The Politics Show

By stancutler,

We are fascinated by the President’s shtick. When we tune to our favorite news channels or read what’s printed, his latest mockeries are the headlines and top-of-the-show stories. As defined by Google, “shtick is a gimmick, comic routine, style of performance, etc., associated with a particular person”. Trump’s shtick attracts more interest than any other topic on planet Earth. It’s huge. He perfected it as a reality TV performer. In the commercial entertainment environment, ratings are the only measures that matter.

I think about the similarities between  theater and politics when I retrieve the newspaper from my doorstep every morning. As I work at my computer, I avoid checking the newsfeeds. If I relied on my smart phone to feel connected on social media, I’d have to resist clicking links to Trump’s latest bit of shtick as I went about my business. I avoid cable news. I feel as if I’m hunkered down in a blizzard of Trumpnews, shoulders hunched against the bit storm.

We are being intentionally manipulated by the President to keep his show at the top of the ratings lists. In Trump’s value system, our opinions are less significant than our attention. In our media ecology, in which Trump is the dominant creature, it matters far less what we think of him than that we think of him at all.

Throughout the 2015-2016 primary election season, he kept his place on the podium because we tuned-in to see him play The Fool, a stock theatrical character whose role is to mock The King. He won the ratings war and, contrary to common sense, succeeded in converting his ratings into enough votes to win the general election. The problem, of course, is that he is now The King, but still plays The Fool. It’s his shtick.

Another parallel to theater has to do with our emotional investment in the outcome. We watch the show if we care. There are no stakes higher than the United States Presidency. In every plot, whether it be a children’s story or a Shakespeare play, the audience has to believe that the outcome matters. Our interest intensifies in proportion to the level of danger or to the value of the prize. In the media world, intense interest is the coin of the realm. Trump’s “great again” boasts inflate the likelihood of reward. Similarly, his exaggerated warnings heighten our perception of risk. He refers to the threat of terrorism and the likelihood of a North Korean attack out of all proportion to the actual risks because these exaggerations intensify our focus on him.

We can take the parallels between politics and theater too far – one is pretense and the other painfully real. But that doesn’t mean that the similarities are inconsequential. Many Americans, almost half of us, choose not to vote. Some of the non-participants think the news is only theater. To them, all politicians are acting with no more concern for their interests than someone playing a character on a TV show. Despite all the bluster from our capitols, they are convinced that their daily lives are not influenced by whoever wins an election. For these citizens, it’s just another show.

Our urges to be entertained and to learn are both powerful. In combination, they are the basis of a kind of addiction that the news media and Donald Trump feed in partnership. There are important and meaningful distinctions between entertainment and learning, but they are distinctions that matter little in the news business. The news shows have to be sensational and emotionally engaging else the ratings plummet. Trump’s shtick got him to the Presidency, our fascination so great that all other stories were minimized to satisfy our interest. He hijacked the news. Call me old fashioned, but I think we have to be able to distinguish between shtick and substance.

I still harbor a hope that Trump can change from Fool  to King. I watch the news now to learn whether the Chorus, the sensible populace, will prevail as it did in ancient Greek comedies. When the Chorus failed, it was a tragedy.


The Testosterone President

By stancutler,

Imagine that there is a simple psychological difference between men and women, a continuum with placid passivity at one extreme and headlong aggression at the other, yin and yang. Now imagine that the recent exercise in American democracy was a campaign in which a winning margin of voters opted for a male leadership style, deliberately rejecting feminism. Viewed as an exercise in gender identity, the 2016 election was not about policy or issues – it was about national character.

When voters rejected Hillary Clinton for President, they were rejecting the ethos of female government. Anti-Clinton voters were tired of  ambiguity and nuance. Trump is not so much a Republican, or a billionaire, or a conservative as he is All-Male, near the loony end of the male/female continuum. Trump voters wanted their personification to be emphatically male: aggressive, fearless, obsessed with winning. Many of these voters were women.

From the earliest days of the campaign, when Trump floated down on his golden escalator, he has consistently behaved as a deranged male, a gleeful bull in a china shop of fragile egos. His tweets are calculated aggression, a way for him to seize the initiative every morning. His appearances before the TV cameras are the same – aggressive, on offense, combative.  Lots of Americans believe that is precisely how a strong national leader ought to behave. This belief is pre-rational, arising from a bedrock of identity deep below the conscious level at which “rational” decisions are made. Gender is as fundamental to political choice as patriotism, religion, or values. Trump’s supporters are less concerned with what he does than they are with the way he does it.

The 2016 election was the culmination of a century of gender revolution, a period during which the social distinctions between men and women departed radically from the norms of our ancestors. Birth control and the replacement of muscle by machines had much to do with the changes. In 1916, the overwhelming majority of women were at home all the time, mothers, housekeepers. In 2016, more women than men had salaried jobs outside the home, many earning more than the men in their families. Women were increasingly holding elected office and running companies. Homosexuals and lesbians were getting married. For many people, these trends had personal impacts that were deeply disturbing, testing their notions of a core American identity. A Presidential election is always about national character, a choice of who best personifies the American nation.

Much has been made about the current political power structure, the dominance of Republicans in State Governments and in the US House of Representatives. In thousands of election victories since 2010, Americans expressed discomfort with the Democratic Party style.  The Democratic Party is bewildered – how can they have gotten it so badly wrong? Of course, gerrymandering and political tactics were influential. Yes, there were bad court decisions and big money. Global economic changes had an impact. But something more fundamental was also taking place. As much as 2016 was about issues, the rejection of Clinton in 2016 was also a rejection of feminism as national character.

I am aware that this is an extreme simplification of an enormously complicated phenomenon. But to ignore the gender dimensions of recent elections would be a mistake. And, as we watch Trump’s behavior as President, it would be well to keep gender in mind. His blustering is  calculated. His is the testosterone Presidency, and he’s not going to let us forget it.





Bannon, Putin and Clausewitz

By stancutler,

Many of my friends in Chestnut Hill are incensed by Donald Trump’s appointment of Steve Bannon to a seat on  the National Security Council. They say Bannon is a man who incites bigotry through the internet, a purveyor of twisted truth who panders to alt-right nativist attitudes. Most Hillers I’ve talked to, and the overwhelming majority of media pundits, charge that someone as outrageously political as Steve Bannon has no place in the innermost sanctum of American strategic thinking. They seem to have forgotten Clausewitz, who wrote that war is a form of politics, rather than vice versa.

Vladimir Putin certainly understands this strategic concept and has weaponized the internet in the political wars to devastating effect. Bannon’s political strategy is much like Vladimir Putin’s use of lies and misinformation in ways that inflame and legitimize right wing opinion while delegitimizing Establishment information sources. If Trump is interested in combating Putin, than there are few people as well suited to the challenge as Steve Bannon.

The internet technologies have forced a reinvention of warfare as surely as did earlier technologies like gunpowder, aircraft and telegraphy. In 2016, we and our allies lost decisive battles because Russia seized on the new information technologies and used them in highly effective ways. American international policy seeks above all to maintain the strength and stability of the NATO Alliance.

Since the annexation of Crimea in 2012, diplomats and war strategists have been writing about the effectiveness of Putin’s cyber and information strategies. Here’s a quotation from a 2015 NATO publication, CYBER WAR IN PERSPECTIVE,

“Russian strategic culture focuses on war as a political activity; for cyber power to have a truly strategic effect, Russia believes that it must contribute directly to shaping political outcomes by altering the political perceptions of their opponents to better suit their interests. If one also accepts the idea that Russians are especially adept at understanding the political and strategic impact of new technologies, it is possible that they have grasped the real strategic opportunities created by the information revolution – opportunities that might be given short shrift by analysts shaped by different strategic cultures.”

Wars need ruthless generals. Ulysses Grant and George Patton, shining stars in America’s Warrior Hall of Fame, were absolute bastards who cared nothing for soldier blood or government treasure. And wars need grand strategists. Steve Bannon may be no more lovable than Attila the Hun, but he has the right qualifications for modern war and may be the only smart appointment Trump has made.

Who’s Winning The Cyber War?

By stancutler,

President Trump is trying to convince the American people that Russia’s cyber attack on our election did not matter. Nothing could be farther from the truth. It was an enormous triumph for Russia, a major battle won by them in the cyber war against the NATO Alliance.

It is a war in which America has much to lose. Without the stability of a unified Europe, our global presence would be weaker. We have been the dominant player on the world stage since 1946 because the great European powers have been aligned with us. The stability of this unprecedented alliance is precious. But that stability is under deliberate and constant attack by Russia under Vladimir Putin’s deft leadership.

Since 1946, Russia has contested our influence in Central Europe. Vladimir Putin, a KGB Colonel, has been a cyber specialist since the 1980s. Trump seems unaware of Putin’s war. He is so fixated on the Muslim Menace that he overlooks the geopolitical stakes for which Putin is playing. Putin wants his government to dominate the buffer states surrounding Mother Russia, and to extend that influence outward as far as possible, west and north to Central Europe and the Baltic States, and south through Syria into the Middle East. This is a different game from “wiping out ISIS,” Trump’s fixation.

Putin conducts information warfare. The first thing his Little Green Men did when they invaded Crimea was to seize the building containing the internet exchange servers for the region. But this “tactile” aggression was a small element in his larger information strategy.  Before foreign elections (Ukraine, The French Primary, Brexit, ours)  online communities funded by Russia aggressively publish hundreds of demeaning online messages about candidates they seek to weaken. These Russia-sponsored groups establish nationalistic websites that appeal to the right-wing that exists in every population. Nationalism is the great threat to European stability. The dissolution of NATO and the European Union are absolutely what Putin is after.

The President must broaden his vision. It is not only European stability that is threatened in the cyber war. Democracy itself, which relies upon a well-informed electorate, is being attacked. The effect of Putin’s lies is comparable to the effects of the President’s egocentric  tweets. Trump has attacked our free press with as much venom as our enemies. He does not seem to realize that our democracy depends on professional journalists. Without them we cannot know the facts. There is no truth without facts, and there is no democracy without truth. When he tweets fact-free opinions, he bypasses the truth seekers we depend upon.

By aping the propaganda techniques of a Russian dictator, President Trump makes himself Putin’s ally in the cyber war. He says there is “no proof” that the hacks of Clinton’s campaign manager and of the DNC influenced the outcome of the election. He denies the deliberate insertion of Pro-Trump fake news into the campaign. Any statement he doesn’t like he declares as false.

The President seems to think that nothing is as important as his popularity. But the geopolitical cyber war is not a TV-ratings war. To lie about the vote count as if it is a Nielsen Rating is not simply immoral and un-Presidential, it reflects thinking that misses the greater significance of the Russian hacks.  Russia wins when nationalism wins. Russia wins when Western democratic institutions are destabilized. World peace and democracy are both at stake in the cyber war. We lost a decisive battle in that war in 2016.  President Trump must reverse the losing trend by turning his attention away from measures of his popularity and dedicating himself to more important matters.

Presidential Elections: a Flawed System

By stancutler,

Presidential candidate “debates” have become the central mechanism of American democracy. In all, television audiences have had 25 opportunities to assess the worthiness of those who wish to hold the most important political office in the world.

From August 6, 2015 through March 10, 2016, Republican candidates participated in 12 debates, beginning with 17 aspirants and concluding with 4 at the final pre-convention debate. The Democrats had 9 debates, beginning with 5 aspirants on October 13th and concluded with 2 on April 14. Since the Nominating Conventions in July, there have been 3 Presidential Nominee debates and 1 between the Vice Presidential candidates. Integral to this modern electoral process are the opinion polls of likely American voters that are taken continuously before and after the debates. The post-debate polls are compared to the pre-debate polls to determine the “unofficial” winners and losers.

There’s a lot about this system that troubles me.  To begin with, it allowed Donald Trump to become one of the two final candidates for the Presidency. Any system that could elevate such a woefully unqualified degenerate is fundamentally flawed. It should never have happened and we, the people, ought to do something to insure that it never happens again.

The televised debate system evolved in tandem with state primary elections and caucuses.  The Republican and Democratic parties conduct one or the other in each of the 50 states to allow partisans to make a choice in a democratic manner. However, the implementation differs dramatically from state to state. Some primaries are winner-take-all, some are proportional. Some primary ballots include the names of convention delegates, some do not. The events take place sequentially from early February until mid-June, a month before the July nominating conventions, at which the majority of delegates are committed to cast a first ballot for the Presidential candidate they supported in their state’s primary or caucus or, in winner-take-all states, the candidate who received the most primary or caucus votes state-wide.  The Conventions certify the results of the states’ elections by officially Nominating a candidate.

None of this is in the Constitution. Our founders’ plan was for a President and Vice President  to be selected every four years by electors chosen by the House of Representatives in proportion to the number of Representatives to which the States were entitled by population. But they did not deal with the issue of how the candidates vying for Electoral College votes were to be selected. In 1800, it took the Electors 36 ballots to elect Adams over Jefferson. In the process, the entire system of American government almost collapsed. Bitter partisanships has been fundamental to our system ever since. A tie-breaking Amendment, the 12th,  was added to the Constitution, but it didn’t address the underlying question of candidate selection.

By the 1830s, two Parties had become quasi-governmental organiztions and began convening every four years to nominate their Presidential candidates. Through the 20th Century, State laws mandating primaries and caucuses were passed to ensure that the Parties faithfully represented the wishes of the people at the conventions.

That’s all pretty good – it authorizes us, the people, to directly influence the selection of Presidential candidates. But in 2016 the system generated a demagogue candidate, a frozen Congress,  and a deadlocked Supreme Court. The Presidential campaigns – not the Presidents – dominate the entire system of government. The 20th Century system doesn’t work in 2016. I worry that this appalling campaign will become the model for years to come.  This year, we need to start looking for the flaws in our system, repairs that we might make to ensure that our great democratic experiment does not end in disaster.

What about this cumbersome system can be changed? Many feel that the problems are best addressed by limiting campaign financing, proposing to amend the Constitution to negate the 2010 Citizens United decision that allowed unlimited money to be spent on the campaigns. I disagree. My approach is to de-commercialize politics by lowering campaign costs. I support legislation to abbreviate the primary campaign season  and to regulate political advertising rates.

Televised debates are an important component of the system, but they should not be under the control of media companies with a financial interest in prolonging campaigns and sensationalizing the proceedings. As the system has evolved, audience share and viewer ratings have become as influential as elections. Watching the debates is frustrating because the candidates are entitled to deliver irrelevant responses. They preoccupy public attention for years and promote polarization in the process. The debates should be conducted with mandatory rules of order enforced by impartial judges. The Primary Election debates should be produced by public broadcasters – not news companies driven by profits.

The 2016 Presidential campaign should be the last of its kind. It’s time for reform.


Republican Leaders Face Daunting Challenges

By stancutler,

The Keynote Speaker at the 2016 Republican Convention was Willie Robertson, star of Duck Dynasty, a reality TV show about his duck-call business. His selection tells us a lot about the Republican Party’s transformation since the year 2000 when the Keynote Speakers were John McCain and Colin Powell. Rudy Giuliani was given the honor of personifying the GOP in 2008. In 2012, Chris Christie was the chosen one. The demographic data of Trump voters were used, in the manner of TV ratings, to identify a public figure who most precisely matched the characteristics of Republicans who voted for Trump in the Primaries. And so it was that that a bush-bearded avid hunter and outspoken Christian foe of  federal government from rural Louisiana was selected to represent the GOP.

I was heartened by this morning’s poll numbers, which make Hillary Clinton a 3 to 1 favorite to win the election. If these predictions prove accurate, the fallout from the election, the implosion of the Republican Party, will influence our politics long after Election Day. With luck, Donald Trump’s candidacy will be relegated to that special place called the trash bin of history. But the story by no means ends with this election. Many Americans who identified themselves as Republicans before 2016 will struggle to ​feel at home in Willie Robertson’s GOP, but there probably aren’t enough of them to be the foundation of a viable national party. Nor are there enough Trumpists like Willie Robertson to win a national election. If Republicans can’t establish a workable coalition, and given the increasing electoral clout of everyone other than people like Willie Robertson, the GOP’s future as a national party is bleak.

In some respects, the disintegration of the Republican Party is a good thing, an example of democracy in action. As the country changes, so too must the two political parties. Apparently, the Republican Establishment lost touch with ordinary white folk who rejected their leadership and voted for an anti-Establishment candidate. That’s how the system’s supposed to work. But we are looking at the prospect of one-party rule in a two-party system, and that’s not how the system’s supposed to work. Even after the Civil War, we had two effective national Parties.

Optimistically, a more effective Republican Party will somehow emerge from the rubble. Intelligent Republicans like Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and John McCain are not supporting Trump because they want him to be President. Their lukewarm endorsements are meant to ensure that they will still have standing in the Party after the predicted 2016 disaster. They survived the 2010 Tea Party insurgency by allowing the nativist right-wing to block all Democratic legislation while holding onto their elected offices. They might attempt a similar strategy with the even more vociferous Trumpists. They might see no other option but to try, even if their majority in the House is diminished by 2016 down-ballot losses.

The Republican Establishment will tell the Party, “You didn’t listen to us in 2016, so you’d be well advised to heed our counsel in 2020.” But what will they counsel? What ideas do they have to offer alienated people whose political identities are so specifically cultural? Can such voters be wooed by a message of multi-cultural centrism?

One possibility, in the aftermath, might be abandonment of legislative obstructionism as a political strategy. The Republican Establishment might conclude that they lost the loyalty of many rank and file voters in spite of the fact that McConnell, Boehner and Ryan were able to block Democratic legislation. Their strategy encouraged the un-white Democratic President to use Executive powers, further demonstrating the ineffectual character of the Republican Establishment. I hope that they will counsel a different, more cooperative legislative strategy, one that would demonstrate to the disaffected Trumpists that they have some value. A working Congress would come as a very welcome change. It might be the only way to save the Republican Party.

I believe that the Republican Party’s response to this election, should they lose, will be as significant as the Democratic victory. I am concerned that the defeated party will try to survive by more Congressional obstructionism. And I worry that an angry Trump fringe might forsake elections for insurrections. It’s a fear based on the depth of feeling and the extent to which the love of guns, as personified by Willie Robertson, has taken hold among so many alienated white people. He opened his brief speech to the Republican Convention with a prayer to Jesus to keep his family safe in troubling times. If I was the praying sort, I’d ask for the blessing of wisdom to be bestowed upon the leadership of the Republican Party.

Surviving Political Earthquakes

By stancutler,

We are experiencing generational political change, a shifting of the electorate that will likely require several election cycles to be resolved. Both parties have lost the committed allegiance of 15% of their voters since 2008. That means that 30% of the electorate could potentially become Republicans, or Democrats, or cohere around a third party over the next several election cycles. The success of Sanders and Trump during the primaries is evidence of massive, popular discontent with status quo.

The FOR and AGAINST attitudes concerning Clinton and Trump indicate the same level of disaffection that we saw in the primary elections. People who are committed Republicans or Democrats support their Party’s nominee regardless of who they are or who they are running against. A recent Pew Research Center study found that 15% fewer Democrats are FOR Clinton than were FOR Obama in 2008, and 15% fewer Republicans are FOR Trump than were for McCain In 2008. This year, the percentage of opinions AGAINST both candidates is proportionally higher.

The Sanders phenomenon was an insurgency that the Democratic Establishment was barely able to defeat. According to August opinion polls, it is likely that Democrat Clinton will win the 2016 election, but that does not mean that a November victory will secure her party’s future. Most of those who voted against Hillary in the primaries will vote against Trump in the general election – not for the kind of Establishment they see personified in Hillary Clinton.

I talked to some Sanders voters during the Democratic Convention at the Wells Fargo Center, and I was struck by the vehemence of their anti-Establishment anger. A Hillary Clinton Administration could keep them in the party fold, but her legislative agenda will have to satisfy them. If they are disappointed by her Administration, there is a real possibility that they won’t vote Democratic 2020. The Democratic Party’s future depends upon how Clinton governs.

On the Republican side, the Trump phenomenon is more complicated and more fraught. During the early primaries, members of the Trump insurgency came primarily from weakly affiliated registered Republican voters with conservative views on government, but not social issues. As Trump’s candidacy gained legitimacy after the early primaries, he attracted the votes of the socially conservative populists, that 15% of registered Republicans who would sooner vote for a space alien than for a Democrat. Together, these two groups represent about 40% of Republican voters.

More significantly, the Republicans whose Party loyalties are the shakiest are the disproportionally influential business conservatives. While they are only 12% of registered voters, they have dominated the Republican Party’s internal politics for most of its history. When surveyed, they trend strongly against Trump in 2016 and could potentially flee the Party if he wins the November election. The question is where they might go.

So we have two quite different dynamics shaping the Parties. The Democratic Party will be in a stronger strategic position after the election because it will have leadership representing a popular majority within the Party. But the Democrats could lose the advantage of stability at the top if they are unable to win the allegiance of the new left wing, the 45% of registered Democrats who voted for Sanders.

Painfully for the Republicans, the wounded, minority Establishment will contest with larger groups in the intra-Party conflicts that will be fought after November. If Trump wins, a significant percentage of business conservatives might conclude that they share more attitudes with Democrats than with the Republican rank and file. If Trump loses the election, business conservatives like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell must either find a way to convince the disaffected outsiders who voted for Trump that they are Republicans, or watch the GOP shrink to less than 40% of the electorate.

One of the more intriguing, though unlikely, possibilities is that disaffected voting groups could form a third Party. Attitude surveys conducted by the Pew Center show that the views of Trump and Sanders voters, while by no means identical, are similar with regard to economic globalization, the role of government, and social issues. Should the disaffected business conservatives combine with the outsiders groups, even try to lead them, a third Party could represent as much as 54% of the electorate. But even if such an attempt is made, it is unlikely to attract a majority for several election cycles, if ever. Third parties rarely get 20% of the vote and few last for more than a couple of elections.

Democracies must evolve or die. Regardless of who wins in November, it seems clear that both political Parties are in the midst of significant change. A Trump Presidency would be disastrous, but it appears increasing unlikely. Whatever the outcome of the 2016 election, Party affiliations in 2020 are likely to be different. The loyalties of steadfast conservatives and solid liberals are unlikely to change, but a great number of Americans in the middle, millions of voters with weak ties to the traditional parties, are searching for a political home.

Would Trump Ally with Putin?

By stancutler,

The religious dimensions of this election season are reminiscent of the 1840s, the time when a “Know Nothing” political party formed around the notion that America was under attack by agents of the Vatican. In 1844, a powerful minority of nativist Americans reacted to the influx of immigrants with alarm, fearful that the white Protestant foundations of American society were about to be replaced by the evil institutions of nasty foreigners.

At the 2016 Republican Convention, former Congressman Newt Gingrich gave a speech supporting the nomination of Donald Trump in which he declared, “If our enemies had their way, every person on earth would be subject to conversion by the sword and to a cruel and violent system of law. There would be no individual liberty. There would be no equality. There would be no freedom. If you doubt we are at war, if you doubt that the threat is as real as I say, let me refresh your memory.” Whereupon he recited the list of Islamist terror attacks here and abroad that have made headline news over the past year. After these reminders, he said, “Which brings us to the heart of the matter, we are sleepwalking through history as though this is all about politics. It is not. It is about our safety and our survival as a country. We cannot keep in place the people and the systems that have brought us to this point and then lie to us every single day about the threat. That is why every American should be terrified at the prospect of a Hillary Clinton presidency. Hillary Clinton has been right at the center of this dishonesty.”

This is a point of view that Democrats tend to dismiss as alarmist and exaggerated, as Republicans cynically playing the fear card, an indication that the GOP cannot compete with the Democratic Party on domestic issues and turns instead to outdated, militaristic patriotism as a way to stoke the emotions of the electorate. While I acknowledge that there is some of that, and that no one is more cynical and adept at this rhetoric than Gingrich, the popular fear of Islam is a powerful reality and much more influential than Progressive Democrats are willing to acknowledge.

In our affluent Northeastern neighborhoods, we are unlikely to meet people who share Gingrich’s fears. We talk to each other and seem genuinely baffled by Trump’s appeal. How many conversations have you had in which the subject was the people who support Trump because they are racist, bigoted, xenophobic, and stupid? We all live in a bubble.

To what extent does 2016 differ from 1844? The ISIS form of Islam is very real and very dangerous – terrifying. But, as hard as it is to imagine Irish Americans as evil, that loathing instigated murderous, arsonist riots so fierce that our Philadelphia streets had to be policed by thousands of Militia (the 19th Century’s National Guard) who’d been invited to our city to smother the violence. In the November 1844 election, a nativist won the Philadelphia Congressional seat. In our day, many Americans perceive Muslims as people who want to see us dead or as subjects to their law. The extent to which such a perception is a reality is at the heart of the 2016 Presidential election.

We have a right to expect our government to do all in its power to prevent atrocities before they happen. But there are great risks in allowing such a perception to guide our domestic police. We’ve already witnessed an alarming militarization of our police forces, and the establishment of a huge governmental apparatus that often uses Gestapo-like powers to make the lives of minorities miserable. So we must be as careful to protect our democratic freedoms as we are to protect our restaurants, airports and other public places.

It is one thing to be watchful against gun and bomb massacres, it is something altogether different to conduct foreign affairs as a belligerent in a religious war. That’s precisely what Putin does to justify his police state and operations in the Ukraine and on Turkey’s southern border. In May of this year, the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church declared Russia to be engaged in a Holy War . Putin and the Patriarch are in complete agreement on the Christian justification for their current wars. I wonder whether a President Trump would ally with Russia in a global war on terror. Certainly, there is little space between the Putin and Trump viewpoints regarding an Islamist threat. In August of 2015 Putin addressed the Duma, Russia’s Legislature, and delivered this speech, one of the shortest on record. When he finished, the Duma’s politicians rose their feet and gave Putin a five-minute standing ovation.

In Russia, live like Russians. Any minority, from anywhere, if it wants to live in Russia, to work and eat in Russia, it should speak Russian, and should respect the Russian laws. If they prefer Sharia Law, and live the life of Muslim’s then we advise them to go to those places where that’s the state law. Russia does not need Muslim minorities. Minorities need Russia and we will not grant them special privileges, or try to change our laws to fit their desires, no matter how loud they yell ‘discrimination.’ We will not tolerate disrespect of our Russian culture.

We better learn from the suicides of America, England, Holland and France, if we are to survive as a nation. The Muslims are taking over those countries and they will not take over Russia. The Russian customs and traditions are not compatible with the lack of culture or the primitive ways of Sharia Law and Muslims. When this honorable legislative body thinks of creating new laws, it should have in mind the Russian national interest first, observing that the Muslim minorities are not Russians.

Much has been made of Trump’s possible business dealings in Russia, with no evidence that such ties exists. Others have written about the Putin and Trump’s  mutual admiration for each other’s leadership style. But there are more worrisome connections.  Perhaps we should consider the recent hacks of Democratic Party databases as moves in a game of chess, a sort of intelligence warfare that Grand Master Putin learned as a Lieutenant Colonel in the KGB. I believe that Donald Trump, Newt Gingrich, and a major segment of the American electorate would support a Crusader alliance with Russia.

Elections, Conventions and Infomercials

By stancutler,

An infomercial is a long-form televised advertisement, the domain of fluent salesmen who demonstrate the amazing convenience of twenty-dollar gadgets.  Every four years, the Republican and Democratic Parties invest in a few nights of prime time to demonstrate the amazing virtues of their candidates. You may ask yourself why anyone bothers to watch. Most years, the answer is that few do. This year is different.

Before the state primaries became our way of nominating Presidential candidates, Party loyalists would convene in the summers of general election years to negotiate a consensus Presidential candidate. Now, that choice has been made before the opening gavel, before a clergyman stands at the podium to deliver an invocation. Nor is there mystery about the Conventions’ vice-Presidential choices because the delegates always endorse their Presidential candidate’s choice, for to do otherwise would repudiate the candidate’s executive ability. So, as political theatre, the conventions are dismal failures lacking in suspense. Snooze time.

But the Conventions continue to be important to our democracy. During the weeks between the last primary elections and the beginning of the Conventions, politicians representing the largest and most influential factions within the Parties meet in committees to draft statements of governing principles and strategic goals. The opening gavel is their deadline. In this way, the conventions continue to be critical because they force the Parties to state their positions. Over time, since the Platforms are far from law, they have a significant effect on governance by providing the policy foundations for domestic legislation and foreign affairs. If you have doubts about what the Parties stand for, if you’d like to know how they justify their positions, read the Platforms.

Both Parties’ rules allow minorities to challenge the Platforms during the Conventions by offering alternative planks as amendments requiring a majority of votes for inclusion. The Convention Chairperson asks for voice votes and determins the winner by ear. If a vote sounds close, the Chair has the discretion to call the roll and tally the state delegations’ individual votes to determine the winner. Given that the Convention Chairperson is the emcee charged with the responsibility of demonstrating unity, meaningful roll call votes are avoided. Platform fights, are rare. A minority plank hasn’t won since 1948, when northeastern liberal Democrats outvoted southern segregationists and replaced a weak civil rights plank with one that suggested that Truman, if elected President, would use federal law enforcement against state and local governments that persecuted African Americans.

That was the first televised Convention. It took place here in Philadelphia, as did the Republican Convention. The manufacturers of television sets owned three of the four broadcast networks and wanted to televise the Conventions as a means of promoting sales.  ABC, which did not manufacture sets, broadcast because their airtime competitors (NBC, CBS, and DuMont) were doing it. There was only one sponsor, LIFE Magazine. Philadelphia was chosen because it was about halfway between Boston and Richmond, to which the Philadelphia stations were connected by coaxial cable. Less than a million TVs had been sold at the time, but most of them were in living rooms between Boston and Richmond.

More people, a higher percentage of viewers, will tune in to the Conventions this year because there is drama, if not suspense. They are likely to skip most of the broadcasts and tune in to the final nights’ acceptance speeches, particularly the Republican candidate’s. Donald Trump fascinates viewers in a unique way. In fact, his knack for attracting television viewers seems to be his only qualification. So, a “huge” audience will tune in to watch his speech, probably more than will watch Clinton’s, and Trump will proclaim the disparity as proof of his qualification for the Presidency, as if an infomercial is the same thing as an election.

Trumpism – 21st Century Politics

By stancutler,

The Republican Party as we have known it is disintegrating, and that means that the Two Party System that we have long relied upon to shape our politics is being re-formed. From a momentary, partisan perspective, depending upon whether we are Republicans or Democrats, this is either terrific news or a national tragedy. In either case, we are witnessing profound changes to the framework of American politics and government. The revolution has begun – and it’s about time. Political realignment is democratically healthful, and long overdue.

Politicians tune their messages to obtain votes. This election season, it is clear that a substantial number of middle Americans no longer fit inside their political parties. The good news is that we are witnessing democracy in action, a shuddering of political foundations. The bad news is that we don’t know how it will all turn out, and some people are starting to panic.

Understandably, until the November election, our interest is on the daily coverage of the Presidential campaign. Trump is a real and present danger and good Americans must stand up and oppose him. I am cautiously optimistic that they will successfully do so. But regardless of how the present campaign turns out, it is likely that Trump-style politics are here to stay. He represents the political consequences of an unregulated communications industry.

Trump as President would be absolutely, unequivocally bad . But I am equally alarmed by the way that poll tallies and audience share now have at least as much influence as elections. I hold to a core belief that a ritualized voting day is the best way for the citizens of a democratic society to influence government. I am alarmed that prediction polls and audience share are collected and used by commercial entities to form the basis of sponsored political programming. This programming does more than shape attention, it establishes commercial viability as equivalent to an election outcome. Donald Trump is a result.

Let us peer through the retro-spectroscope. In 1934, New Dealers became alarmed over the National Broadcasting Company’s appetite for local radio outlets. They established the Federal Communications Commission to impose regulations on mergers and acquisitions in the communications industry, recognizing that public attention ought not be controlled by a commercial monopoly. The flip side of prohibiting monopoly is that it stimulates competition.

In 1996, Congress responded to complaints about the absence of cable television in unprofitable communities. They re-chartered the FCC to approve mergers and acquisitions between telephone and cable companies, because access to information is a democratic right, and because a sensible method of providing that access is to allow the companies that own the transmission networks to be blended with the companies that produce the content. Seemed like a good idea, as is the way of unintended consequences. The landscape in the communications industry is now dominated by overgrown companies competing for our attention, communications behemoths conceived by that legislation.

It is possible that the political communications industry had to evolve this way, that free and open competition for ratings is necessarily the way for the candidates to qualify for office. In the political media ecology, the most popular is the best. It is an environment that solicits pseudo-votes continually: tweets, mouse clicks, ratings, predictive polls, popularity polls, and so on become the news. Each broadcast is then calibrated to attract a targeted share of the audience. And so we get the emergence of a man whose only qualification is that he gets good ratings. What’s wrong with this picture?

It is also possible that the 1996 regulations could have prohibited merger by sponsorship between political parties and communications companies. Had those rules been part of the 1996 Act, our politics two decades later would be vastly different.

This is treacherous territory for those of us who love democracy. Freedom of expression is the bedrock of our creed. Any regulations infringing on those rights would be wrong, likely to be rejected if presented to the Supreme Court. So, mindful of these risks, let’s wonder whether there might be democratic ways to de-commercialize politics.

What do we value? Ought politics conform to a business model, in fact be a business? The business that Donald Trump is good at is getting high ratings. He has true genius for manipulating the levers of media, as if that qualifies him to be the President. His candidacy is important, not only because he’d be a disastrous President, but because he exemplifies the immorality that will structure our politics for generations.

These are early, early days in the current media revolution. For convenience, I look at the sponsorship of the 1948 political conventions by LIFE magazine as a milestone, the beginning of a symbiotic partnership we assume to be natural and unavoidable. In 1948 both American political parties gladly accepted the sponsorship of a media company. An executive of LIFE acted as the executive producer at the DNC event – lining up the talking heads, announcing the results, deciding who should be televised. The institutions of politics, the news business, and industrial communications have been symbiotically connected ever since. Our politics are produced by the descendants of that early convergence.

The communications industry’s marketplace and our politics are inseparable. Must that be so? I pose this question, would you support FCC regulations intended to de-commercialize politics? Can it be done? Communications revolutions occur over centuries, and this one is just getting started. Can we tweak the environment like good stewards of democracy? Or are we doomed to a future of Trumps?

I love the news. I have to fight my addiction. I find it hard to imagine politics that’s not offered on TV as shows, always dramatized, continually being churned by ever newer news. I don’t have any clear sense of what de-commercialized politics would be like. Maybe it’s not absolute; perhaps there is a continuum of regulation, a sweet spot that would still give us a reliable source of political information that diminishes the power of money. Trump is a symptom to be treated by voting against him. The underlying disease is the commercialization of politics.