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2019 Politics Daily Update

2019 Politics Daily Update

July 17

It’s about turnout, not swing voters

John Long, May 20, 2019, https://newrepublic.com/article/153939/democrats-victory-not-depend-swing-voters?fbclid=IwAR1C4cuEAb0PSNYNP3tgvWBojfIoZGUQTTo_46cvgv-fAbrxED4bBheqqT0,, Victory Does Not Depend on Swing Voters

Just exactly who are these swing voters? That question usually goes unexamined in great detail, but the underlying assumptions are threefold: 1) swing voters are people who vote for candidates of both parties; 2) they mostly live in the suburbs; 3) they are white. Also, it’s generally understood that it’s Democrats, and not so much Republicans, that must work diligently to win over this fickle slice of the electorate—which, if these voters aren’t partisan, shouldn’t really be the case. Nevertheless, the Democrats’ necessary pursuit of the swingers has become de rigueur in political analysis since at least the early 1980s, when all those “Reagan Democrats” ostensibly sent a conservative California governor to the White House and President Jimmy Carter back to Georgia. Democrats have been lectured on the need to woo them back ever since. But the fact is, the swing-voter character should have been written out of our election dramas years ago. Like “Rockefeller Republicans” or “Yellow Dog Democrats,” “swing voter” is a persona from a political landscape that simply no longer exists. Let’s start with those “Reagan Democrats.” Chasing Reagan Democrats is folly because they’re literally dead. The average 45-year-old union worker who pulled the lever for the Gipper in 1980 is, statistics tell us, no longer with us. Whatever logic there was to Bill Clinton and Dick Morris trying to win them over with a diet of crime bills, school uniforms, and welfare reform no longer applies. (It’s interesting that we never hear about “Obama Republicans.” Barack Obama won a higher percentage of the popular vote in 2008 than Ronald Reagan did in 1980, and won states that Bush-Cheney carried in 2004.) Moving to the suburbs, the supposed home of the swing voter, not to mention all kinds of micro-trendy constituents Democrats have been told to court, such as “Soccer Moms” and “Security Moms.” It turns out that suburbs are no longer particularly politically “independent.” They are now, in fact, mostly Democratic. Designing a strategy to appeal to voters who are maybe moderate, but honestly, mainly marginalized Republicans in areas that now have a plurality of Democrats, seems like a good way to depress Democratic turnout. Must-reads. 5 days a week. Your email Sign Up It goes without saying that political campaigns should attract as many votes as possible, and that there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with broad-based appeals. It also doesn’t make much tactical sense to go out of your way to alienate or insult certain groups of voters. But the fact is, many of the policy positions that are considered “left wing” by the chattering class—even the “socialist” Green New Deal—actually have majority support. In an environment in which 76 percent of the public wants to raise taxes on the rich, trying to pick off a few center-right votes with a handful of tax credits—the cornerstone of the “centrist” Democratic policy playbook from the 1990s and early 2000s—feels shortsighted, at best, and likely not the best way to mobilize Democratic voters. And mobilizing more Democratic voters is the key to the 2020 election. In 2016, over 4 million Democrats who voted in 2012 for Barack Obama didn’t show up at the polls to pull the lever for Clinton. It’s not that they voted for someone else; they simply didn’t vote at all. And as a reminder, Trump won three states by a total of 76,000 votes. The reasons for this are many, but the lesson is clear. Rather than obsess about winning back the voters that switched from Obama to Trump, Democrats should instead focus on inspiring those Obama voters who stayed home, who are “mostly young and nonwhite” and “share the progressive policy priorities of Democrats,” argued Sean McElwee, Jesse H. Rhodes, Brian F. Schaffner, and Bernard L. Fraga in the New York Times. Based on their careful analysis of the data, they advise Democrats to forget about those swing voters and figure out “why a campaign [Hillary’s] that sought to energize young voters of color failed to do so.” Here’s hoping the 2020 Democratic nominee gets the message.

July 16

Trump re-election destroys US soft power

Michael Hirsh, July 17, 2019, The decline in U.S. soft power didn’t start with Trump, but he accelerated it this week with his racist tweets., https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/07/17/americas-road-to-reputational-ruin-donald-trump-moon-landing-anniversary-soft-power/

The grainy images of Neil Armstrong’s famous “small step” onto the moon, observed raptly in real time around the world, marked one of the high points in America’s soft power—meaning the global influence of its ideas and values, and its ability to persuade other nations to stand behind it. Though the Vietnam War was raging and domestic headlines spoke of civil violence and assassination, the United States earned its keep that week as the champion of the free world, dramatically besting its Cold War adversary in the technological rivalry of the space race—which it was seen as losing only a few years before. Moreover, the Americans added a touch of humility to the great deed, emphasizing its universality. “We came in peace for all mankind,” said the plaque left in the Sea of Tranquility, and even President Richard Nixon got a little gooey, saying later that summer that with the moon landing, “the people of this world were brought closer together.” There were other high points in U.S. influence later on, of course, none more so than the successful conclusion to the Cold War, in which America’s once-formidable rival, the Soviet Union, simply ceased to exist, exhausted by its efforts to keep up with democracy and freedom—including the freedom to create better technology—in the face of the Reagan Revival. There was the Gulf War, when the United States led a global coalition in enforcing United Nations norms against aggression and launched the smart bomb era. And then, a few years later, Washington engineered the rescue of Bosnia and Kosovo while the Europeans dithered. But things started to go downhill after that. Much of the world began to seriously question Washington’s judgment with the fraudulently justified 2003 Iraq invasion and the forever war that followed, and then the entire nation’s judgment with the election of a career huckster who seems to be a living, walking antithesis of the idea of universality. Now we appear to have reached another reputational low point. Last Sunday, a president who rose to political power with frequent dog whistles to racists and xenophobes—and who has spent the last two and a half years denigrating U.S. allies and many nonwhite nations—gave unabashed expression to those beliefs in public. On Twitter, Trump urged an ethnically diverse group of Democratic congresswomen to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” He falsely said that they “originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe”—even though, of the four Democrats, only one, Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, isn’t native born, and all of them are Americans. Trump later denied he was being racist, but with his words he appeared to be endorsing Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s claim that the true slogan of his presidency is not “Make America Great Again” but rather “Make America White Again.” And to many people around the world, it was yet more proof that a country so politically and socially broken can hardly be seen as a global influencer. Is this loss of influence a permanent condition? Trump’s behavior has plainly cost the United States dearly, reducing the lone superpower’s ability to use moral and geopolitical suasion to bring other nations over to its side, whether the issue is isolating China by seeking a ban on Huawei products or pressuring Europe, Russia, and China to impose fresh sanctions on Iran. But the Harvard University scholar Joseph Nye, who coined the term “soft power,” said that while “Trump has definitely had a major negative effect on American soft power,” it’s still possible to recover. “It’s worth remembering that at the same time technology gave us the moon shot, America was wildly unpopular because of the Vietnam War,” Nye told Foreign Policy. “The good news, and this is relevant to the effect of Trump, is that we were able to recover our soft power after that very bad period in Vietnam, and basically Watergate.” Soft power, Nye noted, doesn’t rest “only on what the government does. It rests on civil society, on technology. It’s a lot of things.” Even so, he said, there is the danger of permanent damage if the racism, divisiveness and hatred associated with the Trump administration are broadly reaffirmed by American society—as they appear to have been by the Republican Party this week. Only one Republican senator, Joni Ernst of Iowa, said that the president’s comments were racist, and all but four House Republicans on Tuesday voted against a Democratic resolution condemning Trump’s comments. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, dismissed the negative reaction to Trump’s comments as a matter of “politics and beliefs of ideologies.” In the end, Nye and other experts in soft power said, much will depend on the outcome of the 2020 election and whether the world will someday view Trump and his crude sowing of nativist hatred and international anomie as an aberration that can be forgiven—or as part of a long-term trend leading to an enduring loss of reputation. “That’s much more worrisome, and of much greater concern—the question whether Trump is exacerbating the polarization in society and making American society less attractive,” Nye said. “If so, it may be that recovery after Trump will not be as easy as the recovery after Vietnam.”A worker washes one of two M1A1 Abrams tanks that are loaded on rail cars at a rail yard in Washington on July 2. It’s Trump’s Fourth of July Now The president’s military parade only furthers his vision of a dumbed-down America that may no longer be up to the task of global leadership. ESSAY | MICHAEL HIRSH Nicholas Cull, a British historian at the University of Southern California and the author of the recently published Public Diplomacy: Foundations for Global Engagement in the Digital Age, agreed that “the problem is not so much Trump but what he represents and the ongoing damage this will do other aspects of American life and society. The problem isn’t Trump—it’s American racism.” But Cull too stressed that all is hardly lost, based on international ratings systems that track soft power, such as the Anholt Ipsos Nation Brands Index, according to which Germany is now seen as the No. 1 nation in global reputation, while its former Axis ally in World War II, Japan, is No. 2. The United States is steady at No. 6. “Reputation is surprisingly unvolatile,” Cull said. “There is movement in the reputation of the United States based on Trump, but it’s on the order of a kind of adjustment. The U.S. has gone to being seen as six or seven in the world. It’s not No. 21. Nobody thinks China or Russia or India is more attractive.” Cull also sees 2020 as a crucial test: “When something goes on for longer, it starts to be understood as part of the nature of the country. The reelection is more dangerous than the election.” If Trump wins, Nye said, “a lot of people who have been allies and who’ve been more or less holding their breath, I think we’ll find will no longer hold their breath.”

July 10

High anxiety hits Senate over raising debt ceiling

White House pushes Congress to strike budget deal

July 8

Senate Republicans night mare scenario just got more likely

Democratic Presidential win in 2020 kills the US-Saudi Arabia alliance

Friedman, July 4, 2019, Uri Friedman is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Global Channel. He was previously the deputy managing editor at Foreign Policy and a staff writer for The Atlantic Wire, Defense One, July 4, https://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2019/07/us-saudi-alliance-brink/158207/?oref=d-river

An effort is under way in Washington to fundamentally overhaul, if not end, a decades-old American alliance—but it didn’t come at the direction of the alliance-skeptical Donald Trump. The president, in fact, has paradoxically emerged as the greatest force of resistance to the change. Fed up with the catastrophic human cost of Saudi Arabia’s military intervention in Yemen’s civil war and appalled by the murder of the Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, Congress seemingly attempts some sort of measure to censure the kingdom every week. Yet at every turn, the White House has blocked or circumvented those moves, standing staunchly by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, or MbS, while escalating its confrontation with his archenemy, Iran. The real reckoning in the U.S.-Saudi partnership could come if a Democrat is elected president in 2020, though early warning signs are already visible. Virtually all Democratic lawmakers, along with several Republican members of Congress and various lobbyists, analysts, and former officials, are shunning the Saudis to the point where a visit to Washington, D.C., by MbS, the heir apparent who was welcomed in 2017 and 2018, seems inconceivable anytime soon…. Republican and Democratic presidents alike have been forced to mostly give Saudi Arabia a free pass on rights abuses and political repression, given the extent to which Washington relies on Riyadh as a stable geopolitical weight in the Middle East. But several 2020 candidates have made their displeasure clear. Joe Biden, the current front-runner among Democrats vying for the White House, wants out of the war in Yemen and once likened the U.S. partnership with Saudi Arabia to America siding with a “no-good SOB” like Joseph Stalin during World War II. Cory Booker has called for the United States to “reexamine [the] entire relationship” with Riyadh. Elizabeth Warren has slammed Trump for appeasing U.S. defense contractors by not halting the flow of weapons to Saudi Arabia. Pete Buttigieg, in a national-security speech last month, said that on his watch the United States would “remain open” to working with Riyadh for the American people’s benefit. “But,” he added, “we can no longer sell out our deepest values for the sake of fossil-fuel access and lucrative business deals.” And Bernie Sanders has referred to MbS as a “murderous despot,” included Saudi Arabia in an “axis” of authoritarian powers that he claims Trump is emboldening, and inserted Saudi lobbying in Washington into his signature issue of wealthy special interests corrupting government policy making. Sanders, the sponsor of one of the Senate’s Yemen resolutions, questions “whether the basic bargain that was made between FDR and the Saudi king back in 1945,” of “security for oil,” still holds, says his foreign-policy adviser, Matt Duss…. “There are limits to what Congress can do when it comes to rightsizing a bilateral relationship,” especially when only “a handful of Republicans” are willing to vote with Democrats, Murphy said. “We can set boundaries. But we can’t do day-to-day management.” These limits, though, might disappear if a Democrat succeeds Trump in the White House.

Deep fakes make the link irrelevant

John Feffer, June 19, 2019, https://fpif.org/will-ai-swing-the-2020-election/, Will AI Swing the 2020 Election?

Imagine, on the day before the 2020 presidential election, that someone posts a video of the Democratic candidate talking before a group of donors. The candidate admits to being ashamed to be an American, confesses that the United States is a malevolent force in the world, and promises to open borders, subordinate the country to the UN, and adopt a socialist economic system. The video goes viral. It doesn’t matter that it sounds a bit suspicious, a candidate saying such things just before the election. A very careful observer might note some discrepancies with the shadows in the background of the video or that the candidate makes some oddly uncharacteristic facial expressions. For the average credulous viewer, however, the video reinforces some latent prejudices about Democratic Party candidates, that they never thought America was all that great to begin with and are not ultimately interested in making the country great again. And hey, didn’t Mitt Romney make a similar mistake by dissing the 47 percent just before the 2012 elections? The video spreads across social media even as the platforms try to take it down. The mainstream media publish careful proofs that the video is fabricated. It doesn’t matter. Enough people in enough swing states believe the video and either switch their votes or stay home. It’s not even clear where the video came from, whether it’s a domestic dirty trick or a foreign agent following the Russian game plan from 2016. Forget about October surprises. In this age of rapid dissemination of information, the most effective surprises happen in November, just before Election Day. In 2020, the election will take place on November 3. The video drops on November 2. The damage is done before damage control can even begin. This particular surprise comes courtesy of artificial intelligence (AI). Sophisticated computer programs are now able to create “deepfake” videos that are becoming increasingly difficult to identify. In fact, as The Washington Post reports, the AI systems designed to root out such deepfake videos can’t keep up with the evil geniuses that are employing other AI programs to produce them. It’s an arms race. And the bad guys are winning. It’s Already Happened Here (and There) You’ve probably heard by now about the fake video of Nancy Pelosi appearing to slur her words during a speech. On one particularly popular website, Politics Watchdog, the video received 2 million views and 45,000 shares. This video didn’t require an AI program. The creator just altered the speed of Pelosi’s speech and raised the pitch of her voice to disguise the manipulation. It wasn’t much different from all those drunk Trump videos (also fake) that Jimmy Kimmel has broadcast on late night TV. Or maybe you’ve seen the video of gun control activist Emma Gonzalez tearing up the Constitution (in reality, she was tearing up a target). Or Jordan Peele’s PSA of Barack Obama saying all sorts of odd things, concluding with “stay woke, bitches.” The video was meant to warn people to be skeptical of what they see on the Internet. Elsewhere around the world, deepfakes are beginning to cause havoc. In Gabon, the military launched an ultimately unsuccessful coup after the release of an apparently fake video of leader Ali Bongo suggested that the president was not in fact as healthy as his advisors claimed. In Malaysia, a video purported to show the economic affairs minister having sex has generated a considerable debate over whether the video was faked or not. “If it’s a deepfake, it’s a very good one,” a digital forensics expert has said. So far, there’s been more concern than actual product. The technology is available, but it hasn’t been widely weaponized. At least when it comes to the United States, that might just be a matter of timing. Next year’s presidential primaries might prove to be a testing ground. Or a troll might be keeping such a weapon in reserve for an even more opportune moment, like November 2. The Deeper Problem Fakes have been around for ages, from the poems of Ossian to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. In the age of photography, the Soviet Union notoriously airbrushed out politically purged individuals from snapshots (and that, of course, was before PhotoShop). In the video age, selective editing has fooled some of the people all of the time — as in the case of Live Action’s abortion clinic videos or the misleading way that Fox News edits its clips to emphasize its ideological points. “Reality” shows on TV dramatically alter the raw footage — not to mention staging the action to begin with. You might think that this history would make people increasingly skeptical of what they see and hear. But Americans believe in all sorts of crazy things. One in three doesn’t think that climate change is happening (and about half of Republicans deny that climate change is real). About four in ten Americans are strict creationists. One in four believes that the truth of the Sandy Hook shooting has been suppressed. Nearly one in three believes that the Mueller report exonerated Donald Trump. The ability of pollsters to find some significant percentage of Americans who believe in one crazy proposition or another prompted the following Onion headline: “Poll: One in Five Americans Believe Obama Is a Cactus.” In ordinary times, the president doesn’t give an assist to fringe theories. But Donald Trump made a political name for himself with his false claims that Barack Obama was born outside the United States. As president, he has promoted the notion that the mainstream media — CNN, The New York Times — publishes “fake news.” He has claimed that millions of illegal votes were cast in the 2016 election, that Russia didn’t interfere in that election, that the National Park Service doctored photos of the inauguration crowd, that Vince Foster and Chief Justice Antonin Scalia were murdered, that Democrats inflated the number of people killed in Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, and so on. These aren’t conspiracy theories, as Russel Muirhead and Nancy Rosenblum write in The Atlantic. They are simply assertions. Trump doesn’t have the capability to develop an actual theory. He is not trying to explain a set of facts or data points. He is just throwing stuff out there. He is brainstorming without the benefit of a brain. As a result of the relentless attacks on media, common sense, and reason more generally, Americans are losing the capacity to distinguish between the real and the fabricated. Case in point: nearly 63 million Americans voted for a presidential candidate in 2016 who lied repeatedly about himself, his record, and his opponent. In 2016, Americans elected a very artificial intelligence. Adding AI Computer scientists worry about the “singularity,” the moment when artificial intelligence acquires consciousness. They are concerned that a super-intelligent entity might decide to take over the planet, enslave humans, colonize the known universe, and so on. In other words, they worry that such a creation might behave exactly like its creators. I’m not sure why computer scientists are so anxious about a hypothetical when they should instead get riled up about the very real applications that humans are using AI for right now. The Pentagon, for instance, developed its first AI strategy this year, saying that “it will take care to deploy the technology in accordance with the nation’s values.” Presumably, the Pentagon is talking about its own interpretation of the nation’s values, which is far from reassuring. Last year, the United States (and Russia) blocked a UN effort to ban “killer robots” — weapons that don’t need any human intervention, as drones do at the moment. Banning killer robots would seem to be a no-brainer. But the United States has said that it would be “premature” to regulate them. That’s because the Pentagon’s research arm and U.S. corporations are busy trying to establish technological hegemony by exploring ways to merge soldier and computer on the battlefield, fight the next generation of cyber-warfare, and ensure full-spectrum dominance. Then there are the uses of AI to improve surveillance, create “predictive policing technologies,” and steal your job. Considering all these malign impacts, deepfake videos might be the least worrisome trend involving AI. Yet, in the short term, these deceptions further undermine any hope of returning to a pre-Trump moment when national conversations could be conducted on the basis of observable reality. As Jamie Bartlett writes in The Guardian, “the age of deep fakes might even succeed in making today’s visceral and divided politics look like a golden age of reasonableness.” To understand this point, let’s imagine a slightly different November surprise unveiled on the day before the 2020 elections. On November 2, 2020, a video is released in which Donald Trump says that, regardless of the results of the election, he will declare himself president for life and throw anyone who disagrees into prison. This, too, is a deepfake video created by an AI program. But Trump has said and done so many outrageous things that the public responds to this particular video with a collective shrug. #NeverTrumpers are confirmed in their assumptions about the president and vote as they intended. Trump’s base dismisses the video (or secretly supports the message) and votes as planned. The few people left in the middle, inundated with four years of Trump’s pronouncements, ignore the video. It’s just another day in Trump’s America. AI can’t be blamed for this scenario. The fault lies not in our bytes but in ourselves.

Massive partisanship now

Hacker & Pierson, July/August 2009, JACOB S. HACKER is Director of the Institution for Social and Policy Studies and Stanley B. Resor Professor of Political Science at Yale University, Foreign Affairs, The Republican Devolution, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2019-06-11/republican-devolution?fa_package=1124383

No longer. Almost every element of today’s political system—from electoral jurisdictions to economic regions, from public officials to advocacy organizations, from the mass public to the mass media—is neatly lined up in the red or the blue column. Political scientists continue to debate how much of this is true ideological polarization, in which partisan disagreements reflect fundamentally different values and worldviews, and how much of it is merely an increased alignment of partisanship with other divides in an ever more diverse and unequal society. But this debate is secondary to the basic change. Once, many cultural, racial, ethnic, and geographic divides cut across parties. Today, it is partisanship all the way down.