Kavanaugh Nomination Erodes Supreme Court’s Legitimacy

United States Supreme Court
Supreme Court of the United States in Washington DC (iStock)

Republicans’ determination to put Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court marks an escalation of the politicization of the judiciary in the United States.

Kavanaugh faces unanimous opposition from Democrats due to allegations of sexual assault, his extreme views on presidential power (Kavanaugh does not believe a sitting president can be indicted or tried) and his partisanship. Read more “Kavanaugh Nomination Erodes Supreme Court’s Legitimacy”

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 Are Playing with Fire by Disparaging the FBI”

Republicans Broke American Politics in These Three Ways

Washington DC at night
Washington DC at night (Pixabay/skeeze)

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 “Republicans Broke American Politics in These Three Ways”

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 “The American Culture Wars Are Officially a Strategic Threat”

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

United States Capitol Washington
United States Capitol in Washington DC (Shutterstock/Orhan Cam)
  • 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 “Resist the Strongman’s Siren Call”

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 “Fillon Disqualifies Himself by Smearing Investigators”

Falling Trust Makes Us More Vulnerable to Strongmen

Paris France
A young man looks out over the skyline of Paris, France from the Arab World Institute (Unsplash/Gwendal Cottin)

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 “Falling Trust Makes Us More Vulnerable to Strongmen”

Brexiteers Demand Subjugation of Institutions to Will of “The People”

Cabinet Office London England
The British flag flies over the Cabinet Office in London, England (Shutterstock/Willy Barton)

Brexit’s erosive effect on British democracy continues.

Consider this recent story in The Telegraph, which takes the entire civil service to task for refusing to make Britain’s exit from the European Union a success.

The reality is that Britain’s civil servants are among the world’s most capable and that leaving the EU is going to be painful. There is no way to make Brexit a “success” by any objective measure.

As recently as a few months ago, serious Brexiteers recognized as much. They admitted that leaving the EU would have a negative effect on the economy, at least in the short term. But, they argued, independence from Brussels would make up for it in spirit.

Now even such admissions are taboo in Euroskeptic circles and civil servants who dare state the obvious are considered traitors to the cause. Read more “Brexiteers Demand Subjugation of Institutions to Will of “The People””

Netherlands’ Wilders Attacks Court After Discrimination Verdict

Geert Wilders
Dutch Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders listens to a court proceeding in Amsterdam, June 23, 2011 (Reuters/Robin Utrecht)

Dutch nationalist party leader Geert Wilders has attacked the judges who found him guilty of inciting discrimination on Friday and vowed to appeal the verdict.

The controversial right-wing politician dismissed the panel of judges as “Freedom Party haters” who convicted “half the Netherlands” along with him.

He previously called the proceedings a show trial and said he would not tone down his rhetoric whatever the outcome.

“People who want to stop me will have to kill me,” he said.

Wilders has lived under constant protection for twelve years. Read more “Netherlands’ Wilders Attacks Court After Discrimination Verdict”