On Putin, Bullies, and WWIII

On Putin, Bullies, and WWIII

Cover Image: Putin meeting with China’s Xi Jinping on 2/4/22 during the Beijing Winter Olympics, shortly before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Photo credit: http://www.kremlin.ru

Did you ever deal with a childhood bully? I did. Every day for years and years. He never stopped, and I never stopped him. I tried talking things out with him, befriending him, avoiding him, but nothing worked. It made no sense to me to use violence against him because violence itself made no sense to me. I also worried that if I allowed myself to feel enough anger to fight back, I wouldn’t know when to stop, and either I would kill him or he would kill me. And if we survived, I figured that he would treat me even worse after that. So instead I endured regular pummelings, daily humiliation and ridicule, and the constant threat of violence – either from him or from lower-tier bullies who saw from his example how easy it was to push me around.

As of this writing, nearly three weeks of war crimes have been taking place in Ukraine, some of them captured on video for all to see. The world had optimistically hoped that Putin would not be so bold as to invade another sovereign country with no provocation, but he did, plunging the citizens of Ukraine into a brutal war and a horror show of grim choices: abandon my home or fight and potentially die, split up my family or put them in danger, shoot my mortally wounded father lying in the road or let him bleed out. But how does this conflict differ from the other genocides over the past 60 years – Palestine, Rwanda, Congo, East Timor, Somalia, Myanmar, Syria? While it is potentially valuable for the Caucasians among us to examine how the skin pigment of the victims may be affecting our personal level of concern, I would argue that there is a geopolitical element that makes Ukraine different and particularly urgent: the global ambitions of Vladimir Putin and other dictators – ambitions which have only grown more intense as the United States of recent decades has come to be seen as a nation of weak, inconsistent leadership and internal disunity. In particular, Putin and China’s Xi not only wish to expand their nations’ borders, but have a feeling of entitlement to specific countries that they believe they are justified to “take back.”

Putin grew up in dire poverty in bombed-out post-WWII St. Petersburg (then Leningrad). He was bullied by local thugs and learned to become a bully and a thug himself. He had a deep sense of pride in his Soviet homeland and grew up to successfully pursue his dream of becoming a KGB officer. While many greeted the collapse of the Soviet Union with excitement and optimism, Putin viewed it as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century” – the humiliating downfall of a glorious empire shattered into independent fragments as a result of American meddling. As President of Russia, Putin has decried NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, an alliance of western nations formed after World War II) and sought its demise, in part because it is the most potent military force holding him back from invading the former Soviet nations, and in part because he sees more and more of those former Soviet nations seeking NATO membership.

A desire to stop NATO expansion and a nostalgic fantasy of reconstituting the USSR are the primary drives behind his invasion of Ukraine. Putin’s excuse that he is “denazifying” Ukraine is such an absurd and lazy rationale as to indicate a core belief that he shouldn’t even need an excuse to “take back what is rightly his.”

Map of NATO member nations in Europe, showing decade of membership.
Map of European nations that were once Soviet territories and Soviet satellite countries.

We have all admired the stunning bravery of Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people who have stayed to fight off the Russian invaders. From our relative comfort in the United States, we check the news, root for the Ukrainians, damn Putin, pray for a peaceful outcome, and hopefully make donations to humanitarian organizations helping civilians on the ground there. But this is nowhere near enough. The courage on display in Ukraine is not sustainable without real help, including military assistance. The 40-mile convoy of stranded Russian tanks north of Kyiv was a glaring opportunity for fighter jets to decimate a large portion of Putin’s army. Instead of providing such bombers, America sat by, with its most promising solution being a deal wherein Poland would give Ukraine Soviet-era jets and the US would backfill the Polish air force with American fighter jets. As that deal was discussed and ultimately fell apart, Russia got the needed fuel and supplies to the tanks, and now they are back on track and closing in on Kyiv.

So what do we do when they have Kyiv surrounded – with more fresh Russian troops arriving daily, when Ukrainian forces have run out of ammunition, when they’ve grown exhausted and sick because they are getting little sleep and their water and electricity and heating have all been cut off, when we wake up to the news that Zelenskyy is one of the many dead under a pile of rubble? Do we just feel sad, shrug, and wish that things had gone differently? The Ukrainians are outnumbered and outgunned, and their courage must be backed by steady outside help. We can at the very least provide them ample ammunition and weapons, including fighter jets, without hiding behind other countries in convoluted arrangements to do so. And we can also work covertly for the rapid elimination of Putin from the Russian Presidency.

A Ukrainian girl sits in a bomb shelter during a Russian attack.
Residential homes in Lysychansk, Ukraine bombed by Russia.

Putin has repeatedly mentioned his nuclear arsenal as a threat to anyone who might wish to step in and interfere with his slaughter of Ukrainian civilians. And in truth, the relative absence of the Russian Air Force from the current conflict may mean that he is keeping those forces on standby to deal with outsiders. Having grown up during the Cold War with the threat of nuclear annihilation constantly looming in the background of daily life, I take seriously the horror that a nuclear conflict would bring. But Putin seems to have turned the Cold War policy of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) on its head. Whereas in the past, it was a deterrent against Soviet use of nuclear weapons, Putin is using it as a cudgel to hold the world at bay while he does whatever he wants. And we’re accepting that.

So what is our red line before we are willing to get involved? Clearly it is not the commission of war crimes or the targeting of civilians. Is it the use of chemical weapons? Biological weapons? The death of Zelenskyy? Deliberate face-to-face executions of Ukrainian soldiers? Of civilians? Bulldozers loading them all into mass graves? The expansion of the invasion to Moldova? To Finland? Or do we simply do nothing until an actual NATO country is attacked?

Putin will decide what is or is not a provocation for him to use nuclear weapons, if he is actually willing to use them. And that provocation can be whatever he chooses – interference from America, a desire to save face after unexpectedly fierce Ukrainian resistance, a perceived slight from a world leader, anything. In the meantime, he is learning with each new atrocity that his initial calculation was correct: that he can do anything he wants as long as he occasionally uses the magic words “World War III” or “nukes.” Rest assured that China, who wishes to invade Taiwan, is learning by watching all of this as well. So do we wait for China – with a larger and far more potent military force than Russia – to make its move? Is that our red line? The farther out we push the boundary of what we will accept, the more dangerous the odds become.

Through action or inaction – either way – we are potentially provoking World War III. The difference is that action now has a chance of sending a message of deterrence to the world’s expansionist thugs. Inaction will hand us a pre-1945 world, where invasions of sovereign countries for the spoils of war are once again commonplace, borders are fluid, international rules become completely unenforceable and therefore nonexistent regarding things like the development of nuclear weapons, and fear becomes much more of a constant across the globe. Putin’s war on Ukraine is not just another military conflict in another country. It is a gateway to a new era of global lawlessness and conquest, and we have the choice right now whether we will be meekly dragged through that gate by a bully or if we will have the courage to use our strength to hold that gate shut.

– rob rünt

Is It COVIDpendency?

Is It COVIDpendency?

I know codependency. My dad was a smoker, an alcoholic, and a compulsive gambler. I spent decades of my life using data, logic, and emotion in a smorgasbord of thoughtfully and lovingly conceived schemes to convince him to quit. He never did. His death was an avoidable and foreseeable end result of his drinking and gambling.

At times, I’ve seen parallels between those efforts with my dad and my efforts to convince others to believe that COVID exists, to use masks, to get vaccinated, and to take the disease seriously. At other times, I think that COVID doesn’t really fit the model of codependency, because with COVID, the behavior of others – even strangers – impacts my life and the lives of people I love in significant ways. Regardless of whether I detach from the no-vaxxers, their collective actions will result in more mask mandates, possible lockdowns, and a more rapid decline in the current vaccine’s effectiveness.

Last night, my son told me that he had just read a news story about a new variant that may be vaccine-resistant. He asked if I really thought that he would be able to go back to school in person in September – he misses learning in a classroom with his friends. I had to tell him that I didn’t know, that my guess was that school would be in-person for at least a month or two – probably longer – before a vaccine-resistant COVID variant emerges and causes a change in policy. He expressed frustration that people who refuse to get vaccinated are making such a variant more likely. I told him that I agreed with his statement, but wanted to know his reasoning behind it. He said that the more people who don’t get the vaccine, the more of the virus that is out reproducing in the community, and the more chances that it has to produce a mutation that the vaccine can’t stop. Basic statistical math. He’s 14. He gets it.

The enraging and crazy-making irony, of course, is that the people whining the loudest about measures needed to stop COVID are the same ones prolonging COVID and making more of those measures necessary. In the US, we have a widely available, free, effective vaccine. 99.5% of those dying in American hospitals now are the unvaccinated. We even have the absurdity of $100 gift cards as incentives to get vaccinated. If embraced by the entire population, the vaccine could have gotten us to herd immunity. Instead, new COVID cases are spiking in nearly every state, with Louisiana now having almost as many hospitalizations as its deadliest spike in the dark days of mid-April 2020. It’s enough to make one want to shake some people by the collar and ask what the hell is wrong with them.

And it’s especially hard to simply detach, knowing that people will die as a result of those who choose not to get vaccinated. But an impact on others is not inconsistent with other forms of codependency. My dad’s drinking could have killed others (or me) when he drove drunk. His gambling had a huge impact on us when our house was lost to foreclosure. And I still don’t know if I’ll see the impact on my own pulmonary health from 18 years of inhaling second-hand smoke.

Still, rather than living with an alcoholic, the current situation seems more like trying to get to a hospital to treat a health emergency but being stuck in traffic on the freeway. Is it codependent to be pissed at the people who are slowing down to gawk at a stalled car by the side of the highway, or is it reasonable frustration with stupid behavior that is threatening your life?

In the end, I have to separate my own COVIDpendency into two pieces. The first is the real and clearly foreseeable threat that the actions of others pose to my physical wellbeing and that of people I love. The behavior of a percentage of the population, if unchanged, will very possibly result in my son having to learn from home again rather than at school. It will result in the need for more vaccinations as the current one is eventually rendered ineffective by a new variant. It will result in needless deaths – some possibly being people I care about. It will result in people I know and many more that I don’t know losing loved ones, and people being stuck with massive medical bills that didn’t have to happen. It will likely result in another period of my having to limit my trips outside the home. It will likely result in struggling businesses having to shut down for good, rather than being able to get back on their feet, due to a needless next surge of a deadly pandemic. These are all things that I have little to no control over. After a year and a half in a world shaped by COVID and a political climate shaped by Trump, I have to admit that I am powerless to change the behavior of those who could get us to herd immunity. They are going to do what they are going to do.

The other piece of my COVIDpendency, however, is one that I do have control over: the effect of all this on my own mental wellbeing. I can choose to stop wasting energy trying to change minds that will not be changed, and instead work on changing myself. I can choose to distance myself from the COVID deniers, no-vaxxers, and conspiracy theorists in my life, because my love for them as individuals also causes me stress and frustration. Contrary to what my ego has been telling me, my presence in their lives is also not something that will eventually cause them to rethink anything. As a friend once said in a different situation, stop trying to teach a pig to play the violin: it wastes your time and annoys the pig. Sad as it makes me, I can and will choose to let go of them with love. I can save that energy, and in the process have more of myself to give to those who are not causing me stress and frustration. I can help people who are behaving responsibly to better navigate the real world consequences left for us by those whom I am letting go. Not the most inspiring message, but I think it’s a pragmatic one under the circumstances.

– rob rünt

Book Review: “Nothing is True and Everything is Possible”/“This is Not Propaganda”

Book Review: “Nothing is True and Everything is Possible”/“This is Not Propaganda”

Shortly after the 2016 US Election, a journalist named Sarah Kendzior urged Americans to immediately write down their memories, their beliefs, their values, and what they know to be real and true, because those things were about to get very squishy for us. She wanted us to have a snapshot of our pre-Trump reality, a reference point to look back to, an anchor to moor us as we began to drift further out into a sea of craziness and disinformation. She said this based on her own extensive studies of authoritarian governments.

More than five years later, her prescience appears to have been spot on. “Fake news” – a term originally coined by the mainstream press to describe fictional clickbait articles (often created overseas) – was quickly rebranded by 2016 candidate Trump to describe the mainstream media themselves. Fact-checking of President Trump’s bold-faced lies was met with doubling down rather than the traditional responses of shame and contrition. Amid this nonstop deflection and distraction, many Americans eventually came to have a harder and harder time teasing out the truth in a given situation.

Distortions have always existed in the press – if nothing else, in the editorial decisions about what is “news” and what is not worthy of coverage. But the news has now fragmented into completely different realities (some of them by definition false realities), and each American is living their lives, and basing their choices, on which of those realities they have chosen. By November 5, 2020, for example, CNN, NPR, NBC, and even Fox News had acknowledged the election of Joe Biden. But on right-wing media upstarts NewsMax and OANN, Trump still appeared poised to win the election three weeks later, and conservatives abandoned Fox News by the hundreds of thousands to plant their flags in these more appealing oases of information. On January 6, some Americans watched a frightening banana-republic-style attempt to overturn a legitimate democratic election. Other Americans saw the same events – and continue to see them – as courageous attempts by noble-hearted patriots to prevent the results of a banana-republic-style “rigged election” from being carried through to their corrupt fruition.

It is in this new Through-the-Looking-Glass environment that I have been reading the works of Peter Pomerantsev, a British journalist who was born in Ukraine – then still a part of the USSR – as his dissident father was repeatedly being brought in for interrogation by the KGB. Pomerantsev’s two books provide astoundingly valuable insights into America’s current situation.

In “Nothing is True and Everything is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia,” written in 2014, Pomerantsev provides colorful, engaging, and at times deeply amusing vignettes into the evolution of post-Soviet Russia from a land of fresh optimistic idealism, to a place of opportunistic lawlessness that created overnight winners and losers, to a kleptocratic authoritarian regime that keeps an impenetrable hold on power using a shrewd development in propaganda. Pomerantsev’s unique perspective as a now-Westerner inside Russia allows a powerful understanding of this metamorphosis.

The unstructured fluidity in early post-Soviet Russia, asserts Pomerantsev, allowed previously state-owned assets – media, oil production, etc. – to be grabbed up by those with the wits, money, or brute thuggishness to do so. Millionaires and power brokers were created overnight. Organized crime began to flourish, as Russian mafia found easy cash in blackmailing and extorting new business owners. This corruption eventually became a part of the Russian system itself – for all practical purposes, a coequal branch of government – as Putin took power and threatened imprisonment to any wealthy oligarch who refused to give him a cut of their often-ill-gotten earnings.

Pomerantsev looks into the lives of a variety of Russians: billionaire media moguls, bar-cruising prostitutes, city historians, reality show stars, political activists, a pre-teen boy turned national celebrity by his morbid obesity, a falsely imprisoned businesswoman, a nationalist Christian biker gang, a supermodel driven to suicide by a self-actualization cult, a lavishly partying millionaire playboy, and a small-time Mafioso/wannabe movie producer. Tying all of them together is a new Russian culture of delirium, a hazy yet psychedelically vivid combination of Zef-esque lifestyle, Cirque de Soleil surrealism, reality show drama, political theater, performance art, and tabloid sensationalism.

This culture is no accident. It is the result of a rather ingenious advance in propaganda developed by long-time friend of Vladimir Putin, Vladislov Surkov – a development that coincidentally and symbiotically emerged alongside the cultural fragmentation caused by the internet and social media. With a background in metallurgy, fine art and public relations, Surkov came up with the idea of an entertaining, never-boring politics that is both highly emotional and thoroughly disorienting and disempowering. Rather than the clumsy, ham-fisted propaganda of past authoritarians, where the powerful suppress all dissent and project their own worldview as the only acceptable line of thought, Surkov’s propaganda embraces a diversity of dissenting voices – and even supports them.

Politically adversarial groups are funded, encouraged, and their extremes magnified. On issue after issue – racism, the environment, worker’s rights – the stunningly cynical goal is to play different sides against each other, emotionally amplifying conspiracy theories, controversies, and extremists, while also culturally magnifying beliefs in the supernatural, cultism, rage, the spectacle of the absurd and the grotesque and the breathtakingly beautiful, until such a sense of disequilibrium is created amongst the population that the formation of any critical masse of unified dissent becomes impossible, because nobody can get a firm grasp on what is true. The goal is not a victory for any “side” or the ability of any particular ideology to prevail. Rather, the goal is simply the unending and energy-consuming distraction and confusion of conflict itself. The blizzard of lies, fabrications and “fake news” serve not to convince, but merely to sap the stamina of anyone motivated enough to seek out a definitive truth. Politics, culture, and life in general become a crazy hall of mirrors where each individual sees a different distortion, and reality is fluid, shifting, watery, elusive, continuously bombarded by new waves of disinformation and emotion.

The effect of this on many Russians has been a wry cynicism, a knowing skepticism, a smirking disbelief in any news story, and even a sullen dislike of the government behind it all. As Russia’s state media export, RT (formerly Russia Today), beckons in its slogan, “Question More.” But despite all the distrust and negative feelings held by many Russians, any resulting dissent is potently dulled by a paralyzing apathy brought on by the overwhelming task of convincing more than a couple people of anything amid the ceaseless swirl of competing ideas, conspiracies, controversies, and “news.” When everyone is urged to “question more,” there will always be a shaky detail that can eventually be unearthed to destroy the credibility of an entire narrative and send things back to square one.

If reading any of this feels a bit familiar in 2021 America, that is no accident either. Putin began exporting this approach to social manipulation in earnest during the 2016 Election, and the boisterous, grievance-driven Presidency of an erratic, constantly gaslighting reality TV star could not have been a better vehicle to give it fertile ground. We are currently in the midst of a major shift in how America operates. While some may console themselves that the bogeyman is gone now that a reasonable human being is President, such self-reassurance is like a survivor treading water in the ocean who feels relief at a shark that was successfully driven off. The problem wasn’t that shark, or even the twenty others circling unseen below the surface. The problem is that we are adrift in dangerous waters, and until that issue is addressed, the sharks will keep coming.

Pomerantsev closes his first book with a brief look at how Russia’s wealthy have chosen to preserve their riches through purchases of such concrete items as real estate in stable countries like the UK and United States, away from the greedy claws of the lawless government of Russia.

This ending is a good segue into Pomerantsev’s next book, 2019’s “This is Not Propaganda: Adventures in the War Against Reality.” This book expands on the ideas in “Nothing is True” to look at how the use of social media, real-world actions, and astroturf campaigns – sometimes coordinated using tactics similar to Putin’s/Surkov’s – have recently enabled right-wing strong men to come into power in country after country worldwide: Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, Recep Erdogan in Turkey, Donald Trump in the United States. In a sea of uncertainty and confusion, a strong leader with clear, simple answers seems to provide welcome comfort to some.

The strategic magnification of select ideas and stories by bots, cyborgs (bots accompanied by real people paid to follow up with a human touch on any one-on-one responses) and anonymous internet trolls has resulted in a new means of dealing with undesirable truths and ideologies. Activists and journalists are finding themselves individually targeted with threats of murder, rape, or other violence – not by an oppressive government, but by their fellow citizens inspired by manipulation on social media and elsewhere. Even friends and family begin spouting hostile content that has been amplified to them by bots. More disturbing still are the people who carry things one step further into the real world, harassing these dissidents and reporters with frightening phone calls, knocks at the door, and even escalations to actual violence.

Pomerantsev talks with some of the individuals who create these types of campaigns, as well as those on the receiving end. The most fascinating part is Pomerantsev’s synthesizing of disparate events to uncover patterns that are invaluable to understand – how an online campaign against an individual evolves, how the use of bots can effectively turn activists away from their crucial interconnectedness and collapse otherwise potent social and political movements, how something as benign as an online group formed around a shared interest in yoga can ultimately be used to install a brutal dictator. In the end, understanding these dynamics is the key to combating them.

Both of Pomerantsev’s books profoundly illuminate the new social, cultural, interpersonal, political, technological, and media waters that we find ourselves in today. The old paradigms of left vs right, or even powerful vs oppressed, no longer apply in the way that they once did, and Pomerantsev provides a useful nautical map to reorient ourselves and remind us of our moorings as we slip further out to sea. I highly recommend reading both books, in order.

– rob rünt

Photo of Bolsonaro taken by: Palácio do Planalto

Photo of Putin from: http://www.kremlin.ru

Photo of Trump by: Gage Skidmore

Photo of Erdogan from: the official website of the President of Ukraine

America Needs TWO 9/11-Style Commissions

America Needs TWO 9/11-Style Commissions

Democratic Legislators are pushing for a 9/11-style commission to look into the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. Because they are in the majority, such an investigation will likely materialize. But a second 9/11-style commission is also desperately needed to thoroughly examine the 2020 election results.

The purpose of such commissions should always be to create an official historical record based on factual evidence, rather than to point fingers at anyone. Of course, if crimes are uncovered, they need to be prosecuted to the highest level of involvement. But the reason for an official historical record is to enable our citizenry to move forward with a thoroughly vetted, agreed upon truth, to the extent that Americans can currently agree on anything.

Democrats may be taking comfort in the absence of Donald Trump from the headlines, airwaves, and social media. They may think that the problem has disappeared because he is currently marginalized. But realistically, we are just a newsroom’s editorial decision or change in social media policy away from Trump once again dominating the media landscape and having a huge sway over America’s political discourse. And even marginalized, his influence is much stronger and deeper than many on the left believe. Poll results released by Ipsos on May 21, 2021 show some alarming, silently smoldering statistics:

Believe that the 2020 election was rigged or the result of illegal voting:

  • Republicans:   56%
  • Democrats:      5%
  • Independents: 16%

Believe that Donald Trump is the actual President, not Joe Biden:

  • Republicans:   53%
  • Democrats:      3%
  • Independents: 22%

Believe that the January 6 riots were led by violent left-wing protesters trying to make Donald Trump look bad:

  • Republicans:   31%
  • Democrats:      9%
  • Independents: 10%

Americans have always had disagreements about their political beliefs and what is best for our country, and that is as it should be in a healthy democracy. But the above disagreements are about basic and significant historical facts. Belief in disinformation in these areas can justify the enactment of faulty and harmful policies, and can even lead to violence. If we truly want to get at the source of the January 6 riot, we should be equally enthusiastic about having an investigation into the disinformation that animated it. If the 2020 election was fraudulent, we should want to know that, so that we can prevent future fraud. And if it was not fraudulent, we should want to know that as well, so that those claiming widespread election fraud can be decisively shut down as quacks once and for all.

Currently, Donald Trump’s supporters at the state level are conducting several amateur investigations into the election. The individuals doing the investigating often have no experience conducting an election audit, their knowledge of law is lacking, their efforts are far from nonpartisan or bipartisan, and their handling of ballots and voting machines has been sloppy to the point that Maricopa County, AZ may now actually have to replace all of its voting machines. In other words, an election investigation is already being conducted, but under less than ideal circumstances, and with questionable reliability.

Hardcore Trump supporters and Q-Anon believers may never come around to an acceptance of the 2020 election results as fact, regardless of the evidence. But with nearly a quarter of independents believing that the election was rigged, and nearly a sixth of independents believing that Donald Trump is still President, work is clearly needed to help bring about a shared reality upon which more Americans can agree.

With that end goal in mind, each commission should thoroughly explore every conspiracy theory that has been presented to this point regarding the election or the Capitol riot, and both commissions should have uniformly trained participants from a diverse range of political ideologies.  Each should have:

  • Progressive Democrats
  • Traditional Democrats
  • Traditional Republicans
  • Trump Republicans/Q-Anon supporters
  • Independents
  • Nonpartisan supervisors with expertise in the issues involved and/or the relevant areas of law

In the case of the 2020 Election Commission, access to the completed ballots should be very tightly controlled, and have uniformly applied, strictly enforced rules such as:

  • Each partisan must always be accompanied by someone from the other party
  • Except during committee review, all ballots and voting machines should be immediately securely locked away, if they have not already been
  • No individual can be alone with a ballot or voting machine
  • No electronic devices can be possessed in the presence of voting machines unless the device has been determined necessary by a 2/3 majority of committee members
  • Handling of and access to every ballot or voting machine must be done under close, high-definition video surveillance at all times
  • The investigation should not be localized: all cast ballots nationwide must be analyzed

Joe Biden has said that he wants to be a President for all Americans. That will not be possible as long as a large portion of the population believes that he was not even elected. We can simply tune out these Americans and pretend that they don’t exist. But that approach will more than likely backfire. In politics, when something is suppressed, it tends to come out is uglier and more distorted ways.

rob rünt

Photo credit: Tyler Merbler

Donald Trump was a Gift

Donald Trump was a Gift

Like many Americans, I spent the past four years anxious, depressed, fearful, outraged, disgusted, and frustrated. I was not sure that America would come out intact on the other side of the Trump Presidency. Many are now comforting themselves that “the guardrails of democracy held.” That is the wrong message.

The reason that the guardrails held was that Trump was an impulsive, institutionally ignorant, mentally unstable buffoon who broadcast his every thought on Twitter, and whose attempts at authoritarianism were thwarted by his clumsiness and personal abrasiveness. America may not be so fortunate next time: a charming, institutionally savvy wannabe authoritarian who chooses to keep their intentions to themselves and surrounds themselves with sharp people could do far more damage.

The gift of Donald Trump is that his relentless insistence on pushing boundaries exposed weaknesses in our system that we never would have seen – bizarre scenarios and obscure areas of Constitutional law. The opportunity that we now have is that Democrats control the White House, Senate, and House of Representatives. They have the power to fix as many of those problems as possible – all without having to fight off credible accusations of partisanship over weakening the Presidency or imposing rules on the legislature. They have fewer than two years to do it.

This article will shine a spotlight on some of the questions raised by the Trump Presidency, and provide links at the end so that the reader can easily contact their legislators and the President with their own ideas for solutions.

  • How do we ensure foreign citizens or governments do not funnel campaign money to American political candidates (through NGOs like the NRA or Planned Parenthood, for example) – donations whose use can later be used to blackmail those politicians?
  • Should there be additional requirements to be President beyond age and citizenship?
  • How do we ensure that candidates for federal office are not compromised by foreign governments? Should they be required by law to disclose the last 5-10 years of their tax returns during their campaign? Should they undergo some kind of security clearance? How could a security clearance be misused by those conducting it?
  • Should elected federal officials be required to undergo an annual mental health evaluation? How could that be misused by those conducting the evaluation?
  • What safeguards does democracy have if the Legislative Branch refuses to hold a President accountable due to partisanship, blackmail, threats of violence, fear of primary challenges, or some other factor?
  • How can we better clarify the rules around impeachment? Can a President be impeached after their term has ended for acts committed while President? Must the House complete the impeachment hearing before the President leaves office? Must the Senate complete the impeachment trial before the President leaves office? Is there a statute of limitations on impeaching a President for impeachable offenses done while in office? What is the purpose of impeachment? Should there be a requirement that both sides in an impeachment trial can call witnesses without majority approval by the Senate?
  • If a President ignores a subpoena from the House or Senate, should there be consequences?
  • Can a sitting President hold campaign events at the White House?
  • If a President does something, is it legal by definition? Can an appointed Special Counsel or the Department of Justice charge a sitting President with a crime, or does the President’s office make the President immune?
  • When a President uses the power of the United States to influence a foreign leader, what is the difference between that being a legitimate political act and being extortion?
  • The President controls the Executive Branch, which includes the Department of Justice. Should a President be able to investigate their political opponents? If yes, should there be limits on this? How would this impact 2016 FBI investigations into connections between Russia and the Trump Campaign? How would it have impacted a desire by Trump in 2020 to investigate Joe Biden?
  • Should any part of the U.S. military ever be used to subdue American citizens?  If yes, what limits should be in place? What authorizations should be required? Who can call an end to it?
  • How should domestic terrorists be handled in the U.S.? Should they potentially be subject to electronic surveillance? Who determines the groups that are considered domestic terrorists? How can that definition be kept (relatively) immune to the winds of partisanship? 
  • A President is sworn to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” What does that mean? Is there a concrete way to identify when a President fails to fulfill their oath?
  • The 25th Amendment allows for the Vice President to replace the President if the President is unable to do his/her job. Either the President can declare themselves unfit, or the President’s Cabinet can join with the Vice President in declaring the President unfit. Both of these safety valves arguably failed America during Trump’s term. Should there be a third option? What should that be? If the third option requires action by the Legislative Branch, could it be misused in a partisan way? If the third option requires a vote of the people, what would be required (signatures, etc) to trigger that vote?
  • The First Amendment has limits, such as falsely yelling “fire” in a crowded theater. Should there be limits on political speech that incites violence? If yes, how do we determine that the speech caused the violence? Are elected federal officials exempted from such an exception?
  • Should there be First Amendment limits on the press presenting information that is false and inflammatory? How would that impact breaking news stories about, for example, actual corruption that has not been proven? What if there has actually been widespread election fraud that has not been fully proven?
  • One thing that makes hacking of our elections difficult for foreign adversaries is its decentralized nature: states and even counties all have their own way of doing things. Should there be minimum standards that all federal elections should be required to meet, such as an anonymized printed record of the votes, anonymized printed receipts for voters, etc? What kind of regulations or procedures should be a part of voting by mail to ensure that mail-in votes cannot easily be decried as fraudulent? 
  • Can the will of the voters be changed after they have voted? Can a political party’s electors contradict the voters that they are supposed to represent? Can a state legislature overturn its state’s results in a Presidential election? Can a Vice President nullify a state’s choice for President?
  • Is the electoral college still serving America’s needs, or is it obsolete and in need of being replaced by the popular vote or some other formula?
  • Should elected federal officials be required to put their financial investments in a blind trust wholly controlled by someone else?
  • Should it be illegal for elected federal officials to operate a business while in office? What about their immediate family members? How does that impact a desire for people other than millionaires to run for office?
  •  How do we add more clarity to the Emoluments Clause to prevent a President from profiting personally from their elected role?
  • Should U.S. Senators and Representatives individually be given a 24/7 security detail?

These are a few of the questions that I believe need to be officially addressed in the wake of Donald Trump’s Presidency. If you think of any others, please write them in the comments. Below are links to find out who your Representative and Senators are, and how to contact them and the President with your ideas.

Find your U.S. Representative. You have one.

Find your U.S. Senator. You have two.

How do I contact the White House?

– rob rünt

What Would You Have Done?

What Would You Have Done?

Imagine a fictional 2012 America. Barack Obama is running for his second term against Donald Trump, who many people feel is a mentally unstable white supremacist wannabe dictator. At every campaign rally, Obama says that he’s hearing that Republicans are going to cheat and steal the election. On election night, Obama thankfully appears to be well ahead of Trump, but by morning, Trump is suddenly leading Obama and wins. Obama does not concede. Instead, he says that there were significant voting irregularities and even tampering with voting machines, and without those, he would have won by a landslide, as it looked like he would on election night.

Fox News and Alex Jones assure everyone that the election was perfectly fair and nothing underhanded happened, but the news outlets that you go to for information repeat Obama’s claims of an election that was very questionable and may in fact have been stolen. Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer say that the election raised serious questions that need to be looked into. Your friends say the same, and send you videos and articles that they say show clear evidence of ballots being changed, batches of Obama votes being thrown out, batches of Trump votes being brought out from under tables, vote counters keeping observers at a remote distance, and voting machines being reprogrammed. Some states hold recounts at Obama’s request, but Obama raises questions about how the votes were recounted and who did the counting.

Despite the videos and the constant questions that you’re hearing on the news, from politicians, from your friends, and from the President whom you’ve trusted for four years, things keep moving forward to inaugurate Donald Trump. You fear the totalitarian government that Obama has repeatedly said that Trump will impose. Obama announces, with affirmation from some Democratic Senators and Representatives, that there is one chance to save America from a Trump Presidency: during an obscure ceremony that has normally barely been noticed, the Vice President can call into question the vote counts from some states, and if he does so, it will allow for the possibility of Obama rightfully serving a second term.

Obama posts on social media and sends out emails encouraging Americans who want to see him remain President to come to Washington DC for a “Save America” rally on the day of that ceremony, to encourage the Vice President to “do the right thing.” Obama says that it’s going to be a wild time. You care about your country. You believe that America’s democracy is about to be stolen, and you want to protect your country from the fascist regime that you are certain will come if Trump becomes President. You buy a plane ticket, book a hotel room, and attend the rally. You hear Obama, less than 75 feet away from you, say that the future of the country is at stake, that you have to fight to save it or you won’t have a country left, that Republicans have done unprecedentedly criminal things to thwart his legitimate and rightful election. He ends the emotional rally encouraging you and the rest of the crowd to march on the Capitol.

What would your mental state have been at that point? Having started marching from the “Save America” rally, would you believe that you were headed to the Capitol to save your country? Might you see it as your patriotic duty to take action to prevent a Trump Presidency? If people around you at the Capitol became unruly, would you leave immediately, or might you possibly start thinking of the founding of America that you had learned about in school, and see this moment on the Capitol steps as a time that you need to be a patriotic hero for your country in a battle just as important as that waged by people 250 years ago who fought for our nation’s independence? How far would you be justified in going against a government that was ignoring your concerns about democracy and was instead bulldozing forward installing an illegitimately elected fascist?

To be certain, there were opportunistic neo-Nazis and white supremacists in the crowd on January 6, 2021, just as there are often violent antifa and anarchist elements among protests of the left. But it is doubtful that they were anything more than a small minority among the rioters. Most of the Capitol crowd saw themselves and the situation through the lens of standing patriotically against an election stolen by people who want to see America become another China. Yes, this was completely divorced from reality, but it was what they believed. California State Assemblyman Randy Voepel said of the riots “This is Lexington and Concord. First shots fired against tyranny. Tyranny will follow in the aftermath of the Biden swear in on January 20th.” One rioter going through the halls of the Capitol shouted “This is 1776!”

This is in no way to justify their actions, but merely to explain them. The people who stormed America’s Capitol on January 6 have been called terrorists, insurgents, insurrectionists, seditionists, rioters, a mob attempting a coup. From the world of objective, factual reality, all of those are accurate and appropriate descriptions of their actions. The rioters who broke into the Capitol Building are now being arrested, and many will likely face years in prison, as they should. They are America’s Taliban. The ones who planted bombs and plotted kidnappings are America’s al-Qaeda. They are a threat to America and deserve long prison sentences.

But it is too simplistic to just dismiss them as nut jobs and walk away. It is important – not to them, but to the rest of us – that we recognize that the source of their terroristic act was the delusion that they were defending the U.S. Constitution from a coup via a fraudulent election. That belief is very real to them, and to many others who were not at the Capitol. That belief persists, and will last long past the Inauguration of Joe Biden. It is dangerous to allow that belief to simply be smothered without being addressed. Among Republicans, 35% blame Joe Biden for the events of January 6 – a leap of logic that would not even have occurred to most Americans – and the majority of Republicans would like to see Trump able to run for President again.

The most unifying thing that Biden can do for our country is to have a thorough investigation of all the election fraud allegations, conducted by a team of investigators from the reality-based community working together with a team of investigators chosen by Trump supporters and Q-Anon believers who Trump supporters see as legitimate. The purpose of the investigation would be to uncover the truth, a thorough report on which would begin to help Trump supporters see that they were lied to about election fraud. The truth is almost certainly that America had a legitimate election with about as many irregularities as we have in every election, and no grand scheme to change votes, manufacture votes, or destroy votes. However, the people who most need to be convinced of that currently believe something very sinister. It is vital to America’s future that we whittle away at the cult of Trump, and such an investigation would be an excellent first step.

– rob rünt

Right Wing Media Circle the Wagons

Right Wing Media Circle the Wagons

One might be comforted hearing Lindsey Any-Way-the-Wind-Blows Graham on the Senate floor admitting that Joe Biden won a fair election and saying  “it’s over,” or hearing Chris Christie on ABC saying that Trump’s actions Wednesday were “absolutely impeachable,” or hearing Mick Mulvaney trying to slither away at the 11th hour by laughably claiming that Trump “has become a different man” from the sober-minded, reasoned President that he’s known. Seeing the violent storming of the U.S. Capitol, the deaths of five people (including a police officer), the bombs planted, and the angry mob roaming the halls of Congress looking to overturn a legitimate election, execute Nancy Pelosi and hang Mike Pence, one might think that Wednesday’s events might have finally brought about the come-to-Jesus moment that so many of us had expected time after time for Republican Party leadership, where they would finally renounce Donald Trump.

But right wing media, which sets the tone for that leadership, has now found their safe space of indignation, and it does not include a repudiation of Trumpism. The basic lines being repeated now on Fox News are:

  1. The violence at the Capitol was absolutely wrong and unacceptable, and those who did it need to be held accountable;
  2. It is infuriating to hear people on the left lecturing Trump supporters about rioting when those same Democrats were either silent or sympathetic during the summer of riots, looting and fires following George Floyd’s death;
  3. Throughout the summer, numerous Democrats and mainstream media quoted MLK that rioting is “the language of the unheard.” Why aren’t they applying that same quote here?
  4. White Democrats see this riot as different because white Democrats are elites, and nothing scares them more than seeing an uprising from the less fortunate “proles” who look like them;
  5. It is ridiculous to suggest that Donald Trump should be removed from office for inciting the riot. He is not responsible for the 5 deaths, any more than Nancy Pelosi is responsible for the riots over the summer where 30 people died after she said that she didn’t see why people weren’t rioting in the streets, or when Maxine Waters said to “get up in the face” of Republican politicians: the rioters were responsible their own decisions;
  6. The left is now trying to paint all Trump supporters with the violence at the Capitol, when in reality most Trump supporters were aghast at what happened and in no way support it;
  7. The left is cynically using the Capitol riot as a distraction from “legitimate questions” about the integrity of the election, hoping that those questions will now simply go away;
  8. Big tech is siding with the Democrats censoring the President – and by extension all Republicans – by kicking him off of Twitter and Facebook, and by wanting Parler to set standards regarding content that includes plans for violence: people on the right are victims once again, and this is yet another example of “cancel culture” where the left stifles free speech.

For what it’s worth, I actually agree with points 1, 2, 3, and 6, and wish that we could occasionally look inside and grant the “other side” some credence when they point out our flaws. Rioting is unacceptable no matter who is doing it, and it is also an understandable expression of indignation over an injustice that the rioters feel has been ignored. In the case of the summer’s riots, it was the injustice of decades of oppressive violence and unwarranted suspicion by a segment of police toward people of color. In the case of Wednesday’s riots, it was the manufactured injustice of an election that the President, his sycophants, right wing media, and the social media echo chamber had all proclaimed was deeply fraudulent, yet which was poised to move forward unchallenged.

I keep hoping for an inflection point in all this – something where right wing media see an excuse to pull of the highway of crazy disinformation that they’ve been on for so long. When Fox News had the audacity to refer to Joe Biden as the President-elect after all the votes had been counted the first time – losing many viewers to NewsMax in the process – I thought that perhaps the day had arrived for them to start pulling back from their steady stream of insanity. Hours into the storming of the Capitol, when Bret Baier said that he was getting messages from government officials around the world saying that what they were seeing was the kind of thing that the U.S. used to lecture them about, I was optimistic that Fox was indeed changing course for the better. But somehow, the Tucker Carlsons, Sean Hannitys and Laura Ingrahams have won out – if only to try to claw back that lost share of viewership – and the narrative of an atrocious event that should unify all Americans has once again become polarized along political lines.  I fear that we are in for a bumpy ride ahead.

– rob rünt

How Donald Trump – and America – Lost the 2020 Election

How Donald Trump – and America – Lost the 2020 Election

“We’re all victims…. every one of you,” said Donald Trump at a Georgia rally on December 5, over a month after he lost the 2020 Election. This is the Republican Party of Donald Trump. The party that once laid claim to values like rugged independence, stoicism, morality, and personal responsibility has been led by a lying trust fund baby off the cliff of self-respect to become the party of self-pitying victims.

During his 2020 campaign, Trump announced at many of his rallies that the coming election would be fraudulent. He had said this during his 2016 campaign as well, but after winning that election, the fraud that he was convinced of apparently no longer mattered to him, and the 2016 Election became “the Sacred Election.” In 2020, he had the power of the Presidency as he warned of a “rigged election.” If he honestly knew of some coming election fraud, months in advance, he could have had the Department of Justice take action to stop it. But he did not do so, because in reality, he had no clairvoyant knowledge of widespread election fraud. He was repeatedly declaring impending fraud because he knew that there was a good chance that he would lose. Raging narcissist that he is, that outcome would be intolerable, so he wanted to sow the seeds of doubt to delegitimize the result in advance if it went against him.

Amid a deadly and poorly controlled pandemic, voting by mail – a perfectly legitimate voting method that the President himself often uses – was a far safer option than in-person voting. Rather than encouraging this, however, the President proclaimed that voting by mail was inherently fraudulent, and that that was how the coming fraud would occur (he even knew the method of fraud in advance, yet chose not to stop it). His supporters, hearing this, certainly didn’t want to participate in a fraud that would harm the President, so many Trump voters chose instead to cast their votes in person on Election Day. Democrats, on the other hand, tended to be much more cautious about the virus, and chose to vote early or by mail, rather than risking exposure potentially waiting for hours in long lines. Some other Democrats voted on Election Day as well, ultimately resulting in more votes for Biden.

Some of Trump’s supporters saw the President’s massive campaign rallies packed with thousands of people, and Joe Biden’s socially distanced rallies with a relatively tiny number of people, and equated crowd size with expected number of votes, rather than with judgment about acceptable risk during a pandemic. They were likely unaware that in the 2000 Election, Green Party Presidential candidate Ralph Nader was holding rallies with 10,000-12,000 people (all of whom had to buy tickets) in city after city, while the (free) rallies of Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush rarely topped 3,000. However, Trump supporters would likely recall that Bush and Gore both got dramatically more votes than Nader. Rally crowd size is absolutely an indication of the enthusiasm of a group of people. It is not an indication of likely vote count, and during a deadly pandemic that one candidate’s supporters take seriously, crowd size is an even weaker predictor of votes.

The biggest evidence of electoral fraud that Trump supporters point to came when the election results were counted on Election Night. Early on, the President had a strong lead in the vote count, and Trump supporters went to bed snug in the confidence of four more years of the best President ever. But they woke up to see Biden pulling ahead – significantly, and his lead only increased from then on. How could this have happened unless there was fraud?

Many states count Election Day ballots first, and have laws that don’t allow them to begin counting mail-in ballots until all Election Day votes have been cast. Mail-in ballots take longer to count, because each ballot needs to be removed from two envelopes, and there are numerous verifications that need to be done for each mail-in vote before adding it to the count. That means that the results from mail-in votes tend to come in after most Election Day votes. As mentioned previously, Trump supporters leaned toward voting in person on Election Day, so their votes were counted first. Biden supporters leaned toward voting by mail, so their votes came in later and took longer to count.

Without a doubt, there were voting irregularities and individual instances of voter fraud in the 2020 Election, as there are in every election. However, the best witnesses to a more grand conspiracy, such as Rudy Guiliani’s star witness in Michigan, were deemed not credible by judges and by Republican politicians. 

After over a week of Trump denouncing a legitimate American election as fraudulent, America’s head of election cybersecurity, Christopher Krebs (a Trump appointee), stated that “There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised” and that 2020 was the most secure election in American history – a verbal offense for which he was promptly fired.

Republican Governors and Secretaries of State confirmed the legitimacy of the election, and stated that it was dangerous for the President to continue claiming otherwise. States did audits and recounts (sometimes more than one recount), which continued to affirm the election results. Trump’s loyal Attorney General Bill Barr publicly stated that there was no evidence of widespread election fraud that could have impacted the end result. Dozens of lawsuits by the Trump Campaign and its surrogates were dropped or thrown out for lack of evidence – sometimes by Republican judges. Most recently, the big case that Trump had pinned his hopes on, wherein 20 State Attorneys General petitioned the Republican-majority Supreme Court to nullify the votes of Michigan, Wisconsin, Georgia, and Pennsylvania, was rejected by the Supreme Court, including the by three Trump-appointed Justices. On Monday, the electors will cast their official votes, solidifying the fact that Biden won and Trump lost.

One would hope that this would be the end of all this nonsense, but it will not. On Saturday, Trump posted “WE HAVE JUST BEGUN TO FIGHT!!!” Believe him. Anyone waiting for that magical moment when he will begrudgingly concede the election, or at least for the moment when Republican leaders will stop sycophantically going along with the fantasies of this whiny man-baby, will be sorely disappointed. Every lie that Trump tells is a loyalty test, and once a politician goes along with it, they have made a commitment – to the lie and to Trump. Stepping back from the lie is to publicly admit their own weak-kneed, craven dishonesty, to risk fierce condemnation from Trump, and to suffer instant rejection from Trump’s base of voters. Few Republican politicians seem courageous or honest enough to take that chance.

The charade will not stop. America will continue to endure a day’s worth of 9/11s every day from COVID-19 for the rest of Trump’s term, while he pats himself on the back for the fabulous job he’s done on that and every other issue. Trump will leave office still claiming that the election was illegitimate and that he would have won if the Democrats hadn’t cheated, and more Americans’ view of their own democracy will be diminished. Trump will continue to be highly influential in American politics as a sought-after conservative media star, where he will regularly attack those who acknowledge any reality other than his, and who thereby “betray” him (and by extension, betray America). He will hold regular rallies for his 2024 Presidential run, partly because his delicate, insatiable ego can’t handle giving up those cult-like festivals of idolatry, and partly because the rallies will give him another platform to continue claiming that he won the 2020 Election, stoking a false grievance among his supporters. He will use social media daily to undermine every action of Joe Biden – a milk toast, middle-of-the-road Democrat – whose most moderate proposals will be instantly branded as wild-eyed socialism aimed at turning America into the mirror image of communist China. Republican Senators and Representatives, tremblingly fearful of an angry Trump tweet, will all fall in line, denouncing offensive Biden proposals like infrastructure investments, economic stimulus, and efficient vaccine distribution. In short, Trump will continue on as a shadow President, and the only real change from his actual Presidency is that he will no longer be able to activate the nuclear codes or to sign executive orders and legislation. We will count ourselves fortunate if, in the coming years, he doesn’t egg on his most rabid followers from the sidelines into pursuing an all out armed civil war in the United States.

This will be the ongoing legacy of Donald Trump, victim, the “man” who lost the 2020 Election, and who has made America great again.

– rob rünt

Electing Joe Biden was the Easy Part

Electing Joe Biden was the Easy Part

As many of us breathe a collective sigh of relief that Donald Trump will likely soon be out of office, it is important to take a sober look at where we are and America’s path forward. The citizens who voted for Joe Biden have a monumental task ahead.

Donald Trump tapped into existing divisions in our country, and amplified and egged them on daily for the last five years. The toxicity of this behavior for America cannot be underestimated. If some right wing blogs and pundits are to be believed, as we wait to see if an emotionally immature narcissist will accept the election results, our nation is at the brink of civil war. A civil war – in 2020 America. Like what we’ve seen in Ethiopia, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, South Sudan. That’s us, right now, with just the slightest extra spark.

Joe Biden campaigned on a message of unity. If his election was any kind of mandate beyond being “I’m not Trump,” it was that. But there were times during the past Administration when Trump also proclaimed that it was time for everybody to come together, and as empty as those words sounded at the time to Democrats, we need to realize that that’s how hollow Joe Biden’s words sound to Trump voters. A united nation does not come about because its leader snaps their fingers and demands it. Unity is an individual choice to be made by each of us.

As the winning “side” in the election, the burden of working toward unity falls most heavily on Democrats. That will be no easy task. There are many obstacles to success, and we need to be fully conscious of those roadblocks in order to overcome them.

Probably the greatest obstacle is Donald Trump himself. He may leave the White House, but he will not go away. He will continue to seek power, attention, and adulation. Whether that is through his own TV network, ongoing rallies promoting a 2024 Presidential run, appearances at Republican events, or simply his Twitter feed, Donald Trump will continue to have the same degree of influence over his followers, with the likely added grievance of an ongoing claim that the 2020 election was “stolen” from him because Democrats “cheated” (how else could he have lost?).

His supporters will also continue to get information from what I believe to be fact-resistant sources like OAN, Alex Jones, Rush Limbaugh, and NewsMax (where Donald Trump currently has not lost the election), as well as Trump allies on Fox News like Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson. That ongoing diet of grievance-driven misinformation will cause conversations about basic facts to continue to be as heated as disagreements about policy once were.

It is also quite possible that potential criminal activity by Donald Trump – tax evasion, tax fraud, bank fraud, insurance fraud, violations of the Emoluments Clause, the obstruction of justice for which he was impeached but could not be prosecuted as President – may result in him being brought to court in the next two years. There will no doubt be months of cries of “witch hunt.” While Trump’s past behavior catching up to him is virtually inevitable, there is no good outcome for it. If Biden pardons him, it sends the wholly unacceptable message that even the most egregious, remorseless, and widespread criminal behavior is fine if it is committed by someone who has been President. If Trump is successfully prosecuted, he becomes a martyr who his followers will believe was unjustly targeted and destroyed for “standing up against the Deep State to fight for working people,” resulting in one more major grievance being added to the pile.

Then there are the general environmental obstacles to unity within our country. We will no doubt be neck-deep in COVID cases by the time Biden is inaugurated. Any measures to get the virus down to a manageable level – a mask mandate, another shutdown – will be seen by some as an infringement on American freedom – not the best first step toward unity even if it does save thousands of lives.

Recalling the rocky exit of George W. Bush and the general financial history of Donald Trump, it is quite possible that Joe Biden will walk into an economy on the verge of collapse and with no financial reserves to address it. The resulting, chaos, unrest and outrage could be significant, and some will blame Biden, further hampering his efforts at unity.

Most importantly, Democrats need to look with humility at their own actions, or actions that have been done in their name over the past five years, try to see them through the eyes of Trump supporters, and realize that we each may owe some amends, or at least some explanations. From a Trump supporter’s perspective:

  • Acknowledging support for Trump resulted in others assuming that you were stupid, racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, and generally backwards.
  • People treated Trump supporters as second-class citizens, sometimes shutting them down in mid-sentence and refusing to hear what they had to say.
  • Being viewed as inferior could also have real-world consequences: losing friends, being alienated from family, losing a job, being doxed, being verbally or physically assaulted in public, being asked to leave a store or restaurant.
  • This was done by people who self-righteously boasted of being all about “love” and against “hate.”
  • People on the left at times behaved in ways that were more crude, vulgar, hostile, and immature than Trump.
  • Kathy Griffin held up an effigy of Trump’s severed head, a performance of “Julius Caesar” in Central Park depicted Trump’s assassination, Robert De Niro got a standing ovation for yelling “F*ck Trump” at the Tony Awards, and a Democrat shot Republican U.S. Rep Steve Scalise, a staffer, a lobbyist, and two police officers on a baseball field; on a smaller scale, profanity and middle fingers became a staple at left-wing protest rallies.
  • People on the left engaged in rioting and looting after the killing of George Floyd. Those who didn’t do so obviously supported it, because they stood by and watched it happen and didn’t denounce it.
  • Democrats never accepted Donald Trump as President.

We also need to get a general understanding of how the events of past five years have looked to Trump supporters. From their perspective:

  • Duly elected President Donald Trump was met with massive protests the day after his inauguration – before he had even enacted any policies – reflecting an immature left that simply couldn’t accept the loss of Hillary Clinton.
  • The Russia probe was a complete hoax manufactured to prevent Trump from getting anything accomplished.
  • The Mueller Investigation proved once and for all that there was “no collusion, no obstruction” (it proved neither), and any renewed interest in Trump-Russia is a rehash of something already settled by a years-long, multi-million-dollar, independent investigation.
  • The House impeachment of Donald Trump was meaningless, because it was a partisan attack that was not supported by the Senate.
  • Donald Trump fought every day of his Presidency for working people, and all of his policies were designed to benefit the working class and correct past injustices against American workers.
  • Obama and Biden illegally spied on Trump’s 2016 campaign.
  • The press has been very unfair to Trump because with few exceptions, they covered him negatively (apparently there were positive ways to cover taking children from their parents, insulting our allies, ignoring Russian bounties on our troops, and betraying the Kurds).
  • Nothing reported by a mainstream news outlet should be trusted.
  • Trump’s response to the coronavirus was the best that anyone could do, and Democrats have been too hard on him.
  • The media went easy on Joe Biden throughout the campaign, rarely asking him challenging questions while they mercilessly grilled Trump.
  • Democrats committed widespread voter fraud to elect Joe Biden, who will be controlled by socialists and will take away everybody’s guns and turn America into an unrecognizable Marxist hellscape where individual freedoms no longer exist.

There is much work to be done to reunite the country, and that work is not optional. The alternative at best is permanently torn families and friendships and an endless cycle of each “side” stewing in resentment for years as they scheme to “take their country back.” At worst, America can devolve into another Somalia. Anyone believing that such a fate is not possible has not been paying attention for the past five years.

As someone trained in conflict resolution, I cannot begin to tackle the full scope of America’s divisions, but I can suggest some first steps. We need to understand each other – not agree with each other, but understand each other. Engaging in conversations right now is probably not wise, as emotions are high. But we can begin laying the foundations for understanding by incorporating right-wing news sources into our daily information diet. This is not to suggest that we will get facts from these sources, but rather, we will better understand what people we disagree with believe are the facts. Yes, we will hear outrageous opinions that will make us mad, and we will hear stories that sound absolutely absurd to us, but if we are too sensitive to handle even this, we fully deserve the “snowflake” label that the right has given us.

Once we have absorbed a couple months or so of right-wing media, we should at least have the beginnings of a foundation to understand some perspectives of Trump supporters. From there, we can do simple and non-confrontational things like semi-random acts of kindness for the neighbor who had a Trump sign in their yard. Or if we feel capable, we can do tougher things like reaching out to friends or family members that we excommunicated in the heat of our outrage at Trump. Such an effort should be made with the full understanding that we will not see eye to eye, and we should absolutely maintain our own values. Rather than debating facts or asserting our opinions, we should seek to listen, and hear, humbly, focusing less on the details of what is being said than on the feelings behind them. There will likely be no agreement, no middle ground to be found, no clear path forward. But if we can connect again simply as human beings, that is a good start.

All of this is much easier said than done, but I still fully agree with the words of Michelle Obama: “When they go low, we go high,” and I also embrace the guidance offered by the Prayer of St. Francis (please translate to whatever spiritual or faith system works for you):

Lord, make me a channel of thy peace,
that where there is hatred, I may bring love;
that where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness;
that where there is discord, I may bring harmony;
that where there is error, I may bring truth;
that where there is doubt, I may bring faith;
that where there is despair, I may bring hope;
that where there are shadows, I may bring light;
that where there is sadness, I may bring joy.
Lord grant that I may seek rather
to comfort than to be comforted;
to understand than to be understood;
to love than to be loved.
For it is by self-forgetting that one finds.
It is by forgiving that one is forgiven.
It is by dying that one awakens to Eternal Life.

– rob rünt

Dear Trump Supporters

Dear Trump Supporters

Dear Trump Supporters,

     It’s been a wild four years, hasn’t it? Lots of ups and downs. It’s been great to see your values implemented in our country. Among the highlights:

  • American taxpayers paid to build a wall.
  • Federal deficits grew by $666 billion during Trump’s first year, and have now grown by nearly $4 trillion from when he took office. It takes a real businessman to know how to spend money like that.
  • America’s national debt has gone from $20 trillion to $26 trillion since Trump became President – think how much bigger he can make it with 4 more years.
  • America is now viewed globally with concern and pity – nobody’s laughing at us anymore.
  • Worldwide, people trust the President of the United States less than Russia’s Vladimir Putin or China’s Xi Jinping.
  • The pain to America’s farmers from the China trade war has been graciously softened by giving farmers the dignity of billions in government handouts.
  • The government has failed to locate the parents of 545 children separated at the border, a childhood trauma consistent with your family values.
  • Your fellow citizens, and more importantly, your own children, have been provided a daily demonstration of the importance of character.
  • Republicans will likely gain a comfortable 6-3 majority on the Supreme Court with the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett, albeit using situationally shifting Senate rules (but why would consistently applying the rules be important in confirming a Supreme Court Justice?).
  • Coal industry jobs have decreased over the past 4 years under Trump, but at least coal miners aren’t being trained for jobs in renewable energy.
  • Americans’ taxpayer dollars have unprecedentedly gone directly into Trump’s personal businesses to cover food and lodging for his security and staff whenever he stays at one of his many commercial properties.
  • The Washington swamp has been largely drained and replaced by the best people, although many of the best people ended up in prison, which happens with every President’s associates.
  • There has been unusually high turnover among Trump’s staff and Cabinet, because the best people sometimes turn out to be losers, nobodies, opportunists – people like Dan Coats, John Bolton, Jim Mattis, John Kelly, HR McMaster, Nikki Haley, and Rex Tillerson.
  • I hate to even mention the c-word, but there’s also COVID-19 – aren’t you sick of people bringing that up? Only 225,000 Americans have died so far – far more per 100,000 people than in most other countries. That’s a figure that can be hard to justify when you’re “pro-life.” But the President has made clear that we would have had 2 million deaths if we had done absolutely nothing – an approach that no experts were advocating. 2 MILLION! It could have happened! And as the President said just recently, America is rounding the corner on coronavirus – with over 85,000 new cases yesterday (the highest number on record for us), it should be over any day now.

     But the Trump Presidency hasn’t been all fun and games for you. Probably most unpleasant has been having to explain your support for him. You wish that he’d stop his annoying tweeting, you know that he’s rude and obnoxious and immature and an egomaniac, and you wish that he’d denounce white supremacists more forcefully and clearly, and without having to be prompted to do it. You spent the early part of his Presidency defending yourself, as if your support for him was somehow a reflection of your own character. You’d tell people that you aren’t a racist, or dumb, or a gullible mark who fell for a slick con man selling snake oil. But no justification was ever good enough for them, and they finally just stopped talking to you, instead just looking at you as if they actually did think that you were racist or dumb or gullible. It’s been tiring – exhausting really – and it’s frankly offensive that anyone would actually think that of you. And yet every day, the President says or does something new that brings up the whole thing all over again. YOU ARE NOT DONALD TRUMP – you just voted for him. Why can’t people get that straight?

     Despite the prospect of four more years of this tediousness and occasional outright hostility, it’s desperately important not to let Joe Biden get elected. Trump has repeatedly said that Biden spent 40 years in Washington and got nothing done, but that 40-year track record of doing nothing will surely dramatically change now. And his modesty, compassion and decency are all just an act that fooled even his friends like Lindsey Graham for decades. Rest assured, Joe Biden is a foaming-at-the-mouth communist who secretly strangles puppies and tortures kittens for fun.

     By voting for Donald Trump, you have a chance once more to completely own the libs! The glee that you experience from that vote, that vengeful poke in the eye to the people you can’t stand, may result in a brain drain from the U.S. as many suburbanites on the left flee what they are concerned is a nation swirling the drain into authoritarianism and economic/social collapse. But your vote can make America great as it rounds the corner to something like nobody’s ever seen before. And when America comes away deeply diminished from its dalliance with Donald Trump, his words will offer you comfort: you knew he was a snake before you took him in.

rob rünt