Trump and Putin: The Greatest Mystery of Our Time

President Donald J. Trump attacks anyone who opposes him or holds him to account.1 Trump’s become infamous for his Twitter tirades against his opponents. If you’re a public figure, and you’re not openly supporting or praising him, his behavior exemplifies that he considers you his enemy.

Trump’s Attacks Against Americans and American Allies


Trump has attacked news organizations, individual journalists, television programs, American companies, state governors, mayors, Gold Star military families, actors and actresses, comedians, athletes, professional sport leagues, among many others.

He’s attacked our own democratic institutions. He’s attacked the Congress, the FBI, a handful of government intelligence agencies, federal courts, individual judges, whole states, U.S. territories, among many other government bodies.

These attacks aren’t limited to unfavorable news coverage, citizens, or Democrats speaking out against his conduct; he’s also attacked members of his own administration. When Jeff Sessions was Attorney General and recused himself from having any involvement in Russia-related investigations, he went on a long campaign of discrediting him. When Steve Bannon, a former senior advisor to Trump, was pushed out of the administration, he created a nickname for him: “Sloppy Steve.”

Putin’s Attack on America


With the sheer scope of his domestic and foreign attacks, you’d think there’s no one who could escape Trump’s raft. However, there’s been one prominent and astonishing exception: Vladimir Putin, the Russian president. Putin uses the title of “president” as a facade –he’s a dictator. Putin has a well-documented history of murdering political opponents, journalists, and even his own citizens.

Russia has been an adversary of the United States since the end of World War II. We were involved in a Cold War with the former Soviet Union for nearly half a century. The Cold War wasn’t always necessarily cold. The U.S. engaged in proxy wars with the Soviet Union (e.g. Korean War, Vietnam War, etc.). In 1962, when the Soviet Union was caught deploying nuclear missiles in Cuba, the world was on the brink of nuclear war.

When the Soviet Union was dissolved in 1991, there was a brief period of peace between the two powers. This all changed when Vladimir Putin became president in 2000. Since then, Russia’s become an oligarchy with Putin serving as its absolute ruler. In his eyes, the Cold War never ended, and as a result, has complete and utter disdain for the United States. His true intention is to bring Russia back to its Soviet “glory” days.

In recent history, Putin launched a “sweeping and systematic” attack on the lifeblood of our democracy –the electoral process– during the 2016 presidential election. Russia’s interference isn’t the opinion of a few intelligence analysts, it’s a well-established fact. The American people first received confirmation of Russia’s interference when every American intelligence agency (e.g. FBI, CIA, NSA, etc.) were in agreement that the attack had taken place. The recent release of the Mueller Report (Volume I) corroborated the fact that Putin’s massive cyber-warfare offensive happened.

We weren’t attacked with troops on the ground and traditional weapons of war. Putin aimed to divide and conquer with social engineering schemes and technology. Instead of firing a missle, Russia planted poisonous seeds within our society to sow discord, which ultimately led to social strife and division.

The Greatest Mystery of Our Time


We’ve seen Donald Trump’s willingness to attack his real or perceived opponents. His attacks against his opponents are graceless, unhinged, and ruthless. He’s had no trouble calling his own people “treasonous,” discrediting American institutions, and calling the free press the “enemy of the people.”

When you look at the history of American relations with Russia, and specifically Putin’s attack against the American people, any sensible person understands that Putin is our greatest adversary. And yet, Trump hasn’t made a single negative comment about Putin. In fact, to the contrary, Trump has not only made favorable statements and tweets about Putin, he’s literally sided with Putin on Russian interference in our election. He’s taken the word of a brutal dictator over our entire national security apparatus.

This leads any reasonably-minded person to ask reasonable and serious questions: If Putin is our greatest adversary, why isn’t he viewed so by Trump? Why would the President of the United States take the role as Putin’s defender? How could a president, who attacks his own citizens and institutions, care less about the attack waged against the country he swore to protect and defend?

With all of these unknowns, there’s one thing that’s certain: when the truth is uncovered, it will not be benign.

Reference:

  1. The 567 People, Places and Things Donald Trump Has Insulted on Twitter: A Complete List – The New York Times

The Citizen’s Guide to Impeachment

Impeachment has been in the air, to one degree or another, since Donald J. Trump took office. Much of it has come from his political opponents and ordinary citizens, disapproving of his conduct while serving as President of the United States.

However, since the public release of the Mueller Report on April 18, 2019, talk of impeachment has reached a fevered pitch, and for good reason.

There’s strong and objective arguments to be made for impeachment. However, this particular article will delve into the history, process, and implications of impeachment.

Constitutional History


In 1787, the founders debated over the design of the federal government at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. They formed a federal government comprised of three co-equal branches: the legislative (Congress), the executive (Presidency), and the judicial (Supreme Court).

The founders were fearful of the ramifications of having a corrupt, immoral figure clothed with the immense power of the presidency. In fact, they were so concerned with the potential of a tyrannical leader, they discussed the idea of impeachment before they even formed the constitutional basis for the presidency (Article II of the U.S. Constitution).

The founders agreed upon a set of criteria for what would would constitute an impeachable offense. This is described in Article II (i.e. executive branch), Section IV of the constitution:

“The President, Vice President, and all Civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

The language used by the founders is meant to be ambiguous to a degree, ensuring future generations would have a constitutional foundation to build upon to suit the needs of the times.

Impeachment Process: The House


Congress has a constitutional responsibility to provide oversight over the presidency –it’s part of the “checks and balances” every American child learns about in school. The United States Constitution was designed so each branch would have the power to check and balance the other branches.

The impeachment process is initiated in the House of Representatives. If there’s suspicion or evidence that the president may have committed an impeachable offence(s) –as described in the constitution– there are two ways the House can initiate impeachment proceedings: (1) an individual House member could formally issue a resolution for impeachment, or (2) the “House could initiate proceedings by passing a resolution authorizing impeachment.1” The latter is more likely to occur than the former.

In modern history, the Judiciary Committee has been the congressional committee authorized to initiate impeachment proceedings. If the committee decides the charges against the president are worthy, the committee advises the House majority leader (i.e. the Speaker of the House). It’s then up to the House majority leader to bring the articles of impeachment to the House floor for a vote. A majority vote is required to pass the articles of impeachment.2 If more than 50% of House members vote in favor of impeachment, then the proceedings move up to the Senate.

Impeachment Process: The Senate


Once the House passes the articles of impeachment, the Senate will subsequently conduct a trial. The trial has all the trappings of a traditional legal trial: there’s a team of prosecutors and a team of defense attorneys, with each side using cross-examination and the calling of witnesses, among other legal methods.

The House appoints members who act as prosecutors. These members are traditionally from the House Judiciary Committee. The president has the right to appoint his own attorneys to mount a defense. The impeachment proceedings are presided over by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.3 And it’s the members of the Senate who act as the jury.

When the trial has concluded, the Senate will typically convene in private –just as a traditional jury does. In order to convict the president, a two-thirds “supermajority” is required. Since the Senate is comprised of 100 Senators, this means 67 Senators would have to vote to convict. If the supermajority is reached, the president is automatically removed from office.

Conclusions


The process of impeaching a president is essentially a two-step process. The House votes to pass articles of impeachment, which is akin to an indictment. The Senate then holds a trial with appointed House members acting as the prosecution and the president’s personally-appointed lawyers acting as the defense. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is the presiding judge, and the Senators are the jury.

It’s possible for a president to be impeached, but not convicted. In fact, the two former presidents –Andrew Johnson (1868) and Bill Clinton (1998)– to have articles of impeachment passed against them were not convicted by the Senate and therefore remained in power. President Richard Nixon evaded the impeachment process by resigning in 1974.

While the impeachment process requires grounds for treason, bribery, high crimes (i.e. felonies), and/or misdemeanors, it’s a political process and not a criminal process. This means even if a president is convicted in the Senate, they will not be criminally charged and sentenced. The ultimate fate of a convicted president is removal from office. There is, however, still the possibility of criminal charges being filed against a president once the the president returns to being an ordinary citizen.


References

  1. History of Impeachment – The Official House of Representatives Website
  2. How the Impeachment Process Works – The New York Times
  3. Impeaching a President – The Law Dictionary (thelawdictionary.org)   

Correction: The original version of this article had an incorrect release date for the Mueller Report (April 14, 2019). The report was released to the public on April 18, 2019.

Trump: A President of His People, by His People, for His People

The United States is the government “of the people, by the people, for the people,” and therefore the President of the United States is obligated to be president to all the people.

All presidents have been members of political parties: Democrats and Republicans form our modern two-party system. When presidential candidates are on the campaign trail, they will often go on the offensive against their opponent and their opponent’s political views. There’s nothing nefarious about this; they’re rallying their base to their cause and trying to gain the support of those still undecided.

However, once Election Day ends and a new president is chosen, it’s been a long-standing American tradition for the president-elect to tone down the partisan rhetoric and rise to their position not as president of their political party –but to cast aside the polarization of political parties– and ascend as the President of the United States, representing the welfare and interests of all the people.

THE RISE OF PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP


With the 2016 election of Donald Trump, the president-to-all tradition has become a thing of the past. When his opponent for the presidency, Hillary Clinton, conceded in the early morning hours of November 9th, 2016, President-elect Trump gave his victory speech.

Despite waging one of the most callous presidential campaigns in American history, his victory speech indicated he would rise above the callousness and carry on the president-for-all tradition:

“Now it’s time for America to bind the wounds of division; have to get together. To all Republicans and Democrats and independents across this nation, I say it is time for us to come together as one united people. It’s time. I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be president for all Americans, and this is so important to me.”

BREAKING THE PLEDGE


It didn’t take very long for President Trump to break his pledge. In fact, the pledge was broken before he was even inaugurated. In the month after the election, President-elect Trump gave nearly a dozen post-election victory rallies. All of these victory rallies were held in states that casted their electoral votes to Trump.

On January 20, 2017, the day of Trump’s inauguration, he already filed the paperwork for his 2020 reelection, earlier than any president in American history. And, as we have learned, this isn’t a matter of Trump being clerically expeditious. Instead, he was paving the way to perpetually conduct political rallies for his supporters.   

His first post-election campaign rally was held on February 18, 2017 in Melbourne, FL –a re-election rally being held less than a month after being sworn into office. Trump held rallies at least once a month for the remainder of 2017, and with increasing frequency, continues to hold them.

A PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED BASE OF AMERICA


President Trump’s post-election rallies were no different than his pre-election rallies. The rallies were used, at least in part, to water the seeds of discord that he had planted in his pre-election rallies. They were used as a vehicle to keep his base engaged and enraged, using polarizing rhetoric against his perceived enemies. He used the platform to both mock and discredit his perceived enemies. This, by design, made Trump’s enemies his supporters’ enemies, which only served to make his supporters more fervent. He is their dark shepherd and they are his flock.

In a recent news analysis, Peter Baker, chief White House correspondent for The New York Times, wrote an article asserting President Trump has done away with the president-for-all tradition, “Mr. Trump does not bother with the pretense. He is speaking to his people, not the people. He has become, or so it often seems, the president of the United Base of America.”

As a result of unfavorable reporting, one of the first American institutions attacked by Trump was the free press. The press hasn’t often been viewed favorably by former presidents, but their frustrations were usually controlled and relatively based on reason (e.g. in times of war, a president wouldn’t want the press hurting the war effort with unfavorable reports).

With Trump, he openly expresses his disdain toward the press, going so far as to call them “the enemy of the people,” which is incredibly dangerous rhetoric for a president to be using. The free press is protected by the First Amendment. Their purpose is to inform the public, so the public is capable of making informed decisions. Therefore, Trump’s rhetoric undermines the lifeblood of democracy: reliable information.

Unfortunately, “the enemy of the people” language wasn’t a one-time occurrence. He’s made the accusation dozens of times: at rallies, in interviews, on Twitter, etc. As recently as February 20, 2019, Trump tweeted, “The New York Times reporting is false. They are a true ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!”

Trump has also used inflammatory rhetoric against Democrats. He’s mocked Democratic members of congress, making up nicknames for Democrats he’s targeting at the moment. The nicknames aren’t new for Trump. He’s been doing it since he started his 2016 presidential bid. He’s had nicknames for his GOP primary opponents, and he’s even referred to members of his own administration with these juvenile nicknames.

The extent of the president’s common decency is virtually non-existent. Having poor decency is one thing, but making serious accusations against Democrats is something else entirely. When he felt Democrats weren’t clapping enough during his 2018 State of the Union address, some days later he told his supporters at a rally:

“They were like death. And un-American. Somebody said ‘treasonous.’ I mean, yeah, I guess, why not? Can we call that treason? Why not?”

For a president to use the word “treason” in reference to Democrats not applauding him is deeply troubling for a democratic society. These are senators and representatives who were put into power by the citizens of their respective states and districts in the United States –the country Trump was elected to lead. So it’s not only an attack on the Democratic members of congress themselves, it’s also, in effect, an attack on the citizens who elected them.

CONCLUSIONS


As Peter Baker wrote in his recent analysis on Trump, “He is speaking to his people, not the people.” How should the 71,791,044 Americans –53.3% of those who casted a presidential ballot in 2016– feel about the fact we have a president who is openly partial to a portion of Americans and not all Americans? We should be justifiably concerned.

It’s not as if his supporters make up a majority of the country. He received 46.7% of the popular vote, which means most Americans did not vote for him. Since becoming president, polling data has been even more unfavorable. Based on Gallup polling, the average job approval rating for Trump is 40% (based on his 820 days in office).

Trump and his followers have a symbiotic relationship: Trump receives power and adulation; his followers receive their political showman at rallies and on Twitter, and a perceived ally in the White House. The problem is the rest of the country –the majority of the country– has no ally in the White House. You only need to look as far as Trump’s Twitter account to understand that if you’re not siding with him or praising him, you’re against him.

America’s always had to deal with the consequences of elections, but these consequences have virtually always been focused on policy positions. With the rise of Trump, we’ve had to deal with a set of much different and darker consequences: a threat to our democratic institutions and the normalization of rhetoric and behavior that was once unbecoming of a president.

The president’s inflammatory rhetoric is used to create division within our country. He doesn’t aim to mend the discord; he aims to sow more seeds of it amongst his supporters to reap the political benefits gained from a group of people who’ve been misled and disinformed.

Our country has experienced times of national crisis before. With the election of Abraham Lincoln, southern states began seceding from the Union, which inevitably led to the Civil War. Lincoln’s fight was founded on domestic policy and morality. While it’s unlikely we’re facing an impending civil war, we can still learn from what leadership looks like from a man who was president to all in a time of great civil strife–even reaching out to the very people who pledged their allegiance to a rebel force.

And so, it’s fitting to close on the words of Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address:

“I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Update: After writing this article, Donald Trump made another “enemy of the people” statement against the free press: “The Washington Post and New York Times are, in my opinion, two of the most dishonest media outlets around. Truly, the Enemy of the People!”

A Brief History of How the Republican and Democratic Parties Swapped Ideologies

There has been much discussion regarding the Republican Party’s ideological transformation from its inception in the mid-1850s to its modern ideological platform. Unfortunately, most of the discussion comes from the misinformed, painting the Republican Party with a Lincoln-like grandeur while painting the Democratic Party as a historical villain.

In fact, much has changed from the time the party was established to the Republican Party we know today. There are some people in our country who push the false narrative that the Republican Party is still “the party of Lincoln.” This false narrative also serves to stain the modern Democratic Party with our greatest national sin and our greatest internal conflict: slavery and the Civil War, respectively.

ORIGINS OF THE REPUBLICAN PARTY


In 1846, the United States was split in half over slavery: it was illegal in the thirteen northern states and legal in the thirteen southern states. The southern economy was completely dependent on slave labor; the northern economy was fueled by the Industrial Revolution.

Since abolitionists didn’t yet have the power to take on the slave states, they tried to ensure that the U.S. territories would remain free. However, with the passing of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, slavery was now an option for the territories. This was the event that led to the founding of the Republican Party.

The Republican Party was founded on being anti-slavery, pro-civil liberties, as well as being in favor of economic reform. Within a few years of its founding, the Republican Party had its first president: Abraham Lincoln.

Before he even took the oath of office, slave states were already succeeding from the United States. They feared Lincoln would not only prevent the expansion of slavery into other territories, but that he would seek to abolish it all together. Once the slave states started succeeding, they had crossed the proverbial Rubicon. Lincoln had to fight to keep the Union intact, which led to the deadliest war in American history.

SWAPPING POLITICAL IDEOLOGIES


The Republican Party, originally a party in favor of a large and powerful federal government, would become the party of limiting the power of the federal government. The Democratic Party, in the Civil War and Reconstruction Era, opposed a large and powerful federal government and supported states’ rights.

This sounds strange to us today because it’s exactly the opposite of the modern Republican Party’s and Democratic Party’s respective ideologies. How did this happen? Well, as with any study of history, it’s complicated.

The following events played critical roles in completing the ideological swap:

  • During the Reconstruction Era, the Republican Party, which had always been a supporter of big government and big business –the two not necessarily being mutually exclusive– broke into different factions. Some Republicans had greater interests in big business than others, leading to more alternative viewpoints within the party. The factions within the party were at different ends of the political spectrum; some more progressive, while others more conservative.  
  • Around the turn of the century, William Jennings Bryan, a powerful Democrat, muddied the political waters between the two parties. He was in support of giving the federal government more power when it came to pursuing social justice. This gave the Democratic Party a more progressive faction, which was one of the first steps in its transition.
  • In 1901, Theodore Roosevelt (R) became president. He was a more progressive member of the Republican Party, at least as far as big business is concerned. He imposed sweeping regulations against massive business trusts, such as John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil. After serving his two terms, Roosevelt tried to make a political comeback, leaving the Republican Party and founding the Progressive Party (also known as the Bull Moose Party). While he didn’t succeed with his run, it did have consequences. The progressives Republicans in the party lost their influence and power within the party, which led to the Republican Party taking on more conservative leadership.
  • The ideological swap made a quantum leap when Franklin D. Roosevelt (D) became president in 1933. When he took power, the country was in the throes of the Great Depression. FDR created the New Deal, which was his strategy for economic recovery. It used the power of the federal government to impose regulations on banks and big business, financial protections for citizens, and created numerous federal programs to promote economic recovery. He also initiated a second wave of the New Deal which focused on social safety net programs, such as establishing the Social Security Administration.
  • In 1964, Lyndon B. Johnson (D) is president and civil rights is a major social issue. Johnson, being a Texan, was a southern Democrat. The southern Democrats (known as the Dixiecrats) were a powerful faction of the Democratic Party. They were pro-segregation and therefore opponents of civil rights. Johnson pushed for, and finally signed, the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This was the final shot across the bow for most white southern Democrats. As a result, the party was losing the support of white Americans in the south, but at the same time had gained the support of black Americans since the Democratic Party was now seen as the party leading the fight for civil rights.
  • With the democratic fallout in the south from the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Republican Party initiated the Southern Strategy. It appealed to the racist sentiments of southern whites –angry that their society was changing since black Americans now had the protection of civil rights, backed by the federal government. This paved the way for a mass exodus: turning southern Democrats into southern Republicans.

CONCLUSIONS


The ideological swap didn’t happen in one fell swoop. The swap wasn’t nefarious or conspiratorial, but simply a reflection of changing attitudes over long periods of time. It was a slow, incremental process swayed by the winds of history.

There’s a significant amount of misinformation and disinformation on this historical topic, which has been confusing the public’s understanding of the history of America’s two preeminent political parties.

The topic has been misunderstood for some time, but with the ascension of President Donald J. Trump, millions of Americans are operating under a different set of facts –“alternative facts,” as one Trump advisor put it. And it’s become a ripe source for propaganda peddlers who argue the Republican Party is still “the party of Lincoln,” the Great Emancipator and Savior of the Union. And using this faulty logic implies the Democratic Party is forever branded as the party of slavery. These are troubling times we live in when propagators of disinformation seek to distort history for their own personal or political gain.

So, the Republican Party being regarded as “the party of Lincoln,” while technically true since he was a republican, is nonetheless a misleading and manipulative statement. Lincoln’s ties to the modern Republican Party exists only in name and not by any meaningful ideological or rhetorical virtues.

“You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”

Abraham Lincoln

Importance of a Free Press

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution gives American citizens a variety of protections, focusing on the freedom of speech and expression.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

First Amendment to the United States Constitution

The First Amendment grants the following protections:

  • Freedom of religion
  • Freedom of speech
  • Freedom of the press
  • Freedom to peaceably assemble
  • Freedom to petition the government to address grievances

HISTORY


When the Constitutional Convention convened in 1787, the idea of constitutional amendments were proposed as a way of protecting the civil liberties of American citizens. The first ten amendments became known as the Bill of Rights –amendments specifically drafted to guarantee the civil liberties of American citizens.

Initially, there was some debate as to whether or not it was necessary to even include amendments. Some founders didn’t think the federal government would ever become big enough to warrant them, believing the constitutions of individual states would suffice. However, there was significant opposition to the proposed constitution from the states, which was a problem since the federal government needed state governments to ratify the constitution.

James Madison, revered as “the father of the constitution,” was initially in the no-amendments-necessary camp. His mind was changed by his mentor, Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson was famously wary of a powerful, centralized federal government. Amending the constitution with a Bill of Rights would ensure the civil liberties of citizens were protected at the federal level. So, in 1789, when the constitution was submitted to the states for ratification, it included the Bill of Rights.

FREEDOM OF THE PRESS


‪The very fact the founders decided to grant protection to the free press is indicative of the value and importance they attributed to it.‬ The constitution was created as a blueprint for how to best deploy a representative democracy. It was critical that the constitution would not only provide a framework for governance, but also to embed protections to ensure its survival. The freedom of the press is the most important protection since without it, citizens wouldn’t be informed that their other liberties were in danger.

IMPORTANCE OF THE PRESS


The power of the government comes from its citizens: government by the people, for the people, and of the people. It’s the people who elect their representatives, senators, and president. And it’s therefore imperative that the people are well informed to make the decisions that affect not only their lives, but also the lives of their fellow Americans. It’s the press who’s tasked with gathering, vetting, and delivering information to the people.

We have the three co-equal branches of government and each is responsible for checking and balancing the others. The executive, legislative, and judicial branches are the pillars that hold our democracy in place. The press –that is, the summation professional journalists– serves as the fourth pillar of our democracy. The press is sometimes referred to as the fourth estate for this very reason. It’s not an official branch of government; it’s an independent institution. Calling it the “fourth branch” would be unfitting, but calling it the “fourth estate” is a way of equally conveying both its importance and independence to our democracy.

The free press is the guardian of the people. It keeps a watch on the corridors of power, ensuring those who wield the power are holding true to their oaths of office. We, as the people, need to know when an individual or institution is not acting in our best interest. The press doesn’t have the power to dispense justice, but it does have the power to investigate immoral or unethical actions. They report their findings to the people, which includes the people who do have the power to dispense justice.

It’s our civic duty to stay informed by using reliable press sources. If we’re not getting reliable information we cannot make reliable decisions. And it’s our decisions that shape the future of our democracy.


Quotes on a Free Press


“Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”

Thomas Jefferson

“Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”

James Madison

“Freedom of conscience, of education, of speech, of assembly are among the very fundamentals of democracy and all of them would be nullified should freedom of the press ever be successfully challenged.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt