Politics Archive

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Trump's Racism and the Increasing Authoritarianism of Republicans

Donald TrumpI hesitate to comment on Trump's tweets because they're so often a distraction from more important actual policy. His latest racist tweets risk overshadowing his attempted policy change of restricting refugees from seeking asylum (more info: Vox - The Trump administration is dramatically restricting who can seek asylum). But the combination of these tweets being so beyond the pale, a chilling interview I heard on NPR yesterday, and a few disturbing studies I've come across recently, have all contributed to my decision to write about this issue.

Although it's almost surely common knowledge by now, over the weekend, Trump issued a series of tweets with a profoundly racist message:

So interesting to see "Progressive" Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly......
....and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why don't they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how....
....it is done. These places need your help badly, you can't leave fast enough. I'm sure that Nancy Pelosi would be very happy to quickly work out free travel arrangements!

Although he didn't call them out by name, it's well understood that Trump was mainly referring to Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Three were actually born in the U.S., while Omar became a naturalized citizen as a teenager. Unless you're being deliberately obtuse, it's obvious that Trump was trying to imply that these women weren't 'real' Americans, and the racist intent is quite clear.

White supremacist groups certainly took it that way. The Anti Defamation League compiled a slew of reactions from such parties, with perhaps the most explicit being from Neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin who wrote, "This is the kind of WHITE NATIONALISM we elected him for," and "So this is not some half-assed anti-immigrant white nationalism. Trump is literally telling American blacks to go back to Africa." (The other reactions weren't much better.) When asked point blank by a reporter if this white supremacist support bothered him, Trump answered, "It doesn't concern me because many people agree with me." (source)


All that would be bad enough on its own, but yesterday morning on my way into work, I heard a chilling interview on NPR where they interviewed Adam Kennedy, the official White House Deputy Director of Communications (White House Spokesman Doesn't Back Away From Trump's Racist Tweets). This wasn't simply some random right wing pundit - he was an official representative of the White House. And while I know that politicians always put spin on things, this interview was so chilling because of the outright propaganda, the hostility to these women, the divisive accusations, and the combative stance against the journalists.

I'm going to quote some rather long excerpts from NPR's transcript of the interview, so you can see that I'm not pulling out short isolated comments to try to make Kennedy look worse. The authoritarianism and propaganda are real. Here's the first excerpt:

NOEL KING, HOST: Did the president know the history of this specific racist language when he decided to use it?

ADAM KENNEDY: I don't think any of the president's language was racist...

KING: You don't...

KENNEDY: ...I think what he was talking about was that we have some people in this country who liken it to garbage, who attack historically persecuted minorities and who hang out with people who actually killed civilians of allies of this country. And the president wants to stand up and make sure the American people know that he's proud of his country, he's going to stand up for people who aren't.

KING: I think we could refute everything that you just said there, but this is a short interview. You're saying the president...

KENNEDY: Please try. Please try.

KING: ...The president's language is not racist. So the White House is not - is standing by this remark that these women should go back to where they came from.

KENNEDY: The president said that they can stay, they can leave - but that people should be proud of this country. There's a lot to be proud of, just like he is.

KING: Does the president know that three of these women are from the United States of America - born here?

KENNEDY: Again, the point that the president was making is that when you liken this country to garbage; when you say that there is - that the reason we support another country is because of money, which is a historical trope against a persecuted minority in this country; when you hang out with people who attack military and civilian personnel of allies, that's something that should be shocking and that people in this country should be - should know about.

KING: You're talking in part about comments that Representative Omar has made about American Jews - that American Jews found very insensitive, which she apologized for. Before President Trump was president, he was a very vocal critic of President Obama. He was elected after being very critical of the U.S. government. But now he's telling this congresswoman - these congresswomen that they should leave if they're not happy with their government.

I mean, isn't it a core value of this country, of this democracy that you get to criticize people in power, that you get to be critical of the government?

KENNEDY: Absolutely. And this president has said from the beginning that you can be critical of this government. That doesn't mean you have to be - that doesn't mean that you don't have to be proud of this country. This president was proud of this country under President Obama; he's proud of this country now. Some people in this country, some people who say they serve this country haven't said one word about how they like this country. They refer to it as garbage. They say we're having concentration camps. They refuse to condemn attacks on law enforcement personnel. So I think that is very troubling.

KING: All of these congresswomen have said that they love this country. I imagine they would not have run for office if they didn't think the country could improve.

Moving on to the next excerpt:

KING: The president was asked yesterday whether...He was concerned that white nationalist groups are finding common cause with him. He said, quote, "it doesn't concern me because many people agree with me," end quote. Does it trouble you that his language is resonating with white nationalists?

KENNEDY: I don't know why it was. But I am troubled that some members of the far-left resonate with terrorists, that their language resonates with people who want to see an ally of this country destroyed, who want to see essentially the character of this nation destroyed.

KING: Sorry. The president said it doesn't concern him that white nationalists are finding common cause with his language. I wasn't clear on your answer. Does this concern you?

KENNEDY: Again, I think what's concerning is that you have people that are trying to cozy up with friends of terrorist organizations, with people who have supported terrorist organizations. And that should be known.

And here's the final excerpt, Kennedy's last substantive comment:

KENNEDY: Again, the president is pointing out the fact that there are some people on the far-left who have decided that the best way forward is demonizing this country and the people in it. That's what he's standing up against. That's what he's pointing out.

The whole interview reeks of propaganda and authoritarianism. Kennedy was blatantly attempting to change the meaning of what Trump actually wrote in those tweets. Go look over Trump's tweets again after having read these excerpts from this interview. I know that Trump has tried to add new comments since those tweets, but what Kennedy is saying is manifestly not what Trump wrote. Despite Kennedy's brief lip service, this really does seem to be attacking these congresswomen for having the audacity to criticize this particular administration.

And look at the actual ways Kennedy is trying to demonize these women. Even if there are kernels of truth to some of these accusations, Kennedy is twisting them beyond all meaningful interpretation, and adding in a few outright falsehoods, to try to make these women look like enemies of the United States.

There's absolutely no contrition or remorse, or even recognition that what Trump said was racist. In fact, there was a glaring lack of any effort by Kennedy to try to distance the White House from white nationalists.

I'm shocked that this was the response from the official White House Deputy Director of Communications during a public interview. How is the media supposed to deal with this White House or be balanced in interviewing both major parties when this is the type of interview response they get from the White House Deputy Director of Communications?

Rather than go into depth myself on Kennedy's various accusations, here are a few appropriate articles and reports:


The other issue I wanted to discuss is the increasingly authoritarian mindset of rank and file Republicans as revealed through a study that I recently learned about. The study is described in the article, What Donald Trump got right, and Justin Amash got wrong, about conservatives: Conservatism is an identity more than an ideology, and Trump knows it. Here's the description of the study from that article:

A clever 2018 paper by political scientists Michael Barber and Jeremy Pope tested this experimentally. Trump was constantly adopting contradictory positions on issues, and his reputation for saying and doing anything primed voters to believe he really had said whatever you told them he'd said. "There has never been a president (or any party leader) who shifts back and forth so often between liberal and conservative issue positions," they wrote, and that opened space for a revealing study.

Here's how it worked: Barber and Pope asked voters if they agreed or disagreed with different policies. Because of the, erm, flexibility of Trump's rhetoric, they were able to pick policies where Trump had, at some point, taken both a liberal policy position and a conservative policy position. And so some voters were asked about the policy without a cue telling them what Trump thought, but other were asked about the policy and given either Trump's liberal position on the policy or his conservative one.

The idea here was to see how much of a difference Trump's positioning made, and to whom. Among the most interesting findings is in the chart below. The people who identified as most strongly conservative were the likeliest to move in response to Trump. And the effect was about the same size whether Trump was taking the conservative or liberal position. It was the direction of Trump, not the direction of the policy, that mattered. Interestingly, there wasn't an equal and opposite reaction among strong liberals: They didn't change position much to oppose Trump.

"The fact that stronger conservatives are the ones most likely to react to the treatment -- regardless of the ideological direction of the treatment -- suggests that the nearly ubiquitous self-placed ideology measure is less a measure of principled conviction and more of a social identity," write Barber and Pope.

It's enlightening and disheartening at the same time. It explains why my own debates with conservatives over the years haven't been very productive. The Republican Party does not seem to be a principled conservative party based on a desire to institute conservative values, but a cult of personality around Trump, with an authoritarian deference to what Trump wants done. Perhaps the expression of Owning the Libs isn't just a slogan for right wing Internet trolls, but more indicative of the conservative mindset in general.


All this together has me very worried about the future of the United States. I've posted before in my Trump & Politics Roundup entries about the dangers Trump poses for leading America down an authoritarian path (e.g. linking to the article, How democracies die, explained: The problems in American democracy run far deeper than Trump.), but these recent stories have me even more worried. Trump was already well known for trying to demonize immigrants and minorities to make them scape goats, and his recent actions towards immigrants have only been getting worse. Now, he's openly writing racist accusations against Congresswomen in the U.S. House of Representatives and telling them to go back to the "places from which they came," even citizens born in the U.S. His Deputy Director of Communications is issuing divisive propaganda openly during a media interview, practically accusing the President's political opponents of being enemies of the U.S. And, many rank and file Republicans have such an authoritarian mindset that they're willing to change their own opinions based solely on what they think is Donald Trump's opinion. I worry about where the nation goes from here, especially if Trump escalates his authoritarian tactics.

Here's an article that I came across just after posting this with some even more depressing news:
New polling indicates Republicans actually like Trump more following racist tweet controversy: Responses to Trump's racist tweets reflect how polarized the country is.

Just to pull out two excerpts:

Although a USA Today/Ipsos poll found that a majority of people, 68 percent, saw Trump's tweets as offensive, there was a stark partisan divide: 93 percent of Democrats and 68 percent of independents found the tweet offensive, while only 37 percent of Republicans did, according to the poll, which was released on Wednesday. Meanwhile, 57 percent of Republicans said they agreed with Trump's tweets, while only 7 percent of Democrats agreed.
The polarized responses to Trump's tweets can also be seen in Trump's approval rating. Following the uproar surrounding Trump's racist comments, support for the president among Republicans rose by 5 percentage points to 72 percent, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Tuesday. The same could not be said for his support among other groups: His net approval rating dropped by 2 percent among Democrats.

How in the hell can you read a message to U.S. citizens born in America to go back to the "places from which they came" as anything other than offensive? And more than half of Republicans agreed with the message, and his approval rating among Republicans even improved! Trump is a problem, but he's only a part of the problem.

If anyone ever asks me why the rest of us view the Republican Party as racist, this is a prime example of the rot in the party.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Unintentionally Hilarious War on Christmas Video

Santa in the CrosshairsI was just curious if anyone was still going on about the 'War on Christmas', so I googled it, and came across an unintentionally hilarious video, from a site named, non-satirically, ChurchMilitant.com/. At first I thought something so over the top was surely a parody like Landover Baptist, but no, it has it's own Wikipedia page and everything. Anyway, I don't think I can embed the video here, so you'll have to go watch it on the site:

DECEMBER 6, 2018--WAR ON CHRISTMAS: The advance of atheism.

The 'surely this must be parody' stuff started off from the very beginning:

Hello and welcome to The Download, live from our Church Militant studios in Detroit, Michigan. I'm Christine Niles. And, happy Feast of Saint Nicholas, the manly saint who punched the priest Arias in the face, after Arias blasphemed our Lord and rejected His divinity.

Ah, yes, manly saints punching people in the face. None of that turn the other cheek bullshit that some beatnik hippy went on about.

Then the talking head started using all the right-wing cliches you've come to expect about atheists and liberals:

The heretic Arias brought his own war against Christ by rejecting that he was God. That war on Christ continues to this day, brought by secularists who hate Christ and everything he stands for, and try to mask that hatred behind political correctness, or arguments for separation of church and state, a phrase that never actually appears in the Constitution, by the way.

Just for the record, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..." while not literally using the phrase 'separation of church and state' certainly seems to be saying that government should keep its nose out of the whole business. And the phrase was coined by a U.S. president, by the way.

The segment then went on to praise Donald Trump for his support of Christmas in the face of political correctness, and showed a clip of Trump from a rally. Now I admit, I hardly ever voluntarily watch Trump, since he hardly ever has anything worthwhile (or coherent) to say. So I guess I'm just not accustomed to his mannerisms. But my goodness is he hilarious. He's like a parody. At one point while the crowd was cheering, he literally winked at someone in the crowd and then did that sleazy lounge host pointing people out move, before doing an unintentional (I hope) Elvis imitation, and then finally moving on to a brave stance in support of the single most popular holiday in the country:

Thank you. Thank you very much. And something I said so much during the last two years, but I'll say it again as we approach the end of the year- You know we're getting near that beautiful Christmas season, that people don't talk about anymore. They don't use the word Christmas cause it's not politically correct. You go to department stores and they'll say happy New Year. They'll say other things. And it'll be red, they'll have it painted, but they don't say- Well guess what, we're saying Merry Christmas again.

Wow, what an act of heroism. I mean, it's not like 81% of non-Christians in the U.S. celebrate Christmas, including a majority of Buddhists, Hindus, religiously unaffiliated, and even a third of Jews (Pew - Christmas also celebrated by many non-Christians).

And yeah, those department stores are loathe to admit what all this 'holiday' shopping is about:

Oh, wait, I did find a page on Wal-mart called Ready, Set, Holiday!, that did have a whole bunch of 'holiday' references and not so many 'Christmas' references, at least until you actually followed any of the links or looked at any of the products being sold.

It's hard to believe this is the world we live in today - a clown like Trump in the White House, and right wing kooks making websites that are barely distinguishable from SNL skits.

Oh well, I'll take the unintentional humor as an early Christmas present. Merry Christmas everyone.


For a bit of an entertaining read, check out the following TV Tropes page. It's not about this site, per se, but it definitely reveals the mindset:
TV Tropes - Church Militant

Friday, May 19, 2017

Responding to Mike Huckabee's Over the Top Defense of Trump

Mike HuckabeeYesterday, I received a forward of Mike Huckabee's latest newsletter. You can read the whole thing on MikeHuckabee.com. It was really over the top - comparing Democrats to whiny children, dismissing evidence of Trumps malfeasance and Russian interference in the election, implying that Democrats don't have an elementary school level understanding of civics and presidential succession, and even a somewhat veiled threat of violence if Trump were to be impeached.

This is a perfect example of how way too many Republican politicians are putting party loyalty ahead of the good of the country, and actually defending Trump and making excuses rather than trying to get to the bottom of what could be some very, very serious misconduct or even criminal activity. Even in one section about 'The Consequences of Impeachment', Huckabee framed it as Republican vs. Democrat, implying that impeachment would be a purely partisan issue, rather than U.S. Senators and Congress members acting for the good of their country and the people they represent. Has it really come to this? Could Trump literally go shoot somebody on 5th Avenue like he bragged, and still retain the support of these Republican politicians? Has partisanship really become that bad?

To give a sense of the tone of the newsletter, here's the opening commentary.

Today's Commentary: The Scary Imaginary Bear -- Inconvenient Facts -- The Consequences Of Impeachment

Most parents know the experience of having children who refuse to accept that the time for them being the center of attention is over and they need to go to bed so the adults can get down to doing serious things. The children start whining and crying that they can't settle down because there's a bear under their beds. Eventually, the adults get so worn down from all the wailing and tantrums that they give in, grab a flashlight, and make a show of looking under the bed to investigate, just to triple-dog-prove that there is no scary imaginary bear under there. They hope this will finally make the children calm down and shut up. But it seldom works for long, since giving in just encourages more tantrums.

Why was I reminded of that universal parental dilemma when I heard that the Deputy Attorney General had given in to the endless, ear-piercing crying of Democrats and their media playmates and appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to look into their claims that the Russian bear had interfered in the election to tip it to Trump - claims for which we've seen about as much evidence as there is for a real bear hiding under your kids' bunk beds? Of course, the need for a special counsel took on new urgency, thanks to the past week's worth of "disturbing" stories about the Trump White House that have appeared in the adversary media - and never mind that they've all been based on unnamed sources and either proven false or flatly denied by everyone who had firsthand knowledge of the facts.

Yes, Huckabee is comparing calls for investigation into potential criminal conduct of the President and his staff with whiny children afraid of imaginary monsters. What a class act.

Let me offer a couple points to put the talk of impeachment in perspective*. First, think back to George W. Bush. Liberals had no love for Bush, but there was no widespread support among Democrats for impeachment. Sure, Kucinich and Wexler and a handful of others may have brought it up, along with the more extreme members of the base, but there wasn't the type of widespread discussion among Congress members and Senators like is happening right now for Trump. And that's because this isn't mere political theater. If Trump really has done what various sources have said (and he himself has implied in tweets), this is a very serious situation. I will agree with Huckabee on one point - right now these are allegations, not proven facts. But they're very serious allegations, coming from respected sources, which is why they must be investigated.

Second, contrary to Huckabee's implications, most Democrats are well aware of who would become president if Trump were impeached or if he resigned. And frankly, as far as policy and legislation, Pence would be much worse for liberals. He doesn't have anywhere near the scandal, corruption, or other baggage tied to him. And, he's an experienced politician who's gotten things accomplished. If Trump were to resign today** and Pence assumed the presidency, Republicans would be able to focus on their legislative goals instead of Trump's scandals. And they would more than likely be able to push much of it through a lot faster than what they're doing now. And as much as liberals like me would hate the legislation that got passed, that's a trade many of us are willing to take if it meant getting Trump out of office. That's how bad Trump is for America. (Of course, not all liberals see it that way. Some are grateful that Trump's incompetence is keeping the Republicans from focusing on their legislative agenda, and want to see this drag on rather than give Pence a chance to push through that agenda. If you want to see an actual debate among liberals concerning this issue, and not Huckabee's strawman, take a look at the comments in this article from Why Evolution Is True, Comey memo: Is Trump finished?).

One of the things that disturbs me the most right now is this trend among right-wing politicians and pundits to demonize the press, which has gotten much, much worse in recent years. The press is not an 'adversary', as Huckabee puts it. They're not 'Fake News', or 'the enemy of the people', as Trump likes to put it. The founders of this nation recognized a free press as so vital to democracy that they enshrined it in the First Amendment. At this point, I don't think it's hyperbole to compare Trump to historical authoritarians. One of the propaganda tactics the Nazis used was the term 'Lügenpresse', constantly accusing the press of lying. They eroded the public's faith in the press, so that they could get away with everything they did and dismiss any news stories critical of what they were doing. I don't mean to say that Trump is the next Hitler, but it's scary that he can borrow propaganda tactics from them and get away with it, and that so many other Republican politicians go along with it. (The ugly history of 'Lügenpresse,' a Nazi slur shouted at a Trump rally)

And how can Huckabee, with a straight face and a clear conscience***, say "claims for which we've seen about as much evidence as there is for a real bear hiding under your kids' bunk beds"? Here's the official statement from the Department of Homeland Security:

And here are a couple stories on the consensus view of the intelligence agencies - the first link on the report of the combined findings of the CIA, FBI, and NSA, and the second link on intelligence chiefs' public statements:

To quote one portion, "Director of National Intelligence James Clapper affirmed an Oct. 7 joint statement from 17 intelligence agencies that the Russian government directed the election interference -- and went further. 'We stand more resolutely on that statement,' Clapper said during a Senate Armed Services hearing with the intelligence chiefs into the politically charged issue."

This isn't some wild eyed conspiracy theory by people in tin foil hats. It's the consensus of the entire U.S. intelligence community. Just stop and think about what that means - Russia, the country headed by Vladimir Putin, actively interfered in a U.S. election. Russia hacked into the computers of a major U.S. political party in an attempt to influence the presidential election. That is a major issue, and a major national security concern. And Huckabee is dismissing it because it's unflattering to his party? 'Irresponsible' isn't a strong enough word.

I think this entry has grown long enough, so I'm not going to address Huckabee's other points. I'm just exasperated that this is the current political climate in the U.S. Our entire intelligence community is in unanimous agreement about Russia interfering with the election. There are very serious allegations about our president committing misconduct or even criminal behavior. But politicians like Huckabee obfuscate, lie, or just flat out ignore these issues because of blind party loyalty. It's frustrating.

*To be clear, most Democratic politicians right now aren't calling for impeachment, but investigation into these claims. The talk now is that if the claims are true, then the actions are worth considering impeachment.

**Actually, as far as political fallout and what it would mean for the 2 major parties, the best case scenario for Republicans likely would be Trump voluntarily resigning quickly. It would remove his distractions, and get Pence in the driver's seat. And with as short as people's memories are, Trump would be a distant memory by the time midterms rolled around in two years. Worse for them is Trump staying in the White House, producing scandal after scandal, distracting from legislative goals, and likely hurting battleground Republicans in the midterms. Worst of all actually would be an impeachment - since it would be a drawn out process that would cause even more distraction and hurt Republicans even more in the midterms than just letting things go on as they are now. So in that sense, I can see the political strategy behind why Republican politicians would try to avoid impeachment. Though it's still disappointing that they're putting party ahead of country.

***I'm reminded of another Huckabee email forwarded I received and wrote about in the entry, A Response to Mike Huckabee's Misrepresentations of Planned Parenthood. So, I'm not particularly surprised by Huckabee being dishonest, though it's still disappointing, and frustrating.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Debunking GOP Talking Points - Foreign Aid and Factory Jobs

Republican ElephantRecently, I was forwarded an email from the Republican National Committee, with the subject line, 'Week 15: A Rebirth Of Hope, Safety, And Opportunity'. You can read the full text on DonaldJTrump.com, though without the images included in the email.

Now, the whole thing was bad, but I got hung up right from the beginning just in the introduction. Below is a quote of that introduction, followed by my response, calling out the GOP for their misleading remarks on foreign aid and factory jobs.

Over the years, traditional politicians have failed to put America First. Our factories have been shut down, our steel mills slowed, and our jobs were stolen away and shipped overseas.

Politicians sent troops to protect the borders of foreign nations, but left America's borders wide open. They spent billions of dollars on one global project after another, while failing to keep our citizens safe and allowing gangs flooded into our country.

President Trump is not going to let other countries take advantage of us anymore, because from now on it's America First!

Just imagine what we could accomplish if we all started working together to rebuild our nation, the nation that we so dearly love. Our jobs will come back home and dying factories will come roaring back to life.

Our country is seeing a rebirth of hope, safety, and opportunity. Americans are being taught to love their country and take pride in our great American land.

Let's start by putting this 'America First' talk in perspective. The American government already puts America first (or at least - the politicians' donors). The U.S. only spends around 1% of the federal budget on foreign aid. All this rhetoric about 'billions of dollars on one global project after another, while failing to keep our citizens safe and allowing gangs flooded into our country' is extremely misleading. It's talk like this that contributes to Americans having such a skewed perspective of the actual amount the U.S. spends (the average American thinks foreign aid is up around 30% of spending - Politifact). For example, here was the proposed budget from 2016 (source: Washington Post):

U.S. Foreign Aid as Percent Spending

The U.S. spends over $4 trillion every year. Billions of dollars going to foreign aid may sound like a lot, but it's not that big in the overall scheme of things. Cutting all that spending wouldn't have a very big effect on the overall budget, at all. Even if the budget was balanced, that type of spending cut would amount to only a 1% reduction in taxes.

Here are some more graphs putting this in perspective - first, how much the U.S. spends on Official Development Assistance as a percentage of gross national income (not spending, which is why it's a lower percentage than the discussion above), and then second, how that percentage has changed over the years (source: CompareYourCountry.org).

U.S. Foreign Aid as Percent GNI
U.S. Foreign Aid History as Percent GNI

As a percentage of GNI, the U.S. is one of the lowest spenders on foreign aid among developed countries - only spending around half of the global average, and only 16% of what the most generous nation, Norway, spends. You can look at the history, too. Back in the '60s, the U.S. donated almost 0.6% of GNI - more than 3x what we do now. Granted, because the U.S. is the world's largest economy, that still amounts to the most absolute spending (but not by a whole lot). But as far as what we could afford to spend, compared to other countries, and compared to what we've done ourselves in the past, the modern day U.S. is not particularly generous when it comes to foreign aid. We already donate a smaller share of our resources than practically any other developed country.

Even if you don't care about helping the poor and destitute in other countries out of common decency, you can still look at it pragmatically. For one, U.S. manufacturers make a lot of money through the export market. Boeing can't sell 787s to failed countries. There's not going to be a big market for high end American made goods in regions where people are too poor to afford them. If we can give these regions a boost to help them on the road towards development, they could be potential customers a few years down the road. There's also the consideration of political stability (for a historical example, do you really think WWII would have happened if not for the Treaty of Versailles and the economic disaster that was for Germany?).

More Info: Brookings Institute - Myths about U.S. foreign aid

There was another statement that seemed particularly naïve:

Just imagine what we could accomplish if we all started working together to rebuild our nation, the nation that we so dearly love. Our jobs will come back home and dying factories will come roaring back to life.

Here's another figure (source: Economic Policy Institute). Take a look at American productivity. It's at record highs.

U.S. Productivity Growth History

Here's what the Cato Institute has to say about U.S. manufacturing. Note that the Cato Institute is a right-wing libertarian think tank.

Reports of the death of U.S. manufacturing have been greatly exaggerated. The fallacy that trade killed manufacturing has long been a pretense for protectionism and industrial policy. But by historic standards and relative to other countries' manufacturing sectors, U.S. manufacturing remains a global powerhouse.

Claims of "rapid deindustrialization" are misplaced and often based on the declining share of manufacturing value-added relative to the overall economy. Indeed, manufacturing's share of the U.S. economy peaked in 1953 at 28.1 percent, whereas in 2015 manufacturing accounted for only 12.1 percent of GDP. However, in 1953, U.S. value-added in the manufacturing sector amounted to $110 billion, as compared to a record $2.1 trillion in 2015 - more than six times the value in real terms.

Trade critics also tend to conflate manufacturing employment with the condition of manufacturing. But declining employment in a manufacturing sector that produces record-setting output year-after-year is a sign of greater efficiency, which frees human resources for other, higher-valued added endeavors. In 2015 the stock of FDI in U.S. manufacturing surpassed $1.1 trillion, more than double the value of FDI in China's manufacturing sector (and eight times the value in per capita terms).

Here's an article from the Cato Institute, Is Manufacturing Employment the Only Thing That Counts?. They started off with agriculture as an example. In 1910, agriculture accounted for 11.8 million jobs, and 31% of the entire U.S. workforce. Today, it has declined to just 2.5 million jobs, and only 1.6% of the workforce. But agricultural production hasn't gone down. In fact, it's gone up, keeping up with a growing population, and producing a surplus to export to other countries. Barring a catastrophe, there's no way we'll return to an economy where 1/3 of the jobs come from agriculture, because technology has made those jobs obsolete.

Now, back to manufacturing. Even though factory employment has fallen, the economic value added by the sector has continued to rise. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the United States set an all-time record for value added in manufacturing in 2015 of $2.2 trillion. Value added in manufacturing has risen every year since the recession ended in 2009. The United States is a competitive producer of a wide range of factory products, and ranks third as a manufacturing exporter behind China and Germany.

Given that the sector is growing year by year and is a major exporter, has the manufacturing base really been -- in the words of the White House -- "devastated"? An unbiased observer likely would conclude instead that -- as in agriculture -- fewer workers are doing a fine job of producing more goods of higher value.

Has the downtrend in manufacturing employment been driven primarily by globalization? No. An analysis in 2015 by the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University showed that trade has, indeed, had a modest effect on manufacturing employment. The study found that roughly 13 percent of manufacturing job losses between 2000 and 2010 were due to international competition.

The other 87 percent of the decline, though, has come from greater automation -- robots and computers are reducing the number of workers required on factory floors. Just as in farming, productivity gains allow manufacturing employees to generate far more output than in the past. Many people would see this as progress.

U.S. manufacturing is doing quite well. There's no way that 'Our jobs will come back home', because most of them didn't go somewhere else. They simply evaporated due to things like CNC machines, robots, and other forms of automation. It's either naïve or dishonest to mislead unemployed factory workers into thinking that any type of government policies are going to bring those jobs back. (I could make a similar statement about the coal mining industry.)

This is a real problem. Factory workers are losing their jobs. Something obviously needs to be done to make sure they can find new jobs. But if you want to enact a realistic solution that's going to work and help these people, the first step is a realistic recognition of the problem. Solutions based on fantasy and wishful thinking aren't merely a waste of time - they're prolonging those people's suffering, and dragging down the overall economy for everybody else.

And that's just the introduction. I could have written just as much about pretty much every other subject in that email (and I could have written a lot more about manufacturing and blue collar jobs, too). It's just so frustrating and disheartening that this is an official email from what is currently the most powerful political party in the country. I don't know if they really believe what they write, or if it's just propaganda to try to drum up the base. Either way, it's not healthy for democracy or the country. Patriotic Americans should be denouncing these types of false narratives that do nothing to help the country and distract from the real causes of the issues we're facing.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Friday Trump & Politics Roundup - 15 - Time for Impeachment?

Donald TrumpThis is my semi-regular feature to post links to articles about Donald Trump along with excerpts from those articles. To read previous entries in this series and other Trump related posts, check out my Trump archives.

Usually, this series is about a broad range of issues related to Trump. But this week, I'm going to focus on one abuse of power in particular that's so egregious, I think it is time to start talking seriously about impeachment. I know, Trump was damaging the country before. But bad policy and bad political appointees aren't impeachable offenses - that's what elections are for. And yes, a lot of his previous corruption and authoritarian tendencies were alarming and damaging to American democracy and government mores (demonization of the free press, nepotism, cronyism, conflicts of interest...), but they were only borderline worthy of impeachment, and the political reality is that Trump wasn't going to be impeached for giving his kids government jobs or flouting the emoluments clause.

But now, Trump has potentially crossed the line into obstruction of justice, by firing James Comey, the director of the law enforcment agency that was investigating his adminstration. Granted, it still has to be proven that that was Trump's intent, but that's certainly where all the arrows seem to be pointing right now. And if that does turn out to be true, then I say it's time to impeach Trump. That's an abuse of power beyond the pale, and the American people deserve far better.

Since this is such a huge issue, I'm going to quote more articles than normal on a single issue, and pull out more excerpts than normal from those articles.

Vox - Experts on authoritarianism are absolutely terrified by the Comey firing

"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.

In the meantime, all we have to go on is what we know to have happened: The president fired the person who was investigating him and his associates.

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."

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.
Now, before you worry that the United States is going to go the way of Turkey or Russia, it's worth noting that the institutions checking Trump are far stronger than the ones in countries where democracy has collapsed. The courts, the press, and social movements have all done a pretty good job checking Trump's power so far; even Congress, by far the most Trump-subservient institution, has blocked some of his policy proposals and appointees.

But the Comey firing is by far the greatest test of the strength of American democracy in the face of Trump's authoritarian instincts so far. Whether American institutions keep up their strong performance in the face of this stress test may well determine its fate.

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.

This is what makes the firing of Comey so scary for these scholars.

Dismissing the head of a national law enforcement agency is extremely rare, both in the United States and in other advanced democracies worldwide. Only one prior FBI director, William Sessions in 1993, has been fired in the 82-year history of the modern FBI, and that was because of a protracted corruption scandal involving his alleged abuse of government resources for his own personal use.

Comey was fired, it seems, precisely because his FBI posed a threat to Trump's authority. Trump is doing exactly what new authoritarians do in the early stages of their leadership.
The Comey firing itself doesn't herald the death of democracy in America, not even close. But it is a watershed moment for the country's future nonetheless. What happens now will shape the future of American democracy -- if not its survival, then certainly its health and ability to function smoothly. Both Congress and ordinary Americans can shape it for the better -- or for the worse, if they just let this pass and do nothing.

At the end of our conversation, Chenoweth left me with one parting thought: "This is not a drill." I believe her.

The Atlantic - Two Dead Canaries in the Coal Mine

Just after election day, Ben Wittes and Susan Hennessey cowrote a post at Lawfare, the web site Wittes runs for the Brookings Institution, titled "We Need Comey at the FBI More Than Ever." It began by acknowledging that Comey was unpopular among many Republicans and Democrats, then made a case for retaining him in his post:
...[4 paragraphs worth of explanation here]...

In fact, for those concerned that President Trump will trample the rule of law--liberals and conservatives alike--Comey's fate is one potential canary in the coal mine.

That canary is now dead.

The Atlantic - Will Republicans Check Trump's Presidential Power?

Richard Nixon's dismissal of the Watergate special prosecutor was met with bipartisan outrage. It's less clear whether the public, and its political leaders, will respond in kind to the firing of FBI director James Comey.
The question today is whether a deeply polarized nation can respond with equal determination to Trump's ominous assault on democratic accountability, which two legal scholars on Tuesday accurately described as "a horrifying breach of every expectation we have of the relationship between the White House and federal law enforcement."
A few Republicans frequently critical of Trump--among them Senators Jeff Flake of Arizona and Ben Sasse of Nebraska, and Ohio Governor John Kasich--joined virtually all Democrats in raising alarms about Comey's sudden dismissal. But most GOP leaders issued tepid responses that minimized or obscured the core issue: Trump fired the law-enforcement official leading the investigation into his campaign for possible collusion with a hostile foreign government.

With that decision, Trump made clear his willingness to trample the formal and informal limits that have checked the arbitrary exercise of presidential power through American history. What's unclear is whether leaders and voters in both parties can summon as much will to defend those limits as they did after Nixon's Saturday Night Massacre. If Trump can decapitate the FBI inquiry into his campaign without real consequence--such as an irresistible bipartisan demand for an independent counsel to take over the investigation--his appetite for shattering democratic constraints is only likely to grow.

Vox - This Harvard law professor thinks Trump really could be impeached over Comey

It's not too soon to put impeachment on the table.

It's absolutely fair to put impeachment on the table right now. I don't think it's likely, but there's enough smoke around to suggest that there might be impeachable conduct that we should worry about. Ultimately, this will turn on whether the Republicans decide they've had enough and draw a line in the sand with Trump. But that's a political decision, not a legal one.

An impeachment hearing is a sign that the Constitution is working, not a crisis.

Impeachment itself is not a constitutional crisis, because it's actually in the Constitution. And so an impeachment means, on some level, that the Constitution is working. It means presidential power is being checked or executive overreach is being punished by the instruments of law. When a president can break the law without fear of impeachment, then we should really be worried.

Vox - By firing James Comey, Trump has put impeachment on the table

Nothing we've seen credibly reported thus far about Trump and Russia would amount to an impeachable offense, and indeed, it's not really clear what allegations of "collusion" on the campaign trail would really amount to even if proven.

Firing the FBI director in order to obstruct an ongoing investigation would be different.

Anonymously sourced journalism is not the same thing as sworn testimony or hard evidence. But it's also indispensable to uncovering official wrongdoing. And Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning already brought forth plenty of evidence of wrongdoing:

[A long list of examples that I would encourage you to read by following the link above]

Some or all of this reporting may prove to be false. But it has all been published by credible journalists in credible publications. And it adds up to a very clear picture of a president deciding to fire an FBI director to obstruct an ongoing investigation and then stitching together a shaky rationalization for doing so.

ThinkProgress - Trump's firing of FBI director could be an impeachable offense, constitutional law experts say

Constitutional law experts say that while President Donald Trump's decision to fire Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey was legal, it appears to be an abuse of power that could constitute an impeachable offense.

Trump's decision to terminate Comey, the head of the nation's top law enforcement agency, was announced Tuesday and sent shockwaves throughout the political sphere.

It's not unconstitutional for Trump to fire his FBI director as he has the authority to fire anyone in the executive branch, explained David D. Cole, the national legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union, in a statement to ThinkProgress.

"But if he did so, as appears to be the case, because he is concerned that Comey's investigation of ties between his campaign and Russian officials might have implicated him in wrongdoing, it's tantamount to an obstruction of justice," wrote Cole, a constitutional law expert and professor who is on leave from the Georgetown University Law Center.

Politico - Behind Comey's firing: An enraged Trump, fuming about Russia

President Donald Trump weighed firing his FBI director for more than a week. When he finally pulled the trigger Tuesday afternoon, he didn't call James Comey. He sent his longtime private security guard to deliver the termination letter in a manila folder to FBI headquarters.

He had grown enraged by the Russia investigation, two advisers said, frustrated by his inability to control the mushrooming narrative around Russia. He repeatedly asked aides why the Russia investigation wouldn't disappear and demanded they speak out for him. He would sometimes scream at television clips about the probe, one adviser said.

Trump's firing of the high-profile FBI director on the 110th day after the president took office marked another sudden turn for an administration that has fired its acting attorney general, national security adviser and now its FBI director, whom Trump had praised until recent weeks and even blew a kiss to during a January appearance.

Guardian Op-ed - Donald Trump acts like an illegitimate president for a reason

The American people did not really choose Donald Trump. His presidency exists without the support of the majority of voters and, in turn, without a true mandate from the American people. Trump walks and talks instead like an authoritarian, and seems to believe he is above the people and the law, and need not answer to either. He wants to be untouchable. He behaves with impunity and acts as if legal standards like obstruction of justice don't apply to him.

Firing the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, James Comey, demonstrates a whole new level of defiance of the rule of law and our foundational system of checks and balances. More bluntly, it proves just how dangerous an illegitimate president is to our democracy. His actions do not only undermine the legitimacy and credibility of his presidency; they are a direct threat to our constitutionalism and our democratic legitimacy.

This seems like an obvious demand at this point, but it's worth stating clearly that now, more than ever, we need a special prosecutor appointed to look into the continuing drip, drip, drip revelations about Russia. But even more than that, the United States must regain our democratic legitimacy by ensuring that no citizen, president or otherwise, is above the law or above the American people.

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