Resisting Trump effectively

Former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum has been making the media rounds with some thought-provoking ideas about the Trump presidency and the risk that protests which lack a specific focus or which come across as a threat to public order may empower rather than constrain him.

In “What Effective Protest Could Look Like“, Frum argues:

With the rarest exceptions—and perhaps the January 21 demonstration will prove to be one—left-liberal demonstrations are exercises in catharsis, the release of emotions. Their operating principle is self-expression, not persuasion. They lack the means, and often the desire, to police their radical fringes, with the result that it’s the most obnoxious and even violent behavior that produces the most widely shared and memorable images of the event. They seldom are aimed at any achievable goal; they rarely leave behind any enduring program of action or any organization to execute that program. Again and again, their most lasting effect has been to polarize opinion against them—and to empower the targets of their outrage.

Even those closely associated with the creation of Occupy Wall Street acknowledge that the lack of a coherent program of action with achievable objectives helped make the movement ineffective.

He also criticizes “the futile squabbling cul-de-sac of intersectionality and grievance politics” — a boldly stated position on the eternal question in progressive activism, namely whether disparate movements with progressive aims (reducing economic inequality, saving the climate, treating refugees justly, ending discrimination, curbing police violence, etc) can better achieve success by attempting to form a unified coalition that can alter policy or win elections, or whether each should be trying to build support among people of all political persuasions, and finding their effort hampered by the demand that anyone who they are trying to influence buy into the whole broad (though not necessarily coherent) progressive agenda at the same time.

In “How to Build an Autocracy“, Frum argues:

Civil unrest will not be a problem for the Trump presidency. It will be a resource. Trump will likely want not to repress it, but to publicize it—and the conservative entertainment-outrage complex will eagerly assist him. Immigration protesters marching with Mexican flags; Black Lives Matter demonstrators bearing antipolice slogans—these are the images of the opposition that Trump will wish his supporters to see. The more offensively the protesters behave, the more pleased Trump will be.

It’s also worth listening to The Current’s interview with Frum.

One aspect of Frum’s thinking which aligns with my own but clashes with that of many activists is that meetings are essential. While I have seen an entire activist group fall apart partly because of how frustrated people were with meetings, they are necessary for assembling a program of action that goes beyond socially-motivated and superficial support for causes your friends seem to approve of: Facebook activism and the occasional protest march not linked to a specific demand.

In any event, we need to be thinking carefully about activist effectiveness in terms not defined by what it does emotionally for activists. I would be very interested to hear responses to Frum’s arguments, along with links to any other analysis of the Trump situation which seems perceptive and useful.


Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

45 thoughts on “Resisting Trump effectively”

  1. Conservatives aren’t going to stop existing or stop holding political power. Dealing with climate change requires policy changes that must stay in place for many years, so an all-left coalition can’t succeed in dealing with it alone. Furthermore, linking an agenda to control climate change with extremist leftist groups like BLM and BDS might end up delaying action and making the damage much worse.

  2. Early in 2016, Obama invited a group of African American leaders to meet with him at the White House. When some of the activists affiliated with Black Lives Matter refused to attend, Obama began calling them out in speeches. “You can’t refuse to meet because that might compromise the purity of your position,” he said. “The value of social movements and activism is to get you at the table, get you in the room, and then start trying to figure out how is this problem going to be solved. You then have a responsibility to prepare an agenda that is achievable—that can institutionalize the changes you seek—and to engage the other side.”

  3. Ronald Reagan, whose approval ratings fell from 51 percent in his first year as president to a meager 34 percent by 1982, was also the focus of international and domestic fury. Reagan triggered an international uproar when he insisted on the deployment of 572 intermediate-range nuclear force missiles in Western Europe, fulfilling a NATO agreement that had been finalized in 1979. When Reagan moved forward this plan, there was an outcry from New York to the streets of Paris. Tens of thousands of moderate and left-wing Europeans demonstrated against these new weapons on the grounds that they would escalate the threat of nuclear war. Within the United States, the nuclear freeze movement ramped up into high gear, warning that this deployment was just one among many things that Reagan had done to bring the world to the brink of nuclear war.

    On July 12, 1982, almost a million people came to a protest in New York City to express their support for freezing the production of nuclear weapons and to state their anger about Reagan. “My belief,” said then-Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), “is that Reagan was not put on Earth by God to bring us supply side economics. His role is to sit down with Brezhnev and end the arms race, to do for nuclear arms what Nixon did for China. My role is to create the atmospherics, the public and congressional support, that will make Reagan the greatest man who ever lived. He can reject, it, of course, but we will have tried.” The freeze movement drew millions of adherents, while in Congress, the House passed amendments that prohibited the administration from sending any more assistance to anti-communist forces overseas. The protests would continue over the following year, and Reagan’s approval ratings would remain low until 1984 (reaching 41 percent in January 1983). But it wouldn’t matter.

    The problem was that Reagan’s support among Republicans kept growing.

  4. I think that resisting Donald Trump comes instinctively to many people. I don’t know if the protests will continue for long time, but I am sure that they will make a difference. People with a lot of pride are deeply affected by being criticized or challenged. Taking a position is better than just being stunned and sad.

  5. Inside the black bloc militant protest movement as it rises up against Trump

    Scorned by critics on both the left and right and hunted by police, the black bloc is bringing its radical tactics to the massive protest movement sparked by the presidency of Donald Trump.

    The masked militants went fist to fist with neo-Nazis at the state Capitol in June, where five of their allies were stabbed. Black bloc tactics also dogged Trump’s inaugural ceremonies in Washington, leaving broken windows, vandalized banks and a torched limo.

    And early this month on the UC Berkeley campus, black bloc militants tore down police barricades, broke windows, started a fire and assaulted Trump supporters.

    They represented a small percentage of the 1,000 mostly nonviolent demonstrators who went to Berkeley to protest a speech by controversial Breitbart columnist and conservative writer Milo Yiannopoulos, but they dominated the outcome.

  6. Its aim was, and still is, direct action. Practitioners care little for speech or to shape public opinion, and the media are held in disdain, as are liberals who espouse nonviolence.

    Members operate in small squads that organize themselves around flags during the havoc of a protest. Many are anarchists, and anarchist websites such as It’s Going Down provide a public platform for reports from the underground.

    They say they battle police brutality, corporate greed, immigration bans and erosion of civil liberties. The Bay Area has provided a fertile base for the group, especially Oakland, birthplace to the armed militias of the Black Panther movement.

    “I subscribe to self-defense in the very same sense that the Black Panther Party does and that Malcolm X does,” said a veteran Bay Area black bloc militant who spoke on the condition that he not be named because much of the group’s actions are illegal.

    He described himself as an employed college graduate, the product of youth incarceration and a household where street respect — not pacifism — was preached.

    “Which means for me to recognize one type of violence, which is people being beat up for having certain types of political views and being brazen about them, compared to the everyday violence … like I go through the Bay Area and there are people sleeping in the doorways of million-dollar condos that are empty. … Is that not violent?” he said. “That is the most cruel and violent thing I think I have ever seen.”

  7. Shugerman’s approach uses a whole lot of Latin words, but in a nutshell, he wants to use state laws of incorporation to investigate and revoke Trump’s business charter in New York. In an article last week, Shugerman laid out the theory that corporations are creatures of state law and that attorneys general have the authority to bring actions against corporations that are acting against the public interest. As he put it, “State attorneys general can bring quo warranto proceedings to access information about whether the entities are conduits for illegal emoluments.” By asking state attorneys general in the states Trump businesses are incorporated to sue, the standing problem disappears. As Shugerman puts it: “Instead of private parties suing the public official (Trump), public officials can sue the private parties (the Trump hotels and other business entities). Corporations are a creature of state law, and state attorneys general have a special role in making sure that corporations adhere to federal and state law.” Not only does the standing problem disappear but because standing requirements are lower in state court than in federal court, the state AGs will be more likely to be allowed to proceed.

  8. Jeffrey Medford, a small-business owner in South Carolina, voted reluctantly for Donald Trump. As a conservative, he felt the need to choose the Republican. But some things are making him feel uncomfortable — parts of Mr. Trump’s travel ban, for example, and the recurring theme of his apparent affinity for Russia.

    Mr. Medford should be a natural ally for liberals trying to convince the country that Mr. Trump was a bad choice. But it is not working out that way. Every time Mr. Medford dips into the political debate — either with strangers on Facebook or friends in New York and Los Angeles — he comes away feeling battered by contempt and an attitude of moral superiority.

    “We’re backed into a corner,” said Mr. Medford, 46, whose business teaches people to be filmmakers. “There are at least some things about Trump I find to be defensible. But they are saying: ‘Agree with us 100 percent or you are morally bankrupt. You’re an idiot if you support any part of Trump.’ ”

    He added: “I didn’t choose a side. They put me on one.”

  9. MELBOURNE, Fla. — Many of President Trump’s most dedicated supporters — the sort who waited for hours in the Florida sun this weekend for his first post-inauguration campaign rally — say their lives changed on election night. Suddenly they felt like their views were actually respected and in the majority.

    But less than one month into Trump’s term, many of his supporters say they once again feel under attack — perhaps even more so than before.

    Those who journeyed to Trump’s Saturday evening event on Florida’s Space Coast said that since the election, they have unfriended some of their liberal relatives or friends on Facebook. They don’t understand why major media outlets don’t see the same successful administration they have been cheering on. And they’re increasingly frustrated that Democrats — and some Republicans — are too slow to approve some of the president’s nominees and too quick to protest his every utterance.

    Mussler said the women in her family are especially divided right now. She supports Trump, while they do not. She’s opposed to abortion rights, while they support them. They attended the Women’s March, while she found it not at all representative of her way of life.

    Can this nation ever be united?

    “I hope so,” Mussler said with a shake of her head. “I don’t know. I don’t know. It would be nice, and I think if — I don’t know, I don’t know. I think the only thing that’s going to reunite us is maybe the Lord coming back.”–and-are-frustrated-with-critics-who-dont/2017/02/19/496cb4b4-f6ca-11e6-9845-576c69081518_story.html?hpid=hp_hp-top-table-main_trumpsupporters-0711pm%3Ahomepage%2Fstory

  10. We don’t need the Democratic party to tell us what to think – we have vibrant and engaged movements out there that are reshaping public opinion every day, in the airports and on Facebook. Black Lives Matter leads our movement intellectually in a way that the Democratic party never will. But we may need the Democratic party for the fairly limited purpose of winning elections and hence consolidating power.

  11. The final thing to note is that Trump’s disapproval rating is unprecedentedly high for a newly elected president, but not for a president overall. Obama’s disapproval rating was at Trumpian levels through most of his tenure. So stop counting chickens and high-fiving. A lot of people like what Trump is doing. Why they like it is up for grabs: maybe they’re racist assholes, maybe they feel no stake in the existing order and want to see it burned down, maybe they are dumb enough to believe Trump’s spin. Maybe none of the above, or a combination.

  12. And despite Hillary Clinton’s popular-vote victory, Donald Trump won about 2,600 counties while she won 489. That might have been enough to keep the electoral college tally close, but it’s also a recipe for losing pretty much everything down ballot.

    Democrats need to dig themselves out of a big hole from state legislative races on up, and it starts by treating voters as more than a check box on a census form. It will require building a big-tent coalition based on values and experiences, not just demographic groups, and rethinking the party’s pitch and policies to respond to the needs and concerns of Americans across the country, not just in cities and on coasts. Only if the Democratic Party can transform itself to meet those goals will it be ready to counter Trump and his noxious, dangerous strain of right-wing populism over the long term.–and-wont-be–destiny-for-democrats/2017/02/22/576a3a60-f91c-11e6-9845-576c69081518_story.html

  13. ‘Corporate coup’: Naomi Klein says Trump’s goal is to make the rich richer

    For many around the world — even many of his voters — Donald Trump winning the U.S. election came as a surprise, or even a shock.

    But activist and author Naomi Klein argues in her new book No Is Not Enough: Resisting the New Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need that we should have been expecting someone like him.

    From the rise of megabrands, to the idea that the role of government is to get out of the way of business, Klein sees Trump as the culmination of trends she’s been documenting for decades.

    “One of the ideas that I wanted to highlight, which is actually a very bipartisan idea — it’s not just about conservatives — is this worship of wealth, the CEO saviour,” Klein tells The Current’s Anna Maria Tremonti.

    “We can’t just blame this on Trump. Trump would have been unelectable were it not for the groundwork laid by Bill Clinton and Bill Gates, two liberal heroes,” she says.

  14. Commentary about Trump’s behavior has tended to assume that presidential norms, once broken, are hard if not impossible to restore. This can be true, but in Trump’s case isn’t. Presidents don’t embrace their predecessors’ norm entrepreneurship unless it brings political advantage, and Trump’s hasn’t. His successors are no more likely to replicate his self-destructive antics than they would be if he yelled at the first lady during a public dinner or gave a televised address from the White House Rose Garden in his bathrobe.

    Another reason presidential norms will prove resilient is that Trump’s aberrant actions have been sweepingly condemned. He has been rebuked for his attacks on investigatory independence not just by his political opponents but by more-sympathetic voices in the Republican Party and on the Wall Street Journal editorial page, and even, implicitly, by his own Justice Department appointees, who have continued the Russia investigation despite his pushback. Trump’s response to the violent demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August produced a uniform outcry that will reinforce norms for future presidents about denouncing racism and racial violence. The majority of the other presidential norms that Trump has defied will similarly be strengthened by the reactions to his behavior, and will snap back in the next presidency.

  15. It’s just a scenario, but it’s one that keeps many people awake at night – including many senior people in the US military. That’s why reports have been surfacing recently that the US Secretary of Defence, General James Mattis, the National Security Adviser, General H.R McMaster, and Trump’s Chief of Staff, General John Kelly, have made a secret pact that all three will never be abroad at the same time.

    Why not? Because at least one very senior military officer must always be in the country to monitor orders coming from the White House, and countermand them if necessary.

    I cannot vouch for the accuracy of these reports, but I believe them. In fact, I was already assuming that some arrangement like that was in place. Mattis, McMaster and Kelly are serious, experienced and professional military officers, and it would be a dereliction of duty for them not to ensure that there is always at least one responsible adult between Trump and the nuclear button.

  16. Sen. Bob Corker said a lot of things about President Trump on Tuesday morning. The Tennessee Republican warned that Trump’s itchy Twitter finger could set off another world war. He suggested Trump is a liar. He said Trump’s legacy will be “debasing” America. He said Trump is not a role model for children. He declined to say whether Trump should be trusted with the nuclear codes. He said Trump’s conduct is “very sad for our nation.” He said Trump has “proven himself unable to rise to the occasion.”

    Later on — and perhaps most damningly — he said there were “multiple occasions where [White House] staff has asked me to please intervene; he was getting ready to do something that was really off the tracks.”

    Early in this onslaught against Trump, Corker assured us that he considers all of his words carefully. “I don’t make comments I haven’t thought about,” he told ABC News. In other words: He truly believes all this stuff, and he’s not just flying off the handle.

    Which leads to the next question: If you truly believe all of that, wouldn’t you also believe that Trump should be removed from office?

    Corker’s comments sure seem to be trending in that direction — whether he intends it or not. The senator is describing Trump as an imminent threat to American government and American lives. He’s suggesting Trump is damaging American society. He says Trump isn’t only failing, but that he’s “unable to rise to the occasion.” He suggests Trump was ready to do crazy things before Corker intervened and put a stop to it. He’s basically arguing that Trump is derelict in his duties as president, or unfit for the office.

  17. The last time a party ran on impeachment, it didn’t go well. In 1998, Republicans thought they had been handed a gift in the form of Bill Clinton’s sexual indiscretions with Monica Lewinsky. They made impeaching Clinton a central issue in the midterms and predicted big gains in both chambers. But Democrats rallied to Clinton’s defense and the GOP’s plan backfired. Democrats gained five seats in the House—the only time in the 20th century that a party gained seats midway through its second presidential term. (It helped Democrats that the economy was strong, too.)

    That history is not lost on the party’s current leaders. 1998 was the year Democrats recaptured the governor’s mansion in Nancy Pelosi’s home state of California, with a 20-point landslide, after 16 years of Republican rule. It’s also the year Chuck Schumer, now the Senate minority leader, defeated an incumbent Republican to win his seat in the Senate.

    Now, Pelosi, Schumer, and other leading party figures are trying to ensure Democrats do not repeat the same mistake. They have tamped down any talk of impeachment—preaching patience with Mueller’s ongoing investigation while dismissing the calls to begin impeachment proceedings posthaste.

  18. WASHINGTON, DC, is a revealingly gossipy place. A favourite tale of the Donald Trump era involves a pact that the generals working for the president are supposed to have sworn. As described by ambassadors, senators and foreign-policy panjandrums, the generals have agreed that one of their number will remain in America at all times, to prevent a war being started by intemperate presidential tweets.

    The details change. Sometimes, it is said, the pact involves James Mattis, the defence secretary, aligning travel with the White House chief of staff, John Kelly, a fellow retired four-star Marine general. Others say Mr Mattis is in cahoots with Joseph Dunford, a serving four-star Marine general and chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, or with H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser (an army lieutenant-general still on active service but shouldering a mere three stars). Still others insist the pact includes the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, a former oil man and a rare civilian among the so-called “grown-ups” who run national-security policy for Mr Trump.

    Mr Mattis has told aides that no such pact exists. The Economist recently travelled to South Korea with the defence secretary on the same day that General Dunford was also in Seoul, and Mr Tillerson was in Geneva. The durability of this urban legend is telling, however.

  19. U.S. nuclear commander says he would resist ‘illegal’ order from Trump

    HALIFAX — The top commander of U.S. nuclear forces says he would push back if U.S. President Donald Trump asked him to carry out an order he deemed “illegal.”

    Air Force Gen. John E. Hyten told the Halifax International Security Forum on Saturday that he and Trump have discussed what would happen if the president ordered a nuclear strike he believed to be unlawful under international law.

    “I think some people think we’re stupid. We’re not stupid people,” Hyten said.”We think about these things a lot. When you have this responsibility, how do you not think about it?”

    Hyten would be in charge of U.S. nuclear forces in a war. If Trump decided to launch a nuclear attack, Hyten would provide him with strike options, and the president would make his decision.

    “The way the process works, it’s simple,” said Hyten. “I provide advice to the president, he’ll tell me what to do, and if it’s illegal, guess what is going to happen?

    “I’m going to say, ‘Mr. President, that’s illegal.’ And guess what he’s going to do? He’s going to say, ‘What would be legal?”‘

    Hyten said he and Trump would work to find another course of action.

  20. I am not immune to Oprah’s charms, but President Winfrey is a terrible idea. It also underscores the extent to which Trumpism — the kowtowing to celebrity and ratings, the repudiation of experience and expertise — has infected our civic life. The ideal post-Trump politician will, at the very least, be a deeply serious figure with a strong record of public service behind her. It would be a devastating, self-inflicted wound for the Democrats to settle for even benevolent mimicry of Mr. Trump’s hallucinatory circus act.

    Indeed, the magical thinking fueling the idea of Oprah in 2020 is a worrisome sign about the state of the Democratic Party. That Ms. Winfrey could probably beat those considered likely front-runners — Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Kirsten Gillibrand — is testament to how demoralized and devoid of fresh political talent the post-Obama party has become.

    In a way, the conversation on the left (and the anti-Trump right) around Ms. Winfrey is more troubling than the emotional immaturity and anti-intellectualism pulsing out of the red states that elected Mr. Trump. Those voters have long defined themselves in opposition to the intellectual seriousness Democrats purport to personify.

  21. WASHINGTON — Stephen K. Bannon, President Trump’s former chief strategist, was subpoenaed last week by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, to testify before a grand jury as part of the investigation into possible links between Mr. Trump’s associates and Russia, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter.

    The move marked the first time Mr. Mueller is known to have used a grand jury subpoena to seek information from a member of Mr. Trump’s inner circle. The special counsel’s office has used subpoenas before to seek information on Mr. Trump’s associates and their possible ties to Russia or other foreign governments.

    The subpoena could be a negotiating tactic. Mr. Mueller is likely to allow Mr. Bannon to forgo the grand jury appearance if he agrees to instead be questioned by investigators in the less formal setting of the special counsel’s offices about ties between Mr. Trump’s associates and Russia and about the president’s conduct in office, according to the person, who would not be named discussing the case. But it was not clear why Mr. Mueller treated Mr. Bannon differently than the dozen administration officials who were interviewed in the final months of last year and were never served with a subpoena.

  22. None of the rest of us knows where this investigation is heading, not even the targets of the investigation. Three times now Mueller—in the most watched investigation in history—has charged and gotten guilty pleas from people who weren’t even on our radar: Papadopoulos and Richard Pinedo, a Californian who pleaded guilty last Friday to unwittingly aiding the Russians with identity theft, as well as the Dutch lawyer who pleaded guilty earlier this week.

    Last summer, I outlined 15 “known unknowns” in the Trump/Russia investigation, unanswered but knowable threads that Mueller’s team could be expected to pull on. The answers to many of those questions are still not public. Yes, we’ve received significant new information about how Dutch intelligence tipped off the US to Russia’s hacking efforts. But we’ve still not seen charges concerning active cyber intrusions—most notably, the hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s computers and the stealing of Clinton campaign manager John Podesta’s emails—one of at least five related probes Mueller is leading right now.

  23. A year on, the talk in Washington is of a new gilded age, with Mr Kushner as a kind of Jay Gould with better suits. Ever since he and his wife entered the White House they have treated the government rulebook as something for the little people to worry about. Like Mr Trump, they retained large business interests, which they have allegedly used their political careers to advance. Ms Trump parades her jewellery and fashion lines at official functions, a ploy that was rewarded when China granted her company three trademarks on the day its leader dined with her at Mar-a-Lago. Shortly before and after Mr Trump’s election, Mr Kushner allegedly pressed foreign investors, from Qatar and elsewhere, to bail out a heavily mortgaged skyscraper in his family’s property portfolio at 666 Fifth Avenue, Manhattan.

    His appointment was not worth bending the law for. Indeed, it has shown how fragile are the guardrails that separate America from the sorts of nepotistic, corrupt regimes Mr Kushner formerly tried to do business with. There is a complacent view on that, too. Some insist that America’s institutions are robust enough to protect it. But that ignores the fact that the prerequisite of any democratic institution is public trust, which was in dwindling reserve before Mr Trump’s election, and has suffered further damage in the chaos of his administration. Almost half of Americans believe “corruption is pervasive in the White House”. That, not Middle East peace or modernised government, is shaping up to be Mr Kushner’s legacy.

  24. The denunciations came in two waves.

    Earlier in the day, retired Adm. William McRaven wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post, protesting Trump’s revoking of former CIA Director John Brennan’s security clearance and declaring—as if in an open letter to Trump himself—“I would consider it an honor if you would revoke my security clearance as well, so I can add my name to the list of men and women who have spoken up against your presidency.”

    McRaven is a former Navy SEAL and Commander of U.S. Special Operations Command who oversaw the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. By all accounts, he is as apolitical as they come and had not publicly criticized Trump, or any previous president, until now.

    The op-ed continued: “Like most Americans, I had hoped that when you became president, you would rise to the occasion and become the leader this great nation needs. Your leadership, however, has shown little of these qualities. Through your actions”—which he later described as “McCarthy-era tactics”—“you have embarrassed us in the eyes of our children, humiliated us on the world stage and worst of all, divided us as a nation.”

    One former senior intelligence official who read the op-ed sent me an email: “Takes my breath away. This is BIG!!!” Another wrote, again on background, that fellow officers—retired and active-duty—will take this as a sign of a major rupture in civil-military relations, brought on by Trump’s blatant disrespect for the national-security officials and the entire security system.

    Then, late on Thursday night, 12 former CIA directors and deputy directors released a similar statement. By coincidence, the statement was written a few hours before McRaven’s op-ed appeared, according to two of the organizers.

    The intelligence officials stopped short of asking Trump to revoke their clearances—that idea hadn’t come up in conversation. But like McRaven, they defended Brennan’s integrity and denounced Trump’s action as having “nothing to do with who should and should not hold security clearances—and everything to do with an attempt to stifle free speech.”

    The statement went on: “We have never before seen the approval or removal of security clearances used as a political tool, as was done in this case,” adding that “this action is quite clearly a signal to other former and current officials” to stay silent. It noted that some of the signatories agree with Brennan’s long string of critical statements about Trump, while others do not. However, they all agree that decisions on security clearances “should be based on national security concerns and not political views.”

    It was a bipartisan statement. Four of the signers served during Republican administrations; six served Democrats; two served presidents from both parties. More to the point, the vast majority of them are not accustomed to making political statements of any sort, much less direct criticisms of a sitting president.

  25. White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly frequently lost his temper and told colleagues that he thought the president was “unhinged,” Woodward writes. In one small group meeting, Kelly said of Trump: “He’s an idiot. It’s pointless to try to convince him of anything. He’s gone off the rails. We’re in Crazytown. I don’t even know why any of us are here. This is the worst job I’ve ever had.”

    Reince Priebus, Kelly’s predecessor, fretted that he could do little to constrain Trump from sparking chaos. Woodward writes that Priebus dubbed the presidential bedroom, where Trump obsessively watched cable news and tweeted, “the devil’s workshop,” and said early mornings and Sunday evenings, when the president often set off tweetstorms, were “the witching hour.”

    Trump apparently had little regard for Priebus. He once instructed then-staff secretary Rob Porter to ignore Priebus, even though Porter reported to the chief of staff, saying that Priebus was “‘like a little rat. He just scurries around.’”

    Few in Trump’s orbit were protected from the president’s insults. He often mocked former national security adviser H.R. McMaster behind his back, puffing up his chest and exaggerating his breathing as he impersonated the retired Army general, and once said McMaster dresses in cheap suits, “like a beer salesman.”

    Trump told Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, a wealthy investor eight years his senior: “I don’t trust you. I don’t want you doing any more negotiations. … You’re past your prime.”

  26. Column: Here’s why Joe Biden is still winning — and stronger than you think

    It’s the 947th consecutive sign that we in the coastal chattering classes have not cured our insularity problem. It’s the 947th case in which we see that every second you spend on Twitter detracts from your knowledge of American politics and that the only cure to this insularity disease is constant travel and interviewing, close attention to state and local data and raw abject humility about the fact that the attitudes and academic degrees that you think make you clever are actually the attitudes and academic degrees that separate you from the real texture of American life

  27. Joe Lockhart noted that even though the President’s plan to press the Ukrainians for an investigation announcement was foiled by a whistleblower’s complaint “the President and his Republican colleagues found an alternative venue to smear Biden — the floor of the United States Senate.” One of Trump’s lawyers, former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, “aired all the charges against Biden without providing ample evidence to support any of them. She, and the rest of White House counsel, misled the Senate and the American people on the basic facts of the case.”

  28. Michelle Obama’s practical advice that we “grab our comfortable shoes, put on our masks, pack a brown bag dinner and maybe breakfast too, because we’ve got to be willing to stand in line all night if we have to” is almost exactly what historian Carol Anderson told me in February, in our Election Meltdown series, when I asked why it made sense to even try to vote in the face of so many systemic barriers

  29. “When I talk about putting the responsibility of adhering to the 15th Amendment on the shoulders and on the backs of the individuals, that means checking your voter registration on a consistent basis to make sure you’re still registered and to make sure your voting place is where you know it is, and then making a screenshot of it. So you have evidence of it. It means knowing that the lines are probably going to be really long, if you vote in a minority precinct. So you come prepared. You come with your cellphone. You come with a battery pack. You come with water, you come with snacks, you come with comfortable shoes. Because if we don’t do that now, what comes afterwards is something that’s going to be absolutely horrific to deal with.”

  30. Americans who entrust the military with their sons and daughters would not accept any Army leader — of any rank — who didn’t pursue, listen to and incorporate information that benefits the troops and the mission. Americans expect a general to seek input from the soldiers on the front lines bearing the brunt of the fight. Americans would demand a general who ignored the health of his command — or, worse yet, blamed shortcomings on others — be court martialed

  31. These are all very bad things, and good reasons to favor his defeat. But it’s also important to recognize all the elements of authoritarianism he lacks. He lacks popularity and political skill, unlike most of the global strongmen who are supposed to be his peers. He lacks power over the media: Outside of Fox’s prime time, he faces an unremittingly hostile press whose major outlets have thrived throughout his presidency. He is plainly despised by his own military leadership, and notwithstanding his courtship of Mark Zuckerberg, Silicon Valley is more likely to censor him than to support him in a constitutional crisis.

    His own Supreme Court appointees have already ruled against him; his attempts to turn his voter-fraud hype into litigation have been repeatedly defeated in the courts; he has been constantly at war with his own C.I.A. and F.B.I. And there is no mass movement behind him: The threat of far-right violence is certainly real, but America’s streets belong to the anti-Trump left.

    So if you judge an authoritarian by institutional influence, Trump falls absurdly short. And the same goes for judging his power grabs. Yes, he has successfully violated post-Watergate norms in the service of self-protection and his pocketbook. But pre-Watergate presidents were not autocrats, and in terms of seizing power over policy he has been less imperial than either George W. Bush or Barack Obama.

  32. Rather than face former Vice President Joe Biden in a town hall debate on Thursday, President Donald Trump took questions from voters in a one-hour special on NBC. Before the Miami crowd got its turn, however, host Savannah Guthrie interviewed Trump directly, appearing to respond to criticism of the network’s decision to hand Trump air time by giving the president one of the most intense grillings of his four years in office.

    Guthrie pressed the president on details related to his own experience with COVID-19, his baffling evasiveness when asked to condemn white supremacy, and the QAnon conspiracy theory, which Trump declined to condemn but did say, “I do know they are very much against pedophilia, they fight it very hard.” While Trump tried to fall back on his usual bluster, Guthrie was a cheerful but firm interrogator, returning again and again to the facts and details of Trump’s answers. As usual, Trump attempted to lie through the barrage of tough questions—and almost every time got pinned down by an interviewer who didn’t back off. At one point, after Guthrie parried one of Trump’s attempts to undermine a question’s premise, the president replied, “So cute.”

  33. Trump is more vulnerable to prosecution than other presidents because he’s engaged in so many potential nontraditional presidential crimes. With the invasion of Iraq, George W. Bush committed what the Nuremberg trials referred to as “the supreme international crime” of initiating a war of aggression. But there was never any chance that he’d be punished for this, because the entire U.S. power structure agrees that American presidents have the right to do it. Same for conducting thousands of drone strikes or torturing people around the globe. By contrast, Trump has engaged in many comparatively small, shabby, possible criminal activities outside of his presidential duties.

    Right now, Trump is protected from indictment under all federal laws because he’s president. For decades, the Justice Department has held that it cannot prosecute sitting presidents; former special counsel Robert Mueller agreed and explained that he never had the option to charge Trump because it would be unconstitutional. And, whether or not this perspective is correct, Attorney General William Barr is a loyal hatchet man who would never take action against his patron.

    It does seem, according to a recent Supreme Court ruling, that Trump could theoretically be indicted for violating state laws while in office. In practice, however, that is extremely unlikely.

  34. This leads us to the most likely reason Trump will not issue a self-pardon – President-elect Joe Biden’s lack of political appetite for more divisiveness. Biden is inheriting a highly polarised country that is still reeling from an attempted insurgency by a mushrooming far-right movement. The same movement constitutes Trump’s political base and rejects the legitimacy of Biden’s electoral victory. Putting their leader on trial would simply feed their conspiracy theories and encourage them to continue glorifying Trump as a white saviour.

    The last thing Biden wants as he tries to heal a divided nation and pull the country out of an economic recession is the first-ever criminal trial of a former president who craves nothing more than the media spotlight. A high-profile prosecution would only feed Trump’s narratives of victimhood and “witch hunts” that would twist the disgrace of being impeached (twice) into political gain. Indeed, the siege on the Capitol on January 6 displayed the potency of Trump’s influence in inciting his disaffected constituency toward violence.

  35. Evan McMullin and Miles Taylor on the need for “rational Republicans”

    Today’s GOP is in thrall to Donald Trump, not conservative principles. We aim to create a powerful faction in the party—or a new party altogether

    The movement is necessary because of the GOP’s continued embrace of fear-mongering, conspiracy theories and outright falsehoods, as demonstrated by its recent ejection of Liz Cheney, a Republican congresswoman from Wyoming, from her leadership position in the House of Representatives for telling the truth about the presidential election—namely, that it was free and fair.

    Our worry is that the party remains inordinately focused on a cult of personality around a person rather than on uniting around truth and principles. Even though Donald Trump’s popularity ratings continue to decline, the spectre of the former president haunts the party’s deliberations, causing its leaders to make decisions that are in one man’s interest rather than the national interest.

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