Tag Archives: GOP

How To Choose A Candidate

There’s a reason I keep repeating “vote blue no matter who,” even though the presidential candidates the Democrats are fielding all have their flaws–and it isn’t simply because Trump represents the worst of the worst.

Several years ago, someone asked me how I would choose between two unpalatable candidates for office, and I shared my simple formula for making such choices: I vote for the candidate who is pandering to the least dangerous people.

We all know that Trump is deeply corrupt, as well as monumentally ignorant. We also know that his egomania, racism and narcissism outweigh any actual policy preferences–that in order to feed his massive ego, he will adopt whatever positions he thinks will be rewarded with attention, power and the adoration of the misfits who attend his rallies.

Trump, who has been both a Republican and a Democrat, found success pandering to the people with whom he feels most comfortable–white nationalists and corrupt businesspeople– constituencies that dominate today’s GOP.

We can concede that today’s Democratic Party is hardly a monolithic organization of angels and still recognize the superiority of its core beliefs: climate change is real; women are people entitled to control of their own bodies; background checks are not inconsistent with the Second Amendment; African-Americans and LGBTQ citizens are entitled to equality; immigrant families should not be separated; our water should be drinkable and our air breathable; vote suppression is anti-democratic…and much more.

Any Democrat running for political office, from President to County Clerk, needs the approval of the people who have organized around those positions and beliefs. Those are the people to whom all Democratic candidates must pander if they are to have any chance at victory.

I know this sounds cynical, but I am much less concerned with the sincerity of a candidate’s embrace of the Democrats’ core positions than with the fact that he/she must publicly affirm and work for them in order to get elected or re-elected.

Trump is not a bright man, but even he can read the writing on the wall; the Senators who essentially voted to let him ignore the Constitution and the rule of law were elected by pandering to the same bigots who support him. Whether in their “heart of hearts” they recognize and reject the evils they are empowering is irrelevant–so long as they believe they must pander to evil, they are evil.

During the presidential primary contests, people of good will–Democrats and “Never Trump” Republicans alike–will have different perspectives on candidate electability. But once a candidate has been chosen, no matter how disappointed we may be in that choice or in the process–we will confront a very simple decision, and not just for president.

We can vote for people running on the Republican ticket–those endorsed by the party whose candidates have no choice but to pander to bigotry and corruption–or we can vote for Democratic candidates who have no choice but to pander to people who overwhelmingly believe in science, reason and civic equality.

This isn’t a contest between individuals. Trump didn’t emerge from a void. There’s a reason  that during the past couple of decades Americans have “sorted” ourselves into two wildly different parties–it is because we hold profoundly opposed understandings of what American “greatness” is based upon. We will continue to be polarized until one of those diametrically-opposed visions of America prevails.

“Vote blue no matter who” recognizes that the 2020 election isn’t about the candidates–it’s about which of those visions triumphs.

 

The Trolls Are Sophisticated–And Effective

A recent headline from Rolling Stone addressed an issue that is likely to keep thoughtful voters up at night. The headline? “That Uplifting Tweet You Just Shared? A Russian Troll Sent it.”

Rolling Stone is hardly the only publication warning about an unprecedented effort–and not just by Russian trolls–to use the Internet to sow disinformation and promote discord.

Who and what are these trolls?

Internet trolls don’t troll. Not the professionals at least. Professional trolls don’t go on social media to antagonize liberals or belittle conservatives. They are not narrow minded, drunk or angry. They don’t lack basic English language skills. They certainly aren’t “somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds,” as the president once put it. Your stereotypical trolls do exist on social media, but the amateurs aren’t a threat to Western democracy.

Professional trolls, on the other hand, are the tip of the spear in the new digital, ideological battleground. To combat the threat they pose, we must first understand them — and take them seriously.

The Russian effort is incredibly sophisticated: the article explained that non-political, often heartwarming or inspiring tweets are used to grow an audience of followers. Once a troll with a manufactured name or identity has amassed sufficient followers, the troll will use that following to spread messages promoting division, distrust, and above all, doubt.

The authors of the article are two experts in the use of social media to spread propaganda, and they admit to being impressed by the Russian operation.

Professional trolls are good at their job. They have studied us. They understand how to harness our biases (and hashtags) for their own purposes. They know what pressure points to push and how best to drive us to distrust our neighbors. The professionals know you catch more flies with honey. They don’t go to social media looking for a fight; they go looking for new best friends. And they have found them.

Disinformation operations aren’t typically fake news or outright lies. Disinformation is most often simply spin. Spin is hard to spot and easy to believe, especially if you are already inclined to do so. While the rest of the world learned how to conduct a modern disinformation campaign from the Russians, it is from the world of public relations and advertising that the IRA learned their craft. To appreciate the influence and potential of Russian disinformation, we need to view them less as Boris and Natasha and more like Don Draper.

Lest you think it’s only the Russians employing these tactics, allow the Atlantic to disabuse you in an article headlined “The Billion Dollar Disinformation Campaign to Re-elect the President.”

The article began with a report on the approach the re-election campaign had taken to Impeachment–” a multimillion-dollar ad blitz aimed at shaping Americans’ understanding of the recently launched impeachment proceedings. Thousands of micro-targeted ads had flooded the internet, portraying Trump as a heroic reformer cracking down on foreign corruption while Democrats plotted a coup.”

That this narrative bore little resemblance to reality seemed only to accelerate its spread. Right-wing websites amplified every claim. Pro-Trump forums teemed with conspiracy theories. An alternate information ecosystem was taking shape around the biggest news story in the country.

The author, who had followed the disinformation campaign, writes of his surprise at how “slick” and effective it was.

I was surprised by the effect it had on me. I’d assumed that my skepticism and media literacy would inoculate me against such distortions. But I soon found myself reflexively questioning every headline. It wasn’t that I believed Trump and his boosters were telling the truth. It was that, in this state of heightened suspicion, truth itself—about Ukraine, impeachment, or anything else—felt more and more difficult to locate.

This, then, is where we are: in an environment in which facts–let alone truths–are what we want them to be. An environment in which the pursuit of power by truly reprehensible people working to re-elect a dangerous and mentally-ill President can target those most likely to be susceptible to their manipulation of reality.

I have no idea how reality fights back. I do know that Democrats too “pure” to vote unless their favored candidate is the nominee are as dangerous as the trolls.

I think it was Edmund Burke who said “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Conspiracy Theories In One..Two..Three…

I still remember a meeting I attended many years ago, when I was in City Hall. A number of neighborhood groups–aggrieved about something I no longer recall–met with Mayor Hudnut and a small group of city officials and accused us of engaging in a devious conspiracy to undermine whatever it was they were exercised about. Bob Cross, then Deputy Director of the Department of Metropolitan Development, responded that incompetence usually explains far more than conspiracy. (Actually, as he remarked after the meeting, we would have been incapable of pulling off a conspiracy.)

It was a bit of wisdom I’ve not forgotten.

There are all sorts of ongoing problems with the Iowa Caucuses–working folks often can’t participate, Iowa is over 95% white and unrepresentative of the nation as a whole, and the parties and media pay far too much attention to the results. Perhaps the monumental cluster-f**k this year will prompt a re-evaluation. (I personally favor a national primary…or at this point, even a retreat to those despised “smoke filled rooms.” Trump would never have emerged from a smoke-filled room.)

In the wake of Iowa’s inability to issue immediate results, Talking Points Memo blamed complexity and an app that was definitely “not ready for prime time.”

Experts in cybersecurity and election administration told TPM on Tuesday that the app chosen by the Iowa Democratic Party failed to handle the complexity, providing an example of what not to do in administering an election.

But incompetence isn’t an explanation that feeds the fevered imaginations of conspiracy theorists.

Supporters of Bernie Sanders identified a donor who had given money to both Mayor Pete and to the company that developed the flawed app (as had four of the Democratic contenders) and concluded that Pete was part of a clandestine effort to rig the election. Anti-Bernie folks responded by identifying a guy with a “commie background” who has  donated to Bernie, so Bernie’s a commie.

For the record, Bernie’s campaign has said the caucuses were not rigged.

Business Insider reported that GOP operatives were gleefully piling on.

Amid the chaos surrounding the delayed results of the Iowa caucuses, multiple Republicans have pushed conspiracy theories that imply the process was rigged against Sen. Bernie Sanders.

With so much confusion in Iowa, some in the GOP saw an opportunity to be exploited.

There is no evidence whatsoever the caucuses were rigged, but some Republicans are pushing this conspiratorial narrative in what appears to be a fairly transparent effort to divide Democratic voters. The primary season is already heated, with supporters of the various Democratic candidates often duking it out online.

A column in the Washington Post summed up the various elements of this mess that should genuinely trouble Democrats, and the lessons this exercise in breathtaking incompetence should teach.

Transmitting results digitally opens up a whole cyber-world of hacking risk — yet Iowa insisted on doing it anyway. Organizers did try to guard against disaster by requiring precincts to include snapshots of an on-paper count. But there’s a lot more they didn’t do, such as test their system statewide or tell any security experts the name of the for-profit company that constructed the app in a hurried two months. (That name, by the way, is “Shadow, Inc.” Now don’t you feel better?)…

Iowa party officials started by crying “user error” to explain the struggles many precinct captains had downloading and uploading. Okay, if “user error” means very few people could use the app without encountering an error. Some encountered limited bandwidth because so many individuals were accessing the program at the same time, which the party might have anticipated considering they were running 1,681 caucuses simultaneously. Some in rural areas ran into poor wireless service, which the party also should have anticipated considering, well, it is Iowa. The next day, officials began to blame a “coding issue.”

The Iowa imbroglio, in other words, so far reveals lots of incompetence and little insidiousness. More tech isn’t always better, and, in this case, it was worse because a product wasn’t fully tested and didn’t function as it was supposed to.

The first two sentences of the column pointed to the real issue: Americans’ widespread distrust– distrust that encourages belief in conspiracy theories.

Want to cause countrywide confusion and sow doubt in the integrity of our democracy? Apparently there’s an app for that.

Indeed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Evan McMullin Sums It Up

David Evan McMullin–for those of you who have forgotten his brief emergence during the 2016 Presidential campaign– is the former Central Intelligence Agency operations officer and former Republican who ran for President as an independent that year. He is currently the Executive Director of Standup Republic.

In the wake of the shameful vote by Republican Senators in which they refused to call witnesses or demand documents, McMullin’s tweets have been short, not sweet and very much to the point.

Immediately following the vote, he tweeted:

Republican leaders in Congress believe—and privately say—that they fear the country is quickly changing in ways that may soon deprive them of power, and that they must use the power they have now to delay it as long as possible, even by harming the Republic if necessary.

That was followed by other, equally pointed observations.

For anti-Trump Republicans—a small but electorally significant segment—it’s been uncomfortably possible to oppose Trump but remain affiliated with the party, looking instead to more reasonable Republican senators for leadership. The witness vote may mark the end of that for many…

In a single bogus impeachment trial, Senate Republicans will have made Trump’s pursuit of foreign backing and obstruction of Congress unimpeachable. It’s hard to ignore the fact that they benefit from both, especially at a time when they’re facing increasing electoral headwinds….

We’re watching extreme Republican partisanship dismantle the separation of powers.

McMullin also retweeted an eerily apt quotation from Alice in Wonderland, from someone named Stuart Stephens.

 Who are you?” said the Caterpillar. Alice replied, rather shyly, “I—I hardly know, Sir, just at present—at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.”

People tweeting responses to McMullin’s observations are primarily former Republicans who share his disgust and dismay, although there are a few comments from folks who clearly think the GOP hasn’t changed–that the party has merely stopped pretending to be something other than the disgraceful collection of sycophants and moral cowards who have made a joke of constitutional checks and balances.

America faces existential questions that won’t be answered until November–and only tentatively answered then.

How many other former Republicans will join the Evan McMullins, David Frums, Max Boots, George Conways and other “Never Trumpers” at the polls? How many genuine conservatives–i.e., those who are neither theocrats nor plutocrats– will join or contribute to the Lincoln Project

We keep seeing polls that show Trump with solid Republican support; what we don’t see is how many Republicans remain, given the steady shrinkage of the percentage of voters who still identify with the party. (To belabor the obvious, eighty percent of twenty-two or twenty-four percent isn’t the same as eighty percent of 35 or 40 percent.)

How likely is it that the Democrats will disband their usual circular firing squad and “vote blue, no matter who” in recognition that the future of the nation depends upon ousting the criminal conspiracy that is raping and polluting our country?

And how likely is it that enough “blue no matter who” voters–whether Democrat or Republican or Libertarian or Independent or usually apathetic– will recognize the incredible importance of this election, and turn out in numbers sufficient to swamp the GOP’s predictable vote suppression tactics?

Because make no mistake: Evan McMullin is right when he says the remaining Republicans will use whatever means are at their disposal to cling to power–no matter the damage to America.

 

 

The Plutocrats And The Theocrats

As if ALEC wasn’t enough of a threat to citizens of red states, we now have “Project Blitz,” an effort patterned on ALEC’s all-too-successful formula.

The first thing to know about Project Blitz is that it was launched in 2015 by the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation, the National Legal Foundation, and Wallbuilders. The latter is an organization founded by David Barton, the Republican operative and discredited historian who rejects the separation of church and state, claiming that the United States was founded as a Christian nation.

I had not previously heard of Fred Clarkson, who has evidently been studying the Christian right for decades, but he came into possession of Project Blitz’s 116-page manual of model legislation in early 2018.  Clarkson says that Project Blitz  is to Christian nationalists what ALEC is to corporate plutocrats–a number of the extreme anti-choice, anti-gay and pro-Christianity measures that have emerged from legislative chambers over the past couple of years came from Project Blitz’s package of twenty “model” bills.

The bills are seemingly unrelated and range widely in content—from requiring public schools to display the national motto, “In God We Trust” (IGWT); to legalizing discrimination against LGBTQ people; to religious exemptions regarding women’s reproductive health. The model bills, the legislative strategy and the talking points reflect the theocratic vision that’s animated a meaningful portion of the Christian Right for some time. In the context of Project Blitz’s 116-page playbook, however, they also reveal a sophisticated level of coordination and strategizing that echoes the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which infamously networks probusiness state legislators, drafts sample legislation, and shares legislative ideas and strategies.

A study conducted by Americans United for Separation of Church and State counted 74 bills considered by state legislatures in 2018 that echoed the “model legislation” in the Project Blitz handbook. All are intended to erode the First Amendment’s separation of church and state.

There are bills promoting “In God We Trust” on license plates and in public schools. (Here in Indiana, a bill to that effect is being considered by the legislature this year.) Then there are the “Christian heritage” bills, and those emphasizing “the importance of the Bible in history” to promote the notion that the U.S. is a Christian nation.

The measures which Project Blitz organizers admit might be “hotly contested,” are those seeking to empower licensed professionals to deny health care and other services based on religious beliefs and those that would allow adoption agencies to reject adoptive families on religious grounds.

At least 10 states have laws that allow discrimination by child welfare agencies, most of which have been passed since Project Blitz launched in 2015, and–surprise!– similar measures have been introduced in Indiana.  (I’ve previously blogged about a couple of them.)

Project Blitz–and the Trump Administration–have been described as the “death rattle” of White Christian nationalism. In 2016, Robert P. Jones wrote“The End of White Christian America,” detailing the demographic inevitability of that end.(The linked article has the graphs, and an interview with Jones.)

Project Blitz is part of the Christian Right’s  hysterical reaction to demographic reality, but recognizing that fact doesn’t make its efforts less worrisome–or less unAmerican. Just as ALEC has managed to delay regulatory reforms that would hinder the plutocracy, the legislation supported by Project Blitz would both delay the inevitable and cause considerable damage in the interim.

It’s also worth noting that today’s GOP is almost entirely composed of White Christian nationalists. In the states where Republicans hold sway, that “death rattle” is likely to be prolonged, dangerous and very, very ugly.