Category Archives: Comment

Winning at all costs

Americans of all stripes applaud nefarious political acts

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When offered intelligence from a foreign government, Donald Trump Jr. said ‘I love it.’
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

 

by Daniel M. Shea, Colby College

To many, the revelation that Donald Trump Jr. was anxious to get dirt on Hillary Clinton from the Russians will not come as a surprise. It is but the latest example of the take-no-prisoners, anything-goes politics of our day. Sure, soliciting help from a hostile foreign power is exceptional, and it is certainly true that the Trumps have taken “unconventional” politics to new heights. But how we do politics in the United States, the boundaries of acceptable behavior, has been shifting for two decades.

The real surprise – the part of the story that we should be gravely concerned about – is that this disclosure will not matter to a great many American voters. After thinking and writing about politics for two decades, I have come to the conclusion that the real issue we face is not the conduct of public officials or their surrogates, but how nefarious acts are now sanctioned, and even applauded, by so many on both sides of the partisan fence.

So what’s changed in our politics?

Fear and loathing

For one, the nature of partisanship is different. Until about a decade ago, one’s attachment to a party was centered around policy disputes or cues from groups and associations. But today’s version is grounded in the fear and loathing of the other side. Trunkloads of data, much of it from the Pew Research Center, suggest each side sees the other party as crazy and certainly dangerous. So it does not matter what your side does so long as it keeps the nut jobs on the other side at bay.

A new volume by political scientists Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels further helps to fine-tune our understanding how people vote and which party they identify with. Their book, “Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government,” suggests “issue congruence [between voters and parties], in so far as it exists, is mostly a byproduct of other connections, most of them lacking policy content.” In other words, we don’t think through issues, policies and candidate characteristics, but instead see elections as “us versus them.” These scholars argue voters tie themselves with racial, ethnic, occupational, religious, recreational and other groups, with partisanship as the byproduct. Our group identity, not policy concerns or ideology, determines vote choice. That is to say, we gather comfortably with our tribe and tune out other points of view.

A central force propelling hostility toward the “other” party is the partisan media. Many such outlets have figured out a sustainable business model. Smaller audiences can be profitable, so long as they remain loyal. Loyalty springs from “crisis” and, of course, “menace.” This leads to treating every issue as a true threat to our existence or a usurpation of fundamental “rights.” The other party is always the villain, and your side can do no wrong – so long as it is for the grand struggle.

And then there is the online world. Voters rarely explore new ideas and perspectives, but share, like and retweet concordant ones. We fence in and we fence out. As recently noted by journalist and author Megan McArdle, “Social media, of course, makes this problem worse. Even if we are not deliberately blocking people who disagree with us, Facebook curates our feeds so that we get more of the stuff we ‘like.’ What do we ‘like’? People and posts that agree with us.”

Sorting and filtering

Is the filtering of information really a new development? It is not at all clear that voters have ever absorbed a broad range of information or shifted though competing evidence. It is likely party bosses, elected officials, candidates and even media elites have always been able to manipulate mass opinion to a degree. Cognitive time-saving cues, especially party identification, have always been used to sort and filter.

But something very different is happening today. In the recent past, news was more widely viewed as objective, leading to a high degree of accepted facts and authority. When the news media unraveled the story of Watergate, for example, citizens of all partisan stripes accepted it as fact. What scholars dubbed “short-term influences” could override partisan leanings.

Which leads us to “alternative facts,” the aggressive spinning of policies and arguments regardless of contrary verifiable information. This may be a game-changer in our politics. The barrier for evidence has, it seems, evaporated, and emotion-rich information is used to draw more viewers, readers and listeners. If we add the continual drive for fresh “news” and the high costs of creating traditional journalism, we are left with little consensus or authority. New York Times blogger Farhad Manjoo put it this way: “We are roiled by preconceptions and biases, and we usually do what feels easiest – we gorge on information that confirms our ideas, and we shun what does not.”

Finally, popular culture has also probably contributed to our growing indifference to nefarious acts. We pick our reality show contestant and applaud every backhanded, despicable move that gets him across the finish line. There can’t be two winners or a collective good, only a sole survivor. Or shall we say that only one apprentice can get the job? And the best part of the show – the segment that really gets the producers juiced – is when things get truly ugly.

Democratic accountability

The latest Trump team revelation is a shocker, but even more stunning is the meager impact it will likely have on his supporters. As noted in a recent USA Today story, in Trump country the Russia disclosure is no big deal.

As voters, citizens are called to judge those in power. But there must be an objective standard for the assessment, which is why the framers of the Constitution put so much stock in a free press. The governed in a democracy must be willing and able to fairly judge the acts of the governors. But today “your side” has always done a good job and the “other” party has always failed. Any contrary revelation can be explained away as fake news.

The ConversationThe key ingredient in the democratic accountability process – objectivity – is disappearing, and the foundation of our limited government has been shaken. In Federalist #51 and elsewhere, James Madison wrote, “A dependence upon the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government…” Many are starting to wonder if Americans are up to the job – and whether the fate of the grand experiment is at risk.

Daniel M. Shea, Professor of Government, Colby CollegeThis article was originally published on The Conversation.

The GOP’s moral rot is the problem, not Trump & Co.

VIEW FROM THE RIGHT

by Jennifer Rubin

WASHINGTON – The key insight from a week of gobsmacking revelations is not that the Russia scandal may finally have an underlying crime but that, as The New York Times’ David Brooks suggests, “over the past few generations the Trump family built an enveloping culture that is beyond good and evil.” (Remember when the media collectively oohed and ahhed that, “Say what you will about Donald Trump, but his kids are great!” Add that to the heap of inane media narratives that helped normalize Trump to the voters.)

We now see that, sure enough, the Trump legal team (the fastest-growing segment of the economy) has trouble restraining its clients, explaining away initial, false explanations and preventing self-incriminating statements. (The biggest trouble, of course, is that the president lied that this is all “fake news” and arguably committed obstruction of justice to hide his campaign team’s misdeeds.)

We have always had in our political culture narcissists, ideologues and flimflammers, but it took the 21st-century GOP to put one in the White House.

Let me suggest the real problem is not the Trump family, but the GOP.

To paraphrase Brooks, “It takes generations to hammer ethical considerations out of a [party’s] mind and to replace them entirely with the ruthless logic of winning and losing.” Again, to borrow from Brooks, beyond partisanship the GOP evidences “no attachment to any external moral truth or ethical code.”

Let’s dispense with the “Democrats are just as bad” defense.

First, I don’t much care; we collectively face a party in charge of virtually the entire federal government and the vast majority of statehouses and governorships. It’s that party’s inner moral rot that must concern us for now.

Second, it’s simply not true, and saying so reveals the origin of the problem — a “woe is me” sense of victimhood that grossly exaggerates the opposition’s ills and in turn justifies its own egregious political judgments and rhetoric. If the GOP had not become unhinged about the Clintons, would it have rationalized Trump as the lesser of two evils? Only in the crazed bubble of right-wing hysteria does an ethically challenged, moderate Democrat become a threat to Western civilization and Trump the salvation of America.

Indeed, for decades now, demonization — of gays, immigrants, Democrats, the media, feminists, etc. — has been the animating spirit behind much of the right.

Only in the crazed bubble of right-wing hysteria does an ethically challenged, moderate Democrat become a threat to Western civilization and Trump the salvation of America.

It has distorted its assessment of reality, giving us anti-immigrant hysteria, promulgating disrespect for the law (how many “respectable” conservatives suggested disregarding the Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage?), elevating Fox News hosts’ blatantly false propaganda as the counterweight to liberal media bias and preventing serious policy debate.

For seven years, the party vilified Obamacare without an accurate assessment of its faults and feasible alternative plans. “Obama bad” or “Clinton bad” became the only credo — leaving the party, as Brooks said of the Trump clan, with “no attachment to any external moral truth or ethical code” — and no coherent policies for governing.

We have always had in our political culture narcissists, ideologues and flimflammers, but it took the 21st-century GOP to put one in the White House.

It took elected leaders such as House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and the Republican National Committee (not to mention its donors and activists) to wave off Trump’s racists attacks on a federal judge, blatant lies about everything from 9/11 to his own involvement in birtherism, replete evidence of disloyalty to America (i.e. Trump’s “Russia first” policies), misogyny, Islamophobia, ongoing potential violations of the Constitution’s emoluments clause (along with a mass of conflicts of interests), firing of an FBI director, and now, evidence that the campaign was willing to enlist a foreign power to defeat Clinton in the presidential election.

Out of its collective sense of victimhood came the GOP’s disdain for not just intellectuals but also intellectualism, science, Economics 101, history and constitutional fidelity.

If the Trump children became slaves to money and to their father’s unbridled ego, then the GOP became slaves to its own demons and false narratives.

A party that has to deny climate change and insist “illegal” immigrants are creating a crime wave — because that is what “conservatives” must believe, since liberals do not — is a party that will deny Trump’s complicity in gross misconduct.

It’s a party as unfit to govern as Trump is unfit to occupy the White House. It’s not by accident that Trump chose to inhabit the party that has defined itself in opposition to reality and to any “external moral truth or ethical code.” §

Jennifer Rubin is a Washington Post columnist, writing from a conservative perspective. Follow NJ.com Opinion on Twitter@NJ_Opinion. Find NJ.com Opinion on Facebook. This article is displayed with permission from NJ.com

Sixty years after ‘The Pill,’ the war on contraception continues

by Dr. Erin Saleeby, OB-GYN

The Pill was controversial when it was approved 60 years ago and remains so today as Congress aims to roll back affordable access to contraception.

Sixty years ago, the FDA approved a medication called Enovid for treating menstrual problems and infertility. Three years later, this combination of the synthetic hormones norethynodrel and mestranol, was approved as a contraceptive. The medication, which came to be called “The Pill,” was controversial then and remains controversial today, largely because of shenanigans in the health care bills aimed at replacing the Affordable Care Act.

The pill was revolutionary. It allowed women to take charge of their sexual and reproductive health and, in turn, plan their families and their futures and define their own lives. Contraception opened doors for me and millions of other women, creating a pathway for our full participation in society and in the workforce, while also contributing to better outcomes in maternal and child health.

As an OB-GYN, I have seen firsthand the benefits of access to affordable contraception for women of all ages, races, and socioeconomic status.

From healthier pregnancies and birth spacing to economic and educational attainment, we have much to celebrate. Women’s participation in the workforce grew from 40 percent in 1950 to nearly 60 percent in 2015, improving living standards along the way. More women have been attending college since the 1970s, and last year women accounted for 57 percent of the undergraduate student body. Some of these gains can be attributed to women being in charge of their reproductive health.

Today, most women can choose the contraceptive that works best for them without facing financial barriers. The ACA requires coverage for contraception without copays in most insurance plans. Whether that method is the pill, which has been the choice for 2 out of 3 women at some point in their lives, or the newer and more effective long-acting and reversible contraceptive devices, such as IUDs and implants, women can make their own decisions about their reproductive health based on the medical evidence and their own preferences.

Within just three years of the ACA’s no cost-sharing policy for contraception taking effect, insurance claims for IUDs increased from 36.6 percent in 2010 to 87.6 percent in 2013. This shows that when there is no financial barrier and women are free to choose, utilization of contraception increases.

Expanding access to contraception and making it affordable also improves women’s health. For the first time in decades, the unplanned pregnancy rate is declining and the abortion rate is the lowest since Roe v. Wade.

Despite this clear evidence for the benefits of contraception, the fight for universal access to affordable contraception wages on. Instead of celebrating the progress we have made over the past six decades, we are fighting off policy threats that could harm women’s health. The Senate is currently debating a health care bill that would not only devastate Medicaid and the public health care delivery system that pays for nearly half of all births in the country, it would also defund Planned Parenthood and allow states to let private insurance plans deny women preventive services and maternity coverage.

Such ill-advised policy proposals would jeopardize access to affordable contraception for many of my patients in California and millions of women across the nation. The potential repeal of the ACA, plus threats to undermine the Title X federal family planning program, could roll back contraceptive coverage and endanger access to essential sexual and reproductive health care for more than 20 million women in need of publicly supported contraception.

This isn’t bad just for women’s health. It is also fiscally irresponsible. The return on investment for contraception — every dollar invested in family planning saves $7 — should be compelling to all taxpayers.

It is unconscionable for our representatives in Congress, most of them men, to play politics with access to contraception. In this time of uncertainty in health care, let’s call on our lawmakers, from both sides of the aisle, to show they are invested in the health of women from all walks of life who depend on the security of safe, effective, and accessible contraception to realize their myriad critical roles in our society. Our representatives should start by preserving access to the full range of FDA-approved contraceptive methods without cost sharing, fully funding the Title X program for 2018, and not discriminating against women’s health providers who play vital roles in the health care safety net.

We cannot afford to turn back the clock on access to contraception and threaten the progress we have made in women’s health. §

Erin Saleeby, M.D., is the medical director of Essential Access Health, the administrator of California’s Title X federal family planning program. This article is displayed with permission from STAT.

Mark Twain on Donald Trump

What America’s great satirist might say of the president

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Thanks to the criticisms they’ve leveled in articlesinterviewstweets and letters to the editor, we know that many contemporary authors, from Philip Roth to J.K. Rowling, have a dim view of Donald J. Trump.

But what would leading writers of the past have made of him?

We can only speculate (well, until someone invents a Rowling-like potion capable of bringing long dead writers back to life). But if I could ask one dead writer what he thinks of Trump, it would be Mark Twain, my favorite American author and someone whose travel articles I’ve written about in the past. While Twain is best-known for his novels, he was also an opinionated, prolific commentator on the personalities and political issues of his day.

I suspect Twain would have found Trump the showman—the pre-2016 version—a fascinating figure. He would have been appalled, however, by much about Trump the president.

A champion of irreverence

I have no doubt about two things that Twain would find objectionable: the way that Trump has lashed out at TV sketches that mock him and his use of the phrase “enemy of the American people” to describe news organizations that criticize him.

Twain felt that no one was too grand to be satirized.

“Irreverence,” he wrote, “is the champion of liberty and its only sure defense.”

In America’s press, he admired its tendency to be “irreverent toward pretty much everything.” Even if this led to the newspapers laughing “one good king to death,” it was a small price to pay if they also “laugh a thousand cruel and infamous shams and superstitions into the grave.”

But pondering what, beyond this, Twain would make of Trump is an apt, tricky and timely exercise.

It’s apt because one of Twain’s novels, “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court,” features a man who travels through time.

It’s tricky because Twain’s views on many issues, including race, changed during his lifetime. Hence there are different Twains—as well as different Trumps—to consider.

Finally, imagining how Twain would view Trump is timely because when some have tried to look to history for an equivalent political moment, they’ll sometimes point to two decades—the 1880s and the 1900s—that happened to also be important in Twain’s life and career.

One of these Trumps is not like the other

The Twain of the 1880s would have probably found the Trump of a decade ago—a brash, self-promoting businessman known for his candid comments and penchant for media attention—fascinating. He may have even befriended him.

But the staunchly anti-imperialist Twain of two decades later would have been as disdainful of Trump now as he was of the man he once called “far and away the worst president we have ever had”—the muscular nationalist Teddy Roosevelt.

My basis for the first claim comes from Twain’s friendship with a flashy, boastful Trump-like showman: Buffalo Bill Cody. Among the most successful entertainment impresarios of his day, Cody founded and starred in a traveling Wild West Show, which drew large crowds in America and Europe and was famous for its reenactments of legendary battles.

In 1884, Twain sent a letter to Cody praising his Wild West Show as a realistic, “distinctly American” form of entertainment. In Cody’s spectacle—as in “The Apprentice”—the emcee was a famous man who played up a version of himself, capitalizing on the audience’s awareness that he had done things in real life that he did in the show: firing guns, in one case; firing people, in the other.

An advertisement for Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, a circus-like show that toured the nation. NPGpics/flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

 During this period, Twain wrote four of his best-known books. It was also a time of intense nativism in the United States. Many white laborers, especially in western states, became convinced that Chinese laborers, who had crossed the Pacific in large numbers during the Gold Rush, were unfairly depriving them of jobs that rightfully belonged to them.

 

This prejudice triggered several violent outbursts—such as the 1871 Los Angeles riot, which cost 18 Chinese men their lives—and led to the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, which forbade the entry of Chinese workers to the United States.

Twain mocked the hypocrisy of the Exclusion Act: Just as the U.S. government was preventing Chinese from coming here, American traders and missionaries in China were denouncing the Chinese government for hindering their pursuit of profits and converts in the Middle Kingdom.

Some critics of Trump’s executive order on immigration say it “eerily recalls” the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. In both cases, we see fear, stereotypes and prejudice fomenting an environment in which some groups are deemed less worthy of rights and protections—indeed, less human—than others.

In one of his early works, 1872’s “Roughing It,” Twain was already castigating those who bullied and abused Chinese immigrants as the “scum of the population.” His disdain for xenophobia and prejudice only grew later in life.

He would be a fierce critic of Trump’s nativist rhetoric even if—perhaps especially if—he had previously praised Trump the entertainer.

Twain targets Teddy

By the early 1900s, Theodore Roosevelt was in the White House. Trump—whom some have compared with Roosevelt—has said that when he speaks of trying to “Make America Great Again,” one period he has in mind is around the turn of the 20th century.

A 1904 New York World cartoon criticizes Teddy Roosevelt’s militaristic and imperialistic impulses. Wikimedia Commons

Around this time, Twain was not just a celebrated author but a leading figure on the lecture circuit. As both a speaker and an essayist, he was known for his satirical jabs. A key target of his became American expansionists, whom he skewered in, among other works, the 1901 essay “To the Person Sitting in Darkness,” which lambasts Americans for committing violence across the Pacific under the guise of “civilizing” backward peoples.

In 1900, there were two U.S. military campaigns underway in China and the Philippines. In China, U.S. soldiers joined forces with a host of other countries to fight the anti-Christian Boxer militants and the Qing dynasty. In the Philippines, American troops brutally suppressed Filipinos who sought independence.

Teddy Roosevelt was an enthusiastic supporter of these campaigns. The main goal in the Philippines and in China, Roosevelt insisted, was not enrichment but defeating “barbarous” enemies.

Twain disagreed. In his caustic “Salutation Speech from the Nineteenth Century to the Twentieth,” Twain dismissed the military campaigns as “pirate raids” that “besmirched” Christianity’s reputation.

Where Roosevelt saw the Boxers as just the latest wave of savages to be suppressed, Twain viewed them as patriots defending their threatened homeland, spelling out his position in essays, personal letters and public lectures.

Sticking to his guns

The anti-imperialist Twain would likely have criticized other recent presidents. He wouldn’t have approved of George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, nor of the way Barack Obama employed drones.

Nonetheless, the writer would find Trump’s disparaging of Muslims and various other groups on the campaign trail—in addition to the immigration ban—particularly distasteful.

He wasn’t afraid to change his mind, and to admit that he had been wrong (as Trump is loath to do). He briefly supported the Spanish-American War, for example, but then spoke openly about how jingoism had blinded his moral concerns. And as American studies professor John Haddad has detailed, Twain’s previous praise for Cody didn’t stop him from walking out of a Wild West Show performance in early 1901. Cody had performed a reenactment of a 1900 Chinese battle, uniformly depicting the foreign invaders as heroes and the Boxers as barbaric villains. Twain thought his old friend was deeply misguided—and he let him know.

In 1901, Twain wasn’t alone in holding and expressing fervently anti-imperialist views. But he was in a minority. Most Americans felt that allied actions in China and U.S. ones in the Philippines were completely justified. So did many famous writers of the time, from Rudyard Kipling to “Battle Hymn of the Republic” lyricist Julia Ward Howe.

That’s one difference from today: Twain would find himself firmly in the literary mainstream—and would be far from alone in saying that a president who wanted to govern a truly “great” America should not look to the country at the turn of the 20th century for inspiration. §

 is Professor of Chinese and World History at the University of California, Irvine. This article is republished by permission of The Conversation, where it first appeared.

CLASS WARFARE: PUSSY POWER

Now’s the time for all good women to come to the aid of their country

by Dell Franklin

It’s time for a woman president who isn’t Hillary Clinton. It’s time for a firebrand of a female to replace Bernie Sanders and lead the Democratic Party against the swine not only running the country, but the same swine taking over the Senate, the House, the governors’ seats and most of the state offices in America. It’s not enough that these women are marching in the streets with furious and ferocious passion and anger at what has transpired in their country. They need to unite and begin an ongoing chant accusing the President of the United states as a molester, liar, tax criminal, scam artist, a dangerously incompetent and emotionally and intellectually stunted sociopath as well as enemy of the goodness of humankind, and a real threat to send the world spinning off its axis.

And there are a slew of capable and ferocious women out there to replace the democratic male milquetoasts who will roll over like bowling pins at the onslaught Trump and his gestapo have prepared for them once they commence running.

It will take a good woman to take this venal dictator down, and now that the country’s most valuable and sane assets are stirred up like millions of enraged hornets, out to sting any male hide in their way, let us begin with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and, in time, Mrs. Michelle Obama, and every democratic woman in the Senate and House and all the state senates and assemblies in the country to carry out a vicious vendetta against the white male conservative onslaught that has captured this country and threatens to undo everything Franklin Roosevelt accomplished.

Fellow female media harridans on the wrong side, like bony-assed, supercilious Anne Coulter, penis-envy Laura Ingraham, and Trump’s grinning barracuda confidante Kellyanne Conway need to be excoriated by the most lethal female cat-fighters on the liberal side, and especially those gals on MSNBC, Rachel Maddow and Joy Reid. Nobody can attack like women, and the liberal side needs to sharpen their claws and dig deep, gouging out blood and matter and leaving their victims bleeding and suffering in the streets of American air time.

Trump must be hounded. Women know how to do this. They are relentless because they’ve had to be for centuries while dealing with the brutish nature of men—just to survive. When Trump slithers out of his Twitter cave and faces the media, the women reporters must call him on his lies. If he ignores them, they should bully the male reporters aside and confront him and call him the coward and liar he is. They should develop media personalities and spend their every waking moment creating and sustaining new methods to expose and demean this rat in office. Those women he fondled should join forces and continue their lawsuits, whether they win or lose, just to expose Trump for the pig he is.

When Trump attempts to put forth any speech in the Senate chambers, like a State of the Union, not one, but all  female democratic office holders should yell out LIAR! every time he lies, and continue the chant, and perhaps add to it, “Jail the liar, jail the liar….”

An association of women has to be forged, and their mantra should be to extinguish in office all alpha male business tycoons and those stooges these tycoons bankroll to run for office. They might explain that this country has been run by men of hubris and extreme ego for too long, that we are returning to barbarism under the leadership of paranoid greed-bags who, like Nazi operatives, will stop at nothing to terrify the population and scapegoat minorities while feathering their own nests and through propaganda continue to amass a power base, and that they cannot be trusted because as males, as the masculine race, they are too flawed, too overcome with their own importance and ego and rage to control and dominate in any way they can.

And it hasn’t and doesn’t work. They have made a shambles of the world.

Do the women need a hero? A leader? Present Tammy Duckworth, the Illinois senator who lost her legs in Iraq as a helicopter pilot. She is a spitfire. She, along with every  female leader, must spell out how urgent it is to protect themselves and the country from the previous follies of men, and especially of Trump, who will gouge out every civil liberty and human right of women and put us back in the dark ages, and they must also spell out how complicit the entire conservative movement is in creating demagogic lies and enforcing the cruelest, most heartless policies for the poor, minorities, and anybody who is not white and rich.

These ladies must go overboard to wake women up, to stir emotions, rattle the cupboards of every kitchen in America. They must unleash a movement that literally saves us from ourselves in these dire days of basically good versus evil.

Everything that has ever been achieved to create a world of hope and compassion AND survival is at stake.

It’s not time for the ladies to “Take our country back,” but to “Take our country over.”

Go get ‘em, gals! §

Dell Franklin gets his inspiration from women who know how to take down cads like the man posing as President of the United States. For more of Dell’s views on sports, politics and culture, visit his website: dellfranklin.com.

When policy trumps science

The world becomes an even more dangerous place

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One of the most unexpected political developments in recent months has been the political awakening of scientists in the United States.

A normally reticent group (at least when it comes to politics), scientists are speaking out, organizing a major march and planning to run for public office. There is a growing sense that the danger posed by the Trump administration to evidence-based policy, and perhaps science itself, is unprecedented. I share this concern. The Trump administration’s actions and rhetoric appear to signal an acceleration of Republican skepticism toward scientific research carried out in the public interest.

This said, what is keeping political scientists, particularly those like me who study political psychology, up at night is not the Trump administration’s ideologically driven science bias. Rather, it is the fact that Trump himself exhibits an authoritarian style of motivated reasoning that appears to be intended (consciously or not) to consolidate his power.

This combination – institutional challenges to the scientific integrity of government employees and Trump’s willingness to disregard evidence on a variety of matters – has broad and ominous implications beyond how science informs national policies.

Science as political target

Politically motivated skepticism of science is certainly not new. As I have argued elsewhere, science is consistently a political target precisely because of its political power.

Science has “epistemic authority,” meaning it is the best method humans have available to understand what is true about the world. For this reason, policy decisions are expected to be based in large part on scientific conclusions. And as the size and scope of the federal government has increased, so has the use of scientific research in government decision-making, making it an even bigger target.

Scott Pruitt, a skeptic of well-established climate science and ally of the fossil fuel industry, will head the EPA, an agency charged with protecting the environment and health. gageskidmore/flickr, CC BY-SA

A number of actions taken so far by the Trump administration seem to portend hostility to government-sponsored science and science-backed policy. Many were alarmed by orders during the administration’s first week in office that government agencies cease all communications with the public.

But likely more indicative of the administration’s attitude toward government-sponsored research are Trump’s nominees to head Cabinet-level agencies. These individuals have less relevant expertise than previous administrations, and Trump’s Cabinet is the first in recent memory to include no one with a Ph.D. The nominee to head the EPA, Scott Pruitt, has questioned well-accepted climate science and worked closely with energy companies to undermine the agency he is to head.

In addition, Trump’s choice for OMB director, Mick Mulvaney, has taken a similar tack with respect to government-sponsored science aimed at protecting the public’s health. The two scientists said to be under consideration for science advisor both happen to be far outside the mainstream on climate science (neither is a climate scientist).

‘Bending’ science for political reasons

It is important to recognize that scientific evidence is not the only legitimate consideration underlying a policy decision. There may be larger ideological commitments at stake or constituents to please or (less justifiably) more strategic political considerations.

The problem for science and evidence-based policy comes when politicians and other political actors decide to discredit the science on which a conclusion is based or bend the science to support their policy position. Call it “policy-based evidence” as opposed to “evidence-based policy.”

John Marburger was science advisor to George W. Bush, whose administration was criticized for manipulating how science was used in policy decisions. Brookhaven National Laboratory

Such bending of science comes in a variety of forms: cherry-picking studies and experts that support your perspective; harassing government-sponsored scientists – via cuts in funding or investigations – whose conclusions weigh against policies you prefer; forcing government scientists to change the language of reports for political reasons.

Science bias in and of itself is not conservative or liberal, and one can find it on both sides of the political spectrum. However, if we are to avoid false equivalence, we must admit that most of the anti-science bias coming from politicians in recent decades has been from the Republican Party. This bias has been documented extensively. (One can also check out the two parties’ 2016 party platforms.)

There is a straightforward reason for this partisan difference: Much contemporary government-sponsored research is in service of a growing regulatory state. Republicans tend to oppose federal government regulation because of their longstanding representation of business interests and commitment to states’ rights. In recent decades, the Republican Party also has become the political home to religious conservatives, many of whom distrust science because it challenges biblical authority, particularly with respect to evolution.

The George W. Bush administration was arguably the heyday for ideologically driven interference in government-produced science, something well-documented in two reports by the Union of Concerned Scientists. In response to this, the Obama administration put in place various institutional safeguards to protect the integrity of science, and Congress strengthened its protection of federal whistleblowers.

But Trump’s rhetoric and actions – both before and after assuming the presidency – seem to foreshadow a return to Bush-era tactics. Trump’s Cabinet choices exhibit an unusual fixation on deregulation, particularly in the arena of energy and the environment. And both Trump and his powerful vice president have a history of making statements that are ignorant and mistrustful of science.

Danger in the rhetoric

Unfortunately, there is reason to suspect that Trump’s disdain for scientific research is not only driven by political ideology and the interests he represents. Trump clearly chafes against anyone or anything that challenges his power, including empirical reality.

Trump’s constant efforts to aggrandize himself are plain to see. In the past, Donald Trump lied about everything from the size of his home to his donations to charity. In service of whipping up a crowd, Trump has been willing to scapegoat entire minority groups and falsely question a president’s citizenship.

So far, President Trump has focused mainly on crowd sizespoll numbers and the merits of comedians’ performances. Many Americans are tempted to not take these distortions of seemingly trivial topics seriously. But this is authoritarian rhetoric.

As with all presidents, Trump will eventually face data that reflect poorly on some aspects of his job performance: for example, pollution levels, disease rates, disappointing jobs figures, etc. He has been so consistent in his dissembling to protect his reputation that it would be surprising if this behavior did not continue in the face of more serious threats. Scholars are already speculating that Trump may employ Nixonian efforts to doctor official government statistics or discourage critical scholarly study of society under his administration by eliminating NSF social and economic science funding.

Between his executive power and the power of the bully pulpit, President Trump has considerable ability to harm the scientific enterprise and quite possibly democratic institutions as well. This is a time, in my view, for scientists, and experts more generally, to mobilize. As Jack Goldsmith of Harvard Law School argues, experts play a critical role at moments like this as a “synopticon” – a large collective closely monitoring the actions of our political leaders. §

 is Assistant Professor of Government, American University. This article is reposted by permission of The Conversation.

Class warfare in Trump’s America

Boycott all political cable TV news programs

by Dell Franklin

I’m guilty of a two-decade addiction to cable TV political programs, never missing Hardball with Chris Matthews on MSNBC at 4 in the afternoon. I adjusted my day to watch Chris and felt he was an indispensable fixture of my daily agenda, especially when he came around to my views on the mindless butchery and stupidity of George W. Bush’s and despicable Dick Cheney’s bogus wars in Afghanistan and especially in Iraq, and the lies and propaganda that led up to Iraq. I even managed to tolerate Chris’s propensity to drown out his guests with long-winded personal orations and rude interruptions.

But now I have turned on Chris, turned on him with a vengeance. Why? At this point I’m probably too enraged by the Trump election to really explain why, but we can start with Chris’s fawning treatment of a mean-spirited, lying, bile-infested hater named Rudy Giuliani, an opportunist and braggart to whose image Matthews repeatedly contributed as a sort of self-proclaimed savior of New York City after 9/ll, a bilious chest-beater he allowed to treat Hillary Clinton as a common criminal, a wind-bag so supercilious, high-minded and loathsome he wouldn’t last five minutes in a common man’s tavern without being beaten senseless.

Chris also began to draw my wrath by telling us all that former GOP pundit and final Donald Trump head campaign manager and current confidante Kellyanne Conway is a  close friend of his, and allowed her to precede or follow one Trump rally after another with nauseating spins and lies which he seemed to find amusing, so enamored was he of this cutesy-cutesy perpetually grinning Christ-crazed poisonous blonde asp.

Watching Chris led me to hanging with the rest of the geniuses on MSNBC, all partisans I agreed with, though after switching occasionally to CNN and Fox News and cackling at fascist punk Sean Hannity and bully/browbeater,blowhard Bill O’Reilly, I began to feel MSNBC was, at least 50 percent of the time, broken records blowing smoke and repeating the same old tired refrains and, finally, not worth listening to.

CNN is more of the same, though somewhat tempered, but still guilty of shilling for Trump rallies and allowing them to hog precious time because it was entertaining, brought in viewers, brought in sponsors, brought in millions in profits, and resulted in the election of a veritable monster and white collar criminal as president of the country.

The Sunday morning shows are full of the identical, if modulated lies and spins, the same old tired and jaded faces and voices, the politicians stabbing you in the back or cutting out your intestines while smiling with pencil-tip eyes, these tie-wearing so-called respectable and civilized crusaders who must fabricate or embellish to be heard, to make their points, to penetrate the doldrums of a benumbed incurious illiterate zombieland American electorate needing only to be entertained, its attention span so limited from technology and just plain apathy.

Even the fair-minded, sane, brilliant Fareed Zakaria on CNN, who makes more sense than the entire pack left and right, is dispatched, the bad going with the good, like clearing out a whorehouse and jailing the johns along with the hookers, like in the old days.

I have not watched a second of this garbage since November 8. My friend John Winthrop constantly emails me with reports observed on Fox News and MSNBC and CNN about Trump’s latest appointment or tweet, these snippets inflamed with his own brand of spleen and hatred at the events taking place in America, and I repeatedly urge him to quit watching this misery before his anger kills him (he’s already had a heart attack). And of late this concern with the disaster of our politics has so sapped his immune system he is down with a brutal flu that has him aching from bone to joint.

Another reason not to watch even the nightly news, much less these programs, is the odious and now ubiquitous presence of Trump himself. The sight and sound of him is so repulsive and infuriating and downright abhorrent it drains you of your vital juices, deprives you from pleasant thoughts and harmony with fellow man, grinds your guts and mind into a writhing ball of incoherent, corrosive rage. Hell, I want to get through the day, the week, the months without losing myself in a stew of disenchantment with humanity for allowing this mercenary crackpot to be the shameful representative of our nation.

Hell, I stayed mostly drunk throughout the Reagan Administration and was salvaged health-wise because I was younger and could deal with the punishment of one hangover after another, and I had a great time celebrating my nonstop escape from reality and missing Reagan’s good old boy Howdy Doody technicolor grin while he shafted the little guy.

But now I am in my early 70s and cannot allow myself to be pissed off or drunk the whole time by watching Chris Matthews or any other of these programs or personalities, simply because I need to have some semblance of peace of mind. I get enough information out of the LA Times to know what’s going on, and I read the New Yorker weekly, and Winthrop keeps me abreast of the latest catastrophe, but mainly, if I do not have to see these people, and hear these people, and especially Trump, it is out of sight and out of mind, at least temporarily, and I can salvage some peace of mind from the country I dwell in…while waiting for the massive sledge hammer to drop and blast us back into the tragic truths of our times. §

Dell Franklin writes from his home in Cayucos, Calif., where he can look out over the vast Pacific Ocean lapping at his doorstep and hope for better times. For more in his Class Warfare series, visit dellfranklin.com, where this article first appeared.