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Monday, December 26, 2016

Important Assumptions About Trump: What He Says Will Likely Be False; What He Does May Very Well Not Be in the Interest of the Country



Photo Credit: twitter.com/transition2017
Now that a majority of electors have cast their ballots in favor of Donald Trump, he will have the lawful powers of the presidency, as prescribed in the Constitution and the laws of the United States. Legal authority is not equivalent, however, to political legitimacy, moral authority, or entitlement to civic respect.
Trump’s legal authority will give him the power to issue executive orders and repeal existing ones. If he signs bills passed by Congress, those enactments ― however stupid or destructive they may be — will be the law of the land, unless the courts find them unconstitutional. Similarly, Trump will be the Commander in Chief of the armed forces, because the Constitution confers that power on the holder of the office. As a result, as long as Trump’s actions are consistent with law, opponents can and should publicize the costs and hazards of those actions, but will lose if they mount legal challenges.
Though Trump has legal legitimacy, he totally lacks political legitimacy. He seized power through a cumulative set of actions that thoroughly undermine the integrity of the election outcome. These illegitimate actions include voter suppression engineered by the Republican Party; highly inappropriate and outrageous interventions in the election by the Director of the FBI; persistent demonizing and intimidation of a free press; and, most egregious, a deliberate attempt (openly encouraged by Trump himself) by a hostile foreign government to influence the election in his favor. Taken together, these actions fatally undercut the political legitimacy of Trump’s presidency.
He also lacks the moral authority normally associated with the Presidency. Trump’s deficiencies of character undercut any notion that he deserves moral or civic respect. His deep flaws have been on full exhibit before, during, and after the election campaign. These character failures are revealed in his blatant and persistent lies; the scapegoating of vulnerable groups; eight years as a birther; a disgusting history as a sexual predator and racist; and conflicts of financial interest so wide and deep that he will be impeachable on day one of his presidency.
How should Americans treat a president who has bare legal legitimacy but lacks both political legitimacy and moral authority? Some say that all Americans should wait and see how he performs in the job, and that other leaders should work with him where common interests can be found. They argue that, for the good of the country, we should put the election behind us and treat Trump with political and moral respect — that is, that we should strive to normalize his presidency.
We respectfully but emphatically disagree. It would be a grave error to ignore his political illegitimacy and lack of moral authority. Other elected officials, the media, and the citizenry at large have no obligation to afford him the slightest political respect. Rather, the next four years should be a time of resistance and outright obstructionism. Opponents of Trump should be at least as aggressive in challenging the political legitimacy and moral authority of his presidency as Republicans were in disrespecting President Obama, whose political legitimacy and moral authority were beyond reproach.
What concrete presumptions flow from the political and moral illegitimacy of Trump’s presidency? Here are four:
  • Everything Trump speaks, writes, tweets, or otherwise expresses should be presumed false, unless there is reliable (to the listener) evidence that it is true. He has lied so often and so blatantly, and his followers have so persistently rejected the idea of objective truth, that no responsible citizen should believe a word he says unless it can be independently verified. The press will be acting irresponsibly unless it covers him according to this principle.
  • Trump should never be presumed to be acting in the best interests of the United States. His actions with respect to his business interests and his family’s wealth suggest that his highest loyalties are to those personal concerns, and his loyalty to the nation is completely secondary. His encouragement of the Russian cyberattack on the election is just the most extreme example of his loyalty to himself over loyalty to his country. Every move he makes should therefore be presumed to represent a conflict of interest, unless he can demonstrate that no conflict exists.
  • The wealthy donors and others he appoints to office should be presumed incompetent and riddled with interest conflicts until proven otherwise. His emphasis on a cult of personal loyalty, insensitivity to conflicts of interest, alliances with bigots, and willingness to appoint people wholly ignorant of, and indeed hostile to, the tasks associated with a particular office, mean that the burden of proof should always be on Trump to demonstrate the competence and honesty of his appointees. Unlike what routinely occurs in a normal presidency, Senators should give absolutely no deference to his choices. Indeed, nominees requiring confirmation should be questioned at length and scrutinized with care, in order to expose their flaws. Confirmation of nominees should be slowed down and blocked in every procedural way possible.
  • Trump’s substantive judgments should be presumed ignorant, and, at times, dangerous. His unwillingness to educate himself about crucial details of national security and domestic policy, or to surround himself with expert and trustworthy advisors, means that every substantive judgment he makes is highly likely to be flawed.
Democratic leaders should take every opportunity to act in accordance with these presumptions. Common inter-branch traditions and norms of civility should be laid aside for the duration of the Trump regime. For example, Senate Democrats should never provide unanimous consent, including to allow Trump’s incompetent and financially conflicted nominees to be confirmed prior to January 20. Democrats should force votes at every turn and use the filibuster aggressively, as Republicans did during the Obama years. The goal should be to prevent the smooth flow of Senate action in order to stall Trump’s illegitimate agenda as much as possible.
On January 20, Democrats should boycott Trump’s inauguration. As befits a lying president, Democrats should be quick to shout “You lie!” when Trump addresses joint sessions, just as Republicans shouted at President Obama. When Trump praises Vladimir Putin or Russia in formal addresses, Democrats should rise and chant “Puppet! Puppet!” In short, Democrats should learn the lesson Republicans have taught them: Don’t bring boxing gloves to a knife fight.
At noon on January 20, 2017, we will have a new president. The office of the presidency deserves respect, but the new occupant has relied on illegitimate means to seize power, and he deserves moral contempt. Polling reveals that these concerns are widespread among the electorate. Two thirds of Democrats want to see resistance, and well fewer than half — just 38 percent ― of the entire electorate believe Trump to be minimally qualified for the presidency. Democratic leaders should take notice and act accordingly.

Nancy Altman is author of The Battle for Social Security: From FDR's Vision to Bush's Gamble (John Wiley & Sons, 2005) is president of Social Security Works and Chair of the Strengthen Social Security Coalition. She is co-author, with Eric R. Kingson, of Social Security Works! Why Social Security Isn't Going Broke and How Expanding It Will Help Us All (The New Press, 2015), and has written the forward to a new release of Thomas Paine's Agrarian Justice.
Ira C. Lupu, a constitutional law scholar, is the F. Elwood & Eleanor Davis Professor of Law, Emeritus at George Washington University Law School.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Trump’s lies have a purpose. They are an assault on democracy.

Think Progress

Trump’s lies have a purpose. They are an assault on democracy.

Donald Trump is winning the war on reality. Welcome to the age of nightmares.

Image result for trump lies images

All politicians lie. In a democracy, they usually tell lies to achieve a particular result: Maybe they want to conceal information that would damage their reputations, or take credit for something they had nothing to do with. Sometimes a falsehood can obstruct a piece of undesirable legislation, or facilitate the passage of a desirable one. But in each of these cases, a lie tends to be little more than a momentary deviation from the truth. It’s a brief sojourn outside the borders of our stable, shared reality.

Some political lies are more ambitious than that. Sometimes the goal isn’t to embroider reality as it currently exists, but to construct a new reality out of whole cloth.
That’s what the second Bush administration tried to do. President George W. Bush and his advisers — most notably deputy chief of staff Karl Rove —wove a parallel universe in which Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, Al Qaeda was in cahoots with virtually all of America’s enemies, and the United States was a messianic crusader that would eventually spread capitalist liberal democracy to every corner of the world. This apocalyptic vision had little in common with the actually existing global order, but it was a compelling story.
Creating an alternate political universe requires discipline. It requires the willingness to tell many little lies that add up to one big lie. All these lies need to be internally consistent, mutually reinforcing, and at least superficially plausible. Think of it like writing fantasy fiction; the spell woven by books like The Lord of the Rings only works if the worlds they depict obey a coherent inner logic.
If Bush and Rove constructed a fantasy world with a clear internal logic, Trump has built something more like an endless bad dream.
For members of the Bush administration, even their power to mold reality had a place in the universe they created. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality,” an anonymous Bush official, widely believed to be Rove, told the New York Times’ Ron Suskind in 2004. “And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors...and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”
President-elect Donald Trump does not create new realities. He tells lies that are seemingly random, frequently inconsistent, and often plainly ridiculous.
He says or tweets things on the record and then denies having ever said them. He contradicts documented fact and then disregards anyone who points out the inaccuracies. He even lies when he has no discernible reason to do so — and then turns around and tells another lie that flies in the face of the previous one.
If Bush and Rove constructed a fantasy world with a clear internal logic, Trump has built something more like an endless bad dream. In his political universe, facts are unstable and ephemeral; events follow one after the other with no clear causal linkage; and danger is everywhere, although its source seems to change at random. Whereas President Bush offered America the illusion of morality clarity, President-elect Trump offers an ever-shifting phantasmagoria of sense impressions and unreliable information, barely held together by a fog of anxiety and bewilderment. Think Kafka more thanLord of the Rings.
It is tempting to suppose Trump built this phantasmagoria by accident — that it is the byproduct of an erratic, undisciplined, borderline pathological approach to dishonesty. But the president-elect should not be underestimated. His victories in both the Republican primary and the general election were stunning upsets, and he is now set to alter the course of world history. If he does not fully understand what he is doing, his advisers certainly do.
Steve Bannon, former head of the white nationalist outlet Breitbart News, is Trump’s Karl Rove. He knows. In a recent interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Bannon suggested that the key elements in his strategy are dissimulation and “darkness.”
“Darkness is good. Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That’s power,” he said.“It only helps us when they get it wrong. When they’re blind to who we are and what we’re doing.”
That’s how Bannon ran the Trump campaign, and it appears to be how he’s running the transition team. Since the election, Trump has baited the press with a flurry of potential cabinet picks, instigated a bizarre fight with the cast of a Broadway musical, and concealed his true policy priorities behind a thicket of conflicting reports.
It’s working. The media’s coverage of the Trump transition is blurry and confused. Stories that should be real scandals — such as Trump’s apparent efforts to manipulate international diplomacy for personal financial gain — get lost in the shuffle.

Non-linear warfare

Bannon is a skilled practitioner of the “darkness” strategy, but he is not its inventor. The real Master of the Dark Arts is another Karl Rove equivalent: Vladislav Surkov, a top adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Surkov, the documentary journalist Adam Curtis said in a 2014 film, is “a hero of our time.” He went on to describe the Surkovian method:
His aim is to undermine peoples’ perceptions of the world, so they never know what is really happening.
Surkov turned Russian politics into a bewildering, constantly changing piece of theater. He sponsored all kinds of groups, from neo-Nazi skinheads to liberal human rights groups. He even backed parties that were opposed to President Putin.
But the key thing was, that Surkov then let it be known that this was what he was doing, which meant that no one was sure what was real or fake. As one journalist put it: “It is a strategy of power that keeps any opposition constantly confused.”
A ceaseless shape-shifting that is unstoppable because it is undefinable. It is exactly what Surkov is alleged to have done in the Ukraine this year. In typical fashion, as the war began, Surkov published a short story about something he called non-linear war. A war where you never know what the enemy are really up to, or even who they are. The underlying aim, Surkov says, is not to win the war, but to use the conflict to create a constant state of destabilized perception, in order to manage and control.
Bannon and Trump deployed that strategy with aplomb throughout the primary. Because of the constant media focus on his campaign, Trump was able to bombard the airwaves with an unending stream of surreal falsehoods. At the same time, Bannon turned Breitbart News into a Trump Party organ and used it to disseminate further confusion. Independent of Trump and Bannon, a number of other fake news sites — an improbable number of which happened to be headquartered in Macedonia — inundated social media with inaccurate information. There is some evidence to suggest that Surkov’s employer contributed to the process as well, using the website Wikileaks as a conduit.
Many of the stories promulgated by Trump, Bannon, and their allies — such as Trump’s claim that Sen. Ted Cruz’s father was somehow involved in the Kennedy assassination — were obviously false and easily debunked. But the sheer volume of these stories had their intended effect. When fake news becomes omnipresent, all news becomes suspect. Everything starts to look like a lie.
The relentless downpour of inaccurate or useless information can make people lose trust in even their own minds. It happened to Washington Post reporter Ben Terris during the election.
In March, Terris reported that he had seen Corey Lewandowski, then Trump’s campaign manager, physically attack journalist Michelle Fields. The campaign lied about the incident and said nothing had happened. After days of being told his report had been wrong, Terris began to doubt what he had seen. Even when video was uncovered corroborating Terris’ report, the Trump campaign evaded the issue.
“Trump gaslighted me,” Fields later told Terris for an article about the incident. “I worry now that he’s gaslighting the country.”
In a world where nothing is true, the only real choice available to voters is between competing fictions. Trump offered a particularly compelling set of fictions, but he also found various ways to telegraph that he knew what he was doing. Through irony, evasion, self-contradiction, and obviously ridiculous claims, he let his supporters in on the joke. If everything is a lie, then the man who makes his lies obvious is practicing a peculiar form of honesty.
The president-elect is speaking the language of dictators.
It makes sense that the man who would pioneer this style of rhetoric in an American context is someone who used to host a reality television show and appear in pro wrestling events. Both The Apprentice and the World Wrestling Federation are staged; they’re contests that are meant to look superficially real, even though everyone knows that the outcomes are rigged and the “heroes” and “villains” are reading canned lines. The thing that makes these spectacles so entertaining is that they don’t try to hide their artifice. Everyone knows pro wrestling and reality television are “fake,” and laughing at how fake they are is part of the fun. The savvy viewer gets rewarded for seeing through the veneer. But that same viewer keeps tuning in, and may even become emotionally invested in the game.
For Trump, politics is a reality show. That’s why, as tech billionaire and prominent Trump supporter Peter Thiel argued during the campaign, many of the president-elect’s most devoted followers refuse to take his statements literally.
“One thing that should be distinguished here, is the media is always taking Trump literally,” said Thiel during an October appearance at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. “It never takes him seriously, but it always takes him literally. I think a lot of the voters who vote for Trump take him seriously but not literally.”
It is tempting to take solace in the belief that, if Trump cannot be taken literally, his extreme rhetoric might conceal a secret moderate streak. But that hope would be misplaced. Non-linear warfare is intrinsically authoritarian. The president-elect is speaking the language of dictators.

Managed democracy

Consensus is the bedrock of democracy. For differences to get resolved in a properly democratic fashion, there needs to be agreement over the terms of the debate. Interlocutors must be aware of their shared rights and responsibilities, and they need to be capable of proceeding from a common set of facts and premises.
American democracy has always been deeply flawed, but political actors used to at least agree on a set of shared premises and ground rules. President Barack Obama bemoaned the erosion of this consensus in a New Yorker article published shortly after Trump’s election.
“Ideally, in a democracy, everybody would agree that climate change is the consequence of man-made behavior, because that’s what ninety-nine per cent of scientists tell us,” Obama told New Yorker editor David Remnick. “And then we would have a debate about how to fix it. That’s how, in the seventies, eighties, and nineties, you had Republicans supporting the Clean Air Act and you had a market-based fix for acid rain rather than a command-and-control approach. So you’d argue about means, but there was a baseline of facts that we could all work off of. And now we just don’t have that.”
When political actors can’t agree on basic facts and procedures, compromise and rule-bound argumentation are basically impossible; politics reverts back to its natural state as a raw power struggle in which the weak are dominated by the strong.
That’s where Donald Trump’s lies are taking us. By attacking the very notion of shared reality, the president-elect is making normal democratic politics impossible. When the truth is little more than an arbitrary personal decision, there is no common ground to be reached and no incentive to look for it.
To men like Surkov, that is exactly as it should be. Government policy should not be set through democratic oversight; instead, the government should “manage” democracy, ensuring that people can express themselves without having any influence over the machinations of the state. According to a 2011 openDemocracy article by Richard Sakwa, a professor of Russian and European politics at the University of Kent, Surkov is “considered the main architect of what is colloquially known as ‘managed democracy,’ the administrative management of party and electoral politics.”
“Surkov’s philosophy is that there is no real freedom in the world, and that all democracies are managed democracies, so the key to success is to influence people, to give them the illusion that they are free, whereas in fact they are managed,” writes Sakwa. “In his view, the only freedom is ‘artistic freedom.’”
This “artistic expression” can be nominally political, insofar as it takes on the guise of political rhetoric. But it is also fundamentally anti-political, both because its primary aim is self-expression, and because it has little effect on political power itself. It is essentially a form of narcissism. And it is harmless to authoritarian despots.

How to fight a shadow

If the United States is to remain a liberal democracy, then Trump’s non-linear warfare needs to fail. Politics needs to once again become grounded in some kind of stable, shared reality. It’s not clear how that could happen. But there are at least a couple of steps that anti-authoritarians can make right away to ensure that the Surkov style of rhetoric does not go unchallenged.
First, social media companies need to be held accountable for facilitating the spread of misinformation. Men like Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, through their greed and stupidity, have shepherded authoritarianism to power in the United States. By embracing a facile definition of “openness,” they’ve sought to reap the traffic benefits of right-wing propaganda while ignoring its disastrous social consequences. They’ve since taken some small steps to rectify their errors, but for now, at least, it’s too little too late.
Second, journalists need to understand what Trump is doing and refuse to play by his rules. He is going to use the respect and deference typically accorded to the presidency as an instrument for spreading more lies. Reporters must refuse to treat him like a normal president and refuse to bestow any unearned legitimacy on his administration. They must also give up their posture of high-minded objectivity — and, along with it, any hope of privileged access to the Trump White House. The incoming president has made clear that he expects unquestioning obedience from the press, and will regard anyone who doesn’t give it to him as an enemy. That is the choice every news outlet faces for the next four years: Subservience and complicity, or open hostility. There is no middle ground.
The same goes for every other organization, both public and private, whose job it is to safeguard political liberalism. For the next four years, Donald Trump will seek to shred any institution that threatens his ability to unilaterally determine what is real. That will likely include the courts, universities, unions, and even executive branch agencies like the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
If he fails, then the United States may yet keep its republic. But if he succeeds, then the very notion of political reality will have been reduced to little more than a bad joke. The logic of democratic discourse will have been wholly replaced with the surreal anti-logic of nightmares.

Donald Trump’s bet: We are all chumps

Donald Trump’s bet: We are all chumps

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump told the congregation at Great Faith International Ministries in Detroit, Mich., that he attended service “to learn" and help remedy "injustice in any form." Trump's visit to the black church on Sept. 3 is seen as an appeal to African American voters. (The Washington Post)


AS THE presidential campaign enters its final stretch, this seems like a good time to ask: Will American voters allow themselves to be insulted, taken for granted and made fools of?
Donald Trump seems to be betting that the answer is yes. How else to judge his assumption that he can be elected without sharing basic information? He has released no meaningful health records. He has put forward virtually no serious policy proposals. Unlike every other major-party nominee of the modern era, he refuses to release his tax forms.
All of these would be essential reading material from any candidate, but the need for disclosure is especially urgent from Mr. Trump. He would be the oldest president ever elected, so his medical history is relevant. Unlike Hillary Clinton and, again, every other modern major-party candidate, he has no record of service in politics or public office by which he can be judged, so his policy intentions take on added significance. He has been on so many sides of so many issues that even serious position papers at this point would have limited credibility. But they would be better than nothing.
Because his claim to the presidency is founded on his claimed success as a businessman, his tax and financial records are particularly salient. Has he really made as much money as he boasts? Has he paid taxes? Has he sheltered money in the Cayman Islands, done deals with Russian oligarchs? Who knows? Not the voters — and, as far as Mr. Trump is concerned, there is no need for us to bother our little heads with such matters. As his son Eric said, “You would have a bunch of people who know nothing about taxes” — he means us dumb voters, in case you miss the reference — “trying to look through and trying to come up with assumptions they know nothing about.”
Ms. Clinton is not always a paragon of candor. But she has released far more information about her health; far, far more information on her policy goals; and decades of tax returns.

And here’s one more reason those tax returns matter so much: A taxpayer must attest to the truthfulness of his or her returns, whereas we know that Mr. Trump in many other arenas tells falsehoods. In a book, he boasts of his habit of “truthful hyperbole.” On the campaign trail, he repeatedly lies — Muslims celebrated in New Jersey after 9/11, Mr. Trump did not mock a reporter’s disability — and when confronted with contrary video or documentary evidence simply repeats his fiction. Post reporter David A. Fahrenthold has painstakingly exposed Mr. Trump’s falsehoods when it comes to charitable giving.
What else is he lying about? We don’t know, you don’t know, and Mr. Trump seems to believe we can all live with that. Can we? It’s a question Americans will have to answer on Election Day.

Donald Trump, scam artist

Donald Trump, scam artist

 If anyone has an authenticity problem, it is Mr. Trump. The facts on the table suggest he is not a great philanthropist — he is a scam artist.


THE TRUMP campaign believes this editorial is not journalism. It is “badgering.” That is how campaign managerKellyanne Conway described on Tuesday some simple questions The Post and others have asked Mr. Trump and his circle over the past several months about his supposed philanthropic activities. If anyone has an authenticity problem, it is Mr. Trump. The facts on the table suggest he is not a great philanthropist — he is a scam artist.
Mr. Trump has cultivated the persona of a generous man, repeatedly claiming on television he would donate to charity “out of my wallet” and accepting honors from groups he appeared to support. In fact, an exhaustive investigation by Post reporter David A. Fahrenthold shows that Mr. Trump retooled his foundation about a decade ago to act as an intermediary for other people’s charitable giving, a racket from which Mr. Trump gained in reputation and from which he may even have occasionally profited.

Mr. Trump does not appear to have given his own money to the Trump Foundation since 2008, and by then Trump funds had become a tiny slice of the organization’s revenue. Since then, the available records suggest, a charitable group that bears the billionaire’s name has been funded by others. That has not stopped Mr. Trump from claiming credit for doling out other people’s cash. He happily accepted an award from the Palm Beach Police Foundation in 2010 — then he cut the group off once the real source of the money, a New Jersey charity, stopped contributing to the Trump Foundation. Donations he promised on “The Celebrity Apprentice” would come out of his “own wallet” instead came from his foundation or a television production company. The story is the same with a 2009 TV contest called “Trump pays your bills!”, in which the Trump Foundation, not Mr. Trump, paid the winner’s bills.
Perhaps Mr. Trump confused the Trump Foundation with his own bank account because he occasionally treated it like one. Melania Trump used $20,000 of foundation funds to buy a six-foot painting of Mr. Trump at a charity art auction. Mr. Trump bid $12,000 in foundation money to win a football helmet signed by quarterback Tim Tebow. These examples appear to violate IRS rules against charity officials engaging in “self-dealing.” Then there is the fishy donation sent from the Trump Foundation to a committee supporting Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi (R). The donation was illegal — charities cannot give to political campaigns — and it came just as state attorneys general were subjecting Trump University to increasing scrutiny.
Trump staffers claim the Bondi donation was an honest administrative mistake. The campaign, meanwhile, has aggressively dismissed other questions about Mr. Trump’s giving by claiming that he has donated tens of millions to charity over his lifetime. Yet his surrogates offer no new evidence suggesting that he has given that much out of his own pocket. Mr. Trump might clear up some of the confusion if he released his tax returns. But he has so far refused to do so, defying decades of political precedent.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D) announced Tuesday that he is investigating the Trump Foundation. There is a movement to persuade the Justice Department to do so as well. Yet the potential violations of the law seem to be less significant than what Mr. Trump appears to have done legally: duped people into believing in another one of his self-aggrandizing shams.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Independent Fact Checkers Debunk Trump’s Dozens of Lies During Presidential Debate

Trump Lies

Independent Fact Checkers Debunk Trump’s Dozens of Lies During Last Night’s Presidential Debate

With little understanding of the issues facing this country, Donald Trump once again peddled falsehood after falsehood to get his way through last night’s final presidential debate. Trump’s lies literally knew no bounds—and exposed just how unqualified he is to serve as the next Commander in Chief. Trump falsely denied Russian hacking of the U.S., lied about Hillary Clinton’s record at the State Department and falsely claimed it’s not worth retaking Mosul from ISIS. As The Washington Post’s Fact Checker noted, “The final presidential debate once again demonstrated Donald Trump’s thin grasp of the facts and his willingness to make poorly sourced or inaccurate claims.”