We Must Reject Extremism

President Trump’s State of the Union address, which had been delayed by the federal government partial shutdown, was finally presented to Congress this week.  The speech was lengthy, packed with predictable applause lines and obligatory calls for unity and swift actionand I doubt it changed a single mind in the chamber.  The sneering and snark was flying through social media from pundits, late night comedians, journalists, celebrities, and political opponents even before the speech was concluded.  The battle lines were obvious, the political gamesmanship was all too apparent, and the criticisms were predictable.

Now what?

If you took a step back, you would have to wonder what someone living outside of our nations deeply partisan bubbles would think of the vehement criticisms they heard or read after President Trumps speech.  Considering that the overall national economy is doing quite well, unemployment is at historic lows, efforts are being made to extricate American troops from deployments overseas where the original missions seem to have been accomplished, another summit with North Korea to discuss nuclear de-escalation is scheduled, trade imbalances are being addressed through tough negotiations, domestic manufacturing is booming, and more intractable national problems with healthcare costs and public education are being evaluated and discussed, it might seem a puzzle.  Although there will always be differences of opinion regarding the nature of our challenges and possible solutions, there seem many reasons to hope for a peaceful and prosperous future for our nation and its people.

But many are still filled with a frothing rage.

The explanation for this boils down to two words: immigration and abortion.  Although I strongly suspect that the vast majority of the American people occupy the high middle ground, our political leadersegged on by their most vociferous supportersseem trapped in deep and narrow valleys of extremism.

Take immigration, for example.  As has been pointed out repeatedly, the Democratic Party was until only recently perfectly content with policies that restricted entry into the U.S. and favored the swift deportation of those who entered illegally.  This was once a mainstream and moderate position that attracted support from across the political spectrum.  Speaking at a town hall in California in 2009, President Obama neatly summarized the position held by the many who elected him twice:

“…I think what we have to do is to come together and say, we’re going to strengthen our bordersand I’m going to be going to Mexico, I’m going to be working with President Calderón in Mexico to figure out how do we get control over the border that’s become more violent because of the drug trade. 

We have to combine that with cracking down on employers who are exploiting undocumented workers.  We have to make sure that there’s a verification system to find out whether somebody is legally able to work here or not.  But we have to make sure that that verification system does not discriminate just because you’ve got a Hispanic last name or your last name is Obama.

You’ve got toand then you’ve got to say to the undocumented workers, you have to say, look, you’ve broken the law; you didn’t come here the way you were supposed to.  So this is not going to be a free ride.  It’s not going to be some instant amnesty.  What’s going to happen is you are going to pay a significant fine.  You are going to learn English.

You are going toyou are going to go to the back of the line so that you don’t get ahead of somebody who was in Mexico City applying legally.  But after you’ve done these things over a certain period of time you can earn your citizenship, so that it’s notit’s not something that is guaranteed or automatic.  You’ve got to earn it.  But over time you give people an opportunity.

Now, it only works though if you do all the pieces.  I think the American people, they appreciate and believe in immigration. But they can’t have a situation where you just have half a million people pouring over the border without any kind of mechanism to control it.

Now close your eyes and imagine President Trump saying exactly the same words.

The reaction is easy to predict.  He would be immediately denounced as a xenophobic white supremacist who was planning to build an immoralwall of hatred, and this would be just the start of a crescendo of anger that would sweep the blogosphere like a tidal wave of toxic waste.  It could perhaps be argued that the exceedingly suave speaking style of President Obama was the sugar that made the medicine go down more easily, but it is also certainly true that Democratic proposals regarding immigration policy have undergone a startling and radical shift over the past ten years that has rendered any negotiation or compromise nearly impossible.

The Democratic position on abortion also seems to have been hijacked by extremists over the past decade or so.  According to The New York Times, Hillary Clinton had this to say on this matter in a landmark speech back in 2005:

“I, for one, respect those who believe with all their hearts and conscience that there are no circumstances under which any abortion should ever be available,” she said.

Toward the end of the same speech, she even described a possible future where “the choice guaranteed under our Constitution either does not ever have to be exercised or only in very rare circumstances.”

This seems very different from today’s Democratic support for abortion on demand up toand now includingthe point of actual birth.  It would not be inaccurate to suggest that the recently passed bill in New York that codified these ideas throughout that state is crossing a dangerous and distinct line into support for infanticide in all but name onlyand it is not only in New York that these notions are becoming mainstream Democratic dogma.  

Although his comments on this topic have been eclipsed by the outrage over a deeply offensive racist photograph he featured on his personal page in his medical school yearbook, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam caused great concern with his comments concerning a third trimester abortion proposal in his own state:

[Third -trimester abortions are done with] the consent of obviously the mother, with consent of the physician, multiple physicians by the way, and its done in cases where there may be severe deformities or there may be a fetus thats not viable.  So in this particular example if a mother is in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen, the infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if thats what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.

Governor Northams suggestion that a baby born alive might be provided with palliative care only and be allowed to die flies in the face of both a physicians solemn oathGovernor Northam is, remarkably enough, a pediatric neurologistand the basic human decency that informs our lives.  Nazi Germany encouraged the deaths of those babies born with genetic problems or serious health issues in order to strengthen their master race.  However, having learned the horrible lesson of history that such practices inevitably lead to genocide, any suggestion of choosing which babies should be allowed to liveand which should be compelled to dieis firmly rejected by all but the most heartless and cruel among us.

However, state level efforts by some Republicans to restrict or deny abortion access during the first trimester of pregnancy are clearly wrong as well. The ugly and sad reality is that not all pregnancies are the result of loving relationships between men and women, some women may be utterly incapable of either carrying or nurturing a child, and others may be but a child themselves when a pregnancy occurs.  To, for example, force a thirteen year old girl who has been raped to give birth lacks all compassion and human understanding of the horror she has endured and simply amplifies the trauma she will be living with for the rest of her life.

Why is it that extremism has come to dominate our politics, and what does this imply for the future of moderate and sensible positions on immigration and abortion that will allow the vast number of voters who occupy the middle ground on these issues to feel that their voices are being heard and respected?  To insist that national borders serve a purpose and illegal entry should not be rewarded does not translateas so many seem now to believeinto bigotry and hatred.  To argue that late term abortions should be restrictedparticularly in light of the remarkable medical advances since Roe v. Wade in 1973 that now allow even the most premature of babies to survive and thriveis not at all equivalent to taking away the right of women to control their bodies.

Extremism in thought or action is generally marked by two signal characteristics: a tendency to hate those with differing ideas and a refusal to acknowledge the possibility of your own error.  Moderation in most matters of the heart and the mind is a sign of an individual’s ability to understand and embrace the sloppy complexities of life that often require one to abandon immature and inflexible ideological beliefs.  I hope that we will see more moderation and less extremism leading up to the 2020 elections.  We need cooperation and compromise in order to address key issuesincluding immigration and abortion.  Reducing the national fever of hate and insult that is corroding our governmental processes is essential.  We must find a moderate path that will recognize and reconcile all values and viewpointsor we will tear one another to pieces with our extremist passions.

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The Death Of Education Reform?

Just a few years ago Democrats were playing a lead role in pushing for broad-based reform of our nation’s public schools. Using rigorous and regular testing of student academic progress to generate the necessary data, money and resources were poured into a “moon shot” effort to make quality education available to all children by turning government and private philanthropy into partners in creating a new paradigm for a national public education system that seemed unable to shake off its bureaucratic mindset and incrementalism. Billions upon billions of taxpayer dollars and private wealth washed into our nation’s public schools, and the high hopes attached to all this money seemed a sure sign that monumental changes were at hand.

Watching the momentum for K-12 education reform now grinding to a screeching halt around the nation, one cannot help but be struck by the shocking efforts of so many leading Democrats to now reduce or de-emphasize academic assessments, roll back charter schools, and embrace the ossified civil service approach of the nation’s teacher unions.

Were reformers fooling themselves all along regarding the possibilities for dramatic progress?

Even putting aside the strong political headwinds now facing school reform advocates, the sad truth of the matter is that change always required a willingness to both stand up to the political power of teacher unions and aggressively deregulate public education in order to introduce real market incentives—and market risk—to a system that both has historically been run according to the priorities of teacher unions and is populated by many teachers and administrators who have no interest at all in abandoning their entrenched civil service protections.

Improvements in the quality and academic outcomes of our nation’s public schools was also always an uphill fight because resistance to reforms was made all the easier by the extraordinary “local control” baked into our nation’s tens of thousands of autonomous public school districts, which have shown themselves to be largely impervious to any changes beyond the most cosmetic simply by virtue of their sheer numbers. The net result is that school reformers have spent decades banging their heads into a brick wall of fantastically fragmented bureaucratic obstinacy designed to protect well-paid but marginally competent teachers and administrators who find any effort to quantify outcomes, develop cost-benefit analyses, or (gasp!) insist upon accountability antithetical to their mutual goals of ironclad job security and guaranteed salary enhancement.

The real lesson of the past several decades of education reform is as simple as can be: You cannot force changes upon a system that has little real interest in what passionate—but too often ineffectual—reformers are trying to sell. It is always easier for the education insiders to insist that the problems with student learning are due to external societal and cultural factors, so miserable academic outcomes cannot be blamed on the schools themselves.

However, the challenge today facing reformers is the increasingly close relationship between teacher unions and the Democratic Party. Unless this is somehow severed right now, real reforms will continue to be measured with an eye dropper in the decades to come.

How close is the relationship between teacher unions and the Democratic Party? The numbers tell the story. During the 2018 elections, 95% of the over $30 million dollars they contributed to political parties and candidates went to Democrats. Of course, driven by high profile races in Texas, Florida, and Georgia, this amount was dwarfed by total 2018 election spending that topped $5.2 billion, but teacher unions also provided large and reliable voting blocs in key races and contributed countless in-kind resources to Democratic candidates. The net result of this political symbiosis is that the matter most important to teacher unions—growing their base of dues-paying members—is also rapidly become a driving issue of the Democratic Party.

The most obvious element of the alliance between Democrats and teacher unions is a renewed national push to halt the growth of charter schools, which offer tuition-free alternatives for families that cannot afford private schools. Whether or not charter schools, which are publicly funded but independently operated, provide better educational outcomes for students—and there is a great deal of hard and persuasive evidence that this is indeed the case—seems to be a tangential concern at the moment. The crux of the matter is that more charter schools translates into fewer teachers paying union dues. Union leaders, feeling besieged after the Janus decision by the Supreme Court struck down state mandates for “fair share” dues across the nation, now seem resolutely determined to reverse the national growth of charter schools. The rumblings are growing louder in many states, although supporters of charter schools have also mobilized to defend parent choice, but we have just seen the most dramatic move in what is likely to be a long and divisive battle in Los Angeles, the nation’s second largest school system—and until only recently a major booster of charter schools.

Having just settled a teacher strike with a new contract that has already been deemed financially unsustainable, the LAUSD Board of Education has now voted to declare a moratorium on the growth of charter schools. The 225 charter schools in Los Angeles now serve 23% of the district’s students—112,000 young people whose parents chose to remove them from the city’s troubled public schools. This has long been a sore point for national teacher unions, who see the rapid growth of charter schools in Los Angeles and elsewhere as an existential threat. Is it simply a coincidence that this shocking reversal happened in the most heavily Democratic state in the nation, one that provides 20% of the Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives? Should we be surprised that the often tearful pleas of Los Angeles parents, who were thrilled with the quality of the educations that their children are now receiving, were completely ignored by school board members, many of whom owe their seats to Democratic support?

The political battle lines have hardened in recent years, but one area where politics should be set aside is the desire of every parent to find the school that best fits the needs of their child. Charter schools have offered many poor and middle-class parents an avenue to help their children escape blighted public schools that were robbing them of their right to a quality education. To insist that these children, and more to follow, must hope and pray that their school will be spared from today’s political gamesmanship is both cruel and destructive. The national movement toward school choice—of which charter schools are certainly the most important single component—should not be rolled back so that teacher unions can sign up some more dues-paying members.

The dreams of parents and students for the brighter futures that charter schools can provide must be respected, nurtured, and supported. To do otherwise would be the worst possible betrayal.

The Government Shutdown Was All About Political Power

Although we are supposed to see our recent record-breaking federal government partial shutdown as a principled battle between Democrats and Republicans regarding border enforcement policies and practices, the reality was both far more complex—and commonplace. There was a cold calculation on both sides that they could benefit politically by harming their opponents. Moreover, both Republicans and Democrats already have their eyes firmly fixed on the 2020 election, and each side is already auditioning applause lines and fundraising pitches aimed at their respective supporters as they maneuver for advantage in what is certain to be an particularly dirty and divisive campaign. As with most supposedly high minded activity by politicians, this shutdown was instead about the same old thing: how to get—and keep—more money and power.

Although the mass media encourages the belief that our nation is a hot mess of warring factions—liberals against conservatives, men against women, educated against uneducated, urban against rural, rich against poor, young against old, and so on—it could be the case that the division that sets us at each other’s throats is far more simple: the powerful against the powerless. Sometimes this power is open and obvious; sometimes it is exercised surreptitiously or indirectly. Nonetheless, power—and the immense wealth that follows right along behind it—has been the subject of our most primal human lust since we first squatted in a cave many tens of thousands of years ago.

Because of the ever increasing globalization of business and finance, the divide between our world’s winners and losers has grown wider and wider over the recent decades. Win enough power—economic, regulatory, or technological—and one can now stand bestride the planet like a Colossus. The central role that government interventions now play in both granting that power and jerking it away has turned government service into an incredibly lucrative career for many, and the immense concentration of wealth in capitals the world over has made the mere proximity to government a main driver of personal wealth.

The areas surrounding Washington, D.C., which now contain most of the wealthiest zip codes in America, has become a near-monolithic block of federal employees and contractors whose highest loyalty is reserved for those elected officials (a.k.a. Democrats) who strive to increase their powers and remuneration. The hostility directed against President Trump by those who work for the federal government is readily explained by his open disdain for much of their work and his desire to close or reduce many of the make-work bureaucracies for which they labor. Knowing that their livelihoods are on the line, it is little wonder that Donald Trump is viewed as a unwelcome interloper whose policies must be “resisted” at every turn by government employees whose loyalties are often clearly not with the elected President of the United States.

It has, of course, been pointed out that one result of the partial government shutdown is that federal workers have now been compelled to confront the kind of personal financial angst that everyone beyond the comfortable cocoon of government employment deals with every day. It is doubtful that every American is moved by the plight of federal workers who were forced to cancel their yoga studio memberships, cut down on restaurant meals, or deal with temporary financial problems that were worse as the shutdown dragged on. This new exposure to employment insecurity faced by federal workers—who will, nonetheless, be made whole on every penny of pay they missed when their paychecks were not being issued—is an unfortunate daily reality that many, many Americans employed in the private sector have suffered for years. The stories blasted throughout the media about the plights of furloughed federal employees, although certainly sad, perhaps produced more schadenfreude than sympathy among some of our nation’s beleaguered taxpayers.

The disconnect between the lives of the vulnerable ruled and those of the—at least until recently—well insulated rulers is, I believe, one aspect of President Trump’s continued appeal that those who live and work within the long shadow of federal power still simply cannot comprehend. The core belief of many Washington’s leaders in the benign and beneficent nature of the immense power they exercise over every facet of our daily lives makes it impossible for them to comprehend the frustration the average person feels each day as they crash into a brick wall of laws, rules, regulations, practices, guidelines, and advisories that cumulatively strip them of personal autonomy and invite the specter of investigation, lawsuit, or arrest if they fail to obey. These pronouncements from the high castle of federal power, which are generally designed to ensure strict oversight over the unruly serfs (a.k.a. you and me), are often the product of scholarly study by a priesthood of credentialed experts who have little interest in—or understanding of—the actual lives or values of those whose existences they zealously regulate.

In addition, the stench of corruption that has emanated from official Washington for many years—a grotesque assemblage of bribe givers and bribe takers (a.k.a. lobbyists and elected officials)—is simply too foul to any longer ignore. Hillary Clinton’s biggest liability in 2016 was not that she was a woman or completely lacking in charisma; the root of the problem was that she was a shameless creature of the D.C. Swamp World of back scratchers, influence peddlers, and money grubbing parasites. She was, therefore, rejected by voters who were willing to roll the dice on a blunt and graceless businessman who spoke directly and forcefully to their anger at an entrenched ruling class who thought them a herd of idiots (a.k.a. Deplorables) whose lives and aspirations needed to be carefully controlled and monitored.

Donald Trump’s election has put powerful D.C. insiders into a two year collective freak out that has been helpfully spun by their compliant media partners into a parable of “resistance” to right wing oppression and Russian chicanery. Taking a step back, you have to admire the genius of those who have created and encouraged this narrative while (wink!) resisting every effort to rein in the incredible powers of the national security state, reduce federal oversight of our daily lives, or remove American troops from dead end wars around the world that accomplish little else other than further enhancing the profits of international arms dealers—quite a Jedi mind trick, to say the least. I don’t, for example, recall Barack Obama meeting with the leader of North Korea to negotiate for the end of their nuclear weapons program, do you?

I know that having their paychecks temporarily stopped and stressing about paying their bills was terrible for many federal workers. Given the clear intransigence of Democrats regarding any negotiations regarding border security, it is possible that this partial shutdown could be back again in only three weeks. The apparent unconcern with which Democrats were willing to forgo the least flexibility and prolong this shutdown until public safety was finally put at real risk leads one to wonder just what kind of end game is being contemplated here.

Is the long-term plan to create chaos, crash the booming national economy, use the megaphone of the mainstream media to place all the blame on President Trump, and try to stampede an impeachment by continually screeching the Clinton campaign accusation that President Trump is an agent of Russia—despite the utter lack of any actual evidence to support this after two full years of the Robert Mueller sideshow? If we remember that this standoff is less about principle and more about power, it makes a certain Machiavellian sense. It is, therefore, likely this is just the first act in what is going to be a titanic power struggle between Washington’s entrenched and angry elite and President Trump and his Republican allies—not all of whom, truth be told, find the current reality all that distasteful. Those Republican legislators and bureaucrats contemplating post-governmental careers as a D.C. lobbyist or lawyer/fixer, with all the wealth and influence that this implies, likely see The Swamp as an ecosystem of power, prerogatives, and future fat paychecks they do not want to actually disturb—sad to say.

Stay tuned, America. You might be witnessing a truly pivotal moment in our nation’s history because this ongoing battle seems like it is going to leave only one side standing, and the future direction of our nation certainly hangs in the balance.

It’s Beginning To Smell Like 1968 Again

Political prognostication is a tricky business.  Even the experts with every resource at their fingertips can be very wrongthe Presidential election of 2016 being the most dramatic recent exampleso now we armchair political gurus perhaps have a little more credibility should we want to engage in an educated guesstimate prior to an election.

So far I am batting a thousand.  Immediately prior to Election Day on 2016, I published my prediction that Donald Trump would win.  At the risk of screwing up my perfect record, I am going to hazard some thoughts regarding the critical midterm elections that are only weeks away.

First, regardless of the actual outcome, we are still going to remain a divided nation.  Fundamentally irreconcilable ideas regarding government regulation, foreign policy, law enforcement, LBGTQ rights, immigration (both legal and not), abortion, gun control, economic policy, entitlement spending, public education, military policy, public aid, and a host of other issues often make it difficult to find common ground. This election is apt to further harden these battle lines and further thrust our nations courts into the impossible position of acting as the moral and cultural arbiter for America.  Given the desire of so many to forcefully and continually assert their uniqueness and individuality at every turn, it is sometimes difficult to discern what truly binds us together as one nation.

However, our present state of despair and dissension is what drives my electoral prediction: It will be a good night for the Republican Party in generaland President Trump in particular.  Why?  I believe we are about to see an eerie rerun of the 1968 elections.

Richard Nixon won the Presidency in 1968 despite being a deeply divisive figure who was reviled by the D.C. political establishment (Sound familiar?), and the Republican Party picked up seats in both the House and the Senate.  The country was deeply divided politically, violent political rhetoric and actual political violence plagued our nation, upheaval at all levels was the order of the day, and calls for a revolutionto restructure America echoed through the culture and our pre-digital media world.  Words were wielded as weapons, liberals demanded action to improve systems they deemed unfair, and the signs of change seemed everywhere one looked around our nation and the world.  The stars seemed lined up for a Democratic night at the ballot box.

However, Richard Nixon and the Republican Party—positioning themselves as the party of law and order, traditional values, and the protectors of realAmericans—waded through the morass and did just fine.

There are, of course, many differences between today and fifty years ago, but the single most important and salient similarity is the Democratic Party found itself aligned with forces that, either rightly or wrongly, were associated with chaos and a lack of respect for both our nation and realAmericans.  

Just think back over the past two years.  Many on the left seem willing to brand those who disagree with their views as bigots and cretinsyou know, deplorables”—which means it is necessary impeach public officials with differing views, remove the President from office by invoking the 25th Amendment, drag Republicans into court and pummel them, censor conservative opinions on social media they find objectionable, shut down campus speakers and professors who are not liberal, dox government officials, harass politicians and their families in public, and generally display the emotional maturity of sugar-infused eight year olds in all their public and private communications.  Although the obvious retort by those doing the ranting and raving is that this is all the fault of Donald Trump and his itchy Twitter finger, the reality is that many Democrats have been quite willing to pump up the volume of their resistancein order to energize those voters whom they believe will be their margin of electoral victory.  Incivility and confrontation are thought be a winning combination.

This brings me to my reason for predicting a good night for the Republicans.  Although standing at the barricades and screaming at your opponents garners lots of media attention and self-congratulations for being brave and woke, the reality is that most people arent much into revolution and are going to default to voting for candidates who speak quietly and with a minimum of incendiary rhetoric.  The mistake that Democrats made in 1968 is analogous to the mistake that Democrats are making todayjust because you are marching doesnt mean everyone else is anxious to fall into line behind you.  The basic American character is evolutionary and not revolutionary, so votersexcept for the loud and partisan feware innately suspicious of those who excitedly promise to circumvent the deliberately slow and pokey mechanisms of government in order to right all the wrongs of the world.  Given the cacophonous clashes that have become cable news and social media staples over the past several years, the body politic is weary and will cast their votes for whomever seems to promise some much needed peace and quiet.

Injustices, of course, still abound, but a general respect for our laws and institutions still abidesand most would prefer reforms over revolt.  Although well-timed ambushes and clever insults sometimes succeed in the short term, voters will inevitably opt for those candidates who seem to exude stability and evince some degree adult behavior.  Provocation gets attention, but conciliation wins elections.

The dark genius of President Trump is that he knows how to needle his opponents into inflammatory words and behavior that work to his advantage.  Perhaps the greatest political counterpuncher to ever occupy the Oval Office, he continually starts fights in order to goad his opponents into madness or stupidityor both.  If you doubt this, I hold up the recent spectacle of Senator Elizabeth Warren shooting herself in the foot regarding the matter of her Native American DNA.  If ever there was a dumber and more pointless political stunt that managed to both amuse opponents and infuriate allies, one would have to look very hard to find it.  Well played, Mr. Trump.

Therefore, my midterm election predictions are thus: Republican gains in the Senate and a near stalemate in the House.  This will drive President Trumps opponents madder stilland further strengthen his hand looking toward the elections in 2020.

Spy Games

It feels a bit like 1950….

Back in those panicky early Cold War days, the biggest show in town was the investigation of Alger Hiss, an American government official accused of being a highly placed spy working on behalf of the Soviet Union.  Over the past several weeks of today’s spy scare, it was revealed that a foreign policy advisor during Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign was placed under government surveillance due to suspicions (as yet unproven) that he was a Russian spy, a Russian woman who is here on a student visa was arrested and charged with being a spy, and a recent magazine article even explored the idea that President Trump himself is an agent of Russia.  All we need to round out the picture is an updated version of the House Un-American Activities Committee, some sweaty new version of Senator Joseph McCarthy at its helm, grilling terrified witnesses and loudly accusing them of espionage and treason.

However, before going any further with this discussion of spies and spying, two salient facts must be acknowledged.

The first is that every nation has spied on every other nation from the dawn of civilization.  It is both prudent and smart to make every effort to peek at the inner machinations and motivations of your neighbors, who might, sad to say, not always have your best interests at heart.  Given the terrifying weaponry washing around the world today, to not spy on other nations in order to divine their decision making would be both foolhardy and irresponsible.

In addition, it is both obvious—and understandable—that American politicians are always accusing their rivals of being un-American.  Wrapping yourself in the flag to win political and—even more importantly—moral advantage is as tried and true a method of winning votes as kissing babies.  Our opposition to Russia after the end of World War II in 1945 (Who now remembers that the Soviet Union was one of our most important allies in the fight against Nazi Germany?) only added a new twist to this old ploy, and Presidents from Truman to Trump have been accused of being Russian dupes by political opponents who saw advantage in making this charge.

I am not certain the ferocity of the attacks are any worse than they used to be.  President Truman was, for example, regularly excoriated by Republicans for having “lost China” to the Communists, and Republican Presidential nominee Barry Goldwater continually barked that President Lyndon Johnson was “soft on Communism” during his own failed campaign for the Oval Office.  After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the red-baiting disappeared for awhile because the Communists suddenly seemed like they wanted to become compliant capitalists, but the ascendancy of Vladimir Putin, his KGB credentials flying, signaled there were limitations to the goodwill that could be bought via a McDonalds dishing out Big Macs in Moscow

 What makes today’s iteration of the Cold War political attacks so difficult to understand is that it is now the Democrats accusing the Republicans of being blind to the Russian threat.  Even as they are busily embracing “Democratic Socialism”, which sounds like some focus group phrase concocted to make Communism palatable in Cleveland, Democrats are furiously lobbing accusations of treason at President Trump for having the temerity to attempt to de-escalate superpower tensions at the Helsinki summit.  Given that only a few years ago Democratic leaders like Senator Chuck Schumer and former President Clinton were best buddies with Vladimir Putin, the resurrection of this harsh and uncompromising Reagan-era “Evil Empire” rhetoric is apt to give one a bad case of whiplash.  What is not new are the old charges of treasonous intent that are on Page One of the “I’m more of a loyal American than you” handbook for demonizing your political opponents.  

None of this is, of course, connected with any tangible reality.  Many of the actions Donald Trump has taken as President have been the opposite of what any actual Russian agent would have done.  Whether he was pushing through a stupendous increase in U.S. defense spending, sending arms to Ukrainian separatists fighting for their freedom from the Russian Federation, or pushing rules of battlefield engagement in Syria that have already resulted in hundreds of Russian casualties, President Trump has been a much harsher adversary of Russia than his predecessor ever was.  

Indeed, if one flashes back to 2012 and President Obama—who was unaware that the microphone was on—timidly asking Russian President Medvedev to inform Vladimir Putin that he would have more flexibility to deal with difficult issues “after my election”, you have to wonder where all the Democrats and overwrought media were at that time.  Was Barack Obama colluding with Russia to swing the Presidential election in his favor?  Not surprisingly, there was no breathless inquiry regarding this question.

Of course, reality and rage do not have to necessarily coincide—what would be the fun in that?—and painting a hammer and sickle on President Trump’s back is a handy tool for escalating the anger necessary to drive Democratic voter turnout in 2018 and 2020.  Whether voters believe any of this or not is hardly the point.  The accusations that Donald Trump is a Russian spy or agentprovide a uniting issue for fractious Democrats, lend fresh legitimacy to Robert Mueller’s endless investigation, and hopefully distract voter attention from historically low unemployment and a roaring domestic economy.  Whether this will translate to Democratic electoral gains in the midterm elections and beyond is anyone’s guess, but it does not mean that we have heard the end of this discussion—and the many baseless theories it will spawn.