The Deeply Disturbing Implications of the Washington Post Story of the Inadequate US Response to Russian Hacking, and a Long Term Proposal

It is almost impossible to force oneself to read the Washington Post’s brilliant reporting of the US failure to respond adequately to the Russian election-related hacking.

However, attention must be paid, and the implications go far further than judgements about the Obama administration, that I am sure will go well explored in classic blame the victim manner.

First,  I think we have to admit that the current situation of a largely unpunished and undeterred coup/attack on the US has to be broadly blamed on the entire political process in the US.  While the lack of response, either public or covert, is hard to defend either now, or then, it has to be seen as in part the product of the hyper-politicization of foreign policy.  The Obama administration was operating in a toxic environment in which any honest reporting or respect was, and would be thrown back in the face of the government and the electorate, without any concern for considerations other than short term victory.   The administration could not ignore the reality of that environment.

That must be recognized as a product of Trump active encouragement of hacking, of his trivialization of any reporting, and of his contempt for truth.  The enablers carry as much if not more of the blame.

Second, we must be honest about where we are.  We no longer can be confident that the American people control our own fates through the political process.  It was and has to be assumed to be about to be again, another Pearl Harbor.  (That the US has its own long bi-partisan history of interference in other counties electoral, and political processes, not to mention coups, does not make this any less serious, it only makes it harder to defeat.)  Given the massive reluctance of Trump to take this threat in any way seriously, or even to recognize the risks of the legitimacy this has already lost him, we can have no faith that the governmental system will protect us against more and worse future surrenders of control.  (If Trump is forced out, as I strongly believe he has to be, and will be, this last is no longer true, but issues of trust and legitimacy will long remain.)

Finally, we have to build a new layer of institutions that protect the integrity of our political system regardless of short term interest.  For a start, I can imagine a Commission led by prior presidents, with an independent staff, with direct access to the intelligent services.  The Commission would have a mandate to issue public reports, including on the credibility of challenges to our democratic electoral system, and to publicly and privately urge actions of all kinds, thereby making it easier for presidents to take needed actions without being effectively accused of putting partisan interests first.  While hacking will be one part of the charter of duties, all forms of foreign interference and collusion will need to be included.

The problem, as always, and as we learned in the cold war, is that is is almost impossible to give groups power that is not democratically constrained without then in fact surrendering democracy to those powers.  In the absence of the consensus of  the cold war years, the need is even greater than it was then, and the risks are far greater.

It is a measure of what Trump and his enablers have wrought, and what his opponents have failed to do, that we now face this choice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Does Trump’s Assetion That the Democrats Should Have Won the Election Mean?

Yesterday, in his astonishing interview with NBC News: (NYT link)

Mr. Trump told Lester Holt of NBC News. “It’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.”

What on earth does that mean?

  • That the American people support Democratic policies,
  • That the Democratic demographic advantage is overwhelming,
  • That the Republicans do not have good candidates,
  • That he was an unappealing candidate?
  • That he did not expect to win,
  • That he knows he is unready to be President?

Or, I suppose, it could just be that he is getting inside their minds and saying that the Democrats think that they should have won.  Frankly, that’s a psychological distinction too far for me to attribute to Trump.

Anyway, as things spin more and more out of control, as I am sure they will, we will have many more opportunities to observe and analyze Trump’s mental functioning, perhaps as authorized under the 25th Amendment.

 

 

Are We Headed For a 2018 Veto Proof Budget?

Two events in the last couple of days suggest that Democrats and Republicans may have to combine to pass a veto-proof budget for next year.

Trump has announced that a shut down would be a good thing.  That might be good for Republicans fearing a primary, but not for those fearing the Democrats, as many will be  by the fall.

The 2017 budget appears to be relying on a coalition of Democrats and Republicans, put together over Trump’s at least apparent disapproval, to get over the top.  Moreover, the budget contains a surprising number of “up your’s Donald” provisions, and almost nothing of what he wants.

So, a veto proof budget may be the only way to keep the country functioning, and that may align with congressional and Senate interests in both parties.

What a year!

P.S.  The used to be a joke that new Congressman of both parties were told by thee seniors – “always remember who the real enemy is.” The newbie would name the opposing party and the elder statesman would reply: “No, the Senate.”  Maybe the answer in both parties, and now both chambers, is becoming “the President.”

Hard not to see why.

 

Applying the “Rules” for Government Shutdown Crises to the Current Situation

There are two basic rules for government shut downs:

  1.  Congress gets blamed not the White House.
  2. Shutdowns are an opportunity to the Executive to demonstrate competence.

So, it is a reasonable question ask how these will apply this time around.

With respect to the blame game, the normal rule would be to blame Congress — and typically the majority party, which will be different from the President.  It is going to be really hard to pin the blame on minority democrats, and although ironically, their choices are driving all this.  But apart from this, the reason that the White House usually wins the messaging, and ultimately the substance, wars, is that it speaks with one voice.

So you can throw that out the window this time.  The messaging chaos, the internecine battles, and the constant leaking almost guarantee that the White House can not win this one, except with very narrow constituencies.

As to the  opportunity to demonstrate competence, note that I said “demonstrate,” not “achieve.”  Anyone who can see anything in the history of the last 100 days that suggests any competence to demonstrate — I have an infrastructure bill to build a new Brooklyn Bridge to sell you.

Much more likely is that the bureaucracy will not go out of its way to minimize harm — except to the most vulnerable, and those efforts will be undercut by those wearing the metal flag pins, and in turn the facts will be leaked.  It will be chaos.

The Democrats know all this, so they have no incentives to trade.  It could be a long shutdown.  What a way to celebrate 100 days, unless Republicans realize that a small set of relatively minor defeats is better than a very big one.

The Party-Switch Way Forward For the Senate

While there are many reasons for the slowness of the institutional response in the political system to Trump, one actually can be fixed quite easily.

Right now, the press are energized, the courts seem to be standing up for judicial supremacy, and the investigatory agencies are still able to get the most disturbing facts before the public.

The problem is that there is no truly independent set of investigations going on, because of the Republican failure.

The simple solution is for three or more senators to shift parties for the purpose of establishing the appropriate investigatory process.  Such a switch, perhaps by McCain, Lindsey and one more, could be limited to the organization of the Senate, and the Rs could still vote with their colleagues on all substantive matters if they wished.  Those three would have to expect to be primaried, but who knows, by the end of this they might be the safest Republican senators.

Anyway, just the threat of this should be enough to get McConnell to back down, set up a true investigation, and allow it to go wherever it goes.  The tax returns alone might be enough.

 

One of the Opportunities that a President Trump Opens Up To Recast the Political System — A Broader Range of Viable Candidates

Amid the shock, fear, and gloom, it may be harder to see beyond to the opportunities that Trumps non-plurality election may create.

At a minimum, the election shows that the electorate is willing to consider a broader range of kinds of people as potential presidents.  Indeed, the election of Obama and the nomination of Hilary Clinton, and perhaps even the success of Sanders, showed the same thing, albeit in a different way.

So perhaps, we should be thinking about what kind of a person progressive might be grooming to be a candidate, and thinking way beyond the traditional categories of governors, senators, and maybe mayors.

Maybe we should be thinking about people whose candidacy would be about their history with ideas and movements, rather than with power.

Maybe the feminist candidate should be someone who has run Emily’s list, not been a Senator.  Maybe the equality candidate is someone who has promoted equality through projects and advocacy, rather than writing tax bills.  Maybe the innovation candidate should be someone who has created not leveraged businesses, but whole new kinds of ideas that also work in the market.  Maybe the authenticity candiate is someone who has spent a lifetime bursting bubbles of pomposity.

In any event, they should be people capable of communicating real ideas, grounded in understanding and direct experience.  That would demonstrate authenticity far better than a rosy biographical video.  They should also be capable of taking on Trump tweet for tweet, fact to lie, vision for fear, community against division, day after day, with equivalent attention.  Al Frankin, time to go back to your roots.

A primary election between a number of such people might well yield a much stronger ultimate candidate and be a proving ground and launch pad for a cabinet of experts, rather than of plutocrats.

Lets start thinking about those kind of candidates, and how they should be positioned.

P.S.  This would actually require that the DNC be ready to return to the structural organizing role that the RNC in fact played in this election, because such candidates would not necessarily have built up the needed organizatins themselves — and that, as we learned with the Clinton campaign, might be a strength.

Understanding the World Election Pattern

The second Austrian election confirms the overall world pattern.

When the vote splits authoritarians against anti-authoritarians, the anti’s win.  But when the anti-authoritarians, for whatever reasons, split between the anti-authoritarians and the authoritarians, the authoritarians win.

So in the US, enough anti-authoritarians, for reasons of anger, message, ignorance, voted for Trump, he won, despite clear authoritarian tendencies and threat.

Hopefully this is a simple warning to the world.  In votes that are about the future of democracy, anti-authoritarians have to do everything they can to attract all the anti-authoritarians, even at the price of short-term and ultimately less important issues.

If you stick to to those policies, you may be effectively abandoning the democratic system, and they you lose the policies anyway.