Monthly Archives: August 2019

How Did We Get Here?

As we reflect on the horrific El Paso and Dayton shootings, it’s clear that we’ve reached an inflection point in our society. We’re teetering on the edge of civil war. Lets take a couple of steps back and consider how we got here.

Donald Trump is a symptom of a set of larger problems.  Yes, he’s cancer; but cancer resulting from a toxic environment.  The product of three poisonous trends with American society.

1.Racism: There’s no doubt that Trump is a racist and that his brand of brand of racism has fomented violence — most recently the El Paso shootings.  But racism didn’t begin with Trump; it’s been around since the founding of this country.

We’re in the modern era of U.S. racism that began with the 1964 Civil Rights Act and culminated with the 2008 election of Barack Obama.  It has three manifestations: Republicans have become the party of white racists; Republicans covertly disenfranchise people of color; and, until Trump, it was politically incorrect to use historic racist jargon — such as the N-word.

It’s not an accident that Trump now leads the Republican Party.  The members are not all racists but they — card-carrying Republicans — are enabling racism.  (How many times have we heard wealthy GOP donors say: “I don’t like what Trump says but I love his tax cuts.”)

Since the passage of the civil-rights act, we’ve seen the demise of “classic” racism — for example, segregation and Jim Crow laws — and the emergence of clandestine racism — for example, redlining and voter-id laws. ( During the past 55 years, in some parts of the country, the living conditions of people-of-color have not changed.)

Donald Trump has embraced the new clandestine racism and added his own flourishes: resentment and antipathy to political correctness.  From the moment that Trump announced his candidacy (June 17, 2015) he embraced the politics of racial resentment: “The US has become a dumping ground for everybody else’s problems… When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best.. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”  He referenced a Hispanic “invasion” a phrase he’s repeatedly returned to.  Trump’s appealed to dissatisfied white (non-Hispanic) voters with a singular trope: “These people are taking what’s rightfully yours, your share of the American dream.”

In addition, Trump has called for an end to “political correctness” — “I shouldn’t be saying this, but….”  We’ve gotten so used to Trump tweets that it’s important to remember that before January 20, 2017, we’d never seen a President act like this.  Goodbye to telling the truth.  Goodbye comity.  Goodbye to setting a moral example.  Goodby to the Golden Rule.  (Goodbye to Christian ethics.)

Trump’s bashing of “political correctness” has opened the door to white supremacists.   Trump has normalized racism and racial violence.

2. Violence: The United States has a culture of violence.  We like violent novels, movies, TV shows, and video games.  We love guns.  Check the front page of any daily newspaper and you’ll find reports of murder and mayhem.  I hesitate to say that we’re addicted to violence but it’s obviously a large part of our culture.

Americans are obsessed with guns.  We have more guns in private hands than does any other nation.  The National Rifle Association (NRA) is one of the most powerful Washington lobbies.  (The U.S. requires a license to drive a car but — in most states — not to own a gun.)

There’s physical violence and psychological violence.  Trump has normalized violence in our everyday interaction.

Not only has Donald Trump called for an end to “political correctness,” he’s called for an end to nonviolent conflict resolution.  He does not treat people with respect.

Trump’s strategy for resolving conflict is to demean his opponents and insist on getting his way.  (If Trump was a football running back, he would not try to finesse would-be tacklers, he would always chose to run over them.)

Trump doesn’t apologize, he “doubles down.”  Recently Trump tweeted demeaning remarks about four Congresswomen — all women of color — suggesting “they go back” to their countries of origin, even though all but one was born in the United States.  When Trump was criticized for what was obviously a racist remark, he didn’t apologize, he doubled down.  (Trump went to El Paso on August 7th but didn’t apologize to the Hispanic shooting victims for his incendiary remarks about Hispanics; instead Trump told the press how much all the victims loved him.)

3.Pay to Play: The third poisonous trend within American society is unbridled capitalism.  In Trump’s case it has two malevolent faces.  One is the replacement of Christian ethics by Capitalistic ethics — the end justifies the means.  (“Love those tax cuts!”)  The other toxic impact of Capitalism is the buying of politicians.

It’s too easy to write off Donald Trump as an extreme narcissist; someone who has no empathy and is, therefore, incapable of taking responsibility for his actions.  We’ve gotten so used to bizarre Trump tweets that it’s reflexive to dismiss him as mentally ill.  Another explanation is that since Trump only cares about money, he acts the way he does because it brings in huge campaign contributions and fills his wallet.  Trump is the most ostentatious representative of a general Republican position: We’re for sale.

The modern Republican Party has swallowed the ethics of Capitalism — and Ayn Rand.  Their politics begin and end with money.

It’s easy to see this in the behavior of Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.  He refuses to do anything about election integrity — Russian interference in our elections — because he’s getting donations from Russians.  Similarly, McConnell refuses to do anything about gun control because he’s getting donations from the NRA and Kentucky-based  gun manufacturers.

Trump and McConnell act the way they do because they are being enabled by their Republican colleagues and by wealthy GOP donors.  That’s why a real solution to our problems requires more than defeating Trump in 2020.  Real change requires voting out Republicans at all levels of government.  And, penalizing Republican donors.

The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming

No sooner did Special Counsel Robert Mueller testify that the Russians continue to interfere in U.S. politics, than the Senate Intelligence Committee released a sobering report about Russian interference in the 2016 election. Before the public could digest this, the news was swept off the front pages by Donald Trump’s racist tweets. Nonetheless, the truth is hiding in plain sight: Russians are interfering in U.S. politics and Trump doesn’t want to do anything about it.

Robert Mueller’s July 24th appearance before the House Intelligence Committee was highlighted by his strong statements about Russia:  “The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion.”  He indicated the Russian interference continues,  “They’re doing it as we sit here, and they expect to do it in the next campaign.”

After 30 months of investigation, we know the Russian interference took five forms:

1. Exploiting weaknesses in the election infrastructure: On July 26th, the Senate Intelligence Committee released the first volume of its report. “Russian Active Measures Campaigns and Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election…Russian Efforts Against Election Interference.”  The Committee observed, “The Russian government directed extensive activity… against U.S. election infrastructure at the state and local level.”  The report found the Russians targeted election systems in all 50 states — a shocking finding as previous indictions were the Russian infiltration was more limited.

The Senate report is so heavily redacted that it’s difficult to determine how successful the Russian efforts were.  However, we already know the GOP has been messing with voter registration data bases and it would be difficult to distinguish Russian activity from ongoing Republican efforts — for example, we know that, in 2016, the State of Georgia eliminated more than 300,000 eligible voters from their data base, based upon dubious criteria.

2. Hacking emails:  The Mueller Report noted, “A Russian intelligence service conducted computer-intrusion operations against entities, employees, and volunteers working on the Clinton Campaign and then released stolen documents.” “The Russian intelligence service known as the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Army (GRU) carried out these operations… the GRU began disseminating stolen materials through the fictitious online personas ‘DCLeaks’ and ‘Guccifer 2.0.’ The GRU later released additional materials through the organization WikiLeaks.”

During Robert Mueller’s July 24th testimony before the House Intelligence Committee,  chair Adam Schiff asked Mueller, “The Trump campaign officials built…  their messaging strategy, around those stolen [Wikileaks] documents?”  Mueller responded, “Generally, that’s true.”  “And then they lied to cover it up?”  Mueller answered, “Generally, that’s true.”

Although the Trump campaign utilized the Wikileaks documents, the Mueller Report found no evidence that the Trump campaign conspired with the Russian hackers.

3. Subverting Social Media.  The Mueller Report noted: “A Russian entity carried out a social media campaign that favored presidential candidate Donald J.Trump and disparaged presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.”  “The Internet Research Agency (IRA) carried out…  a social media campaign designed to provoke and amplify political and social discord in the United States. The IRA was based in St. Petersburg, Russia, and received funding from Russian oligarch Yevgeniy Prigozhin and companies he controlled. Priozhin is widely reported to have ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.”  “The [IRA] campaign evolved from a generalized program designed in 2014 and 2015 to undermine the U.S. electoral system, to a targeted operation that by early 2016 favored candidate Trump and disparaged candidate Clinton.”

Again, while the Trump campaign benefited from the Russian social media campaign, the Mueller Report found no evidence that the Trump campaign conspired with the Russian disinformation effort.

4. Influencing persuadable voters via Facebook.  Hillary Clinton lost the presidency because she lost the electoral college; specifically, she lost Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin by a combined total of 79,646 votes.  That’s where the influence of Cambridge Analytica and Facebook and Russia mattered.  (Cambridge Analytica was a technical political consulting firm founded by Trump mega-donor Robert Mercer and former Trump adviser Steve Bannon.)

In 2016 the Trump campaign, with the help of Cambridge Analytica and Facebook, developed a singular swing-state voter data base that drove electronic interaction using social media, such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter.  For example, they used the Facebook data to develop a voter profile and then sent voters messages based upon this profile.  (This worked both to motivate voters to vote for Trump and to dissuade potential Clinton voters from voting for her.)

Writing in The New Yorker, Sue Halpern (https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/cambridge-analytica-facebook-and-the-revelations-of-open-secrets ) observed: “Cambridge Analytica contractors worked with Trump’s digital team, headed by Brad Parscale and Jared Kushner. Alongside all of them were Facebook employees who were embedded with the Trump campaign to help them use Facebook’s various tools most effectively—including the so-called “dark posts,” used to dissuade African-Americans from showing up to vote.” (Recently Facebook was fined $5 billion for related activity.)

There’s evidence the Russians were involved.  Writing in Slate (https://slate.com/technology/2018/03/did-cambridge-analytica-leverage-russian-disinformation-for-trump.html ), Justin Hendrix reported “Cambridge Analytica also enlisted Russian-American academic Aleksandr Kogan to mine the private Facebook user data that is the subject of the ongoing scandal. While an associate professor at St. Petersburg State University in Russia, Kogan received grants from the Russian government to research ‘stress, health and psychological wellbeing in social networks.'” [Note that the Internet Research Agency is headquartered in St. Petersburg.]

5. Compromising Trump campaign officials.  According to Robert Mueller, his team did not investigate the Russian tactic of collecting digital information in order to compromise U.S. actors.  During the Mueller hearing, Democratic Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi asked, “Since it was outside your purview, your report did not reach counterintelligence conclusions regarding any Trump administration officials who might potentially be vulnerable to compromise or blackmail by Russia, correct?” Krishnamoorthi continued, “Individuals can be subject to blackmail if they lie about their interactions with foreign countries, correct?”  “True,” Mueller replied.  [Former national security adviser Michael Flynn did plead guilty to lying to Mueller’s team.] Krishnamoorthi asked Mueller, “Your report did not address how Flynn’s false statements could pose a national security risk because the Russians knew the falsity of those statements, right?”  Mueller responded, “I cannot get into that… because there are many elements of the FBI that are looking at different aspects of that issue.”

We know that Russia has compromising information about several Trump campaign members.

Summary: At this writing, Donald Trump has resisted all attempts to safeguard the 2020 election.  The Republican Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, had steadfastly blocked election security bills (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/mcconnell-defends-blocking-election-security-bill-rejects-criticism-he-is-aiding-russia/2019/07/29/08dca6d4-b239-11e9-951e-de024209545d_story.html? ).  This week, Trump forced out his respected Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, (https://www.businessinsider.com/dni-dan-coats-quit-white-house-suppressed-russia-warnings-nyt-2019-7 ) reportedly because Coats kept warning of Russian interference and Trump didn’t want to hear it.

What’s happening is not subtle.  Russia is actively interfering in the U.S. electoral process and Trump — and Mitch McConnell — aren’t doing anything about it.