Saturday, February 27, 2021

Something to Know - 27 February

It's been several days, or a long time, since I have bothered to send anything out.   After four years + of #45, it was nice to take a rest, and not wake up every morning to the sad tales of how the SOB was making news via a whole tool box of crazy and nefarious behaviors.   The Republicans are meeting for their annual CPAC pow-pow, where there will be plenty of swooning over the loser.   I read several articles on what they were going to talk about.  The curious thing is that concern over his legal troubles with civil and criminal entanglements was made.   The Southern District of NY received trump's tax and finance information about a week ago.  That and other investigations will render damaging and long-lasting results to the worst so-called president.

There are a number of very different stories swirling out there this Friday. I have been trying to make sense of them and will tell you what I see, with the warning that I could very easily be wrong, so ignore at will.

One of today's biggest stories is that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence today released its assessment of the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018 at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. Khashoggi was a Saudi Arabian journalist whose criticism of his country's government had driven him into exile in the U.S., where he worked for the Washington Post. The DNI placed blame for the murder on Saudi Arabia's current crown prince, Muhammad bin Salman, whose name is often abbreviated as MBS.

By law, the Trump administration was supposed to release the intelligence community's assessment of the killing, but it refused. In her confirmation hearings, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines promised she would do so. The report was delayed until President Biden could speak to King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, the king of Saudi Arabia. MBS is the king's son and is the third crown prince Salman has named since becoming king in 2015. Biden has made it a point to refuse to communicate with MBS, despite the Trump administration's willingness to treat him as the country's de facto ruler. Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner apparently considered MBS a friend. Biden will speak only with the king.

The readout of the conversation said Biden spoke with the king "to address the longstanding partnership between the United States and Saudi Arabia." They discussed ending the war in Yemen, "and affirmed the importance the United States places on universal human rights and the rule of law." Earlier this month, Biden ended U.S. support for Saudi Arabia's military engagement in Yemen, a fight launched by MBS, which has led to a humanitarian crisis there. The Trump administration's huge arms sales to Saudi Arabia, including top-line F-35 fighters, were widely seen as a way to support the Saudi war effort; Biden has frozen the sales for review.

Now he has added sanctions to the former deputy Saudi intelligence chief and to the Saudi Royal Guard's rapid intervention force, whose members have been identified as those behind the murder. Their assets in the U.S. are frozen, and they cannot deal with Americans. The U.S. also restricted the visas of 76 Saudi citizens and some of their family members.

Also yesterday, Biden launched an air strike against the facilities of Iran-backed militias in Syria that have been launching rocket attacks against U.S. targets in Iraq. When asked today what message he was sending, he said: "You can't act with impunity. Be careful."

Also yesterday, the FBI Washington Field Office tweeted a thread noting that 13 Russians are wanted by the FBI for participating in a "conspiracy to defraud US by impairing, obscuring & defeating the lawful functions of FEC [Federal Election Commission], DOJ [Department of Justice] & Dept of State" between 2014 and 2018. It explained: "These individuals allegedly took actions to reach significant numbers of Americans for the purposes of interfering w/ US political system, includ[ing] the 2016 Presidential Election."

The FBI also offered $250,000 for information leading to the arrest of Ukrainian Konstantin V. Kilimnick, whom the Senate Intelligence Committee identified as a Russian operative. Kilimnick is wanted by the FBI for obstruction of justice and for engaging in a conspiracy to obstruct justice between February and April 2018, persuading someone not to testify in an official proceeding.

Kilimnick was the business partner of Paul Manafort, Trump's 2016 campaign manager; Manafort handed over detailed and private campaign polling data to Kilimnick in 2016.

So, what have we got going on here?

At the very least, it seems the Biden administration is sending a signal to other countries that there is a new administration in America, one that will not tolerate foreign intrusions into U.S. affairs the same way its predecessor did.

But I wonder if the inclusion of the wanted posters on those Russians accused of interfering with the 2016 election, including one who worked closely with Trump's campaign manager, is a signal to the Saudis, along with the rest of the world, not to support Trump's continuing attempt to undermine our democracy.

Today, the White House issued a statement noting that it was seven years ago that Russia violated international law by invading Ukraine. President Biden reiterated that the U.S. stands with Ukraine and its attempt to shore up democracy to withstand the aggression of oligarchy.

"The United States does not and will never recognize Russia's purported annexation of the peninsula, and we will stand with Ukraine against Russia's aggressive acts.  We will continue to work to hold Russia accountable for its abuses and aggression in Ukraine," the statement reads.

But it is a message not just of warning, but also of hope:

"We will also continue to honor the courage and hope of the Revolution of Dignity, in which the Ukrainian people faced down sniper fire and enforcers in riot gear on the Maidan and demanded a new beginning for their country. The United States still believes in the promise of Ukraine and we support all those working towards a peaceful, democratic, and prosperous future for their country." 







When day comes, we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid.
The new dawn blooms as we free it.
For there is always light,
if only we're brave enough to see it.
If only we're brave enough to be it.

- Amanda Gorman

Friday, February 19, 2021

Something to Know - 19 February

Ted Cruz is in a sad situation.  In addition to being the most-hated individual (by both sides of the aisle) in the US Senate, he is now suffering from the hypocrisy of excoriating others (mostly Obama) for not staying on the job to attend to matters of state.  He is now blaming his daughters for making him go to Cancun.  Oh, well, let hims suffer.  The rest of the Texas leadership is in the cross hairs of criticism for their lack of proper governance, and is it going to be costly for all Texans.   In a few days, the gas, oil, water, and electricity will be getting back to a sense of normalcy.  However, everyone who has a home, office buildings, schools, and any building with water flowing through metal pipes are going to pay heavy prices for re-plumbing.   The costs to consumers to repair the damages will be astronomical, and be with them for years to come.   The bad governance that defied any federal regulation, and doing everything on the cheap is catching up to this state.   It must have really hurt the governor to have to ask for help from FEMA for blankets, generators, water, etc.   People will now realize that there is more to climate change than just being a few degrees warmer.  The impact of this winter storm will make many non-believers see that it is not a hoax, and it is going to hit them hard in the pocket book.   The color from red to blue will be quicker now.   HCR for those who look forward to her - HCR

Texas, Land of Wind and Lies

When post-truth politics meets energy policy.

Paul Krugman

Opinion Columnist

  • Feb. 18, 2021

Politicians are neither gods nor saints. Because they aren't gods, they often make bad policy decisions. Because they aren't saints, they often try to evade responsibility for their failures, asserting either that they did as well as anyone could have or that someone else deserves the blame.
For a while, then, the politics surrounding the power outages that have spread across Texas looked fairly normal. True, the state's leaders pursued reckless policies that set the stage for catastrophe, then tried to evade responsibility. But while their behavior was reprehensible, it was reprehensible in ways we've seen many times over the years.
However, that changed around a day after the severity of the disaster became apparent. Republican politicians and right-wing media, not content with run-of-the-mill blame-shifting, have coalesced around a malicious falsehood instead — the claim that wind and solar power caused the collapse of the Texas power grid, and that radical environmentalists are somehow responsible for the fact that millions of people are freezing in the dark, even though conservative Republicans have run the state for a generation.
This isn't normal political malfeasance. It's the energy-policy equivalent of claiming that the Jan. 6 insurrection was a false-flag Antifa operation — raw denial of reality, not just to escape accountability, but to demonize one's opponents. And it's another indicator of the moral and intellectual collapse of American conservatism.

The underlying story of what happened in Texas appears to be fairly clear. Like many states, Texas has a partly deregulated electricity market, but deregulation has gone further there than elsewhere. In particular, unlike other states, Texas chose not to provide power companies with incentives to install reserve capacity to deal with possible emergencies. This made power cheaper in normal times, but left the system vulnerable when things went wrong.
Texas authorities also ignored warnings about the risks associated with extreme cold. After a 2011 cold snap left millions of Texans in the dark, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission urged the state to winterize its power plants with insulation, heat pipes and other measures. But Texas, which has deliberately cut its power grid off from the rest of the country precisely to exempt itself from federal regulation, only partially implemented the recommendations.
And the deep freeze came.
A power grid poorly prepared to deal with extreme cold suffered multiple points of failure. The biggest problems appear to have come in the delivery of natural gas, which normally supplies most of the state's winter electricity, as wellheads and pipelines froze. Nor was this merely a matter of the lights going out; people are freezing too, because many Texas homes have electric heat. Many of the homes without electrical heat rely on, yes, natural gas. We're looking at enormous suffering and, probably, a significant death toll.
So Texas is experiencing a natural disaster made significantly worse by major policy errors — and the officials who made those errors should be held accountable.
Instead of accepting responsibility, however, officials from Gov. Greg Abbott on down, backed by virtually the entire right-wing media complex, have chosen to lay the blame on green energy, especially wind power.

Now, it's true that the state generates a lot of electricity from wind, although it's a small fraction of the total. But that's not because Texas — Texas! — is run by environmental crazies. It's because these days wind turbines are a cost-effective energy source wherever there's a lot of wind, and one thing Texas has is a lot of wind.
It's also true that extreme cold forced some of the state's insufficiently winterized wind turbines to shut down, but as I said, this was happening to Texas energy sources across the board, with the worst problems involving natural gas.

Why, then, the all-out effort to falsely place the blame on wind power?
The incentives are obvious. Attacking wind power is a way for both elected officials and free-market ideologues to dodge responsibility for botched deregulation; it's a way to please fossil fuel interests, which give the vast bulk of their political contributions to Republicans; and since progressives tend to favor renewable energy, it's a way to own the libs. And it all dovetails with climate change denial.
But why do they think they can get away with such an obvious lie? The answer, surely, is that those peddling the lie know that they're operating in a post-truth political landscape. When two-thirds of Republicans believe that Antifa was involved in the assault on the Capitol, selling the base a bogus narrative about the Texas electricity disaster is practically child's play.
And if you're expecting any change in the policies that helped cause this disaster, don't count on it — at least as long as Texas remains Republican. Given everything else we've seen, the best bet is that demonization of wind power, not a realistic understanding of what actually happened, will rule policy going forward.

When day comes, we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid.
The new dawn blooms as we free it.
For there is always light,
if only we're brave enough to see it.
If only we're brave enough to be it.

- Amanda Gorman

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Something to Know - 18 February

The affairs of state keep working in a more predictable and sane pace than previously experienced under #45.   So, there is no need to chase after political news today.  Instead, you should pay close attention to HCR's contribution for today.   The Movement Conservative is really what has been the heart of all the misery we have seen over the past decades....well, since the 1950s, as efforts to repeal FDR's work have challenged the governance of this nation.   

The crisis in Texas continues, with almost 2 million people still without power in frigid temperatures. Pipes are bursting in homes, pulling down ceilings and flooding living spaces, while 7 million Texans are under a water boil advisory.

Tim Boyd, the mayor of Colorado City, Texas, put on Facebook: "The City and County, along with power providers or any other service owes you NOTHING! I'm sick and tired of people looking for a damn handout!... If you are sitting at home in the cold because you have no power and are sitting there waiting for someone to come rescue you because your lazy is direct result of your raising! [sic]…. This is sadly a product of a socialist government where they feed people to believe that the FEW will work and others will become dependent for handouts…. I'll be damned if I'm going to provide for anyone that is capable of doing it themselves!... Bottom line quit crying and looking for a handout! Get off your ass and take care of your own family!" "Only the strong will survive and the weak will parish [sic]," he said.

After an outcry, Boyd resigned.

Boyd's post was a fitting tribute to talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, who passed today from lung cancer at age 70. It was Limbaugh who popularized the idea that hardworking white men were under attack in America. According to him, minorities and feminists were too lazy to work, and instead expected a handout from the government, paid for by tax dollars levied from hardworking white men. This, he explained, was "socialism," and it was destroying America.

Limbaugh didn't invent this theory; it was the driving principle behind Movement Conservatism, which rose in the 1950s to combat the New Deal government that regulated business, provided a basic social safety net, and promoted infrastructure. But Movement Conservatives' efforts to get voters to reject the system that they credited for creating widespread prosperity had little success.

In 1971, Lewis Powell, an attorney for the tobacco industry, wrote a confidential memo for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce outlining how business interests could overturn the New Deal and retake control of America. Powell focused on putting like-minded scholars and speakers on college campuses, rewriting textbooks, stacking the courts, and pressuring politicians. He also called for "reaching the public generally" through television, newspapers, and radio. "[E]very available means should be employed to challenge and refute unfair attacks," he wrote, "as well as to present the affirmative case through this media."

Pressing the Movement Conservative case faced headwinds, however, since the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) enforced a policy that, in the interests of serving the community, required any outlet that held a federal broadcast license to present issues honestly, equitably, and with balance. This "Fairness Doctrine" meant that Movement Conservatives had trouble gaining traction, since voters rejected their ideas when they were stacked up against the ideas of Democrats and traditional Republicans, who agreed that the government had a role to play in the economy (even though they squabbled about the extent of that role).

In 1985, under a chair appointed by President Ronald Reagan, the FCC stated that the Fairness Doctrine hurt the public interest. Two years later, under another Reagan-appointed chair, the FCC abolished the rule.

With the Fairness Doctrine gone, Rush Limbaugh stepped into the role of promoting the Movement Conservative narrative. He gave it the concrete examples, color, and passion it needed to jump from think tanks and businessmen to ordinary voters who could help make it the driving force behind national policy. While politicians talked with veiled language about "welfare queens" and same-sex bathrooms, and "makers" and "takers," Limbaugh played "Barack the Magic Negro," talked of "femiNazis," and said "Liberals" were "socialists," redistributing tax dollars from hardworking white men to the undeserving.

Constantly, he hammered on the idea that the federal government threatened the freedom of white men, and he did so in a style that his listeners found entertaining and liberating.

By the end of the 1980s, Limbaugh's show was carried on more than 650 radio stations, and in 1992, he briefly branched out into television with a show produced by Roger Ailes, who had packaged Richard Nixon in 1968 and would go on to become the head of the Fox News Channel. Before the 1994 midterm elections, Limbaugh was so effective in pushing the Republicans' "Contract With America" that when the party won control of the House of Representatives for the first time since 1952, the Republican revolutionaries made him an honorary member of their group.

Limbaugh told them that, under House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the Republicans must "begin an emergency dismantling of the welfare system, which is shredding the social fabric," bankrupting the country, and "gutting the work ethic, educational performance, and moral discipline of the poor." Next, Congress should cut capital gains taxes, which would drive economic growth, create hundreds of thousands of jobs, and generate billions in federal revenue.

Limbaugh kept staff in Washington to make sure Republican positions got through to voters. At the same time, every congressman knew that taking a stand against Limbaugh would earn instant condemnation on radio channels across the country, and they acted accordingly.

Limbaugh saw politics as entertainment that pays well for the people who can rile up their base with compelling stories—Limbaugh's net worth when he died was estimated at $600 million—but he sold the Movement Conservative narrative well. He laid the groundwork for the political career of Donald Trump, who awarded Limbaugh the Presidential Medal of Freedom in a made-for-tv moment at Trump's 2020 State of the Union address. His influence runs deep in the current party: former Mayor Boyd, an elected official, began his diatribe with: "Let me hurt some feelings while I have a minute!!"

Like Boyd, other Texas politicians are also falling back on the Movement Conservative narrative to explain the disaster in their state. The crisis was caused by a lack of maintenance on Texas's unregulated energy grid, which meant that instruments at coal, natural gas, and nuclear plants froze, at the same time that supplies of natural gas fell short. Nonetheless, Governor Greg Abbott and his allies in the fossil fuel industry went after "liberal" ideas. They blamed the crisis on the frozen wind turbines and solar plants which account for about 13% of Texas's winter power. Abbott told Fox News Channel personality Sean Hannity that "this shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America." Tucker Carlson told his viewers that Texas was "totally reliant on windmills."

The former Texas governor and former Secretary of Energy under Trump, Rick Perry, wrote on House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's website to warn against regulation of Texas's energy system: "Texans would be without electricity for longer than three days to keep the federal government out of their business," he said. The website warned that "Those watching on the left may see the situation in Texas as an opportunity to expand their top-down, radical proposals. Two phrases come to mind: don't mess with Texas, and don't let a crisis go to waste."

At Abbott's request, President Biden has declared that Texas is in a state of emergency, freeing up federal money and supplies for the state. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has sent 60 generators to state hospitals, water plants, and other critical facilities, along with blankets, food, and bottled water. It is also delivering diesel fuel for backup power.





When day comes, we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid.
The new dawn blooms as we free it.
For there is always light,
if only we're brave enough to see it.
If only we're brave enough to be it.

- Amanda Gorman

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Something to Know - 17 February

Joe Biden is working hard to inform and gather public support for his massive $1.9 trillion stimulus package.  Merrick Garland, his nominee for Attorney General, should be confirmed next week.   Mr. Garland will have a whole host of open issues left behind by the previous "guy" to address, and more on those later as they come up.  I notice that the former president is giving news pundits a field day on what to call him.   Not wanting to dignify him by calling him the "former president", he is often referred to as just "the guy", which suits me just fine.   So, "the guy" in an effort to still stay on the front page of interest, is bad-mouthing Mitch McConnell.   Too bad McConnell did not cut him off at the knees by voting to convict him, and taking enough senators with him to eliminate him.   The entertainment of watching supposed adults in the GOP behave is a blood sport.  The Republican party is doomed, and the split will create two groups, whose division will leave them both unable to mount an effective counter to the Democrats - which means that the Dems should act like adults and prove that they can follow the oath that they all took when elected and placed into office.   The 1st matter of the guy's legal problems seem to rest with the matter of empanelling a grand jury in Fulton County, Georgia - which has resulted in an immediate scramble by some Georgia Republicans to change their constitution before March.   As it exists now, the grand jury is drawn from the residents of Fulton County, but the devious red guys want to change it so that a grand jury for political cases is made up from ALL the residents of the state, not just the county.   That means that the minority-majority of Fulton County would be overshadowed by the rural rednecks from the remaining 158 counties.   Today, the Walteria, California news bureau has given attention to the following article in Time Magazine, which will ruin your mental stability for a while; it proves that you should take out the guy at each and every opportunity that comes along - got that Mitch?


Shredding the campaign rule book, Donald Trump forged a connection with angry voters and rode it to the front of the GOP field

How the real estate magnate took the Republican Party from its old bosses
There is a reason most presidential candidates stump through diners and living rooms this time of year. They can't fill a bigger room.
And then there is Donald J. Trump.
On the second day of January, in the Gulf Coast town of Biloxi, Miss., at least 13,000 stood for hours in a stinging chill to pack an entire sports arena for Trump, and when that venue was full, the overflow spilled into a second megaspace nearby. Trump called it the biggest crowd in Mississippi political history, which is exactly what you'd expect him to say, and also entirely plausible.
A few days earlier, Trump had packed a convention hall in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Two days later, he filled the 8,000-seat Paul Tsongas Center in Lowell, Mass., with people who waited on line in subfreezing cold. The next night, after standing for two hours in single-digit temperatures, locals filled the equivalent of two high school gymnasia on the Vermont–New Hampshire border to catch Trump's revival show.
Given these crowds, the unprecedented Trump-driven television ratings for GOP debates and his unsinkable run at the top of the national polls–a streak of more than five months and counting–even the most mainstream Republicans are coming to grips with an idea they have resisted since last summer. This could be their nominee. And they are asking themselves, could they stop worrying and, perhaps, learn to love the Donald?
Leading Republicans unhappily find themselves deep in "probing" conversation, asking, "perhaps he wouldn't be so bad," says veteran strategist and lobbyist Ed Rogers. True, Trump is a wild card, a flamethrower, a man with no known party loyalties and no coherent political principles, a thrice-married casino mogul and reality-TV star, a narcissist and even a demagogue. On the other hand: Biloxi.
At a time when the crown princes of Republican politics can't mount so much as a two-car parade, Trump is drawing the biggest crowds by far. He has the largest social-media footprint–again, by far–and lodges the sharpest attacks on Hillary Clinton while attracting the greatest number of potential recruits to Republican ranks. As a result, Washington insiders from both parties are now calling around to GOP heavies, asking, "Do you know anybody on Trump's campaign? Who is on his foreign-policy team? I need to get to know them fast." Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus, who entertained a discussion of Stop Trump strategies at a meeting late last year, now consults regularly with the front runner by phone. Even if the GOP could resist, should it? "He's got the mo, he's got the masses," says Rick Hohlt, a GOP strategist. "He's attracting a new class of voters." Efforts to stop him have failed miserably; meanwhile, Trump may be getting smarter as a candidate, adds Hohlt. "He knows when to push and when to back off."
The man is moving people, and politics does not get more basic than that. Trump is a bonfire in a field of damp kindling—an overcrowded field of governors and former governors and junior Senators still trying to strike a spark. His nearest rival, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, has traction in Iowa among the evangelical bloc and—in contrast to Trump—is a tried-and-true conservative. But with little more than half the support Trump boasts in the RealClearPolitics average of national polls, Cruz has a long way to go to show that he can move masses.
Cruz staffers, tellingly, have been studying a 1967 tome titled Suite 3505 as a playbook for their campaign. This F. Clifton White memoir, long out of print, tells the story of the 1964 Barry Goldwater campaign. That was the last successful populist rebellion inside the Republican Party, propelling a rock-ribbed conservative past the Establishment insiders–just as Cruz hopes to do. But this triumph of intramural knife fighting proved a disaster at general-election time. Goldwater suffered one of the worst defeats in American political history. It's no wonder that GOP leaders are every bit as wary of Cruz as they are of Trump.
In short, the GOP has awakened less than a month from the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary to find itself in bed between a bombshell and a kamikaze. It's a sobering dawn for a political party that seemed, not long ago, just a tweak or two away from glory. Republicans dominate America's state legislatures and governors' mansions. They control both houses of Congress. So why is their electorate leaning toward the outstretched grip of such a man as Trump?


And could Trump be a sign of something bigger even than himself?
Traditional GOP power brokers have long since lost count of the indignities Trump has inflicted on their rites and rituals. Since entering the race in June with a fantastical promise to wall off America's southern border and send the bill to Mexico, Trump has shredded the political rule book, scattering the pieces from his private helicopter. Have mouth, will travel. Policies that would be preposterous coming from anyone else–like barring all Muslims from entering the country or hiking U.S. tariffs while somehow erasing trade barriers erected by other nations–sound magical to his supporters when served up by their hero. Outrages that would sink an ordinary candidate, like mocking a person who has a congenital disease or giving a pass to Vladimir Putin for the murder of Russian journalists, lifted Trump atop the polls and then helped keep him there. What Flubber was to physics, Trump is to politics: an antidote to gravity, cooked up by a quirky but prodigious amateur.
Other candidates work to relate their lives to the struggles of ordinary voters. Trump does the opposite, encouraging Americans to savor vicariously his billionaire's privilege of saying whatever he damn well pleases. "I love Donald Trump because he's so totally politically incorrect. He's gone after every group," says Greg Casady, 61, an Army veteran who joined an immense Trump rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa. "He's spending his own bucks–therefore he doesn't have to play the politically correct game. He says what we wish we could say but we can't afford to anymore."  
Trump is an anomaly, but not the only one in this 2016 campaign. There is Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an avowed socialist who leads the early polls in the New Hampshire Democratic primary–despite the fact that he spent most of his career spurning the Democrats. Though not as shocking or aggressive as Trump, Sanders is no less the darling of a discontented army. He too draws large audiences–but unlike Trump, Sanders faces an even stronger opponent in former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Big Money, the supposed superpower of post–Citizens United politics, is a dud so far. Super-PAC bets by various billionaires have done nothing to fire up such candidates as former Florida governor Jeb Bush. Bush has filled screens in key states with millions of dollars in both positive and negative ads. The result: falling poll numbers. Touted as a front runner a year ago, Bush is mired in single digits and rang in the new year by announcing that he was scrapping a round of ads in favor of more ground troops in early-voting states.
Big Media too has been brought low. The collapse of Trump was predicted so often, so erroneously, in so many outlets that the spectacle was almost comic, like a soap opera that keeps killing off the same deathless character. Televised debates became seminars in media ethics, with candidates delivering stern lectures to their questioners, while offscreen, campaigns threatened to boycott networks and blacklist reporters.
What if all of these groundswells are part of the same tsunami? By coming to grips with Trump, Republicans might begin grasping the future of presidential politics, as the digital forces that have upended commerce and communications in recent years begin to shake the bedrock of civic life.
Disintermediation is a long word for a seemingly simple idea: dumping the middleman. It came into use a half-century ago to describe changes in the banking business. A generation later, the term described a key concept of the Internet age. In one field after another, the power of networked computing swept middlemen out of the picture. Ubiquitous retailers like RadioShack and Waldenbooks have either downsized or vanished as their customers go online to buy directly from manufacturers and warehousers. Netflix shutters the Blockbuster chain by mailing movies directly to viewers–then offers streaming, which cuts out the mailbox as well. Craigslist drains the advertising lifeblood from local newspapers, and local libraries reinvent themselves after the web puts the world in your pocket. It's a familiar story, one of the megatrends of our era.
Donald Trump is history's most disintermediated presidential front runner. He has sidestepped the traditional middlemen–party, press, pollsters and pooh-bahs–to sell his candidacy directly to voters, building on a relationship he has nurtured with the public from project to project across decades.
As far back as 1986, Trump began seeding this direct relationship with the public. That was the year he goaded New York City Mayor Ed Koch into handing over the disastrous renovation of the Wollman ice-skating rink in Central Park. The decline of New York was an old story by then, and the ice rink was a sorrow symbol. City bureaucrats had turned a routine rehab into a six-year slog with no end in sight. Trump took the reins, and the project took less than six months. He cut the ribbon on a beautifully finished rink, completed ahead of schedule and below budget, with live TV there to cover it.
He followed up with more self-styled rescue missions: the East Coast shuttle operations of dying Eastern Airlines, for example, and the ruined paradise of Atlantic City. Launched with fanfare (if often abandoned in silence), these efforts burnished Trump's image as a can-do, cut-the-crap businessman–even as he risked his fortune. This is part of the power of owning your image, free of the mediators. You can tell your own story, even if it is not entirely true. Trump's a fine businessman, with a keen eye for bargains and a knack for leverage. Where he is peerless is as a promoter; he is the Michelangelo of ballyhoo.
A masterstroke in 2004 vaulted him free of remaining middlemen; that's when Trump debuted his television show, The Apprentice. Tens of millions of Americans followed the cameras past the gatekeepers and into a direct relationship with the purse-lipped entrepreneur. That this intimacy is an illusion doesn't really matter; it has an undeniable power to create loyal followings for even the unlikeliest characters. From the Kardashians of Rodeo Drive to the Robertsons of Duck Dynasty, from the Cake Boss to Honey Boo Boo, the crafted characters of reality TV experience a different kind of stardom from the TV and movie idols of the past. Fans are encouraged to feel that they know these people, not as fictional characters but as flesh and blood.
Something similar goes on in every celebrity Twitter feed or Instagram account. Properly tended, the social network of skilled disintermediators can grow to encompass tens of millions of people, all sharing a joke or commiserating over a disappointment or comparing breakfasts with their famous "friend." The pop star Taylor Swift's nearly 70 million Twitter followers recently overheard her share a Christmas memory with her brother Austin and chuckled at a picture of her cute elf costume.
Peggy Lemke, 64, from Dows, Iowa, is one of many voters who see what is going on. "Trump is a reality-show phenomenon," she says. "His supporters treat this like American Idol. We treat everything like American Idol. I'm having a really hard time taking this seriously."
Disintermediation is not entirely new. In 1941, the radio personality W. Lee "Pappy" O'Daniel dealt Lyndon B. Johnson the only defeat of his consummate insider's career. Johnson had the credibility with middlemen, but O'Daniel had a direct connection to his listeners. Nearly 60 years later, the professional wrestler Jesse Ventura used his direct connection with an audience to win a three-way race for governor of Minnesota. But technology now gives the power of direct relationships to everyone, not just media stars; indeed, the line between being a media star and simply having a big Twitter following is blurring into nothingness. It's telling that Trump's rallies often feature appearances by a pair of women who go by the names Diamond and Silk, whose spirited endorsement of Trump on YouTube has been watched by nearly 100,000 people–as many as tune in to some cable news shows.
Trump tends his virtual community with care. Among the candidates, his 5.6 million Twitter followers are matched only by his counterpart at the top of the Democratic polls, Hillary Clinton. Trump has 5.2 million Facebook likes—three times as many as Cruz and 17 times as many as Bush. His 828,000 Instagram followers is nearly a third more than Clinton's 632,000. For many, if not all, of these individuals, their networked relationships with Trump feel closer and more genuine than the images of the candidate they see filtered through middlemen.
This can explain why Trump is unscathed by apparent gaffes and blunders that would kill an ordinary candidate. His followers feel that they already know him. When outraged middlemen wail in disgust on cable news programs and in op-ed columns, they only highlight their irrelevance to the Trumpiverse.
Indeed, the psychology of disintermediation adds another layer of protection to a figure like Trump. For members of an online network, the death of the middlemen is not some sad side effect of this tidal shift; it is a crusade. Early adopters of Netflix relished the fate of brick-and-mortar video stores, just as Trump voters rejoice in the idea of life without the "lamestream" media. Trump gets this: mocking abuse of his traveling press corps is a staple of his campaign speeches.
The fading power of middlemen is also visible in less garish manifestations than the Trump campaign. For example, voters used to judge candidates in part on their record of government service. Experience was a middleman, a sort of ticket puncher, that stood between the would-be President and the public. Not anymore. A stable of successful GOP governors–Rick Perry of Texas, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Scott Walker of Wisconsin–have dropped out, unable to understand the new calculus. As for the three current Senators on the trail–Cruz, Florida's Marco Rubio and Kentucky's Rand Paul–experience is the least of their selling points. All are first-term rookies known for defying party leaders, not for passing legislation. Rubio won office by challenging his party's official choice for the seat. Cruz glories in his reputation as the least popular Senator in the cloakroom: he doesn't need Washington's validation. In fact, it's the last thing he wants.
The three Senators–and their colleague Sanders in the other party–have used the Senate as a foil. What they accomplished as Senators, which is next to nothing, pales in their telling compared with what they refused to do. They did not sell out. They did not compromise. They did not break faith with their followers–a virtue that has replaced the ideal of service to a constituency. With disintermediation, the power to set the campaign agenda shifts from the middlemen to the online networks, and those networks, this year, are very angry. Here, again, Trump is far outrunning his rivals in seizing the momentum. Americans are unhappy about an economy that punishes workers, according to opinion polls and conversations with voters. They are tired of politicians who don't deliver on their promises. Trump's strongest backers are angry about illegal immigration. Cruz channels anger over Obamacare. Sanders mines anger from the opposite end of the spectrum, targeting "Wall Street" and "billionaires" to the seething satisfaction of the Democratic base.
These voters don't want someone to feel their pain; they want someone to mirror their mood. Woe to the candidate who can't growl on cue. Perhaps nothing has hurt the Bush campaign–whose money and endorsements, lavished by middlemen, have fizzled on the launchpad–more than Trump's observation that the former Florida governor is "low energy." Translation: he's not ticked off. Voter anger in this sour season is less a data point than table stakes.
At a late-December rally in Council Bluffs, Trump treated his audience to one of his trademark free-form speeches, which are like nothing in the modern campaign repertoire. He sampled alter egos from talk-radio host to insult comic to the fictional Gordon Gekko. ("I'm greedy," Trump bragged. "Now I'm going to be greedy for the United States.") When he wrapped up, Teresa Raus of nearby Neola, Iowa, waited another 30 minutes for Trump's autograph. Why? "I feel real confident that he can make America better. I believe him," she explained. And yes, she's angry. Other politicians "are liars," Raus continued. "They're all liars. I'm sick of politicians. If he's not running, then I'm not voting."
But if Trump voters are angry, that doesn't mean they're crazy. You meet more state representatives and business owners at his rallies than tinfoil-hat conspiracy buffs. In ways, they are a vanguard, catching sight of a new style of politics and deciding early to throw out the old rules. Their radical democracy helps account for Trump's uncanny resilience: the less he honors the conventions of politics, the more his supporters like him. They aren't buying what the political process is selling. They want to buy direct from the source. "It's like this," says Casady, the Army vet. "We're going to go with this guy sink or swim, and we're not going to change our views. It doesn't matter. It's time for us to do a totally insane thing, because we've lost it all. The times demand it because nothing else is working.
Some powerful forces inside the GOP will continue to fight Trump to the bitter end. As strong and durable as his support appears to be, the number of Americans who tell pollsters they would not vote for Trump is bigger. Trump's intemperate remarks have alienated millions of Latino, Muslim and women voters. His rash pronouncements are the antithesis of the moderate approach that many citizens still value. His proposed religious test for foreigners who want to come to this country is as inconsistent with America's self-image as linoleum floors in a Trump hotel.
The problem is that the party is weak at the national level, deeply divided into hostile camps, while Trump has the strength of a technological epoch at his back. Finding a way to live with Trump might not be a choice for the GOP; those might be the terms of surrender that he dictates at the national convention in Cleveland in July. And in private, even top party officials occasionally admit it.
Unless Cruz can continue to rise through the primaries—aided by members of the congressional Freedom Caucus who share his maximal conservatism—or a candidate like Rubio manages to push aside all mainstream rivals to consolidate the anti-Trump vote, the pot-stirring plutocrat may well steamroll through winter into spring with the lion's share of the delegates. They won't stop Trump because they can't stop Trump.
In that case, party insiders may be forced to decide whether to pull every trick in the rule book to keep Trump from the nomination, with all the havoc that would ensue–including a very real chance that the party could split in two. Faced with that prospect, they may decide instead to swallow hard and follow Trump's glowing blond nimbus into battle this fall. "The pundits don't understand it," Marco Rubio told an audience at a recent campaign stop in New Hampshire. "They don't understand why in this election, why aren't the things that worked in the past working again? Why is it that the people with the most money, or the most endorsements, or the one that all the experts thought would be in first place–why aren't they winning?"


When day comes, we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid.
The new dawn blooms as we free it.
For there is always light,
if only we're brave enough to see it.
If only we're brave enough to be it.

- Amanda Gorman