Monthly Archives: November 2016

We need to stay (very) wary of Trump

To people who say we should give Trump the benefit of the doubt (consider him right till proven wrong), and especially to people who say we should unite behind the man soon to become “our” new president, I say “No!” A thousand times “No!” Trump has already given us good reason in his campaign rhetoric, past behavior toward women, etc. to mistrust him. It’s up to him now to earn our trust, something I don’t think he can do. As far as uniting behind him goes, what’s that all about? Simplistic patriotism?

No. We need to stay wary of this man and his minions, ready to oppose actions he may take in the near future, as well as the racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-Muslim, and anti-immigrant actions already being taken by some of his supporters.

I usually ignore the writings of conservatives and right-wingers, but this morning I did some research into the “alt-right,” a term I’d never heard until my sister mentioned it in a phone call yesterday. It’s something to do with Trump, but what?

Here’s what I’ve come up with after hours online…

The alt-right opposes traditional conservatism, hence its name. According to Wikipedia, its internet postings generally “support Republican president-elect Donald Trump, and oppose immigration, multiculturalism and political correctness. Though the alt-right has no formal ideology, various sources have stated that white nationalism is fundamental to it. It’s also been associated with white supremacism, Islamophobia, anti-feminism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism.” Pretty much everything we’ve been trying to fight for years. The article goes on to say that the alt-right opposes both legal and illegal immigration, and takes a “hardline stance” on (mostly Muslim) migrants to Europe.

A lot of alt-rightists are also “paleoconservatives” or “paleocons.” According to Wikipedia, these are believers in “a conservative political philosophy found primarily in the United States that stresses tradition, limited government and civil society, and religious, regional, national, and Western (read white Anglo Protestant) identity.” Along with all of the above, paleocons “press for the restoration of controls upon free trade, a greater emphasis upon economic nationalism and isolationism in the conduct of American foreign policy,” and want to return to the traditional “assignment of gender, ethnic, and racial roles.” To say “yikes!” is to be too flip. If they had their way, we’d have no abortion, recognition of gay marriage, or concern for civil rights, and Jews would be blamed for Communism and a host of other evils.

Paleoconservatives’ non-interventionism and opposition to immigration stems from their skepticism regarding the extent to which European culture can be adopted by non-Western peoples. Sam Francis wrote: “We believe that the United States derives from and is an integral part of European civilization and the European people and that the American people and government should remain European in their composition and character. We therefore oppose the massive immigration of non-European and non-Western peoples into the United States that threatens to transform our nation into a non-European majority in our lifetime. We believe that illegal immigration must be stopped, if necessary by military force and placing troops on our national borders; that illegal aliens must be returned to their own countries; and that legal immigration must be severely restricted or halted through appropriate changes in our laws and policies.”

This is scary stuff. Trump’s pronouncements haven’t just been coming from off-the-cuff individual nuttiness – there’s a movement behind him. And Stephen Bannon, his campaign “CEO” and nominee for White House chief of staff exemplifies it. Who is this guy?

Ryan Lizza tells us in “Steve Bannon’s Vision for the Trump Coalition after Election Day” in the 10-16-16 issue of The New Yorker. “Donald Trump and his campaign CEO Steve Bannon seem more interested in creating a post-election platform for a new ethno-nationalist politics than they do in defeating Hillary Clinton…This week, Donald Trump’s campaign took a new and even darker turn. As multiple women accused the Republican presidential nominee of sexual harassment and sexual assault, Trump gave speeches on Thursday and Friday that had two themes: he denied all the charges against him, most notably by arguing that his accusers were not attractive enough for him to assault, and he claimed that the accusations are part of a global conspiracy against him, involving the Clintons, the news media, and international banks. ‘Hillary Clinton meets in secret with international banks to plot the destruction of US sovereignty in order to enrich these global financial powers, her special-interest friends, and her donors,’ Trump told a raucous crowd of supporters in West Palm Beach, Florida, on Thursday. Referring to Trump’s linking Clinton to ‘international banks’ and ‘global financial powers,’ Jonathan Greenblatt, the head of the Anti-Defamation League, issued a statement that Trump ‘should avoid rhetoric and tropes that have historically been used against Jews and still reverberate today.’

Trump has long been a conspiracy theorist. He gained a prominent role in American politics in 2011 by questioning Barack Obama’s birthplace. In 2012, he claimed that ‘the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.’ During this election, he has alleged that Obama founded ISIS, that Ted Cruz’s father was involved in John F. Kennedy’s assassination, and that the Justice Department colluded with Hillary Clinton to let her off the hook in its investigation of her use of a private e-mail server while she was the Secretary of State. It’s no surprise, then, that Trump has been advised for decades by Roger Stone, a prominent political strategist and conspiracy theorist who believes that Lyndon B. Johnson had Kennedy killed and that George H. W. Bush may have tried to kill Ronald Reagan. It’s also not shocking that Trump has been a regular guest on the radio show of Alex Jones, who, among other interesting things, believes that Americans are in danger of being controlled by ‘clockwork elves.’

But it took someone a little smarter – and more cynical – than Trump, Stone, or Jones to distill Trump’s platform of protectionism, closed borders, and white identity politics into one message about a global conspiracy. The man behind this new message is Steve Bannon, who became the CEO of the Trump campaign in August. Bannon is on leave from Breitbart, the right-wing news site where he served as executive chairman, and where he honed a view of international politics that Trump now parrots.

Bannon, who is 62, is new to right-wing rabble-rousing, compared to someone like Stone. Raised in a blue-collar Democratic family in Virginia, he served in the Navy, went to Harvard Business School, and became wealthy as a mergers-and-acquisition dealmaker for Goldman Sachs, in the 1980s. In 1993 he added to his fortune by buying a share of the royalties for “Seinfeld.” Bannon met Andrew Breitbart, the founder of the news website, while financing conservative documentaries in Los Angeles in the 2000’s (Breitbart started the website in 2005, as a conservative news aggregator). In the fall of 2009, Bannon and Breitbart worked together on a business plan to launch a more ambitious version of the site, and Bannon joined its board in 2011, once the financing deal closed. When Breitbart died in 2012, Bannon became executive chairman and took over the site,” changing its politics from conservative to alt-right.

According to Lizza, “alt-right is a new term for white nationalists, who care little about traditional conservative economic ideas and instead stress the need to preserve America’s European heritage and keep out non-whites and non-Christians. Under Bannon, Breitbart promoted similar movements in Europe, including the United Kingdom Independence Party, the National Front in France, Alternative for Germany, and the Freedom Party in the Netherlands.

In 2013, Bannon encouraged Senator Jeff Sessions, of Alabama, who led the opposition to immigration reform, to run for president, but Sessions declined to enter the race. At early candidate forums, Bannon noticed that, while most Republicans stuck to the Party’s small-government message, Trump was hitting the protectionist themes that had proved popular at Breitbart and on the European right. He tried to get a national newspaper reporter to interview Trump, and was told, ‘My editor would think I’d lost my fucking mind. Donald Trump’s a clown.’ In early 2015, Breitbart tilted toward Cruz, but after Trump entered the race that summer, with a sharper anti-immigrant message, Breitbart evolved into an unofficial arm of the Trump campaign. When Trump fired his campaign director, Paul Manafort, in mid-August, he made Kellyanne Conway, a Republican pollster, his new campaign manager, and named Bannon his campaign CEO.

Bannon has a few unusual views that are important to understanding Trump’s current speeches. He believes that the white working class is the key to the election, because the Clintons have never been able to win without this demographic. While Bill Clinton won two Presidential elections with the support of white working-class voters, recent changes in the electorate have made the Democrats more reliant on minority voters and college-educated whites.

The rhetoric that Bannon is feeding him makes it increasingly likely that Trump will lose in a landslide. Trump’s response to poll numbers indicating this has been to tell his supporters that the election is ‘rigged,’ creating a sense of grievance about that can be exploited after November 8th. Trump and Bannon have given up on trying to defeat Clinton. They seem more interested in creating a platform for a new ethno-nationalist politics that may bedevil the Republican Party – and the country – for a long time to come.”

Now that Trump has won, it’s we, the complacent liberals and progressives, who, I believe, must retain a feeling of alarm and be prepared to act on it. First, do as I have, and inform yourself about the man and the movement behind him. Second, start thinking of ways to oppose, and hopefully block, him and it. The Republican majority in Congress is still small enough for Democrats to block some legislation, and maybe even a Trump Supreme Court appointment – just as the Republicans have been doing to Obama for eight years. I don’t know how effective the current street protests are or can be (see Micah White’s The End of Protest), and they could further increase divisions in this country. In the end, we’ll need the support of many Trump voters to stop him and truly reunite our country. I don’t think a lot of them knew everything about the man they voted for, or even if they did, supported all his stances. On the economic issues, they need to understand that a millionaire capitalist who also happens to be a dyed-in-the-wool narcissist isn’t going to help them regain jobs and dignity.

Speaking of dignity (and safety), all of us – regardless of color, ethnicity, religion, politics, country of origin, gender, or sexual orientation – deserve to have ours preserved. Stand up for these rights on behalf of all groups! Treat everyone, including those who continue to support Trump, with respect and kindness; but refuse to let this unexpected and potentially very dangerous new leader turn our country into something we don’t recognize and can’t live with. “America, RIP,” a letter to the editor of my city’s newspaper said today. No. We don’t have to – we can’t – sit by and let that happen.

P.S. If you need to lighten up and get further motivation for the work ahead, watch “Michael Moore in Trumpland,” available on Amazon for $5.




The “spiritual” and the “political” really are one

The past 36 hours have been an emotional rollercoaster for me, as I largely surrendered to a clutch of negative reactions to Donald Trump’s election as US president. Now, thanks to a few words from a friend and the written messages of Starhawk and Jaya & Ananda, I’m beginning to regain a larger perspective. I explained who Starhawk is in my last post. Jaya and Ananda are a couple who sing beautiful kirtan music, music that’s sung and played in contemplation of and love for Spirit as embodied in the Hindu deities — like the Hare Krishna chant. It may sound weird, but I promise, if you try it, you too could end up singing along from the bottom of your heart and dancing in some form or fashion as you listen.

I’ll continue to follow Starhawk’s wise advice as we move forward – and you can look for her online, too, if you’re interested. But today it’s a message from Ananda that I want to share with you, reminding us that Trump’s victory, like everything that happens (or doesn’t) is an opportunity for us to choose what will help or continue to hurt. Titled “Understanding the Spiritual Dimensions of Donald Trump’s Presidency,” it came to me this morning in a group e-mail, and reads as follows:

“As many of us go into a deep struggle to accept the reality of what is taking place in our country and around the world, I (Ananda) was inspired to share this post on Facebook…I think it captures the essence of the practice that’s being asked of us.

To say I am struggling would be an understatement. I have been searching for the light and love amidst unsurmountable darkness, fear, sadness, disappointment, and more. As I lay in bed with this, the light came through…

Donald Trump, somewhere deep in my heart I care for you. You’re reflecting to me so much of what I don’t love about myself and others. You’re giving me this incredible opportunity to grow, to forgive, to accept others where they are on their souls’ journey. And for this reason I’m going to start a relationship of caring for you rather than hating, belittling, shaming, etc.

Donald Trump, I have a lot of fear around what you represent and what your consciousness represents for all sentient beings on this planet. Instead of fueling more of what I don’t want to see and experience in this world, I am going to start the cultivation of beaming you love and compassion. That you may feel our interconnectedness. That you may feel the love I have for this world and all its life forms. That you could be in a place of infinite gratitude and joy from the diversity of God’s creation.

Donald Trump, I pray and will pray that you awaken to such divine revelation each day and choose to do your best in making this world a more loving place, a safer place, a world where we cultivate kindness for each other. Donald Trump, I know deep in my heart that you are a reflection of God’s love, and that I as an evolving soul must learn to love and care for you. So it is, dear soul, that I send this to you and all those searching for the light and love in these times. Find the love beneath all the darkness and let that rise. Om Asato Maa Sad-Gamaya Tamaso Maa Jyotir-Gamaya Mrityor-Maa Amritam Gamaya. Oh, Lord, lead us from the unreal to the real. From the darkness to the light. Lead us from death to eternal life. Namaste, Donald Trump.”

Can you feel how beautiful and right this is? I hope it strikes a chord with you, and that you’ll find it as helpful as I have. Can you see how much better an underpinning this attitude can be to the “political” work we must continue to do than anger, denial, fear, and hatred? It can apply not only to Donald Trump, but to all who voted for him, all who stayed home, to everyone we encounter in the flesh or in our minds, up to and including ourselves – because we’ll never be able to fully embody and practice it in every single moment. It’s a realization and an aspiration that we’ll ebb away or be torn from every day, but it’s a touchstone to return to after each storm passes.

We are one, we’re in this together, we all make it or none of us do…What you think of, say about, or do to another is what you’re thinking of and doing to yourself.

I still don’t like what’s happened. I still wish Hillary had been elected. But the sooner I – we – accept what’s happened, where we actually are, and see the spiritual opportunity in it, the better off we’ll all be.

Namaste! (The spark of the divine in me bows to the spark of the divine in you.)

Starhawk’s thoughts today

In case you don’t know who Starhawk is, she’s a an eco-feminist, pagan spiritual and political leader and novelist (The Fifth Sacred Thing), whom I admire. In a group e-mail today, she concludes: “Please, people, let’s call in some compassion and tolerance over the next little bit of time. Pour that hatred and vitriol down the drain, and try to understand that most everyone is frustrated and anxious about the state of the world. Don’t take it out on one another — look to ways to turn that fear and anger into creative and productive action.”


International monitor assesses US election

A monitor finds flaws in the U.S. election by Michael McFaul for the Washington Post, 11-6-16

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has claimed that the U.S. presidential election is rigged. In other countries where the freedom and fairness of elections are suspect, political and social leaders often call upon international election monitors to observe their polls and render an assessment. I have served on multiple international elections missions, several times in Russia and once in Morocco, and have read hundreds of other election monitoring reports. I have some ideas of what I would write in my report if I were invited to join an international election mission observing the 2016 U.S. presidential election. My bottom line up front: Trump is right; there are irregularities in the American campaign and electoral process that require reform, but they are not the ones Trump usually cites.

First, compared to elections in other consolidated democracies, Americans spend too much money on presidential campaigns, a negative trend that accelerated after the Supreme Court’s 2010 rule regarding the Citizens United case. In this election, the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, has benefited more from the flood of outside money, but the levels of spending both within and outside of the presidential campaigns would be a cause for concern for any election observer mission, especially the disproportionate amount of contributions given by the very wealthy.

Second, the quantity and quality of media coverage of candidates also figures prominently in many international election observation reports, and the United States would be no exception. In other countries, the government often directs media outlets to dedicate disproportionate coverage to government-friendly candidates. In the United States, the most striking feature of the 2016 election is the amount of free media that Donald Trump received compared to his opponents, especially in the primaries. For those dedicated to promoting free and fair elections, that’s cause for concern. Trump’s threats against the media, at times invoking violence against journalists covering his campaign events, also would be noted in my report.

My assessment of media bias for my election observer report would be inconclusive. Making qualitative assessments about media bias is a tricky space, marred by subjectivity, though new big data analyses are improving our assessments. Mainstream media are not all liberal or anti-Trump, unless one codes the two highest-circulation newspapers, USA Today and the Wall Street Journal; the most-watched cable news network, Fox News; and two of the four most popular radio programs, “The Rush Limbaugh Show” and “The Sean Hannity Show,” as pro-Clinton. On social media, Trump himself has 12.8 million followers on Twitter.

My election report would underscore several non-democratic features of America’s electoral college. The most obvious one we all know: The candidate who gets the most votes should become president. When that does not happen, such as in the 2000 presidential election, the fairness of the system comes into question. The electoral college also distorts the democratic process by empowering voters in certain battleground states and weakening the influence of voters in non-battleground states.

In addition, the Electoral College also creates easier opportunities for voter fraud. If a hundred votes in one battleground state can determine who becomes the next president, actors (foreign and domestic) might be tempted to change votes in a handful of polling stations. If the president were selected in a direct national election, the margins of victory are much less likely to be measured in the hundreds, making fraud much harder to execute.

In addition, I would cite the distorting effects of our primary process, which assigns inordinate electoral power to a small number of states voting first in the process.

My elections assessment also would bring attention to the nearly 6 million American citizens who cannot vote because of a criminal conviction, half of whom already have completed their sentences.

In the section of my report about Election Day, I would first criticize the American presidential election for not allowing international election monitors unhindered access to polling stations or vote count rooms. My report also would cite inefficiencies in the security of computer systems used for the presidential election, especially regarding voter registration lists. And all states should have paper ballot backups to their electronic vote-counting systems. I would also note impediments to voter registration and ease of voting, as well as long lines on Election Day in the past, as real flaws in our election administration, though I would praise the U.S. government for taking measures to try to alleviate these problems. Many of these shortcomings result in part because of our federal system. The federal government cannot force states to allow foreigners to observe elections, mandate greater cybersecurity of our election machinery or override state voter ID laws. At the same time, I also would highlight in my election observer report that the probability of outright fraud on Election Day is next to zero. That’s the upside of our decentralized, federal system. Fifty different legislatures establish their individual rules for the conduct of the presidential election in their states, making coordinated national efforts to falsify ballots nearly impossible. Previous election fraud has been negligible.

The possibility of voter intimidation on Election Day, however, is real. Trump’s call for citizens to monitor the vote, without any training or coordination, could precipitate havoc at polling stations and thereby suppress voter participation, especially if these poll watchers come armed with guns.

Observation missions also assess the actions of governments and their resources in trying to influence electoral outcomes, especially close to Election Day. FBI Director James Comey’s letter to Congress on Oct. 28 announcing the reopening of the investigation of one of the major presidential candidates did just that, clearly aiding one candidate and undermining the neutrality of the U.S. federal government just days before the presidential election. This blow to a free and fair electoral process is especially blatant given long-standing FBI traditions of avoiding such actions.

Finally, my election monitoring report would include one last worrisome observation. For the first time since the U.S. civil war, a portion of the population has threatened to not recognize the election results if their candidate, Trump, does not win. Trump himself is leading this movement. Accepting the results of a free and fair election is one of the central components of the minimalist definition of democracy.

That a candidate from one of the major parties would refuse to abide by this core democratic principle would suggest to outside election observers that American democratic institutions and commitment to democratic values are not as deep as was once assumed. That part of the election observation report would be the scariest section of all.

Michael McFaul is director of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, a Hoover fellow at Stanford University and a contributing columnist to The Washington Post. He was a special assistant to President Obama at the National Security Council from 2009 to 2012 and U.S. ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014.