Why I am a Cascadian
I was born an American, and like my father and grandfather before me, I served in the United States military during a time of war.
I used to feel pride in being an American. But I don’t anymore.
The fact of the matter is that the United States of America is a colonial empire no better than the British Empire that spawned it. After winning independence, the elites who have always run the show actively pursued wars of aggression, committed genocide against the indigenous inhabitants, and eventually seized colonies in Latin America and Asia to become a formal empire itself – a path that led the US directly into the atrocities of the Second World War. A conflict that culminated in the first-ever human use of atomic weaponry to murder a quarter of a million civilians at a point when the war in the Pacific was already a foregone conclusion.
And of course, they didn’t stop there. Hell, they built a few tens of thousands more, and thousands still sit, lurking, waiting to take a few hundreds of millions of lives.
The United States of America has, since the Second World War, directly caused the death of hundreds of thousands of people around the world. It has indirectly caused the deaths of millions more. The War on Terror has simply continued a long, bloody history of slaughter. The bombs have never stopped falling for long, and although the citizens of the United States have two broad oceans protecting them from invasion, more than 50% of every single dollar paid in federal income taxes by all American taxpayers flow into a Pentagon bureaucracy so bloated and mismanaged that it cannot even be accurately audited.
This ongoing theft of our dollars by the Pentagon, and their ultimate destination in the pockets of a few privileged actors in the defense industry, directly connects each and every American taxpayer to an unending stream of atrocities. Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan – they never end, no matter which of the two major parties is in power or what personality occupies the Oval Office. Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, Obama, Trump – no President in my lifetime has failed to kill less than a few thousand innocent people around the world, and some (Clinton, Bush II) have killed far more. Neither party makes ending the nonstop violence a core component of its platform, and the US media doesn’t seem to care.
“American” is an identity that no longer contains the slightest shred of pride for me. The facts of history reveal that the United States of America is a vicious global empire, no less worth defeating than any that has come before. To put in Tolkienian terms: We are all Orcs. Sauron is our master. Barad-Dur belches wickedness into our skies. And Washington DC is the Ring of Power.
But all empires, due to contradictions in their internal structure and the detachment of their elites from the persistent degradation of material conditions experienced by the majority of the population, eventually fall. Leaving those of us stuck living in the aftermath with the difficult task of figuring out what to do next.
But, as the British say, sometimes you just have to get stuck in.
I believe that the time has come to recognize that we desperately need new principles of political organization to deal with the growing complexities of 21st century life. I believe the time has come to adopt the idea of the Bioregion as a natural and workable foundation for a nation held together by the vital task of collectively managing our common environment.
We in the Pacific Northwest, present-day Americans, Canadians, and First Peoples, live where we do because this land calls to us. Whether our ancestors came here millenia or decades ago, this place sustains our life, gives us air and water and food, and offers a soul the chance to experience some of the few remaining places on this Earth not entirely spoiled by industrial society.
In truth, our political, economic, and social systems are all bound to the bioregion and those things we need and value that can be sourced from it. Common management of collective resources is, as Nobel-winning scholars have persuasively argued, one of the fundamental reasons why a recognizable human society exists in the first place. And in an age of global economic turmoil and global climate change, comprehending this link is absolutely essential to our long term prosperity.
So starting with the idea of the Bioregion, I collected some basic data and used my moderate GIS skills to put together this map, which is a Version 1.0 style presentation containing the broadest outline of my professional sense, as someone with graduate level training in policy and resource management of what an autonomous or independent Cascadia established along bioregional lines could – and I’d argue, should, look like:
This Democratic Federation of Cascadia would have a combined population of about 17 million people as of the mid 2010s, and it will likely reach 18 million in the mid 2020s. The total Gross Domestic Product would be almost $1.1 Trillion today, a bit larger than the Netherlands or Indonesia, a bit smaller than Australia or Spain.
Depending on whether Cascadia maintains the US level of per-person military spending (over $2,000 even before the most recent increases, taking it close to $2,500) or drops it to the NATO-standard 2% of GDP, Cascadia’s Defense Forces (Mandates: protection of residents from aggression, and disaster relief), it would spend about as much as South Korea ($35 billion per year) or Canada ($20 billion per year) on defense.
Most of the population would reside in Rainier (5.20 million), Willamette (2.80 million), and Fraser/Okanogan (4.40 million together – not certain where the best BC split might be). Once split out, Okanogan would likely be the smallest state by population (Again sorry for the US focus, readers in Canada), followed by Klamath (.80 million), Missoula (.80 million), Teton (1.20 million), and Columbia (1.80 million).
The population distribution into these states is particularly important – in fact, I’d call it vital to the entire concept. One of the biggest issues with contemporary discussions of Cascadia is lack of a clear solution to what will always be the most fundamental challenge in uniting 17 million people across such a large, rugged area: political cultures.
The media-sustained narrative of the US having two ideological poles – left/liberal and right/conservative – with a pool of moderates in the middle, is complete and utter pseudoscience. It is endlessly-repeated nonsense with no basis in anything other than convenience. You simply cannot usefully describe a population, in statistical or functional terms, using a single-dimension metric. Politics in any place or time will always be about more complex than that. Politics is a human activity, rooted in human social and economic interactions. As such, it is subject to the same tribalism as any other aspect of our world. People vote based on how they perceive a candidate or issue is related to their people – whoever they are.
Where people live, the environment they’ve known – social, economic, and/or natural – in their lives, is a crucial component of their self and group identities, which are the ultimate drivers of politics in the real world. The paramount divide within Cascadia exists as a gap between two cultures, rural and urban, each of which is characterized by quite different patterns of existence, which produce different ways of looking at the world.
Cascadia, to function as a political entity, will have to be structured to take these fundamental differences in worldview into account. There is a strain of thinking about Cascadia and Bioregionalism more broadly, that more or less follows the lines of the Ecotopia ideal. The problem with this idea, from a political perspective, is that rural people very rarely see their Ecotopia as being quite the same as urban people. Those who grow up living and working in nature have a definite tendency to see it in different practical and moral terms than someone who has primarily experienced it through vacation trips to national parks. As a result, there is a strong urban bias inherent in the Ecotopia idea, that has absorbed a certain ideology about nature’s relationship with humans rooted in what amounts, to most rural folks, to an argument for their exclusion from the nature they’ve always known.
Anyway, my main point is this: the right-left divide in America is not a “natural” aspect of our society, but in Cascadia, this divide happens to follow geographic lines. And there is only one real solution to the problem of correlated political culture and geography: Federalism.
Cascadia will have to reconcile the differences in how local people want to see the environment managed, by maintaining a strict separation of political powers held by the state governments, and by the Cascadia Federal Government. The Cascadia map above draws on recent American voting records (British Columbia’s are more complex, but the broader urban-rural divide follows the same lines) to identify eight states where one of the two major parties – used here as a proxy for the urban-rural divide – scored a minimum 20-point margin over the other in the 2016 Presidential election (margins are closer in 2012, but the overall pattern is identical).
In other terms, in each of these states, either the democratic or republican candidate received a maximum of 36% of the total vote. Which basically means that this party, in this area, mostly because of its ties to national politics, is functionally non-competitive. You could have – as was the case in California’s most recent senate race – two candidates from the same party competing in a general election, without immediately losing to a solo candidate from the other ideological pole.
This is partly the case now, where it wasn’t 20 or 30 years ago, due to shifts in the values of the American electorate, which you can read more about in any of the awesome Pew Reports available. But now it is the case, and strongly implies that the two-party system simply no longer functions in American society.
This is why I argue for Cascadia to be organized as a Democratic Federation. Like the United States, it will preserve separation of powers between state and federal, and between the Executive, Legislative, and Judiciary branches within each state. It will have a national legislature comprised of a 200-member multi-party Parliament and 10% of seats reserved for members of First Nations, as well as a Senate with a fixed number of Senators from each state - as few as 3 (24 total) or as many as you'd like - depends on how small you want an individual senator's constituency to be. It will have a Presidency, however this office will be restricted to supervising the federal bureaucracy, which will be tasked with carrying out the will of the Legislature. And, naturally, it will have a Supreme Court, with members selected by the President – who will be elected by direct popular vote.
To be clear on one point in particular: Cascadia should not be seen as a secession movement, but a reform movement. The Constitution of the United States can be legally Amended by a convention called at the behest of a sufficient number of state legislatures. I believe the simplest and best way forward out of the present political crisis for all Americans is to pass the necessary identical legislation in the necessary number of states, calling for a convention to enact the following Amendment (or an equivalent variation, if advised by legal scholars):
Any contiguous group of counties may demand, via public referendum, full and permanent devolution of all powers and responsibilities presently held by the Federal Government of the United States of America, including the right to Amend the inherited Constitution, save the right to declare war on any part of the United States or its allies.
This will allow for any American region to go its own way, without anyone seceding or sparking some massive Constitutional Crisis – or in the worst case, a Second Civil War. California (Calexit!), Texas (Texit?), independent Alaska, Hawai’i, Puerto Rico, Vermont, Deseret (couldn’t keep constructing exit puns) – if the people want it, it should be allowed to happen, under the authority of the Amended Constitution.
Ideally, all the Post-America successor regions would maintain the existing customs and currency union, and citizens of one would remain a citizen of all. It could even retain parts of the existing DC infrastructure to handle big things like management of the nuclear arsenal and continental defense affairs and the space program that all regions could agree should still be managed at the DC-level. But there are no guarantees in America anymore, so Cascadia would need to be prepared to go it alone.
This same model could work for Canada, too, opening up other opportunities for Cascadia if a customs union and free movement could be established/maintained. In my ideal world, devolving federal powers from Ottawa and DC to more rationally organized successor entities would actually be a more sustainable governing solution for everyone in the long run, and would let all of North America perhaps move towards an EU-like arrangement (though with far less bureaucracy). People can still be American or Canadian if they like, but the identity can become less political, and more social – as it should be.
As for Cascadia, my goal is to make the shift to a regional federal government as smooth as possible, hence wording my Amendment such that it simply devolves powers, allowing successor regions time to work out the details to minimize disruptions. Once established, Cascadia would then need to take the inherited US Constitution (and for British Columbia, all their fun legal stuff) and amend it locally to produce the specific structure we as Cascadians decide we want.
Well! Since this is running long, I’ll leave it at that rather than dive into ridiculous details, like I instinctively want to (but who would want to read?). My goal for this essay was to articulate the political structure I think is necessary to make Cascadia a reality. I hope it is a useful discussion piece, and I’ll send it to some forums (fora?) and folks to see if it interests anyone. I have a book project in mind based on this concept, but that’ll probably have to wait until 2020 or so, when I’ll have Bringing Ragnarok done.
But the bottom line, to conclude, is that I believe the Democratic Federation of Cascadia represents the best way forward for residents of the Pacific Northwest who want to live in a country that doesn’t function as an engine of death, transforming your labor to tax revenues to bombs that never seem to stop being dropped. I don’t want to be an American, and rather than accept the bullshit "then get out" argument, I take a different approach: I deny the legitimate right of the United States federal government to continue to lay claim lands it originally stole through deliberate genocide.
So to hell with the blood-drenched stars and stripes I once proudly wore. That symbol no longer deserves our honor or affection. It is too stained with the blood of innocents, and its nature is so manifestly pernicious that it cannot be allowed to continue. The time has come to throw the Ring of Power into the flame, and move on to build the world that-should-be.
I am Cascadian.
Dear Hillary Clinton,
I am motivated to write this by your recent interview with the Guardian, in which you allege that migration is the cause of the rise of right-wing populism.
I think, Mrs. Clinton, that this demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt that you really and truly do need to go the hell away.
I say this as someone who voted for you in 2016, and though some sympathetic to the ideology of the left may wish you would disappear in favor of another old white man, I am not one of them.
I wish you would disappear, because you continue to spout ascientific ideological nonsense such as the sentiments above. Worse, you do so without even the barest hint of recognizing the essential irony in your allegation.
You, Hillary Clinton, and your hubby Bill - at least with respect to the United States and Britain, though how you have the gall to comment on European politics as if you understand them any better than you have proven you do American - along with Tony Blair have been the leading architects of this vicious right-wing extremism. And the hell of it is, you don't even realize what you did.
Triangulation, the strategy of embracing moderate conservative positions in order to shift the democratic party to the center of the American ideological spectrum, tore away a vital segment of the republican party's coalition, and completely destabilized the post-1960s political order in the United States. You did this, because like most Ivy League educated, white liberals of the Boomer Generation, you have uncritically adopted the deeply mistaken view of American society as comprising two distinct poles, with a mass of moderates in the middle holding the balance of power.
This is not the case. It never has been the case. America is a massive, continent-spanning nation that has always been forced to reconcile a tremendous amount of diversity in a common governing structure. It is exactly as if the European Union would be if it adopted a US-like Constitution with the various currently-sovereign states being states in the US sense. The reason that we have a 2-party system organized along a liberal-conservative ideological spectrum is a result of the architecture of the Constitution, and little more. When you have a first-past-the-post system, this is what happens.
Because of this architecture, a tremendous amount of ideological diversity is compressed and channeled through the two major parties, each representing a coalition of interests, all competing to drive the overall party's path. But these coalitions aren't ad-hoc, they reflect actual preferences about the kinds of things, policies and services, that vary between groups within any complex society that are rooted in cultural values. That is, these coalitions stem from actual, real differences in how we see and experience the world.
Politics works very much like an ecosystem - there are limited resources (votes) that multiple agents (politicians/parties)perpetually try to amass. Over time, some will end up performing better than others, and develop relationships with certain groups of voters that allow them (in the context of a government) to establish a mutualistic relationship. This secures the relationship over time, and lowers costs of keeping the whole thing going (metabolism, in short) for everyone involved. Voters support a party/politician, which/who returns the favor by acting to secure them something they value, ideally at the lowest cost for all involved. This form of exchange is an essential structure that underpins representative democracy.
It stands to reason that, if a party that survives (as in the US system) only by maintaining a coalition sufficiently large to win elections suddenly faces a terrible crisis when a core member of its coalition defects to the opposing team. Which is what happened in the early 1990s, when you and Bill played dark horse and wound up in the White House. You, clever folks that you are, knew that permanently tearing away the moderate wing of the republican party would, given present electoral dynamics, give you and the democratic party permanent control of D.C. You took advantage of the political disarray left behind by the end of the Cold War, and you pulled a very powerful, very wealthy new group under the 'big tent'. Never, it appears, realizing that this would actually mean, a few years down the road.
Do you know the real reason why the right wing hates you so much? You crashed their party. You blew up their coalition. You forced them into a situation where they had to find a new batch of supporters to vote for them. And where were they going to find them? While left vs. right may not be the end-all, be-all the media and politicians want to pretend it is, because voter participation rates remain at or below 2/3 in most elections, people who are strongly ideologically affiliated with one pole or the other are more likely to actually vote. The relative turnout between hardcore right and left supporters quite often decides the outcome in any given American election.
So where were Gingrich and his ilk going to find voters, the resource they rely on to survive? They weren't going to sway progressives, who would see right through any attempts to unite them and the more hardcore conservative business types who remained staunchly republican. They weren't going to sway many moderates, or at least, they'd have to directly compete with the democrats for those voters, and moderate their own policies - a dangerous thing to do, when those hardcore supporters become the majority of your base.
So they chose to double-down on the early stages of exactly the sort of jingoistic nonsense that now dominates America's political discourse. They invested in catering to the hard-right, and it was only a matter of time before someone came along who was able to offer a group of right-wing voters normally not interested in elections to get up and go to the polls. What we're seeing right now, is the end-result of three decades of effective political stagnation, the slow grind of a desperate civil war being waged by a party in decline, saddled to an aging and economically depressed electorate, out of necessity.
This isn't to say that those actually carrying the racist right-wing torch forward right now don't belong in the basket of deplorables, that they aren't responsible for their actions. But if you throw flammable stuff all over a house then light a hundred candles and walk away... well, you bear some responsibility yourself for the ensuing disaster.
And finally, just to make another point that should be obvious to you by now - you don't get to call anyone who says you should go away a sexist after the dog's meal you made of the 2016 election. Speaking of being seen by voters as someone like them - you remember, in 2016, when you dropped in to Flint, Michigan, after news of the horrendous lead poisoning incident broke? Yeah, about that. Local media did not look favorably on the visit, seeing you use them to score political points. And other locals wondered where you were in prior years when news broke that residents of Detroit, Michigan, were losing their access to clean water because - guess what? - a classic neoliberal policy (if you can't pay for it, you clearly don't value it enough, so until you pay your bills... no water!) forced on the citizens of that city by, not a republican, but a democrat put in charge by the administration.
Your margin in Michigan was what, a few tens of thousands of votes? Go check the voter turnout in the Michigan precincts hosting Flint in Detroit. Compare 2012 to 2016. Notice something? Tens of thousands of people in districts that usually go massively for democrats, simply didn't turn out for you. In Michigan, in Pennsylvania, or in Wisconsin.
I remind you of this, because there's rumors now that you, like about a hundred other democrats who mistakenly believe Trump will be a breeze to beat, when all he has left to maintain his power is voter suppression and a horrifyingly dirty election campaign intended to drive down turnout, want to run in 2020. Again. As if 2008 and 2016 weren't enough indication that it is not your destiny to be America's first female President. The public opinion poll numbers clearly showed throughout 2016, that unprecedented numbers of people viewed you unfavorably. And their opinions, contrary to the hopes of philosophical liberals everywhere, are not likely to change.
You need to go away, Hillary Clinton, you and Bill both, because too many people the democrats need to turn out in 2020 have already decided exactly who and what you both are. The party's only hope is to run someone capable of turning out the massive numbers of voters needed to withstand the tide of voter suppression that will be deployed in Trump's must-win states.
Those voters are not white and old. They will only turn out in the requisite numbers for someone who looks like them, who can speak their language, and offer them something more than the stale politics of triangulation, of blaming immigrants for problems in fact caused by decaying political and economic structures that are decades past the point where they should have been treated to some real reform. The 1990s were a squandered decade, when America decided that roaring stock markets were all that mattered, and sane defense budgets, foreign policy, and mitigation of the inequality that eats at our society like a cancer - meh, screw 'em, you said. There America took the wrong turn down a crossroads, now leading straight over a cliff and, I suspect, to the end of the whole grand experiment.
The voters the democratic party must cater to want Barack Obama, not Hillary Clinton. So since he's barred from another term, it is time for you to get right the hell out of the way, and get behind someone who actually can become America's first female president in 2020.
Well, looks like you are, Senator Harris, in fact running for President.
Of course, that doesn't guarantee you'll actually be a good candidate, and I'm afraid you have too many advisers who can't see past the fog induced by their own college-educated suburban biases to realize what must actually be done to overcome Trumpism in 2020.
But here's hoping. Here's hoping that you and your staff will realize that the conventional wisdom afflicting most American political commentators and analysis is dead wrong. Here's hoping that you realize that the only way to beat a morally bankrupt Orangutan willing and able to do whatever he needs to stay in office, is to be innovative. To realize that America is not divided between "right/conservative" "left/liberal" and "swing/moderate" voters, and thinking they are, playing that game, will get you nowhere. To understand that to win you must do what Obama and Trump both did to win the electoral college: activate a segment of the electorate that doesn't usually vote.
America is a nation of tribes, each with greater or lesser habitual affiliation with a particular political party. Trump did, if you look at the numbers, lose significant numbers of traditional conservatives. But he replaced them members of America's underground racist elements by actively courting their approval. He won by being the candidate who could win over enough Republicans to, combined with his basket-of-deplorables racists, skate through Wisconsin and Michigan. Obama, for his part, did not win over diehard conservatives or swing voters, he won - in 2008 - a large chunk of people who didn't normally vote. And he did this, in many ways like Trump did, by speaking directly to them, by offering them hope and change.
Trump is Obama's shadow, and both won where establishment types like Jeb Bush, Hillary Clinton, and Marco Rubio lost because of this dynamic.
You can too. If you and your staff are willing to think well outside the usual liberal comfort zone, while also avoiding the deadly peril of talking down to people not of your tribe.
As you jump into the over-crowded Democratic Party Primary scrum - joining a couple dozen other hopefuls who think, if only they can get lucky enough to pull a Trump and be anointed the party's leader in 2020, actually winning will be easy because he's so perpetually unpopular - here's my unsolicited advice: be different. Be, as I argue below, a leader. Someone actually willing to take risks, to buck the party line, and to promise actual meaningful reform despite the Democratic party, and not necessarily through it.
Don't run around spouting the usual talking points. Don't try to win on this policy or that. Be different. Be radical. Hell, team up with Beto, or better yet - get with veterans and rural democrats. The path to beating Trump in 2020 will not run through the Rust Belt suburbs. The GOP activists in control of the Michigan and Wisconsin state houses will make sure that those electoral college votes go to Trump. But that can be countered by winning states in the West.
I read in this article that you want to de-emphasize your Bay Area roots - which makes sense. Go ahead and do that. Announce your candidacy in the ruins of Paradise, California. Tell residents of the US West what they know deep down: That DC has failed them, that corrupt elites in the Northeast have rigged the economy to drain all wealth - human and physical - from rural America. Tell them that you will go to DC to bring about a new balance, respecting the preferences and interests of the under-served rural places, offering them a path to a better future.
All it would take is actual public investment, merging environmental management activities favored by urban amenity-seekers with the need for stable, living-wage jobs throughout the rural West. Moving urban money back into the rural hinterlands, transforming their economic prospects while ensuring that our common environment is preserved for future generations.
There are incredible opportunities, for anyone with eyes to see. I certainly hope you can sense them, and restore some degree of hope to this dying nation.
Dear Senator Harris,
I suspect that you are planning to run for President in 2020. I hope that I am correct, as I believe that you are the candidate who stands the greatest chance of beating Trump and saving America – provided you are willing to embrace an innovative electoral strategy that runs against the conventional wisdom that will inevitably be pushed on you by the Democratic party establishment.
The Democratic party has a terrible track record of nominating effective candidates for the Presidency. Al Gore, John Kerry, and Hillary Clinton were all too easily portrayed as out of touch elitists, classic politicians with no fixed beliefs. Your primary competitors in the 2020 primaries at present appear to be Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, and perhaps even John Kerry (again!), all of whom will be easily painted with the same brush.
Americans are scared right now, and frightened people tend to look to leaders who appear to possess both resolve and vision. This is, above all else, the secret to Trump and Trumpism. His supporters are disproportionately older, whiter, and male-r than the rest of the country, and among their tribe there is now a deep conviction that without radical change, the America they knew will be gone forever. To counter Trump’s chosen narrative, the same essential narrative used by authoritarian foreign leaders like Putin, Erdogan, Bin Salman, and Xi Jinping, his opponent must be able to articulate to the electorate two primary things:
1. That they are not creatures of the establishment, and personally recognize the threats facing ordinary Americans.
2. That they have a plan for reform that does not rely on partisan policy issues, but in coming up with a new Grand Compromise that defuses the rising tensions that threaten to destroy the Republic
I have spent most of my life caught between the worlds of the liberal and the conservative. I grew up outside Redding, California – one of the most Trump-happy districts in the state. I then spent a decade in academia at the undergraduate and graduate levels. I also, in the Summer of 2016, when the conventional wisdom held that Clinton was an obvious shoe-in, and Trump a disaster for the GOP, applied a different intellectual filter than typically represented in the major media outlets to predict – correctly, as it sadly turned out – the Trump campaign’s strategy and the real danger it posed to Clinton’s chances in the ‘Blue Wall.’
The great mistake most Democrats make in national elections is forgetting that America is not a nation of conservatives, liberals, and centrist moderate ‘swing’ voters. It is, in fact, a massive and complex nation full of tribes, each with their own particular way of viewing the world and their own form of political language. In reality, as Pew Research notes, ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ labels only strongly apply in total to around 40% of Americans. In contrast, a full 30%-45% of Americans are so disgusted by national politics that they rarely, if ever vote. Elections now come down to turnout, because when a third of the electorate no longer bothers to reliably participate, the winner in any given contest is usually the one who can reliably turn out their base. This reality ultimately underpins the GOP efforts to restrict voting rights now underway wherever they control state governments.
The reason Barack Obama won in 2008 is that he, unlike most recent presidential candidates, was able to ‘activate’ a dormant segment of the electorate, particularly young and non-white voters who had previously sat out elections in frustration at their options. Unlike most recent presidential candidates, Obama – like Reagan – was able to communicate a vision of America that, even if it did not match empirical reality, was sufficient to mobilize large numbers of voters who rarely bother to turn out.
Trump, in a strange way, is Obama’s dark counterpart. He actually lost a significant portion of the normally-reliable Republican electorate – witness, particularly in the west, the increased vote share given to third party candidates – but in effect exchanged those lost voters for another, typically low-participation tribe: white racists. This worked primarily because the Democratic elites decided early on to support Hillary Clinton’s candidacy in despite of all the warnings about how low her approval ratings were among ordinary Americans. They were unable to recognize the hollow nature of her support, because they didn’t care to deeply question the methodology of major polling firms, which, using ‘likely voter’ screens that relied in part on recent history of voting, systematically missed the voters Trump aggressively mobilized.
The conventional wisdom in American politics - sustained as it is by media outlets which themselves are structured to appeal to a particular tribe, offering their audience what amounts to a half-mythic narrative about events that tends to reinforce pre-existing biases - is increasingly wrong. The Democrats’ 2020 hopefuls are already seeking media attention, allies, and funding, all thinking Trump will be easy to beat. Just like they did in 2016. And, against Bush, like they did in 2004 and 2000.
This conventional wisdom, accompanied by the apparent presumption that nothing fundamental has changed in American politics, risks leading Democrats and Americans down a terrible path in 2020. A careful examination of Trump’s rhetoric reveals not simple opportunism, but an extremely dangerous, constantly-repeated refrain: ‘Illegals’ are the reason Democrats win elections. Couple this to the assertion - made and repeated in 2016 - that he would not necessarily respect the result of the election if it did not favor him, to the ongoing effort to de-legitimize all protest and criticism, and the threat to America and the Constitution should be clear. As Masha Gessen has argued, would-be dictators tend to tell you exactly what they want to do. They test the waters, then evaluate pushback.
In 2020, there is a very real possibility that a close election will result in Trump using the power of his office to defy the will of the people, even perhaps the Electoral College. Only a clear signal from the American electorate, a strong victory in the Electoral College, offers a chance of rolling back Trumpism given the nature of this unprecedented threat to our system of government.
But to accomplish this, Senator Harris, the Democrat who faces Trump must defy popular expectations about what to expect from Democrats. The candidate must present as someone fundamentally different than the creature die-hard conservatives expect the Democratic Party to run. The candidate must be able to put Obama’s coalition back together, and go a step further: they must be able to appeal to those conservatives, especially conservatives in the American West, who are dismayed by what Trump is doing to their party. I think you can be that candidate. And I think I know how you can win.
First off, you should announce your candidacy as early in 2019 as possible. And you should announce alongside your chosen Vice President, who - and this is absolutely essential - must be a combat veteran, ideally a woman. Tammy Duckworth or Tulsi Gabbard or someone similar would make an excellent choice.
The purpose here is to present yourselves as, from the get-go, the Resistance government-in-waiting, and the ultimate expression of anti-Trump. Two women, running for office, one a children of immigrants and the other a military veteran, represents a direct assault on everything Trump represents. You should do everything possible to create an image in the minds of the electorate of the Trump administration ending, and you being the ones to fix what he has broken. Make yourselves a clear alternative, both to Trump and the Joe Biden wing of the Democratic establishment, and the 60% of Americans who perpetually disapprove of Trump will gravitate towards you.
And you begin to make that argument by laying out a clear, coherent vision of what Trumpism leads to, the dangers it unleashes upon an already-dangerous world. You make America’s unending wars a centerpiece of your campaign, and you lay out how you’ll restore America’s place of pride in the global community. You present a compelling vision for foreign policy reform, reassuring our shaken allies while simultaneously promising a new kind of foreign policy that brings America’s actions in line with its values.
You need to make the case, to the American people, that Trump is leading us into a terrible conflict. You should anticipate the administration launching strikes against Iran or another ‘enemy’ in 2020, and remind Americans that the path of great-power conflict, of Cold Wars and military competition, ultimately leads to the mutual destruction of all involved. What America needs is negotiation with allies and competitors, formal rules that all can abide by, and the resumption of strategic (and conventional) arms limitation talks with Russia and China.
Alongside this effort, you should focus on veterans issues. America’s 17 years of war in the Middle East has led to thousands of deaths and tens of thousands of permanent disabilities. Trump has openly attacked disabled and non-white veterans – and if you take a look at the electoral results in military-heavy districts on the Pacific Coast, you’ll note that they actually voted for Clinton, not Trump. Veterans by and large loathe Trump. They know exactly how dangerous he is. And that is one of his greatest weaknesses. A critique of America’s recent foreign policy, presented through the lens of the veteran’s experience, will distinguish your campaign.
Your second major effort should focus on the slow death of rural America. Lost in much of the partisan rancor is the reality, slowly becoming more widely accepted in Europe, that the pressing need to combat climate change must be paired with a focus on rebuilding rural economies. Renewable energy, environmentally-friendly land management, carbon offsets, and the like could bring jobs to rural areas while also moving America down the path of sustainability. Climate change adaptation and mitigation must be paired with material improvements in the quality of life of people living in rural areas, who all-too-often experience urban liberals setting environmental policy that favors a particular, urban cultural view of Earth and the environment over the preferences of people actually living in rural places, whose livelihoods are under constant threat.
In the U.S. West, the Republican party survives by turning every issue into a rural vs. urban struggle. You can undercut this dynamic, and alter the Electoral College map in 2020, by producing a coherent vision for rural revitalization that allows local government greater autonomy in setting local environmental rules, and directs substantial funds to promote the full-spectrum of renewable energy production. The urban-rural divide in the U.S. West is partly an artifact of the national-level Democratic party simply failing to take into account the needs and preferences of rural Americans. This is fatal in national elections, because states like Alaska and Montana may have only a few Electoral Votes, but they add up.
Third, you must make securing America’s elections and ensuring that every vote is counted a fundamental pillar of your campaign. The fact of the matter is that the GOP actively engages in voter suppression, Russia meddles as it sees fit, and voting machines are vulnerable to tampering. American now perceive that elections themselves are less than free-and-fair, and this represents a knife at the throat of our politics.
Your campaign needs to pioneer, in conjunction with companies like Google, Facebook, and Twitter, a social media platform designed specifically for politics. It should be a hybrid of sites like Facebook, Duolingo, Ballotpedia, and PolitiFact, and shift political discourse away from platforms that aren’t truly meant for it, to one that is designed to balance the essential ability of citizens to discuss, organize, and engage in grassroots politics with the need for an underlying set of accepted facts that the majority of people can agree on. Such a platform would allow elected officials to see what their constituents care about, to accord them greater opportunity to interact and even pursue collaborative design of legislation and policy. It could also serve as a turnout-booster, giving accurate information about when and where to vote to voters based on their phone’s location data.
Helping to begin the development and deployment of an open, non-partisan platform in partnership with the private sector would offer voters evidence of how you are already working to restore faith in America and its institutions. It would demonstrate that you are not merely a politician, and that you can think and work outside the box that the average American now assumes the Democratic establishment will try to draw around you.
The bottom line is, Senator Harris, that you could very well be the next President of the United States – if you are willing to commit to that goal, and pursue a very different sort of campaign than is typical. Something Democrats and others who have too much formal education and too little understanding of the average American too often forget, is that the essence of leadership lies in taking a principled stand, then holding to it even if things go wrong. The Clintons and the other elites of the modern Democratic party they largely created are so unpopular precisely because they are seen as untrustworthy. Right now, Americans are taking a devil they think they know over politicians they are certain routinely lie to them, because despite the official metrics showing that the economy is booming, for half of us the Great Recession never ended.
Can you restore Obama’s coalition? Can you turn the West Blue? I think you can. If you can be different and authentic, if you can carefully and consistently demonstrate that you are not another elitist Democrat. Which depends on adopting the right narrative, one that directly counters Trump and his dystopian vision for America without falling back on the usual ‘liberal’ talking points about universal health care and climate change. With the world as terrifying as it is, narratives about leadership will determine the outcome of 2020, not policy. But they must be authentic, rooted in simple truths, because Americans (particularly young Americans) are actually quite good at spotting inauthenticity. We are advertised at quite a lot, after all.
If you can refuse the false dichotomy of left vs. right, red vs. blue, conservative vs. liberal, speak the language of a leader who seeks a just compromise that benefits all of America’s tribes, and not just her own, who openly recognizes that we are in the midst of the great challenge of our times, and that Trump must stopped in 2020 if there is to be any hope of saving this country – you can be the next President.
But if you want that, you have to start now. Announce you are running, and that you will win. Act like you have already won. Start building your coalition, talking to people in places the Democrats don’t usually focus on, and even meeting with leaders among our international allies. Be a visionary. Be different. Be the President we need, starting right now.
Well, got my first drive-by review on Amazon this week. Even better: it's probably by some dude on the alt-right! (read, Nazi sympathizer.)
Amazon has serious problems with its review system. Deep in the underbelly of the indie author world, there's widespread recognition that there exists a subset of internet trolldom that actively looks for stuff to slander. Some of it is the usual gamergate nonsense: men mad that popular books feature female leads. Some of it is political: MAGA-types and other neo-Nazis think their moment has come, and are looking to attack anyone and anything that doesn't fit into their blood and soil vision for America (read, America for the whites, and especially the christian males). And some of it is authors, who see a competitor in their category and try to damage its visibility.
Having worked professionally in the world of reviews, I know that this seedy underbelly of the internet is a constant problem for sellers and marketplaces alike. Just as Facebook and Twitter are now confronting how their platforms are used by neo-Nazis and other hate groups, so are Apple and Amazon. Now, in reality, long term, this activity doesn't in fact normally do much damage to a committed author/seller. Reviews come in time, and even a bad review is actually useful - people like to know the 'cons' of a work, and if most of the cons written come from the voice of someone who appears to have an axe to grind, people who read them are actually prone to then view the product more positively. Subconsciously, they think 'huh, that's all the criticism they've got? And are more likely to see what the deal is, maybe even give it a read.
Overall, reviews are widely known to be of limited value, and they're totally broken when it comes to pure monetary utility. The average product rating, once it has a sufficient number of reviews, is right about 4 stars. 4.2 is the number I used to hear as the typical average, back when I worked for a start-up in Silicon Valley. Which, incidentally, set up its business model around providing review widgets... and went under in just a few years. Businesses found that reviews are good to have (promote buyer confidence), but you have to actively moderate them and interact if you want real results. The cost of paying people to do that interaction must outweigh the benefits, though, because most - like Amazon - use mostly automatic filters that look for certain signals (use of swearing, posting contact information, stuff algorithmically tractable), and actively human-moderate only a select subset (flagged automatically or by users).
But for an independent author or merchant, the nature of the Amazon ecosystem (Apple likely works the same, I just have no experience there) disproportionately boosts the impacts of negative reviews, especially when a book has only a few to begin with. Amazon lives and breathes by getting shoppers to what they want to buy as quickly as possible. The ordering of search results (like with web searches) is extremely important. Amazon uses an algorithm (an equation, incorporating multiple signals/variables, like your and other similar buyers shopping history, as one example) to predict the all-important matter of relevance - whether the product is likely to be what the user is looking for. Using star ratings as a metric feeding the algorithm's decision about relevance means that a new author who gets hit by a drive-by review, is harmed more than a more established author.
I have to anticipate that my current steady stream of sales will drop off for a while, until other readers write reviews (and given what I'm seeing on Goodreads and hearing from my beta readers, they'll come and be solid), because of the newness of my book. Which is frustrating and demoralizing, when the apparent reason for the review is something non-pertinent to the actual product, like say the writer's politics.
I assert that the 2-star (why only 2? Makes a person seem like they are being reasonable. The alt-right understands propaganda. Thanks, Goebbels.) rating that prompted this blogpost (you can go look at it on Amazon if you would like) is politically motivated for the following reasons:
So why am I spending so much time detailing this? Perhaps, it is just an author's fragile ego reeling at a poor review, you might think. You are free to! Perhaps you are right. And yet... I have received immense amounts of criticism on my writing, non-fiction and fiction alike. This one stands out, in part because when I first started writing Bringing Ragnarok, I made choices that I knew would result in this happening. I was not at all surprised when I saw that review, or when (for market research, trying to figure out who does and doesn't like the work) I looked through his review history.
Look, Gamergate trolls, alt-right misogynists - they exist. They are threatened by the fact that the patriarchy - also a real thing - is slowly (at last) crumbling. In this historic process, I know what side I'm on.
Bringing Ragnarok is being written as, is intended to be, postcolonial and feminist science fiction. There are more women leads than men, and no, they aren't really concerned about romance when the end of the world is at hand. They are not all in 'healing' positions, either: they are (end up) generals, soldiers, pilots, insurgents, and strategists. Hell, by the time we're talking about the 22nd century, gender isn't even a particularly relevant term anymore, as people and intelligent machines both exist, and there are many hybrids - BioMods, colloquially, who start to play a bigger role in Book 2, and whose genders are... well, whatever they want them to be.
Most of the characters, too, are non-white and, to the degree possible, not originally western. They are mostly culturally Western, but this is presented as a legacy of colonialism and colonization (hah, mixed Commonwealth and US English again. I like both.), and not as something they like or want. Yari and Loucas are both from Puerto Rico, and no, they aren't children of poverty (well, Yari was adopted from Haiti as a child, but after that, firmly middle-class), they're children of scientists. Timur is Punjabi, was a child soldier in South Asia, but his upbringing was also solidly Indian middle class. Kim is from Jakarta, Indonesia, and is mostly (but not entirely) of Chinese descent. Patrick may be from Canada (Estonia before that), but the fact that he's married to a Canadian Forces fighter pilot will rankle the alt-right types all the same. The only white-bread character, Eryn, goes to 1944 Germany - a place and time where women weren't exactly (normally) allowed to do real political or military work.
I like multifaceted characters of complex origin who end up being fish out of water, then learn to cope. I prefer to write from the perspective of people who are, relative to their surroundings, subaltern. Part of my objective in writing this story is to reclaim the topic of war from the dominion of old white men. I use old European myths as a way to deconstruct the Christian Anglo-Saxon worldview of the past two millenia, while restoring women to their proper, traditional place in the world: coequal with men in all things.
And I like to tell a story that deals critically (I was a critical geographer, after all) colonialism, empire, and resistance against both. Which, y'know, was what Tolkien was really after, too, what with the whole 'throw the Ring of Power into the fire' plot. He was no pro-Churchill colonialist. And he too had to deal with Nazism impacting his fiction readership.
Like our grandparents and great-grandparents in the 1930's and 1940s, we live in a time of great change, but also the dogged persistence of old evils. I see Nazism as a cancer on human society, one that is always present, always a danger, but generally only rears up and gains strength, Sauron-like (or Voldemort-like, if you prefer), under certain circumstances. Probably 20% of people, across the world, hold some level of Nazi/alt-right (they boil down to the same thing, in the end) sympathies. People forget, but in the Second World War, most Americans saw the fight against Japan as more important, and not only that, a majority of them polled in approval of genocide against Japan. Many Americans were fine with Hitler, and saw in him the 'final solution' to the 'problem' of blackness. Eugenics, racism, virulent hatred of the other are deeply embedded in the DNA of America. Part of the tragedy of Trumpism is that these filth have gained a far greater voice than ever should have happened - ever would have happened if America's federal system still worked like the Founders intended.
Many people have debated whether Trump is Hitler, Mussolini, or something else - truth is, he's Hitler with an American paint job. One of the thing the weirds me out the most in the news these days is the liberal/neoliberal meme of Trump being crazy, stupid, senile, whatever. He is, but this isn't particularly relevant anymore, now that he has power. Like Hitler in the '30s, he now holds a position of authority and can't be easily removed. If he wants to launch a nuke, nothing but the military directly disobeying his orders (which I hope for, but also fear - this would effectively be a coup, and a blow against American democracy) would stop him. Impeachment is unlikely, unless leading Democrats and Republicans decide President Pence isn't simply the same basic nightmare in less Twittery-clothing. Democrats are already playing at nominating an old white dude like Joe Biden to be the shoe-in in 2020 that they thought Clinton was in 2016 (people forget how happy they were that the GOP nominated Trump!). They fundamentally misunderstand the nature of the Trumpist threat. They've forgotten how power works. Largely, because they don't personally suffer when they lose.
In 2020, you will see an election featuring two vicious primary campaigns, allegations of Russian election interference, and even higher levels of voter suppression in key states than normal. The stakes will be very high, and Trump has every incentive to fight as dirty as he can to remain in office. He'll need to double-down on his base of old white racists. He already alleged in 2016 that he wouldn't respect the outcome if it didn't go his way, so why would he do any differently in 2020? Couple this to the relentless attacks on the media, incitement of violence, allegations that the Dems and Libs are manipulating all information...
Just remember this: the idiot-in-chief can be insane, and still hold on to power, so long as the elites around him dither about playing their own power games, and trust that the mad idiot will respect the system in the end. Such a twit as Trump can literally fail his way into a position of permanent authority, and then wreak havoc according to his Constitutional powers to do so, because Congress has allowed them to accumulate in the executive branch for far too long. That's why Trump is more Hitler than anyone cares to believe - Hitler was mad, and yet able to take Germany down the path to total war and annihilation. Are America's crumbling institutions capable of withstanding such a threat? And even if Trump dies or gets impeached, will Pence - who signed onto his administration, after all - not use the massive power now in the hands of the executive branch? Remember: we live in a world full of nuclear weapons. That have never been adequately supervised or controlled as well as the Pentagon would like the world to believe...
Time will tell. But me, looking ahead and seeing great chaos and misery, I'm writing a dystopian war story for the people of my generation who have to deal with the consequences of this political disaster, which really does amount to a simmering civil war among the Baby Boomers stuck in the Sixties, who are clinging to power even as they lose the intellectual capability to wield it (if they ever had it). I'm writing a story for people who are more Antifa than alt-right, who actually believe in getting up and doing something, building things, to roll back this tide of oppression sweeping across the world - not just in the US, but all the hell over.
I am, personally and professionally, at war with Nazis and Nazism. I write to earn $ to live on, then, gods willing, accumulate surplus to invest in some kind of formal organization that can help other people have a piece of whatever success I am granted, to grow a movement capable of building something better. I'm writing a modern work that is feminist and postcolonial even at the same time it engages in world-building to power a piece of speculative fiction that I hope will be popular and last. Because we're at a point in human history when we badly need a new Axial age, new ideas, understanding, and even myths, if we're to deal with what is coming.
So here's hoping there are enough readers of progressive, feminist, postcolonial speculative fiction written by a white autistic dude, more Buddhist and Norse than Christian, to get things a-going. If that's you, well - check out Bringing Ragnarok. Post on forums. And write me some reviews!
Well, Paul Ryan, it's been fun, hasn't it? Congratulations on deciding that your family is more important than presiding over the Trump-infested swamp.
Of course, we both know that someone at your age and with your ambition isn't done with politics. My sincere hope is that you and what honorable Republicans remain have realized that the only hope for your party, and possibly the United States itself, is outright rebellion against the Trumpists who have taken over the GOP.
Look, I know the game has to be played, and you can't openly declare against Trump, at least not yet. But you and your compatriots have got to be able to see the writing on the wall. In 2020, we're set for a truly vicious electoral struggle. Unable to reform itself and attract younger voters, the GOP is sliding over an electoral cliff. Trump and his people infested the GOP, abused it to gain power, and are doubling down on the GOP as the party of white America. This isn't sustainable, and will most likely lead to another electoral college - popular vote split in 2020, with suppression of non-white voters in key swing states giving the Trumpists their only real chance of remaining in power.
It doesn't take a genius to see that this raises a genuine risk of tearing America apart. And unlike many of my generational and regional cohort, I don't believe that the democrats can offer meaningful resistance when it counts. I mean, come on: they are fixing to run yet another out-of-touch, 70-something twit (Joe Biden), and unlike the GOP, the DNC is damned capable of making sure the candidate favored by party elites has all the advantages in the primary. Just like in 2004, they will try to rally Americans around a message of resisting the incumbent, and will lose, partly by running a bad candidate, partly through their total inability to understand what the American voter actually wants.
Something has got to happen, and happen soon, if we want to collectively avoid a destructive 2020 election. At least some segment of the GOP has got to demonstrate that it is willing and able to oppose Trump and the sychophants he's surrounded himself with. Frankly, the GOP should have found some reason, any reason, to impeach both Trump and Pence in 2017, and install you as President. Sure, that would foment an intra-party civil war. But the thing is, that's already underway. That's what Trump and his people exploited to hijack your party in 2016, aided and abetted by the media's slavish devotion to headlines and the democrats' complete electoral incompetence.
Since starting in 2019 you'll have some time on your hands, here's what needs to happen. You, and anyone you can rally, have to start an honest-to-god movement of "true" republicans. You have to redefine what republican means, and you have to go into the 2020 primaries ready and able to both challenge Trump's nomination and to launch an independent 3rd party candidacy if you lose.
Electoral suicide? No. Here's why: As the non-partisan Pew Research Center shows, this idea that the US is split into red/blue, right/left, conservative/liberal blocs is wrong. It is a frame imposed by the media, which needs easy narratives to sell to the public (and promote ad buys). Most Americans are neither strong supporters of Trump or whatever democratic party hack gets put up for the presidency.
Americans are desperate for leadership in a world that seems to be spinning out of control. In this they're little different than voters in Europe, where 3rd parties have leapt to prominence in France and Italy. The trick is to realize how diverse the US is, and find a set of clear and coherent principles that appeal to people who are fed up with politics. Who don't care about the ideological struggles of left and right, who simply want stability and opportunity.
The achilles heel of both the GOP and DNC is that each is trying to front as if they are willing to appeal to the concerns of centrists and swing voters, even while not actually delivering on their promises. Both are big tent parties, coalitions of distinct interest groups whose strengths and interests vary regionally. Something that few media commentators have noted, that is particularly relevant on this front, is that in 2016 the democrats and republicans both struggled to turn out voters in the states west of the Rocky Mountains. 3rd parties received far more votes than normal, especially in normally hard-right places like Utah.
If you are serious about saving the republican party and opposing Trump, then the single most important objective for you and any allies you have is to guarantee that, come November 2020, Trump cannot muster 270 electoral votes and win re-election. You do this by, in the primaries and if necessary in the general election, taking as many states out of GOP hands as possible.
Now, the immediate objection to this argument is pretty obvious: if you do that, don't the democrats win handily in 2020?
No. Here's why. If you win the primaries, the issue is moot: you restore control of the GOP, and can compete in the swing states as usual. BUT, you will also have added credibility, having led a resistance to Trump. And, even better, the political platform you'll have to build to successfully motivate non-Trumpists on the right and in the center will by necessity eschew the policies that democrats will run against in 2020. A successful primary challenge will wrong-foot the democrats, and give you the initiative when it comes to the media coverage.
And even if you fail in the primaries (rigged as they might be), you are then set up to make an independent run in 2020 that, by securing enough states in the west, prevents Trump from reaching 270 electoral votes unless he can somehow win states like Virginia and Minnesota. But here's an interesting flip side: such a movement would be well-placed to take several blue states, particularly Nevada, New Mexico, and Colorado, out of the DNC column. In a close election, that might well end up producing this map:
Under this scenario, the President in 2020 will end up being chosen by the House of Representatives. This might trigger a Constitutional crisis, but one (or several) of those is coming soon anyway.
How does this benefit you? First, you might win out in the primaries, and be able to run a traditional campaign. But even if not, a president selected by the House of Representatives would be incredibly vulnerable in 2024. And you would have gone into 2020 demonstrating that there are republicans who are willing to reform the party, and who do stand on principle. The map above is, in point of fact, a worse-case-scenario for an independent western candidacy that eschews 'politics as usual' and lays a moral claim to future leadership. You'd actually stand a tremendous chance of expanding your support into other blue states, and forcing a major realignment of the two parties' coalitions.
At some point in the near-future, a political movement has to form that is willing to defend the democratic norms and institutions of the United States on principle, and not for short-term political gain. I wonder, Paul Ryan, if you have the necessary ambition and skill to set aside normal party politics and do something new and ambitious?
I'm convinced that, barring an accident, the US is not going to war with North Korea.
The reason is simple: the US is not powerful enough to attack North Korea without the support of both South Korea and Japan. And because North Korea can cause mass civilian casualties in either, neither can accept the risk of war. When push comes to shove, they won't allow the US to use them as bases for a war of choice, just like Turkey and Saudi Arabia denied the US bases to attack Iraq in 2003.
The North Korea crisis is all about administration's desire to win a foreign policy “victory” ahead of the midterm elections. It doesn't even matter if the victory is “real”. This is foreign policy as reality tv: only the producers know the whole truth of where the plot is supposed to go. And while things can go weird, the stage management usually works out in the end.
The real target is Iran. It always has been. For the conservative movement, Iran has been national enemy number 1 since 1979. First, because it dared to humiliate the US by seizing the embassy in Tehran and holding the staff hostage, leading to a botched rescue attempt that reminded way too many people of the failures during the Vietnam War. Few commentators realize how deeply this episode challenges the self-narrative of American conservative elites. Second, Iran is one of the two countries (the other being Saudi Arabia, which remains a close ally) capable of challenging American access to the Persian Gulf, where the cheapest and highest quality oil in the world is harvested, and since the Carter Doctrine laid out in the 1970s America's foreign policy has been structured to prevent any major power (other than the US) from dominating the Middle East. Now that Iran has effective control over the government of Iraq (thanks to the US invasion), has sent soldiers to help rescue the Assad regime in Syria, is closely allied with Hezbollah in Lebanon, and is increasingly friendly to Putin's Russia, the administration's foreign policy hawks view great-power competition in the Middle East to be a priority concern.
If you look at the personnel changes in the administration over the past two years, one natural conclusion you might draw is that chaos rules. With respect to the actual functioning of the US government, this is probably true. The State Department is largely unstaffed, Pentagon and CIA types are setting foreign policy. Congress is mired in the games played by democratic and republican party elites, and the Courts are slowly being packed with conservative ideologues. But the American media is extrapolating too much from this apparent chaos, and presuming too much about how this apparent chaos will impact their electoral success in the future. The administration, in rhetoric and action, is entirely focused on maintaining power. By holding on to their Senate majority, and by making sure the electoral college goes for Trump again in 2020. It is perfectly happy with the media (which it denigrates as biased anyway) staying fixated on the insane Tweet of the day, and avoiding the necessary deeper public discussions about how to repair and reform the United States. It wants to stay in power, and we should all expect it to pull any trick it can to ensure that it does.
The simplest way is to launch a war. Step back from the filters the US media applies to create a sense of narrative (thus driving readership, and advertising revenues), and virtually every action of the administration is steadily pushing the United States in this direction. The hell of Trumpism is that it is actually rather weak, riding a nationalist/populist wave that won't last forever. Its seizure of the Republican party has generated a strategic commitment to a set of ideological positions that, as the Silent Generation dies and the Boomer Generation reaches terminal decline, will leave the Republicans without a meaningful constituency outside of Dixie and the Plains.
The Trumpists have been flying by the seat of their pants since day 1, and their current success is really a statement about the complete incompetence of the Democratic party's leadership (which is actually happy with Trumpism, thinking it will be easy to defeat in 2020. Deep down the democrats are the party of linear responses to non-linear threats, hence their lack of competence), and not a testament to their own capabilities with respect to political strategy and organization. They won in 2016 because they sold themselves well to just enough people in just the right states, while the Democrats refused to accept the tribal nature of politics or the poll numbers that should have told them their assumptions about voters in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania were incorrect. White Christians in these states accepted the Trumpist lie that immigrants, minorities, and trade were responsible for the terminal economic decline of the Rust Belt. The fact that census numbers show their numbers and political power declining permanently in coming years provided the necessary point of irritation that the Trumpists exploited to win the Electoral College.
It is precisely because of this coming demographic cliff that the Republicans have sold out to the Trumpists, and it is the sense of impending doom that ultimately drives Trumpism onward. White America has an expiration date dancing before their eyes, and it seems fair to say that in their view, an America that isn't white isn't America at all. This is a very old story. One would think, knowing all we do about how a very similar set of dynamics played out in Europe in the 1930s, our society would be able to generate an effective counter-response. But there too, economic uncertainty is being pirated by racist opportunists who want to pretend that it is brown people, and not their own political and economic elites, that are the cause of the problem.
So the Trumpists remain in the driver's seat, creating chaos and uncertainty and seeking any effective means of retaining power in the face of the challenges ahead. The logic of their struggle for power, bound to America's peculiar sense of being special, will drive pressure for a major international conflict before the next election. Prediction of the details is always fraught, but here's the nutshell timeline I think is basically correct:
2018: Democrats narrowly take back the House of Representatives in the Mid-term elections, but fail to win a majority in the Senate. The Mueller investigation alleges improper ties between the Trump campaign in 2016 and Russian agents, and recommends charges to Congress.
Early 2019: Seeing no chance of winning a successful impeachment conviction due to continued Republican control over the Senate, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi takes impeachment off the agenda, and focuses the party on the 2020 elections.
Late 2019: With both the US and Iran withdrawing from negotiations over Iran's alleged nuclear program in late 2018, a steady drumbeat of media reports that Iran is bolstering its arsenal of ballistic missiles and re-starting development of nuclear weapons re-invigorates the simmering crisis.
Winter 2020: During the State of the Union, the administration states that all options will be pursued to rein in Iran's weapons programs, and announces the deployment of major military assets to the Middle East in preparation for combat operations.
Spring 2020: Amidst aggressive rhetoric on both sides and a dramatic US military buildup, the largest anti-war protests since 2003 are held across the world. The US Administration vows not to be swayed by the actions of “peace-mongers and illegals”.
Late Spring 2020: Several incidents between US Navy vessels in the Strait of Hormuz and boats operated by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps result in a series of punitive American strikes on IRGC targets. The IRGC responds by firing several ballistic missiles at US forces in Kuwait.
Spring-Summer 2020: Tit-for-tat strikes escalate into a massive American air campaign against Iran, targeting government and military assets. Russia, concerned that a major ally is being targeted for regime change, deploys anti-aircraft missiles and several squadrons of fighter aircraft to bases in Northern Iran...
Like incompetent governments often do, the US will underestimate both Iran's ability to resist and the speed at which a conflict can escalate. International relations are rapidly sliding towards something very nasty. Without international efforts to reduce tensions, the world of 2020 may well stumble into a new round of violent conflict, much as it did in 1914 and the late 1930s. But this isn't on the radar: blinded by their 'America is the best!' rhetoric, bound to an ideology that sees white christian America as favored by God, the Trumpists simply aren't able to realize that their actions, their assumptions of the international community being driven solely by competition, can in fact make it so.
Eventually, they will decide that they have to “win” the 2020 election, whatever the cost. And history shows that Americans will support the administration in charge if there's a war on. Combine the two, and you have a recipe for a pretty miserable 2020.
And what happens after? Anyone's guess. Global tensions are primed to snap, with unpredictable consequences. Unless Americans can collectively get their act together and start forcing reforms on the federal government in D.C., things 'gonna get interesting here, real soon.
Will we live out the nightmare that Muslim Americans (And probably DACA beneficiaries, who the Democrats this year totally betrayed) fear is coming? Or does the Trumpist infection burn itself out by provoking a nuclear exchange with Russia? Sometime in 2020, as the Presidential campaign kicks into high gear, will foolish actions lead to the US and Russia blowing up one another's ICBM silos?
Guess we'll find out. I'm definitely starting to think that the Universe has a wicked sense of humor, though. Of all the possible ways humanity could have evolved, who'd have thought that one day our entire civilization would be at the mercy of a reality tv star with probable mental illness who literally has the ability to launch thousands of nuclear weapons whenever he chooses?
Oh wait, science fiction writers have seen this coming for decades. We were warned. There really isn't any excuse. So now, we all get to find out exactly how special America really is.
But as the old Slipknot lyric goes: America – what if God doesn't care?
NOTE: I wrote this before Matt Taibbi published his latest in Rolling Stone, and am pleasantly surprised at the parallels between our arguments. Not that many people are likely to ever read mine, so I appreciate that someone with a helluva bigger audience is making similar points.
But I'll go a step further than is probably *allowed* in the media these days: By the mid 21st Century, Americans will be looked at by most of the world in the same way Germans were viewed in much of the 20th. 8 or 9 billion people living in 2050 will wonder how Americans could not know, how they could let the bloodletting go on and on without realizing that what goes around, comes around. At a certain point, inability to do anything about the problem renders us all complicit in our leaders' crimes.
How Osama Bin Laden Defeated America
Today marks 15 years since the USA launched its attack on Iraq. Most commentators around the world seem to have come to a general conclusion about the whole thing:
No point in mincing words. The US invasion of Iraq directly killed tens of thousands of civilians, indirectly led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians, and provided a training ground for the butchers of ISIS. The damage has steadily spread beyond Iraq, triggering a Sunni-Shiite sectarian war in the region that has inexorably pulled Saudi Arabia and Iran into conflict. As their proxy conflicts have escalated, other countries have gotten drawn into the fighting. Turkey is attacking the Kurds, Russia has intervened to prop up their major ally in the region, Syria. Yemen has been annihilated by civil conflict and a US-backed aerial assault by Saudi Arabia and its allies.
The Middle East today is a breeding ground for war. And more war is coming: a key lesson of history is that when a resource-rich region is destabilized to the degree the Middle East is today, the conflicts escalate until someone figures out how to negotiate a stable peace. Or the combatants wipe one another out, as the Allies and Germans did on the Western Front 1914-1918, or the Soviets and Germans did on the Eastern Front 1941-1945. But that threat isn't even on our national radar, though it should be. Look at the escalating military budgets of the combatant powers, listen to the rhetoric of the leadership. The powers-that-be see war coming, and worse, they all seem to think they can win it.
I don't think there's point in mincing words: the Middle East is spinning towards terminal disaster, and the next major unilateral American military action in the area, probably an attack on Iran, is in the making. The US is dramatically increasing the Army and Air Force budget, and the Trump administration is packed full of characters who see Iran as enemy #1 in the region. Sooner or later, the Trumpists will trigger a war, believing that Obama's re-election was secured by the operation that killed Osama Bin Laden and that Trump's re-election will be secured by a successful strike on Iran.
Speaking of old Osama – he won, you know.
Sure, sure, he's dead. And by American cultural definitions, if you die, you lose. Bin Laden himself would probably agree on some level. After all, despite his claim of seeking martyrdom, you never saw Bin Laden set off a suicide vest or crash an airliner into a building. Somewhere deep down the man probably saw himself as leading the renewed and united Islamic Caliphate from Mecca. I guess that's a plus side of having faith.
But beyond his personal ambitions, Bin Laden built Al Qaeda by promising something to his followers. And what he offered was Holy War, in which the faithful could sacrifice themselves and gain admission to eternal paradise in the next life. Of course, that only works if you have an enemy you feel is big enough, pervasive enough, mean enough to justify carrying on Holy War against it. Fortunately for Al Qaeda, generations of American political leaders have built exactly the sort of enemy a group like Al Qaeda needs to thrive.
By and large, Americans dislike studying history. In large part because in school we're fed a steady diet of history-as-names-and-dates, which turns most people off to history. But history is, if nothing else, a database full of bad ideas. Stuff humans, usually those in power, try over and over again. And we Americans, we have no idea how many bad ideas our leaders come up with and try to put into practice. Then, when they're desperately trying to explain why it all went wrong, our collective ignorance of the past gives them a perfect opportunity to sell us a pack of myths. That everything would have gone right if only the right people had been in charge. That other forces interfered with our noble aims, and that next time we'll do it better.
We rarely do. The history of the United States since 1945 is stained with blood. A huge chunk of the world doesn't see the Stars and Stripes as standing for freedom or democracy, they see them as standing for misery and death. The growing nationalist taboo about questioning our nation's violent history of foreign interventions, that curious silent treatment you get when you list off America's many crimes to someone in a position of authority – these represent fundamental weaknesses in the American myth. A recognition that the self-serving tales we tell about our intentions and actions aren't the whole truth.
This blood-stained history is what makes people join organizations like Al Qaeda. The idea that Arabs, Muslims, or anyone else is driven by some vague, inherited cultural hatred of America has been widely disproven by two decades of scientific research. Very few people hate America. A great many people hate America's policies. Especially those that bring bombs, ships, and troops to their doorstep.
Osama Bin Laden knew this. And so he organized a bold and successful strike on America, that would induce us to send even more bombs, ships, and troops to the Middle East. Because every time we do, every time our leaders give our soldiers orders to shoot at something or someone, innocent civilians get caught in the middle. And when innocent people die, everyone they ever knew and loved get angry. It's the most basic of Human emotions, to get angry when someone close to you is harmed by injustice. And from the perspective of a victim, it doesn't matter if your actions were noble or just or necessary. It doesn't matter if your country is the best, if your cause is pure. They only know that you hurt their loved one. And when normal channels for pursuing justice seem to fail, all that is left for those who have been harmed is that most ancient of counters to bad behavior: the promise of exacting vengeance.
When September 11, 2001 happened, the voices of people who understood this dynamic, knew that America had played a negative role in the Middle East for more than 20 years, were completely suppressed by a wave of nationalism. Forget that the governments we are supposed to be able to make accountable through our democratic system have abused our trust and harmed innocents in pursuit of their aggressive foreign policy. Ignore that experts in terrorism and insurgency warned that groups like Al Qaeda launch these types of mass-casualty, high-symbolism attacks specifically to provoke a disproportionate response. Just plop an American flag sticker on your car, pay your taxes, and keep shopping.
And so, Bin Laden won. The United States wandered into Afghanistan, failed to get him in Tora Bora, then Rumsfeld, Cheney, Wolfowitz, and the rest of the Bush-era neoconservative set pretend that Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden were buddies, and off to Iraq we go. There to sacrifice 4500 American soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians pursuing “regime change”. And to so badly destabilize the region that Iraq and Syria both disintegrated into sectarian civil war – and led to the rise of ISIS. And a new round of destruction.
The dark irony of it all is that, despite the deaths and destruction, Americans seem to have learned nothing from the past fifteen years. Half of our federal income taxes get funneled to the Pentagon, and it obliges our support by conducting combat operations in at least half a dozen countries, with special forces teams deployed to more. Thousands of American soldiers still sit all over the Middle East, doing whatever our fearless leaders in D.C. think they should, regardless of the long-term consequences to America itself. Our drones buzz over Yemen and Somalia, unleashing death whenever some analyst sitting at a desk in Florida decides a group of potential targets are acting in a “signature” fashion, implying they may be “bad guys”. And with no on-the-ground after action assessments possible, more civilians die by our hands, and we don't even admit it.
Osama Bin Laden won by provoking the United States of America into a Forever War in the Middle East, which looks to people living there like another iteration of European imperialism and colonialism. Another distant power intervening in their lives – and what's worse, proclaiming that it is doing so in the name of “peace” and “defense”. Resistance under these circumstances is not only to be expected, it is in fact morally justified. It is worth setting aside the nationalist lens foisted on us by the national media, whether FOX or CNN or MSNBC, and asking ourselves a simple question: if a foreign power were doing to Americans what we do every day to people around the world, wouldn't we resist?
But there, see, is another of our society's deep taboos. We are taught to believe that we're different, that American means something inherently different than Russian, German, Iranian or Indian. And this poisonous conceit gives our political leaders the opening they need to sell us on the necessity of Forever War, on the mistaken belief that they are all that stands between us and the bad people.
But the truth is, the only bad people are the cynical politicians themselves. Trump, Pelosi, Ryan, Schumer, McConnell – stop wearing the blue and red tinted glasses, and you can see them for what they are: America's true enemies. The real bad people – not because they are inherently evil, but because they have chosen to be part of a political machine that, above all else, is concerned about concentrating power in the hands of an elite few. Whether neoliberal or neoconservative, that's their ultimate objective. Power.
Americans are today as fundamentally ruled without meaningful representation as they were in 1776. Our 200-year old political institutions are fully gamed-out by political elites. They cry “One America!” in order to prevent us all from realizing that there isn't One America at all. America always was, and remains, an idea. The dream that we can collectively develop a set of political institutions capable of letting us all pursue life, liberty, and happiness. That who you are, what you look like, is irrelevant to actually being American.
The dream is almost dead, now. People want to blame social media, or Russia, or populism. But the reality is that our political institutions have been entirely captured by elites. Our media serves its own interests by pushing us into the feedback loop of social media, where we can be safely clustered into groups defined by what advertisements we are shown. It is worth noting the response by major media companies like Google, Facebook, and Twitter to their networks being infiltrated by white supremacist groups has been to aggressively tamp down on any speech deemed too political. Progressive websites dependent on Google to drive traffic to them have noticed that the crackdown on fascist and Nazi speech is actually hitting them worst of all. Around the web, sites are trying to undermine and even ban ad-blocking software that for some of us is our only refuge to the deluge of clickbait advertising swamping the net.
Great changes are afoot around the world. And not all bad – in fact, most of the world is getting markedly better. Economic development is pulling millions of people out of poverty. Global organizations are learning how to better provide humanitarian aid and relief without undermining local social structures. And online, new societies are being born despite the censorship pressures emanating from global governments.
But America is in the middle of a deep crisis. Our two major political parties are collapsing, one captured by neoconservative extremists and the other colonized by neoliberal idealists. America requires renewal and reform if it is to survive the next couple decades. But too many special interests intersect in D.C., and it is becoming apparent that Americans themselves don't agree on the most basic norms of political behavior anymore. All they can agree on is “there is no alternative.”
History shows that there's always an alternative. Usually a set of alternatives. And it also shows countries that do not reform when the time comes, fail and fall.
America's elites have let Osama Bin Laden win. In fact, Obama's raid on that compound in Pakistan where Bin Laden was hiding gave him his final victory. Americans were almost universal in their outpouring of joy over his killing. And few people deserved to take a couple rounds fired from a Seal's rifle straight to the face like Osama Bin Laden did.
But in launching that raid, by showing the world stage-managed scenes of Obama, Clinton, and the rest of their administration sitting in the White House, supposedly watching a live feed streamed from a Seal's helmet camera, America's leaders proved for all the world to see that we don't feel ourselves bound by any hard rules. That we talk a big line about justice and rule of law when it suits our interests, and then ignore them when it doesn't. We proved Bin Laden's point for him. And we continue to do it.
To defeat Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda, those Navy Seals needed to take him alive, and deliver him to the International Court at the Hague, there to be forced to defend his actions and ideology before an impartial hearing. And then to be locked in a cage for the rest of his life. That is how you beat someone who uses ideology and a narrative of your nation's aggressive nature to gain recruits and justify Holy War. Not by proving everything they allege about you. That's taking the “high road”. That's proving that America is different, even when it has been harmed.
But that isn't what happened. America executed Bin Laden, America fires Hellfire missiles from drones that every so often kills a bunch of innocent civilians. America invades Iraq, botches the occupation, and unleashes another form of Hellfire across the Middle East.
And now, unable to understand the crisis we've created, the blowback is coming home to consume our own society. Bin Laden goaded us into destroying the basis for our own power. The Global War on Terror, or whatever we're calling it this year, has convinced billions of people around the world that America is an evil empire. The Trumpist retreat from the international institutions that have been the foundation of America's power and prosperity will only make matters worse. And when their rhetoric and diplomatic incompetence draws America into another war of choice in the Middle East, the consequences will be grave.
And then, Bin Laden's victory will be complete.
Mission of the Pacific Freedom Party
Establish an Autonomous Federal Region empowered to govern the Pacific States of America under the authority of the Amended United States Constitution.
Amend the U.S. Constitution to allow groups of states the right to demand and receive full devolution of all powers currently vested in the Federal Government in Washington D.C.
Pioneer a new Constitutional solution that undermines the sham of democracy perpetrated by elites of both major parties, who govern in the interest of the wealthy and well connected and not Americans as a whole.
The Presidential election of 2016 marked a turning point in the history of the United States of America. The two major parties put forward the two most divisive and unpopular candidates of modern times, resulting in a split between the outcome in the electoral college and popular vote for the second time in sixteen years. This was accompanied by one candidate openly calling into question his willingness to accept an unfavorable outcome, and subsequently calling into question the legitimacy of millions of votes. Revelations of attempted foreign interference in the electoral process, as well as claims of collusion between the electoral college winner and this same foreign power, have dramatically eroded Americans' confidence in the strength of our most fundamental institutions.
This breakdown in our democratic system of government is made worse by the longstanding efforts by both major parties to reduce competition in the House of Representatives and Senate through gerrymandering and suppression of minority voting. In the 2018 legislative elections, only a fraction of 435 seats in the House of Representatives are actually subject to open competition, with most districts effectively owned by one party or the other. This reduction in democratic competition catastrophically intersects with the lack of meaningful campaign finance rules to produce a federal government that represents the interests of elites and not the people at large.
There is no longer hope of meaningful reform at the federal level. But the Constitution of the United States, under Article 5, allows for the States to collectively redefine American federalism by holding a Constitutional Convention. Provided that a supermajority of states can develop a binding, formal agreement, this Constitutional mechanism allows for reform to be imposed on the D.C. system.
The Pacific Freedom Party has two basic goals: First, unite the majority of Americans living in the states that adjoin the Pacific Ocean in formally demanding an Article 5 Convention to reform the United States federal government. Second, to promote reforms that take into account the simple fact that different geographic regions within the USA hold very different visions of the kind of federal government that they want.
While the elites of the two major parties, Democrat and Republican alike, are united in their desire to deliver financial benefits to their allies, they are only able to sustain their rule by fomenting fear among their supporters of what will happen if the other party takes complete control in D.C. After decades of this dynamic, Americans are deeply divided when it comes to their beliefs about the role of government in their lives. But these divisions do not fall neatly along right/left, conservative/liberal lines. Geography and regional culture are also deeply relevant.
We in the Pacific States share a common culture as a result of our unique history and geographic realities. The vast majority of us are relatively recent immigrants, our families having only arrived on these Pacific shores since the end of the Second World War. We are more diverse than the United States as a whole, our population is younger, our politics (whether liberal or conservative) more libertarian. Our foreign policy and economic interests are oriented towards Asia rather than Europe, our natural environment is shaped by the currents of the Pacific Ocean and the tectonic hazards of the Pacific Ring of Fire. Like the Intermountain West, Great Plains, Upper Midwest, South, and Northeast, we form a distinct social, economic, and political region within the United States.
We, like all Americans have both the need for and right to a working federal government capable of addressing our citizens' concerns. As fundamental reform is impossible given the perpetual dysfunction and corruption that characterizes the present-day state of affairs in Washington D.C., we have no choice but to seek an alternative solution under the Constitution.
Therefore, we advocate for an Article 5 Convention organized with a clear, coherent, limited purpose: to enact a Constitutional Amendment allowing groups of consenting states to establish a common federal government answerable only to their citizens. These groups of states will operate as Autonomous Federal Regions, united under the authority of new federal capitols that inherit all existing federal responsibilities as well as the right to Interpret and Amend the Constitution to apply within their jurisdiction, save for those few matters that all AFRs agree should remain in the hands of the supra-national capitol in Washington D.C.
Achieving reform will be a difficult task, requiring focused and consistent effort across space and time. While we fight for a Constitutional solution that can benefit all Americans, we recognize that the basic difficulties of organizing radical collective action of this nature requires a high degree of pragmatic adaptability. To accomplish the broader mission, we must accomplish several fundamental tasks:
1. Force frank public discussion about the pressing need for fundamental Constitutional reform in America.
2. Establish a party platform that adequately addresses the major concerns of the majority of citizens in the Pacific States.
3. Recruit support and contributions sufficient to sustain visible actions that demonstrate our capabilities as a political party.
4. Contest local, state, and federal elections to undermine the power of the Democratic and Republican party establishments.
5. Foster the development of allied parties in other regions, uniting in the post-partisan pursuit of a better solution for America.
Dear President Obama
I am writing this open letter because I have an idea for saving America, but a basic prerequisite for it to have any sort of impact is the support of folks with a lot more pull than can be mustered by an autistic grad student in political science. Who should be writing wonky, data-driven research papers about governance and development, not worrying about the future of America.
Oh, and my greeting: I know I'm supposed to accept the legitimacy of the rancid tangerine that followed you into the Oval Office, but I just can't. As far as I'm concerned, you remain the legitimate President of the United States of America. Also, my wife and I firmly believe that Michelle is kind of frickin' amazing, and if America is doomed, we'll get by on the hope that she can be elected Queen of whatever comes after.
I use the term 'dying' with full awareness of what that statement implies. And I suspect that you know better than anyone the full truth of the matter. In 2008, you were elected to bring hope and change to this country. To the majority of us under the age of 50, you represented America's future, our chance for fundamental reform. No President entered office with a greater mandate for change than you had in 2009. And despite my own vehement disagreement with many of the decisions you made (history will view America's ongoing drone war as fundamentally criminal, I am certain), still, I can't help but feel that you did the very best anyone could have done. You wanted to be a bipartisan President, to try and patch this divided nation back together. You failed, because the divisions are now too deep. The United States of America can no longer reconcile the fundamental differences in governing philosophy held by our two great political coalitions, the democrats and republicans, in the same federal government.
Washington D.C. is broken. The two parties, post-Citizens United, have now completed their transition, at the national level, to mere brands. Neither can actually govern, because the long two-party struggle for power in D.C. has fully degenerated into a permanent stalemate. No meaningful legislation can make it through Congress without being picked apart or loaded down with sops to whatever special interest group can best pay for access to the process. What does get done is now fully subject to reversal the next time Congress or the Presidency changes hands.
The outcome of 2016 was not the aberration conventional wisdom hopes it to be. The republicans are now so committed to representing the interests of one (fading) demographic group that they have no strategic option but to double down on the culture wars. Their rhetoric, so tied to - as you aptly put it - 'guns, god, and gays', has so deeply alienated them from any American who isn't white and nearing retirement age. Victims of their own inability to resist playing with the fire of divisiveness and racism, Trumpism represents the ultimate end-stage of their transformation to a party of ethno-religious nationalists, whose electoral survival will eventually hinge on restricting access to the ballot box, with all the damaging consequences for our democracy.
It is time to face the truth: there are many different ways of being American, and eventually the federal government must adapt itself to match this basic reality. We are trying to run a 21st century nation on 19th century architecture. Constitutional reform is essential, as Americans simply do not agree, on a national level, on how we believe the Constitution should be interpreted. And the more those differences are hardened by the partisan politics that have overwhelmed D.C., the more broken the existing system will become.
This couldn't come at a worse time. We live in an age where our species is being forced to come together as a global society to solve extremely complex problems. Climate change. Inequality. Human Rights. Geopolitical instability. 2016 and its aftermath have destroyed America's standing in the world. Our closest allies are starting to realize that the Pax Americana is over. That our power is fading. That we are too distracted by self-inflicted domestic political strife to offer the consistent, stabilizing presence that the world so desperately needs right now. Challenges abound out there: China must be balanced as its power grows, Russia must be deterred from further aggression, and careful diplomacy is required to manage the many simmering crises in North Korea, the Middle East, and the developing world.
Humanity doesn't have the time or space for bringing back the realpolitik and military competition that characterized the early 20th Century. The species itself won't survive a repeat of the World Wars, not when nuclear weapons are in play. And time is running out to avoid the worst impacts that will result from climate change.
The world needs focused, consistent American leadership. But our federal government, caught up in its own banal version of Game of Thrones, can no longer provide it. It just doesn't work anymore - not for Americans, not for our allies and friends abroad. The time has come for a full-court-press at the most basic level: a nationwide debate on how to collectively update our governing architecture to meet the demands of an uncertain future.
The gridlocked disaster of contemporary D.C. leaves only one viable option for achieving the Constitutional level of reform required to save America: a Constitutional Convention, called by 3/4 of State legislatures, that can act to impose reform on D.C.
As an attorney and President, I suspect you have an intuitive sense of how challenging this would be. A nationwide campaign, public debate, coordinated legislative language across three dozen states, agreement to limit the scope of the Convention itself - the effort would be unprecedented. But as probably the most successful bipartisan communicator of our generation (let's be honest, you'd have been re-elected in 2016 if you had been able to run), you are uniquely suited to a nationwide effort that actively seeks to transcend the current political stalemate.
Granting for the sake of argument that this could be done (and it could be, if America has any competent political leadership left) what type of Constitutional reform could garner the necessary level of bipartisan support? As broken as the two-party system in D.C. may be, the dysfunction is reflected in most state legislatures. So to pass, reform will have to offer both democratic and republican partisans something they want, that their constituents will actually back.
There is probably only one sufficiently powerful uniting position left in this country, an assumption about America and American politics that it is fair to say most (and probably a Constitutional majority) of Americans can agree on: the dysfunction is mostly the fault of the other party.
Troubling as it may be, the political geography of the United States has evolved so that most of the country is now physically 'owned' by one party or the other. Only a couple dozen house districts out of more than 300 are competitive in any given year. The same goes for most of the Senate. America has sorted itself by ideology over the past twenty years, and there are now only a few true swing states.
Which actually represents an opportunity for constructing a narrative with sufficiently broad appeal that we can move to sort of reset our federal system of government, reforming it to better match the on-the-ground divisions that already exist. To save the United States as a whole, we need to divide the federal government up by region. We need to enact a Constitutional Amendment that turns one federal capitol into several (I like six), retaining D.C. as a Brussels-like supranational capitol holding only those powers - like maintaining a common currency/economy and common protection under our nuclear deterrent - that all six regions agree can be delegated upward.
Each Autonomous Federal Region (AFR) will be almost totally sovereign, and responsible for representing the interests of all Americans in its foreign area of responsibility, which will be tied to the six existing major Pentagon commands. Each AFR will be handed the Constitution, an interim federal government comprised of the region's existing elected representatives in the federal Congress, and allowed to develop independently from there in whatever way its citizens prefer.
This solution benefits all Americans by making the federal government in their AFR fundamentally more focused on their needs. Rather than having every different region in America fight through the same convoluted D.C. system, subjected to checkmate actions by partisan lobbyists. Reforms that would be wildly popular in one part of the country are blocked because another part of the country has a different philosophy. The resulting governments under this plan would cover a smaller area, fewer people, and would be better equipped to focus attention on the core issues of concern to voters in their area.
Defining the regions is actually pretty simple. Existing census groupings offer a guide, as do maps of partisanship scores like those produced by the Cook group. California, Texas, New York, Illinois, and Florida are the 5 largest and wealthiest of the states, each as an independent country would rank among the world's richest. And each is quite similar in politics and economic capabilities to many of its neighbors. California, Oregon, Washington, and Hawai'i along with the other Pacific islands (and perhaps Alaska as well) would form an AFR of about 55 million people, and have an economy the size of Germany. Texas and the Midwestern Plains would be similar in population and economic strength, as would Illinois and the states clustered around the Great Lakes. The Northeast above the Potomac and the Southeast between the Mississippi and the Atlantic would each be home to about 75 million Americans and each would boast a Japan-sized economy. The smallest AFR would cover the Intermountain West, from Arizona and New Mexico in the south up to Idaho and the Dakotas in the North, with about 25 million Americans and an economy approximately the size of Canada's.
In truth, one of the more boring secrets of the USA is that we're already, at the federal level, governed this way. The courts, the bureaucracy, even the military are broken up by region. There is really no other viable way to manage a continent-sized society of 325 million people. What this Constitutional change would do, in the end, would simply be to make the federal government match the underlying variety that already exists in the United States of America. It would bypass the swampy cesspool of D.C., and give each resulting region a functioning majority government, accountable to its citizens. No more would politicians get to simply play off D.C. and blame their failure to represent their constituents on the opposition. Each region would immediately have the capability - and responsibility, to select its own future.
This reform would also function as a put-up or shut-up moment for all Americans, whatever their political views. Each AFR's success - or lack thereof - would be its own responsibility. The Southern and Plains states would almost certainly adopt the republican dream of extremely limited federal government. The Pacific and Northeastern States would likely become leading international bastions of progressive government. The Intermountain West and Great Lakes would be more mixed, but citizens of both would benefit from the natural re-balancing that would take place between the local democratic and republican parties, allowing for more focused and contextually rich political discussions in those AFRs on the issues that matter to local residents.
Abroad, this reform could actually improve America's relationship with its allies. While it may seem counter-intuitive, you earned yourself a head of grey hair in large part because too much comes across the desk of the President of the United States. Trying to push all the world's problems through one government just means that anything not ranked as an immediate crisis tends to fall by the wayside. Kashmir disappears when North Korea fills the news. The strategic drift of the United States since the 1990s is down in large part to the shifting of coalitions within the government, driven by regional differences, resulting in constant uncertainty on the part of our allies with respect to America's reliability. I would bet that most of our allies and partners abroad would far prefer consistent attention from 1/6 of America 100% of the time, rather than the current default of inconsistency and geopolitical over-correction. Speaking as a resident of the Pacific States, I am far more sure of the Pacific Command's ability to effectively handle North Korea and China than I am that of broader Pentagon - especially in an age where the occupant of the Oval Office feels comfortable casually threatening wars that would make casualties of thousands of Americans and tens of thousands of our allies' soldiers and civilians.
I could drag the argument out further, of course, but I see little point. What I am articulating here is a solution to America's ongoing political crisis that few, if any, other voices are advocating. It is possible because it largely bypasses D.C., and desirable because, frankly, America is too big and diverse to manage from the Oval Office in D.C. The country is falling apart, and despite the endless homilies about our unity, muddling through in the hope that sanity will return in 2018, or 2020 is futile. With growing evidence of Russian influence and the simple fact that Donald Trump openly said, as a candidate, that he felt no obligation to respect the outcome of an election that did not go his way, is bringing into question the very integrity of our electoral system. Americans have not been this terrified in almost a century. Whatever anyone's personal political position on any of the issues facing our society, we should all by now be able to agree that the status quo is not working.
So why am I writing this to you, a former (technically) President, lifelong member of the democratic party and committed, patriotic American? Because you promised hope and change in 2008, and you have yet to deliver. Worse, what legacy you have is being torn apart by a man with no regard for basic human decency and respect, who is apparently so driven by loathing for your accomplishments that he will stop at nothing to demolish them. And you know exactly how much damage a fool can do in the Oval Office. And even if impeachment becomes a reality, will Mike Pence really be any different than Trump? If Mueller obtains enough evidence that we impeach all the way down to Paul Ryan, will the fundamental damage done to our democracy truly be repaired?
Mr. President, if you want a legacy, you are going to have to fight for it. America needs 2008 Obama back. We have no other communicator capable of uniting this divided nation - or at least enough of it to get the job of rebuilding our institutions done. Leadership is a sadly lacking characteristic of our contemporary political elite. If you, with your governing experience and personal connections (how many billionaires are in your phone contacts, I wonder? More than I will ever know, I'm certain!) can't lead a reform movement, no one can. And America, then, truly is doomed.
So there's my argument, and my plea. For what such things are worth, coming from a 30-something grad student. But hey - nothing ventured, nothing gained. Stranger things have happened in this world. If you ever find yourself in Portland, Oregon, I'd love to buy you a coffee and discuss.
Andrew M. Tanner
Grad Student, Political Science
Hatfield School of Government
College of Urban and Public Affairs
Portland State University
The United States of America is falling apart.
It is taboo to say such a thing publicly, of course, because it is the truth - and a truth that threatens the established interests of the rich and powerful. They will naturally prefer to keep harping on the need for 'unity' - whatever that means, when the divisions between Americans are now so obvious and persistent - and focus public attention on the reality TV show now occupying the Oval Office.
But the country is tearing itself apart, and the "delay-and-pray" tendencies evident in our power elite's handling of the situation is unlikely up to the challenge of handling the mounting crisis consuming Washington D.C.
America's disintegration goes well beyond simple politics, though the stranglehold of the two-party system in D.C. and the complete surrender of both the democrats and republicans to the lobbyists of the "swamp" is a major driver. But the truth is that the United States of America has never been as coherent a political entity as we'd like to think it. Our federal system of government has always papered over very different societies existing within the boundaries of the USA, societies that don't simply reduce to a simple dichotomy of right/left, conservative/liberal, rural/urban. The information revolution has made it impossible to ignore our differences, and is also making it easier than it has ever been to understand our federal government for the monster it has become, a creature capable of doing tremendous harm to those designated other by our elites, and yet wholly incapable of reconciling the different versions of "America" that exist in our pluralistic nation.
The truth is, that we are in an age where big, complex, bureaucratic federal governments are having more and more difficulty coordinating the various bits of society according to a common interpretation of universal principles - that itself being a prerequisite for a society that functions. While virtually all Americans believe in the idea that our nation is supposed to guarantee the conditions for the "pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness", but we can no longer agree on the essential question of how to get the job done. This will eventually result in the disintegration of the United States of America as we've known it. The question is, whether this disintegration takes a cancerous form, where we are held together by a governing system that looks out for the interests of a privileged few, or a trajectory more conducive to systematic reform, one that lets the different Americas that already exist take control of their political, economic, and social future.
If the United States is moving toward eventual disintegration, then setting politics aside to consider how this situation can be managed to minimize the harm experienced by the majority of Americans is absolutely crucial. The most essential step in salvaging something of the wreck that America is rapidly becoming is to determine how we can collectively "sidestep" the D.C. swamp, and make it accountable to our needs, however we define them, wherever we choose to live.
There is only one way I can think of to make this happen: pass a Constitutional Amendment that fundamentally restructures the federal government, essentially by breaking up the existing unitary federal government into several regional federal governments. These will have near-complete autonomy, including the right to interpret and amend the Constitution within their jurisdictions. Only a few powers expressly delegated to D.C. by unanimous agreement of the new autonomous federal regions (collective defense against invasion or nuclear attack, common currency ($), as examples) will remain in the hands of whatever supra-national establishment these regions choose to maintain - similar to the relationship between Brussels and the rest of the European Union.
Here is a simple map (apologies that it is a bit slapdash) of the six autonomous regions I think would 'work' under this scheme, including their basic population and GDP statistics (taken from the US Bureau of Economic Analysis).
This division of the US into 6 autonomous regions is ad-hoc, done according to my own personal sense of the different social divisions that exist within the United States that are visible at the state level. For a county-level assessment rooted in recent voting records, over the summer I did a different version of the US Breakup scenario (with more references to other work in this area).
Still, with this caveat aside, this simple split (if you can imagine it being real in about a decade's time) would allow the different Americas to establish their own independent trajectories - political, economic, and social. Each group of states (they could/should choose their own names, of course) would establish a new capitol and federal infrastructure, inheriting all the rights and responsibilities of the existing federal government. They would remain permanently associated under the flag and supra-national leadership in D.C., but rather than trying to make one big federal capitol located at the far eastern edge of the country accountable to all 325 million Americans, each capitol would only have to manage the affairs of 25-75 million Americans.
It is worth imaging the degree to which this would shake up the D.C. swamp. Lobbyists would have to relocate, politicians would suddenly find that their pool of colleagues was both smaller and generally facing the same kinds of pressures from similar kinds of voters. Rather than having every one of the major issues confronting the next generation of Americans (Black Lives Matter. Healthcare. Gun violence. Climate change Foreign policy. Size of government. The list goes on) get tied up in D.C., there would be a chance to actually make progress in large enough swaths of America to matter, and allow different federal regions to learn from one another.
This split also allows the different American economies to choose their own path forward, while keeping enough states grouped together to make sure that all the resulting regions have a high degree of economic competitiveness with respect to the rest of the world. To illustrate, here's how the six autonomous regions would stack up against other world economies by GDP:
1. China - $11 Trillion
2. Japan - $5 Trillion
3. Atlantic Union - 4.4 Trillion
4. United Southern States - 3.6 Trillion
5. Germany - $3.5 Trillion
6. Federation of Pacific States - $3.4 Trillion
7. Great Lakes Confederation - $2.9 Trillion
8. Plains Federation - $2.9 Trillion
9. United Kingdom - $2.6 Trillion
10. France - $2.5 Trillion
11. India - $2.3 Trillion
12. Italy - $1.9 Trillion
13. Brazil - $1.8 Trillion
14. Canada - $1.5 Trillion
15. South Korea - $1.4 Trillion
16. Russia - $1.3 Trillion
17. United Western States - $1.3 Trillion
18. Australia - $1.3 Trillion
Even the US region with the lowest GDP (the Intermountain West) has as large an economy as Russia or Australia. Both the Northeast and Southeast would have independent economies larger than any of the nations of Europe. The Pacific States would be on par with Germany, not far behind Japan. The simple truth is that given the difficulties in coordinating a continental sized economy, the United States may actually make more sense and be more economically competitive than at present, because you'd eliminate the rent seeking that is now, frankly, the primary reason Washington D.C. exists. I mean, just compare the per capita GDP of the District of Columbia (highest, at $160,000) to the poverty rate (7th worst, at 18.4%) and consider what that means in terms of income distribution.