Mourning In America: What are the roots of Trump’s populist rise?


BY SPENCER SLAGOWITZ || NOVEMBER 10TH, 2016

 

Any electoral defeat will provoke some sort of unofficial post-mortem self-reflection. With the election of the first orange neophyte as president, the soul-searching (and the soul-crushing feeling of despair) set in. It seems to be a pretty fundamental human instinct. The first thing we do is react. Then we try to find who is responsible. This second part has come in several different forms. Anger is directed at third-party voters, the politically ambivalent, the state of Pennsylvania, Hillary Clinton herself, Bernie Sanders, and, obviously, Trump supporters. Insults are exchanged. Tempers flare. Issues and gripes are litigated several times over. But through the madness, the suffering, and the noise—the question persists: how did the Trump phenomenon happen? What is the root of the populist fervor that Trump seized upon?

For the hard left and very progressive this was the failure of the “neoliberal corporate-friendly” policies that enriched the elites at the expense of the poor. This election is thus the failure of the democratic party and establishment “liberal” politicians who were either too accommodating of conservatives, manipulated by corporate interests, or hopelessly wrong. The backlash towards elites and ‘globalism’, a mere expression of economic distress: the symptoms of a post-industrial rural decline wholly driven by the pro-globalization and free trade agenda promulgated by— as The Jacobin’s Luke Savage articulates—”the transactional relationship between moneyed interests, politicians, and party machines [that] produces a rigged economy that serves and enriches a tiny, insular elite at the expense of everyone else.” This positions says strongly: we cannot write this election off as a function of racism and sexism, we ought to examine the underlying economic causes and take robust, if not radical, steps to address economic inequality.

For your center-right moderate conservatives, liberals, progressives, weak-tea pro-market egalitarians, center-lefters, and so on—this was the product of racism and nationalist inclinations that Trump seized upon to make his case. This was a struggle over the changing character of America. As our country gets less white, those who see their way of life under attack (and even culture) will lash out. An election “full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing,” at least nothing when it comes to the economic roots of the Trumpenproletariat. This is not to say that this view necessarily endorses the idea that Trump supporters do not deserve your empathy or pity. This opinion is actually two. The first is more of a middle ground approach that says that we have a duty to listen to those who supported Trump and we ought to respect them while castigating the racism that accompanied his rise. It goes, “Many decent, sincere people who feel disregarded, disrespected, and left behind — in ways that I do not feel and have never felt — can disproportionately embrace political opinions that I view as bigoted or paranoid.” The second position is nearly indistinguishable from the first, accept for its vitriol and intolerance of perceived racism. The second rejects that your core Trump voters are decent or necessarily sincere people.

The reality of course, is much more complicated.

The instinct to call Trump supporters racist is incorrect, or at the very least, completely unproductive. Furthermore, the broad idea of this explanatory dichotomy between economic anxiety and racism as prime motivators for Trump isn’t academically honest in the slightest. Here’s a wonderful exchange between the influential moderate libertarian economist Tyler Cowen of the Mercatus Center and Ezra Klein of Vox (aka bae) which makes sense of a lot of the scholarship, political science and confusion surrounding this issue.

Cowen: [Robert] Putnam almost says as such, and do you think there’s currently a language in the media where you have readers who are themselves diverse, where it’s possible not to just be blaming the bigots, but to actually present the positive view, “Look, people are imperfect. A society can only handle so much diversity, and we need to learn this.” What’s your take on that?

KLEIN: I strongly agree. We do not have a language for demographic anxiety that is not a language that is about racism. And we need one. I really believe this, and I believe it’s been a problem, particularly this year. It is clear, the evidence is clear. Donald Trump is not about “economic anxiety.”

COWEN: A bit, but not mainly, I agree.

KLEIN: That said, I think that the way it’s presented is a choice between economic anxiety and racism. And one I don’t think that’s quite right, and two I don’t think that’s a productive way of having that conversation.

COWEN: Why don’t we have that language? Where did it go, or did we ever have it?

KLEIN: I don’t know if we ever had it. We probably did have it. We have properly been working very, very hard in this society to make racism socially intolerable. We have a society that continues to have a lot of racism, a lot of sexism, a lot of bigotry of different kinds. But I do think that as a by-product of that debate and that effort, there isn’t a good way to have people discuss slightly more inchoate feelings of losing power that aren’t necessarily in their view, about taking it away from other people. It’s more about losing it themselves. I think that’s a big difference in this.

KLEIN: Arlie Hochschild talks about in her book that there is this kind of deep story that she found among — she’s a sociologist who spent five years with tea party folks in Louisiana — she talks about this deep story of feeling like they’ve been waiting in line, and now other people are getting in front. It’s not so much that they don’t want those other people to get ahead, it’s that they want to get ahead themselves. They are feeling a loss in a zero-sum competition, and they may actually be correct about that.

There are probably types of advancement in society that is zero-sum, particularly when you begin really trying to open up the floodgates. So I think that’s correct, and I think that we don’t have a good language for it. I don’t know what it would mean to get one, but one thing that has annoyed me this year is I really dislike the use of political correctness as a language for it.

One, it doesn’t explain very much. But two, I think that something that has happened a lot of the time here is people have somewhat either unconsciously — or I think at times cynically — mixed up an elite debate and a non-elite debate.

I generally buy the conclusions of Klein in this case. Demographic anxiety isn’t the same thing as racism. And as a community we should broadly reject this approach that says look: my economic and political prescriptions are actually what is going to solve this trend. And the approach that uncritically accepts stated reasons for the Trump phenomenon and kinda strangely denies that it can be a complex issue, is woefully misguided.

Furthermore, there are several reasons to doubt that economic concerns are the main motivating factors behind the rise of right wing movements. A Gallup study conducted in early July by Jonathan Rothwell concluded that, “Trump’s popularity cannot be neatly linked to economic hardship. Those who do not view Trump favorably appear to have been just as exposed as others, if not more so, to competition with immigrants and foreign workers, and yet are no more likely to say they have a favorable opinion of Trump than others.” Over at 538, Nate Silver brings more analytical weight to bear on this question:

Trump voters’ median income exceeded the overall statewide median in all 23 states, sometimes narrowly (as in New Hampshire or Missouri) but sometimes substantially. In Florida, for instance, the median household income for Trump voters was about $70,000, compared with $48,000 for the state as a whole. The differences are usually larger in states with substantial non-white populations, as black and Hispanic voters are overwhelmingly Democratic and tend to have lower incomes. In South Carolina, for example, the median Trump supporter had a household income of $72,000, while the median for Clinton supporters was $39,000.

These findings are echoed by political scientist Philip Klinker’s Vox analysis of an ANES (American National Election Studies) pilot survey which observed that, “Attitudes about race, religion, and immigration trump (pun intended) economics.” In any case, a lot of recent evidence suggests a plausible disconnect between economic anxiety or loss from trade and support for Trump. The exit polls tell us that 52% of voters cited the economy as the most important issue. But as the Washington Post exit-poll analysis demonstrated, “Among those economy voters, Clinton beat Trump by 10 points.” This trend is additionally reinforced by looking to Scandinavian societies, who have enjoyed robust and equitable growth, but still experienced a similar right-wing populist backlash.

So we are left with this alternative approach that both embraces the economic rationale minimally (while rejecting that is a consequence of the perceived flaws of the center-left economic consensus) and the demographic change rationale far more broadly, which both accepts that the two are related. Michael Tesler, over at the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog, is a invaluable resource in this regard, suggesting:

One reason is that perceptions of the economy are often not objective and depend on people’s political leaning. A large body of research shows that party identification strongly colors people’s beliefs about how the economy is doing. Democrats and Republicans both think that the economy is performing better when one of their own is in the White House.

Partisan identities aren’t the only thing that matters. In my book, Post-Racial or Most-Racial?, I show that racial attitudes have increasingly structured public opinion about a wide array of positions connected to Barack Obama, including subjective perceptions of objective economic conditions

He continues later on, expanding upon his original concerns:

The results below show that this is precisely what happened.  Racial resentment was not related to whites’ perceptions of the economy in December 2007 after accounting for partisanship and ideology. When these same people were re-interviewed in July 2012, racial resentment was a powerful predictor of economic perceptions. Again, the greater someone’s level of racial resentment, the worse they believed the economy was doing.

In fact, multiple studies, using several different surveys, have shown that overall levels of racial resentment were virtually unchanged by the economic crash of 2008. Some data even suggests that racial prejudice slightly declined during the height of economic collapse in the fall of 2008. The evidence is pretty clear, then, that economic concerns are not driving racial resentment in the Obama Era.

The causality, seems to be primarily one way. It is not economic nor material issues that are necessarily driving anxiety over demographic change, but the former and latter both play a role in engendering the feeling of neglect and being left-behind that Trump seems to have seized upon. And while demographic change appears to be a more powerful factor, its important we do not overlook those who have disproportionately lost from trade or the symptoms of post-industrial decline even if they are unrelated to the populist phenomenon that is, was, and will unfortunately continue to be, Donald Trump.

Some phenomenal sources and further reading on this question:

 

 

 

 

An Election of No Words


By HENRY WILLIAM SAROYAN || November 7, 2016

 

I have intentionally kept mum about the election for the last few months. I have really hesitated about writing anything publicly about the general election, partly because I had nothing interesting to say (also, because I have enough writing and reading to irrespective of endless Facebook debate).

What else could possibly be said about a race that has seemingly drawn on for an eternity, one that has been saturated with vicious rhetoric (by one candidate alone), untruths (by one candidate alone), and divisiveness that threatens to linger well past November 8th?

Here it goes:

This is the political crisis of our time, where a reasonably adversarial quadrennial process has disintegrated into a circus where the integrity of every fundamental institution in the United States has been excoriated, undermined, and rendered an afterthought at the hands of an undisciplined, manipulative, chiefly self-interested, volatile, brusque, and, above all, repugnantly-mean bully. Where, on Wednesday morning, this country runs the tragic risk of having half of its electorate essentially find the sacrosanct ritual of the American vote as tainted, as rigged – a toxic and pervasive notion perpetuated by the top of the ticket, the de facto leader of the Republican party, the heir of a political duty once triumphed by Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, so on and so forth: Donald Trump. What could I possibly analyze about the three preceding debates other than shining an already exhausted and unremitting light on the clear danger that resides in an everything-forsaken Trump Presidency?

In this time of incertitude, I reflect upon the last presidential election. I remember watching the debates – I was still a freshman in high school.

I actually learned something during those three debates. I witnessed two deeply principled wonks talking shop, foreign policy disagreements. But through it all, through that hard-fought campaign, it remained unequivocally decorous. Respectable. Presidential.

Drawing back on my first experience on being able to cognitively comprehend a serious policy-oriented presidential debate, I only have unqualified sorrow and grief for all of the middle- and high-schoolers – who, like I once did – tuned in to watch a characteristically different, characteristically depressing “anti-debate” happen on three harrowing occasions.

This, eclipsed by even more disgusting revelations of the Republican nominee’s warped and sickening views on women, stories of his decades-long financial manipulation.

This, outshined by his fundamental recalcitrance to all things democratic, to all things republican (lower-case ‘r’). The quintessential and time-tested, the awe-inspiring and historically-unique, Americana that has set us apart from the world – the peaceful transition of power.

Insofar as Trump has refused to honor even this most basic and most intuitive of decencies in a presidential race, insofar as Trump has made a mockery of everything important to this nation, what possibly insightful thing do I, Henry Saroyan, have to add to this paralytic nightmare?

We vote tomorrow. America votes, and I hope She votes well. That we don’t let our lesser and unreconciled fears and anxieties get the better of us. That we don’t fall into the fallacy of false equivalence, that we don’t deny this nation the stewardship of an infinitely more wise, infinitely more prepared, and infinitely more capable President (yes, I am with and talking about her).

I understand the concerns that voters have on Secretary Clinton’s record, the troubling secrecy, the embarrassing email trove. I understand the doubts – they are valid, and they deserved to be raised.

But, we must understand that the disagreements we raise with Secretary Clinton fall into the normal, and rational, realm of American politics.

The danger of Donald Trump is truly existential. This is the most traumatic, unsettling, and farcical election we have ever had. And these sentiments haven’t arisen out of happenstance.

No, they have boiled, festered, and have been brought upon us to bear because of the campaign that the Republican nominee has chosen to run.

This is the point that I hope we all have on the back of our minds as we engage in this centuries-old, awesome process. The challenges are real. Her victory won’t be a panacea. But it will be a start, an attempt at improving upon the reforms and progress we, as Americans, have seen in the past eight years.

A go at the real problems that afflict everyday Americans, grievances of everyday Americans that shouldn’t be ignored or thought away by any party. Tomorrow will be the start of the process of healing that I truly trust both us and the next President-elect, the better angels of our time, to begin. I go to sleep tonight with anxiety, but not despair. Because, I know that this uncertainty, too, shall pass.

That it is a black cloud, and that your and my fundamentally capacity for the good will dispel and extricate it from our political life finally, at long last.


Henry Saroyan is a student in the College at the University of Chicago studying Political Science.

Ethan Gelfer contributed editing. 

In Preparation for November 8th


By ETHAN GELFER || November 6. 2016

 

It’s finally almost over. Over two years of campaigning, grandstanding, arguing, scandalizing, and hating will finally resolve itself at thousands of polling places around the United States. For the sake of some semblance of sanity I’ll assume that the inevitable loser(s) of this presidential contest will concede when a winner becomes clear. As long as that holds, America will wake up on November 9th to a new president-elect. And no matter who it is, over half of the country at least will be disheartened at the result. A new cycle of partisanship and punditry and grandstanding and hating will begin.

That’s for next time. Let’s for now reserve the politicking for the transition team, the 45th President, and the 115th Congress. The reality is that what we do in the United States on a quadrennial basis is a special thing. Our system of government, for better or for worse, is pretty much unique around the world. And remarkably it works, over and over again. Our social system is preserved through the goodness, doggedness, and determination of hundreds of millions of people before us, contemporary to us, and after us.

In solemn fidelity to the rule of law and our civic democratic religion, despite our differences, despite the shouting and the hating, in spite of inevitable despair, time and time again we accept that politics is an activity that fundamentally is always our own. Our representatives in government reflect who we are, the direction we want to take, the world we want to live in, the image we present to the rest of the world.


This election is no different. In spite of our radically different views, in spite of our polarization and banal playground insult-driven campaign, even through the madness and race to the bottom politics we still live in a country that is our own. There is no procedure save that which we lay out for ourselves. Our binding, founding document may drive us but the decisions we make are fundamentally our own. Every American knows that, even if that idea may be suppressed. America is great because despite the fighting and opposition when the sun sets and the day is over we all come back in service of our nation, in dogged remembrance that our country is fundamentally an idea, a beacon that has lit the world for centuries. A project that none of us are exempt from, one that, whether for better or for worse, is an example for all to follow and measure up to.

So let us not be an example of what not to do, of whom not to follow. The election is over in just a little more than 48 hours. Until the final set of polls close, until the results are tabulated, I and the Popular Discourse board stand with Secretary Clinton. We believe she is easily the best choice for President. Our support for her and the ideas and ideals she represents will not end on Tuesday.

Yet as soon as we have a result, as soon as the day ends, we will stand behind the decision made by the American people. Because all we have left when all is said and done is each other; we have a President of all of us, not of some of us. We have a government that represents all of us, not some of us. And disagreement is certainly good, and we think that there is no world in which that disagreement will end. That disagreement, however, functions in the service of making our country better. We will not disparage the new President-Elect, we will not hate the Americans who did not see eye-to-eye with us.

For we are ruled by the same binding principles, and we are all Americans today, tomorrow, and always. This election has been grueling, exhausting, and demoralizing. It has touched people’s lives in ways we didn’t think were possible before setting out on this campaign. For me personally, this campaign has been as much of a crash course in my personal philosophy and the principles I hold fundamental as anything else. 2016 is truly a seminal year in American politics, and this ranks among the most important elections in American history. November 8th is the day the dissonance ends. On November 9th we hope that all of America can stand together to congratulate the 45th President of the United States on his or her election, and re-focus ourselves on the transition, new agendas, and preparation for the Oath of Office in three months. It is all we can do. On the eve of the election, let’s say a prayer for our country and our people, and dedicate ourselves to continued pursuit of something better, together.


Ethan Gelfer is the Managing Editor of Popular Discourse and a student in the College at the University of Chicago.

Unoriginal Campaign Hot Take #25

It is perhaps axiomatic that often, a group of individuals rationally pursuing their immediate self-interest undermine the interests of the group as a whole. That is to say, the actions of those individuals, while rational, produce sub-optimal results for society as a whole. I do not mean to posit that this is a universal truth or to naively extrapolate from this position to construct an un-nuanced worldview—I present it merely as a common trend, one that we see poignantly when it comes to the issue of voting. “My vote doesn’t matter,” is the common refrain of the politically ambivalent or disenfranchised. It is an opinion that is hard to alter, since for the most part it is 100% accurate. One’s vote does not, indeed, matter. Political science and economics both tell us that voting is not necessarily a rational act. Public choice theory, popularized by economic God-emperor Kenneth Arrow and Anthony Downs among others,  gives us the concept of rational ignorance which refers to the perfectly rational tendency of individuals to refrain from voting (or specifically educating themselves about political issues) given the cost of acquiring such information. It goes without saying that this produces undesirable outcomes for society in subverting the ability of society to make decisions concerning governance and policy. 

So, to those who refuse to vote, who self-righteously cling to their rationality and good judgement as moral justification: just because you’re right, does not mean you are not part of the problem. I have never disguised my political affiliations or my opinions—so those who know me will not be surprised when I posit that this election presents a…remarkable choice. So surrender yourself to the unabashed romanticism of the democratic process—“Let your voice be heard”, “exercise your civic duty,” and so on and so forth. This election cycle, don’t let your rationality get in the way of positive democratic outcomes.

please please accept the results, Donald.

Here at Popular Discourse, we aren’t big fans of brevity. But events over the past few weeks have called for at least some kind of response. So even though it’s Fourth Week at the University of Chicago and midterms are afoot, here comes yet another article. 


By ETHAN GELFER || October 21, 2016

“I would like to promise and pledge to all of my voters and supporters and to all of the people of the United States that I will totally accept the results of this great and historic presidential election, if I win.”

Those were actual words that exited an actual presidential nominee’s mouth in the day following a debate that self-destructed inside half an hour. We’ve documented Donald’s scandals in what we believe is its entirety here, but in reality its not even the obscenely inhuman force of offense and criminality (see: unconstitutional Muslim bans, sexual assault, etc), but rather the threat to institution that Donald Trump and his candidacy represents that scares me the most.

Much like every other nation, and to the consternation of many, the United States government and Constitution is not infallible. The republic is a socially constructed phenomenon that relies on continuous social agreement and cohesion to function. Authority, the rule of law, and power of the state are all derived from reification as a result of such socializations. In essence, we only have a government because we say we have a government.

That’s what makes Donald’s casual affronts to the pillars of democracy so dangerous. Traditions and customs affirm our commitment to the continued social reification of abstract institutions. Why do we refer to our chief executive solely as Mr. (and soon Madam) President? Why is it that when the President stands, no one sits? I submit that these aren’t random exertions of power that have become accepted, but rather these and other small traditions are vital to the perpetuation of our social fabric.

Unfortunately, Donald drags the Republican guard down with him as he goes. John McCain has suggested that the new Congress will still refuse to consider any Supreme Court nominees. Donald suggests that his supporters could seek Second Amendment remedies if Secretary Clinton were elected. He supports and encourages foreign intervention in the American election system. He suggests that subverting federal law makes him smart. He threatens to throw his political opponent in jail. And to top everything off, he suggests that he may not concede the election if he loses.

Trump apologians have already begun spinning the story by claiming that Al Gore, a Democrat, also refused to concede an election. Yet that situation is monumentally incomparable. To entertain the subject for a minute- Gore actually had a reason to contest the result, given that he won the popular vote  (Donald has as good a chance as not to lose by double digits in the popular vote), and the margin of victory in Florida amounted to .009% of the vote in the state. Yes, there was a constitutional crisis in 2000. But when it became clear that the mechanisms of our government had not worked in his favor, Gore said the following:

“Other disputes have dragged on for weeks before reaching resolution. And each time, both the victor and the vanquished have accepted the result peacefully and in the spirit of reconciliation. So let it be with us. I know that many of my supporters are disappointed. I am, too. But our disappointment must be overcome by our love of country. And I say to our fellow members of the world community: Let no one see this contest as a sign of American weakness. The strength of American democracy is shown most clearly through the difficulties it can overcome.

Al Gore was gracious even in the face of heartbreaking, unfair defeat. He signaled faith in our political process. Donald Trump is preparing to present himself as the polar opposite. I’m reminded of a quotation from The West Wing, a show that might as well now be considered fantasy; “This country is an idea, and one that’s lit the world for two centuries and treason against that idea is not just a crime against the living! This ground holds the graves of people who died for it, who gave what Lincoln called the last full measure of devotion, of fidelity.”

Yes, we can, and we should complain and protest Donald’s monumental disrespect for ethnic, racial and gender groups. Yes, we can, and we should complain and protest Donald’s inflammation of violence and violent rhetoric. Yes, we can, and we should complain and protest Donald’s utter lack of experience, understanding, or demonstration of education on anything remotely representing governing. But in my mind if there is one issue to protest, if there is one truly disqualifying factor for this candidate, it is this flagrant disrespect for the guardrails of democracy. Our country only exists because we agree that it will. By suggesting that it doesn’t have to be that way, it won’t.

Donald, I hope I saw a human side of you at the Al Smith dinner yesterday. I hope you were as uncomfortable and embarrassed of yourself as I was of you. I hope you understand what you are doing to this country. I hope you understand that you are quite literally the greatest threat to the structure of the world’s oldest democracy at present. Because if you understand that, there’s still time to salvage some of your dignity and some of this country. Please, for the sake of our country and our future, stop challenging these pillars of our existence.

Note: normally I try to refer to people I’m writing about by their proper titles. I hope to signal the rift I pointed to once again by referring to Mr. Trump in this article solely by his first name. I firmly believe in the need to reinforce and continually reify our social structure. Mr. Trump operates outside that social structure and thus I refuse to refer to him in the manner that operates in a world he seeks to destroy. 


Ethan Gelfer is the Managing Editor of Popular Discourse. He is a first-year student at the University of Chicago. 

Scandal: Donald Trump makes the case against a Trump presidency.

We here at Popular Discourse have furiously penned self-righteous polemics and thinly veiled academic invectives at Donald Trump and the particularly noxious strain of far-right authoritarian populism that he champions. As election day approaches swiftly, we had another idea. We realized that the compelling argument against Donald Trump, comes from Donald Trump himself. Surely Donald Trump’s policies are vague, ill-defined, or non-existent (ISIL strategy, how he would revamp trade deals, foreign policy?) and those he has outlined are outright laughable (tax plan, the wall, etc.) or plainly unconstitutional. Indeed, for us, it is taken prima facie that Donald Trump is woefully unprepared for the office of the Presidency of the United States in nearly every capacity. Yet, leveling criticisms of Donald J. Trump’s policies and grasp of policy issues is rendered moot insofar as Trump fails to meet the most basic of thresholds: fundamental fitness. Please don’t take it from us, take it from the Donald’s ever-pursed lips. The following list is a non-exhaustive accounting of nearly every major scandal (the list comprises 47) that the Republican nominee for President has been implicated in, since he announced his candidacy. I would only offer this one caution to our readers: it may cause you to long for the sweet old days of Romney’s ‘binders full of women’.

 

Conspiracy Theory Mongering (The Greatest Hits!)

  1. Birtherism: Obama wasn’t a U.S citizen
  2. Claiming that thousands of muslins cheered in New Jersey after 9/11
  3. Ted Cruz’s father was involved in Kennedy Assassination
  4. Vince Foster: suggested several times that the Clintons were involved in his death
  5. President Obama “Complicit in Orlando Attacks”
    1. “People cannot, they cannot believe that President Obama is acting the way he acts and can’t even mention the words ‘radical Islamic terrorism.’ There’s something going on. It’s inconceivable. There’s something going on.”
  6. Obama and Clinton were “founders of ISIL”
    1. There is a legitimate claim of facetiousness on the part of Mr. Trump, however his history of conspiracy mongering casts serious doubt on that position.
  7. Scalia Was Assassinated
    1. According to Trump, “They say they found a pillow on his face, which is a pretty unusual place to find a pillow.”
  8. Vaccines Cause Autism
    1. “The child, the beautiful child, went to have the vaccine and came back and a week later got a tremendous fever. Got very, very sick. Now is autistic,”
  9. Climate Change is a hoax (created by the Chinese)
    1. Has since walked statements back, but asserted in numerous times fairly recently
  10. The Unemployment Rate is a “phony number” and “one of the biggest hoaxes in American modern politics”
  11. The Fed is political and Janet Yellen is keeping interest rates low to help Democrats
  12. Hillary part of an international banking cabal
    1. “Hillary Clinton meets in secret with international banks to plot the destruction of U.S. sovereignty.”

 

Sexism, Sexual Assault, and The Donald’s View of Women

  1. Bragging about sexual assault: “Grab them by the P***y”
  2. Corroborating cases and accusations of attempted sexual assault
    1. Great rundown by Vox: here
  3. Sexist remarks toward Megyn Kelly “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes. Blood coming out of her, wherever.”
  4. Comment to Philip Johnson “Women, you have to treat ‘em like shit.”
  5. Punishment for women who get abortions

 

Encouraging Violence and Undermining Democratic Institutions

  1. Has suggested repeatedly that the election will be rigged
  2. Assertion that the Media is dishonest, in the pocket of the Clinton’s, and rigged against him
  3. Threatened violent riots if he had lost the primary
  4. Repeatedly encouraged violence against protestors at rallies
  5. Implication that his supporters should use violence against her if Clinton appoints judges…
    1. “If she gets to pick her judges — nothing you can do, folks. Although, the Second Amendment people. Maybe there is. I don’t know.”

 

Authoritarian Don’

  1. Praise for Vladimir Putin: ‘more of a leader than Obama’
  2. Proposal to censor media outlets critical of him through altering libel laws
  3. Institution of campaign blacklist for media outlets that delivered critical reporting of Trump
  4. “I alone can fix it”: Trump’s fearmongering and authoritarianism at the RNC
  5. Implication that Trump would jail his political opponents and especially Hillary
    1. Suggested that he would appoint a special prosecutor to try Clinton, “Lock Her Up”
  6. Praise for Saddam Hussein
    1. “Saddam Hussein throws a little [chemical] gas, everyone goes crazy, ‘oh he’s using gas!’”

 

Engaging with and flirting with racism

  1. Mexico is sending “rapists”, “criminals”.
  2. History of housing discrimination against African Americans
  3. Racist comments surrounding suggestions that an Indiana born ‘Mexican’ judge’s heritage would influence his decisions and is unable to impartially adjudicate the situation
  4. To minority communities, “What do you have to lose!”
  5. Muslim Ban
  6. David Duke scandal

 

Donald Trump, Foreign Policy, The Military, and Veterans

  1. Insulting John McCain, and by extension POWs, for being captured.
  2. “The generals have been reduced to rubble,” “I know better than the generals”
  3. Insulted a gold star family—Khizr and Ghazala Khan scandal
  4. S should specifically target the innocent families of terrorists
  5. Repeated calls for use of torture, worse methods than waterboarding
  6. Disbanding NATO
  7. “‘Its not so bad for us if Japan [and Korea] have nuclear weapons”
  8. Asking an expert three times: “If we have [Nuclear Weapons], we can’t we use them?”
  9. Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”

 

General Impropriety

  1. Mocking a disabled reporter
  2. Tax Returns
  3. Trump University Scandal
    1. Pam Bondi bribery scandal
  4. Trump Foundation Scandal—improper use of charitable money for personal reasons

 

As voters we are compelled to draw conclusions from the actions and public statements of candidates to piece together an idea of how they would perform as President of the United States. Any of these scandals, during a past election cycle, would completely render the presidential aspirations of a politician unrealizable. If any of the above 47 scandals cast doubt on Trump’s ability to meet the most basic requirements of public office, we urge that you take that into account when considering who to vote for.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hillary Rodham Clinton for President of the United States of America


By THE EDITORIAL BOARD || September 13, 2016

2016 has been a paradigm-shifting campaign season. Decades of growing partisanship and polarization have culminated in starkly different choices for the presidency. Nominally, Americans are presented with a choice of two candidates from the two major parties, one advanced by Democratic primary voters and the D.N.C and the other by Republicans and the R.N.C. Yet the true choice American voters will make in November has very little to do with the party the candidates are affiliated with. Instead, American politics seems to have split along new lines, between the establishment and the grass-roots, between anti-intellectualism and an acceptance of facts, between truth and post-truth politics. Soaring unfavorables for both Hillary Rodham Clinton and Donald J. Trump indicate vast displeasure with either candidacy. Both are widely seen as unfit for the presidency. The spoiler effect has returned to American politics, with almost a fifth of the electorate indicating at least nominal support for a third party candidate, either Governor Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party or Dr. Jill Stein of the Green Party. Even within their respective parties, both Secretary Clinton and Mr. Trump face the potential of revolt have overwhelmingly characterized the election can easily dominate the choice for whom to vote for. However, there are also policy disagreements that are worth examining.

Governor Johnson of the Libertarian Party presents a stunning lack of knowledge of foreign policy and even a disdain for current events, recently characterized by his failure to recognize the identity or importance of the city of Aleppo in Syria, the epicenter of the Syrian Civil War. While his apology and acknowledgement of a lack of knowledge is commendable—whereas a Donald Trump would have deflected from the issue or later deny that the episode ever occurred— the fact that the governor appears to be uninterested in the role of the United States around the world is a troubling characteristic in a president. Even giving the governor the benefit of the doubt—indeed, we all make mistakes—the episode then brings up several questions about his advisers and campaign. We expect that presidents and presidential candidates have extensive political and policy advisors that ensure not only that candidates are prepared for such issues and anticipate such questions, but also brief presidential candidates quite often on issues of relevant policy, foreign and domestic. The very fact that Johnson’s advisers and campaign failed in those two responsibilities raises important questions about the types of individuals that would be in a Johnson/Weld White House or Cabinet.  In domestic policy, the governor advocates for a staunchly libertarian view of the role of government, which characterizes everything from drug schedules to motor vehicle licenses as federal overreach. While the role and scope of government is grounds for legitimate debate, the radical approach that the governor takes is unacceptable for domestic policy and would lead to serious negative consequences.

Dr. Jill Stein of the Green Party is more knowledgeable on foreign policy, and a plank in her platform is to advocate for the idea of no more foreign intervention and complete isolationism. Such a position on American foreign policy is simply untenable in today’s interconnected and interdependent world. It is certainly legitimate to question the extent to which the U.S should be involved in other countries militarily or diplomatically, and to question the benefits of globalization. But to retreat entirely is not a policy that is sustainable, either in the long or short term, and would lead to serious negative consequences both at home and abroad. The reality remains that the United States commands the largest armed forces in the world as well as the largest foreign presence, and while there is room to scale back, a complete retreat is unadvisable. But Dr. Stein’s platform is more troubling on the domestic policy side. She displays a lack of economic knowledge in calling for a quantitative easing program for student debt. She buys into hard-left conspiracy theories about genetically modified foods, microwaves, Wi-Fi signals, and vaccinations, among other scientifically proven technologies. It would be a mistake to vote for someone who believes, or at minimum legitimates the belief, that the F.D.A is part of a conspiracy to contaminate the public with poor vaccines.

Voting for a third party candidate or refusing to vote at all, carries with it unacceptable risk. As Spencer Slagowitz has pointed out, ‘the consequences of voting for a third party candidate in our current political climate are undeniable. Inaction or voting for a third candidate, empowers those who do act and certainly weakens the candidate whom you could have voted for. It is equally difficult to contend, as some have, that a Trump presidency would strengthen the progressive movement. Sacrificing the well-being of American citizens for the spurious chance of a later progressive victory, that itself would have an even more questionable potential of reversing the full impact of a Trump presidency is an unconvincing option, to say the least.’

Finally, Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for president, is completely and utterly unqualified for the presidency of the United States. His identity politics has become inseparable from his policy positions—between decrying ethnic and racial groups as “rapists and murderers” and suggesting a religious test and ban for immigrants entering the country, from displaying a stunning lack of knowledge of basic tenets of the American government ranging from the articles enumerated in the Constitution to basic nuclear policy, between feuding with the family of a fallen veteran of the U.S Armed Forces to mocking the disability of a New York Times reporter, from denouncing nearly everyone in the current administration including the Joint Chiefs of Staff to displaying violence and hatred towards political opponents and those who would exercise their First Amendment right to free expression. Remarkable numbers of government officials and policy experts, both Democrat and Republican, have come out against his candidacy.  The utter lack of respect and disdain in which Mr. Trump holds the office of the Presidency is astounding. And on top of the temperamental disqualifications, legislative objections abound. As Josh Zakharov has written, even if you disagree with Clinton’s policies, Donald Trump effectively has none. And the precious few policies Mr. Trump has advocated for are woefully inadequate, boneheaded, utterly contradictory, and plainly unconstitutional. They evince, per Ethan Gelfer, “ a remarkably myopic and narrow view of the multinational, multiethnic, multifaith, globalized world we live in today.”  Between building a wall and banning Muslims from entering the United States, between advocating for the deportation of 11 million residents of the United States to openly advocating for a foreign intervention in the American political process, between threatening to use nuclear weapons and indicating a willingness to turn the full faith and credit of the United States into a bargaining chip on the world stage, Mr. Trump has proven himself again and again to be a menace to the American presidency, to the democratic process, indeed, to the very idea of America that has lit the world for over two centuries. Mr. Trump’s very candidacy, and the R.N.C’s support of his candidacy, is offensive to the very fabric of our nation. Put simply, Mr. Trump cannot be President of the United States.

Despite there being three anti-establishment, resentful, angry presidential candidates in the 2016 race, there is one candidate and one party that represents a beacon of unity and progress. While a main strike against her in the eyes of many, Secretary Clinton’s membership in the “establishment” of American politics has made her into the most qualified candidate in history. Presenting a formidable resume, from being an advocate at the Children’s Defense Fund to First Lady of the United States, from Senator for the state of New York to Secretary of State of the United States, Hillary Clinton offers the experience and leadership necessary to stitch Washington together after decades of growing resentment, as well as the capability to lead our nation through the uncertain times ahead. Offering clear-eyed, level headed policy proposals that reflect a willingness to listen to and compromise with those who are willing to sit down at the negotiating table, Secretary Clinton’s Democratic Party platform is a remarkable document that reflects the best wisdom of this country’s brightest minds and strongest movements. Her candidacy brings people together, from the fifty million disabled Americans she fights for to the African Americans and Latino Americans who are given a voice, the Democratic Party embraces its value of inclusion and truly offers the best future for all those who are willing to play along. Secretary Clinton’s most valuable trait is her ability to listen, and while that makes her a poor campaigner and rhetorician, it will allow her presidency to be marked with cooperation and cross-partisanship that for too long has been missing from Capitol Hill and the White House.

Having been involved on the national stage for a quarter century, Secretary Clinton has certainly picked up some political baggage. She has a reputation for being a foreign policy hawk, for too often changing her views based on what seems to be political exploitation, she has displayed a level of impropriety with government business and communications that reveal a level of disdain to which she holds the American press, she is secluded on the campaign trail and rarely appears in an unscripted way to the American public or to the press, and she seems to have no hard and fast views. Yet she is a candidate that in today’s political climate that is the best choice to sit at the Resolute Desk on January 20, 2017.

As we’ve written in the past—“The fact that Hillary Clinton is the most recognizable name in politics of this decade is not only a testament to her resilience and intelligence, but her extensive experience as a legislator, policymaker, and stateswoman.” So let us not ignore Clinton’s leadership abilities and her experience with facilitating the administrative responsibilities of an organization—one of the most important responsibilities of the presidency. Clinton is an extraordinary administrator. Love him or hate him, Henry Kissinger asserted that “she ran the State Department in the most effective way that I’ve ever seen.” Our failure to raise questions about how a president sets priorities, how a president executes laws, and the advisors with whom presidents surround themselves is incredibly troubling in a world in which those factors have become increasingly important and one in which her opponent has assembled advisors of questionable repute and experience.

Whether one agrees with her policies or not, Secretary Clinton is simply the only candidate who has enough respect for the intellect and independence of America and its citizens to hold its highest office. We should ask for more from our candidates. We should seek to expose their flaws and hold them to a higher standard. Yes, that does mean holding Secretary Clinton to her words and chastising her for when things go wrong. That does not mean that she is not worth your vote.

If fidelity to democracy is the code of our civic religion then surely respect for that process should lead us not to cast a ballot in favor of someone who disregards and even hates that process, or someone who builds a reputation and a case for a vote based on a hatred of the system in which we conduct our political process, but to vote for the one who will best embody the American ideal. Let us preserve the sanctity of the highest office of our nation, and vote for the next President of the United States with confidence and candor, and place a leader into the Oval Office who can be trusted with steering this nation in the right direction for the years to come.

Optimism: A Strategic Mistake


By ALEC CAMHI || August 14th, 2016

Evidently, there are two different Americas. At least, that’s what an onlooker might think after watching the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. The Republicans painted a gloomy picture of America as a country with high unemployment, high crime levels, and weak national security, with those problems getting worse to boot. This left the door wide open for the Democrats to position themselves as the party of optimism and positivity, an opportunity of which they took full advantage. At their convention, Democrats spoke of an America full of hope and potential, a clear difference from the Republicans’ dark illustration of the state of the country. While it’s not inherently bad for the Democrats to position themselves as the optimistic party, they risk alienating a considerable part of the American public still disheartened by the direction of the country.

Admittedly, Democrats should be feeling pretty confident about their optimistic messaging right now. After all, the Republicans set a pretty low bar to surpass. The pessimism of Donald Trump’s convention speech was astonishing. Just in the span of a few minutes, he told viewers that “our president … has made America a more dangerous environment”, that “this administration has … failed [inner cities] on jobs”, and that “the damage and devastation that can be inflicted by Islamic radicals has been proven over and over,” setting a somewhat apocalyptic tone.1 On the Democratic side, the message was a sharp contrast. Not only did they repeat numerous times that “America is already great” – a not-so-subtle rebuke of Trump’s “Make America great again” slogan – but the tone of the speeches differed notably from that of Trump’s speech.2 First Lady Michelle Obama noted that every day, her African American family wakes up “in a house built by slaves” centuries ago, highlighting the progress that America has made on racial issues.3 Senator Cory Booker argued, “We are called to be a nation of love,” not just of “tolerance.”4 President Obama celebrated “all that we’ve achieved together” during his presidency, citing the economic recovery, the killing of Osama bin Laden, the Iran nuclear deal, the Paris climate agreement, and the Affordable Care Act, among other things.5 Democratic Nominee Hillary Clinton praised the “the strengths we bring as Americans” in the face of the country’s challenges.6 The poll numbers make it appear that this strategy – drawing a contrast with the cynical tone of the Republicans – paid off. In the wake of her convention, Clinton has enjoyed a nice bounce: since July 25th, the first day of her convention, her RealClearPolitics polling average has surged from a 1-point deficit to an 8-point lead in national head-to-head matchups against Trump as of August 10th.7 She is also ahead in key swing states; her campaign is so confident in her leads in the usually-close states of Colorado and Virginia that they aren’t even spending on television ads there.8

Correlation does not equal causality, however. Much of Clinton’s bounce in the polls is also attributable to recent mistakes that Trump has made on the campaign trail. First, Trump made headlines by attacking Muslim gold star mother Ghazala Khan, wife of Khizr Khan, the Muslim gold star father who spoke at the Democratic National Convention. In an interview with George Stephanopoulos, Trump said that Mrs. Khan “maybe … wasn’t allowed to have anything to say” alongside her husband because of her religion.9 (In an interview before Trump made those comments, it was clear that the reason Mrs. Khan didn’t speak was that she was too grief-stricken.)10 Trump also stated in a press conference that Russia should try to hack Clinton’s deleted e-mails, a move that the New York Times called “essentially urging a foreign adversary to conduct cyberespionage.”11 If that wasn’t enough to cause his poll numbers to plummet, Trump then gaffed again in the Stephanopoulos interview and said that Vladimir Putin “is not going into Ukraine,” despite the fact that Russia already has military forces there.12 He then tried to walk this statement back to little avail, stating that he meant that he would be able to deter Putin from Ukraine if he were president. This, coming after statements suggesting that he would consider withdrawing from NATO (which would enable Putin to pursue serious expansion into former Soviet states),13 cast serious doubt in voter’s minds regarding Trump’s knowledge of foreign policy, further contributing to his declining poll numbers.

Thus, Democrats must be cognizant of Trump’s mistakes and how they could be influencing the polling numbers before they become overconfident in their highly optimistic tone. While it may be hard to see right now, not everything is going right for Democrats in this election. Take the economy, for instance. In 1992, James Carville, a campaign strategist for Bill Clinton at the time, hung a sign in the campaign’s headquarters to explaining the campaign’s core message. The second of three bullet points read, “The economy, stupid,” and since then, “It’s the economy, stupid,” has become an exceedingly popular phrase among political junkies when discussing the most important issue in deciding elections.14 Essentially, when the economy is strong, the incumbent party has an easier time retaining power, and when the economy is weak, the opposite is true. And in America’s current economic situation – one of recovery, but sluggish recovery – Democrats risk being viewed as out-of-touch with the plight of struggling Americans for whom the economy is still not at full strength. This spells trouble for them. Indeed, a poll conducted by NBC and the Wall Street Journal from July 31st to August 3rd, which showed Clinton up by nine points over Trump nationally, still showed that voters preferred Trump on the economy by a four-point margin. Although Clinton has closed the gap on that issue since June (when the same poll showed her trailing by 10 on the economy), this nonetheless indicates that voters may be looking for an alternative to the status quo. The poll isn’t particularly kind to Clinton in that regard, either: Trump has a whopping 22-point advantage over Clinton in the category of “changing business as usual in Washington.”15 On top of that, the RealClearPolitics polling average as of August 10th shows that about 65 percent of voters believe the country is on the “wrong track,” while only 29 percent believe that the country is going in the “right direction.”16 This is another liability for Clinton. While she preaches a message of such optimism, the polls seem to show that Americans aren’t particularly optimistic about the direction of the nation.

Does this mean that Democrats should completely abandon their messaging? Of course not. But dialing it back wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world, either. Yes, the polling looks awfully good for Clinton right now, but the election is still three months out, and current economic conditions don’t necessarily spell great news for the incumbent party. Many Americans are still struggling to reap the benefits of the economic recovery, so Democrats need to be careful how rosy a picture they paint in order to stay in touch with the concerns of struggling Americans. With Trump digging himself such a deep hole and not showing any signs of “getting on message” like establishment Republicans so desperately want him to, Democrats don’t need to roll the dice with a risky message. As long as they manage not to seriously alienate any groups between now and November, Clinton should coast to victory just fine.

 

 

Citations:

  1. http://www.mercurynews.com/elections/ci_30155961/transcript-donald-trumps-acceptance-speech
  2. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jul/28/obama-hillary-clinton-convention-speech-trump
  3. http://time.com/4421538/democratic-convention-michelle-obama-transcript/
  4. http://time.com/4421756/democratic-convention-cory-booker-transcript-speech/
  5. http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-na-pol-obama-2016-convention-speech-transcript-20160727-snap-story.html
  6. http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-na-pol-hillary-clinton-convention-speech-transcript-20160728-snap-htmlstory.html
  7. http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2016/president/us/general_election_trump_vs_clinton-5491.html
  8. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2016/08/04/showing-growing-confidence-clinton-campaign-and-super-pac-pause-ads-in-colorado-and-virginia/
  9. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/07/30/donald-trump-responds-to-the-khan-family-maybe-she-wasnt-allowed-to-have-anything-to-say/
  10. http://www.cnn.com/2016/08/02/politics/who-is-khizr-khan-trnd/
  11. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/28/us/politics/donald-trump-russia-clinton-emails.html?ref=topics
  12. http://time.com/4432282/donald-trump-vladimir-putin-ukraine/
  13. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-07-21/trump-says-u-s-may-not-defend-nato-allies-against-russia-attack-iqvw8gki
  14. http://www.nytimes.com/1992/10/31/us/1992-campaign-democrats-clinton-bush-compete-be-champion-change-democrat-fights.html
  15. http://www.nbcnews.com/politics/first-read/nbc-wsj-poll-clinton-jumps-nine-point-lead-over-trump-n623131
  16. http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/other/direction_of_country-902.html

The Bold War—Donald Trump’s connections to Russia prove undeniably worrisome


By MEGHAN BODETTE || August 4th, 2016

The Cold War has been over for nearly twenty-five years. Anyone watching the headlines of the past two weeks could be forgiven for thinking otherwise. Fear of a potential Russian threat to the United States has returned to the news as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has been questioned about his ties to the Russian government– with implications not considered by many Americans since the height of superpower rivalry.

These questions began to arise after a series of staff hires, events, and policy statements that, taken together, may not appear coincidental. Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager, was once employed by former Ukrainian prime minister Viktor Yanukovych, a pro-Russian leader. Retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, who has advised Trump on foreign policy, has appeared multiple times on RT, a Russian state-funded news network. The presence of Manafort and Flynn, with all the personal connections to the Russian government that they bring, add a layer of suspicion to Trump’s positions on Ukraine and NATO– issues where Russia has a strong interest. The official Republican platform softened its position on the defense of Ukraine, removing language advocating ‘lethal’ aid to Ukrainian rebels. When asked about the change, Trump offered not a nuanced defense of the position— which is possible—but a refutation of any involvement and a bizarre assertion that “He [Vladimir Putin] is not going into Ukraine, okay?…he’s not gonna go into Ukraine.”  Trump’s NATO policy has scarcely changed since his earlier pronouncement that the alliance was “obsolete”. He disregards Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, replacing “an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all” with a threat of conditional protection based on economic calculation.

Such a pattern of staff hires and policy statements, connecting to a state whose interests often conflict with American interests, warrants serious attention in and of itself. The recently publicized hack of Democratic National Committee servers makes further investigation of a potential Russian intervention in the Trump campaign essential.

The release of about 20,000 unflattering emails showing the Committee’s undemocratic inner workings, timed to hit just before the Democratic National Convention, comes across as an attempt to hurt Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and thereby benefit Trump. The origins of the attack make that goal more than a mere partisan statement. US officials agree that the DNC attack originated from Russia, and that it had at least tacit state approval there. Some experts argue that it was explicitly sponsored by the Russian government, pointing to Trump’s ties to Manafort and Flynn and his attitude toward NATO security guarantees as reasons why they would go to such lengths to support his candidacy.

 

If these allegations are true— and it is possible that they could be— we have just seen direct foreign intervention in the outcome of an American election. Some observers will feel as though 20th-century panic over Russian subterfuge is finally justified.  But how exactly does Russian support of Trump relate and compare to the Cold War tradition of election interference by both superpowers— and to more subtle post-Cold War attempts at destabilization?

Since 1945, the Soviet Union and the United States interfered in the democratic processes of weaker states both within and outside of their respective spheres of influences, to keep these states from from allying with or moving too ideologically close to the other superpower. According to political scientist Dov Levin, this interference has occurred 117 times between 1945 and 2001— one out of every 9 elections. Military, economic, and political pressures have all been used, overtly and covertly, depending on the situation and the interests of the intervening state at the given time.

Classic examples of Soviet interference began with the sponsorship of Communist parties in Eastern European states close to Soviet borders, and the elimination of opposition figures to ensure that these states would come under Communist, and inevitably Soviet, control. Military forces were sent into these satellite states when leaders came about who advocated even slight breaks with Soviet policy, as in Hungary in 1956. The United States behaved similarly, working covertly to support anti-Communist parties and even sponsoring coups against governments perceived to be too leftist or too hostile to American interests. Often, this behavior has had a measurable effect— in the case of overt interventions, equivalent to an additional 3% of the total vote for the party or individual in favor of which the United States or the Soviet Union has intervened.

It is likely that any impact the DNC hack might have will be on a far smaller scale than that of these events. Trump is historically unpopular— even a 3% increase in his share of the vote might not propel him to victory. Russia is no longer a superpower, and the United States holds a greater share of relative world power than it does, lessening Russian ability to credibly influence American politics. However, this part of history is still important to keep in mind when considering both states’ actions today. The Cold War patterns of behavior detailed above establish election-related interference as a tactic used by both states to push their own interests. Because each state knows that the other has used this tactic, it knows that it might do so again, and that the tactic can be effective.

This suspicion has not ended with the breakdown of the bipolar order. Rather, it has evolved to fit shifting interests and a new technological landscape. Neither Russia nor the United States is likely to interfere with or overthrow an elected government because that government has moved too close to capitalist or communist ideology; neither is as likely to invest as much time and resources in altering the electoral outcome of a state far from its region as it might have during the Cold War. The growing power and prevalence of the Internet has opened cyberspace as a far wider field for competition and subterfuge— a field that many states have taken advantage of, from Chinese economic espionage against American companies to American use of the Stuxnet virus on computers in an Iranian nuclear facility. A state that sees an opportunity to use an old tactic for a new purpose, or against a new type of target, may benefit from that innovation— and if it believes that the benefit is credible, it is likely to pursue the opportunity.

It would be very reasonable for the Russian government to to evaluate a Trump presidency as a definite benefit, both for his pro-Russian foreign policy proposals and the disorder he would cause both within the United States and beyond it. This analysis, coupled with a sense of revenge for perceived American influence in pro-democratic “color revolutions” near its borders, could easily lead Russia to attempt to intervene, or condone intervention, in the 2016 election in favor of Trump. Whether he and his campaign are aware of it is, in a way, beside the point. Generalized instability exploited in favor of foreign interests can be as dangerous as targeted instability caused by foreign interests. In a world where any foreign intervention can have a tangible effect on democratic elections, and where the past 70 years have seen a marked pattern of such intervention, it is wise to be wary of both.

 

Donald Trump and The Unitary Presidency


By SPENCER SLAGOWITZ || August 2nd, 2016

The nature of U.S foreign policy institutions make a populist quasi-authoritarian leader like Trump, who promises to do much when it comes to foreign policy, particularly dangerous. That is an alarming notion and ought to frighten you.

The vision of the unitary presidency, most robustly articulated under George W. Bush’s administration, enshrined the role of the presidency as the sole organ of American foreign policy. It dismissed the role of congress in exercising foreign policy responsibilities and maintained that only the executive branch has the dynamism required to deal with international affairs.  As a consequence, today, the vast majority of authority when it comes to foreign policy decision making rests with the president. Congress has even struggled, to give an example, to draft a new AUMF (authorization for the use of military force) to empower the president to combat ISIL (Da’ash) and furthermore to define the scale and scope of our offensive operations. To this date, the Obama administration relies on the hilariously outdated 2001 AUMF  to justify airstrikes in Iraq and the kill & capture operations conducted by the ~250 commandos located there. Given the immense authority enjoyed by the presidency and the lack of robust checks on that authority, a populist demagogue like Trump would be especially dangerous whilst in office.

Before we can go on to discuss the implications of the legal structure that places immense authority in the presidency, it is important to discuss its source, what Harold Koh has defined as the ‘National Security Constitution.” The National Security Constitution is a quasi-constitutional “normative vision of the foreign policy process” which “lurks within the constitutional system…[It] creates…institutions…defines fundamental power relationships and places limitation upon the powers of each branch.” The National Security Constitution consists of three hierarchal levels of law, of which the first is the text of the Constitution itself. Concerning foreign policy, the Constitution itself is ambiguous and even contradictory, however it importantly establishes a guiding principle of shared institutional participation. At the second hierarchical level, more specific rules governing the legal rights and duties of the three branches can be found in framework statutes, legislation that “reinforces and elaborates the constitutional foundation of power sharing by constructing a statutory super structure.” At the final, and lowest, level is non-binding historical precedent or in the words of Harold Koh, “quasi-constitutional custom.” These three hierarchal levels of law work in tandem to describe a legal structure that governs the foreign policy process. So, to recap, constitutional law is kind of confusing when it comes to foreign policy—but importantly the framers were very clear on the idea of shared institutional participation, the idea that Congress and the executive branch were joint partners when it comes to foreign policy.


That idea of joint institutional participation was completely thrown out by the Hughes Court in the 1936 Curtiss-Wright decision which effectively consolidated presidential authority in foreign affairs and asserted, albeit through some questionable logic, that foreign policy authority passed directly from Great Britain to the executive branch. Since then each subsequent presidency has, for the most part, expanded executive authority little by little. Indeed, as Professor Christopher Kelly explains, “ The current…administration has simply formalized a process…that has been building over the last several decades.”

This sort of unlimited executive control of foreign policy, that is currently enjoyed by the presidency, encourages and enables costly war making. The way the executive branch has developed loosened constraints in a manner that allowed for flexibility in war making but made it easier to conduct military hostilities abroad. However, through vesting war-making power in Congress, the framers of the constitution endeavored to create a system that will “not hurry us into war; it is calculated to guard against it.”

This reasoning is underpinned by the idea that a decision as costly as declaring war should be a product of consensus building and considerable debate. Yet, the power to conduct military action abroad has shifted hands, from Congress to the executive branch. The executive branch has near-total dominance over war making; for example, it has historically ignored the War Powers Act, a framework statute that constrains the ability of the president to, you guessed it,  make war.

There are several dangers involved in vesting this power solely with the executive branch. Most of these dangers result from the executive branch’s inherent faults as Professor Alexander Bickel posits, “The errors of the executive branch are active ones: it can rush hastily into war, and it can mistake silence for consensus…the sins of the executive branch are those of commission.” As a result, as the executive branch has claimed unilateral war making powers, the United States has entered into an increased number of ‘presidential wars’ or conflicts without congressional authorization: the Korean War, the Second Indochina War (Vietnam), Bay of Pigs invasion, the invasion of Cambodia, the Persian Gulf War, the Iraq War, the invasion of Grenada, the War in Afghanistan, the Kosovo War, and the military intervention in Syria.  Simply put, it is not hard to imagine Donald Trump rushing into conflicts in the name of restoring American leadership and strength that would result in disaster, especially and given the Donald’s lack of expertise when it comes to Foreign Policy and the strange heterodox coterie of so-called experts that advise him.

Furthemore, Law professor Amos Guiora, in his article Human Rights and Counterterrorism, sets out a theory concerning sweeping executive power, which asserts that, “unrestrained executive power during times of crisis, not subject to the checks and balances inherent in the theory of shared institutional participation, facilitates decision making that violates individual rights.”Facing international terrorism and hostile non-state actors, the second Bush and Obama administrations have claimed extraordinary powers that can (and some argue already do) threaten fundamental human rights. The Obama administration, for example, has received considerable criticism for the use of drones to conduct extra-judicial killings. Professor Afsheen John Radsan explains how “The executive branch can unilaterally designate an individual as an armed enemy combatant and then without any due process or retroactive judicial review, kill said individual.”. The expansion of such presidential powers has always been implicitly justified by the idea that the executive branch will reasonably and appropriately use them.  But, without an impartial adjudicator to constrain the exercise of such a power, the prospect of a Trump presidency makes me worry if he will prudently exercise the authority vested in the office of the president. A president that has legitimately proposed to ban an entire religion from entering the United States, and has supported the use of torture and waterboarding, cannot be expected to, for one, not do those things and two, exercise his authority in a ‘reasonable’ manner. However, those who would oppose the imagined blatant violation of civil rights that would occur under a Trump presidency, have little recourse anymore. That is deeply troubling to me and hopefully to you, as well, and it pretty powerfully suggests as well that we ought to articulate a new vision of foreign policy power sharing in which there are legitimate congressional checks on presidential authority.