Category Archives: Public Policy and Governance

The Urban-Rural Divide…Elsewhere

I’ve posted before about the urban/rural divide, and why it’s politically consequential.

In 2014, the Wall Street Journal quoted Neil Levesque, director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics, for the proposition that the differences in the United States aren’t really “red versus blue” but “urban versus rural.” That observation has been echoed widely, as the differences between residents of rural and small-town America and those who live in urban areas have become steadily more pronounced.

Religion–a historically important generator of conflict– is one such difference: urban Americans are more than three times more likely than their rural counterparts to say that religion isn’t particularly important to them. (Attitudes on social issues reflect that difference: rural residents are far more likely to consider homosexuality a sin and to oppose same-sex marriage, to oppose abortion, and to support restrictions on immigration.)

A survey by Pew in 2018 found white rural residents twice as likely as white urban dwellers to insist that they don’t enjoy a social advantage by reason of their skin color.

Rural residents are more likely to be older and poorer and more likely to be isolated than urban dwellers. They are also far more likely to be Republican.

Despite the fact that some 80% of Americans now live in cities, the structure of America’s electoral system continues to significantly advantage rural voters, especially but not exclusively through the operation of the Electoral College. Whether what is called the urban/rural split is defined simply as city versus country, or by a more complex cultural regionalism, those ubiquitous red/blue maps attest to the measurable and consequential differences between urban and rural Americans.

This situation, according to the Washington Post, is not exclusively an American phenomenon.A report from 2016 suggests a very similar state of affairs in Europe.

What shaped European politics over the past two years might appear to some like a revolution of rural Europe rising up against the establishment and economic winners.

Support for Britain leaving the European Union was highest in rural areas in the June referendum.

It is also “rural France” that might empower far-right politician Marine Le Pen next year.

In Germany, the urban establishment underestimated the backlash the recent influx of refugees would provoke in less densely populated areas.

In rural northern Europe, the article tells us, younger, better educated men and women have moved to cities to find employment. That statement also describes states like Indiana, where small towns continue to empty out as young people depart for more densely populated cities.

Even in federal republics like Germany, which lack the dominance of one single capital city, an urban-rural disconnect is increasingly visible. Whereas Berlin has attracted foreigners and Germans alike, its surrounding areas have seen a rapid demographic change. Supermarkets have closed, and bus connections were canceled as a result. It is a pattern which can be observed all over Europe at the moment.

The description of those who have stayed in Europe’s rural areas is familiar here too: a feeling of being left behind has replaced the pride of place that used to characterize small villages and hamlets. Rural residents exhibit a sense of abandonment and replacement that the article suggests is largely responsible for the election of Trump and the vote for Brexit.

When people feel left behind, they want someone to blame.

And as these native Britons feel trapped with no economic future, they see images of an increasingly diverse population in the cities. To many Brexit supporters, concerns over an influx of immigrants were among the reasons they voted to leave the E.U.

In Germany, similar feelings have created a different kind of backlash: anti-immigration protests and anti-refugee attacks. Economically distressed eastern Germany has seen the vast majority of those attacks. That region, an area which consists of five states excluding Berlin, accounts for only about 15 percent of the German population. Yet the majority of anti-immigrant attacks took place in the country’s east in 2015.

In one way, it’s comforting to recognize that we aren’t the only country experiencing this problem. But while “misery loves company,” commiserating with that company doesn’t solve our problems.

A country with a functioning government would work to address the problems of rural decline–try to ameliorate the isolation and frustration that feed racial and ethnic resentments. But we don’t have a functioning government.

We have an administration that needs to keep fueling those rural frustrations and resentments. They are the sentiments that motivate the GOP base.

A Bill Of Particulars

I find myself quoting Dana Milbank a lot these days. Milbank, a columnist for the Washington Post, is the kind of writer I appreciate; much like Gail Collins of the New York Times, he is both informative and witty.

In his column yesterday, however, Milbank did us all a service; given Pelosi’s decision to commence impeachment proceedings, he lays out what I would label “a bill of particulars.” Milbank’s list illustrates the truth of an observation from Lawfare: “Trump’s misconduct presents what the military calls a target-rich environment.”

I cannot improve upon it, so I am taking the liberty of quoting the entire list.

Milbank begins that list by asking an obvious question: what if the shoe was on the other foot? What if a Democratic President–Elizabeth Warren, for example–was accused of doing the things Trump has clearly done, and  the GOP has simply shrugged off?

● Defies congressional power of the purse by unilaterally raiding the Pentagon budget to finance her pet projects?

● Rejects the authority of congressional oversight, disregards subpoenas and refuses to furnish documents, including a whistleblower complaintabout the president deemed “urgent” by the intelligence community?

● Is found by an independent prosecutor appointed by her own administration to have engaged in 10 possible instances of obstruction of justice but is not charged because regulations prohibit such a move against a sitting president?

● Approves and reimburses secret payments, in violation of campaign-finance law, to a person threatening to put out damaging information about her?

● Fires an FBI director who refuses to call off a probe of one of her close associates?

● Rescinds the security clearance of a former CIA director critical of her, as well as the press credentials of journalists who criticize her administration?

● Persuades a foreign leader not to admit Republican members of Congress into his country?

● Grounds the jet used for official business by the congressional leader of the Republican Party?

● Repeatedly releases highly classified intelligence, some to a foreign enemy and some only to Democrats?

● Threatens to cut off highway funds and disaster aid to states and territories controlled by Republicans, and declares she has the “absolute” right to move criminals to jurisdictions governed by Republicans?

● Funnels millions of taxpayer dollars to her own businesses, pressures federal agencies and international organizations to do business with her personal enterprises, invites foreign governments to pay millions of dollars to her businesses, and rejects a law requiring her to provide Congress with her tax returns?

● Calls for a boycott of the parent company of a media outlet critical of her, threatens an antitrust action against the owner of another media outlet critical of her, says she can unilaterally order businesses to disinvest from a country and calls for federal punishment of individual businesses she doesn’t like?

● Circumvents the Constitution’s advice-and-consent provision by running the government with “acting” officials (unqualified but loyal to her) not confirmed by the Senate?

● Offers to pardon those who commit crimes enforcing her policies, questions the authority of certain judges because they are GOP appointees and pardons a political ally who ignored court orders?

● Without congressional approval, establishes a de facto network of internment camps, run under inhumane conditions, for a class of people she disdains?

● And, finally, asks and coerces foreign governments to sabotage her Republican opponents’ campaigns?

When you see the whole list–which Milbank suggests isn’t even complete, it is impossible to justify the enormity of what the GOP has enabled and protected. I can’t help wondering what Trump’s toadies in the House and Senate will tell their grandchildren when those children study the history of this  retrograde and destructive Presidency.

How will they respond to the inevitable questions? What did you do, grandpa/grandma, while that mentally-ill, racist ignoramus was dismantling our government, spitting on the rule of law, and violating the Constitution on a daily basis?

 

 

Trump, Guiliani And Ukraine: Words Matter

Talking Points Memo has the best explanation of the unprecedented treachery that I’ve encountered.

Josh Marshall begins his analysis by emphasizing the importance of the words we use to describe the situation.

Over the last two days, I’ve been trying to take stock of the quick rush of new details about this emerging Trump/Ukraine scandal. It is clear purely on the basis of what is now undisputed in the record that the President and Rudy Giuliani are guilty of a criminal abuse of power and that most or all of the President’s top national security advisors have been complicit in and quite likely participated in that criminal activity.

But before we can really understand this story in any coherent way we need to realize that many of the words and concepts are simply wrong. Indeed they pack the criminal conduct and deception into the very vocabulary we use. That makes it next to impossible to make sense of what’s actually going on.

Josh points first to the standard description of this scandal: Rudy Giuliani pressing the government of Ukraine to launch an investigation of Joe Biden and his son Hunter. That, as Josh writes, is inaccurate. There has already been a thorough investigation of these allegations, and absolutely no wrongdoing was uncovered. So what’s being demanded isn’t an investigation. Trump and Giuliani are demanding that Ukraine manufacture damaging and false information.

The U.S. government has ample resources to conduct its own investigations and little compunction about investigating bad acts that Americans commit abroad. Indeed, there’s a whole set of laws to cover corrupt acts by Americans abroad. To the extent the FBI needs assistance of local law enforcement, treaties or geo-strategic clout will make that happen. The central claim – that Biden got a Ukrainian prosecutor fired to protect his son – is preposterous on its face to anyone who followed what was happening at the time…When you demand an “investigation” when investigations have already happened and there’s demonstrably nothing to investigate, this is a mislabeling of what is happening. You’re pressuring someone to manufacture damaging information – in this case, using the existential threat of withholding great power military support.

Also misused is the frequent identification of Giuliani as “the President’s private lawyer.” Marshall explains why crazy Rudy is not acting as a lawyer– and why the appropriate designation is the President’s ambassador, and that is incredibly dangerous. It allows Giuliani to speak with the authority of and issue threats on behalf of the President of the United States, “and conduct what amounts to personal diplomacy in the President’s interest” unrestricted by the rules governing public officials.

Giuliani is President Trump’s personal ambassador and Ukraine isn’t his only stomping ground. He has continued to work for the MEK, the Iranian dissident group until recently classified as a terrorist organization by the U.S. government, while President Trump tries to topple the government of Iran. Josh Kovensky assembled this list of nine other countrieswhere Giuliani has traveled, since becoming Trump’s “personal lawyer” for either private consulting or speaking engagements: Armenia, Ukraine, Turkey, Bahrain, Qatar, Israel, Albania, France and Poland. Giuliani has been doing foreign consulting work with regimes around the world since 2002, leveraging his reputation as Mr. 9/11. So foreign consulting isn’t new for Giuliani. But it’s impossible to imagine that his juice hasn’t been turbocharged to an infinite degree by the fact that he is now the personal emissary of the President of the United States. It also seems quite unlikely he isn’t doing business for the President too, either for the President’s businesses or for his political protection.

 The U.S. Constitution gives the American President great power to conduct foreign policy and enforce the laws on behalf of the Republic. They are delegated specifically for that purpose, much as a private individual might delegate to an investment advisor or attorney the power to act on the individual’s behalf or in their interest. The President also has great latitude to decide what is in the national interest. But when he or she clearly uses those powers – which are massively inflated by the power of the American state – to profit personally or defend his personal interests they immediately become an abuse of power. When they are used to interfere with conducting a free and fair election in the U.S. they clearly constitute criminal abuse of power.

The words here matter. Giuliani is the President’s private diplomat, private ambassador. If those words are too rich for your blood call him the President’s personal representative. Whatever it is, the President has given him the power to threaten and negotiate with the full weight of presidential power for Donald Trump’s private gain. That’s not lawyering. He’s not a “personal lawyer.” And he’s asking a foreign power to manufacture evidence to tamper with a U.S. presidential election.

If this isn’t a constitutional crisis, nothing is.

Really Telling It Like It Is

A recent op-ed in the New York Times considered the passions of the gun lobby.

The column was written by Will Wilkinson, Vice-President for Research at the Niskanen Center. I first encountered Wilkinson’s writing when I was doing research for my most recent book;  I’ve been consistently impressed with his thoughtfulness and the quality of his various analyses.

The column was headlined “Why an Assault Weapons Ban Hits Such a Nerve With Many Conservatives,” and the sub-head was “The premise of Trumpist populism is that the political preferences of a shrinking minority of citizens matter more than democracy.”

Wilkinson began by describing the blowback encountered by Beto O’Roark over O’Roark’s proposed assault weapon buy-back program. One Texas lawmaker issued a not-very-veiled threat to use his own weapon on O’Roark, and there was predictable hysteria from the usual suspects.

“So, this is — what you are calling for is civil war,” Tucker Carlson of Fox News said of Mr. O’Rourke’s comments. “What you are calling for is an incitement to violence.” On ABC’s “The View,” Meghan McCain maintained that “the AR-15 is by far the most popular gun in America, by far. I was just in the middle of nowhere Wyoming. If you’re talking about taking people’s guns from them, there’s going to be a lot of violence.” On Twitter, the conservative writer Erick Erickson said: “I know people who keep AR-15’s buried because they’re afraid one day the government might come for them. I know others who are stockpiling them. It is not a stretch to say there’d be violence if the gov’t tried to confiscate them.”

Wilkinson notes the obvious: no such program is likely to go into effect, absent an overwhelming electoral outpouring of majoritarian sentiment.

In that light, all of these ominous “there will be violence” warnings clearly imply that it simply doesn’t matter whether or not mandatory buyback legislation is enacted by duly elected representatives of the American people with an extraordinary popular mandate, because the wildly outvoted minority would nevertheless be right to regard the law as an intolerable injustice that warrants retaliatory violence. Just ask them.

Wilkinson then considers what this reaction signifies. As he points out, democracy is what we do to prevent political disagreement from turning into violent conflict. Trumpism, however, considers government legitimate only when it agrees with  white Christian conservatives.

Who, you may sensibly ask, granted Tucker Carlson’s target demographic veto power over the legislative will of the American people? Nobody. They got high on their own supply and anointed themselves the “real American” sovereigns of the realm. But their relative numbers are dwindling, and they live in fear of a future in which the law of the land reliably tracks the will of the people. Therein lies the appeal of a personal cache of AR-15s.

Weapons of mass death, and the submissive fear they engender, put teeth on that shrinking minority’s entitled claim to indefinite power. Without the threat of violence, what have they really got? Votes? Sooner or later, they won’t have enough, and they know it.

Nearly every Republican policy priority lacks majority support. New restrictions on abortion are unpopular. Slashing legal immigration levels is unpopular. The president’s single major legislative achievement, tax cuts for corporations and high earners, is unpopular.

Public support for enhanced background checks stands at an astonishing 90 percent, and 60 percent(and more) support a ban on assault weapon sales. Yet Republican legislatures block modest, popular gun control measures at every turn. The security of the minority’s self-ascribed right to make the rules has become their platform’s major plank, because unpopular rules don’t stand a chance without it.

As Wilkinson notes–and as rational people know–this isn’t about self-defense. Nobody needs a gun that can shoot 26 people in 32 seconds to ward off burglars.

The Second Amendment doesn’t grant the right to own one any more than it grants the right to own a surface-to-air missile.

I particularly loved these two paragraphs:

They’ll tell you their foreboding “predictions” of lethal resistance are really about preserving the means to protect the republic against an overweening, rights-stomping state. Don’t believe that, either. It’s really about the imagined peril of a multicultural majority running the show. Many countries that do more to protect their citizens against gun violence are more, not less, free than we are. According to the libertarian Cato Institute, 16 countries enjoy a higher level of overall freedom than the United States, and most of them ban or severely restrict ownership of assault weapons. The freedom to have your head blown off in an Applebee’s, to flee in terror from the bang of a backfiring engine, might not be freedom at all.

I’m not too proud to admit that in my misspent libertarian youth, I embraced the idea that a well-armed populace is a bulwark against tyranny. I imagined us a vast Switzerland, hived with rifles to defend our inviolable rights against … Michael Dukakis? What I slowly came to see is that freedom is inseparable from political disagreement and that holding to a trove of weapons as your last line of defense in a losing debate makes normal ideological opposition look like nascent tyranny and readies you to suppress it.

Clarity. Sanity. Why do I despair about the likelihood that Wilkinson, et al will prevail?

The Whistleblower Conflict

Okay–I take back every qualm/criticism I’ve ever had about the U.S. Intelligence community. (I might resurrect them at some future date.) It may end up saving America.

A number of media outlets have reported on the Whistleblower complaint filed by an Intelligence officer who was evidently appointed by Trump. This story was originally from the Washington Monthly.

The whistleblower complaint that has triggered a tense showdown between the U.S. intelligence community and Congress involves President Trump’s communications with a foreign leader, according to two former U.S. officials familiar with the matter.

Trump’s interaction with the foreign leader included a “promise” that was regarded as so troubling that it prompted an official in the U.S. intelligence community to file a formal whistleblower complaint with the inspector general for the intelligence community, said the former officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

It was not immediately clear which foreign leader Trump was speaking with or what he pledged to deliver, but his direct involvement in the matter has not been previously disclosed.

The communication in question evidently came in the form of a phone call. Reporters tracked down the president’s phone conversations with foreign leaders around that time;  the three that occurred in the two months before the complaint was filed were Chinese President Xi Jinping, French President Macron, and Vladimir Putin.

Also around the same time, Dan Coates, Director of National Intelligence, resigned. And shortly after that, the U.S. pulled out of the INF treaty with Russia.

Inspector General Atkinson (the Trump appointee) identified the whistleblower complaint as a matter of “urgent concern.” That triggered a requirement that the complaint be reported to Congress. But according to the Washington Post, Maguire–the acting head of DNI (this whole bloody Administration is “acting”) asked Bill Barr’s Justice Department for legal guidance and–surprise!– was told to withhold the information.

At that point, Atkinson informed Congress that a complaint had been made, but Maguire continued his refusal to share the information with the House Intelligence Committee.

While it’s tempting to speculate based on the timeline of events, what we actually know is that someone in the intelligence community was so concerned about what transpired on that phone call that he or she filed a whistleblower complaint. The inspector general found the complaint to be not only credible, but of “urgent concern.” When the new acting DNI refused to inform Congress, he took the extraordinary step of telling them that the complaint existed. In other words, to use Joe Biden’s vernacular, this is a Big Fuckin’ Deal.

Since this article was written, Atkinson has testified behind closed doors to the House Intelligence Committee, and several media outlets have suggested that more than one “impropriety” is involved. This might finally be enough to move Democrats off their reluctance to impeach….

Stay tuned….