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Trump’s mendacity

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A guest opinion by Gregory A. Raymond, Distinguished Professor of Political Science, Emeritus at Boise State University, where he held the Frank and Bethine Church Chair of Public Affairs.

Dishonesty is one of the distinguishing features of the Trump presidency. The Washington Post has recorded over 20 thousand false and misleading claims that President Donald J. Trump has made during his first three-and one-half years in office, meticulously recording the frequency, range, and scale of his fabrications and half-truths. Some of Trump’s claims have been petty; others have been egregious; and still others, cruel. But regardless of how provocative they were, he rarely supported them with evidence. His defense was simply to spew out more bombast.

What explains this shameless behavior? Trump’s mendacity is bewildering to many Americans, particularly since the nation’s civic culture celebrates a Founder who purportedly refused to lie.

Pundits generally attribute Trump’s dishonesty to a rhetorical strategy based on deception. It’s a strategy so deeply rooted in the human experience that it defines some of literature’s most memorable characters. In Sophocles’ Philoctetes, for example, Odysseus, the legendary warrior-king of ancient Ithaca, proclaims that “words, not deeds, rule over men in everything.” Artful words, he explains, facilitate deception. They enable the cunning to shape themselves to suit the moment’s needs and dupe others whenever it is beneficial. “When one stands to gain,” he insists, “scruples are out of place.”

On the face of it, winning over listeners through any means—fair or foul—seems to account for Trump’s rhetoric. He regularly uses intentionally false and misleading statements to shift attention away from sensitive topics, duck responsibility for policy failures, and burnish his public image. What is more, he stonewalls and equivocates to mask these lies, as shown by his paltering about journalist Bob Woodward’s audio recording of him admitting that he deliberately downplayed the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) when he knew of its dangers.

Not only has Trump been able to dissemble with impunity, but his lying frequently works. According to a large body of psychological research, most people expect others to be truthful and are bad at detecting lies. Moreover, even after falsehoods are discredited, people tend to dismiss corrective information if the falsehoods are consistent with other things that they believe, and if they think that members of a salient reference group believe in them as well. Rather than reject erroneous beliefs, people often go so far as to imagine circumstances where a trumped-up story could have been true. Owing to these behavior patterns, dishonesty gives liars a significant advantage over principled individuals whenever they interact, which enables them to manipulate those individuals and gain benefits that might not be obtainable if both parties were sincere and transparent.

Because the liar’s advantage is a central element in the president’s rhetorical strategy, he bristles if someone calls attention to his prevarications. When fact-checked during press briefings by reporters Weijia Jiang (May 11, 2020), Kaitlan Collins (July 28), and Paula Reid (August 8), Trump abruptly terminated the meetings rather than defend his assertions. Likewise, when asked by S.V. Dáte (August 13) if he had any regrets for all of the brazen lying that he had done, he refused to respond. With numerous books and news reports exposing his duplicity, it is understandable that in an August 28-September 1, 2020 CNN poll only 36 percent of the respondents believed that Trump was honest and trustworthy.

Even his sister, retired federal judge Maryanne Trump Barry, has asserted that “you cannot trust him,” an opinion echoed by such diverse observers as Michael Cohen, his former personal attorney, and by Miles Taylor, a former chief of staff for the Department of Homeland Security.

Trump’s anger at mainstream print, broadcast, and online media is not surprising. Reporters who bring his disingenuousness to light undermine his ability to deceive. Still, a puzzle remains: Why does Trump continue to lie when he knows that the majority of his audience knows that he is lying?

One plausible answer is that his rhetorical strategy entails more than persuasion. In addition to making false and misleading statements to distract, deflect, and delude, there is another, less appreciated facet of Trump’s strategy—domination. Whereas he lies to bolster his support among ardent followers, his aim is different when speaking to those he cannot convert. Here he lies not to convince, but to control; not to entice, but to taunt. Implicit in his con is a boast: “I realize you know that I am lying, but I am powerful enough to do it anyway, despite your objections.” It is a form of bullying, writer-activist Masha Gessen notes, that characterizes many authoritarian leaders.

Flooding the civic arena with wild, sensational claims is a way that Trump flaunts his power. His relentless barrage of fictions, spurious accusations, and fallacious conspiracy theories attracts attention, which allows him to insert himself into people’s everyday lives, regardless of whether or not they believe his allegations. Debunking the confusing jumble of distortions that he propagates is mentally exhausting, like trying to unscramble the contorted images in a house of mirrors. Trump’s swarm of fraudulent claims can overwhelm the most indefatigable fact checkers, bogging down their efforts to hold him accountable for his wayward behavior. As his verbal onslaught obscures the boundary between reality and illusion, desensitizing people to the line between truth and fantasy, it is easy to grow cynical about politics and become resigned to living public life as a passive subject rather than as an active participant.

In short, jackboots and brownshirts are not the only tools for enervating civic engagement. Unremitting mendacity can also beget political acquiescence. By wearing citizens down, it offers a cheap, surreptitious way to demoralize opponents and discourage their involvement in public affairs. Over time, the torrent of lies erodes trust in democratic institutions and practices, which can lead all but the most fervent partisans to withdraw from civil society and seek solace in the quiet joys of private life.

Lying is pervasive among human beings, though most people do it for relatively harmless reasons, such as being polite in uncomfortable social situations. Donald Trump’s mendacity is more egregious and consequential.

While it may be tempting to believe that his outlandish claims are merely intended to shock and should not be should not be taken literally, the sheer volume of false and misleading statements suggests otherwise. Trump’s interminable lies represent more than simple waggishness. They are the leading edge of autocracy.
 

Militarization in policing

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A guest opinion fronm M. Reza Behnam.

Racial injustice, inequality and violence are as American as apple pie. The country is beginning to reckon with its history of anti-Black violence and the role law enforcement has played in maintaining the current social, political and economic system.

Racism and police violence at home are inseparably linked to the violence the United States has waged abroad in service of its self-declared role as policeman of the world. And like the nation, American policing has grown ever more militaristic.

American law enforcement emerged out of 18th century slave patrols in the South. White volunteers, empowered to protect the interests of slave owners, used vigilante tactics to control the enslaved population.

Police departments multiplied in southern states after the Civil War (1861-65) to reinforce white supremacy. Many of the terror tactics used by the Ku Klux Klan and other vigilante groups during Reconstruction (1865-1877) paralleled those used by slave patrols.

Jim Crow laws, enacted between 1877 and the 1960s, were enforced by the police. These laws, legalizing racial segregation, firmly embedded America’s racial caste system.

During the 1950s, to raise awareness of police violence, a civil rights organization presented a petition to the United Nations in 1951 entitled, “We Charge Genocide: The Crime of Government Against the Negro People.” The petition averred: “Once the classic method of lynching was the rope. Now it is the policeman’s bullet….We submit that the evidence suggests that the killing of Negroes has become police policy in the United States and that police policy is the most practical expression of government policy.”

Police culture became increasingly militarized as urban uprisings and anti-Vietnam war protests surged in the 1960s. It accelerated during the Nixon administration, as did the law-and-order rhetoric used routinely by President Trump.

President Ronald Reagan (1981-89) employed tough-on-crime rhetoric to gain support for his war on drugs and war on the welfare state. Local police departments began receiving training from the military and SWAT teams increased dramatically.

The “tough on crime” era of the 1980s and 1990s, with its war on drugs, draconian sentencing laws and harsh law enforcement tactics led subsequently to the United States becoming the world’s leader in incarceration.

A compelling example of police violence carried out in Black communities took place in Chicago between 1972 and 1991. During those years, police officers, at a Chicago station, systematically tortured over 100 Black men. Although the brutality was an open secret among Chicago police, prosecutors and elected officials, nothing was done until the atrocities were finally exposed by local newspapers beginning in 1990.

Today, in most poor and minority neighborhoods, police officers act more like an occupying army, patrolling with an “us against them” warrior mentality. Police using “no knock” warrants, kicking in doors during suspected drug raids, are all too reminiscent of U.S. soldiers barging into the homes of frightened Afghans and Iraqis.

Once referred to as peace officers with uniforms to match, police are now suited up like battle-ready soldiers. The use of military equipment has created a condition in which officers see residents as dangerous enemy combatants to be subdued.

Since 1997, the Department of Defense has dispersed over $6 billion of surplus equipment, weapons and armored vehicles, at no cost and without training, to 8,000 law enforcement agencies under the 1033 provision of the National Defense Authorization Act.

Since 9/11, police departments can now purchase new military equipment, using anti-terrorism grants provided by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

The militarization of policing is reflected in their training. Federal, state and local officers, including ICE agents, have traveled to such controversial places as Israel to be instructed by the Israeli army and police. Amnesty International and the U.S. State Department have condemned Israeli forces for their human rights violations against Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, and for their use of excessive force against peaceful protestors.

Weapons used by the U.S. military against people in the Middle East and elsewhere are now the “less lethal” arsenal being employed against Americans.

Federal officers have used tear gas against protestors in 100 different U.S. cities since the public murder in May of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.

Demonstrators are seeing firsthand what happens when militarization is brought home. In June, the Trump administration turned the area around the White House into a war zone to disperse peaceful protestors.

To dramatize his law and order offensive, Trump issued an executive order marshaling federal forces to protect Confederate monuments and statues.
Subsequently, the DHS sent Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers and other federal agents to Portland, Oregon.

With 20,000 agents, the CBP—which views itself as a militarized force—boasts of being “one of the world’s largest law enforcement organizations.”

Among the CBP agents sent to Portland was an elite special operations tactical unit—equivalent to the Navy Seals—known as Bortac, that has served in Afghanistan and Iraq. Bortac agents are trained for SWAT-style raids and have faced criticism for their culture of cruelty toward migrants.

Trump threatened to send troops to other cities, all with large Black populations.

When repressive regimes are toppled, the first statues to be felled are those erected by and for those regime’s dictators. Across America and the world, monuments to racists and imperialists have been defaced or razed, while the culture of violence and militarism endures.

America is reckoning today with what abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, understood in 1852: “The feelings of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy must be exposed….”

There is growing awareness that the institutions and belief systems designed to support and sustain racism, violence and militarism will not be felled as easily as the statues.

M. Reza Behnam, Ph.D., is a cultural political scientist whose specialties include American foreign policy and the history, politics and governments of the Middle East.
 

Out!

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From a letter sent on July 17 by Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and Representatives Earl Blumenauer and Suzanne Bonamici to the U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security:

The Honorable William Barr, Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice
The Honorable Chad Wolf, Acting Secretary, Department of Homeland Security

Attorney General Barr and Acting Secretary Wolf:

We write today to express our alarm about the authoritarian tactics employed in the streets of Portland by the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security.

These tactics include deploying federal agents without identifying insignia in an apparent effort to evade transparency and accountability, snatching people off the street with no apparent reason for apprehension, and using potentially deadly munitions to harm peaceful protesters. These actions are out of control. They are more reflective of tactics of a government led by a dictator, not from the government of our constitutional democratic republic.

Not only must these egregious tactics end immediately, we demand that you remove these federal paramilitary forces from our state. The country has watched recent videos of agents wearing camouflage and body armor, without insignia or other identification, apparently from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Tactical Unit (BORTAC), apprehending civilians by putting them into unmarked cars. Furthermore, the fact that neither the public, nor local leaders, nor federal representatives for the people of Oregon know who these agents are despite direct inquiries from us and others speaks to the intentional obfuscation of their roles. Federal agents deployed in American cities must wear identifying insignia for public accountability of these grievous acts.

These actions are chillingly reminiscent of autocratic governments that “disappear” critics and opponents. Federal agents only have the authority to make arrests if they have probable cause that a person has violated a federal law. In at least some of these instances, these anonymous law enforcement officers appear to be indiscriminately arresting anyone in downtown Portland who they perceive to be associated with protests, searching them, and then releasing or charging them depending on what they find. Proximity and dress do not constitute probable cause.

We appreciate the responsibility to protect federal personnel and property, but these tactics, coupled with the violent nature of the federal agents’ crowd control tactics resulting in a peaceful demonstrator being shot in the face on July 11, 2020 by a member of the U.S Marshals Service Special Operating Group (SOG), seem calculated to provoke further conflict, a conclusion reinforced by the President’s efforts to make a political issue out of developments in Portland. The message crafted by the Trump administration to justify this escalation of force and intimidation in Portland borders on propaganda, apparently to serve the President’s perceived political interests. This is unacceptable under our Constitution. There are undoubtedly dangerous acts being committed by a small number of individuals. Yet a Department of Homeland Security press release refers to “violent anarchists” 72 times while describing graffiti. Meanwhile, the President’s re-election campaign is running ads warning of “lawlessness” and “radical left-wing mobs.”

The American people deserve to know who is giving orders for the disappearance-style arrests or detentions, as well as who has operational command and what the rules of engagement are for federal officers operating in Portland. We live in a democratic republic, not an authoritarian police state and we cannot allow our cities to become occupied zones. The President is working hard to portray himself as a “law and order” figure, but only seems interested in the “order” part of that phrase. You and your agencies work for the people of Oregon and other Americans and you are answerable to them.

These actions represent a complete abuse of power, and we demand that you remove any SOG, BORTAC, Homeland Security Investigations Special Response Team (HSI SRT) agents or other federal agents recently deployed to Oregon immediately. Some of us have already written to you requesting information about your training, tactics, and chain of command, and we reiterate our requests for you to provide that information immediately. We will not tolerate the use of Oregonians as props in President Trump’s campaign-motivated abuse of power.
 

The meaning of ‘treason’

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A guest opinion from Everett Wohlers from Idaho.

We have heard about the story first reported in the New York Times that the Russian GRU offered bounties to the Afghan Taliban for the killing of US servicemen, and that the US intelligence services briefed President Trump in March of this year. The NYT reports that information on the bounty offer was briefed “to the highest levels of the White House” in January.

The matter was discussed by the National Security Council at a White House meeting in March, and a matter of such importance would have been reported to the President. The NYT had personal knowledge that information about the GRU operation was included in at least one President’s Daily Brief (PDB). We have since learned that the intelligence services first alerted the White House to the bounty scheme in early 2019 and that it was included in a PDB at that time. Further, intelligence professionals around John Bolton at that time have reported that Bolton verbally informed Trump of the report.

Since the NYT story broke, Trump has repeatedly denied that he knew anything about the Russian scheme. But, based on the number of times that the matter came to the White House’s attention, Trump’s denial that he knew of reports of the Russian bounty offers is just not plausible. To bolster Trump’s denial, Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Daniel Ratcliffe issued a statement saying that Trump had not been briefed. However, Ratcliffe did not take the DNI job until May 26, so he had no personal knowledge of facts that occurred in March and therefore had no basis for his statement.

The bottom line is that Trump knew of the GRU program to pay bounties for American deaths. Not only did he not take action against Russia, Trump engaged in a series of pro-Russian actions. In April, Trump joined Russian President Putin in a joint statement about trust between the US and Russia. Trump phoned Putin five or six times between March and June of this year.

Following a call on June 1 that was described in favorable terms by Trump, he publicly advocated for the re-admission of Russia to the G-7 and having Putin attend the G-7 meeting Trump was planning to host at Camp David in June.

More importantly, just a few days after the June 1 call, and with no notice to NATO allies nor even to Defense Department leadership, Trump announced that the US would withdraw a third of its forces from Germany, something about which Putin has dreamt for years. One day later, Putin announced that Russia would be deploying more troops to Russia’s western region, facing NATO. The combined effect of those actions will be a shift in the balance of power in Russia’s favor. Needless to say, Germany and the other NATO powers were furious at the perceived betrayal by the US.

As an American, and particularly as a war veteran, I am beyond outrage at a Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces who knew of a campaign by a hostile foreign power to pay for the assassination of American service members, and not only failed to take action against that foreign power, but actively befriended its leader and gave that hostile power two huge strategic gifts – the unilateral withdrawal of a third of US forces in Germany that serve as a deterrent against Russian aggression, and advocating for Russia’s readmission to the G-7. Trump’s betrayal of the troops of which he is the supreme commander and his betrayal of our NATO allies are beyond shameful.

The term “treason” is often misused, frequently by Trump himself, but it seems in this case to be appropriate. Article III, section 3.1 of the Constitution says, “Treason against the United States, shall consist . . . in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.” I contend (1) that the GRU’s offer of bounties established Russia as an “enemy,” insofar as it was intended to kill American troops, and (2) that Trump’s failure to respond appropriately, his subsequent public embrace of Russia’s leader, his withdrawal of US forces from Germany immediately after the call with Putin, and his advocacy for Russia’s re-admission to the G-7 would constitute “Aid and Comfort.” The Constitution’s remedy for treason, in Article II, Section 4, is removal from office.

Everett Wohlers is a lawyer who served as a Republican appointee in Idaho state government for over 21 years. He is a Vietnam war vet, and later served in the National Guard for over 20 years. He is now a consultant to the World Bank Group, and has spent substantial time in both Russia and Afghanistan.
 

At risk

This is an essay from Everett Wohlers, who was a staffer in the Idaho Secretary of State’s office from 1976 to 1998.

Over the past two weeks, following the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, we have seen mass protests arise all over the country, and indeed even in other countries. While there have been notable cases in which opportunists have used the protests as cover to engage in violent rioting and looting, the vast majority of the protests have been principled and peaceful.

The responses of the Trump administration and some municipal police forces have been far from what should be expected in a country whose Constitution guarantees its citizens the rights of freedom of expression and peaceable assembly. The most egregious case, of course, was the use of military forces, at the order of Attorney General William Barr, to attack the peaceful protesters in Lafayette Square with tear gas, concussion grenades and direct physical assault.

In the days since, we have seen graphic displays of physical violence by a number of municipal police forces against peaceful gatherings of protesters, including violent tackling, beating with batons, forceful and injurious knocking of people to the ground, tasing, pepper spraying and shooting with “less than lethal” munitions, in some cases causing serious and permanent injury.

As I contemplated those horrible cases of abuse and violation of the Constitutional rights of Americans, I thought of my last personal experience with a peaceful protest against a government.

I was working on a World Bank Group project with the government of Jordan in Amman. One day, when I arrived at the building of the government agency with which I was working, I found that it was the target of a mass protest by Jordanian citizens. The crowd was chanting and yelling, with signs waving, but all without violence. The Jordanian police were there, but they stood off to the side, chatting among themselves, making no moves or threats toward the protesters. In retrospect, the behavior of the protesters was very much the same as that of the protesters in Lafayette Square and in the cities around the US in recent days, and the conduct of the police was respectful of the protesters’ right to protest.

Reflecting on my experience in Amman, and comparing it with the actions of the troops in Lafayette Square and the municipal police departments, I wondered how it could be that the country that we like to characterize as the world’s greatest democracy has a violent, repressive reaction to peaceful protest, whereas a small Arab monarchy behaves as we should expect of our government with regard to our First Amendment rights of free expression and peaceable assembly. My conclusion is that our rights and our system of government are at serious risk, and we must act to preserve them.
 

Too great for hate

A guest opinion from Rod Gramer of Boise; he is the co-author of the Frank Church biography Fighting the Odds (which has been republished by Ridenbaugh Press).

I drove past a billboard last week that read: “208 Too Great for Hate.”

It was the day after the Idaho House killed a bill that would have created a specialty license plate to fund programs operated by the Wassmuth Center for Human Rights. It was the last hooray for a Legislature that spent more time focused on social engineering than on the problems of real people like property tax relief for seniors and the economically disadvantaged.

“I am not going to throw labels around,” Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb, the bill’s sponsor and Idaho’s only African-American legislator, said graciously after the vote. “But I will tell you that there is a problem.”

Earlier the Legislature passed two bills that discriminated against transgender citizens. One banned transgender girls and women from participating in school sports that matched their gender identity. The other banned transgender Idahoans from changing the gender marker on their birth certificates.

Four of Idaho’s largest employers – HP, Micron, Clif Bar and Chobani – wrote a letter to Governor Little urging him to veto the bills. In a letter to legislative leaders, Mark Peters, the director of the Idaho National Laboratory, warned about the “tone of discussion” in the Legislature and how it “negatively impacts the way in which Idaho is perceived outside our borders.”

Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Yet even education was under attack in the House. It took three tries to pass a budget for our colleges and universities because many House members oppose the institutions’ support of diversity and inclusion.

Never mind that the mission of education is to promote diversity of thought, critical thinking, and the understanding of cultures outside one’s life experiences. These are all qualities we need as citizens, employees, and leaders in an increasingly diverse world. Openness to the “other” doesn’t just benefit the people who don’t look like, act like and belong to our dominant culture – it benefits all of us.

But it takes people willing to rise above their own prejudices and life experiences to see the importance of human rights. In Idaho, one such person is a humble onion farmer from Wilder. It was his mother who taught him to respect all people. But it was seeing Jim Crow in action in Mississippi while stationed in the Army that caused him to spend his life fighting for human rights.

He dropped out of the Elks Club when the club refused to admit a Japanese-American friend. Fifty years ago, as a legislator, he sponsored creation of the Idaho Human Rights Commission. He twice voted for the Equal Rights Amendment for women, once to make it part of our Constitution and once against Idaho’s repeal of the ERA. As Governor, he fought to provide workers compensation insurance for farmworkers, something he had done voluntarily for years, because he believed they deserved the same protection as other workers. Now in retirement he doesn’t understand why the Legislature doesn’t “Add the Words” to prevent discrimination against our LGBT citizens.

That onion farmer is former Republican Governor Phil Batt, who turned 93 years old on March 4 – “Idaho Day.”

I don’t know what Governor Batt thinks of the vote against creating a license plate that proclaims Idaho is “Too Great for Hate.” But I can imagine that he is disappointed. Because through all his fights against discrimination one thing Governor Batt has never given up on is the kindness, goodness and fairness of Idaho’s people.

Ultimately what we all want is to be included. To have a seat at life’s table. It is ironic that as the Legislature was passing discriminatory bills, we face a worldwide pandemic, an enemy that doesn’t discriminate. The coronavirus is the great equalizer, striking rich and poor, LGBT and straight, the powerful and powerless. Perhaps it will take a pandemic to help us see, especially those who hold the power, that everyone must be included because every person is sacred – and because Idaho is Too Great for Hate.

Rod Gramer is writing this as a private citizen and as a member of the Board of the Wassmuth Center for Human Rights. He is also working on a book about Governor Phil Batt.
 

A change in views

This is an essay from Everett Wohlers, who was a staffer in the Idaho Secretary of State's office from 1976 to 1998.

I just by chance read something in a magazine yesterday that caused me to reflect on my history with the Republican party.

I grew up in a tiny farm and ranch town in the northwest corner of Nebraska. In that area, Democrats were either non-existent or an endangered species. I was from birth a Republican. My parents were hard-core conservative Republicans, and my dad was an elected Republican officeholder. I admired the Republican icons of the 50s and 60s – such people as President Eisenhower, Everett Dirksen, Charles Mathias, Edward Brooke, Gerald Ford, Margaret Chase Smith and others.

I was appointed to the US Military Academy by Republican Senator Roman Hruska. After my active duty years and law school, I moved to Idaho and took a job as a Republican political appointee working for Idaho’s longest serving Republican elected official, whom I served for well over two decades. The party in which I grew up and spent much of my adulthood was one of decency and sound values, and I was proud to be a part of it.

When Ronald Reagan was elected, I began to have misgivings because he was so clearly unqualified and because he started the practice of scapegoating unfavored classes to gain votes. But I chalked him up as an aberration, not the rule for the party, and his succession by Papa Bush, a decent and competent man, seemed to confirm that. Then when Newt Gingrich became Speaker and took the party on a very dark turn, I had more misgivings, but I still maintained my identity as a Republican. I voted for George W. Bush in the 2000 election, but when it became apparent to me in the fall of 2002 that he and his PNAC-dominated administration were about to take us into a stupid and unlawful war in Iraq, that was the final straw.

I disclaimed the party and became an independent. The rise of the Koch-funded Tea Party confirmed to me that my decision was the right one, because the Tea Party’s values, which became those of the party, were so at odds with mine. Then with the nomination and election of Trump, the last shreds of decency, honor and competence of the party were totally extinguished.

The item that I read yesterday was about the late Republican Senator Margaret Chase Smith, who was one of those to whom I looked up in my youth. The piece was about her “Declaration of Conscience,” her statement in which she took on Joe McCarthy for his abuses of freedom of speech and expression. Following that declaration, she said the following with respect to what she feared McCarthy would bring about if he could:

“I don’t want to see the Republican Party rise to victory on the four horses of calumny: fear, ignorance, bigotry and smear.”

That really encapsulated for me the reason that I have rejected my old party. It has now fully descended to become exactly the party that Senator Chase Smith took action to prevent Joe McCarthy from making it. I think it is no mere coincidence that the man who was McCarthy’s advisor, Roy Cohn, was the same man who groomed Donald Trump to become the man he is and in whose image the party is now molded.
 

The tools of foreign policy

A new column by M. Reza Behnam, Ph.D., a political scientist whose specialities include American foreign policy and the history, politics and governments of the Middle East.

“War is in fact the true nurse of executive aggrandizement.” James Madison, 1793

Donald Trump was impeached, but acquitted, for extorting a foreign government to advance his reelection and for obstructing Congress’s inquiry into his political shenanigans.

He should, however, have been impeached and convicted for exploits far more serious: assassinating Iranian General Qassem Suleimani and his Iraqi counterpart, Mahdi al-Muhandis, abetting Saudi Arabia in its lethal bombing campaign in Yemen, and starving Iranians and Venezuelans with crippling economic sanctions. Congress has, in effect, avowed that bribing officials of a foreign government is impeachable, but killing them is tolerable.

Owing to America’s history of extrajudicial killings, Trump believed he had the power to order a death sentence outside the purview of Congress.

With the exception of the 1975 Senate Select Committee, chaired by Idaho Senator Frank Church, little has stood in the way of interventionist presidents. Church’s committee concluded that the CIA had attempted to assassinate the leaders of Cuba, the Congo, the Dominican Republic, Chile and South Vietnam. It recommended that Congress outlaw assassinations.

To counter congressional action and maintain executive agency, President Gerald Ford signed Executive Order 11905 in 1976, which reads: “No employee of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, political assassination.” Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan issued similar executive orders.

According to these executive orders—still in effect—the extrajudicial execution of political opponents, in peacetime and in war, is illegal and a violation of existing norms. However, U.S. administrations have used circuitous terminology and logic to circumvent prohibitions and to legitimize political killings.

Since September 11, 2001, the term “targeted killing” has crept into political and public discourse to legitimize America’s execution of non-state political adversaries. U.S. administrations have contended that the prohibition against political assassinations does not preclude taking action against terrorists. Seldom questioned, however, is who has designated the United States to be the singular and decisive power to define terrorism and identify terrorists.

Former presidents took the ban on assassinations into account and attempted to develop rationales to overcome legal obstacles. Trump did not. The Trump administration acted unlawfully—committed a crime—when it killed a military leader of a country the United States is not at war with, based on questionable, unsupported claims that Suleimani posed an “imminent threat.”

Invasions, regime change, assassinations, sanctions and threats have been tools of U.S. foreign policy for decades.

The international exploits of U.S. presidents have often been shameful. Instead of impeachment or censure, presidents have been heralded with eponymous libraries, showered with million dollar book deals, and honored in death.

According to U.S. intelligence, Russia intervened in the 2016 U.S. election. Ironically, the United States has been interfering in other countries’ elections since the Second World War.

From Truman to Trump, American presidents have taken the United States to terrible places based on false narratives. They have orchestrated the overthrow of more than 40 governments, putting in place despots palatable to U.S. political and corporate interests. Acting on the premise of self-defense, presidents have ordered lethal operations against leaders they found unacceptable.

Over the past century, the executive branch has amassed power while the legislative branch has ceded it. Congress must assert its power by making clear that starving people, deposing governments, ordering assassinations and initiating wars are serious offenses that call for impeachment. Sadly, until then, the longstanding injustices and brutalities of American foreign policy will not end.

(c) 2020, Dr. M. Reza Behnam