We are in a moral crisis, and there is only one solution

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The deadly attack in Charlottesville at the hands of a white supremacist, courtesy http://abcnews.go.com/US/violent-clashes-car-ramming-charlottesville/story?id=49187074

I haven’t been writing much lately because, well, there just isn’t much to say. By that I mean there is actually too much to say, and it is emotionally overwhelming. The events of the last week and a half have had me so morose, misanthropic, and ashamed for my country that frankly there just isn’t much to write about that hasn’t already been written about elsewhere.

All in one week, we have a President who threatened nuclear war with one country, threatened military action with another country, both presumably (and hopefully) with no plan on actually backing these threats up. Which is rich for a President who made a career out of criticising Obama for his “red line” comments on Syria.

Then things somehow got even uglier. The violence that left several dead and dozens injured in Charlottesville Friday and Saturday have shown that this country is in the middle of a deep, widespread moral crisis. White supremacism and white nationalism (which, because they’re not much different, I will here on out refer to simply as white supremacism), while they have always existed in this country, are now out and proud again.

Let’s be clear here – this movement is only out and proud because they have a leader in Trump. Trump has given these people and their toxic ideology legitimacy, which has emboldened them to come out from the online message boards where they have hidden for the last several decades to fester their hatred, and bring it out into the open for all the world to see. Trump is wholly responsible for the madness we are seeing now – and by refusing to refute them in his remarks on the subject, instead calling out “both sides” for violence (as if the small minority of leftists causing violence is somehow equal to the terrorism of white supremacists that has left one dead and 19 injured) – he has entrenched his position. By refusing to denounce these people and their ideology, by staying silent on white supremacy, Trump has said all he needs to say. And trust me, this has not gone unnoticed by white supremacists. Just take a look at this post from the Daily Stormer, a website dedicated to hatred, in response to Trump’s address Saturday:

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Trump, and Trump alone, can take the wind out of the sails of white supremacy by strongly denouncing it. And if he can’t do that, he should resign because his mere presence gives fuel to the flames of their hatred. Since he will do neither, there is only one option to proceed – he must be removed from office. While this alone gives more legitimacy to his impeachment, I am hesitant to go down that path because it is a very political path, and a democratically elected leader should only be removed from office in the most extreme and dire circumstances. The circumstances should be so severe that the President has lost his democratic legitimacy, such that a vast majority of the country (80% or more) has stopped supporting him, and we simply are not there yet.

This leaves only one option for now, and that is a very boring and obvious one – defeat him, and the leaders and representatives who have his support, in elections. In 2018, the left can deal Trump a crushing blow by wiping out Republican majorities at the state level and Congress. We can turn Trump into a lame duck (if he isn’t already), at least as far as lawmaking is concerned, by coming out hard to the polls next year. And the state level may be even more important than the federal level. As our voting rights are now called into question more than ever, the most powerful ones who can stand up to voter suppression are those in power at the state level.

Then in 2020, Trump must be defeated by a candidate that the left can unite around. If the left cannot come together now, all is lost – the damage that has already been done will be expanded, cemented, and ripple outward for decades. Now is more important than ever to unite, and this is a message intended for both liberals and progressives.

policy must now take a back seat to taking power out of the hands of a man who is eager to court hatred and white supremacism for his own political gain

I am a liberal, in most senses of the word. I believe in free markets, in the power of capitalism to lift billions out of poverty, in individual liberty. I also believe in improving quality of life wherever capitalism has failed, but more than anything I believe in the rights of individuals to their own personal liberty, for the power to make their own direction in life free from state interference. That said, I am ready to unite around any candidate that can inspire the left, because the time to squash white supremacism, hatred, and political violence was yesterday. It was 2016. We are already too late to this, but it is better late than never to put it to bed. Given the current climate, I understand this probably means getting behind a candidate who I do not wholly agree with on policy, but policy must now take a back seat to taking power out of the hands of a man who is eager to court hatred and white supremacism for his own political gain.

I understand that candidate must be somebody who has a strong background of public service, of principled dedication to issues like a $15 minimum wage, and other policies which I find potentially ineffective. But this is not the time for purity politics, whether that’s on the left or the center. I am ready to get behind anybody who has the biggest tent to inspire and unite the left, and you should be too, because we cannot let the legitimacy of this hatred and violence go on for one day longer.

EDIT, 12:44 PM: Trump is finally denouncing white supremacists, the KKK, and Nazis as hate groups. Too little, too late. He has allowed this to go on too long, and benefited from it politically for too long. I am glad he has finally said something, but Steve Bannon, Sebastian Gorka, and the like are still holding positions of power in this country. They must be removed immediately, and he must continue to strongly and vocally rebuke white supremacism, if he wants any shot at legitimacy.

Ronald Reagan is rolling in his grave

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Donald Trump abandoning the Paris climate agreement, courtesy businessinsider.com
Ronald Reagan viewed America as a “shining city upon a hill.” His vision saw America holding the torch of liberty for the world to see – a shining example of the power and prosperity that can flow from freedom, liberty, and democracy. That our power comes from our freedom, not despite it, and that our power will be used to protect and project the truth to world, along with our democratic values.

You might call this a “right makes might” worldview. A worldview that has grown and flourished in the years following World War 2, its basic assumption is that America is powerful because its institutions – freedom, democracy, capitalism – are right and just.

Compare this to the worldview shared between autocrats like Vladimir Putin and the alt-right, who see the world as a proverbial game board where those with the power to do so have not only the right to bully the others, but the moral obligation. Those who share this worldview believe that a nation should project whatever power it has on the world stage, and that this strategy, when followed by all nations, brings about peace and prosperity.

The problem with this is that it isn’t new. This nationalistic, might-makes-right strategy, has already been tested. And it failed miserably. What inevitably happens when many powerful nations believe they have more sovereignty over less powerful nations is conflict – and after industrialization, conflict is more costly than it is worth. The world has benefited tremendously from what was envisioned by Woodrow Wilson and has evolved since 1945 – a globe of interconnected, cooperating nations that work together for the common good. Through this cooperation, nations can achieve together what they cannot do alone.

This was the basic premise of the Paris Agreement. A nonbinding voluntary “gentleman’s agreement” that laid the framework for all nations to make a conscious effort at reducing carbon emissions for the benefit of all. The success of this agreement, being nonbinding, relied on the most powerful countries to lead the way.

America was supposed to be one of the leaders. Leading the world into a 21st century energy economy would have been another opportunity for the United States to prove that it is still “a shining city upon a hill,” an example for the rest of the world to look up to and emulate. Instead, the president Thursday rolled back that leadership, leaving the world to look for a new leader – a new “shining city upon a hill,” which now looks like it could be Europe, or China, or whoever may step into the leadership void. It was a powerful signal to the world that we don’t care about you any more, and that you are on your own.

Even more than this however, Trump’s foreign policy reflects a pivot away from what has treated the world very well in the years since World War 2. Abandoning global cooperation, abandoning leadership by example in an attempt to bully the rest of the world in a might-makes-right approach to foreign policy is already beginning to backfire. We are alienating the allies that have helped us push for democracy, freedom, and capitalism throughout the world, against the forces of totalitarianism and communism. This isn’t some left-wing “sissy” view of the world. This used to be bipartisan, shared by Republican and Democrat leaders alike.

Evan McMullin, the conservative independent presidential candidate in 2016, had this to say about it, “We left this model behind after the great world wars and have benefited from a lack of their return since. Our system since has been rules-based in which all nations, no matter how weak or powerful, have the same claim to sovereignty and justice. The ‘might makes right’ philosophy, whether in foreign or domestic affairs, is an assault on truth. It presupposes that there is neither right nor wrong, but only political or military power. Where political or military power determine what is ‘right,’ there is no truth because power is dynamic and changes hands regularly. Where there is no truth, there is neither liberty nor equality, thus the reason authoritarians adopt populism so readily. There is truth!”

Reagan knew this, he knew the power of leading by example, of truth, of supporting and cooperating with our strongest allies. Why are conservatives abandoning the philosophies of their heroes, the same heroes whose name they still cite as examples of what is possible with conservative leadership?

Is Trump playing chess while his critics play checkers?

Rachel Maddow, courtesy slate.com

There is a narrative that President Trump is a buffoon. That he’s unqualified, an egomaniac, a narcissist, doesn’t know what he’s doing, etc. Every time there is controversy, it seems to play right into this common narrative – Trump is causing chaos with executive orders because he has never held public office before and is screwing up, Trump is going to hurt his supporters by supporting the American Health Care Act because he doesn’t know the difference between medicare and medicaid, etc.

I’m here to provide a different narrative. This narrative, to me, survives Occam’s Razor, because it is a much simpler explanation than, say, “an unqualified narcissist stumbled backwards practically on accident into the most powerful office in the world because Americans are racists.” My narrative is that Donald Trump and his team are far more intelligent than they let on, and they play into this “buffoon” narrative to serve their own ends. Some said during the campaign that Donald Trump was playing chess when everybody else – the media, the other candidates, the voters – were playing checkers, and I believe this to be, at least in some parts, true.

Take for example Tuesday’s “bombshell” 2005 tax return release, drummed up by Rachel Maddow and MSNBC on Twitter as “we have Trump tax returns” which quickly turned social media into a frenzy, only to disappoint because the tax returns had nothing even a little bit nefarious in them. One idea, hinted at even by Maddow on her show, was that these returns were leaked on purpose by the Trump team to put the story to bed – the story that he won’t release his tax returns because it will show a link to Russia and the Kremlin. This is quickly cast aside because, even if that were true, people believe that it would have been a stupid move by the Trump team anyways because it put his non-release of tax returns back into the spotlight. But maybe this wasn’t meant as a nuclear bomb that was going to put the story to bed once and for all, because obviously, it wasn’t going to do that.

Perhaps it was meant as one more chip away, in a sequence of a hundred little chips, at the legitimacy of the press and the media?

Think about it. People aren’t talking about the content of Trump’s tax returns right now – I mean, there was nothing in the two pages Maddow released that made him look bad at all. What people are talking about right now is how Maddow drummed up this frenzy over nothing. It makes her, and MSNBC, and to some extent the entire media, look like rabid dogs frothing over anything they can possibly spin to make Trump look bad. I am not blaming Maddow for covering this (aside from her tweet that hinted that they had more than they did), as a journalist she has an ethical duty to cover this story. But this plays perfectly into the idea that Steve Bannon, Sean Spicer, Donald Trump, and his entire camp have been pushing – that the media cannot be trusted.

Even I read news now with a doubtful eye. It is always in the back of my mind that the media wants to spin anything it can into something negative about Trump, so I have to second guess any news that comes out. I know how to fact check, but a lot of people don’t. A lot of people don’t even realize fact checking is important, or even a thing. And those are the people that this attack on the legitimacy of the media is meant to confuse.

Doing damage to the legitimacy of the press serves the purpose of making all the negative news surrounding Trump sound like hysterical weather coverage – a lot of panic and hysteria drummed up over a minor storm that ends up being nothing, because that’s what sells. It causes people to “turn off” to all of the negative news, thus making it less politically risky to implement an extreme agenda.

There are many other examples of these little chips away at the legitimacy of the media. The White House provides competing narratives, “alternative facts” as we have so lovingly taken to calling them, that are meant to make people debate about what is and is not fact, rather than the facts themselves. Donald Trump called CNN “fake news” for covering the Russian intel dossier claiming the Kremlin might be blackmailing him. Even the memo that was leaked claiming that Trump wanted to create a militarized deportation force of 100,000 could have been meant as a distraction, something leaked on purpose that could easily be dismissed as “fake news.” Trump has done this over and over from the very beginning because there is a lot of negative news surrounding him that would have crippled any other candidate, yet he always survives. And now his administration might be doing it too, on a much larger scale and over much bigger and more dangerous issues.

Obviously a theory is only a conspiracy unless there is substantial, objective, and verifiable evidence to back it up. I realize all I have here are a lot of breadcrumbs with no bread. So I’m not asking you to swallow without question that the Trump camp is waging a war of Orwellian doublespeak on the minds of the American people. What I am asking you to think about is the idea that Trump is not causing chaos because he’s a buffoon, that he didn’t fall backwards into the Presidency on accident. Perhaps the Trump administration is causing chaos, and chipping away at the legitimacy of their critics one piece at a time, because it makes their extreme agenda more palatable and politically feasible. I’m asking you to think about the idea that perhaps Trump is smarter than he lets on, and that underestimating him in this way is going to fail time and time again.