November 8th, 2016

Even if Trump loses, the 'Populist International' wins

    They share ideas and ideology, friends and funders. They cross borders to appear at one another's rallies. They have deep contacts in Russia - they often use Russian disinformation - as well as friends in other authoritarian states. They despise the West and seek to undermine Western institutions. They think of themselves as a revolutionary avant-garde just like, once upon a time, the Communist International, or Comintern, the Soviet-backed organization that linked communist parties around Europe and the world.

    Now, of course, they are not Soviet-backed, and they are not communist. But this loose group of parties and politicians - Austria's Freedom Party, the Dutch Party for Freedom, the UK Independence Party, Hungary's Fidesz, Poland's Law and Justice, Donald Trump - have made themselves into a global movement of "anti-globalists." Meet the "Populist International": Whoever wins the U.S. election Tuesday, its influence is here to stay.

Donald Trump loves conspiracy theories. So do his supporters.

    During five years of research in southwest Louisiana for my book "Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right," I came to know many white, older tea party enthusiasts. Nearly all now support Donald Trump.

    It was because of his penchant for conspiracies, not in spite of it.

    Many of the people I met lived in a busy rumor-sphere. One woman told me of a fellow churchgoer who believes the federal government mandated compact fluorescent lightbulbs because the light makes us easier to control. "Personally, I don't believe that," she added, "but about [President] Obama being born outside the U.S., everyone I know believes that." When I asked another woman what she thought about Obama's birthplace, after the long-form birth certificate appeared proving his American citizenry, she shifted the topic: "Yes but why was his father forced to leave Harvard for Kenya?" as if shuffling beliefs around to guard space in her mind for doubt.

Republicans are now vowing Total War. And the consequences could be immense.

    The election is just days away, and something truly frightening is happening, something with far-reaching implications for the immediate future of American politics. Republicans, led by Donald Trump but by no means limited to him, are engaging in kind of termite-level assault on American democracy, one that looks on the surface as though it's just aimed at Hillary Clinton, but in fact is undermining our entire system.

    I know, my conservative friends will say that this kind of talk is just fear-mongering and exaggeration. But there is something deeply troubling happening right now, and it goes beyond the ordinary trading of blows in a campaign season. Consider these recent developments:

Think your vote doesn't count? Then why are people trying to suppress it?

    I find myself in a troubling space, concerned about young people's apathy in voting. College students and young people within my circle of family and friends don't like either candidate and have decided that their votes do not count. As a scholar of African American and U.S. religious history I am compelled to reflect on the politics of voting throughout history and pose these questions to young people considering staying home Tuesday.

    If your vote did not count why would politicians try to suppress it? Why would stakeholders and legislatures nationwide introduce policies to make it difficult for your voice to be heard by the casting of your ballot?

    And why would states across the country, from the period of American slavery to present, pass measures to make it harder for U.S. citizens -- particularly black people, women, the elderly, students and people with disabilities -- to exercise their fundamental right to cast a ballot? Why, in the early founding of this nation, would only property-owning, white men be allowed to vote?

Clinton needs to learn from her mistakes

    Hillary Clinton's top priority, if she is elected president, shouldn't be enacting an infrastructure plan or pushing immigration reform. It should be -- must be, if she is to succeed on any substantive front -- to combat her own worst instincts.

    To be clear, I desperately want to see Clinton elected, not only because the alternative is Donald Trump and not only because it is time for a woman in the White House. Clinton has the experience, intelligence, skill and discipline to be an excellent president.

    But she has also repeatedly displayed tendencies, overlapping and toxically reinforcing, that could undermine all those positive attributes:

    To believe -- correctly, in my view -- that she is the victim of an implacable political opposition, and to respond by hunkering down and lashing out.

    To believe -- again, correctly -- that she is being held to different, higher standards than others, and, rather than accepting this unpleasant reality and adjusting her behavior accordingly, to rail against it on the theory that nothing she does will ever satisfy the critics.

Defeating both Trump and Trumpism

    Although Donald Trump's defeat is a prerequisite to national recovery, the profound damage he has done to our nation will not be wiped away if he loses.

    And even if she wins, Hillary Clinton will still be feeling the effects of the multiyear campaign waged by Republicans in Congress to destroy her. The evidence suggests that her GOP foes will try to end her presidency prematurely by colluding with an implacably hostile conservative media and, it now seems, right-wing agents inside the FBI.

      So while I celebrate the conclusion of the most abysmal campaign of my lifetime, I fear that this will not end the division, aggression and rancid prejudice Trump has nurtured.

Obama will leave office with his honor intact

    Barack Obama enters the twilight of his presidency as a popular and respected figure, in no small part because he has run an honest and ethical administration.

    Polls show Obama earning approval ratings topping 50 percent despite deep divisions over his policies. That's higher than most postwar second-term presidents nearing the end of their time in office. Personal probity has to be a big part of the explanation.

    "From the outset of his presidency, with the appointment a White House ethics czar, avoiding ethics and influence-buying problems in his administration has been a top priority for President Obama," says Fred Wertheimer, who runs the reform group Democracy 21 and for years has been a frequent scold of Washington politicians. "He has done a remarkable job of achieving that goal."

The Trump campaign's war on reality made me question what I saw

    "I just want to make sure," my editor asked me as he closed the door to his office. "He definitely grabbed her?"

    It had to be the 50th time I'd heard this question, and each time it filled me with unspeakable anxiety.

    Yes, he grabbed her. It happened three days earlier, in the chandelier-lit ballroom of Donald Trump's golf club in Jupiter, Florida. Trump had just won the state's primary, and he was celebrating in a ballroom full of Trump-branded products: steaks, water, even a magazine.

    After the speech, Michelle Fields, a reporter for Breitbart, approached Trump with a question about affirmative action, when Corey Lewandowski, then Trump's campaign manager, took her by the arm and yanked her from the candidate.

    It happened right in front of me.

Why This Election Terrifies Me

    Tuesday nears, after such epic ugliness. “It’s almost over,” friends say. “We’ll finally be done with this.” What a lovely thought. What a naive fantasy.

    There’s no end here, just a punctuation mark, a measly comma between the rancor that has built until this point and the fury to come. And there’s no way to unsee what all of us have seen over these last 18 months, to bottle up what has been unbottled.

    Election Day will redeem and settle nothing, not this time around. No matter who declares victory, tens of millions of Americans will be convinced — truly convinced — that the outcome isn’t legitimate because untoward forces intervened. Whether balloons fall on Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, there will be bolder divisions in America than there were at the start of it all and even less faith in the country’s most important institutions.

    The person taking office will do so not on a wave of hope but amid tides of disgust, against fierce currents of resistance. Tell me how she or he moves forward. Tell me how America does.

Comey to country: The jury will disregard…

    If you have ever watched a procedural crime drama, you probably recognize the words, "the jury will disregard." It is the instruction judges give jurors to ignore inadmissible testimony after it has already been offered in open court. Of course the jury, composed of human beings, cannot forget what it has already heard - even if they try. The integrity of the proceedings have already been damaged.

    Director James Comey announced Sunday that the FBI's sweep through a fresh cache of emails related to Hillary Clinton's private server found . . . nothing big - the agency concluded once again that the Democratic nominee does not deserve to be charged with a crime.

    The news comes a little over a week after he revealed that the FBI had found the email cache - and said little else. In the intervening time, Donald Trump and other top Republicans insisted Comey had obviously found something damning.

    Headlines about the FBI reopening its probe against Clinton swirled. Leaks from within the FBI muddied the political waters further.