Progressives Need a New Way to Talk About National Security

Voters say they support cuts in defense spending—Democrats should, too.

A B-52 releases a test version of the Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP) over White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, in 2009. Photo: Department of Defense

By lavishing billions of dollars on hundreds of weapon systems, the defense budget has itself become a weapon of mass destruction, decimating our social programs and infrastructure. Republicans have no problem with this arrangement. Democrats, though, are afraid to challenge these military costs for fear of being labeled “soft on defense.”

They need not worry. Our latest research shows that not only can Democrats oppose excessive defense spending, but they will benefit politically by doing so. The progressive position on America’s wars, military spending, and nuclear weapons outpolls the conservative position as much as three to one. We, not the conservatives, have the winning message.

Right now, the United States spends an estimated $1.2 trillion per year on defense. This includes the Pentagon budget, supplemental appropriations for hot wars, nuclear weapons hidden in the Energy Department budget, homeland security, 17 intelligence agencies, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and interest on the debt created by our modern habit of financing wars on a credit card.

Even if we just count direct US military spending, the figures are enormous. At $610 billion in 2017, US military spending accounted for more than a third of the world total. This dwarfs the $294 billion spent by our potential adversaries—Russia spent $66 billion; China, $228 billion. In addition, US allies spent an estimated $600 billion last year on their militaries. So America and its allies outspent our possible opponents by more than four to one. Yet the House Armed Services Committee just authorized raising the Pentagon budget to $716 billion. Pentagon spending now consumes nearly 70 percent of the discretionary federal budget.

The results? We don’t have money for college education for our young people; we don’t have money to rebuild declining schools; we say we can’t afford health care for everyone; we can hardly conceive of spending to house the homeless. Now conservatives are preparing a major assault on our social programs to—wait for it—balance the budget.

This would be bad enough if these expenditures were effective, but they’re not. Endless wars in the Middle East have only given birth to more virulent and dangerous forms of terrorism. A 2008 Rand Corporation study concluded that terrorism rarely ends by military means: “Military force was effective in only 7 percent of the cases examined; in most instances, military force is too blunt an instrument to be successful against terrorist groups.”

This hasn’t prevented many Democrats in Congress from continuing to agree with Republicans to squander trillions of dollars on unnecessary and often counterproductive defense spending just to seem “tough” on defense. Washington think tanks routinely hold conferences with breathless titles such as “Strategic Competition: Maintaining the Edge” as if we are on the verge of losing our military dominance.

What if the terms of this debate are wrong? What if voters know the War on Terror has been ineffective and, instead, want to rebuild America’s social systems and infrastructure?

In February, we commissioned a national poll by Public Policy Polling to find out if new frames based on progressive values were more popular with voters than the “red meat,” tough-on-terrorism conservative frames. We took a representative sample of 41 percent Clinton voters and 39 percent Trump voters. The poll surveyed 587 registered voters nationwide, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent. The results surprised us.

We found that by margins of two to one, three to one, and even four to one, progressives could reframe the debate and prevail with voters.

We gave voters a choice of the best frames we could find for both positions. We tried not to tilt the scales in any way. For example, we asked voters which statement they agreed with:

  • Statement A: Some people say we have to hunt and kill terrorists over there before they get to the United States and strike our homeland.
  • Statement B: Others say that America should stop trying to police the world and invest, instead, in rebuilding America, including its crumbling infrastructure and social services.

By an astounding 44–14 percent, voters agreed with Statement B, the new progressive frame. About 38 percent responded “Some of both,” but even that works in our favor, as progressives are rarely as absolutist in their arguments as conservatives. We found that many Trump voters agreed with the new progressive frame. In this question, 26 percent went for Statement B, with 26 percent for the red-meat conservative frame of Statement A.

We tried asking the question a different way:

  • Statement A: Some say that America should hunt and kill terrorists wherever we find them. If others won’t deal with terrorists in their own countries, we should police the world to keep America safe.
  • Statement B: Others say that more than 16 years of the War on Terror have been a near-complete failure. Instead of trying to bomb our way to peace, we should work to address the root causes of terrorism and limit the civilian deaths that have fueled anti-American sentiment in the Middle East and increased terrorism.

By margins of more than two to one, voters agree with the new progressive frame in Statement B (43 percent) versus the conservative Statement A (19 percent).

We asked voters directly whether they thought the War on Terror had been successful and 40 percent of voters said no, while only 10 percent said it had been successful. Even among Trump voters, only 17 percent thought the War on Terror had been successful, while 29 percent thought it had not been.

The Trump administration has recently announced plans to dramatically expand its arms sales abroad. We asked voters if they agreed that the United States should continue to sell arms to the world. Again, by more than two to one, voters said no.

We probed voters’ beliefs on nuclear weapons, as the government plans to spend some $1.7 trillion on nuclear weapons over the next few decades. What do voters think: more or fewer nuclear weapons?  If you guessed fewer, you are correct, and by a more than two-to-one margin, 47 percent to 23 percent. Even 32 percent of Trump voters wanted to cut nuclear arms.

We gave voters this specific choice on the nuclear budget, arguing the best case we could for both sides:

  • Statement A: Some people say we have to spend whatever it takes to make sure that the US nuclear arsenal is the best in the world. Nuclear weapons only take up a small percentage of the Pentagon budget. They are affordable and necessary.
  • Statement B: Others say that spending on nuclear weapons takes money away from the conventional military programs that we actually use, like ships, planes, tanks, and troops. Current plans call for us to spend $1.7 trillion over the next 30 years on new nuclear weapons. We can’t afford this. We should scale back and buy only the weapons we truly need.

Again, voters agreed with Statement B by more than two to one.

The margins of approval for the progressive position increased when we came to the fundamental issues of war and peace. Americans, it appears, are sick of war. They want Congress to take a much more active role. We asked them whether Congress should vote on any authorizations for new wars, as required by the US Constitution. By 61 to 17 percent, voters said yes.

We concluded with questions about President Trump. We wanted to know what voters thought about his national-security policies and the role that Congress is playing. It turns out, Americans are afraid of what Trump might do. A strong majority of 53 percent of voters “fear that, without control by Congress, President Trump could start a nuclear war in some place like North Korea or Iran.” Only 36 percent disagreed. Among Clinton voters the fear was palpable, with 81 percent, the highest results of any question, saying they believed Trump might start a nuclear war. Even 17 percent of Trump voters felt that way.

So you will not be surprised that in our final question of the poll, voters said by two to one that they would be more likely to support a candidate who promised to place restrictions on Trump’s ability to start a war without consent of Congress. Among Clinton voters, 78 percent wanted their candidates to restrain Trump.

Interestingly, we found that there was not much of a gender difference. Men and women largely agreed, with just a couple of exceptions.

Those politicians who vote whichever way the wind is blowing should know that the wind is with us. Unfortunately, Congress has already mortgaged our future with the massive $160 billion defense increase for the next two years in the omnibus spending bill passed this March. But there will still be votes on authorization bills for the coming fiscal year where members can oppose particularly wasteful and dangerous weapons programs. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Ed Markey (D-MA), for example, are trying to kill a new “low yield” nuclear weapon Trump wants to put on submarines, making it easier to use in a conflict. Our poll shows that the public would likely support efforts to rein in nuclear spending.

Similarly, the public is clearly tired of endless, global wars. They would likely not support the kinds of new authorizations for the use of military force some senators are shopping around. Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Bob Corker (R-TN) have a bill that would retroactively authorize all the military deployments in all the nations now under way. The Friends Committee on National Legislation calls it “a new blank check for war.” If our poll data is any indication, the public would strongly oppose this dangerous expansion of the president’s war powers under the guise of congressional oversight.

We visited with over a dozen progressive senators and members of Congress last month, and all of them are looking for a new “transformative” message, as one leader put it. They had great suggestions for how we could improve the questions, probe deeper into voter attitudes, and expand the polling. We have posted the poll on the Ploughshares Fund website, along with pie charts of the key questions.

Our bottom line: Progressives should not fear a debate about national security. They should not shunt it aside or try to get to the right of Trump to prove their virility. It is possible for Democrats and progressive Republicans to frame their positions as core American values.

Bipartisanship does not have to mean Democrats agreeing to right-wing positions and budgets. Democrats do not need to continue as Republicans-lite on defense. They can stand up for tough, realistic national-security policies that protect America while cutting excessive spending and excessive weapons. By doing so, they will gain, not lose, voters.

By Joe Cirincione and Guy T. Saperstein

How America Became Irrelevant to the Rest of the World

Trump’s “America first” policy is unconvincing, but what makes it truly dangerous is his accompanying erratic pronouncements.

Profile view of Donald J Trump, presidential candidate, at the Boca Raton, FL Rally on March 13th, 2016. Photo Credit: Windover Way Photography / Shutterstock.com
Profile view of Donald J Trump, presidential candidate, at the Boca Raton, FL Rally on March 13th, 2016. Photo Credit: Windover Way Photography / Shutterstock.com

Depending on the hour, President Trump is in open conflict with Congress, the media, the intelligence services, his own national-security adviser, his generals, and now, seemingly, his own veterans affairs director. That sort of turbulence leaves the United States paralyzed and indecisive, unable to speak with a common, or even coherent, voice on a number of important policy issues. And it appears that, on many topics, other countries have stopped listening.

Two weeks ago, Trump nurtured distrust and hostility between the United States and its allies by enthusiastically tweeting his belief that “trade wars are good, and easy to win.” As with most of his own tweets, it was characterized by sheer abrasiveness.

Over the past year, the United States has abandoned its leadership position on the global stage in many ways. The U.S. stopped leading the effort to combat climate change. The U.S. stopped leading on trade and tariffs. The U.S. raised destabilizing questions about our continued commitment to multilateral organizations and military alliances. The U.S. stopped leading on human rights and the rule of law. And these are things that Trump did with intention.

Trump justified these actions as necessary for America to be first, but the result is more like America has become alone and mostly irrelevant.

When Trump pulled the United States pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the other nations involved reworked the agreement and signed it among themselves. China moved aggressively ahead with its own web of trade and investment deals and countered Trump’s announcement of tariffs. And our partners in Canada and Mexico are thinking through how to manage without us. If the United States can’t decide how to pursue its interests abroad, and can’t propound a consistent economic strategy to friends and foes alike, it’s going to be less prosperous—as we already see with China’s retaliation to Trump’s trade tariff.

When Trump backed out of the Paris Climate Agreement, it was characteristic of Trump’s isolationism. “The Paris accord will undermine our economy,” and it “puts us at a permanent disadvantage.” What withdrawal actually means is that Trump has put America at a competitive disadvantage in the new clean energy economy. Meanwhile, Chinese prime minister Li Keqiang, while on a visit to Germany, was quoted by AFP as saying, “China will continue to implement promises made in the Paris Agreement, to move towards the 2030 goal step by step steadfastly.” America now stands as the only country to not sign on to the Paris Climate Agreement.

The Trump administration ended American membership in UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural agency, over the organization’s alleged anti-Israel bias and signaled that it will decline to certify that the Iran nuclear agreement is in the interest of the United States, which will prompt a debate in Congress that could ultimately lead to the demise of the accord, further distancing America from its allies. He recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in defiance of United Nations policy. Trump’s “America first” policy is unconvincing, but what makes it truly dangerous is his accompanying erratic pronouncements.

How will a country look to Trump, who allegedly questioned why the United States accepts citizens from “shithole” countries and who got himself into a mess of controversy when he waded into the Twittersphere with foolish tweets in the wake of the latest terrorist attack in London? In both these instances, leaders, whose voices were heard far and wide, stood together and publicly condemned Trump.

Thus comes into play what political scientist Joseph Nye deemed “soft power.” Soft power is defined as the ability of a country to persuade others to do what it wants without force or coercion. When a country fails to deploy soft power, it ultimately undermines U.S. leadership and prevents it from reaching common goals.

Trump is gutting America’s “soft power” and its credibility as a good-faith actor in international affairs. Whether it’s Justin Trudeau renegotiating NAFTA or Kim Jong Un considering a diplomatic resolution to the crisis over nuclear weapons, they will have to wonder whether they can trust the United States as a negotiating partner. They must also wonder whether they can trust any American president to honor the word of his predecessor. And when countries fear they cannot trust America, they’ll continue to ignore America and America.

This is already happening. German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel told the Berlin Foreign Policy Forum that Germany would start to pursue its own agenda, whether the U.S. likes it or not, because the West has been losing influence around the world with Trump as president. “The U.S. no longer sees the world as a global community but as a fighting arena where everyone has to seek their own advantage,” Gabriel said, according to Deutsche Welle. The numbers tell the story: According to Gallup, “approval of U.S. leadership across 134 countries and areas stands at a new low of 30%.” That’s lower than the 34 percent approval during the last year of George W. Bush’s administration, in the wake of fiascos such as the Iraq War, and far lower than the 70 percent approvals America got before the Iraq War. But that’s not all. There was more approval in this same international survey for Germany (41 percent) and China (31 percent) as world leaders than there was for the United States—the country that has, in fact, led the free world since 1942.

As the world moves on and looks elsewhere for leadership, Trump is pushing his military agenda. He is relying heavily on what Joseph Nye deems “hard power”—a coercive approach to international political relations, especially one that involves the use of military power. There is no doubt that America maintains an edge over all other countries in the world in terms of military might. The U.S. defense budget already is more than the next 12 nations in the world combined, and a recent vote of Congress will increase defense spending by $162 billion. However, all of this military spending will prove irrelevant, as other countries are looking toward greater independence and assertiveness.

Trump’s actions are creating a country that relies solely on military force to influence the international stage and, when this is the case, it is not only American power that becomes irrelevant, but also American ideas. As Trump continues to frighten allies with erratic pronouncements, his voice, along with America, has become increasingly irrelevant.

How America’s Bloated Defense Budget Leaves Us Defenseless…and Broke

We’re spending billions on the military at the expense of health care and schools.

Photo Credit: Orlok / Shutterstock.com

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.”

It has been over six decades since Dwight D. Eisenhower uttered these words in a broadcast announcement from the Statler Hotel in Washington D.C. And while circumstances in America have undoubtedly changed, his words remain accurate.

Since the late 19th century, the United States has acted as the world’s policeman, the one that keeps order and makes sure everyone else sticks to the rules. Occupying this role evidently has had repercussions, both good and bad. Yet, it seems as of late the bad outweighs the good. The U.S.’s mission to police the world has led to massive overspending abroad and subsequently growing negligence at home. In an attempt to address this problem, the U.S. continues to do what it does best—throw money at it.

On September 18th, as Democrats fell in line with Republicans to fund the $692 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), Congress proved they would continue to fund a system that does little to protect the American people. The act passed with a sweeping 89-8 vote—with only five Democrats voting against the act. The figure is a significant $80 billion annual increase from last year and a $28.5 billion more than President Trump asked for. It does not include the $12.9 billion of continued investment in nuclear security or $186 billion for the Veterans Administration Budget. Nor does it include the interest the United States has accumulated by putting their wars on a credit card. The total cost of military-related expenditures is over a trillion dollars and over 70% of all federal discretionary spending.

Speaking at Westminster College just three days after the NDAA passed, Senator Bernie Sanders, one of just five Democrats who voted against the bill, dismantled the case that progressives don’t have big ideas on foreign policy and set forth a template for future democratic positions on national security.

Standing where Eisenhower delivered his famous “Cross of Iron” speech nearly 70 years ago, Sanders rightly recognized the irony between a colossal Pentagon budget and Republican attempts to take health care away from tens of millions of Americans in the name of fiscal responsibility. He made clear that “we cannot convincingly promote democracy abroad if we do not live it vigorously here at home” and in a reliable Sanders-like fashion demanded we address our growing domestic issues.

He is right to wonder how asking a fraction of the price for domestic issues such as health care and education funding is criticized as a nonstarter, yet when it comes to our military, there is no number too high.

Earlier this year, Trump submitted a budget proposal in which he cut social spending dramatically to fund a $54 billion increase in defense spending. Democrats criticized it as a nonstarter. However, at September’s NDAA hearing, 41 Democrats raised little to no concern about this military spending—even at the cost of social spending.

Currently, the U.S. is $20.4 trillion in debt and we spend almost as much as the rest of the world combined on defense. While we are authorizing $692 billion, China, our closest follower is spending $102 billion while Russia spends $59 billion. The argument for America’s excessive defense spending is synonymous with the argument that America is and must remain the strongest military on the planet. However, the cost necessary to maintain American power and protect our troops is small in comparison to the amount we spend, primarily because most of the defense budget does not directly impact our military standing or the safety of our troops.

First, there is fraud. A report prepared for Bernie Sanders by the Department of Defense showed that hundreds of defense contractors that defrauded the U.S. military received more than $1.1 trillion in Pentagon contracts during the past decade. Yes, that’s trillion with a “T.” For example, Northrop Grumman paid $62 million in 2005 to settle charges that it “engaged in a fraud scheme by routinely submitting false contract proposals,” and “concealed basic problems in its handling of inventory, scrap and attrition.”

Second, there is waste. As an example, July 2013, the Pentagon decided to build a 64,000 square foot command headquarters in Afghanistan for the U.S. military that is and will remain unoccupied. The project is estimated to have cost the Pentagon $34 million. We then supplied $771 million worth of aircraft for Afghan use. However, Afghanistan obtains only one-quarter of the trained personnel necessary to use them and in 2015, the Pentagon suppressed a study that reported $125 billion in waste.

Third, whether it is paying $8,000 for a $500 helicopter part, $425 million in wrongful travel reimbursements or the illustrative $640 toilet seat, the Pentagon has a history of overpaying. According to the Federal Procurement Data System’s top 100 contractors report for 2016, the CEO’s of the top five Pentagon contractors—Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, General Dynamics, and Northrop Grumman—paid themselves a cumulative $96 million in 2016, more than a fair cut.

Conveniently enough, the Department of Defense can’t tell us how much equipment it has purchased, or how often it has been overcharged, or even how many contractors it employs. The Pentagon can only approximate that they employ more than 600,000 private contractors, yet these costs account for the majority of their tax spending dollars. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has announced they cannot even audit the Pentagon. To illuminate the utter disorder of the United States military finances, in 2015 in a rush to close its books, the army made $6.5 trillion in wrongful adjustments to accounting entries. A law in effect since 1992 requires annual audits of all federal agencies—and of all the federal agencies, the Pentagon alone has never complied. The NDAA is asking the American public to pay for huge expenditures that the Pentagon cannot even document.

What we do know of this year’s bill offers little in the way of consoling the American public that the money will be well spent. The defense authorization bill contains a number of provisions that increase the risk of cost overruns for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program and undermine the ability of Pentagon officials and Congress to assess the combat suitability of new weapon systems in the future. Both the House and Senate versions of the National Defense Authorization Act authorizes a block purchase of 440 F-35s through a procurement process called “Economic Order Quantity,” even though the planes are still being developed and the testing necessary to prove they are operationally effective won’t be completed for years. Until that testing is done, all the American people will get for their money is a pile of parts for an unproven prototype, a $1.4 trillion pile of uncertainty. A recent test of six of the new, stealthy fighters revealed that only one of them was capable of a rapid, ready alert launch. The F-35 program has come to symbolize all that’s wrong with American defense spending: a bloated budget, greedy manufacturers, and an impenetrable Pentagon culture that cannot adequately track its own spending.

To add concern, the NDAA requested $8.5 billion for the Missile Defense Agency, a $630 million boost above what Trump requested. It would add up to 28 ground-based interceptors as well as put $28 million into developing space-based missile sensors. Despite the fact that up to today the U.S. has spent nearly $320 billion, most analysts have little confidence that the U.S. can destroy any intercontinental missiles launched against them once they get off the ground. After the most recent failed interceptor test Philip E. Coyle III, who previously ran the Pentagon’s weapons-testing program, stated that the system “is something the U.S. military, and the American people, cannot depend upon.” Why add more money to an expensive system that has been compared to hitting a bullet with a bullet, that doesn’t work after over 20 years of trying?

Senate Republicans are concurrently proposing to cut billions from Medicare and $1 trillion from Medicaid, in addition to big federal spending cuts that would likely decimate federal housing and education programs.

There exists a massive blind spot as senators fight tooth and nail to ensure no one is abusing food stamps, while dropping trillions on an unreliable, unaccountable defense strategy.

In the 2016 presidential campaign, Senator Bernie Sanders pledged to make tuition free at public colleges and universities. This proposal was met with dismissal as though the notion belonged solely in Arcadia. The proposed plan was estimated to cost the federal government a mere $47 billion.

More recently, Sanders continued his Medicare-for-All plea with a health care system estimated to cost $1.4 trillion a year. This was treated as unrealistic although our current private insurance-based health care system will cost $3.35 trillion this year.

If America were to spend even double as much as China, four times as much as Russia on defense spending, we could potentially create an America where young people can attend college with little to no out of pocket cost and the millions of people with health issues can get the help they need without the financial burden.

Why is it that only six out of 47 Democratic senators can see the potential of cutting defense spending and instead funding domestic programs?

The notion of a healthy and educated America should not be the stuff of dreamers when it could be a tangible reality. America should not spend more on defense. America should spend smarter on defense and more on pressing domestic issues. And Democratic senators should realign their vote to match their supposed politics.

The Enormous Cost of More Nuclear Weapons: What Is the Gain?

Is funding the expansion of our nuclear arsenal in the country’s best interest or is it just Trump’s latest boastful display of American power?

An analysis by the Arms Control Association of U.S. government budget data projects the total cost over the next 30 years of the proposed nuclear modernization and maintenance at between $1.25 trillion and $1.46 trillion. This expenditure is not included in our defense budget of $700 billionwhich leads the world in military spending and represents more than the spending of the next seven countries combined –three times what China spends and seven times what Russia spends on defense.

To put this into perspective, this number exceeds the combined total federal spending for education; training, employment, and social services; agriculture; natural resources and the environment; general science, space, and technology; community and regional development (including disaster relief); law enforcement; and energy production and regulation.

With climate change deemed by the Pentagon as an immediate national security threathealthcare costs rising, and an increasing number of natural disasters, one might think nuclear weapons would lose their place as the top recipient of federal spending. But this is far from the case and there is a reason why.

As long as other countries continue to harbor nuclear weapons, we will do the same. And vise versa. As Donald Trump said at the start of his campaign, “If countries are going to have nukes, we’re going to be at the top of the pack.”

This sentiment followed him into his presidency. The Trump administration just last week considered proposing additional, smaller, more tactical nuclear weapons that would cause less damage than traditional thermonuclear bombs.However, these mini-nukes are not some new, profound proposal. We have had nuclear weapons capable of being dialed down to the power of  “mini nukes” since the 80’s. The 15-kiloton bomb dropped on Hiroshima would now be classified as a “mini-nuke” yet its destruction was monumental. Adding more, smaller nukes is an unnecessary, potentially dangerous addition. Proponents of the proposal claim these “mini-nukes” would give military commanders more options; critics, however, contend that it will also make the use of atomic arms more likely. Christine Parthemore, International Affairs Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, says, “Our investments should be careful lowering our threshold of use.” Further, the proposed addition will only add trouble to the already fraught international conversation opposing nuclear weapons.

As former Secretary of State George Shultz so eloquently put it, “proliferation begets proliferation.” One state’s nuclear acquisitions only drive its adversaries to follow suit. The reality is adding to our nuclear arsenal will only force our international opponents to defensively order a mad dash for the bomb.

In today’s political arena, as Russia remains volatile and North Korea’s threat grows, is funding the expansion of our nuclear arsenal in the country’s best interest or just Trump’s latest boastful display of American power?

Having a nuclear arsenal is supposed to ensure the raw principle behind nuclear deterrence: You won’t destroy us because we can destroy you. As Andrew Weber, Former Assistant Secretary of Defense & former Director of the Nuclear Weapons Council, says, “The sole purpose of having a nuclear arsenal is to deter an attack on the United States of America.”

This cold war era mindset relies on the relationship between acting and reacting. With the recognition that retaliation is likely, if not guaranteed, nuclear weapons are supposed to restrain the possibility of action on behalf of nuclear leaders. They are supposed to make them cautious, regardless of which states we are talking about or how many weapons they might possess.

According to a 2017 report by the Arms Control Association, The United States currently maintains an arsenal of about 1,650 strategic nuclear warheads deployed on Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs), and Strategic Bombers and some 180 tactical nuclear weapons at bomber bases in five European countries.

The ICBM is arguably the most controversial piece of America’s nuclear triad, yet in August, the Air Force announced major new contracts for a revamp of the American nuclear force: $1.8 billion for initial development of a highly stealthy nuclear cruise missile, and nearly $700 million to begin replacing the 40-year-old Minuteman missiles in silos across the United States.

This plan was born from the Obama administration but enthusiastically hightailed by Trump. Obama’s reasoning was that as our weapons became increasingly safe, their numbers could be reduced.

However, Trump’s reasoning has proven to be different. His threat that North Korea will be met with “fury and fire” combined with his proposals of mini-nukes only propel the notion that he is not following past leaders in enforcing a no first strike policy.

The danger of revamping this shaky leg of the nuclear triad is in part due to Trump’s demonstrated impulsiveness. As Andrew Weber explains, “There is a 2-3 minute threat of the land-based missiles and it is impossible for the target to determine whether the weapon has a nuclear or conventional tip.” An impulsive president with nuclear codes capable of starting a nuclear war in 2-3 minutes using a weapon that must fly over Russia and has the possibility of mistaken identity, is essentially a recipe for disaster.

Christine Parthemore says the “ICBM is the weakest link” and we should begin reform by eliminating it. Yet, instead the current administration is both modernizing and adding to this arsenal, a move that will most likely draw other countries to do the same and commit the United States to keeping the most vulnerable branch of its “nuclear triad.”

The 2017 report by the Arm Control Association broke down the proposed spending for Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs) and found the total reached over $128 billion. The costly program, titled Colombia Class, includes 12 new boats for the Navy, and has a projected life-cycle cost of $282 billion. In comparison, free public education in America would cost a mere $62.6 billion dollars.

The third and final upgrade is a modernization of the current B-2 Bomber costing 9.5 billion. However, in accordance with Obama’s efforts to decrease the US’s quantity of weapons, known as START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty), the Pentagon announced it would retain 42 deployed and 4 non-deployed nuclear capable B-52 bombers. The remainder of the B-52 bombers would be converted to carry only conventional weapons.

In these last few weeks, as tensions rise to an unprecedented high with North Korea, it may seem like the wrong time to discuss the reduction and soon eradication of ICBM’s. However, Joseph Cirincione, President of the Ploughshares Fund, says that how America chooses to go forward at this moment in time will have utmost consequences to the entire international political arena and its potential for nuclear war.

In the past weeks North Korea launched 22 missiles in 15 tests and sought to assure its dominance and Trump, in his expected fashion, took to Twitter to boast American power, a move that North Korean leaders took to mean war. With the threat of a nuclear war with North Korea actualizing, America should be discussing the potential of reigning in North Korea by moving away from nuclear weapons. As it is, Trump’s egotistical rhetoric falls flat when up against Kim Jong-un, a ruthless tyrant willing to gamble with the lives of millions of his citizens. If the US were to strike first, there would no doubt be retaliation. Despite having spent hundreds of billions on strategic missile defenses, most analysts have little confidence that the US can destroy any intercontinental missiles launched against them once they get off the ground. After the most recent failed interceptor test Philip E. Coyle III, who previously ran the Pentagon’s weapons-testing program, stated that the system “is something the U.S. military, and the American people, cannot depend upon.” This is after spending $8 billion a year for the past forty years.

Ultimately, there is no military option that would not entail a mind-bogging gamble with the lives of millions of Americans, Japanese and especially South Koreans.

Our current policy of pugnacious rhetoric does little to affect Kim Jong-un. We have been tightening sanctions on North Korea for over a decade, and their nuclear program has only accelerated. A first-strike by America means the endangerment of millions. What this leaves is diplomacy. Negotiating with North Korea will not be easy but it is possible. The Clinton administration helped negotiate the important 1994 Agreed Framework, under which North Korea effectively froze its major nuclear programs.

Creating a deal with Iran through diplomatic relations appeared unreasonable until it happened.

Sanctions should remain in place but they must be paired with some diplomatic engagement. We must be open to offering North Korea things that they want: security guarantees, some form of international political recognition, and economic benefits in exchange for a freeze on their nuclear and missile programs. We must do all this while strengthening our relationship with South Korea and Japan and maintaining a strong foothold enclosing North Korea. None of this will be possible without the trust of the international community, a trust that is shaken with Trump’s threat of ripping up Obama’s 2015 Iran Deal.

We must also remember that China would rather see a nuclear North Korea than a larger United States presence in Asia. As of now, China facilitates about 90 percent of North Korea’s trade and provides its oil. And it is China that has opposed a stricter U.N. embargo for fear of a collapsed regime and a potential unified Korea allied with the United States. It is important now more than ever to isolate North Korea with the help of our allies.

Now is not the time to build up our nuclear arsenal and respond to threats with military action, especially as we face an already threatened North Korea. It is crucial now more than ever not to proliferate the use of nuclear weapons. The goal is to deter and when it comes to deterrence, more is not better, especially when it is so incredibly expensive.

If GOPers Were Thinking in Their Own Interests, They Would Embrace the ACA… But They Don’t

Republican voters’ primary goal is to make a point against Obama, not get more affordable care.

Photo Credit: Fibonacci Blue / Flickr

Why Republican voters seem to vote against their own best interest has long been a liberal’s conundrum. When Trump won the 2016 Presidential election, many liberals outspokenly wondered, “Why would Republicans elect a President whose policies challenge their best interests?” But perhaps they should instead be asking why so many of these Americans were drawn to a man like Donald Trump, despite the fact that his policies challenge their best interest.

No clearer can this question be surveyed than in the case of the Affordable Care Act.

Throughout his campaign, Donald Trump vowed to get rid of “ObamaCare” and replace it with “something terrific, something great.” This campaign promise was critical to the success of his Republican presidential candidacy, and subsequently he repeated it on his first day in office. With his victory, it seemed clear that dismantling Obama’s greatest domestic policy achievement was of utmost priority in the minds of America’s Republicans.

However, the call for repeal proved stronger in theory than in actuality. On July 28th, after repetitious failures to repeal ObamaCare, Republicans staged their final hurrah–a “skinny repeal” that lacked nearly all the political toxin of their previous attempts. However, Republicans John McCain, Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins joined the Democrats in voting down the proposed law. When the law died in the Senate, it seemed to die to the public as well. The very people who had chanted alongside Trump became hesitant of his promise to repeal their health care system. A video of a man changing his mind and calling for the continuation of ACA circled the internet; The New York Times interviewed a man, Mr. Brahin, who said “As much as I was against it, at this point I’m against the repeal. Now that you’ve insured an additional 20 million people, you can’t just take the insurance away from these people,” he added. In fact, according to a poll tracked by PollingReportwhich The Washington Post compiled starting in March, on average, only 22 percent of Americans supported GOP proposals to replace the ACA.

What became clear in the weeks during the Republican’s attempt to repeal the ACA is that the majority of Republicans did not originally vote against the law itself; they voted against President Obama and a government they felt no longer represented them.

According to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, focusing specifically on Republicans, when asked the main reason why they have an unfavorable view of the health care law, about three in ten said it is because they believe the law gives government too big a role in the health care system (31 percent) or say it is just one of many indications that President Obama took the country in the wrong direction (27 percent). This reaction to the ACA is a mirror into the way politics is organized today. Policies do not drive opinions, culture does. The majority of Republicans had an unfavorable view of Obama’s ACA, precisely because it was Obama’s ACA; it was the Democrat’s ACA; it was not their ACA.

Yet, logistically it was. In 1993, the Clintons sought to reform health care. In response, Republicans scrambled to introduce their own health care bill. The Heritage Foundation, forefather of right wing think tanks, with Republican Sen. John Chafee of Rhode Island leading, proposed the Health Equity and Access Reform Today, which is argued to be nearly identical to the ACA. Both bills proposed an individual mandate, the creation of purchasing pools, standardized benefits, vouchers for the poor to buy insurance and a ban on denying coverage based on a pre-existing condition. While the bill never came into being, it represented a similarity between the logistics of Republican and Democratic health care ideals. Further, Obama himself has credited Romneycare as a foundation for ObamaCare. And Romney was quoted saying, “without Romneycare, I don’t think we would have Obamacare.” Substantively, the ACA could very well be the GOP’s bill, if it was not tainted with “Obama.”

To boot, if Republicans were to vote according to their own best interest when it came to health care, the statistics say they would most likely support the ACA.

Roughly 20 million people have gained coverage through the Affordable Care Act, Democrats and Republicans alike. In fact, the parts of the country that lean the most heavily Republican showed significantly more insurance gains than places where voters lean strongly Democratic. Florida and Texas, two Republican leaning states, saw about 3.3 million people gain coverage as statewide uninsured rates fell 36 percent and 27 percent, respectively.

Yet, only 3% of Republicans said it benefited themselves or their families.

Of the 11.5 million Marketplace enrollees nationally, 6.3 million live in Republican districts and 5.2 million live in Democratic districts.

To understand the disparity between the law’s success and its approval rating among Republicans, take a closer look at Florida, a hot spot for curious political perplexities. Three congressional districts – all represented by Republicans – have among the highest number of Affordable Care Act enrollees in the country. Yet, irony prevailed when only nine House Republicans, none from Florida, dissented from the near party line 227-198 vote to repeal the ACA.

Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who has outspokenly favored the ACA’s repeal and replacement, heads Florida’s District 27. In 2013, she called the law’s implementation “bungled” and “not the answer for America’s health care system.” Her district enrolls 96,300 people, the highest number in the country, according to estimates by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Florida’s 26th district, led by Rep. Carlos Curbelo follows close behind with 92,500.

If the Republican’s plan to repeal the ACA were to actualize, nearly 200,000 people in these Republican districts would lose health insurance.

The inconsistency continues as, according to The Census Bureau, people who live outside metropolitan statistical areas have the highest rates of government coverage, at 42.7%. Yet, in the 2016 election Donald Trump won the presidency with a vast majority of support from those outside of metropolitan statistical areas, areas incongruously occupied by both ACA enrollees and Trump supporters.

Further, the populations with no high school diploma are the most likely to have government coverage (35.2 percent) compared with high school graduates (24.8 percent) and people with a bachelor’s or graduate or professional degree (11.2 percent and 9.4 percent, respectively). Looking at the 2016 election, it appears that educational levels were crucial in predicting who would vote toward one candidate or the other. According to a statistical presentation by FiveThirtyEight, it was the least educated states that won Donald Trump the presidency, especially given that a fair number of them are in swing states such as Ohio and North Carolina.

More recently, Politico explored the repercussions of Trump’s decision to withdraw America from the Trans-Pacific Partnership on rural America.

What the statistics tell us is that less education and living in rural areas means both a higher percentage of ACA enrollees and a higher percentage of Trump supporters. Given these statistics, why did Republicans vote for a President who ran on the promise that he would essentially take away their health insurance?

Perhaps the same reason liberals do–a higher motivation than self-interest. Liberals tend to support higher taxes. And these foundational ideals usually do not sway whether or not the policy negatively affects them. According to a survey by CNBC, eighty-six percent of Democratic millionaires said inequality is a problem, compared with only 20 percent of Republicans. Democratic millionaires were far more supportive of taxing the rich and raising the minimum wage. Among those who say inequality is a problem, 78 percent of Democrats support higher taxes on the wealthy, and 77 percent back a higher minimum wage. The same goes for liberals’ support of affirmative action, when it does not directly further their best interest.

While it is possible that Republicans do not know the substance of the policies they reject, as we saw with Tomi Lahren admitting her use of the ACA despite her being its biggest adversary, it is also possible that when voting, Democrats and Republicans have different priorities. Republican’s do not prioritize health care the way Democrats do but instead put their energy into the military, taxes, and terrorism. While Republicans lose the most materially by supporting Trump and his repeal of the ACA, they gain a sort of cultural power or at the very least cultural recognition.

The fight for many Republicans, it seems, is not to pinpoint the best policies but to live in an America that they recognize and that recognizes them. While this mindset begs for sympathy, it also demands concern. Republicans should not use health care as an emblem of their partisan ambitions because the cost is too high.

Why Are Americans So Afraid?

Facts take a backseat to deeply ingrained fears.

Photo Credit: Thomas Bethge/Shutterstock

At a rally in North Carolina in December 2016, a 12-year-old girl said to candidate Donald Trump, “I’m scared. What are you going to do to protect this country?”

“You know what, darlin’?” Trump replied. “You’re not going to be scared anymore. They’re going to be scared.”

Throughout his campaign, Trump played off the rising fear of the American public. His us-vs.-them rhetoric eroded people’s trust in facts, numbers, nuance, government and the news media and augmented the already fragile line of truth. Trump knew Americans were afraid and that they would vote accordingly.

But there is a remarkable dissonance between what seems to be and what is. According to Harvard professor Steven Pinker, “Violence has been in decline over long stretches of time and we may be living in the most peaceful time in our species’ existence.”

In most of the world, the rate of homicide has been sinking. The great American crime decline of the 1990s proceeded right through the recession of 2008 and up to the present. Among 88 countries with reliable data, 67 have seen a decline in homicide in the past 15 years.

“You often hear people saying, on both sides of the political divide, that the world is a mess,” said Joseph Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, a public grant-making foundation focused on nuclear weapons policy and conflict resolution. “The world is not a mess. It’s just messy.” The collapse of the existing order in the Middle East, Cirincione said, is one manifestation of the world’s messiness. “But the world itself is doing pretty darn good. We do not have major powers in conflict. We have small wars. We do not have major wars.”

Yet a Gallup poll found that concern about crime and violence is at its highest level in 15 years. According to the Chapman University Survey on American Fears, some 70 percent of our citizenry is afraid of threats of terrorism, economic collapse, cyber warfare and government corruption.

So how is it that we are living in what is arguably the safest time in history, yet we as a country exist in a culture of fear?

Christopher Fettweis, author of The Pathologies of Power: Fear, Honor, Glory, and Hubris in U.S. Foreign Policy, says it is because “our fear is not based on an intellectual conclusion, it’s a belief.” America’s fear has become a framework of belief, surpassing far beyond the plasticity of opinions. And as history has proved time and time again, beliefs are near impossible to change.

The reality is “facts” don’t mean much in the way of beliefs. Telling a person, who has the sincerest gut belief, the statistic that more Americans are killed each year by furniture than by terrorism becomes somehow unconvincing, or rather disagreeable. Political psychologists call this tendency to conform assessments of information to some goal or end extrinsic to accuracy “motivated reasoning.” In other words, people believe what they want to believe. This cognitive process infiltrates everything from us convincing ourselves a gluten-free cupcake is healthy to our groundless denial of climate change and gun violence.

So why is this process so crucial in understanding the culture of fear in America? It perpetuates it. Because humans will dismiss rational thinking for the sake of reconfirming their identity, their fears will eclipse facts. A conservative turns on the news to see a terrorist attack in London. Then he goes on Twitter to see fellow conservatives’ rant about building a wall and protecting our borders. His fear is legitimized within their cushy network of familiarity. If the conservative encountered the fact that “zero refugees from countries included in the president’s travel ban have killed anyone in terrorist attacks on American soil,” he would ignore it, because it does not fit with his worldview. The individual does not conform to adjust his perspective, but emerges unconvinced and indignantly dogged. According to psychologist Tom Gilovich, this is because the fundamental questions we ask ourselves in response to particular information conforms to what we want to believe. “For desired conclusions,” he writes, “it is as if we ask ourselves ‘Can I believe this?,’ but for disagreeable conclusions we ask, ‘Must I believe this?’”

People do not confront new information looking for truth, but rather looking for their truth and this means facts take a backseat to deeply ingrained fears.

These fears are sustained through media coverage. Nearly every time we switch on the news, a building is in flames, a new virus has swept a new nation, or a man with a gun has wreaked havoc on an elementary school. It seems a string is holding the world together. The overwhelming coverage of terrorist attacks, shootings and other violent episodes are so entwined in our daily lives that their imminence is inflated. “Your day-to-day experience is that terrible things are happening and they could happen to you tomorrow,” says Cirincione. For those who have not made it beyond the U.S. border, their perceptions of the outside world are shaped solely by this media diet. And what makes news coverage overseas? People having bad things happen, doing bad things to each other; violence and degradation.

To the individual, this news coverage is a consistent reminder of our own mortality. According to a study done by the American Psychological Association, when confronted with thoughts of our own mortality people appear to behave more conservatively by shunning and even punishing outsiders and those who threaten the status of their cherished worldviews. This helps explain how America’s current culture of fear has become synonymous with the fear of terrorism. Despite the fact that the chances of being a victim of terrorism are roughly the same as that of being hit by lightning, a majority of Americans now worry that they or their families will be victims of terrorism, up from a third less than two years ago, according to a survey by the Public Religion Research Institute.

Terrorist attacks carry the powerful quality of uncertainty. Since 1973, psychologists have argued that political conservatism as an ideological belief system is significantly related to concerns having to do with the psychological management of uncertainty. According to a study done by NYU, we respond to uncertainty as we would respond to a threat—with fear. As death reminders become more prevalent, society becomes more antagonistic toward those with different beliefs and values; people become more fearful of the other. The common rhetoric turns to that of us-vs.-them. We feel we have to build a literal wall to separate ourselves from the big, bad existential other. In this world of inflamed rhetoric, Muslims become terrorists, factual probability becomes irrelevant and doing nothing becomes weakness.

This mentality has cost the U.S. roughly hundreds of billions of dollars annually on counter-terrorism efforts, yet terrorism is rising. In 2015, terrorist attacks occurred in almost 100 countries, up from 59 in 2013, according to the University of Maryland’s Global Terrorism Database. In America, the numbers are different: 24 people have died in America from terrorist attacks since 9/11, less than two per year. These 24 lives are important, but so are the nearly 45,000 annual deaths associated with lack of health insurance; the 37,000 annual deaths from road crashes each year; the over 59,000 who die annually due to the opioid epidemic; and the 99,000 who died from preventable healthcare-associated infections. And the list goes on.

Given these statistics, how the government chooses to allocate our resources comes as a shock. To combat the most likely cause of death, heart disease, the government contributes only $2 billion. And just $300 million is devoted to research on the third most likely cause of death, strokes. The U.S. Congress funded cancer research through the NCI with just over $5 billion in 2017. Yet as Americans we allow this to continue largely because we’re too lazy to crosscheck the facts and confront the issue logically. As long as terrorism pervades the media, the government will continue to put money where the fear is, whether logical or not at all.

Telling people not to fear terror in this hyperactive age is like trying to convince a person standing in the rain that it is a sunny day. Their experience, their worldview, their very sense of self says otherwise. This is not to say that Americans do not have the right to be afraid. Fear is an instinctive response, but our heightened response should be redirected to realistic fears, the things that might actually kill us.

Jon Stewart Should Run for President

It’s time for a left-leaning celebrity to run—and win.

Guy Saperstein, Kelsey Abkin, Jon Stewart

Two years ago, the suggestion that Jon Stewart should run for president would be met with satirical criticism. He does not have experience holding office, he is an entertainer, not a politician, and he’s funny—too funny to be president. But times have changed dramatically. On Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016, millions of Americans watched as Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio turned red and Donald Trump, a businessman who knows more about luxury hotels than foreign policy, was voted to the highest office in the land by the will of millions of Americans.

No one saw it coming. Democrats were blindsided by the upset and the media were left scrambling. But Jon Stewart, in an interview with CNN explained, “The door is open to an a**hole like Donald Trump because the Democrats haven’t done enough to show people that a government…that can be effective for people, can be efficient for people,” he said. “And if you can’t do that, then you’ve lost the right to make that change and someone’s going to come in and demagogue you.”

Stewart had a grasp on the current state of politics and an understanding of the drive behind Clinton’s loss. More importantly, he has the charisma to make people listen.

Anything is possible, but Jon Stewart is necessary. At a time when a majority of Americans feel cheated by the demographic revolution that is underway around the world, and vote according to a deep fear of becoming minorities in their own country, Jon Stewart is the strongest weapon the Democratic Party could employ to combat Trump-era voters.

A large part of Donald Trump’s appeal is that he is entertaining. His press conferences are turbulent and his tweets make us laugh and cry and nearly forget he holds the highest office in the country. America likes entertainment and craves drama. We’re a reality TV obsessed, celebrity-crazed nation. Celebrity news sells. Jon Stewart would sell the same way that Trump has. He would be controversial in his bluntness, but wiser in his actions. People would be excited for him to open his mouth, but not embarrassed when he does. He is as entertaining as Donald Trump, yet he is the Donald Trump antidote.

At a time when only 16 percent of Americans think the government does the right thing “most of the time,” celebrities may simply be a trusted alternative. In 2016, Trump joined stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ronald Reagan, Clint Eastwood, and Sonny Bono in making a successful turn to politics. He did not shy away from his lack of political experience, but instead framed it as an asset, appealing to the “outsider,” to the attractive idea of shaking up traditional politics. Perhaps his familiarity on our television screen was more comfortable than the detached politicians. Perhaps we could forgive him when he misspoke, because we saw it as entertainment. Perhaps no average politician could stand up to him.

But now, imagine in 2020 Jon Stewart next to Donald Trump, calling him out on every flub, every ill-informed word, with the magnetism of an accomplished entertainer. This value of Stewart should not be condoned, but embraced. However, he must not be clumped in the likes of Trump, Reagan or Schwarzenegger, because his prior career as an entertainer required a complex understanding of politics and a debate style wit. He was not reiterating the thoughts of others, but consistently building his own and expressing them in a way many current politicians cannot.

As if Stewart the entertainer does not carry enough appeal, perhaps Stewart the everyman will. Stewart worked for what he accomplished in the good old “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” tradition. Stewart held numerous jobs before hosting his own show: he was a contingency planner for the New Jersey Department of Human Services, a contract administrator for City University of New York, a puppeteer for children with disabilities, a soccer coach at Gloucester High School in Virginia, a caterer, a busboy, a shelf stocker at Woolworth’s, a bartender, and finally a standup comedian. He is relatable. He is the bartender down the street, the friendly neighbor volunteer and your child’s soccer coach. But he is also a political titan in his own right. He built an empire off his witty comments and political expertise; he is both relatable and intimidating.

Not only is Jon Stewart attractive as a candidate, but his win is a real possibility, thanks in part to his already existing fan base. Jon Stewart’s Daily Show Twitter boasted more than 6 million followers; its Facebook page got over 7 million likes, and his episodes have garnered as many as 3.5 million viewers, not including those watched with DVR playback. He has a ready-made audience; all he has to do is talk.

Millennials make up a large part of Stewart’s fan base, which is important because they are a vital demographic in the 2020 election. In the 2016 election, 50% of citizens aged 18-29 didn’t show up to the polls. It seemed the millennial support Obama garnered just didn’t translate to Clinton. According to a report by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, Bernie Sanders won more votes among those under age 30 than the two presumptive major-party presidential nominees combined. And it wasn’t close. It was clear the Democrats presented the wrong nominee.

If Jon Stewart had run in the 2016 election, it is fair to say he would have brought back the Obama-era millennial coalition and garnered the support of the Bernie Sanders supporters. There’s no reason why traditional Democrats wouldn’t support him as well. In 2020, after Trump has shown his incompetency in office, Stewart’s fight will only be easier. President Obama understood this. In 2015, Politico reported that Jon Stewart was invited to the White House twice—first in 2011 and again in 2014.

“Jon Stewart was a key influencer for millennials,” said Dag Vega, who worked for several years at the White House developing relationships with media figures. “They relied on him for an honest take on the news, and the president and senior staff know that.”

Stewart knows how to work the political system. In 2010, he successfully shamed politicians into passing the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, legislature that covered medical expenses for emergency workers thought to be sickened by their exposure to toxic substances during the 9/11 recovery efforts. When in 2015, the bill had not yet been renewed, Stewart again took matters into his own hands and marched twice to Congress and publically shamed lawmakers into renewing the bill. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg described Stewart’s coverage as “one of the biggest factors that led to the final agreement.” Stewart took his political knowledge further, to Iran, when he wrote, directed and produced the political drama Rosewater, which portrayed a deep understanding of Iranian politics.

Unlike Donald Trump, Stewart’s history is free of questionable business dealings or allegations of sexual assault. The only “skeleton” in his closet is his name-change from Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz to Jon Stewart, a move he made to succeed as a newbie in the entertainment industry. Many other entertainers have done the same thing, including Katy Perry, Elton John and Natalie Portman.

Trump’s presidency has made the previously unthinkable a reality and paved the way for a left-leaning celebrity to run for office — and win.

Trump Didn’t Win the Election, Hillary Lost It

Hillary was always going to be a weak candidate and the evidence was there for anyone willing to see it.  The only surprise was how hard many people worked not to see the obvious. For one, she was exactly the wrong candidate for 2016. In May 2014, two and a half years ago, I wrote on these pages:

By every metric, voters are in a surly mood and they are not going to be happy campers in 2016, either. Why should they be? The economy is still in the toilet, not enough jobs are being created even to keep up with population growth, personal debt and student debt are rising, college graduates can’t find jobs, retirement benefits are shrinking, infrastructure is deteriorating, banksters never were held accountable for melting down the economy, inequality is exploding — and neither party is addressing the depth of the problems America faces. As a result, voters in 2016 will be seeking change and there is no way Clinton can run as a “change” candidate — indeed, having been in power in Washington for 20-plus years as First Lady, U.S. Senator and Secretary of State, she is the poster child for the Washington political establishment, an establishment that will not be popular in 2016.

This is exactly what happened, which is why the Washington Post’s chief political writer Chris Cilliza could write today:

This was a change election. And Trump was the change candidate. To me, this is the single most important number in the exit poll in understanding what voters were thinking when they chose Trump. Provided with four candidate qualities and asked which mattered most to their vote, almost 4 in 10 (39 percent) said a candidate who “can bring needed change.” (A candidate who “has the right experience” was the second most important character trait.) Among those change voters, Trump took 83 percent of the vote to just 14 percent for Clinton.

On top of this problem–which to be fair to Clinton was not a problem of her making–she was extremely unpopular and had a long history dating back to 2007 of polling badly against Republicans. In December 2007, while leading national polls among Democrats by 26 points, in head-to-head polls against Republicans, she polled weaker against Republican presidential candidates than John Edwards and a relatively unknown new black Senator from Illinois. In fact, when matched up against Republicans–who had a very weak field themselves in 2008–she even polled behind an unnamed generic Democratic candidate. We saw this inherent weakness repeated in 2016, when she was challenged by a 74-year old senator from a small state who wasn’t even a Democrat, who had virtually no financial base, but went from 3% in national polls to winning 22 contested primaries and 47% of the votes in those primaries, in the process regularly pulling 20,000+ enthusiastic people to his rallies, while Hillary spoke in small gatherings to large donors and never attracted more than 800 people to an event.

What this obvious lack of enthusiasm for Hillary translated to in this election is the single most appalling–and definitive–statistic of this campaign: Hillary got almost 10 million fewer votes than Obama got in 2008, despite the fact there are millions more registered voters now and six million less votes than Obama got in 2012. Trump did not win this election. Hillary lost it. In fact, Trump got fewer votes than Mitt Romney in 2012!  We are not surrounded by more Republicans. We are surrounded by Democrats who were not inspired by the Wall Street-friendly candidate their party pushed on them.

Hillary’s utter tone-deafness about her connections to Wall Street was another huge liability.  In November 2014, I wrote:

On nearly every important issue, except women’s issues, Clinton stands to the right of her Democratic base. Overwhelmingly, Democrats believe that Wall Street played a substantial role in gaming the system for their benefit while melting down the economy, but Clinton continues to give speeches to Goldman Sachs at $200,000 a pop, assuring them that, “We all got into this mess together and we’re all going to have to work together to get out of it.” In her world — a world full of friends and donors from Wall Street — the financial industry does not bear any special culpability in the financial meltdown of 2007-’08. The mood of the Democratic base is populist and angry, but Clinton is preaching lack of accountability.

She got hammered by Sanders, and later Trump, for her reliance on Wall Street money, and then added to her problems by not releasing transcripts of her speeches to Wall Street banks to the public, which exacerbated the perception that she was not transparent and was rigging the system with the financial industry in ways that did not serve the public. So when her email problems arose, it all seemed part of the same pattern of duplicity.  Polls with voters rating her 65% “untrustworthy” soon followed.

She also never explained why she had supported the deregulation of Wall Street, never explained why she had promoted NAFTA, why she had called the NAFTA-like Trans Pacific Partnership the “gold standard” of trade deals, despite the damage NAFTA had caused to America’s manufacturing base and the millions of jobs that had been exported to lower-paying countries. And the DNC Democrats who fixed the primaries to nominate her have never explained how they expected to win the industrial midwest with a candidate who had contributed to their economic demise or why they favored Clinton over a candidate who ran 10 points stronger against every Republican presidential candidate, including Trump, in match-up polls.

This election was always going to be a plebiscite on the status quo and the status quo candidate, Hillary Clinton. For a while many thought Hillary could pass it because she was matched against the weakest candidate imaginable. In the end, she could not overcome her many liabilities, the fact that her party had forgotten they needed to deliver results to the working class, nor the surly mood of voters who had figured out what a rigged system looked like and were willing to try a long-shot who might just bust up the system.

The Racial Justice Failures That Hillary Clinton Can’t Ignore

Clinton’s record is far from stellar.

While the Black Lives Matter movement has focused attention on Bernie Sanders for his perceived racial justice deficiencies, no one seems to be giving much scrutiny to the civil rights record of Bill and Hillary Clinton and the impact their political work has had on the black community.

History has not been kind to the Clintons’ record and it is possible that Bill Clinton while president, with no public objections and often with enthusiastic support from Hillary, did more damage to the black community than any modern American president.

Let’s take a look at the Clintons’ record, in particular the 1996 Welfare Reform Act, the 1994 Violent Crime Act, repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, and the support and passage of NAFTA and NAFTA-style trade agreements.

1996 Welfare Reform Act: Any consideration of Bill Clinton’s impact on the black community must include the 1996 Welfare Reform Act that had been put forward by Republicans Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole as a cornerstone of the Republican Contract for America and signed into law by Clinton, fulfilling his 1992 campaign pledge to “end welfare as we know it.”

The bill ended the federal guarantee of cash assistance to the poor, limited welfare payments and turned welfare programs over to the states. Civil rights and women’s groups strongly opposed this legislation, which has proved to be a disaster for poor people. Three of Clinton’s assistant secretaries at the Department of Health and Human Services resigned to protest the law. According to one of them, Peter Edelman, the 1996 welfare reform law destroyed the safety net for poor people, increased poverty, lowered income for single mothers, put people into homeless shelters and left states free to eliminate welfare entirely.

Clinton’s welfare reform did “not offer benefits sufficient to lift recipients out of poverty, and despite a strong economy, the majority of families who have moved off the [welfare] rolls have remained in poverty,” according to the book Success Stories, by Joe Soss. Jason DeParle of the New York Times, after interviews with single mothers, said that they have been left without means to survive, and have turned to desperate and sometimes illegal ways to survive, including shoplifting, selling blood, scavenging trash bins, moving in with friends, and returning to violent domestic partners.

Feminist critics such as Barbara Ehrenreich said Clinton’s welfare reform was motivated by racism and misogyny, using stereotypes of “endlessly fecund” African-American welfare recipients.

On the face of it, devolving welfare programs to the states was racially neutral, but it didn’t work out that way. Joe Soss, who co-wrote the book, Disciplining the Poor: Neoliberal Paternalism and the Persistent Power of Race, explains how race became the defining characteristic of Clinton’s welfare reform:

[P]eople had become so focused on racial issues that race really drove the patterning….[A]ll of the states with more African-Americans on the welfare rolls chose tougher rules.  And when you add those different rules up, what we found was that even though the Civil Act prevents the government from creating different programs for black and white recipients, when states choose according to this pattern, it ends up that large numbers of African Americans get concentrated in the states with the toughest rules, and large numbers of white recipients get concentrated in the states with the more lenient rules.

So state freedom to make these different choices became the mechanism for recreating a racially biased system across the states, where the toughness of the rules you confronted really on your racial characteristics.

Despite the human costs of welfare reform, Bill Clinton is still bragging about knocking people off welfare and Hillary has neither repudiated nor disavowed the 1996 Clinton welfare legislation, which has been a catastrophe for the black community. Hillary Clinton not only supported the 1996 legislation, but as recently as her 2008 presidential campaign, publicly supported it, expressing no regret about how it turned out and telling the New York Times she thought the act was necessary and enormously successful.

1994 Violent Crime Control Act: Another Bill Clinton legacy that has had catastrophic impacts on the black community is the 1994 Violent Crime Control Act, which, among other things, expanded the death penalty, provided funds to hire 100,000 more police, imposed tougher prison sentences, eliminated funds for inmate education and provided money to build extra prisons. Clinton, who had a history of pandering to racist, anti-crime sentiments (witness his 1992 flight back to Arkansas to personally oversee the execution of a mentally retarded African-American murderer which helped his poll numbers in the New Hampshire primary), pandered to tough-on-crime voters and described the Violent Crime Control Act in stark terms: “Gangs and drugs have taken over our streets and undermined our schools,” he said. “Every day we read about somebody else who has literally gotten away with murder.”

Bill Clinton wasn’t the only one using tough language to sell this tough crime bill; Hillary, in selling this punitive bill to the public, added her own red-meat rhetoric, calling kids in gangs “super-predators” without conscience or empathy:

“[W]e also have to have an organized effort against gangs, just as in the previous generation we had an organized effort against the mob. We need to take these people on. They are often connected to drug cartels. They are not just gangs of kids anymore. They are often the kinds of kids that are called ‘super-predators.’ No conscience, no empathy. We can talk about how they got that way but first we have to bring them to heel….”

As a result of this legislation, 28 states and the District of Columbia followed the federal money and enacted stricter sentencing laws and built more prisons. Jeremy Travis, a former member of the Clinton Justice Department and now president of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, says there was a basic problem with the Clinton crime legislation: There is only a small relationship between high levels of imprisonment and lower crime rates. “We know with the fullness of time that we made some terrible mistakes,” Travis has said. “And those mistakes were to ramp up the use of prison. And that big mistake is the one that we now, 20 years later, come to grips with. We have to look in the mirror and say, ‘look what we have done.'”

What we have done is incarcerate a lot of minorities. There are more than 2.3 million people in U.S. state and federal prisons and nearly one million are black men. “If you’re a black baby born today, you have a 1 in 3 chance of spending some time in prison or jail,” says Nick Turner of the Vera Institute. “If you’re Latino, it’s a 1 in 6 chance. And if you’re white, it’s 1 in 17….[C]oming to terms with these disparities and reversing them…is a matter of fairness and justice.”

When we speak about justice and fairness, we need to consider not just the prisoners, but the families who are devastated by the imprisonment of a parent and the stigma and loss of job opportunities that endure forever. And when people are in prison, they are not earning pensions or building Social Security accounts, so their futures are permanently diminished.

Recently, the New York Times published an article about the disappearance of 1.5 million black men from daily American life. The reasons were premature death, foreign military deployments and prison.

The 1994 Clinton Crime bill has been a huge failure, at great cost to the black community, as well as many state budgets, and there has been a big public policy debate shift away from excessive incarceration policies. Even the arch-conservative Koch brothers and some Senate Republicans like Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio are promoting a re-evaluation of incarceration policies.

To Bill and Hillary’s credit, they have acknowledged some of the damage their policies caused. In her meeting with three members of the Black Lives Matter movement, Hillary Clinton tried to explain her policy reversals as the result of different times demanding different policies. Yet the over-reliance on incarceration, particularly for non-violent crimes, made no sense in 1994, and it is equally bad policy today.

The 1994 Act spawned the “era of mass incarceration” that Hillary now questions. The Act supported “truth in sentencing” laws that dramatically increased the amount of time criminals served and over the course of the Clinton presidency, the number of Americans in prison rose an astounding 60 percent. This might have been justified if it led to large reductions of crime, but very little crime reduction is caused by mass incarceration. The Brennan Center for Justice, after spending two years studying 14 different causes of the reduction of crime, concluded that “incarceration was responsible for approximately five percent of the drop in crime in the 1990s” and an even lower percentage since then.

Hillary deserves credit for rethinking the damage the Clinton crime bill caused, but how much credit should that be, since she is now moving on this issue with a herd that includes right-wing Republicans and arch-conservatives like the Koch brothers? Her change of position does not help the millions of people, including hundreds of thousands of African Americans, whose lives were devastated by the hysteria for mass incarceration.

Repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act: After the 1920-’21 Depression, the United States began the decade known as the Roaring Twenties, characterized by new forms of consumer credit and bank expansion. Banks sold securities side-by-side with traditional bank services like loans and deposits. The stock market boomed and reached bubble territory and along with the bubble came market manipulation in which banks and other financial entities would hype the value of stocks, then dump them on less-informed buyers right before the stocks collapsed. Banks offered holding company stocks, many of which were little more than heavily leveraged pyramid schemes backed by dubious assets as prudent investments.

In October 1929, the bubble burst, the stock market crashed and the Great Depression began. In 1932, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected president and in 1933, a Democratic Congress passed the Glass-Steagall Act in response to bank abuses. Because of Glass-Steagall, banks were prohibited from engaging in banking and investing activities simultaneously. Banks could take deposits and make loans. Brokers could underwrite and sell securities, but no firm could do both due to conflicts of interest and risks to insured deposits. From 1933 to 1999, the system worked well. There were very few large bank failures and no large financial collapses.

In 1999, Democrats led by President Bill Clinton and his Wall Street supporters and joined by Republican Senator Phil Gramm, succeeded in repealing Glass-Steagall at the urging of the big Wall Street banks. As they did in the Roaring Twenties, banks began to originate fraudulent loans and sold securities backed by toxic, worthless assets, to their customers, often while simultaneously “shorting” or betting against the same securities themselves. The bubble peaked in 2007 and collapsed in 2008, causing Wall Street to run to Presidents Bush and Obama and Congress for a financial bail-out, which ultimately cost the federal government $1 trillion in cash and $11 trillion in guarantees. Millions of people lost their homes in foreclosure, unemployment spiked, the average American family lost 40 percent of its net worth and 52 percent of black families and 47 percent of Latino families were left with zero net worth.

Joseph Stiglitz, a Noble Prize-winning American economist has written:

Commercial banks are not supposed to be high-risk ventures; they are supposed to manage other people’s money very conservatively…Investment banks, on the other hand, have traditionally managed rich people’s money — people who can take bigger risks in order to get bigger returns.

When repeal of Glass-Steagall brought investment and commercial banks together, the investment-bank culture came out on top. There was a demand for the kind of high returns that could be obtained only through high leverage and big risk-taking.

Although American taxpayers bailed out the banks, Wall Street, with the support of President Obama, vigorously and successfully fought the re-institution of Glass-Steagall and the United States today remains just as vulnerable today to bank speculation and financial melt-down as it was in 2007.

Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have called for the re-legislation of Glass-Steagall; by contrast, a spokesperson for Hillary Clinton recently said she did not support legislation reinstating Glass-Steagall rules. The banks remain free to run wild, while the U.S. economy continues to limp along, apparently with Clinton’s approval.

NAFTA: In 1993, President Clinton strongly lobbied for and passed NAFTA, which he and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce promised would create an export boom with Mexico that would create 200,000 high-paying jobs in America within two years and millions of jobs within five years. Instead, trade deficits with Mexico eliminated 682,000 good-paying jobs in the United States, 61 percent of which were manufacturing jobs, many held by African Americans.

When China entered the World Trade Organization in 2001, according to Robert Scott, director of Trade and Manufacturing Policy Research at the Economic Policy Institute, black workers lost 281,000 high-paying manufacturing jobs from 2001-’11 and tens of billions in wages. The U.S. trade deficit with China is $318 billion per year and Celeste Drake, globalization policy specialist for the AFL-CIO, has written that, “The displacement of manufacturing jobs by growing U.S. trade deficits with China has been particularly hard on minority workers: 958,800 were displaced, with wage-related losses in 2011 of $10,485 per worker and $10.1 billion overall.”

The NAFTA-style trade agreement with Korea (KORUS) has resulted in the net loss of 75,000 jobs for African Americans and other workers, U.S. imports from Korea surged to more than $12 billion, while U.S. imports to Korea increased by less than $1 billion, said Robert Scott.

Once African Americans and other non-white workers lose their jobs, they have a difficult time finding new ones, wrote author Lori Keltzer in the book Job Loss from Imports: Measuring the Costs. “Minority workers face reemployment rates almost 11 percentage points lower than white workers,” Keltzer wrote. “For less skilled manufacturing workers, the male minority’s employment rate is 20 percent lower than the average. Female minority’s reemployment rate is 24 percent lower.”

NAFTA  and NAFTA-style trade agreements have been described as a “little discussed triple whammy in the black community that has hit black Americans financially hard over the past two decades,” wrote Frederick H. Lowe in, “Will the proposed trade agreement be another bad deal for black workers?”

You can thank Bill Clinton for NAFTA. But the story of bad trade deals is not over. In fact, the worst may be yet-to-come — the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which has been described by the AFL-CIO as “NAFTA on steroids.”

The TPP, which has been negotiated in secret, involves the U.S., Japan, Canada, Australia, Mexico, Malaysia, Singapore, Chile, Peru, New Zealand, Vietnam and Brunei — almost 40 percent of the world economy. If passed, it would reduce tariffs and allow capital to move more freely among these nations. NAFTA and other NAFTA-style agreements have encouraged capital to flee to the lowest-wage countries, a “race to the bottom,” wrote William Greider in his seminal work on globalization, One World, Ready or Not.

If the TPP passes, the race not only will accelerate to the great profit of U.S. corporations, which already are sitting on $2+ trillion of retained earnings they have not repatriated to the U.S. or paid U.S. taxes on, but it will further gut the already-weak U.S. manufacturing base and further damage jobs for the black community. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have publicly opposed the TPP, while Hillary Clinton has refused to take an identifiable position on it.

The Clinton administration, with policies Hillary Clinton supported at the time and in most respects still supports, pushed millions of African Americans off welfare; over-incarcerated hundreds of thousands of African Americans while devastating hundreds of thousands of black families and careers; supported Wall Street-friendly legislation that helped to melt down the economy, leaving millions homeless and 52 percent of black families with zero net worth; and promoted trade policies like NAFTA which cost African Americans hundreds of thousands of jobs and tens of billions in salaries and income. Is this the track record and set of policies African Americans and racial justice advocates really want to endorse for 2016?