Hillary Clinton’s book What Happened is triggering a lot of Pavlovian responses, including Hillary Rage, the Bernie Bro reflex, the media’s Clinton Derangement Syndrome etc. etc. Diesirae has a diary about how Hillary has never been allowed to speak her mind, but has always been subject to a different set of rules. It’s not merely the constant and deliberate demonization coming from the right, it’s also wrapped up with a fair amount of misogyny and other things from all sides. (To hear Hillary in her own words, there’s an interview Jane Pauley did with her on CBS Sunday Morning.)
Regardless of that, it’s critically important to understand what DID happen. This is about more than Hillary Clinton.
[I’ve put several updates in, in response to comments and other information I ran across since first publishing this.]
Any Democratic candidate would and will find themselves facing a long running campaign that’s been systematically stacking the deck for decades. That back story is not getting the attention it demands, which is only natural considering the problems of the moment: North Korea, Hurricanes, Repeal & Replace, etc. etc. The Trump presidency may be a national disaster that will take years — if ever — to recover from (if the nation does...) BUT… it didn’t happen overnight or even in the course of one campaign.
A well-qualified candidate with plenty of funding won the popular vote by a margin of nearly 3 million — yet a morally degenerate con man not only ended up in the White House, he arrived with a Congress now under one party control, and a judiciary being skewed to perpetuate that situation. Poll after poll shows a majority of Americans reject the policies Republicans are pushing; reality keeps showing that their policies don’t work to do what they promise — yet they keep getting elected. That’s the story that needs to be followed up. We are well and truly screwed if we don’t and do not respond effectively.
About That Russia Thing — Just How Bad Was it?
Walter Einenkel’s Recc List diary about Rachel
Maddow’s analysis of how Facebook ‘discovered’ Russian troll farms bought $100,000 worth of ads during the 2016 presidential campaigns needs to be paired with a BBC video at Digby’s place describing the Trump Campaign Alamo Project.
Theresa Hong tells how they used Cambridge Analytica’s proprietary software tools to target social media users with thousands of targeted messages. Facebook, Youtube, Google were on site giving a prime customer top support.
Cambridge Analytica is partly owned by the wealthy family of Robert Mercer, who has many conservative connections, funding Breitbart among other things, as well as backing Trump. The company has gotten attention for its activities on behalf of political campaigns, including Brexit as well as the Trump campaign.
So, now that Facebook has discovered that a Russian troll farm was using its ads to influence voters (and who knows what else), and how precisely targeted those ads seem to be, add in Jared Kushner’s role in the social media effort AND all of the connections between Trump and Russia that keep turning up. It’s not unreasonable to wonder how much sharing of information might have been going on, who knew about it, and what other collusion was going on, what else was being targeted.
[UPDATE 9-12-17 ~6:00pm EST: We now have an idea of what else was being targeted. Gabe Ortiz picked up on a report from The Daily Beast that Russian efforts included attempts to get people to take direct action by protesting against Muslims/Immigrants, not just influencing their opinions. The question is, how much of this was trying to amplify divisive messages coming from the alt right, and how much was on Russia’s own initiative? Either way, not good news.]
How important was the digital media campaign? Josh Marshall has this take on it from Sam Thielman:
“It’s probably worth ten million dollars of TV advertising because of what you can do with that advertising,” Borell said. “You can take a very particular segment of the population and move them an inch this way or that way in a way you can’t do with a sort of mass media spray.”
emphasis added (Let’s not forget all the free media attention Trump got too.)
The New York Times has a look at some of the tactics applied. Both Facebook and Twitter were infiltrated by fake accounts.
...On Twitter, as on Facebook, Russian fingerprints are on hundreds or thousands of fake accounts that regularly posted anti-Clinton messages. Many were automated Twitter accounts, called bots, that sometimes fired off identical messages seconds apart — and in the exact alphabetical order of their made-up names, according to the FireEye researchers. On Election Day, for instance, they found that one group of Twitter bots sent out the hashtag #WarAgainstDemocrats more than 1,700 times.
The Russian efforts were sometimes crude or off-key, with a trial-and-error feel, and many of the suspect posts were not widely shared. The fakery may have added only modestly to the din of genuine American voices in the pre-election melee, but it helped fuel a fire of anger and suspicion in a polarized country.
Digby has the goods on A) Why the social media companies are next to useless on policing themselves from foreign interference or other manipulation, B) how they’ve become the de facto source of news for millions without acknowledging any journalistic responsibility, and C) how the mainstream media is being played by right wing media sources — willingly. The role of the free press in preserving our democracy has been effectively compromised.
Considering that Trump only won the electoral college on the basis of just thousands of votes in a few swing states to Hillary Clinton’s near 3 million popular vote margin, the importance of this can’t be overlooked. Neither can the possibility that Russian interference through some of the most powerful social media companies in the world helped swing the election — nor the possibility that the Trump campaign was working with them to do it.
The important thing to remember though is this: it didn’t happen in a vacuum. That slippery slope didn’t grease itself.
The Story Behind the Story Is Even Worse
Here’s something to ponder. The Democratic party has been getting way behind the power curve for a long time, neglecting state and local races. Not surprising when you consider that Congressional races and the run for the White House are where the big money goes, so the people involved in that tend to get tunnel vision and primacy when it comes to calling the shots — but it’s the state legislatures that set the rules for those races. Republicans know this; Democrats knew, but seem to have forgotten it.
You can’t appreciate the effectiveness of Russian interference if you don’t understand how the GOP has systematically tilted the playing field. Rick Perlstein delves through David Daley’s book Ratf**ked: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America’s Democracy. Perlstein explains the effects of Project REDMAP which began In 2008, when a Republican operative named Chris Jankowski proposed targeting vulnerable Democratic seats in state legislatures to flip them red — in time to redraw Congressional voting maps after the 2010 census with newly available computer tools. The goal: make as many seats GOP locks as possible. How well did it work?
...The upshot of the national campaign? In Pennsylvania, after the 2012 election, Republicans ended up controlling 13 of 18 U.S. House seats. In a democracy, a party should occupy 72 percent of a given state’s House seats if it wins something like 72 percent of votes in an election. But in Pennsylvania, it only won about 49 percent. The diabolical computers, however, were programmed to pack the Democrats’ 51 percent of the votes into the smallest number of districts statistically possible. (What’s that old computer programmers’ saying? Garbage in, garbage out.) And Ohio, American electoral history’s most famous swing state, swings no more: “The mapmaker did such a good job that it’s hard to imagine anyone in Ohio politics who thinks it can be reversed for perhaps two decades to come.” All told, Daley concludes, Democrats might not take back Congress in 2018 even if they receive a vote bonanza that, in an actual democracy, would constitute a landslide.
...In states like North Carolina and Wisconsin, legislatures that REDMAP turned Republican immediately responded with radical voter suppression bills. In the Badger State, the one signed by Governor Scott Walker helped ensure the lowest voter turnout in two decades. In Milwaukee, home to more than two-thirds of the state’s African Americans, some 52,000 fewer blacks cast a ballot than in 2012. Hillary Clinton received 43,000 fewer votes in Milwaukee than Barack Obama did in 2012. Donald Trump won the state by 27,000 votes.
[UPDATE 9-12-17 ~6:00pm EST: The New York Times had an article August 29, 2017 laying out in detail how Republicans in Wisconsin used redistricting on steroids to reshape the political map of the state: The New Front in the Gerrymandering Wars: Democracy vs. Math.
...The new maps efficiently concentrated many Democratic voters in a relatively small number of urban districts and spread out the remainder among many districts in the rest of the state. These are the twin techniques of gerrymandering, often called packing and cracking, which distribute voters to benefit the party that is drawing the district lines.
….By modeling everything from a typical split between Republicans and Democrats to a big swing toward either party, Gaddie’s techniques allowed the mapmakers to distribute voters with maximum advantage for Republicans, without fear of spreading their own supporters too thinly and thus imperiling safe seats.
The map drawing was carried out in secret with no Democratic input. The courts are still wrestling with how to deal with this kind of gerrymandering precision. NOTE: a side effect of this is to drive Republicans ever farther to the right, since the only challengers they have to worry about in their districts are challengers coming from the right.]
Are there any signs the national leadership of the Democratic Party has realized how this is working yet? There seems to be an institutional blindness to the stacking of the deck here. Certainly one of the things coming out of What Happened seems to be an admission that the Clinton Campaign — and the party in general — hadn’t fully grasped what has happened here.
[Update: ian douglas rushlau has put up a comment with much info suggesting I may have done the party an injustice here. I hope so — this looks like a good part of what needs to happen.]
The basic assumption seems to have been: win the White House with enough key states, and the rest will take care of itself. Well, it doesn’t, and there’s no sign the party has realized this yet at a gut level. If anything, there seems to be blind optimism that the Trump backlash will be so great, Democrats will retake at least one house of Congress in a wave election.
And that may be so — but waves roll up the beach and roll back. Republicans are building seawalls to make sure wave damage is neither as big as it might be or lasting. (Pity they don’t take the same attitude towards fighting Climate Change.) They are in it for the long haul. The Democratic Party seems to look no farther ahead than the next election. And, it could get worse. Much worse. As Perlstein warns:
...this July, after the Republicans’ crusade to toss tens of millions of their fellow Americans off health insurance failed the Senate, Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, evangelical hero, and father of Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the new White House press secretary, took to Twitter: “Time to repeal the 17th Amendment. Founders had it right—Senators chosen by state legislatures. . . . Direct election of Senate is major cause of #swamp.”
“Draining the swamp,” apparently, now means turning America into a single-party state. Thanks to Project REDMAP, Republicans control both chambers of 32 state legislatures. If they came to control six more, they could indeed repeal the 17th Amendment—and would automatically control 72 senate seats, adding automatic control of the Senate to REDMAP’s automatic control of the House of Representatives.
While they’re at it, they might call for a new constitutional convention as well, and rewrite the constitution to gladden the hearts of the oligarchs calling the shots.
[UPDATE: This map is taken from an August 29, 2016 article at Raw Story by Steven Rosenfeld in which he raised the possibility that the election might turn on just 20 counties. Looks like Project REDMAP worked.]
Now, the importance of the Russian connection can’t be over emphasized. A hostile foreign power has exploited the vulnerabilities in our political system to undermine our democracy and destabilize our government. But, they’re not working alone.
Follow the Damn Money!!!
John Le Carré, in an interview with Terry Gross remarked how concerned he is about anti-democratic forces within the West that are happy to join with Putin and other despots because they have a real contempt for democracy.
...what is really spooky, I think, and profoundly disturbing is they come from the West as well as the East - that there are oligarchs in the West who are so far to the right that they make a kind of natural cause with those on the other side of the world. Both of them have in common a great contempt for the ordinary conduct of democracy.
They want to diminish it. They see it as their enemy. They see - they've made a dirty word of liberalism - one of the most inviting words in politics. They've - and so they're closing in on the same target from different points of view. That's the first thing. So whether they're called Cambridge Analytica, whether they've got some spooky name and they're hidden away in the Ukraine, they're actually doing much the same job. They're undermining the decent processes of democracy, and that's having its effect….
If you want an example of the strange bedfellows on the radical right being brought together by mutual hatred of liberals, this story out of Israel finds the son of the Israeli Prime Minister recycling anti-semitic slurs against Jews for an attack on Liberal Israeli politicians — and being called a “Bro” by white nationalists in the U.S.
“Yair Netanyahu is a total bro,” wrote Andrew Anglin in the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer. “Next he’s going to call for gassings.”
Nancy MacLean, with her book Democracy in Chains, has uncovered long running plans to undermine democracy, funded by a network of the right wing oligarchs Le Carré is concerned about. Go back a few decades, and you can find the genesis of the strategy in the work of James Buchanan. As NPR reports,
Buchanan headed a group of radical thinkers (he told his allies "conspiratorial secrecy is at all times essential"), who worked to centralize power in states like Virginia. They eschewed empirical research. They termed taxes "slavery." They tried repeatedly to strike down progressive action — school integration, Social Security — claiming it wasn't economically sound. And they had the patience and the money to weather failures in their quest to win.
As MacLean lays out in their own words, these men developed a strategy of misinformation and lying about outcomes until they had enough power that the public couldn't retaliate against policies libertarians knew were destructive. (Look no further than Flint, MacLean says, where the Koch-funded Mackinac Center was behind policies that led to the water crisis.) And it's painstakingly laid out…
Buchanan took it as his mission to ‘save’ capitalism from democracy. He found a willing audience with the wherewithal to implement his ideas.
...This sixty-year campaign to make libertarianism mainstream and eventually take
the government itself is at the heart of Democracy in Chains. It's grim going; this isn't the first time Nancy MacLean has investigated the dark side of the American conservative movement (she also wrote Behind the Mask of Chivalry: The Making of the Second Ku Klux Klan), but it's the one that feels like it was written with a clock ticking down.
Still, it takes the time to meticulously trace how we got here from there. Charles and his brother David Koch have been pushing the libertarian agenda for more than 20 years...
The fundamental problem is this. Our democracy has proven vulnerable to the power of concentrated wealth. There has been a systematic campaign to weaken the idea of government; the Powell Memo is just one example of push back by money against government of, by, and for the people. The goal is to to turn it into a wealth transfer machine, to turn the public good into private profit. Every so often, the curtain gets pulled back, and the web is revealed. Things like the end of the Fairness Doctrine, the end of meaningful anti-trust regulation, all the way up to Citizens United equating money with speech — it’s all of a piece.
To the extent that the Democratic Party represents the interests of working people, good government, effective government, the rule of law, the idea of the public good — that’s seen as a threat by people with the money to do something about it. How successful have they been? Look at what has happened to inequality in the U.S.
The rich are money-making machines. Today, the top mega wealthy -- the top 1% -- earn an average of $1.3 million a year. It's more than three times as much as the 1980s, when the rich "only" made $428,000, on average, according to economists Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman.
Meanwhile, the bottom 50% of the American population earned an average of $16,000 in pre-tax income in 1980. That hasn't changed in over three decades.
As if that's not depressing enough, living the American Dream is also getting harder to do.
Millennials, born in the 1980s, only have a 50% likelihood -- a coin toss chance -- of earning more money than their parents did, according to new research released this month from the Equality of Opportunity Project.
The people behind this don’t see it as a problem — they see it as the way things should be. Grover Norquist has bragged about their goal: “I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” This is the end goal of libertarianism when you strip away all the rationalizations. Libertarianism is just anarchy for rich people.
The Founding Fathers were very concerned about the dangers of a government with too much power. They created a system of checks and balances to control. No more kings and aristocrats, right?
What they seem to have failed to realize is the danger of concentrated wealth becoming a de facto aristocracy. Possibly, it’s because they were men of wealth and power themselves for the most part, and couldn’t imagine anyone like them could be a threat to what they were trying to accomplish. Does a fish understand water?
To square the circle, this comes back to all the things Hillary and the Democratic party ran head-on into in the last election. It’s what gave Obama six solid years of a hostile, obstructionist Congress. It’s why Bill Clinton’s triangulation couldn’t save him from impeachment. It’s why forcing a government shut down is no longer unthinkable, is even desirable to some. It’s why Donald Trump with all three government branches in Republican hands can’t get the government to work — but can continue to demolish its ability to function. It’s not a bug — it’s a feature to the people with the money behind it all.
If this isn’t fascism, it’s close enough.
Just as pumping CO2 into the atmosphere is driving climate change around the globe, money flooding into politics is just as damaging to the body politic. Whatever comes of the Mueller investigation, until we recognize the root causes, it’s not going to get better.
The mainstream media can’t really deal with it — they don’t do deep investigations any more, they need a narrative they can quickly sell to get eyeballs followed by a new story for the next news cycle, they need smoking guns and sound bites, media consolidation makes it harder for a story to break out against group think and corporate ownership. Plus, there’s an entire right wing media propaganda machine pushing back and discrediting them 24/7.
The political establishment on the left still hasn’t come to terms with it — they need those big bucks to compete, and it’s a lot easier to chase a few big donors and keep them happy than the vast majority of ordinary people. Money buys access. Money has resources to get what it wants. (More on that here.)
What happened to Hillary is just the latest chapter in an ongoing story. It’s not going to end well if we don’t take back control of the narrative and recognize the real threat we’re facing.
UPDATE: Thanks everyone for the recs and the comments! I’d hoped I’d managed to connect a few dots in a useful way, and it looks like I’ve succeeded.
AND MORE UPDATE: I’ve found more dots to connect. I’ve added a couple more updates above, plus the one below.
[UPDATE 9-12-17 ~6:00pm EST: Charles P. Pierce has some commentary on the fraudulent Voting "Integrity" Commission scam. Over at TPM, Josh Marshall’s gang shows how Trump’s deplorables are trolling Democrats while they try to ‘prove’ wide scale voting fraud — and get pushback.