle for a third party.

Clinton is the most obvious example of a politician running with no message, beyond her gender and claims that it is her turn. This was most clearly seen at the end of the race, when she finally realized her mistake of not campaigning in states like Michigan where she was vulnerable. When Clinton finally realized at the last minute that she was in trouble, both candidates started advertising heavily. Trump’s ads contained promises of jobs while Clinton’s ads attacked Trump’s character without giving any good reasons to vote for her. Even if Trump’s promises lacked substance, it should come as no surprise that his message was more effective.

Clinton’s entire candidacy highlighted how the Democrats have no message and stand for nothing these days. Many people voted for the Democrats because of opposition to the policies of George W. Bush. Now the Democrats were running a candidate who backed all the worst features of the Bush agenda, especially support for military interventionism and a hostility towards government transparency. In 2007 Clinton attacked members of the Bush administration saying, “Our Constitution is being shredded” over their support for the surveillance state and use of private email. Now we had Hillary Clinton spending over a year lying about her own violations of policy written to promote transparency and mocking freedom of speech. Wikileaks even revealed how little difference there was on economic views between Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush.

Democrats have been repeatedly losing by running as a Republican-lite party and refusing to stand for anything. Democratic rules since the loss by George McGovern have been rigged to support a more conservative candidate, and in 2016 the Democrats further intervened to clear the field for Clinton. The irony is that rules initially written with the intent of providing winning candidates gave them a candidate so bad that she could not even beat Donald Trump, and were used to prevent the nomination of a surprise candidate who showed he could win. Democrats failed to understand how the world has changed since 1972, and that the old left/right linear political spectrum no longer applies. At least Bernicrats now have some victories on the local level which are showing that a Democrat with a message does have a chance of beating Republicans.

More Bad News For Trump On Travel Ban, Russia Probe, And GOP Health Care Plan

There was yet another round of bad news for Donald Trump the last couple of days. This includes a federal appeals court refusing to reinstate Trump’s travel ban. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond ruled that this was a violation of the First Amendment’s ban on government establishment of religion:

“Then-candidate Trump’s campaign statements reveal that on numerous occasions, he expressed anti-Muslim sentiment, as well as his intent, if elected, to ban Muslims from the United States,” Judge Gregory wrote. He cited, as an example, a 2015 statement calling for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our representatives can figure out what is going on.”

The travel ban is far more about prejudice than effective defense against terrorism. Donald Trump continues to show that his policies are counterproductive, most recently with police in the U.K. not wanting to share information with the United States due to leaks. Of course the biggest leaker of intelligence information in the Trump administration is probably Donald Trump himself.

There was additional bad news. Jared Kushner is reportedly under scrutiny by the FBI in the Russia probe. There are no specifics as to what his role was but the inclusion of Kushner is consistent with my suspicions that any misconduct by high administration officials will most likely turn out to be financial. Despite partisan claims, those involved with the investigation have consistently stated that there is no evidence of any collusion between Trump and the Russians with regards to meddling in the 2016 election. Without such collusion, any Russian meddling becomes of far less significance, representing the type of activity which both the United States and Russia has engaged in for decades. Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign showed how the Clinton campaign initiated a strategy to blame Clinton’s loss on others, such as Russia, within twenty-four hours of her loss. 

While no crimes have been proven on Trump’s part before being elected, there has been a suspicious pattern of cover-up–and most likely obstruction of justice with the firing of James Comey. Evidence of this was further increased this week when news came out that Trump had attempted to get two top intelligence officials to help him block the FBI investigation. The Washington Post reported:

President Trump asked two of the nation’s top intelligence officials in March to help him push back against an FBI investigation into possible coordination between his campaign and the Russian government, according to current and former officials.

Trump made separate appeals to the director of national intelligence, Daniel Coats, and to Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, urging them to publicly deny the existence of any evidence of collusion during the 2016 election.

Coats and Rogers refused to comply with the requests, which they both deemed to be inappropriate, according to two current and two former officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private communications with the president.

Donald Trump and Congressional Republicans also received bad news this week when the Congressional Budget Office released their scoring of the House health care bill. Their report indicated that repealing ObamaCare in this nature would result in twenty-three million people losing health care coverage over ten years, and that many people with pre-existing conditions would find health insurance either unavailable or affordable.

FCC Will Not Take Action Against Stephen Colbert For Anti-Trump Monologue

Conservatives love to censor free speech, and late night talk show hosts who make fun of Republicans are a common target. This includes the attacks on David Letterman in 2009 when conservatives falsely accused him of making a joke about Willow Palin while she was a minor. Conservatives probably like his successor, Stephen Colbert, even less. Colbert tends to be much more political than Letterman. This includes this rant against Trump in his monologue following Trump’s interview with John Dickerson:

Mr. Trump, your presidency — I love your presidency. I call it ‘Disgrace the Nation.’ You’re not the POTUS — you’re the BLOTUS. You’re the glutton with the button. You’re a regular ‘Gorge’ Washington. You’re the presi-dunce, but you’re turning into a real prick-tator. Sir you attract more skinheads than free Rogaine. You have more people marching against you than cancer. You talk like a sign language gorilla who got hit in the head. In fact, the only thing your mouth is good for is being Vladimir Putin’s c**k holster. Your presidential library is gonna be a kids menu and a couple of ‘Jugs’ magazines. The only thing smaller than your hands is your tax returns. And you can take that any way you want.

Video of the full monologue follows:

Conservatives complained about the line, “the only thing your mouth is good for is being Vladimir Putin’s c**k holster” (with the potentially offensive word bleeped out when the show aired). Complaints were filed with the FCC, which reviewed Colbert’s monologue and found no violation of their rules: “Consistent with standard operating procedure, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau has reviewed the complaints and the material that was the subject of these complaints. The Bureau has concluded that there was nothing actionable under the FCC’s rules.”

It was not expected that the FCC would take action against Colbert as it gives a lot of leeway between 10 pm and 6 am. Taking action against comedians mocking Trump would have a chilling effect on freedom of speech.

The election of Donald Trump has been great for the ratings of the late night talk show hosts, and has benefited the more political hosts such as Colbert as opposed to previous ratings leader Jimmy Fallon. Deadline reports:

Colbert’s CBS Late Show will win the 2016-17 TV season in total viewers – CBS’ first win over NBC’s The Tonight Show in overall audience with a season-long host since the 1994-95 TV season. The qualifier excludes the 2009-2010 TV season when NBC replaced Conan O’Brien with Jay Leno midway through the season.

Democratic Party Stronger Without The Clintons

The 2016 election was unique in which, while their partisans might not realize it, each party would be better off if their candidate lost the presidential election. Both parties had horrible candidates, and each party would pay a price if their candidate was president. The damage to the Republican brand since Trump has been elected has been obvious. This distracts from noticing the benefits to Democrats from not being dragged further to the right by DLC Democrats such as the Clintons.

Democrats have misread recent politics in seeing Bill Clinton’s victory as evidence that the path of the Democratic Leadership Conference was the way to win. In reality, Bill Clinton won due to his own personal political skills, not by his desire to turn the Democratic Party into a Republican-Lite Party. The Clinton/DLC philosophy too conservative and out of date in the 1990’s, and it is even less relevant to the 21st century. Democrats lost off year elections in 2010 and 2014 by running as Republican-Lite and refusing to stand for anything. This culminated in nominating Hillary Clinton, who managed to lose to Donald Trump.

While Clinton partisans will never agree, polling data and the election results presents a pretty strong case that if the Democrats had nominate Bernie Sanders instead of Clinton they could have won the White House, and probably taken control of the Senate. The Democratic establishment has totally misread the mood of the country and were misled by an out-dated left/right linear political spectrum, failing to see that many independents would vote for Sanders, but not for Clinton.

While the Democratic establishment still desires to exclude Sanders, others are giving him credit for revitalizing the Democratic Party. Buzz Feed editor Ben Smith writes, While You Were Watching Trump, The Democratic Party Changed: Bernie Sanders lost the primary but reshaped his party.

“What happened in the presidential campaign is that Bernie ran explicitly in support of a Medicare-for-all approach” — a simple framework for single-payer — “and what the politicians saw is that voters were fine with that,” said Vermont Rep. Peter Welch, a longtime advocate of single payer.

“It’s inclusive and it doesn’t get us into the identity politics divisions that are problematic,” he said. “It gets us into inclusive politics.”

And if Sanders made single-payer safe for Democrats, Trump’s extremely unpopular foray into health care policy with the American Health Care Act has created a new landscape. Democrats’ blend of private-sector structures with government money and incentives, Obamacare, never became truly popular. A Republican version of that hybrid system, tilted toward the markets and away from guarantees, isn’t popular either.

“Then the default becomes, well the private market doesn’t work, the next thing is single-payer,” said an insurance industry executive close to the politics of the issue, who noted that the CEO of Aetna recently shocked the industry by calling for a serious debate about what single-payer would look like. (To the insurance industry, it could look like a new sluice of predictable revenue.)

“This is probably going to be like what happened with Republicans on immigration,” the insurance industry official said. “You may even have a bigger swath of Democrats who are not for single-payer but the single-payer group is becoming so outspoken that other voices are muted.”

It remains to be seen whether the Democratic Party will really change for the better, but there was little or no hope if a politician as conservative as Hillary Clinton had won and had the opportunity to shape the party. While she claims at times to be a progressive, she is a “progressive” who fights for conservative results. Clinton was hardly progressive when she supported making flag burning a felony, censoring video games, supported restricting freedom of speech to fight terrorism, defended the use of cluster bombs in civilian areas, supported parental notification laws, making abortion rare (a statement which stigmatizes women who have abortions and plays into GOP attempts to restrict abortions), leaving gay marriage up to the states (a position she finally changed but lagging behind the country tremendously), the Patriot Act, the discriminatory Workplace Religious Freedom Act, working with the Fellowship in the Senate to increase the role of religion in public policy and undermine the principle of separation of church and state, opposed single payer health care, opposed needle exchange programs, supported a hard line on the drug war, promoted increased government secrecy, supported going to war in Iraq war based upon false claims of a connection between Saddam and al Qaeda (without even bothering to read the intelligence material made available for members of the Senate), pushed for military intervention in Libya and Syria, and resuming the Cold War with Russia.

If Clinton was president, far too many Democrats would be rationalizing and defending Clinton’s views and actions. Instead, the defeat of Clinton opens the door for a more liberal Democratic Party. It also increases the chances of Democratic gains in 2018. If Clinton had been elected, we would probably see a continuation of Democratic loses in Congress and state governments. Instead there is talk of a possible Democratic wave in 2018. For many matters, the state government has more day to day impact on our lives than the federal government. For those of us who saw our state governments get taken over by Republicans since 2010, the defeat of Clinton gives hope of throwing the Republicans out.

With Trump in the White House, we have terrible policies, but also massive opposition to him. Plus with Trump in the White House, we have the added benefit of seeing the Republican president being the subject of scandals and possible impeachment, instead of the inevitable scandals to be seen under Hillary Clinton. The manner in which she spent the last couple of years repeatedly lying about the email and Foundations scandals should provide additional warnings about what could be expected with Clinton in the White House.

Donald Trump has been a terrible president, but it would have been a disaster regardless of who won. At least there is now  hope for a better future.

Donald Trump’s Ominous Parallels To The Rise Of Authoritarianism

The firing of James Comey by Donald Trump is yet another example of Donald Trump varying from Democratic norms. It is a disturbing case of a president working to destroy our system of checks and balances, demanding a pledge of loyalty from someone in a position designed to be independent of such political pressure.  I posted several opinions on this act yesterday, often from the perspective of comparing Trump’s actions to Richard Nixon’s acts to obstruct justice during the Watergate investigation.

There are even more ominous parallels which can be drawn. Donald Trump has already expressed a disturbing degree of admiration for dictators.  Vox looked at the firing of James Comey from the perspective of people who have studies the rise of authoritarian leaders. Some excerpts:

“Trump has talked like a would-be authoritarian since day one. … This is the first clear warning sign that he’s attempting to [act like one].”

Those are the words not of a Democratic political operative or a fringe liberal Trump critic, but of Yascha Mounk, a respected scholar of democracy at Harvard, reacting to Preisdent Trump’s abrupt firing of FBI Director James Comey…

To people who study the rise of authoritarian leaders, just those facts alone are terrifying.

“This is very common — in semi-authoritarian and authoritarian regimes,” Erica Chenoweth, a professor at the University of Denver, tells me. “Purges, summary firings, imprisonment: These are all things that authoritarian leaders do when they attempt to rid themselves of rivals within government.”

Comey’s firing, these political scientists say, fits a pattern that’s very common in democracies that collapse into authoritarianism in the modern era. It’s not that the elected leaders in these countries set out to become an authoritarian, per se. It’s that they care about their own power and security above all else, and do things to protect their own position that have the effect of removing democratic constraints on their power.

One of the first steps in this pattern is weakening independent sources of power that can check the executive’s actions. Like, say, the director of your domestic security service who just happens to be investigating your administration’s foreign ties.

Trump “has what you might think of as autocratic tendencies, which were probably perfectly normal in the business world but are very problematic in the political world,” says Sheri Berman, a professor at Barnard College. “What he would like to do is eliminate all sources of opposition to him — indeed, even sources of criticism of him — and he’s willing to do pretty much anything to do that.”

When most people think about the collapse of democracy, they think about the Nazis, or maybe a military coup. In both cases, a leader comes to power with the explicit goal of taking a democratic system and replacing it with an authoritarian one. They then immediately pass laws banning dissent and use force to shut down all sources of political opposition.

That actually doesn’t happen very much anymore. Outright fascist movements were mostly discredited after World War II, and data on military coups shows a clear decline in their frequency since a peak in the 1960s.

But in the past 20 years or so, we’ve started to see a new kind of creeping authoritarianism emerge in places around the world — something that, in the wake of Trump’s recent actions, now has ominous parallels to the United States.

Leaders in these kinds of countries — Viktor Orbán in Hungary, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey, and both Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela — don’t come into power and immediately dissolve the legislature and get rid of elections. What they do is corrupt those institutions, slowly and over time, rendering legislatures powerless and elections not truly competitive.

“It looks the same from the outside — there’s elections, there’s a judiciary, there’s a bureaucracy,” Berman says. “But the sort of power centers within those things, the people who populate them, have changed dramatically, so that … the substance of true democratic competition, true power competition, no longer exists.”

The vital first step toward this kind of “soft authoritarianism” is unified control over every key part of government. That starts with personnel: You can’t corrupt a judiciary staffed with impartial judges, or suborn election officials who are truly committed to running free and fair contests.

Instead, you need to fire people at key pressure points and replace them with cronies, or weaken the institution’s formal abilities to the point where it can’t really provide effective oversight…

There’s a reason FBI directors don’t get fired. The bureau handles, among many other things, criminal investigations involving the executive branch, so its leader needs to be as nonpartisan and clear of influence as possible. That’s why FBI directors have 10-year terms and are generally asked to stay on by new administrations, even if the director was appointed under a president of the opposing party…

“I don’t think we’ve crossed any bright lines distinguishing authoritarian systems from democratic ones,” Jay Ulfelder, a political scientist who studies the rise and fall of democracies, tells me.

The issue, instead, is the precedent that this sets for the Trump administration. If Trump’s firing of the man who’s investigating him successfully neuters the FBI and slows down its investigation of the Trump-Russia ties, that’s one less check on his power going forward. If he gets a clear message that the checks on him when he grabs for power are pliable, how far will he end up pushing the envelope?

The article also points out that Democratic institutions in this country are much stronger than in other countries mentioned which have fallen into authoritarianism, although it is of concern that many Republicans in Congress appear willing to go a long with Trump for partisan gain. The degree of protest over Trump’s actions around the country since his inauguration is also a hopeful sign.

Brian Beutler also addressed this topic:

The firing of James Comey has restarted a conversation about the vulnerability of public institutions in America that had gone largely dormant.

Before Tuesday, one of the most remarkable things about Donald Trump’s presidency was how sturdy it had shown competitor institutions, and the larger system of checks and balances, to be. Courts have beat back his power grabs; media, for all its flaws, has been more skeptical of the claims and actions of the Trump administration than of any administration in recent history. Civil society organizations have flourished, and a vital protest movement has both slowed the GOP legislative agenda, and forced some Republicans in Congress to expect a measure of accountability from the White House.

For those who were relieved by this, Comey’s firing should be a frightful awakening from complacency.

The immediate threat of the Trump presidency wasn’t that he would sap the public of its civic-mindedness, or intimidate judges and reporters into submission with his tweets. It was to the institutions under his control—the ones within the executive branch—and particularly those with meaningful independence from political actors in the White House. Because the path to neutralizing or coopting external institutions runs through corrupting internal ones…

If Trump gets away with firing Comey—if Republicans let him nominate any director he wants; if they resist the pressure to insist on appointing a special prosecutor, or to convene an investigative body; if they squash inquiries into the firing itself—he will read it as permission to run amok. As The Atlantic’s Ron Brownstein wrote, Trump’s “appetite for shattering democratic constraints is only likely to grow.”

Absent consequences, Trump will rightly feel liberated to appoint whomever he wants to run the IRS when the current commissioner’s term expires later this year. More alarmingly, he will know that he can get away with ordering a crackdown on voting rights or investigations of his political enemies. And, perversely, these are the reasons he is more likely to prevail. How many Republicans who entered the devil’s bargain with Trump for policy victories wouldn’t expand the terms to encompass electoral ones? Friends of Trump win elections and everyone else is at his mercy. Trump was reportedly upset that Comey did not pledge loyalty to him, and was charging ahead with an investigation that Trump finds threatening. When loyalty and corruption become job qualifications for political appointees, the president will have the power he needs to stifle protest leaders, judges, the free press, and political rivals. He won’t even have to make threats.

Once Again, The Data Shows Clinton Lost Because Obama Voters Backed Trump Over Her

When people have taken a serious look at the data available related to the 2016 election,  similar findings keep coming up. Hillary Clinton did not lose because of Russia, misogyny, James Comey, Bernie Bros, or Jill Stein voters. In March I noted data which showed that Clinton lost because of white working class voters who previously voted for Obama but shifted to Trump. Democratic Party strategists looked more data, and came to the same conclusion. McClatchy reports:

Many Democrats have a shorthand explanation for Clinton’s defeat: Her base didn’t turn out, Donald Trump’s did and the difference was too much to overcome.

But new information shows that Clinton had a much bigger problem with voters who had supported President Barack Obama in 2012 but backed Trump four years later.

Those Obama-Trump voters, in fact, effectively accounted for more than two-thirds of the reason Clinton lost, according to Matt Canter, a senior vice president of the Democratic political firm Global Strategy Group. In his group’s analysis, about 70 percent of Clinton’s failure to reach Obama’s vote total in 2012 was because she lost these voters.

In recent months, Canter and other members of Global Strategy Group have delivered a detailed report of their findings to senators, congressmen, fellow operatives and think tank wonks – all part of an ongoing effort to educate party leaders about what the data says really happened in last year’s election.

“We have to make sure we learn the right lesson from 2016, that we don’t just draw the lesson that makes us feel good at night, make us sleep well at night,” Canter said.

His firm’s conclusion is shared broadly by other Democrats who have examined the data, including senior members of Clinton’s campaign and officials at the Democratic data and analytics firm Catalist. (The New York Times, doing its own analysis, reached a similar conclusion.)

Greg Sargent reviewed polling data and further connected this to economic concerns:

“[Hillary] Clinton and Democrats’ economic message did not break through to drop-off or Obama-Trump voters, even though drop-off voters are decidedly anti-Trump,” Priorities USA concluded in a presentation of its polling data and focus group findings, which has been shown to party officials in recent days.

The poll found that Obama-Trump voters, many of whom are working-class whites and were pivotal to Trump’s victory, are economically losing ground and are skeptical of Democratic solutions to their problems…

A sizable chunk of Obama-Trump voters — 30 percent — said their vote for Trump was more a vote against Clinton than a vote for Trump. Remember, these voters backed Obama four years earlier.

There was brief mention of  Clinton’s“high unfavorable ratings,” but it appears they might be paying too little attention to this key factor. Polls have shown that Clinton is distrusted. There have been numerous stories during the campaign cycle about how she used her political positions to obtain personal wealth, between her influence peddling as Secretary of State and her Wall Street Speeches. This would be expected to alienate those voting based upon economic anxieties, and reinforce the view that the Democratic nominee was not offering solutions to their problems. These people previously voted for Barack Obama, and showed they would support Bernie Sanders. They were not willing to vote for Hillary Clinton.

While there is no doubt that Clinton lost many Obama voters over economic concerns, I do wonder if other problems are missed due to not being represented in the polling data released per the above link. Going beyond economics, during the Bush years, and going into Obama’s presidency, the conventional view among Democrats was that Bush and the Republicans are evil for going into Iraq, restricting civil liberties to supposedly fight terrorism, and decreasing government transparency. Hillary Clinton’s record here is virtually indistinguishable from George Bush’s, and now the Democratic establishment says: Don’t listen to purists on the left who object to Clinton’s support for war in Iraq, Libya, and Syria, along with a resumption of Cold War style hostilities with Russia, her support for restricting civil liberties to fight terrorism, and her hostility towards government transparency. We must unite to fight the evil Republicans.

Democrats have a serious messaging problem, including but certainly not limited to economics.

Hypocritical Attacks On Sanders From The Clinton Camp

I supported Bernie Sanders for the 2016 presidential nomination. As will probably always be the case, this was because he was the best choice available, not because I agree with him on all matters. One major area where we differed  was in Sanders’ stressing economic matters, while my support for Sanders was more heavily influenced by opposition to Clinton-style military interventionism and on social issues. Despite the manner in which Sanders prioritized economic issues, he did have strong liberal positions in other areas, including being more liberal than Hillary Clinton on abortion rights.

I have my doubts about Sanders campaigning for an anti-abortion candidate in Omaha, but this has no bearing on wanting to see the Democratic Party move in the direction of Sanders as opposed to moving to the right with Hillary Clinton and her supporters. In contrast, many Clinton supporters are using this as yet another reason to attack Sanders.

I understand the problems some Clinton supporters have with Bernie Sanders campaigning for a candidate with Heath Mello’s position on abortion. However, I would have more respect for their position if they didn’t support a candidate like Hillary Clinton who supported greater military intervention in Iraq, Libya, and Syria, pushed for a resumption of cold war tensions with Russia, has supported suppression of civil liberties to supposedly fight terrorism, introduced legislation to make flag burning by protesters a felony, opposed same-sex marriage until this was no longer a position which she could survive with politically, sided with Republicans in blocking legislation to ban cluster bombs in civilian areas, has supported mass incarceration and remains hawkish on the drug war, opposed needle exchange programs, opposed programs to distribute free condoms to reduce the spread of AIDS, worked with the Fellowship while in the Senate to increase the role of religion in public policy, has strongly opposed government transparency, supported the Workplace Religious Freedom Act, has engaged in influence peddling, has opposed single-payer health care, ran as a “pro-gun churchgoer” in 2008, has supported restrictions on abortion herself, and has repeatedly acted to protect the corrupting influence of money in politics.

It is rather hypocritical that they can ignore all of this with Clinton, but now demand ideological purity from Bernie Sanders. Fighting the Republican attempts to restrict reproductive rights is important, as are the other issues I mentioned above. Considering how conservative Hillary Clinton is on foreign policy, First Amendment issues, and social/cultural issues, and how she has spent much of her career undermining liberal goals, nobody who supports Hillary Clinton is in any position to criticize Sanders over campaigning for Mello.

Support For Marijuana Legalization At All Time High–Both Major Party Candidates Out Of Step With The Country

CBS News reports that a record number of Americans support legalization of marijuana:

A recent CBS News poll shows support for legalizing marijuana is higher than ever.

Sixty-one percent of Americans think marijuana use should be legal, a five-point increase from last year and the highest percentage ever recorded in this poll. Eighty-eight percent favor medical marijuana use.

Seventy-one percent oppose the federal government’s efforts to stop marijuana sales and its use in states that have legalized it, including opposition from most Republicans, Democrats, and independents.

Sixty-five percent think marijuana is less dangerous than most other drugs. And only 23 percent think legalizing marijuana leads to an increase violent crime.

Despite this, neither political party represented the views of Americans on this issue. Hillary Clinton has always been a hard line supporter of the drug war, supporting mass incarceration about as much as she has supported killing around the world in the actual wars she has backed. She even had her daughter spread an off the wall message that marijuana is killing people (which Chelsea later walked back). Even when Clinton tried to play down how much her views were out of touch with the rest of the country, Wikileaks showed that her private position remained strongly opposed to legalization.

Donald Trump personally has been as inconsistent and incoherent on drug policy as on pretty much every other issue. Regardless of Trump’s personal views, the Trump administration is starting out with an extremely hard line view, led by Jeff Sessions.

This is just one of many ways in which both major parties were out of step with the views of most Americans, and how the views of Clinton and Trump were not all that far apart. The two major parties failed in proving satisfactory candidates on this and many other issues. In contrast, both Jill Stein (Green Party) and Gary Johnson (Libertarian Party) supported an end to marijuana prohibition. Similarly, both Clinton and Trump support continued interventionism in the middle east, expansion of the surveillance state, and restrictions on civil liberties to supposedly fight terrorism. Third party candidates Stein and Johnson, although quite different in other areas, also had similar views in opposing the status quo on interventionism and restricting civil liberties.

Something is terribly wrong with a system which limited us to a choice of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in terms of major party candidates.