Welcome to Thunderdome

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Agreeing Loudly’s Empiricist-In-Chief correctly predicted the naming of a Special Prosecutor, former FBI Director Robert Mueller, who was named just prior to this going to publication.

“Ladies and gentlemen. Boys and Girls. Dying Time is Here…” — Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome

By Justin Norris

As we watch the slowing moving car crash that is the Trump administration, and as we watch the GOP in Congress react to said car crash, it is important to remember a few important points.

First, Trump was never popular with most of the GOP elite writ large. Not just in Congress, but across the nation.

Second, like much of the country, it is doubtful that the GOP political establishment believed Trump was going to win the 2016 election.

Third, The Republican civil war was, and is, real.

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When you take these things into account it goes a long way towards explaining the peculiar predicament we find ourselves in today. There was no real plan, and the political establishment for both parties are playing it by ear.

To lend some context here, we should discuss the nature of governance in the American political system. As any student of American politics can tell you, eliciting lasting change within the separation of powers system is difficult under the best of circumstances. Because of how our system is structured there are numerous choke points throughout the legislative process for which bills can die. Indeed, the most likely outcome for any given bill is an unceremonious death. If one has any hope of getting bills enacted into law it requires large enough political coalitions in both chambers of Congress to circumvent the many different choke points, and then it must get past presidential action. And things have only become more difficult as political polarization has increased in recent times.

Since the political parties have become increasingly ideologically homogenous, and because the political parties have moved farther apart both ideologically and politically unified government has become critical for the political parties if they have any hope of enacting their agendas. This is why the GOP elites have been willing thus far to seemingly ignore anything approaching principles. They know this may be their only real chance to push through their agenda for some time. So like any good political opportunists, and most of the denizens of Washington are political opportunists, they know they would be fools to not at least try to take advantage of the hand they’ve been dealt.

This is precisely why folks like Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and much of the GOP rank and file in Congress have been willing to play along up to this point, and why most of them will continue to play along. They have their eyes on the prize.

Like all good cons, this includes a gamble. The GOP elite know that Trump is deeply unpopular. They also know that Trump is incompetent. They’re hoping that despite this they can get through much of their agenda before everything implodes. They hope that winning the legislative victories their political base so deeply craves will be sufficient to shore up enough political support as to withstand the likely backlash they will face in the 2018 midterm elections. And even if the majority does not survive the midterm, they will have at least moved the agenda forward and hopefully put some points on the board by making lasting policy changes.

As far as plans go in American politics this is not a bad one. Indeed, if these were normal times, and if this was a normal president, I’d say this plan would have better than fair odds of working.

But these aren’t normal times, and this isn’t a normal president.

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Some people will read the preceding statements as partisan or ideological. I want to be crystal clear on this point. They are not. Yes, I absolutely have my own political preferences, but I am not discussing those preferences here.

If these were normal political conditions we would not have a sitting president with record low approval ratings for this point in a presidency. We are only a little more than 100 days in, and to date the president has fired an attorney general, fired a national security advisor, fired the head of the FBI, given code word intelligence to the Russians (in the White House no less), and if reporting is to be believed, the president is likely going to fire more members of White House staff by the end of the week. And these are only but a handful of the things that have happened thus far.

Within a little more than 100 days we have had John McCain, the 2008 GOP presidential nominee, state in a public forum that things are starting to look a lot like Watergate. Jason Chaffetz, the epitome of political opportunism, and chair of the House oversight committee has gotten the Speaker of the House to sign on to a letter formally demanding that the FBI hand over all materials related to communications between former director Comey and the president.

This is not normal. Not by a long shot.

As previously stated, the Republicans in Congress knew Trump was inept. To be fair, Trump is, by all accounts a complete and total political amateur, so some ineptitude would likely be inevitable, even he had good instincts for governance. However, Trump has shown a shocking level of ignorance as it relates to the separation of powers system in general, and the nature of governance for the executive branch in particular. In other words, the GOP had no idea just how incompetent Trump really is. Nor did they know how petty and vindictive he really is. And they are all together unprepared to deal with it.

Another wrinkle in the plan is the lack of a plan. Since the GOP didn’t think they were going to win, they did not have any cohesive policy initiatives ready at the starting gate. Paul Ryan has had a list of talking points and unscored, half-baked, initiatives he has been selling for years, but none of them were ready for them to pull the trigger. This has left the GOP scrambling to cobble things together as they have gone. And the results have been disastrous.

Part of the reason the GOP was left flat footed stems from the nature of the GOP caucus in the House, and to a lesser extent, the nature of the GOP conference in the Senate. The GOP, especially in the House, has been fighting its own intraparty war for years now. Though it is cliché to say, the different party factions really do believe they are fighting for the soul of the Republican Party. For outsiders, the differences between the GOP factions may seem trivial, but for insiders they are deeply important, and within the more extreme factions there is a rallying cry for purity at all costs. In other words, there is a lot more disagreement among Republicans than many realize.

This conflict was apparent in the fight waged between House Republicans to get the healthcare bill through the House. The party nearly ripped itself to shreds getting the bill through to the Senate, and the resulting bill is so unpopular the Senate GOP essentially declared it DOA. And repealing and replacing Obamacare was supposed to be the easy part of the agenda. It will only get harder from there.

Despite this, the Republicans in Congress are still largely standing by the president, at least publicly, because they know they may not have this kind of opportunity again for some time. Trump may be deeply flawed but he is still the only viable political option they have at this juncture. But as the scandals deepen, and the drip, drip, drip of news stories continue, the likelihood of political derailment increases. And the longer this goes on, the harder it will become.

Which begs the question, what now?

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As the public moves farther away from Trump, and as his unpopularity deepens, the likelihood that Trump will take the GOP down with him increases. The signs are already coming into place that the 2018 midterm elections could be disastrous for the GOP in Congress.

For example, despite flooding special elections with unheard of amounts of money Republicans have either narrowly held on to a seat that they normally carry by over 20 points, or the race has been forced into a runoff. The GOP will not be able to defend all of their districts this way in the midterm, and some analyses suggest that if the midterms were held today only between 100-150 ‘safe’ Republican seats could withstand the backlash.

Moreover, several credible polls have come out in the last two weeks suggesting that Democrats hold a double-digit lead in the so-called ‘generic ballot,’ a routine polling question asking respondents to either state their preference for who should run Congress or state which party they would vote for. One poll puts the gap at sixteen points. To put this in context, an eight to nine point gap often signals a defeat for the majority party.

However, the election is not being held tomorrow, and a week can be a lifetime in American politics, let alone almost two years. The Republicans have time, and unless things get worse, or even if they stay the same, the GOP in Congress will have little incentive to break away from the Trump administration for some time.

But what about Watergate? This is a question I’ve heard often in the last few days, and I readily admit that the comparison easily comes to mind. It is true that the Republicans in Congress turned against Nixon, and stood for the republic against their own president. However, it’s important to point out that the Republicans were the minority party at that time, and most Republicans did not turn against Nixon until the end, after two long years. Even still, some Republicans stood with Nixon to the bitter end. It is entirely possible that if Republicans controlled Congress the situation would have played out quite differently.

That being said, cracks are beginning to form. Some rank and file Republicans are openly discussing impeachment, and some GOP leaders are calling for more stringent investigations. But that’s all it is at this point, talk. If things remain as they are, and do not get worse, it is possible that the GOP will stick with Trump and take their chances in the midterm elections. But if things continue to get worse, which I think is likely, I fully expect more and more rank and file Republicans will break ranks and openly run against Trump because they want to try and save their seats. If things continue to get worse we will reach a point where congressional leadership will cut their losses and turn against Trump to try and salvage the party brand, if not the majorities themselves.

And this may not result in impeachment. At this juncture impeachment is a real possibility, which is not something I was willing to say two weeks ago, but I still don’t think it’s likely. At least not soon. I think it’s more likely that if things continue to deteriorate GOP leadership will cave and put together a bipartisan commission to investigate. If things get really bad they may move to appoint a special prosecutor. It is also possible that events will connive to take things out of their hands.

For example, the Justice Department could conceivably appoint a special prosecutor, or the different grand juries could deliver indictments. In which case the calculus for the GOP largely remains the same. Except now they have some additional cover, because they can point to the nonpartisan investigations and say, ‘we should not be hasty until the investigations conclude.’

However, I think it’s likely that most of the GOP’s legislative agenda is dead. Credible polling data consistently shows that a solid majority of likely voters are strongly opposed to Trump and the GOP legislative agenda. Solid majorities also favor thorough nonpartisan investigations. And as the media dedicates more time and resources to covering the cascading Trump scandals it will destroy any momentum behind legislative prerogatives, regardless of whether there is ultimately an independent investigation(s).

Given how egregiously the GOP in Congress broke from norms, protocol, and traditions during the Obama administration I don’t feel bad for them.

Unfortunately, as it was during the Obama administration, this is bad for the republic.

But if Republicans in Congress are indeed reaping what they have sewn then my response is this:

Welcome to Thunderdome.  

The Margin of Error – Episode 20 “1! 2! Ah-1, 2, 3, 4!” with Troy Olson

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Allan and Carson are joined by Troy Olson to talk about the GOP’s epic failure that was the AHCA, the peculiar racism of conservative reading lists, and whether or not Millennial wages will ever recover from the Great Recession.

The first of what hopefully are many weekly (bi-monthly) updates promoting the latest episode of the excellent podcast The Margin of Error co-hosted by Allan Branstiter and Carson Starkey. In the future this website will be shamelessly, unapologetically, and proudly posting and promoting each episode, along with Bruce Springsteen music, and Jimmy Buffett retirement communities.

Hey, Carson — don’t ya think it’s time we have another installment of Conversations with the Ghost of America’s Future Past? Trump-era edition?

 

Waiting for Galt

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Who Is John Galt?

by Carson Starkey

Americans are living through a unique time of political paradox. Elected officials and ideological enthusiasts possess the capacity to blanket media outlets with an endless variety of messages. They can hoist the banners for the War on Christmas, announce the urgent need for English-only or flag burning constitutional amendments, and trumpet the inevitable anarchy that follows from women wearing pants. Ordinary voters are under constant surveillance whenever they’re not screeching at passing cars or talk radio programs. Traffic cameras capture every move in urban life. Police departments shake down working people with fines and tickets designed to raise revenue while shuttling mostly people of color into feedback loops of poverty and incarceration (Ta-Nehisi Coates, “The Ferguson Report, March 5, 2015). In a time of unrestrained access and monitoring, we can  rely on one phenomenon to remain mystical and undefined…conservative public policies.

We can draw a straight line from Massachusetts Puritans and Virginia planters telling their social subordinates (usually people of color, women, and the economically disadvantaged) to accept The Almighty’s judgment to Donald Trump and Paul Ryan assuring Fox News viewers that they have soon-to-be-disclosed but for now secret plans for every socioeconomic ill. Donald Trump will defeat ISIS…somehow, but he can’t tell how or when. Congressional Republicans will find a way to insure more people with lower costs by repealing the Affordable Care Act…somehow, but they can’t explain when/how that will happen, what the trade offs will entail, or who will make sacrifices. For the past forty years, conservatives have been promising higher wages and greater economic security for the majority of Americans, but they always get distracted by massive upward redistributions of wealth in the form of rich people welfare (tax cuts and subsidies), and forget to administer their previously promised plebeian quality of life expansion. Which goes a long way towards explaining why wages have been stagnant since Bruce Springsteen first introduced us to Mary’s swaying dress (Economic Policy Institute, “Wage Stagnation in Nine Charts, January 6, 2015, Reference to Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road,” from the “Born to Run” album, 1975).

We soon observe that the Puritans, planters, and free market Praetorians never disclose their highly touted solutions. They stay perched in their fortresses, plantations, and penthouses, smirking through slavery, monstrous economic inequality, and foreign policy catastrophes. Are John Galt’s acolytes secretive, dishonest, or clueless?

Much like the work of Ayn Rand, the answer is unsophisticated and disheartening. Little about our political and economic history can be described accurately as prologue. American conservatives lack originality, though we should stress that they always have plenty of ideas, as a common refrain among liberals is that conservatives have run out of ideas. To borrow from Sam Elliot’s immortal Big Lebowski Narrator, far from it dude. You can thank Saint Louis Park, Minnesota after you finish reading this entry. Conservatives have plenty of ideas…aggressively unpopular, unfair, unworkable ideas that, when implemented by elected officials and other powerful individuals, impose needless suffering on large swathes of less powerful people. Their policy solutions are always variations of faith-based healing. Pray to somebody-Republican Jesus (who directs His followers to harm the poor, use violence to solve every problem, and create incomprehensible financial instruments in The Temple), John Galt, Alan Greenspan, a buffoonish Macy’s tie salesman with a silly toupee, or a polytheistic assortment of billionaires-and hope that your chosen omnipotent figure alleviates your earthly suffering. When your prayers go unanswered, go back to work and await further instructions from the appropriate cable news commentator.

The boring truth is that Nick Hanauer was right. If conservative policies have or had any connection to reality, America would be a wildly different place than it is in 2017. We’d be drowning in jobs because rich people would have trickled oceans of wealth down upon us as byproducts from their obscene tax code-derived welfare gifts that Ronald “avowed segregationist and apartheid supporter” Reagan and George W. “trillion dollar investor in Iraq and Afghanistan” Bush bequeathed them. Instead, Americans live with horrific, multi-generational poverty from Appalachia to East Los Angeles. (Nick Hanauer’s TED Talk, March 2012).

Now would be a good time to stop waiting for John Galt, because nobody has ever laid eyes upon him. Which means that he’s not coming. Not now, not at any time during President Tie Salesman’s administration, and not ever. You can mourn that fact, or you can take actions to improve your quality of life.

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John Galt Does Not Exist.

by Troy Olson

Exactly. Who is John Galt? Not Donald Trump, not Mark Zuckerberg, and quite frankly – not anyone who has ever actually existed on this planet.

There are a few that certainly come close, but even they had to have parents, a community, teachers, mentors, a road and a bridge to make their work, ideas, or innovations possible.

President Trump and the one-party state is not building roads and bridges, they are building a wall and using fear and hate to make terrified people more terrified. Where will it all end?

Well for starters, it won’t work. New policies will indeed be undertaken and passed, implemented and forged. But America will not be made great again or whole again, and what is great about America will recede before us as long as Trump and the one party GOP state is in office. I want this country to succeed. Usually I would cheer triumphantly for our leaders to succeed in helping improve the country. Not this President, and not this administration. For their political success will be the undoing of centuries of democracy, norms and traditions, and their policies will not work because the last four decades already inform us that they will not work. That’s right. Everything they are undertaking has already been attempted and failed miserably by policy outcome measures and the preferences of the American people, who as seen below, prefer a set of wildly different policies.

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While Trump will say the people are behind him, when it comes to their policy preferences, soaking the rich with more and more welfare handouts will prove disastrous for the financial and democratic health of this country.
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A broad cross-section of America feels that we should be increasing income taxes for people making over $250,000 per year.

Simply put, we know that policies of tax giveaways to the rich, corporate socialism, and forever war won’t work because the last 40 years have happened.

The thirty year time span after World War II, when the labor share of income was at its highest, was the most broadly prosperous time in American history.

Why? Because we invested in people. Wages rose with inflation and productivity rather than stagnated. We led with ideas and committed to the fundamental aspects of our national character that actually made us great:

1. Quality public education, for more and more people.

2. Investments in continually modernizing infrastructure like roads, bridges, and the interstate highway system.

3. Yes, Open Immigration laws so that the best and the brightest are drawn here, and so that those seeking opportunity add to American life, continually energizing our society with new ideas and perspectives. This one has had a few interruptions, but broadly speaking throughout American history our laws have been welcoming.

4. Government support for Research and Development (remember when we went to the moon?).

5. Implementation of necessary and proper regulation on private economic activity (sorry folks, Donald Trump won’t magically make your 401k go up, but the next financial crash brought to you by Government Sachs and the big five surely will deplete it).

Even before Trump, we have been drifting away from all of this.

If you think doubling and tripling-down on these policies is going to actually “Make America Great Again” I’ve got some land to sell you on the planet Alderaan.

#MakeAlderaanExistAgain

All of these policies, whether by the administration or by Speaker Ryan and the GOP Congress are built upon an Ayn Randian worldview that fundamentally, like Karl Marx before, misunderstands and misrepresents what a human being actually is and wants. Human beings are not cut out for the rugged individualism of Atlas Shrugged, or Steve Jobs biopics.

Individualism has its place, but without a compassionate community to support, foster, and nurture people into productive members of a civil society, then all is lost. Human beings are by our very nature-overwhelmingly social beings. All religions and biological theories of human beings recognize this key distinction. Even our love of ideas springs from our love of people. We would not have made it this far if we just wanted to construct walls, divide, and hate one another.

Just as elements of collectivist thought failed to account for the spirit of individualism present in our society, so to will the Randian politics implemented by authoritarian measures. These policies will fail and ruin this land. Because this is not what people are about. We take care of our own, and we do it with a little help from our friends.

#WeAllDoBetterWhenWeAllDoBetter

From Natural to Political: What Weather Can Teach Us About Political Disasters

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Agreeing Loudly is thrilled to introduce you to Monica Powell; writer, proud public school educator, and a new contributor to the site. Check out her bio here and check out her writing below.

By Monica Powell

It was the middle of winter and I stood at the busstop, jacket-less. My teeth chattered violently as we waited for the bus to arrive. My best friend threw her scarf around my shoulders. “You’re like a pigeon,” she said. “You keep making the same mistakes over and over again.”

Though ten years have lapsed since a school bus was my primary mode of transportation, I have lost neither the nickname nor the habit of being consistently underprepared for the weather. This memory came flooding back to me during the Women’s March, when I relied on the densely packed bodies (as opposed to my pathetically thin coat and socks) to keep me warm.

In the days since our 45th president was elected, I have been thinking a lot about the concept of preparedness. I think of the nation’s shock on election night, how millions of people–regular citizens, news pundits, elected officials, were all completely dumbfounded by the results of the election. Despite all evidence pointing towards this impending disaster, what made us “forget our jacket,” so to speak? And more importantly, how can we prepare for future storms?  

According to the New York Times, in the wake of an impending natural disaster, “even after all of the best practices in emergency communications are exhausted, 5% of the population will remain in harm’s way.” Perhaps when we look closer at the belief systems that provide us reasons to ignore natural disasters, we can find insight into how an entire nation managed to come face-to face with this catastrophic social and political disaster.

Reason #1: Gauging Risk

“It can’t be that bad.” Researchers heard this type of response again and again from people who opted to defy mandatory evacuation notices during Sandy and Katrina. Speaking from my own experience with a politically conservative father, I heard this sort of rhetoric many times leading up to the election. “He can’t be that bad,” my dad would insist. “He won’t be able to do half of the stuff he’s claiming to do.” Like the Katrina victim dumbfounded by their destroyed house, my father shakes his head in disbelief as our president gets to work making good on each and every horrific campaign promise. And this is only week one.

Reason #2: Lack of Exposure

It is difficult to be afraid of what you don’t know. Many who defied evacuation orders did so because they had never been in a hurricane and they couldn’t imagine the extent of damage it could cause. When you have no frame of reference, how can you possibly imagine the power of a hurricane? Sandy and Katrina victims quickly learned that these storms were beyond anything they could have imagined. Politically speaking, this was the circumstance for millions of Americans during the 2016 election. Having lived the last quarter century under Clinton, Bush and Obama, it is difficult to imagine a President Trump. It was difficult to imagine (for both liberals and conservatives alike) the amount of damage one man could truly cause.

Reason #3: People Have Short Memories

Oddly enough, it wasn’t only people who had never experienced a hurricane who opted to stay behind in Sandy and Katrina. It was like how the moment I got inside that warm bus, memories of the jacket-less cold were soon forgotten. Or how the pain of childbirth doesn’t discourage women from their second or third pregnancy. Humans have short memories, particularly for uncomfortable, painful things that they’d sooner forget. Memories of past hurricanes fade into hazy memories. When the next time newscasters are predicting a storm, many hurricane survivors will revise history, insisting it wasn’t so bad the last time, that surely this one couldn’t be worse than storms survived in the past. Half of our country chose to ignore the historical parallels between President Trump and one German Fascist. They willfully refuse to see the parallels between these two men, both obsessed with making broken countries “great again” through increased government control and racial and religious purification.

The most troubling connection between these natural and political disasters are the populations who are impacted the worst. In the four years to come, the people who will be hit the hardest will be the elderly, the poor, and racial and ethnic minorities. It is our job to protect those who will have the hardest time protecting themselves. It is our responsibility to stay vigilant towards all policies that come out of this administration, particularly those that put the safety of marginalized populations at risk.

In the 2016 Presidential election, this storm caught us by surprise. It is a matter of national security for us to create a disaster relief plan for the 2018 election. So call your representatives. Check your sources. Peacefully protest and march. Let’s make sure we are prepared.

Judiciary is Conspicuously Missing from WhiteHouse.gov as Being Part of the Federal Government

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As of 10:20 PM EST on January 29th, on the tenth day of the Trump administration — the Judicial Branch of the Federal Government is conspicuously absent from WhiteHouse.gov

According to the Way Back Machine on the InterWebs, the Obama Administration had The Judicial Branch of  the Federal Government on its website. While this could have been an oversight, rather than a deliberate political move, like the status of LGBT Americas, Climate Change, Health Care, and Civil Rights, I believe this is a deliberate attempt to delegitimize the Courts, which are the last vestiges in the way of one party fascist rule (in addition to the rights guaranteed us by the Constitution, which must be enforced each and every day by WE THE PEOPLE), and the basic decency and goodness of the American People and our communities.

It takes a long time for the Courts to change over. As you may know, the Supreme Court has had a right wing tilt for a generation or two, but the lower courts have turnover at a much faster pace. While an obstructionist GOP often blocked President Obama’s nominees to the Federal courts – he was able to appoint a total of 329 federal judges, including U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sotomayer and Justice Kagan.

This legacy of judicial appointments also includes 55 Courts of Appeals judges, 268 judges to the District courts, and a couple dozen more to specialty courts under Article III  (International Trade), Article I (Federal Claims, Tax Courts, Veterans Claims, Military Commission Review, Armed Forces), and Article IV Territorial courts.

This eight year legacy of judicial appointments, the day-to-day bureaucracy, and the majority of the American people stand in the way of significant parts of the Trump Agenda. We’ve already seen constant attempts to delegitimize the media (although they do a pretty good job doing that on their own), and I believe we’ll see more and more of this as long as District court judges stay executive orders, rule legislation unconstitutional, etc. This “battle of the Federal Government branches” mathematically can only last eight years, or even fewer than that.

Why? Because if we allow one party rule under this President and his administration for that length of time, the judges appointed will be far more favorable to executive orders like the one that swept across the nation this weekend.

This has been a dispatch from Publius – a Public Citizen of the “Sons and Daughters of Liberty” – writing from the island where Lady Liberty welcomes new Americans to the land of opportunity, holding a torch, which will burn a little less brightly if WE THE PEOPLE – do not do our duty in the years to come.

The Tragedy in Aleppo and the Assassination of the Russian Ambassador.

 

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The above map (sources indicated) and timeline speaks for itself. The situation in Syria, and especially in Aleppo is deep and complex, there are no good sides, no good or easy answers, and so far — nothing but tragic outcomes.

In the midst of the U.S. Presidential Election this year, nearly everyone in the media, and far too many Americans, have ignored the humanitarian catastrophe that is currently unfolding its latest tragic chapter in Syria. The city of Aleppo, which one or more candidates for the highest office in the land, were clueless about, at least in name (and probably many other areas as well). It has been unfolding for the last five years or so. Its roots go back even further.

We have ignored it, and this website, dedicated to cultural and political commentary, is no exception.

My first inklings of things going awfully wrong in Syria were during my deployment to the Middle East in 2011 and 2012. I, like most soldiers, was singularly focused on our specific mission or would-be missions at the time. However, throughout the ESNN (Enlisted Soldiers News Network) there were plenty of rumors about the situation exploding in Syria and worries over re-deployment there from where we were at in Kuwait (completely unfounded at the time of course). By the time I got back to the United States, and certainly after President Obama was re-elected, ISIS, or ISL, or the Islamic State, very much became a “thing” and a new “wedge” in American political discourse. Much of the discourse was hysterical and unfounded rhetoric, ill-informed and ignorant of the history in the region, let alone recent history. The Syrian civil war, is so complex, that I cannot even begin to explain it in this thousand word article. Instead–I’ll arrive at the timeless news of today. Thousands are dead in Aleppo, many of them innocent children. The complete and utter breakdown in humanity is staggering, and disappointing.

President Barack Obama is a great man, a great example to follow, but a good President. Not a great one.

There have only been three great Presidents — Washington, Lincoln, and FDR. President Obama, while historic, does not belong in the “great” category. He is Woodrow Wilson. Some great ideals, some of the right instincts, a professor-like image, certainly historical, but a lasting legacy that will be shaped more from what he is, rather than what he did or did not do. The Obama policy record on socio-cultural issues is comparatively strong, but very muddled and mixed on economic and foreign policy issues, which are issues the President has far more influence and control over. To be fair, he is still the best President of most of our lifetimes. To be fair to his overall foreign policy record: here are a few select areas where he did well:

  • He has removed over 3/4 the troop levels that he inherited from the Bush administration in Afghanistan and Iraq. While he incorrectly “surged” in Afghanistan in the beginning to do so, getting down to historically low levels of troops in the post-9/11 era is no small feat.
  • Despite lowering troop levels, through his use of special forces and our vast intelligence network, he oversaw the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden.
  • He has overseen a policy that has removed roughly 3/4 of the numbers of the Islamic State and suffered very few American casualties while doing so.
  • He understands “smart power” and the limits of American power in the 21st century. He likes to do foreign policy quietly, and he understands that patience is very, very important sometimes to achieve goals that exclusive use of military force cannot achieve.
  • He understands that it is only through using every tool in the toolbox: economic, diplomatic, and the military, that the U.S. can achieve or get closer to achieving its foreign policy goals.

President Obama was and still is a good foreign policy President, I strongly suspect history will be relatively kind to him, but he is most certainly not a great foreign policy President. Very few are.

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Turning back to the humanitarian catastrophe and breakdown of systems and humanity in Syria — there is no longer any running away from the fact that regarding the Syrian Civil War, the international community, regional organizations and power-players, and yes, the United States of America — has failed. This failure of leadership, includes our current President, Barack Obama. No one is safe from it.

Certainly, we’re all human and we make mistakes. A situation like Syria however, where a lack of leadership on the international stage has transpired, will only get worse and more frequent under a Trump administration.

Make no mistake about it — Pax America, for all its warts and faults, is dead.

There is still, however, a great need for solid American leadership on the world stage. There is a need for smart, effective, proportional, and humble American leadership.

For the next four to eight years at least, we will not have that.

Earlier today our time, the Russian ambassador to Turkey was assassinated in Ankara. A lone Turkish gunman stepped right out of a James Bond film, and shot and killed the Russian ambassador, shouting “don’t forget Aleppo!”

All acts of violence represent a failure in the human character and a failure of political systems to solve problems and disagreements. Russia and many others have failed humanity by propping up an Assad regime that is at least as terrible as the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq that the United States spent more than $2 trillion on, at the cost of thousands of American soldiers’ lives, and well over a hundred thousand civilian lives.

The assassination of the Russian ambassador today is similarly reprehensible. However, it does not represent what Franz Ferdinand represented in the lead-up to World War I.

World War I was caused by many factors, the chief driving one, being nationalism and two power-blocs codifying that system of nationalism via treaties. In general terms — we can describe that as the world retreating to comfortable, but worn corners. That is also what is happening today. Be worried, but do not freak out and do not lose hope. Not only is the Russian ambassador not Franz Ferdinand–but Franz Ferdinand himself is not Franz Ferdinand. In 1914, only folks like Lord Grantham cared about Franz Ferdinand. Ferdinand represented the excuse to do what the powers that be wanted to do anyway. Remember this: large and powerful nation-states only go to war when they think they have something to gain. There is a country that looks like that today: Russia.

But it will not be now and it will not be here.

If you are now very concerned, you should have already been concerned. Russian aggression, combined with rising nationalism in Europe, and the world retreating to “comfortable, but worn corners”, has been going on for nearly a decade. Recent Russian aggressions in Ukraine, Georgia and the ones that will likely transpire in the future (next four to eight years), most likely in Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania (all NATO  member-countries), should concern us all. I dearly hope I’m wrong about those last three predictions, but thus far, this website has a track record of being relatively right about political predictions, and ridiculously wrong about sports predictions.

Like the slow burn of the last decade or so, we will continue to see the rise of far right-wing, national front-type parties in Europe. And if that battle over the future of history is not fought now rhetorically at home, and abroad, I cannot promise anyone anything.

Cat President.

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Harrison “Harry” Potter, Cat President of the United States. Official portrait to come… as Mr. Cat President had trouble sitting still for it. We’ll get there.

Our new President is known by many names, Harold, Harry, Harrison, Mr. Potter, and now he is known as — Mr. Cat President. “Give ‘Em Hell” Harry (furry version) rode a similar wave of populist appeal and active (albeit sporadic and at times nonsensical) campaigning to come from behind and shock the political world a la President Truman decades earlier. Had Mr. Cat President the thumbs to hold up his version of the “Dewey Defeats Truman” paper, he would have. Perhaps it is fitting that he instead slept on it while an excited but exhausted campaign worker tried to read it.

Cat President’s meteoric rise to the Presidency captivated the nation. Cat President was born in a rain-filled barn in rural America, now he lives on a high-rise, swanky Manhattan apartment. The late, great Bert Cooper (of Sterling Cooper), were he alive today, might remark that Cat President is an “astronaut.”  While many thought he would be vulnerable to attacks from opponents, citing elitism, Cat President never forgot his roots and was driven by fundamental life changing moments early in life which led to some amazing speeches, namely — the fact that he was abandoned shortly after birth. The outpouring of sympathy from the electorate and his “bootstraps” story was a spectacle to behold.

The details of the campaign, and his subsequent term, were driven by his fundamental unreasonableness and lack of respect for anyone. Many were often offended. However, people respected that Cat President was not a sell out. He didn’t beg you for votes. He demanded them. And then he demanded more from you. Campaign donations. A bizarre amount of food donations, etc. And he drove his field team to the point of exhaustion and never seemed to allow them to fall asleep for more than a few hours. He claims he was just “making sure they were alive.” When campaign insiders drifted too far into the “bubble” of campaign-world, staring directly at computer screens, or “light-boxes” as he so bluntly called them, Cat President demanded the attention from those on the campaign. The same attention he demanded from the nation.

There is no doubt the media is baffled by this development. There is no denying the inaction of Cat President in his first term. There have been no new laws. But the trains are still running on time because of the rest of the executive branch having opposable thumbs. There is one thing you can say about the mixed first term of Cat President, he does well with appointments. Except for visits to the vet… which lead him to hair loss, which could help him politically. Gee… that Cat President sure is working hard. He’s working for all of us.

Cat President didn’t get much done this term, but sometimes… no decisions are better than bad ones. You know what I mean, and if you do not you will soon.

Agreeing Loudly Presents “The Lost Nixon Tapes”

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Portrait of President Richard M. Nixon

While we are awaiting the regular launch of the 2nd season of the Agreeing Loudly flagship “Coast to Coast” podcast with Pat, Bill, Jered, and various special guests — we thought we’d clue everyone in on some fantastic developments that our “Spotlight” team has been working on — the “Lost” Nixon Tapes. Like Presidents before him and some since, 37th President Richard M. Nixon taped nearly his entire Presidency. After the watergate scandal and being the first and only U.S. President to resign the office before his term was up, Nixon fought hard to protect the release of his tapes. Even today, not all of them have been released. Which brings us to now… our “Spotlight” team has discovered a cache of “Lost” Nixon White House tapes. Here is the first video below. For best results, since the audio is difficult to understand given that it was recorded decades ago, put your subtitles on.

 

Cultural Conservatism and the Politics of Rage

 

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During a recent episode of FiveThirtyEight’s “Elections” podcast, Harry Enten mentioned a phrase I haven’t thought of for a while that I thought warranted a second look. Enten’s been a vocal critic of not only Trump, but the wave of “cultural conservatism” behind his campaign’s success. He suggested that the core fissure within the Republican Party of 2016 exists between “Trumpian” cultural conservatives and social conservatives like Ted Cruz—which led me to wonder What is cultural conservatism and are we in its moment?

 

Social Conservatism

It’s probably best to start with an idea most politically engaged people are familiar with: social conservatism. This ideology within the American conservative impulse bases its worldview and governing philosophy upon traditional religious morality, especially in regards to gender relations, reproductive rights, sexual behavior, and marriage. While they use the rhetoric of “small government,” social conservatives also tend to support policies that enforce and protect their moral beliefs while prohibiting activities seen as immoral. Their candidates will usually emphasize their religious affiliation and run in support of “family values.”

It’s important to remember that social conservatives are not always economic conservatives—in fact, it is often an economically ambivalent ideology. Nor are they always Christians or white—they are often Muslim, Catholic, or Jewish, and they are present within every ethnic or racial community in the United States. One reason I believe Bernie Sanders failed so miserably during the Democratic primary campaign in the South is because he did not grasp the power of social conservatism within the African-American communities of the region.

Which leads to a final point: social conservatives aren’t necessarily Republicans. It’s probably more effective to understand social conservatism as moral code rather than a political ideology. As such, it reflects the vast diversity of “traditional” moral thinking within the United States, and those who seek to bring about social change succeed when they account for this heterogeneity. LGBT rights and same-sex marriage made significant advances when they appealed to the immorality of oppressing their community and emphasized their desire to enter into the institution of marriage. Simply put, social conservatism is a moral code with inclusionary aspirations. It seeks to not only protect, but expand its moral code. It is an ideology that believes in change, despite its fear of revolutionary action.

 

Cultural Conservatism

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“Minorities Welcome! Only ‘good ones’ need apply!”

Cultural conservatism, on the other hand, is an inherently exclusionary ideology that believes in the supremacy of value systems and political practices based upon nationalist identity. While cultural conservatives don’t necessarily need to be religious, its Trumpian form is founded upon a belief that the United States has traditionally and should always be governed by Euro-American Christian nationalism. Even among supporters who don’t regularly attend church, their worldview is widely influenced by a racial and religious sense of nationalism. American cultural conservatives aren’t necessarily social or economic conservatives—they believe in nation about all else. Citizens are free to ascribe to any ethical or religious code, as long as it doesn’t threaten the integrity and security of the nation. They also believe that cultural outsiders can be brought into the nation, but only if they assimilate fully into the dominant culture—as opposed to diluting it through multiculturalism.

It’s also tempting to paint all cultural conservatives and Trump supporters as racists; however, it is more accurate to understand them as xenophobic above all else. American cultural conservatives view alien “others” as threats to themselves, their interests, and their county. Threatened as they imagine they are, cultural conservatives seek to bring order to chaos through social order, national integrity, law and order, and economic protectionism. Their ideal world is one divided by clear borders, with nations free to protect their physical and economic interests. In their minds, liberalism and globalism has destroyed order and left poor and middle people vulnerable to exploitation. Finally, American cultural conservatives also support social welfare programs, but only for “members” and “good outsiders” (members receiving clear priority).

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Is this a Cultural Conservative Moment?

Of course it is. Whereas political conflict in since the 1960s has been between liberals and conservatives, I believe that we are entering a period of pluralism versus cultural conservatism. This should come as no surprise. While Republican leaders have, from time to time, continue to roll back the policies of a bygone battle—repealing Social Security, Medicare, and Medicade, or defunding higher education—its non-elite rank-and-file have been motivated by cultural and nationalistic concerns for at least twenty years. In the past, many of these populists put their faith in party, church, and class affiliations, but today they feel as if these institutions have failed or even betrayed them. The “imagined community” of nationalism is all that remains, and they’ve put all their hopes in the dream that is a strong American nation led by the most talented spinner of nationalistic fantasy—Donald Trump.

The prevalence of cultural conservatism within the currently Republican Party manifests itself not only in its nationalistic rhetoric, but in its firm rejection of traditional social conservatism. The RNC’s vocal rejection of Ted Cruz, paragon of the Old Order, was striking. So was its response to Donald Trump’s pro-“LGBT . . . Q” line. As striking as these were, we should be careful not to believe that the Republican Party is moving into a new era of social progressivism and cultural pluralism. For all the talk about sexual justice, legal justice, economic prosperity, equal pay, and maternity leave, Trump and his surrogates were plucking a dangerous and reactionary chord.

The cultural conservatives currently run the Republican Party. They value nothing more than Euro-American Christian nationalism. They offer acceptance, economic support, sexual liberation, and justice to only those who support their definition of the American nation. Anyone who does not conform is perceived as a dangerous outsider who should be excluded from membership in the national community. Trump didn’t create this moment, nor will it end in November. The history of the United States is a history of justice versus oppression. Our history is also one of alternating nationalistic, pluralistic, liberal, and illiberal impulses. In 2016, the Republican Party has embraced the cultural conservatism and all of its white supremacist and nationalistic baggage.

Come November 8th, the people of the United States will elect one of two candidates, and neither will be named Gary Johnson or Jill Stein. Anyone who votes for Trump or aids him in his potential victory will be abetting the same cultural conservative impulse that gave us Jim Crow, mass lynchings, Chinese massacres, and Know-Nothingism. That’s the kind of moment we’re in.

Benefit of the Doubt

Two things. One, I have long promised the third part of a three-part journey of my wife and I moving to New York City. Two, given the events of the past 48 hours, I just cannot bring myself to write that article yet.

There are no words that I can say that are adequate for how I and so many other people feel right now. My feelings are inadequate in comparison to the despair and pain of so many right now. I can only write from my personal experiences and hope to on some level, gain a level of perspective and empathy for the experiences of others. Walk a mile in someone else’s skin Atticus Finch said. But like the long awaited sequel to the classic “To Kill a Mockingbird” published earlier this past year, this statement is limiting.

I don’t know what it is like to be a Black American. I cannot even claim to relate to anyone’s pain or experiences. If it were not for my experiences serving in the military, I am the epitome of entitlement in this country absent having the last name of Kennedy, Bush, Rockefeller or Clinton. Those experiences also give me another status. The status of being a veteran. One of the few remaining statuses, jobs, professions still with net-positive approval ratings in the United States of America right now. One of the others in recent polling was that of a police officer, who we often give the benefit of the doubt.

This is not meant to disparage the law enforcement profession, I’m not writing this piece to comment on the specific facts of the case. Countless violence has taken hold of our nation once again. I write now for the third time about violence in this country on this website. Instead of talking about guns I’m going to talk about people.

While I want so much to hide behind the satire that often characterizes Agreeing Loudly, I cannot bring myself to do so. I’ll get to the point directly.

There is something wrong when a country that comprises of the highest GDP on the planet and half of the so-called most elite universities cannot solve issues or improve outcomes that are clear as day.

There is something wrong when statistics show that law enforcement in America are trained eight times more on firearms than they are on deescalation of violence.

There is something wrong when policing outcomes provide racial disparities that fly in the face of basic sense and logic.

As much as I’d like to try and find silver linings, it’s become increasingly difficult the last few days. I’ll get there, but you’ll have to bear with me.

If you read my biography on this website, or elsewhere, I appear as the model student. When I was teenager, however, I was a truant and rebellious. I was an extremely bored kid in middle America who was not being challenged or engaged. I had a blade pulled on me when I was 18 years old by a neighbor for no apparent reason other than I was a young kid (another bias of this country, assuming members of a certain age must be up to no good) hanging out in the neighborhood that I resided in at the time. AL’s own Pat Meacham can verify this story. My neighbor pulled out a blade on me for “his protection.” I was unarmed and completely freaked out. Luckily, the situation resolved itself.

Not long after that, I was driving to vote in my hometown district in the 2004 Presidential Election when a seemingly deranged Vikings fan, perhaps upset of their loss earlier that day, pulled over his car, assaulted me, and took my keys. His alibi was that I was tail-gating him. Perhaps I was. That’s not the point.

The point is that when I think of those two instances where individuals who weighed more than me, were older than me, were in positions of power over me–I wonder if I’d even be alive today if I did not have white skin. Perhaps others would disagree, but I do not think I would be. More to the point, if I had black skin I’d likely be dead.

I was not perfect at this age, but in each of these instances I meant no harm. For the aggressive individual, I was wishing and hoping for them to give me that benefit of the doubt while I was just living my life at the time. It’s the same benefit I hope for if I happened to be driving with a broken taillight.

And that’s the kicker. The benefit of the doubt.

This country as it currently stands, does not give Black Americans the benefit of the doubt. We give law enforcement that benefit. Many even gave vigilante cop school drop-out George Zimmerman that benefit. Some have even gave Cliven Bundy and his band of federal-land holding “patriots” the benefit of the doubt. We rarely give Black Americans the benefit of the doubt though. And this is the ultimate privilege. Getting the benefit of the doubt.

It is a privilege that allows you to live and breathe and work each day, without having to think about the overall statistical unlikelihood that you will be unnecessarily killed. It is a privilege of human safety and comfort that is essential in modern society.

This country is not asking Black Americans to respect and follow the “rule of law” or whatever passes as the rule of law these days. We are asking Black Americans to be perfect, while nearly everyone else gets to have the benefit of the doubt.

Philando Castile did not get the benefit of the doubt. Others have not. Until this fundamental truth is addressed, these tragic events and their tragic aftermath, whether tangentially related or not, will continue in this country.