Bring Back the Lawyers and Politicians

“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers,” Dick the Butcher declares in Shakespeare’s Henry VI.

I am a journalist, not a lawyer by training, and have had my differences with lawyers who tend to make communication with the public too complicated, and who parse the meaning of every word in a statement. And yet in 2016, I’m learning a new appreciation for lawyers and politicians.

Almost all politicians are lawyers and many lawyers are politicians. In 2016, there has been an almost violent reaction against politicians and politics as usual. But maybe by the end of the year, we will wish for more politicians who are lawyers. Learning about the law, studying fact patterns, learning how to engage in reasoned debate, to develop arguments and sharpen them, teaches people how to think.

Donald Trump is not a lawyer, and it shows. His over-generalizations, vague statements, his refusal to tell us what he really means, suggest he is not a very good thinker. His twists and turns on immigration reform indicate that he really hasn’t thought through the details of his positions at this very late date. Is he for or against mass deportation? And his ad hominem attacks — constant personal insults against people rather than explaining legitimate differences of opinion — are terribly uncivil, bordering on the irrational.

My lawyer friend Bruce Johnson explains that “ad hominem  arguments are inherently the weakest. When Trump refuses to debate the merits of critiques and instead dismisses them as originating from the ‘liberal media’ (or from ‘crooked Hillary’; ‘lyin’ Ted Cruz; or ‘low energy’ Jeb Bush), he abandons rational argument in favor of an ‘I’m right because I’m me and you’re wrong because you’re you’ approach.”

It’s scary — something that’s done in authoritarian societies where leaders can’t be challenged by reasoned argument and the opposition is demonized.

I never understood the so-called compliment, “he’s not a politician.” As soon as a person enters the political arena, he’s a politician. It’s a role he has chosen to play. He’s trying to get elected. The demonization of “politicians” is simply a rejection of our shadow selves. It’s not like politicians breathe different air or drink different water than the rest of us. They are representatives of us, our worst and best selves. We and they are all part of the same system. As Pogo warned, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Trump is proving to be a divisive, incompetent politician who chooses not to understand the weight of his words as a presidential nominee. Or worse, maybe he does understand the weight of his words, and is deliberately spewing venom,  stirring up prejudice and hatred, in a cynical strategy to “divide and conquer” the American people.

This strategy was successful in the Republican primaries. In a crowded field, he divided and conquered a plurality of Republican primaries and delegates.

And it could work in the general election, if enough voters are so disgusted that they sit out the election or vote for third party libertarian or fourth party Greens.

America is supposed to be a nation of laws, “not simply of men.” Trump would make the US a nation where men — or one white man — decides what the law is. “L’Etat, c’est moi. I am the State,” declared King Louis XIV of France in 1655. Donald Trump seems to want to take us back to that time. “Only I can fix” the problems America faces, he insists.

Old fashioned lawyers and politicians are far preferable to this despot in the making.

I Might Be a Conservative in Britain

My conservative friends in America who rant against “liberalism” around the world do not seem well-informed. They don’t seem to realize how isolated or narrow American conservatism appears to conservatives in, say, Britain. American conservatism exalts individual autonomy over responsibility for others, a philosophy contradicted by Judaeo-Christian ethical and social teachings.

If I were a British citizen, I might well vote Conservative (Tory) or New Labour, because they consider these social teachings. And almost none of my British Tory friends would support Donald Trump. With his anti-immigrant pitch, he would fall well within the UK Independence Party (UKIP).

The leadership of the (UK) Labour Party currently seems to have gone off the deep end, dominated by Trotskyites. I certainly don’t have much confidence in Jeremy Corbyn, the radical left-wing Labour leader who opposed Brexit.

Corbyn “backed Remain only half-heartedly, contributed to the dismal result and exposes him for the conservative he is: a left-wing Little Englander, an abrasively nostalgic memorabilia junkie, the left’s answer to the Duke of Edinburgh,” observed The Economist. His opponent for Labour leader, Owen Smith, has sensibly called for a second referendum on Brexit, and may lead a split in the Labour Party.

WSJ: How a U.K. Labour Party Meltdown Could Play Out in Wake of Brexit Vote

Related: A British Tory is an American Democrat, by Andrew Sullivan:

Here’s an indication of just how far to the right the American political discourse is, compared with Britain – the developed country most in tune with American neo-liberalism:


That’s why David Cameron and Barack Obama have long had such an easy relationship. Either one could fit easily into the other’s cabinet. And maybe it does help explain why I still consider myself a conservative. I am, as a Brit.

Andrew Sullivan | Nov 7 2014 @ 3:38pm at 3.38pm | Categories: The Dish | URL:

Trust Hillary and Other Politicians? Not An American Tradition

A friend worries that Hillary Clinton could lose the election because she is currently trusted by only a third of voters: 67 percent of voters have doubts about her trustworthiness, according to the NYT. Maybe this is a problem, or maybe it isn’t.

Politicians historically are not trusted, nor should they be, as their job is basically to give you the illusion that they are your friend or ally while balancing your agenda against opposing or contradictory agendas within their coalition. A successful politician delivers at least some of your agenda, and earns the loyalty of disparate groups. An unsuccessful politician gives his or her supporters a feeling of betrayal because he is unable to deliver on their agenda. It’s a transactional relationship.

Perceptions of trust of politicians blow with the wind. In 2013 and 2014, a full majority deemed Barack Obama untrustworthy, according to Gallup. The same was true in 2015, according to Fox News. Yet today his “trustworthiness” is well over 50 percent, as is his job approval rating.

Was Nixon trusted in 1972? Hell no. The front-runner to oppose him from November 1970 until the winter of 1972 was Senator Edmund Muskie of Maine, who launched a campaign based on his personal integrity, with buttons declaring that you can “Believe Muskie.” I have some of those “Believe Muskie” buttons stashed away in my attic. So how far did this campaign based on trusting a politician take Muskie? No where. His front-runner status fell apart in the snows of New Hampshire in 1972, and totally collapsed in the sunshine state of Florida.

Hunter Thompson wrote about this in his classic book, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, 1972.

Nixon, who nobody trusted, went on to win a historic landslide against George McGovern, a man trusted by his supporters but deemed clueless about the world by a majority of Americans. The reason? Nixon articulated where middle American were on the issues of the day. In retrospect, Nixon looked like the last of the liberal Republican presidents.

A lesson many Americans have internalized is that when they trust politicians, they are sure to be disappointed. “Question authority” was a watchword of the generation growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, after the Vietnam debacle and during the Watergate scandal, and Americans of all generations have surely internalized that sentiment.

Even those who trusted Obama and thought he was going to be the second coming have been disappointed. A certain degree of skepticism of politicians is healthy. Do I fully trust Hillary? No. Yet I would consider myself a strong supporter this year. I wouldn’t fully trust FDR, Truman, JFK, LBJ, Carter or Clinton either.

And yet when it comes to specific issues, knowledge, especially if they have a track record and a strong constituency, a politician can be trusted. Huffington Post notes that voters overwhelmingly trust Hillary Clinton on the key issues that matter most to them:

Trump trails Clinton in voter trust on each of the issues that typically rank highest in people’s minds when evaluating a presidential candidate ― the economy, immigration, terrorism, national security, foreign policy, social issues and criminal justice, according to a HuffPost aggregation of polling data. Clinton even leads on the topics that Republicans have historically been perceived as better-equipped to handle.

Donald Trump is a pathological liar about most everything. What’s most disturbing is not that he lies from time to time — most presidents do — but that he has so little regard for well-established facts, and seems to be out of touch with reality, knows not and cares so little for the substance of policy.

Clinton’s Fibs Vs. Trump’s Huge Lies, by Nicholas Kristof

In 2013, Hillary was at 60% job approval rating.
Remembering that George H.W. Bush was at 90% approval in 1991 after he “successfully” launched the Gulf War, and that his approval rating then plunged to less that a third of voters at the time of the 1992 election, these things blow with the wind.
Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, by the accounts of those who knew them best, were quite untrustworthy, but still managed to win landslides, and to be credible presidents with high approval ratings for several years, before the lies caught up with them.
Jimmy Carter banked his campaign and his presidency on honesty, integrity and trustworthiness, promising “I’ll never lie to you.” It didn’t see him through one term. I still remember Steven Brill’s disturbing expose from the 1976 campaign, “Jimmy Carter’s pathetic lies.”
The Atlantic Monthly recalls that “from Washington to FDR to Nixon, president have always lied.” Honesty does not necessarily make for an effective president.
The NYT has a podcast on Hillary’s trust problem. Mark Landler, a White House correspondent for The Times, points out that Hillary was strongly trusted by foreign leaders when she was Secretary of State, and was well-trusted by constituents when she was senator from New York. It is when she is a presidential candidate that “trust” becomes more of an issue because she tends to be self-protective on the campaign trail.


Comparing, Contrasting Clinton and Trump Acceptance Speeches

Instead of consuming filtered characterisations by journalists, opinion-makers and spinmeisters of the important acceptance speeches of the two major party nominees, it is far more instructive to read texts of their acceptance speeches side by side, view the fact-checkers’ analyses,  compare the speeches, and make up one’s own mind.

First, I noted common ground between the acceptance speeches of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump: both candidates called for massive investments in infrastructure improvements. Neither was clear on how they will pay for it, except possibly as an “off-budget stimulus.”

Both candidates call for tax penalties for corporations that ship jobs overseas. (Neither explained the details of how that would work in practice, and frankly I am skeptical that tax penalties would lead to a resurgence of American manufacturing jobs.)

They both complain about foreign trade deals that disadvantage American workers. I suspect both candidates are over-simplifying this issue, which is mainly an argument among economic experts who study the global economy full-time. These issues cannot be accurately reduced to 30-second or even 60-second sound bites without simplistic appeals to emotion, resentment, bigotry or false hope.

Secondly, it’s important to read acceptance speeches because they reveal how the candidates describe their own histories and their own motivations. Even if you don’t believe they are fully honest, these descriptions ring at least partly true. Trump thinks of himself as a master builder and deal-maker. Clinton thinks of herself as an advocate and barrier-breaker for those who, like her mother, faced terrible disadvantages or unfair restrictions in life.

Trump channeled Richard Nixon’s 1968 “law and order” campaign against Lyndon Johnson’s Vice President, Hubert Humphrey, promising to speak for “the forgotten men and women of our country.” Nixon called them “the silent majority.” Trump portrayed a dystopia of high crime, a flood of illegal immigrants taking jobs from citizens and driving down wages, routine terrorist attacks from Muslims (failing to mention that a lot of terrorist attacks are homegrown, not from religious zealots but from crazed citizens with guns). He described the country’s current leadership as hapless and ineffectual. Yet he offered few solutions or policy prescriptions other than the frighteningly authoritarian “only I can fix it.”

Hillary Clinton and her surrogates painted a far more optimistic picture of America, speaking of America’s “unlimited promise,” quoting Franklin Roosevelt that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” referring to an expanding economy of 15 million new private sector jobs since Obama took office, 20 million more Americans with health insurance, “and an auto industry that just had its best year ever.”

But she said she wasn’t satisfied with this progress. She said it’s wrong for corporations “to take tax breaks with one hand and give out pink slips with the other. And I believe Wall Street can never, ever be allowed to wreck Main Street again.” She said the minimum wage should be increased, everyone has a right to affordable health care, trade deals should be fair, social security should be expanded, college should be debt-free for all students (parents and students should be able to refinance student debt), parents should be able to find affordable child care and paid family leave, and laws should be passed to “keep guns out of the hands of criminals, terrorists and all others who would do us harm.”

She promised comprehensive immigration reform, offering a path to citizenship for immigrants who are already contributing to our economy, emphasizing that Americans are stronger when they work together, noting that more than 500 people applied for jobs as police officers in Dallas, Texas days after five police officers were shot.

She went on to describe average Americans who inspired her to become an activist and politician because “simply caring is not enough. To drive real progress, you have to change both hearts and laws. You need both understanding and action.”

Trump Embodies America’s Worst Traditions

In the age of Obama, I believed that most or at least a majority of Americans had overcome, had been educated out of racism, prejudices, their worst fears and traditions. They would no longer embrace dangerous demagogues like Joe McCarthy and George Wallace, and would respond primarily to positive aspirations and to appeals to reason. I fear I was wrong.

“America achieved greatness by reluctantly undergoing a painful process of critical introspection that forced it, time and again, to look in the mirror and come to terms with its worst demons as the prerequisite for exorcising them. To remain true to that process, we should acknowledge that Trump doesn’t stand apart from American traditions. He just embodies some of the worst,” writes Yoav Fromer, who teaches politics and American history in Israel.

He offers a litany of some of the worst moments in American history — hostility to and violence against immigrants, bullying other countries and engaging in imperialism so much that scholars have sometimes viewed the US as a “Dangerous Nation,” with a long history of “regeneration through violence.” Indeed, violence is deeply ingrained in American society.

Violence enforced slavery, Jim Crow and brutal suppression of organized labor’s demands for improved wages and conditions in relatively forgotten episodes like the 1892 Homestead Strike in Pennsylvania, the 1914 Ludlow Massacre in Colorado and the 1921 Battle of Blair Mountain in West Virginia.

The whole piece is worth a read. As are these two pieces:


Are We on the Path to National Ruin?

A partly burned flag before a 2015 demonstration on the anniversary of a fatal police shooting in Ferguson, Mo.

Europe in the 1930s and America in the 1890s faced many troubling conditions like we do today. They responded with very different answers.comment icon Comments

How Dangerous Is This Moment?

Flowers left at police headquarters in Dallas.

Historical parallels can take us only so far, but the echoes of everything from the populism of 1896 to the violence of 1968 are audible

Trump & Co Defame FBI, Smear Director James Comey

Predictably, fact-averse, prejudice-spreader Donald Trump and his supporters assert “the fix is in” and “the system is rigged” because Hillary Clinton was not indicted over her use or abuse of email as Secretary of State. In doing so, Trump and co. defame the FBI and smear the reputation of FBI Director James Comey, a registered Republican who donated to the McCain and Romney campaigns, and served as Deputy Attorney General in the GW Bush Administration.

“No charges are appropriate in this case,” Comey announced. “Our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case…we cannot find a case that would support bringing criminal charges on these facts.”

All related cases that were prosecuted, Comey said, “involved some combination of:

  • clearly intentional and willful mishandling of classified information; or
  • vast quantities of materials exposed in such a way as to support an inference of intentional misconduct; or
  • indications of disloyalty to the United States; or
  • efforts to obstruct justice.
  • We do not see those things here.”

“I can assure the American people that this investigation was done competently, honestly, and independently. No outside influence of any kind was brought to bear…We did the investigation the right way. Only facts matter, and the FBI found them here in an entirely apolitical and professional way.”

Ask Republicans upset over this decision why they are so intent on defaming the FBI and smearing the reputation of James Comey. Their argument is with him.


Computer Security Issues Far Larger Than Clinton Email

Truth be told, the FBI’s judgment that Hillary Clinton and her aides were “extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information” could probably be applied to leaders of other government agencies and hundreds of private businesses.

In announcing no indictment of Clinton, FBI Director James Comey criticized the slack security culture of the State Department, especially in regard to unclassified e-mail systems. State generally lacked “the kind of care for classified information found elsewhere in the government.”

And yet, many agencies of the government, along with private businesses, have been hacked and suffered computer security breaches, endangering the personal data of tens of millions of Americans.

“Indicting Clinton would require the Justice Department to apply a legal standard that would endanger countless officials throughout the government, and that would make it impossible for many government offices to function effectively,” observed Ian Milhiser at

The Hillary Clinton email “scandal” is simply endemic of long-term reluctance and cluelessness by government officials, bureaucrats, attorneys and employees of public and private businesses to extend their accountability to the digital era.

Computer security experts I knew more than a decade ago said the US government has been terrible at protecting itself, and major security breaches were inevitable. Hacks into,,, and even the Pentagon and have been reported, not to mention major hacks into banks, credit card companies, and retail businesses selling online.

The government, as well as public and private businesses have not spent the considerable resources necessary to protect computer systems that have long been bogged down in complexity and bureaucratic inertia.

2001-2005: Former Secretary of State Colin Powell “found the State Department computer system, including Internet and email, to be woefully inadequate when he took office there in 2001. He devoted substantial re­sources to improving it but also made liberal use of his personal AOL account.” Hillary Gains Unlikely Ally in Email Controversy: Colin Powell.

2008: Congress to Bush: You’ve Lost Mail. 

2015: State Department Hack (By Russia) ‘The Worst Ever‘. State Department’s email was hacked well after Hillary left, and was less secure than Hillary’s private server, which apparently rebuffed hacker attacks. “Even a breach of the unclassified system poses major security risks, because sensitive information of value to foreign intelligence agencies is routinely shared in non-classified emails.”

Hacking of Government Computers (By China) Exposed 21.5 Million People

When Hillary Clinton established an email server in her home in early 2009, she was understandably concerned about the privacy of her electronic communication on a government system.  A much smaller system like would be far easier to secure.

“Starting in 2009,” according to a Washington Post account, “there was a new, electronic system, known as SMART, to properly archive department emails without having to print and file them, but Ms. Clinton opted not to use it, out of concern that there was ‘overly broad access to sensitive materials.’ ”

The department’s email technology was archaic. Other staffers also used personal email, as did Secretary Colin Powell (2001-2005), without preserving the records.

For speed and simplicity’s sake, like many others she did not want to switch back and forth between public and private email accounts.  So she opted for a private account, with her own server.

The State Department’s Inspector General says she “had not sought permission to use it and would not have received it if she had.” But that’s a bureaucrat’s CYA passive mentality.

No one in the bureaucracy confronted Clinton or her staff that having her own server and private email account was unlawful or even that it violated State Department rules, which was perfectly obvious to anyone at State who received email from Everyone knows it’s easier to get forgiveness than permission, and Clinton needed to make a decision faster than the bureaucracy could decide. The IG declared that using a private server for official business was neither allowed nor encouraged because of “significant security risks,” which was BS considering the insecurity of the State Department system.

The State Department email system clearly faced significant security risks of its own. It has been successfully hacked, whereas Clinton’s private server by most evidence has not been successfully hacked.

At least 90 State Department officials received emails from Clinton’s private server, but “no one in the State Department told her directly to use the department’s official email.” Indeed, when

two officials in the record-keeping division raised concerns in 2010, their superior “instructed the staff never to speak of the secretary’s personal email system again,” the report said.

Typical bureaucratic behavior.

Clinton ultimately provided the State Department with 30,000 emails, nearly all of which have been made public, far more than her predecessors, and which covered preservation requirements for federal records.  Secretary of State John Kerry was the first State Department Secretary to rely mostly but not exclusively on a account. She said she deleted another 30,000 “personal” emails on the grounds that “no one wants their personal emails made public, and I think most people understand that and respect that privacy.”

The FBI expressed “reasonable confidence there was no intentional misconduct in connection with that sorting effort,” and that Clinton aides did not intentionally delete emails related to the public’s business,  FBI Director Comey reported.

I see this not as revealing a character flaw on Clinton’s part but as SLOPPY behavior regarding electronic communication within complex computer systems, both in government and private industry that is a cultural epidemic.

“We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Nearly everyone puts all sorts of potentially embarrassing information in email. Who among us would voluntarily disclose to the public everything we’ve ever posted in email? Nobody.

There is a lot of hypocrisy about this investigation. I have received emails from people using their official employee email address expressing criticism of Clinton’s behavior. They seem clueless themselves as they are doing the same thing she did, not respecting the legal difference between public and private email.  And it’s not unusual to receive email from private accounts seeking to conduct work-related business via email. When people conduct business over private email, it can all be arguably subpoenaed or surveilled.

Remember the old adage, people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

A cultural change in awareness is required. If the Clinton email “scandal” leads the way, at least something good will come out of it.

If Clinton becomes president, she ought to be far more sensitive to issues of Internet security than her opponent Donald Trump, who simply sees a political problem for Hillary Clinton that he can exploit, not a widespread, non-political, non-partisan problem in governments and private businesses.