THE RUSSIAN CONNECTION: TRUMP AND FIRING OF FBI DIRECTOR COMEY: WHAT DID THEY KNOW AND WHEN DID THEY KNOW IT? (UP-DATED)

By  Harry C. Blaney III

Clips from The New Times editorial May 10th:

“Mr. Comey was fired because he was leading an active investigation that could bring down a president. Though compromised by his own poor judgment, Mr. Comey’s agency has been pursuing ties between the Russian government and Mr. Trump and his associates, with potentially ruinous consequences for the administration.

With congressional Republicans continuing to resist any serious investigation, Mr. Comey’s inquiry was the only aggressive effort to get to the bottom of Russia’s ties to the Trump campaign. So far, the scandal has engulfed Paul Manafort, one of Mr. Trump’s campaign managers; Roger Stone, a longtime confidant; Carter Page, one of the campaign’s early foreign-policy advisers; Michael Flynn, who was forced out as national security adviser; and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who recused himself in March from the Russia inquiry after failing to disclose during his confirmation hearings that he had met twice during the campaign with the Russian ambassador to the United States.

We have said that Mr. Comey’s atrocious handling of the Clinton email investigation, which arguably tipped the election to Mr. Trump, proved that he could not be trusted to be neutral, and that the only credible course of action would be the appointment of a special prosecutor. Given all that has happened ……. his dismissal of nearly all United States attorneys — the need for such a prosecutor is plainer than ever. Because Mr. Sessions is recused, the decision to name a special prosecutor falls to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, whose memo, along with a separate one by Mr. Sessions, provided Mr. Trump with the pretense to fire Mr. Comey.

This is a tense and uncertain time in the nation’s history. The president of the United States, who is no more above the law than any other citizen, has now decisively crippled the F.B.I.’s ability to carry out an investigation of him and his associates…..”

Added to this commentary is the reality that the most serious threat to the security of the United States and indeed the world is Donald Trump. As each day, each week and each month unfolds, this is increasingly apparent.  The cumulative impact of his actions directives, lies, and tweets only reinforce this conclusion. What is even more frightening is that so many of our leaders and institutions are unwilling to speak up or act to mitigate and halt this mortal danger to American security and democracy.

What was said in the NY Times editorial is a what both Democrats and some Republicans are now saying or wondering — most in disbelieve, wonder and yes fearfulness.

There are no better questions for our justice system, Congress, media, and citizens than to ask deep and serious questions about  the “Russia connection.” Getting honest truthful answers from Trump, Flynn, James Comey, and James Clapper, the former Director of National Intelligence (DNI), and all those associated with and under Trump who had connections with the Russians and a role in the firing of Comey, to wit: what did they know and when did they know it? An ancillary, and just as important, is to find out how dependent Trump, his family and organization are on Russian money, and contacts?

The firing of the head of the FBI who was leading the FBI effort investigating the contacts between Trump’s staff and associates, and, it is assumed, the Russian hacking of American political parties, has all the hallmarks of the Saturday Night Massacre under Nixon.  I witnessed this up front while at the State Department under then Secretary of State Kissinger.  I knew well the integrity of Elliot Richardson who stood with courage. Where now are such men of courage in the Republican Party?

At issue is the legal concept of “obstruction of justice” which should apply to all citizens including the president. There is a growing consensus that Trump’s aim is to demolish the FBI investigation and put in place in the Justice Department those who would stop or impede any further effort to fairly determine the truth  about Trump and his associates’ role in possible collusion with Russia — especially before he become president, and now after.

Each day there appears to be much more to the Russian influence story and Trump’s role than has so far surfaced. The recent White House Trump Meeting with the Russian Foreign Minister and Ambassador to the U.S. in closed doors adds to the perplexity. The odd truth is that Trump’s own actions and words tend to confirm that there is more to learn — perhaps not comforting for the security and well being of our nation. Clapper’s statement that he could not comment on the investigation of Trump regarding Russia was not a clearance of him. It was rather the opposite, it is that indeed Trump was an object of interest, given some of the evidence as part of the larger inquiry. And Clapper under those circumstances could not comment.

There is one simple assertion one can make: the appearance is an effort by Donald Trump to again squash and divert possible investigation of the “Russian Connection.“ To fire James Comey is clearly an act to set up a barrier in the Justice Department against any further action to investigate Trump and his team.  This includes if Trump was involved in initiating or knowing about, before he was president, the contacts with Russian agents and officials — especially aimed at making “deals” on withdrawal of sanctions and on collusion of hacking of Democratic files. There is also the question of the lies by Flynn about his contacts when he headed of the NSC. To this day Trump defends Flynn.

Another key question is Trump’s strange urging during the campaign of Russia to continue to hack the Democratic Party and Hillary and if that statement was a “signal” to the Russians to continue their efforts.

The revelation that Comey, before being fired asked for additional resources for the Russian inquiry and that Trump was informed about it,  and first said it was a decision based on the “recommendations” of AG Sessions (who should not have been involved,) and his deputy Rod J. Rosenstein. This has now been proved false. Recently, the Senate testimony by the now Acting FBI head Andrew McCabe, rejected Trump’s rationale for firing Comey. He defended the agency’s “significant” Russian counterintelligence investigation, and praised his former boss as a respected FBI leader contrary to the criticism of Trump that called him a a “showboater” and “bad” and not respected at the FBI. All lies.

In short, it sounds like Trump is trying to obstruct the process of justice to protect his associates and perhaps even himself from legal action prosecution, or impeachment. There are a number of serious questions about the corruption of the legal process by recent events. Our allies and Russia and others are looking at this with either dismay or rejoicing.  For friends hopes its America coming out of this still a cooperative and constructive democracy, for our  adversaries its pleasure seeing the dismemberment of Western law based justice, morality, and a further fracturing of Western unity and resolve and America in disarray.

We welcome your comments!!! (See section below for space to give your views.)

MORE ON THE TRUMP SYRIAN MISSILE STRIKES AND BEYOND & WEIGHING RISKS.

MORE ON THE TRUMP SYRIAN MISSILE STRIKES AND BEYOND & WEIGHING RISKS.

By

Harry C. Blaney III

Already there have been many comments on the impact of the missiles strikes and discussions of their implication and what they may mean going forward. The simple truth is that none of us know what risks may lurk ahead not even Trump, nor Putin, nor Assad. Trump has not indicated much in the way of his real aims and less about what hand he will play. Many bet he has no plan and others have surmised strategies from the more likely to the ridiculous. The one thing I think is true is that the old Trump we have seen is NOT a new Trump of a “grand sophisticate strategist.” I doubt he has little but a fuzze and probably ill-informed idea of what he must now do and what the future risks are.

Already after the initial Trump strikes, Syrian government warplanes were back bombing the same site that was hit by the sarin chemicals. And as sited in the Washington Post (4/9/17), reportedly there were more strikes also against civilians at Khan Sheikhoun, where Tuesday 68 people had been killed. Assad planes are still active in brutal killings. Thus nothing much has changed for the people as a result.

Not least of concern is the reaction of Putin to these actions and dangers of mistakes on both sides. Our larger approach with Russia must be an integral element of our strategy.

Trump’s national security team is about the worst I have seen in 50 years. Leaving aside the fractious White House still dominated by Alt-Right ideologists, one glaring weakness is the selection of Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State without any previous knowledge or experience in foreign policy and national security areas. He is like a lost soul out of his depth. Worst he won’t talk to or listen to experienced hands at State according to reports. Part of that may be that he knows he may have to fire many of them to meet the demands of his harsh circus ring boss who has a desire to ensure that foreign affairs belongs exclusively in the White House and as a fiefdom of an incompetent family.  Thus we see the Trump inspired 30% cut in State’s budget.

Trump said his motivation for the strikes were humanitarian for saving of lives, but his proposed State and USAID budget cuts will result in millions of added deaths including women and children in poor and conflict ridden nations around the world. Is that an act of a real “humanitarian?”

The results on the policy side of this action many end with no serious negotiations and with no strategic game plan behind them. This results in no long-term thinking or seeking peaceful win-win solutions. It seems the major fault is lack of respect of the tools of deep analysis and the concern and understanding of risks as well as end-game benefits for peace by Trump. That is dangerous for America and the world.

He has now made a “big bet” with a rather limited strike in Syria. He warned the Russians ahead which meant that the Assad air force had some kind of advanced warning. The damage done to the airfield and planes were modest in the extreme. He did not destroy all their planes and they can continue the killing of innocent civilians with what seems impunity with the protection of Russian arms. Did Trump foresee that outcome or even desire it?

The questions that many of us are asking is: given the military strategists have likely already developed complex scenarios for potential contingencies, has Trump given any consideration to both their analysis or recommendations or recognized the risks they may present? Another question is he even asking what options or problems they might  have over looked. And does he have people around him with deep knowledge that can ask the right questions, note the pitfalls, weaknesses, and provide him with additional realistic options?

I hearken back to the recommendations by DOD, CIA and even State to President John Kennedy in the 1960s Cuba missile crisis to attack with nuclear weapons Cuba, when unknown to US, Russian forces there had permission to use nuclear weapons against the US should Cuba be attack. President Kennedy and his brother Robert Kennedy together ignored the “nuclear war option” and choose, rightly, the negotiation option which saved mankind from mass obliteration. Is there any sign of this kind of  depth and serous thinking among the Trump gang?

Finally, I like senator Chris Murphy’s recent analysis of our Syria actions:

“As a theoretical matter, a targeted military strike in response to a major violation of non-conventional weapons norms is justifiable. Why have rules against chemical weapons use if no one is going to pay a price for violating the rules? International norms should be upheld by the international community–not the United States acting alone–but it’s hard to argue against Trump’s action last night when viewed in isolation as a response to Assad’s barbaric attack.

The problem is military strikes never happen in isolation–the before and after are arguably even more important than the strike itself. The actions Trump took leading up to Assad’s chemical weapons attack, as well as the all-important and totally unanswered question of what comes next, highlight the administration’s immoral and hypocritical approach to violence in the region.”

We welcome your Comments. See comment section well below the post.

THE RUSSIAN-TRUMP CONNECTION: GETTING TO THE TRUTH AND ITS IMPLICATIONS FOR THE WEST

THE RUSSIAN-TRUMP CONNECTION: GETTING TO THE TRUTH AND ITS IMPLICATIONS

By Harry C. Blaney III

DATELINE :LONDON

The perspective from London: the news that both the Director of the FBI James Comey and the head of the National Security Agency Admiral Mike Rogers have confirmed two key points has given some light here on America’s own disarray: the most important revelation is that of Comey in affirming that an investigation of the connection between the Trump team and Russia is taking place. The other statement by the NSA head, at the congressional committee, is that they could not find any evidence that Obama or his administration called for a wiretap on Trump Tower and affirmed that such a request would be illegal by Obama or any president. This severely undercut the Trump White House assertion that such wiretapping was ordered. They are looking at whether there was any collusion between Trump’s team and Russia to influence the election.

Russian Interference in the 2016 election is the other key issue and the need to look more at this seem on the agenda and will have still public profile until more if revealed and this is also a finding which Trump fears.

Here in London this Russian connection story was given wide coverage especially on BBC News and in the quality newspapers. The question was also raised here whether the Trump unproved accusations that the UK GCHQ, the counterpart of the American NSA, had spied on the Trump camp. This only added to the unease about American leadership. The GCHQ stated that any idea of their spying was nonsense. In fact, at the US House Intelligence hearings on these issues, the NSA head confirmed that such an order was expressly counter to the so-call “5 eyes” of nations with special access to and sharing of intelligence information, and was contrary to its firm rules and no such order was ever given.

With all of that, the White House totally denied any reality of collusion with Russia and stood on their untenable positions, with no indication of any apology or refutation of the now totally denied chargers.

With the affirmation of the FBI Trump-Russian connection inquiry, the possibility of some connection between the Trump people and Russian, before the election and before taking office grows more worrisome. It is clear that something odd was at work in that Trump’s staff. The Trump associates did approach the Russians before the election and that the former NSC head Flynn felt he had to lie to the American Vice president about his talk to the Russian Ambassador. Also US intelligence did report that at least 3 or possibly more members of the Trump team also had contacts with Russians. There were also hints that some of these Russians were from Russian intelligence agencies.

Another disheartening news for Europe is that Secretary of State will not be coming to the forthcoming NATO Council meeting of Foreign Ministers and news reports confirm that he supports the drastic cutting of the State Department and USAID budget which will cost million of vulnerable lives. This only adds to the unease here in Europe and brightens Putin’s efforts to divide the West.

One other element is that UK Prime Minister May has set Wednesday March 27th as the date she will invoke Article 50 to leave the EU. This plays into also Putin’s goals and it seems, that the British right-wing is in its ascendancy and the Labour Party here is in even more disarray than earlier which is saying a great deal given its critical internal turmoil. There seems, as noted before, a rush of the lemmings over the clef.

Finally, the combination of Trump fighting with our allies and pushing, it seems, for their disunity, along with the UK Prime Minister May also on board with the Brexit plunge into even greater isolationism and nationalism, add also lurking economic crisis upon actual breakup. One then must mix in the ascendancy in Europe of the Alt-Right-neo-Fascist parties and groups, despite the Dutch vote, along with the factor of Putin’s Russia playing a not so secret effort to weaken and divide Europe and undermine democracy, result: we have a very dangerous landscape.

All this exacerbated by a very foolish, uninformed, and clearly malevolent man. Not a very good picture for those that prize peace, democracy and security. The costs here are too great to imagine.

More in the coming days from Europe and it’s “discontents” and America’s role in all this.

We welcome your comments! See box below.

THE RUSSIAN DEBACLE, WIRETAPPING, UNDERMINING OF ENVIRONMENT, HEALTH, AND DIPLOMACY & USELESS EXPANSION OF DEFENSE SPENDING.

THE RUSSIAN DEBACLE, WIRETAPPING, UNDERMINING OF ENVIRONMENT, HEALTH, AND DIPLOMACY & USELESS EXPANSION OF DEFENSE SPENDING.

THE REAL TRUMP REVEALED!

By
Harry C. Blaney III

The last few days have revealed even more than the proceeding months of follies and the debacle that is the Trump regime. The series of tweets in which Trump accused former president Obama of wiretapping his Trump Tower offices before his election was one of the most bizarre acts by any president in memory and I go back beyond the Nixon administration. This was done without any proof and with denials by both the Obama staff and James Clapper the former Director of Central Intelligence.

It was made clear by former officials that Obama banned any such acts. These wiretaps take place when the court believes there was an actual illegal act committed. To carry out such wire tapping would require a court’s review and approval which would only be done with creditable evidence. This charge many be hashed out by a possible FBI public statement and the intelligence committees of Congress  likely next week  who will hold hearings on this and the Russian hacking of the Democrats.

The issue of Russian actions to undermine our election and democracy and include ties of Trump and his associates don’t seem to go away. This despite Trumps efforts to change the subject. So far they are not going away and are even viewed as deepening. There is something about the Russian “connection” that Trump fears and has responded to almost in a manic reaction. It upset his own staff and only highlighted his obsession or fear of this issue and the desire to push it aside with outlandish actions to change the subject according to some commentators.

Thus we see the focus on the “repeal and replacement” of the ACT (Obamacare), which in a odd way only seem now to further undercut his credibility on many levels and adds to his reputation of repetitive lies and dishonesty. Trump promised cheaper, better and wider coverage which the Bill in the House is the opposite, costing much more and covering millions fewer needed people and transferring the savings to the very very rich via tax breaks at the expense of health services. The culmination of Wiretaps by Obama, Russian ties and attacks on citizens health care and ordering dismantling of climate change regulations, are examples of how Trump manipulates the landscape to his own and our cost.

Other examples of his destructive bent are his action to in effect demolish agencies that are critical to the security, health, environmental protection, education, science research and truth. Yet he has on problem wasting taxpayer money on large additional spending for DOD without any real purpose. All at the expense of cutting massively assistance to the most vulnerable souls at home and not least now abroad by massive cutting back the assistance to threaten refugees and others in conflict zones that are facing mass starvation and certain millions of deaths.. This is making, as I have noted, not a “Great America” but a mean, authoritarian, and selfish “Small America.”

These events in any case, could be the possible start of the further unwinding of the Trump credibility. It furthers the view by some citizens of fear and unease and it has created a perception among some key leaders abroad already of disquiet and distance from American leadership.

Press reports state Trump showed a high level of anger at his staff, denounced Sessions recusal in the Russian hacking case, and along with Trump’s continued accusations against Obama, the intelligence agencies and the media.

So far these series of missteps indicate a leader without good judgment but also a person intent more on destruction of the fabric of a secure and compassionate society. Even in his arrangement of his White House staff there is more chaos and dysfunction as a result of his manic and often unpredictable rule on his own turf with a staff made of equally unbalance types. Creating chaos and his desiring to be the only story of the day by getting more and more bizarre and demoniac does not serve American interests.

We welcome your comments!

THE STUPIDITY OF THE TRUMP MUSLIM REFUGEE AND VISIT BAN

THE STUPIDITY OF THE TRUMP MUSLIM REFUGEE AND VISIT BAN

By

Harry C. Blaney III

There are few acts by a uninformed and clearly not balanced Donald Trump which have an immediate horrendous impact both at home and abroad. The ban on seven Muslim majority nations is just such an act and it has already enlisted major reactions by people around the world. It is simply a disgrace for America and it is dangerous to our security.

What this executive order on immigration and refugees does is bans Syrian refugees from entering our country, suspends the entire refugee program for 120 days, cuts in half effectively the number of refugees we can admit. It halts all travel from seven Muslim-majority countries.

The reaction at home includes demonstrations around the nations especially at universities and colleges and by churches and civil liberty groups. Harvard and Yale presidents and other academic leaders have denounced this act Many experts believe is counter to our constitution, our laws, and treaty obligations. Already a judge has in effect said so…but without so far Trump complying.

In reaction is an open letter to Trump top national security officials by over 100 National Security Leaders on the Refugee Executive Order. The signers include Madeleine Albright, Janet Napolitano, and Susan Rice, and many others including high level former officials and military from Republican and Democratic administrations. The headline statement was:

“As former cabinet Secretaries, senior government officials, diplomats, military service members and intelligence community professionals who have served in the Bush and Obama administrations, we, the undersigned, have worked for many years to make America strong and our homeland secure. Therefore, we are writing to you to express our deep concern with President Trump’s recent Executive Order directed at the immigration system, refugees and visitors to this country. This Order not only jeopardizes tens of thousands of lives, it has caused a crisis right here in America and will do long-term damage to our national security.”

In Washington even some Republicans are concerned, and the Democrats are considering opposition to this on a number of fronts. Chaos prevails at our airports and airlines and in governments around the world. It was denounced by leaders in Germany and France and on the floor of the House of Commons.

It is clear to me that this action was without much doubt the deliberate act of designed chaos and cruelty by Donald Trump likely aided and abated by Stephen Bannon the Alt-Right racist, bigoted Trump campaign leader and past editor of the white power media outlet Breitbart News and now counselor to the President with equal status to the White House Chief-of-Staff and now a member of the highly sensitive and powerful National Security Council and the committee of Principles (Cabinet and agency heads) which he will attend as a full member – in effect perhaps a spy on other member views, or voice for the far racist right at home and abroad and enforcer of Trump’s crazy far right policies and lies.

This act is a test of what we may see going forward in foreign and national security policy. Already Trump has upset and weakened our ties to our key allies that are aghast at his recent statement, tweets and actions which undermine NATO, EU and the UN. In particular, they have undermined our allies and embolden Russia’s Vladimir Putin to hope he can destroy Western unity and strength and prosperity and weaken its defense. All this hardly lifting a finger but letting Trump do his dirty work. Already trump has helped Putin by supporting disunity in Europe by his  encouragement  of Brexit and putting down NATO, and favoring of far right fascist groups in Europe.

We need to ask quickly why and at what cost to peace and security for us and our allies?

We welcome your comments, see section below!

 

Trump’s Campaign Takes a Bizarre Turn

Trump’s campaign reached perhaps its most startling point yesterday at a rally in Fayetteville, NC, at which he said the following.  The Clinton campaign’s response appears below the quote.

Donald Trump said this at a rally in North Carolina on August 9, 2016:

“If she gets to pick her judges, [there’s] nothing you can do folks. Although, the Second Amendment people, maybe there is. I don’t know.”

Hillary Clinton’s Campaign responded:

“This is simple — what Donald Trump is saying is dangerous.  A person seeking to be President of the United States should not suggest violence in any way”

 

Populism in Modern America – Why 2016?

By Blaze Joel, National Security Intern

On July 1, David Brooks wrote of a “Coming Political Realignment” that had been exacerbated by Donald Trump. Brooks argued that Trump is shattering the usual party demarcator in America – a small government versus a big government – and replacing it with a “right-left populist coalition” that battles against a centrist coalition over the issue of an open or closed government. Trump’s “only hope is to cast his opponents as the right-left establishment that supports open borders, free trade, cosmopolitan culture, and global intervention. He would stand as a right-left populist who supports closed borders, trade barriers, local and nationalistic culture, and an America First foreign policy.” Trump has exemplified this new American populism, tacking hard to the right on issues like immigration while moving left of Hillary Clinton on free trade.

In a previous post, we posed the question of how both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump can be called populists when they seemingly represent completely divergent ends of the ideological spectrum (despite striking a similar tone on trade). This post will seek to answer: Why 2016? What is it about this year that has allowed the messages of populists, but especially of Donald Trump, to resonate with the American people? We will analyze a number of issues in this post, from the direction of the country to jobs, the economy, and trade to immigration, terrorism, and “law and order,” providing data and its historical context.

Direction of the Country and Institutional Faith

As noted in our last post, most Americans are not satisfied with the direction of our nation, despite Obama’s over-50 percent approval ratings. In fact, the number of Americans satisfied with the way things are going dropped from 29 percent in June to just 17 percent in July. But, as also noted in our previous post, this dissatisfaction is nothing new. An analysis by FiveThirtyEight revealed that 52 percent of Trump supporters (as opposed to 14 percent of anti-Trump Republicans and 19 percent of Democrats) are “very” angry about the way things are going in the country today.

Coupled with this anger at the direction of the nation is a mistrust of “elite” institutions such as the government, banks, media, and big business. Among the three branches of government, the Presidency and the Supreme Court share the highest approval ratings, as 36 percent of Americans have a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in each. However, 23 percent of Americans surveyed this June have “very little” or no confidence in the Supreme Court (a 10 point rise since 2003) and 36 percent have “very little” or no confidence in the Presidency (one of the lowest numbers since 2008). Furthermore, the 36 percent confidence in the Presidency is lower than after the invasion of Iraq in 2003 (55 percent) and after the UN discovered there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in 2005 (44 percent). The “very little” result has more than doubled since June of 2003.

Congress is the most maligned branch of government, as 55 percent of Americans have “very little” or no confidence in the institution as compared to just nine percent that have a “great deal” or “quite a lot.” This is quite a precipitous drop-off, as 30 percent of Americans had a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of faith in the Legislative Branch as recently as 2004 and 45 percent of Americans had “some” confidence in it as recently as 2009. As is often humorously pointed out, Americans favor Darth Vader, Jar-Jar Binks, root canals, cockroaches, and used car salesmen to Congress. The reasons for the rampant disapproval of Congress are many – partisan gridlock, seemingly pointless politicking, gerrymandering, and constant fundraising and campaigning. Perhaps the most glaring reasons are its relative inactivity in recent years, culminating in the 113th Congress from 2013-2014 that passed just 72 bills, and the prevalence of governing from crisis-to-crisis and kicking the can down the road. These attitudes have facilitated the rise of candidates who want to “shake-up” or metaphorically “burn down” the system in order to try to fix it.

Partisanship and a Divided America

The increased partisanship doesn’t just reside in Congress. The American public is becoming more divided as well. This expanding rift became evident in 2005, when the average Republican began to drift further to the ideological right while the Democrats stayed put. Beginning in 2012, both parties started migrating further toward their respective poles. Pew research from this spring found that 49 percent of all Republicans (62 percent of highly-engaged Republicans) and 55 percent of Democrats (70 percent of highly-engaged Democrats) were “afraid” of the opposing party. Similarly, 52 percent of Republicans view the Democratic Party as “closed-minded.” A whopping 70 percent of Democrats have the same view of the GOP. Around a third of both parties also consider the other to be “unintelligent,” while over 40 percent of both parties think the other is “dishonest.” Today, 91 percent of Republicans view the Democratic Party unfavorably (58 percent would classify their views as “very unfavorable”) while 86 (and 55, respectively) percent of Democrats hold the same view of the Republican Party. Moreover, a majority of Americans in both political parties say that the main reason they support their respective party because the other option’s policies are “bad for the country,” rather than out of a belief in their own party’s positions.

The campaign season in 2016 has been marked by intense protests, animosity towards a number of candidates, and outright violence at political rallies. Part of this is attributable to the flaws and mistrust in the political system noted above, but part is also a result of an increasingly divided American public. If the other side is a fundamental threat to America, then how and why should we even work with them? This atmosphere is ripe for people who want to exacerbate partisan divides and paint the nation as in need of fixing.

Jobs, The Economy, and Trade

Bill Clinton’s campaign strategist James Carville told the President in 1992 that he should focus on “the economy, stupid.” Since then, that cliché has become an instrumental part of American politics and a major predictive factor for elections. The United States (and global) economy has been rebounding since the “Great Recession” of 2008-2010. The unemployment rate is back under five percent and 25 of the last 27 quarters have witnessed an increased GDP (though it is lower than hoped and the recovery is slow). Wage growth has stagnated (as it has since the 1970s), but it is doing better when pegged against inflation. Nonetheless, 71 percent of Americans feel the economy is “rigged” according to a recent poll.

Why is this the case? Inequality is on the rise – the top 1 percent of Americans owned 36 percent of the wealth in 2013 – and the middle class is shrinking due to a number of interrelated factors. On the campaign trail, Trump and Sanders have both pointed extensively to free trade deals like NAFTA, which they argue have cost America millions of manufacturing jobs, thus fulfilling Ross Perot’s famous statement from 1992 that the trade deal would create “a giant sucking sound going South.” This year, according to a Brookings/PRRI poll, 52 percent of Americans think free trade agreements are “mostly harmful because they send jobs overseas and drive down wages.” Among Trump supporters, the number jumps to 60 percent.

Is free trade (specifically NAFTA) that bad? The results on the trade deal nearly 23 years after its enactment are mixed. There are approximately 5 million fewer manufacturing jobs in America today than there were when NAFTA was signed in 1994. The Economic Policy Institute calculated that more than 500,000 of these losses were due to the trade agreement. However, overall U.S. employment is up 22 percent since 1994. Not all of these lost jobs have gone to NAFTA nations – EPI data shows that approximately 3.2 million jobs (over 75 percent of which were in manufacturing) have been lost due to outsourcing to China since 2001. Additionally, this shift away from manufacturing has been present – though more pronounced recently – since the 1960s. Improvements in technology, the U.S. regulation system, and corporate outsourcing to cheaper labor markets have also all played a role in the loss of “blue collar” jobs over the last 20 years. While the effects of free trade are mixed, there is no doubting that certain locations and segments of the U.S. have been disproportionately benefitted by recent economic trends. The transition to an economy primarily based on services has benefitted those with more education and those who live in urban or suburban areas – the opposite profile of the “average” Trump supporter. NBC News found that Trump won over 75 percent of counties in which there was a low white labor participation rate or a strong decrease in average annual pay.

Immigration, Terrorism, and “Law and Order”

The final plank in Trump’s populist appeal is his promise to keep Americans safe and “restore law and order.” Other than his proposed wall along the Mexican-American border, a “Muslim” immigration ban, and utilizing waterboarding in interrogations, Trump has been nebulous about the specific policies he will enact to do so. Regardless, this rhetoric has found a home in an America where more people now are at least somewhat worried that they or their family will be a victim of terrorism. Sixty-five percent of Trump supporters share this belief. Over 40 percent of independents surveyed by Brookings and PRRI support barring Syrian refugees from the United States, building a border wall, and banning Muslims from other countries from entering the U.S. Among Republicans, those numbers are 66 percent, 64 percent, and 64 percent, respectively. Over 75 percent of Trump supporters support the actions against Syrian refugees and foreign-born Muslims, while over 80 percent of Trump supporters want to build the wall.

Despite Trump’s claims that illegal immigration is rampant, Pew found that the number of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. has stabilized in recent years at approximately 11.3 million – down from a peak of 12.2 million in 2007. Over 40 percent of Trump supporters believe that undocumented immigrants should be “identified and deported” – 12 percent more than the average Republican and 30 percent more than the average Democrat. Over 75 percent of Trump supporters believe that immigration needs to decrease in America, according to FiveThirtyEight. Anti-Trump Republicans and Democrats both polled in the 20s.

In the wake of the Paris attacks last November, Pew released data that showed that more Americans disapprove of the government’s job handling terror for the first time since 9/11. More Americans also view Islam as more likely to encourage violence than other religions. Among Republicans, 68 percent hold this belief. Additionally, 49 percent of Republicans and 57 percent of self-identified “conservative Republicans” believe that Muslims should be subject to more scrutiny in federal efforts to prevent terrorism, compared to just 32 percent of all Americans.

That same Pew poll found that Republicans are much more likely than Democrats to believe that defense/national security, immigration, terrorism, and ISIS/War in Iraq and Syria are the most important issue facing our nation today. In fact, 42 percent of Republicans surveyed (as opposed to just 24 percent of Democrats) viewed these issues as most important. ISIS polls as the biggest threat to America for both Republicans and Democrats – appearing on 93 percent of Republican responses and 79 percent of Democratic responses. However, Democrats rank climate change as the second biggest threat (73 percent) while Republicans vote for Iran’s nuclear program (79 percent).

Conclusion

“Populist” politics have been a fixture in America since its founding, but seem to have reached a fever pitch in 2016 due to a range of factors – including the economy, seeming global chaos, and disaffection with the nation’s political and financial elites. Donald Trump has exacerbated these tensions with his unique brand of populism that finds a home in places with more “distressful white experiences,” as NBC News characterizes it. Almost 70 percent of Trump supporters and Republicans believe that the “American way of life has gotten worse since 1950,” as opposed to the nearly 70 percent of Democrats who say that it has improved. In an increasingly divided America that at times seems at odds with itself and whose government often seems to fail when called upon to enact change, Americans are looking for someone who will advocate for them this election – the perfect environment for a populist who claims he will come in and “fix the system” that some feel has let them down.