Democrats Need to Unite the Country Against Russia

Many political scientists believe the greatest peril currently facing the United States isn’t foreign but domestic—extreme forces of political polarization threatening to stretch the union to the breaking point.

While that’s an apt description of what’s happening, especially as it pertains to the Trump Party, the conventional wisdom offers an unsatisfying, implausible solution: a return to a bipartisan consensus on what’s good for the country.

That toothpaste cannot be put back in the tube. The Republicans cannot be expected to step back from the brink of anarchy. Expecting the Democrats to behave more maturely might sound right and reasonable, but it’s not. It gives the Republicans incentive to believe the Democrats will clean up after them. It gives the Democrats reason to promise voters they will rebuild after the carnage the GOP leaves behind.

I argued last week that a solution to this co-dependency might be for the Democrats to act badly—to force the Republicans to take responsibility. The Democrats have literally bailed out the GOP. In past budget fights, former House Speaker John Boehner could not depend on his conference to raise the debt ceiling. If he had failed, the U.S. would have defaulted, triggering a global economic meltdown. House Democrats supported Boehner when it was clear his conference would kill itself to score points.

In purely political terms, this has been the Democrats’ great weakness. If need be, they will save the GOP from self-ruin. As a liberal party, the Democrats really do believe values are of a higher order than politics. This is not the case with the Trump Party. There is no higher order. Politics sublimate everything, even the rule of law. This is why the GOP can bring the global economy to the brink of collapse without fear of it happening―they know the Democrats will save them from being held to account.

What should the Democrats do? I don’t know, but I do know this isn’t about fairness. If we continue to focus on fairness—or any principle rooted in decency, morality, progressivism, or republicanism—we are avoiding the problem, or even inflaming it. The Republicans view Democratic claims to power as categorically illegitimate—the Democrats are the enemy. The Democrats meanwhile see the Republicans as potential good faith partners who can be relied on, in the final analysis, to put country for over party. It just ain’t so.

But it’s not enough for the Democrats to behave badly. They must—and I hate saying this—start seeing the Republicans as the enemy in equal and opposite proportion to the way the Republicans see the Democrats. Anything short of symmetry will accelerate a trend we all see coming: a creeping authoritarianism. The United States was founded on the rule of law, not the rule of men, but President Trump is seeking clearly to create a federal government in thrall to his personal needs.

How can Democrats do this without abandoning what makes them a liberal party: its values, its pluralism, its privileging of liberty and justice for all, its historic goal of creating a more perfect union? How can they ask voters to vote Democrat by doing what the Republicans do? These are difficult questions, but I think the Trump presidency offers a possible answer. The Democrats should do everything they can to tie the Republicans to something most sane people would agree, even if they are hopelessly polarized, is an indisputable threat to the United States—Russia.

I think Russia is a solution to political polarization. The Democrats should and must start using Russia as a way to break through the vicious cycle consuming the parties, Washington, and the whole country. Russia is our enemy. This is a fact. It attacked our presidential election. It continues to attack us in what is emerging as a new Cold cyberwar. In tying the Republicans to an enemy, the Democrats have the potential to break the Republicans. Do they stand with America or do they stand with Russia? The best part is that the Democrats do not have to lie, distort or otherwise misrepresent reality to make the case.

On Monday, the Republicans voted to investigate the FBI’s investigation of Russia’s attack on the 2016 election, the Trump administration said it will not execute a law punishing Russia with economic sanctions for attacking the 2016 election, CIA Director Mike Pompeo told the BBC he has every reason to believe the Russians will continue their cyberwar in 2018, and CBS News reported a top Russian spy visited Pompeo last week even though Sergey Naryshkin is sanctioned against making such visits. Plus, in an effort to stop the FBI’s investigation into his role in the Russians’ attack, the president is set to release a memo that the U.S. Department of Justice says would compromise national security.

It was in this context that NBC analyst John Heilemann asked Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut: “Is it possible that the Republican chairman of the House Intel Committee has been compromised by the Russians? Is it possible that we actually have a Russian agent running the House Intel Committee on the Republican side?”

Murphy didn’t take the bait, which suggests to me that the Democrats are not ready to accuse the Republican Party of treasonous behavior. Perhaps it’s prudent to bide their time, to wait for the proper context. What I do know is that that context is rapidly taking shape. Pretty soon, it won’t sound extraordinary to wonder if the highest-ranking government officials have been comprised. It won’t sound outlandish to accuse the Republicans of abetting a foreign enemy. It will sound reasonable and nonpartisan.

At that point, real change can happen.

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Andrew Tobias Rephrases Trump’s State of the Union Speech

 

Andrew Tobias writes about money, investing, and politics. We have engaged in a civil offline discussion about his favorite NYC charter chain, but I find his political insights valuable. I subscribe to his blog at AndrewTobias.com. Here is his rephrasing of the SOTU last night, if it represented the real world:

 

“The state of the Union is precarious.

“In my first year I have:

“1. Told more than 2000 public lies or falsehoods.

“2. Ended the American Century and abdicated our leadership of the world.

“3. Plunged the nation into economic peril through what is — according to Reagan budget director David Stockman — a massively irresponsible tax cut at exactly the wrong time in the business cycle. (We will be running a $1.2 trillion deficit in the tenth year of a recovery!)

“4. Prioritized those lower taxes on the rich — including real estate developers like me — over borrowing that same money to employ millions of Americans at good jobs revitalizing our infrastructure.

“5. Denied and ignored the massive and ongoing attack on our democracy ordered by a former KGB operative with whom I enjoy a warm relationship and against whose country I have refused to impose the sanctions mandated by Congress.

“6. Ceded economic leadership in the Pacific to China.

“7. Taken credit for the low unemployment and steadily improving economy I inherited (slightly more jobs were added in Obama’s last year than my first).

“8. Decimated the State Department, hobbled the Environmental Protection Agency, neutered the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and put agencies like HUD and the Departments of Education and of Energy in the hands of people with no expertise.

“9. Destabilized the health insurance market in ways that will lead to higher premiums and more uninsured (despite my promise of “great health care for everybody at a tiny fraction of the cost”).

“10. Demonized the free press, the FBI, and our intelligence community.

“11. Widened inequality, praised as “very fine people” torch-bearing white supremacists, set an example of incivility for your children.

“12. Solicited contributions to my campaign with the promise of running your name over the leave stream of this State of the Union address. No president in history has thought to cheapen and politicize the presidency that way, but then neither has a president embarrassed America on the world stage as I have. And if the —-holes of the world don’t like it, —- ’em.

“There’s more, but that’s enough for now.

“God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.”

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Against the Advice of His FBI Director, Trump Will Release Nunes Memo

Republicans are anxious to release the memo written by Rep. Devin Nunes that is reportedly an attack on the FBI’s handling of the Mueller investigation. Prior to the committee’s vote on whether to release it, FBI Director Christopher Wray asked to brief them about his concerns. The Republicans on the committee weren’t interested in what he had to say and voted to release it without hearing from him.

As I mentioned yesterday, the president now has five days to decide whether to stop the release of the memo or say nothing and allow it to be made public. After the State of the Union speech last night, Trump told Rep. Jeff Duncan that he’s 100 percent behind releasing the memo.

CLIP: As President Trump exits the House Chamber, @RepJeffDuncan asks him to #ReleaseTheMemo. #SOTU #SOTU2018 pic.twitter.com/O1hHYFdPxM

— CSPAN (@cspan) January 31, 2018

Today on Fox News radio, John Kelly said that it would happen soon.

John Kelly says on Fox News radio that he’s seen the Nunes memo and that it will be “released pretty quick.” Kelly: “I’ll let all the experts decide that when it’s released. This president wants everything out so the American people can make up their own minds.”

— Kaitlan Collins (@kaitlancollins) January 31, 2018

That last line from Kelly is a blatant lie. If the president wanted to get everything out, he would also release the memo written in response by Rep. Adam Schiff. I’d be willing to bet a lot of money that will never happen.

When the Nunes memo is released, it will be important to remember what Trump’s own FBI director said about it.

FBI Director Christopher Wray told the White House he opposes the release of a controversial, classified GOP memo alleging bias at the FBI and Justice Department because it contains inaccurate information and paints a false narrative, according to a person familiar with the matter.

It is very likely that major news outlets will respond to the release of this memo by granting it a certain level of credence. But from what Democrats on the Intelligence Committee have said about it, the “false narrative” is in the evidence the memo omits rather than outright lies. What we’ll be getting is information that backs up the Republican attacks on the investigation without exonerating facts. To the extent that anyone assumes it paints an accurate picture, they will have been purposefully misled. Earlier today, the FBI took the unusual step of releasing this statement:

It is obvious that Trump, Nunes and Kelly aren’t interested in allowing the American people to make up their own minds. Instead, they are trying to poison the well with inaccurate information. Even Trump’s own FBI director says so.

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Masha Gessen: Rules for Surving Autocracy

 

Masha Gessen has written extensively about Putin and Russia for the New Yorker, the New York Review of Books, and the New York Times, as well as books.

This is one of her best articles. 

Written immediately after the 2016 election, it contains rules for surviving autocracy.

She begins by reminding us that we should not normalize Trump.

“Trump will be only the fourth candidate in history and the second in more than a century to win the presidency after losing the popular vote. He is also probably the first candidate in history to win the presidency despite having been shown repeatedly by the national media to be a chronic liar, sexual predator, serial tax-avoider, and race-baiter who has attracted the likes of the Ku Klux Klan. Most important, Trump is the first candidate in memory who ran not for president but for autocrat—and won.

“I have lived in autocracies most of my life, and have spent much of my career writing about Vladimir Putin’s Russia. I have learned a few rules for surviving in an autocracy and salvaging your sanity and self-respect. It might be worth considering them now:

“Rule #1: Believe the autocrat. He means what he says. Whenever you find yourself thinking, or hear others claiming, that he is exaggerating, that is our innate tendency to reach for a rationalization. This will happen often: humans seem to have evolved to practice denial when confronted publicly with the unacceptable. Back in the 1930s, The New York Times assured its readers that Hitler’s anti-Semitism was all posture. More recently, the same newspaper made a telling choice between two statements made by Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov following a police crackdown on protesters in Moscow: “The police acted mildly—I would have liked them to act more harshly” rather than those protesters’ “liver should have been spread all over the pavement.” Perhaps the journalists could not believe their ears. But they should—both in the Russian case, and in the American one. For all the admiration Trump has expressed for Putin, the two men are very different; if anything, there is even more reason to listen to everything Trump has said. He has no political establishment into which to fold himself following the campaign, and therefore no reason to shed his campaign rhetoric. On the contrary: it is now the establishment that is rushing to accommodate him—from the president, who met with him at the White House on Thursday, to the leaders of the Republican Party, who are discarding their long-held scruples to embrace his radical positions.”

Trump is not normal. We must not lose our bearings. He will destroy our values and our institutions unless we change the leadership in the Congrrss. There must be at least one brake on the ruinous delusions of this vain, ignorant and autocratic man.

 

 

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Some Reasons for Optimism in a Time of Darkness

It has been a dark few days for the country. The FBI deputy director resigned after much pressure from a President frustrated that he refused to scuttle an investigation into him for colluding with a hostile foreign power.  Republicans in Congress recklessly voted to release a partisan hack memo designed to undermine that investigation written by Republican staffers, likely in concert with the White House, spearheaded a Republican congressman who was part of the president’s transition team under investigation and who was supposed to have recused himself from the intelligence committee. The president is refusing to implement sanctions on Russia—the country he is accused of colluding with—that were overwhelmingly approved by Congress to punish Russia for its interference in the election. The Republican Congress is opening an investigation into the FBI itself, in a bogus attempt to discredit the investigations into Trump. And the President is reportedly asking for Robert Mueller himself to be prosecuted for imaginary offense.

It’s understandable that these developments would cause no small amount of heartburn. Democracy and the norms of American government appear to be falling apart in front of our eyes.

But all is not lost, and there are strong reasons for optimism even as a would-be dictator tries to protect himself from the consequences of his malfeasance.

The first is that all of Trump’s actions, and those of the Republicans around him, are ones not of confidence but defensive desperation. Republicans know that Trump is guilty of both colluding with Russia to undermine the election. They know that he is guilty of obstruction of justice: for that matter, anyone who watched Trump’s interview with Lester Holt knows he is guilty. They know that Trump is guilty of a bevy of financial misdeeds. They know that Mueller has the evidence for all this, and that the truth is going to come out one way or another. All they can do is try to muddy the waters. The intensity with which they are doing this shows the level of their desperation.

Why so desperate? Because they have to be. A political movement in a position of strength does not let itself be taken over by a man like Donald Trump. If a virus like Trump manages to seize hold of its host, a health body eventually inoculates itself from the intruder and sheds it. But the Republican Party is not healthy. It is in dire straits. That’s a curious thing to say of a party that is currently dominant in federal, state and judiciary power, but it is true. Republicans only hold the House due to gerrymandering. The Senate is an anti-majoritarian institution, but it will almost certainly flip to Democrats in 2020 if not in 2018. Republicans have only won the popular vote in one of the last six presidential elections. The rising tide of millennial voters despises them, and Republicans have doubled down on old white people—a recipe for guaranteed electoral disaster.

Republicans know that Trump is their last shot to remake the country before it irrevocably turns against them. Sure, it’s a two-party system subject to Duverger’s Law, so the pendulum will swing back. But when it does, the Republican Party that regains power won’t look anything like its current manifestation.

And what have Republicans managed to do with the first year of what could be a short, two-year window? Not much. They failed to undo the Affordable Care Act. They did pass a top-heavy tax cut, but tax policy is one of the easiest things to adjust and change for a future administration. They’re trying to reduce the flow of non-white people into the country to preserve their demographic edge for as long as possible, but even Trump’s own dead-on-arrival draconian measures would only nibble at the edges of an inevitable demographic shift that increasingly emphasizes non-white voting populations. And those populations have become incredibly hostile to Republicans because of their embrace of overt racism.

As regards the Mueller investigation into Trump, Republican options are limited here as well. There are only two likely outcomes: first, that Mueller is allowed to complete his investigation and presents his findings publicly—in which case Republicans will almost certainly do nothing and refuse to impeach the president. The second option is that Trump fires Rosenstein and Mueller on some flimsy pretext, thus adding to his legal jeopardy down the line. If that happens, Mueller’s evidence will almost certainly leak to the press, and counterinsurgencies will develop within intelligence and law enforcement organizations. The fury of the Democratic base will increase, as will the demands that a future Democratic Congress impeach and prosecute the president and co-conspirators. Both of those outcomes are similar regardless of what Trump and the Republicans do.

Russians will almost certainly attempt to meddle in the election again. But it’s not clear that it will have anything like the same effect. A few Senators may get hacked, and the usual social media gamesmanship will occur, but these are persuasion efforts. Moreover, Democratic campaigns have increased security measures, social media companies are taking steps to limit the spread of harassment and false news farms, and news organizations will be more skeptical of reporting stories based on stolen private communications. It’s unlikely that Facebook ads and Twitter bots will stop a dedicated groundswell of anti-Trump voters from hitting the polls.

February is almost upon us. We are more than a year away from Trump’s inauguration, and about 10 months away from the accountability of the 2018 congressional elections. This is not a time for despair and desperation. It’s a time for organizing.

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BREAKING NEWS: Arizona Parents and Educators Win Legal Ruling vs. Koch Brothers

Great news!

SOS Arizona scored a significant legal victory over the billionaire Koch brothers in court.

After the legislature passed a bill expanding vouchers, SOS Arizona collected enough signatures to force a referendum on the expansion. Republicans intend to keep expanding until every student in the state is eligible to leave public schools.

The Koch brothers know that Arizona is ground zero in the fight to destroy public schools so they hired a legal team to knock the referendum off the ballot. They are afraid to submit their plan to the Democratic will of the voters. The Koch’s even got the legislature to pass a bill denying the tight of parents to sue, but it was too late.

“In a six-page ruling made public Tuesday, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Margaret Mahoney ruled that the law in effect last year when a referendum on voucher expansion was filed did not give individuals the right to challenge petition drives.

“Mahoney acknowledged that lawmakers voted to create an individual challenge option last year, but that change took effect on Aug. 9.

“The petitions demanding a public vote on voucher expansion were turned in on Aug. 8. Quite simply, Mahoney said, there is no legal basis for the challenge to those petitions.

“The judge also rejected the contention by voucher supporters that some of the petitions had to be thrown out because the required signature of the person notarizing the document did not precisely match the name on the notary’s official stamp. Mahoney said the law doesn’t require that.

“Mahoney also rejected the contention that some petition circulators made false statements to would-be signers about what the voucher expansion law would do if allowed to take effect, including that it would be the rich who benefit. The judge said voucher supporters, in filing suit, did not identify who made such statements, to whom they were made, how they were false, and whether the person who heard the comments relied on the statements in signing the petitions.”

The lawyer for the Koch brothers vowed to appeal.

The Kochs are terrified of democracy.

A Note from SOS Arizona:

“Judge dismisses lawsuit against Save Our Schools Arizona

“We want you to be the first to know: the dark money groups that sought to prevent Arizona voters from having a say on Proposition 305 in November have gone down in defeat in Arizona Superior Court.

“In her ruling, the Honorable Margaret R. Mahoney dismissed the lawsuit “in its entirety.”

“Join us in savoring this victory, which began when we turned in your petitions and your signatures on August 8, 2017.

“While many battles remain and our opponents will likely appeal the ruling, let’s take a moment together to enjoy this huge triumph.

“Thank you for all you’ve done and will continue to do!

“The Save Our Schools Arizona Core Team”

Beth Lewis, Chair
Alison Porter, Campaign Manager
Cathy Sigmon, Treasurer
Dawn Penich-Thacker, Communications Director
Melinda Iyer, Managing Editor
Sharon Kirsch, Director of Research & Training
Allegra Fullerton, Field Manager

Please help with a contribution. Send whatever you can afford. I did. I hope you will too.

https://sosarizona.org/donate/

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