Losing Our Republic

From a Google Image Search – Take Back Our Republic

Democracy will die slowly. We still feel relatively free and that illusion will persist day after day until one day the illusion will evaporate into a dismal reality. Our Republic is dying and it will one day dawn on Americans that they have lost something very great. They have lost a limb, a lung, a heart, a leg. 

We are losing our freedom to speak everyday but in such a freaky way, such a 1984-doublespeak way, that it continues to seem that we can still say what we wish. But the truth is that regardless of what truth we think we are expressing, someone holds a different truth ‘to be self-evident’. If all speech is cancelled out by another’s speech, there actually is no free speech, just babbling. Government doesn’t have to use muscle to shut down a newspaper.  It doesn’t have to turn off news channels that defy it. We will kill our own media by starving it. One of the cornerstones of a dictatorship (or a monarchy) will have been accomplished without giving those who have lost something any one key event to point to as the exact moment when the freedom to speak was trumped by the fact that there is no longer any such thing as a lie. Twisting our brains into thought pretzels, gaslighting, playing games with logic, these are the tricks that nullify free speech.

Speech is so key to a democracy that losing this right will basically mean that our founders tried but did not protect us well enough. Even as the ability to make a cogent argument that will resonate disappears our Second Amendment rights to carry a gun expand. It is fairly easy to see that the cocksure and primed-for-violence GOP base might have difficulty sticking to using words, however killer their name-calling might be, and decide that a few people need their brains blown out. Trump’s base are far better at activism than the rest of us are. They are absolutely loyal and cannot be swayed by any logic at all. The rest of us are wrong and that is that. These people feel that they have always been the straightest and truest Americans and they have been shafted (although most of them are quite comfortably middle class) and Donald is their deliverer. They fight so viciously for their absolute right to own any and every gun they wish to own and there is a frightening edge to their insistence. If anyone could be pushed over the edge it is those who Trump has empowered, however unreal that power actually is. They are empowered to herd the rest of us into camps or split the nation into factions and those of us who are not Trumpers, it seems, will just look on in astonishment because we are not yet radical enough to feel like an avenging army – and setting our government back to rights will be misinterpreted as a liberal takeover of America.

Trump’s base, by enabling an all-powerful Chief Executive, are actually destroying the very freedoms they think they are defending. They accuse those of us who cannot pledge our loyalty to Trump of being the ones who are corrupt and they honestly believe that all people are so tainted that our government is irredeemable. They do not realize that they have been turned into instruments of the corporations and the wealthy. They were betrayed by their corporatist overlords and yet they defend Capitalism as the all-American institution that saves them from (horror of horrors) socialism or communism. Since socialism and communism have now been defined as using any tax dollars on social programs or benefits, the capitalists have achieved their main end of turning Americans loose to sink or swim in a transitional age, which many are unequipped to stay afloat in. Small government means that the corporations have totally won; we will subsidize businesses that no longer feel they hold any stake in America because their families live elsewhere. Trumpers believe they are treasured by their tainted leader; they are actually the tools of their own destruction.

When we emerged (were ejected) from the Industrial Age we lost our footing. The world became less predictable, less comprehensible. The belief that if you took care of your employer they would take care of you disappeared, poof, when manufacturing moved South and then basically out of America. The information age is too abstract to offer stability for the entire nation. Stuff happens in clouds, for heaven’s sake. Most of us are not prepared to see what happens in the digital world as real. It is all toys, games, virtual reality. Most of us cannot make a living in this digital world. We are set adrift. Education becomes the key to holding a good job. And yet educated people are denigrated. If you don’t know and understand a technology that requires certain engineering types of skills you are limited to service jobs – long hours with low pay, or having to have several ‘gigs’ to make ends meet. Since you are not a billionaire you have no importance in the world that you find yourself in. Jobs in alternative energies could provide the kinds of jobs people used to seek, jobs that offer stability, but those corporations do not see a way to make their profits without continuing to use fossil fuels. So our Trumpers fight for fossil fuels and they do not accept that alternative energies might give them back their footing, take them out of the clouds and ground them again. Oddly enough, speaking of being grounded, if space travel were to become a viable field for business, good jobs along the whole spectrum from physical to mental would multiply and “ground” us once again.

It just does not look like our American democracy/republic will survive this unsettling transitional age as we flounder about to save our planet from overpopulation, from climate change, from social and political uncertainty. We are in the midst of a massive anxiety attack which may turn out to be overblown, but could also be totally justified by what is going on around us. Some of us want a father figure, a tough-love father figure, who insists that he will use economic prosperity and geographic isolation, the importation of geniuses, and the end of social support systems to keep America, if not the American people, afloat. Our Trumpers, our beloved sisters, brothers, neighbors do not realize that idolizing one man, turning him into your savior, is the way you lose everything. Now we will not only have lost our lifestyle security, we will have lost our national security. We will be subjects, serfs, and I can even foresee a day that anyone who cannot be productive will be expendable. But I cannot convince those who disagree that this is where we are headed.

Do Numbers Count? Russia/Ukraine/Trump

From a Google image Search – New York Post

Do Numbers Count?

We did not have, until now, any way to connect our president, Donald J Trump to any actual criminal conduct in either Russia or Ukraine. We had no concrete proof of high crimes and misdemeanors. The House of Representatives would not have voted to hold a formal impeachment inquiry without considerable evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors. Many Americans have seen the president’s disregard for our constitution, our traditions, and our system of checks and balances as worrisome. Books have been written on the subject, like How Democracy Dies by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. No matter how many times the Republicans say this is all about overturning the 2016 election, there are plenty of Americans who know this is not the case.

But I have to ask, do numbers count? Even without proof that Trump had actually done anything unconstitutional or unlawful the number of connections between Trump’s campaign staff and Russia and Ukraine during the 2016 campaign and immediately after the inauguration, the number of Trump references to Russia, and his interactions with both Russia and Ukraine are extraordinary. America does not usually have a lot of business in this part of the world, the part that was in a Cold War with us, that isolated itself behind an Iron Curtain. It could all be about business, but talk of getting rid of the sanctions on Russia is definitely about politics. 

In fact Russia is in the process of invading eastern Ukraine in an attempt to annex (steal) several Ukrainian oblasts (provinces). Still Ukraine has many connections to Moscow and all this activity by Trump’s guys may have been, in part, an attempt to open a back door into Putin’s Russia. Although many attempts were made by many “friends” of Trump to open such a back door, there is no proof that any of these attempts actually succeeded. Perhaps this explains Trump’s continued hyper-interest in Ukraine.  An article in today’s Washington Post suggests that Trump has actual animosity towards Ukraine. Or perhaps Trump has no faith that he can win an election without cheating.

As we approach the 2020 election we again begin to hear more and more references to Russia and those sanctions and to Ukraine right up to the moment of the now famous phone call. (As I write this Jonathan Capehart is reading aloud the transcript of this Ukraine/Trump phone call in front of a crackling TV fire a lá Franklin Roosevelt thus beating Trump to it). You would think with all the hair-on-fire reactions to Trump’s coziness with Putin and Russia and his campaign staff’s many illegal financial ops in Ukraine that Trump would have stayed far away from Ukraine in the run up to this elections. 

But it seems that once he gets a bee in his bonnet he cannot let it go and the current bee in his bonnet is a whole hive. Biden and his son Hunter are bees buzzing around in Trump’s brain because he likes to have plenty of dirt on potential political opponents so he can effectively demonize them. Then he is still after Hillary and still trying to help out his whatever, Putin, by pursuing a discredited theory that it was actually Ukraine that interfered in our 2016 election thus getting Putin off the hook and closer to seeing those sanctions go away. Why an American president is so obsessed with Putin, and other dictators and why Americans are traipsing all over Kiev in Ukraine are questions we want to know the answers to.

Here are names connected with Trump and with Ukraine: then and now:

Then: Mueller investigation

Leshchenko, a Ukrainian legislator fighting corruption. He exposed the illegal payments made by Mr. Yanukovych’s party to Paul Manafort, Trump’s 2016 campaign chair

Michael T Flynn – resigned as national security advisor – 1 week earlier a sealed proposal was delivered to his office, outlining a way for Trump to lift sanctions on Russia.

Felix Sater – a business associate who helped Trump seal deals in Russia

Michael Cohen – president’s personal lawyer who delivered the sealed proposal to Michael Flynn. Michael Cohen is married to a Ukrainian woman and tried to help relatives start an ethanol business there so he, at least, had legitimate business in Ukraine. He delivered the sealed proposal which suggested a way to bring peace between Russia and Ukraine, (this was written by a Ukrainian lawmaker Andrii Artemenko trying to rise in the political opposition movement in Ukraine with the help of Paul Manafort). This proposal was not sanctioned by the government of Ukraine.

It was thought that Trump possibly wanted to end Russian sanctions and wanted to create a back channel to Moscow through Ukraine.

[As I make this list Rachel  Maddow is talking about a new article by David Ignatius which says president Poroshenko of Ukraine was trying to get a meeting in the oval with the newly installed president Trump. He wasn’t getting anywhere until Giuliani went to Ukraine. Magically, after this visit in 2017, Ukraine stopped an investigation into Paul Manafort and then Poroshenko got his meeting with Trump and his javelin missiles.

Rachel asks, was this a rehearsal for what Trump did recently? Was this a quid pro quo he got away with which emboldened Trump to try again. There have been references to the Black ledger case. This ledger included the name of Paul Manafort and the huge sum he had been paid, but after the “bargain” with Poroshenko the Black Ledger disappeared – poof.]

Back to my list:

Rick Gates – a Trump campaign aide was Manafort’s longtime junior business partner.

Alex Vander Zwaan – London lawyer, had contacts with Rick Gates and another unnamed person based in Ukraine.

Konstantin Kilimnik , Russian/Ukrainian– a longtime business associate of Manafort and Gates.

Sam Patten – Republican operative and lobbyist – pleaded guilty because he was not registered as a foreign agent for his work with “Ukrainian bigwigs”

During the Mueller investigation we learned the following from reporters who investigated the people called in to testify:

“Donald J. Trump and 18 of his associates had at least 140 contacts with Russian nationals and WikiLeaks, or their intermediaries, during the 2016 campaign and presidential transition, according to a New York Times analysis.”

and, in case you are not a New York Times fan,

“There are now more than 101 known points of contact between the Trump campaign and Russian-government linked people or entities, including 23 meetings or calls.”

https://www.businessinsider.com/trump-campaign-russia-government-contact-timeline-2018-7

Now: Impeachment inquiry

Rudy Giuliani and his associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman (these two have been indicted for campaign finance violations.) Rudy Giuliani’s activities in Ukraine on behalf of the president were happening long before the fateful phone call.

“The three amigos” all were busy in Ukraine pushing Trump’s agenda:

Rick Perry was the Head of Energy Department–  after being called to testify before the impeachment inquiry he quit his cabinet position

Kurt Volker – US Special Representative to Ukraine

Gordon Sondland – US ambassador to EU

Bill Taylor – US chargé d’affairs in Ukraine who questioned holding up military aid in exchange for “oppo” information for the 2020 election

Ukrainian oligarch – Dmytro Firtash has been mentioned in connection with these events. There is a current attempt to bring him to America to testify.

Three Ukrainian Presidents involved because each had involvement with Americans connected to Trump:

Petro Poroshenko

Viktor Yanukovych (former president – said to be “stooge of Putin”)

Zelensky – current president of Ukraine

Viktor Shokin – Prosecutor General in Ukraine – forced out for blocking prosecution of corrupt officials and oligarchs

Lutsenko – new prosecutor general – also at war with anti-corruption group backed by 

Serhiy Leshchenko – a liberal legislator and journalist who fights corruption

Marie Yovanovitch – US Ambassador to Ukraine recently relieved of her duties for no apparent reason. – She said the new prosecutor was still blocking corruption probes.

Conspiracy theory – Lutsenko said that George Soros was involved with Biden and Hunter Biden. He said that Yovanovitch gave him a list of people not to prosecute, which she says did not happen.

When did we ever spend this much time and energy and have this many Americans who were not spies interacting with Russians and Ukrainians and bugging Ukrainian presidents? (Right now on my TV Louie Gomert – (Rep.) is threatening Civil War if Democrats impeach Trump, which makes me nervous because Democrats are not the ones who have been stockpiling guns. Don’t they sound a bit desperate?) (Michael Steele (who has distanced himself from the Republican Party, asks, would we really have a Civil War over this man, over Trump, really?) This Russia-Ukraine-Impeachment is obviously incendiary. 

Ukraine is known to be a very corrupt country, which means that the government protects oligarchs who basically steal from the Ukrainian people and the treasury like a bunch of crooks. Trump seems to many of us to be our most corrupt president ever, perhaps because he is  so crude and so blatant about it. Is this simply a case of crooks of a feather flock together? Except this is like a flock of crows that wants to pick our government clean and leave it as road kill. This amount of interaction with a nation which governs by fear and intimidation, a nation with a system of government we have fought against (Vietnam, Korea) losing the lives of our young men and women, should be problematic to all Americans. Why isn’t it? 

And Ukraine is fighting for survival right now, both survival from corrupt and selfish men, and in an actual military operation to repel Russia from its threatening position within its borders. Despite Ukraine’s internal struggles we find Trump’s “troops” all over Ukraine selfishly “phishing” for Trump’s dirt on an opponent to “fix” the 2020 election (and possibly end those sanctions on Russia by blaming election interference in 2016 on Ukraine, not Russia). Since when have we been so cavalier about a nation so at risk. Given all of this it is not really out of line to hope that Trump gets stung by one or more of those bees he can’t seem to get out of this bonnet.

After I posted this article two more interesting reads came up in online news media:

https://www.thedailybeast.com/andrii-telizhenko-source-for-ukraine-collusion-allegations-met-rep-devin-nunes

Michelle Goldberg’s article explaining more Ukraine complexities.

Bop Bag Politics

clown bop bag amazon.com

Our president is basically a human bop bag. If he gets knocked down he pretends it is due to his magnanimity as a leader (an emotion he does not possess) and then he just pops back up. This bop bag toy works as a symbol for a lot of politicians; but it may just be the quintessential symbol for Donald Trump, not just as a politician but also as a businessman.

Ending the shutdown is a victory for many Americans who spoke up about the everyday repercussions of working without pay; a victory over a president’s empty words about one-sided loyalty. Nancy Pelosi probably never intended to gloat. She used the power of her office, which she understands completely, and the power of the Constitution, to help put an end to the shutdown. The only extraordinary thing about it is the skill with which she wields the gavel. Gloating does not have good outcomes given Trump’s pathologies. He hates losing and will stubbornly hold his ground.

It is entirely possible that Trump only decided to end the shutdown for three weeks so he could give his State of the Union address in the House chambers amidst the pomp and spectacle of regular order, in these times that are anything but regular.

However Trump could have decided to do the authoritarian thing and force his way into the House chambers and he didn’t. Perhaps he realized how quickly opposition might escalate if he used that play from the authoritarian playbook at this particular moment, if he sidelined a Congress that now shows some promise of offering the checks and balances that signal a healthy democracy/republic. Don’t be too comforted; this play is still available for future use.

In the Rose Garden he made a formal announcement of a temporary (3 week end) to the government shutdown but he did not back down at all from his insistence on the necessity for a wall on our southern border.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/prisoner-of-his-own-impulse-inside-trumps-cave-to-end-shutdown-without-wall/2019/01/25/e4a4789a-20d5-11e9-8b59-0a28f2191131_story.html

“Trump’s quest for at least some portion of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border is not over, however. Friday’s agreement only temporarily reopens the government, providing a three-week period for Congress to negotiate a longer-term spending agreement. The president said he would continue advocating for his signature campaign promise and threatened to again shut down the government or declare a national emergency to use his unilateral powers to build the wall if Congress does not appropriate funding for it by Feb. 15.

‘Let me be very clear: We really have no choice but to build a powerful wall or steel barrier,” Trump said Friday. He also tweeted in the evening that his decision “was in no way a concession.’”

He does seem, however, to be willing to accept pieces of wall as opposed to sea to sea wall. He also seems willing to accept a steel barrier rather than a monumental medieval concrete wall that can be seen from space. (Although perhaps with his push to get to Mars while he is still President, he will have to leave some kind of monument that will be visible from space.)

So the bop bag we call Donald Trump is now back in the upright position. What will happen next? Will it be some money for barriers and will Nancy Pelosi and her Dem peeps accept a bit of defeat gracefully? Will it be the declaration of a National Emergency, which promises to damage our constitutional democracy “bigly”? Will it be another shutdown after Trump gets to deliver his SOTU address?

What can the president possibly say in his SOTU address that anyone but loyal Republicans will want to listen to? We have not yet reached the point where Americans can be forced to watch the address. Someone will tell us what he said after the fact. If you are a person who sees through this man you will probably have to tune out the SOTU address to save your TV from mayhem. Perhaps you could order a bop bag to take your frustrations out on. Remember also that a bop bag can be put down permanently; all you have to do is take the hot air out of it.

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – amazon.com

How Democracies Die by Levitsky and Ziblatt – Book

 

How democracies die big Chicago Humanities FestivalSteven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt wrote How Democracies Die. They were challenged to complete this book project by their agent Jill Kneerim. They did so with help from their student research assistants who are listed in the acknowledgments. It is a book that tries to analyze how much danger we are in of losing our democracy at this current moment in time. It begins with a story about Benito Mussolini and ends with references to the goings-on in the Trump/Republican administration, the 2016 primaries, and in the campaign of 2016. In the middle the authors look at a number of “political outsiders” who “came into power from the inside via elections or alliances with powerful political figures.” They take us through the rise of Adolf Hitler, Getúlio Vargas in Brazil, Alberto Fujimori in Peru and Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. They say, “in each instance, elites believed the invitation to power would containthe outsider, leading to a restoration of control by mainstream politicians. But their plans backfired. A lethal mix of ambition, fear, and miscalculation conspired to lead them to the same fateful mistake: willingly handing over the keys of power to an autocrat-in-the-making.”

Although the authors remind us that America has had no shortage of authoritarian personalities in politics we also, they explain, have had “gatekeepers”, first in the form of powerful men in smoke-filled rooms and later in the form of political parties, conventions and the electoral college which kept authoritarianism in check, possibly with the sacrifice of some of the “will of the people”. They go on to explain that the primary system opened elections up to “outsiders” who had not come up from the ranks of government. Two factors weakened the gatekeepers, one being the availability of outside money (Citizen’s United) and two being the “explosion of alternative media”. “It was like a game of Russian roulette: The chances of an extremist outsider capturing the presidential nomination were higher than ever before in history.”

There were signs as early as the primaries that Trump might represent dangers for our democratic government.

  1. He would not say whether he would accept the results of the election
  2. He denied the legitimacy of his opponents
  3. He show a tolerance for and encouragement of violence
  4. He exhibited a readiness to curtail civil liberties of rivals and critics

The authors tell us that “No other major presidential candidate in modern U.S. history, including Nixon, has demonstrated such a weak public commitment to constitutional rights and democratic norms.” They offer evidence for each point they make. They also say that Republicans closed ranks behind Trump and normalized the election results.

Throughout their interesting and well-researched book we are shown examples of instances when outsiders have gradually and, sometimes, almost invisibly, sometimes rather violently taken the reins of power from the “referees” such as the courts, or the congresses of government, bought off their opponents, subverted the media, and have ended up with absolute control, thus ending a democracy. We can see where the authors are headed. They want to warn us that our democracy also could die such a death, just sliding into authoritarianism one baby step at a time. Here we look at Erdogan in Turkey and the Orbán government in Hungary and many more.

“Even well-designed constitutions cannot, by themselves, guarantee democracy,” say the authors. Successful democracies rely on informal rules, they add. “Two norms stand out as fundamental to a functioning democracy: mutual toleration and institutional forbearance.” The rest of the book shows us how these two norms are no longer functioning or are being eroded. In the end they explore our possible futures under Trump, but even if he is not the one who destroys our democracy it seems as if it has never been more threatened and it is good time to have a blueprint of what cues we should look for. Knowing when to put on the brakes or when the brakes will no longer functions could be very important either in the near or the more distant future.

Although this book seems scholarly and is constructed according to academic principles it is very readable. The language is not at all obscure and the examples of other nations who have lost their democratic government to a dictatorial government are interesting with easy-to-draw parallels. How Democracies Die should, perhaps, be required reading given where we find ourselves right now in America. It is the very best kind of thriller, the real kind.