Republicans Are Playing with Fire by Disparaging the FBI

View of FBI headquarters, the J. Edgar Hoover Building, in Washington DC, March 10, 2010
View of FBI headquarters, the J. Edgar Hoover Building, in Washington DC, March 10, 2010 (F. Delventhal)

Having undermined Americans’ trust in the media, the courts, public education, science and Congress, Republicans are now turning on one of the few institutions that still command wide respect: the FBI.

In their desperation to save Donald Trump from scandal, Republicans are concocting wild conspiracy theories of FBI agents scheming to overturn the 2016 election.

This hysteria will not be without consequence. When partisans become convinced that the institutions of government have been taken over by the other side, they stop listening to them. When those institutions are law enforcement, the dangers are obvious. Read more

Republicans Broke American Politics in These Three Ways

View of the United States Capitol from the Washington Monument in Washington DC, March 18, 2011
View of the United States Capitol from the Washington Monument in Washington DC, March 18, 2011 (MudflapDC)

Political scientists Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein argue in The New York Times that the Democratic and Republican Parties don’t share the blame for the sorry state American politics are in.

Republicans are the ones who broke American politics, they write, in three ways:

  1. By demonizing government: Republicans have for decades attacked and dismantled institutions and flouted the norms of lawmaking, undermining the public’s trust in government.
  2. By opposing Barack Obama every step of the way: Even when he proposed policies Republicans once supported, like an individual health-insurance mandate. This radicalized conservative voters, who were told Republicans could bring the president to his knees if only they won a majority in Congress. The Obama effect had an ominous twist: an undercurrent of racism that was embodied in the “birther” movement led by Donald Trump.
  3. By creating a conservative echo chamber: From the rise of talk radio in the 1980s, Fox News in the 90s, right-wing blogs in the early 2000s and social media in our time, conservatives have created a media ecosystem in which “alternative facts” thrive and hostility to the “establishment”, immigrations and Democrats boosts ratings. Read more

The American Culture Wars Are Officially a Strategic Threat

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gives a speech in Phoenix, Arizona, October 29, 2016
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gives a speech in Phoenix, Arizona, October 29, 2016 (Gage Skidmore)

Donald Trump campaign people are going to jail.

This isn’t quite the fall of the Trumpian house of cards. Paul Manafort’s indictment is very specific to him and his work in Ukraine. More information must come out before we can be certain this will lead to the White House. While the revelations of George Papadopoulos create the strongest link yet, they have not produced an indictment to date.

Yet there is an essential tale here: for the first time in modern American history, a foreign power has substantially interfered with a political campaign. It’s not that others haven’t tried. The Soviet Union tried several times to back favored candidates, especially in the turbulent 1960s and 70s. But in those Cold War cases, American candidates refused the help.

This is the first time it looks like someone said yes.

What changed? Read more

How Ripe for Tyranny Is America? Two Numbers to Give You Pause

The sun sets on the United States Capitol in Washington DC, September 18, 2014
The sun sets on the United States Capitol in Washington DC, September 18, 2014 (Thomas Hawk)
  • Nearly one in two Americans believe the news media fabricate stories about President Donald Trump. The number is 76 percent for Republicans. Only 11 percent of Republicans are confident the media report honestly. (Conor Friedersdorf’s latest in The Atlantic is worth reading in terms of this partisan divide.)
  • Half of all college students (62 percent of Democrats, 39 percent of Republicans) believe it is acceptable to shout down controversial speakers. One in five would even tolerate violence!

Resist the Strongman’s Siren Call

Monument on Theodore Roosevelt Island in Washington DC, November 12, 2012
Monument on Theodore Roosevelt Island in Washington DC, November 12, 2012 (Laurabl)

Larry Summers, a top economic advisor to Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, tells Axios that today’s economic challenges — artificial intelligence, automation, globalization — require a leader on the scale of Germany’s Otto von Bismarck, England’s William Gladstone or America’s Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt:

I think it would be a gross misreading of history to think that a laissez-faire, preserve-what-is and don’t-add-anything-new in terms of public institutions and public programs will be sufficient to enable our societies to deal with these trends, which are very much under way.

But that assumes transformational leadership is a condition for transformational change, which is doubtful.

And Summers should be careful what he wishes for. Clamoring for a strongman can open the door to less benign figures. Just look at Donald “I-alone-can-fix-it” Trump. Read more

Fillon Disqualifies Himself by Smearing Investigators

French Republican leader François Fillon arrives in Brussels for a meeting with other European conservative party leaders, December 15, 2016
French Republican leader François Fillon arrives in Brussels for a meeting with other European conservative party leaders, December 15, 2016 (EPP)

French presidential candidate François Fillon has gone down the same road as Brexiteers in the United Kingdom and Donald Trump in the United States by disparaging the institutions that stand in his way and appealing directly to “the people”.

Fillon, the center-right Republican candidate for the presidential elections in April and May, has dismissed charges that he paid his wife hundreds of thousands of euros over the years for a fictitious job as a “political assassination”.

He alleges that the rule of law “has been systematically violated” in France and that “the notion of innocent until proven guilty has completely disappeared.” Read more

Falling Trust Makes Us More Vulnerable to Strongmen

Three young men watch the sun set on Paris, France, February 24, 2009
Three young men watch the sun set on Paris, France, February 24, 2009 (Jean-Paul P.G.)

Trust is one of those amorphous but important factors that make our society what it is. It’s hard to measure, but social science tells us that societies in which people are more likely to implicitly trust each other are on the whole more peaceful and more prosperous than those where trust is low.

Canada and Sweden, for example, are two countries where trust is high. In Italy and Morocco, by contrast, trust is lower.

Trust is not the only thing that accounts for the differences between those four countries. But it goes some way to explaining why the first two are wealthier and more caring and the last two have more corruption and crime.

Trust is altogether higher in North America and Western Europe than in the rest of the world, which — again — goes some way to explaining why those regions do better on a variety of metrics. Read more