Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), a declared 2020 candidate for 2020 presidential nomination, came to Long Island City, where local activists rejected Amazon, to propose a plan to rein in big tech and other giant multi-national companies that use their economic power to stifle competition and intimidate government. Here is her proposal — Karen Rubin, News& Photo Features
big tech companies have too much power — too much power over our economy, our
society, and our democracy. They’ve bulldozed competition, used our private
information for profit, and tilted the playing field against everyone else. And
in the process, they have hurt small businesses and stifled innovation.
I want a government that makes sure everybody — even the biggest and most
powerful companies in America — plays by the rules. And I want to make sure
that the next generation of great
American tech companies can flourish. To do that, we need to stop this generation of big tech companies
from throwing around their political power to shape the rules in their favor
and throwing around their economic power to snuff out or buy up every potential
That’s why my Administration will make big, structural changes to the tech
sector to promote more competition—including breaking up Amazon, Facebook, and Google.
How the New Tech Monopolies Hurt Small Businesses and Innovation
America’s big tech companies provide valuable products but also wield enormous
power over our digital lives. Nearly half of all e-commerce goes
through Amazon. More than 70% of all Internet traffic goes through
sites owned or operated by Google or Facebook.
As these companies have grown larger and more powerful, they have used their
resources and control over the way we use the Internet to squash small
businesses and innovation, and substitute their own financial interests for the
broader interests of the American people. To restore the balance of power in
our democracy, to promote competition, and to ensure that the next generation
of technology innovation is as vibrant as the last, it’s time to break up our
biggest tech companies.
America’s big tech companies have achieved their level of dominance in part
based on two strategies:
Mergers to Limit Competition.
Facebook has purchased potential competitors Instagram and WhatsApp.
Amazon has used its immense market power to force smaller competitors
like Diapers.com to sell at a discounted rate. Google has
snapped up the mapping company Waze and the ad company DoubleClick. Rather
than blocking these transactions for their negative long-term effects on
competition and innovation, government regulators have waved them through.
Proprietary Marketplaces to Limit Competition. Many
big tech companies own a marketplace – where buyers and sellers transact –
while also participating on the marketplace. This can create a conflict of
interest that undermines competition. Amazon crushes small
companies by copying the goods they sell on the Amazon
Marketplace and then selling its own branded version. Google
allegedly snuffed out a competing small search engine
by demoting its content on its search algorithm, and it has
favored its own restaurant ratings over those of Yelp.
Weak antitrust enforcement has led to a dramatic reduction in
competition and innovation in the tech sector. Venture capitalists are now
hesitant to fund new startups to compete with these big tech companies because
it’s so easy for the big companies to either snap up growing
competitors or drive them out of business. The number of tech startups
has slumped, there are fewer high-growth young firms typical of
the tech industry, and first financing rounds for tech startups
have declined 22% since 2012.
With fewer competitors entering the
market, the big tech companies do not have to compete as aggressively in key
areas like protecting our privacy. And some of these companies have grown
so powerful that they can bully cities
and states into showering them with massive taxpayer handouts in exchange
for doing business, and can act — in the words of Mark Zuckerberg —
“more like a government than a traditional company.”
We must ensure that today’s tech giants do not crowd out potential competitors,
smother the next generation of great tech companies, and wield so much power
that they can undermine our democracy.
Restoring Competition in the Tech Sector
America has a long tradition of breaking
up companies when they have become too big and dominant — even if they are
generally providing good service at a reasonable price.
A century ago, in the Gilded Age, waves of mergers led to the creation of some
of the biggest companies in American history — from Standard Oil and JPMorgan
to the railroads and AT&T. In response to the rise of these “trusts,”
Republican and Democratic reformers pushed for antitrust laws to break up these
conglomerations of power to ensure competition.
But where the value of the company came from its network, reformers recognized
that ownership of a network and participating on the network caused a conflict
of interest. Instead of nationalizing these industries — as other countries
did — Americans in the Progressive Era decided to ensure that these networks
would not abuse their power by charging higher prices, offering worse quality,
reducing innovation, and favoring some over others. We required a structural
separation between the network and other businesses, and also demanded that the
network offer fair and non-discriminatory service.
In this tradition, my administration
would restore competition to the tech sector by taking two major steps:
First, by passing legislation that requires large tech platforms to be
designated as “Platform Utilities” and
broken apart from any participant on that platform.
Companies with an annual global revenue of
$25 billion or more and that offer to the public an online marketplace, an
exchange, or a platform for connecting third parties would be designated as
These companies would be prohibited from
owning both the platform utility and any participants on that platform.
Platform utilities would be required to meet a standard of fair, reasonable, and nondiscriminatory dealing with users.
Platform utilities would not be allowed
to transfer or share data with third parties.
For smaller companies (those with annual global revenue of between $90 million
and $25 billion), their platform utilities would be required to meet the same
standard of fair, reasonable, and nondiscriminatory dealing with users, but
would not be required to structurally separate from any participant on the
To enforce these new requirements, federal regulators, State Attorneys General,
or injured private parties would have the right
to sue a platform utility to enjoin any conduct that violates these
requirements, to disgorge any ill-gotten gains, and to be paid for losses and
damages. A company found to violate these requirements would also have to pay a fine of 5 percent of annual revenue.
Amazon Marketplace, Google’s ad exchange, and Google Search would be platform
utilities under this law. Therefore, Amazon Marketplace and Basics, and
Google’s ad exchange and businesses on the exchange would be split apart.
Google Search would have to be spun off as well.
Second, my administration would
appoint regulators committed to reversing illegal and anti-competitive tech
Current antitrust laws empower federal regulators to break up mergers that
reduce competition. I will appoint regulators who are committed to using
existing tools to unwind anti-competitive mergers, including:
Whole Foods; Zappos
Waze; Nest; DoubleClick
Unwinding these mergers will promote healthy competition in the market — which will put pressure on big tech companies to be more responsive to user concerns, including about privacy.
Protecting the Future of the Internet
So what would the Internet look like after all these reforms?
Here’s what won’t change: You’ll still be able to go on Google and search like you do today. You’ll still be able to go on Amazon and find 30 different coffee machines that you can get delivered to your house in two days. You’ll still be able to go on Facebook and see how your old friend from school is doing.
Here’s what will change: Small businesses would have a fair shot to sell their products on Amazon without the fear of Amazon pushing them out of business. Google couldn’t smother competitors by demoting their products on Google Search. Facebook would face real pressure from Instagram and WhatsApp to improve the user experience and protect our privacy. Tech entrepreneurs would have a fighting chance to compete against the tech giants.
Of course, my proposals today won’t solve every problem we have with our big tech companies.
We must give people more control over how their personal information is collected, shared, and sold—and do it in a way that doesn’t lock in massive competitive advantages for the companies that already have a ton of our data.
We must help America’s content creators—from local newspapers and national magazines to comedians and musicians — keep more of the value their content generates, rather than seeing it scooped up by companies like Google and Facebook.
And we must ensure that Russia — or any other foreign power — can’t use Facebook or any other form of social media to influence our elections.
Those are each tough problems, but the benefit of taking these steps to promote competition is that it allows us to make some progress on each of these important issues too. More competition means more options for consumers and content creators, and more pressure on companies like Facebook to address the glaring problems with their businesses.
Healthy competition can solve a lot of problems. The steps I’m proposing today will allow existing big tech companies to keep offering customer-friendly services, while promoting competition, stimulating innovation in the tech sector, and ensuring that America continues to lead the world in producing cutting-edge tech companies. It’s how we protect the future of the Internet.
Elizabeth Warren, the senior Senator
from Massachusetts, launched her campaign for President in Lawrence, a small
mill town which was the site 100 years ago, textile workers, led mainly by
women, went on strike to demand fair wages, overtime pay and the right to join
a union. She laid out a platform built
on rebuilding the middle class, strengthening democracy, equal justice under
Here are highlights from her speech:
A little over 100 years ago, the textile mills in Lawrence
employed tens of thousands of people, including immigrants from more than 50
Business was booming. The guys at the top were doing great. But workers made so
little money that families were forced to crowd together in dangerous tenements
and live on beans and scraps of bread. Inside the mills, working conditions
were horrible. Children were forced to operate dangerous equipment. Workers
lost hands, arms, and legs in the gears of machines.
One out of every three adult mill workers died by the time they were 25.
But one day, textile workers in Lawrence – led by women – went on strike to
demand fair wages, overtime pay, and the right to join a union.
It was a hard fight. They didn’t have much. Not even a common language. But
they stuck together.
And they won. Those workers did more than improve their own lives. They changed
America. Within weeks, more than a quarter of a million textile workers
throughout New England got raises. Within months, Massachusetts became the
first state in the nation to pass a minimum wage law.
And today, there are no children working in factories. We have a national
minimum wage. And worker safety laws. Workers get paid overtime, and we have a
forty-hour work week.
The story of Lawrence is a story about how real change happens in
America. It’s a story about power – our power – when we fight together.
Today, millions and millions of American families are also struggling to
survive in a system that has been rigged by the wealthy and the well-connected.
And just like the women of Lawrence, we are ready to say enough is enough.
We are ready to
take on a fight that will shape our lives, our children’s lives, and our
grandchildren’s lives: The fight to build an America that works for everyone….
Over the years, America’s middle class had been deliberately
hollowed out. And families of color had been systematically discriminated
against and denied their chance to build some security.
The richest and most powerful people in America were rich, really rich – but
they wanted to be even richer – regardless of who got hurt.
So, every year, bit by bit, they lobbied Washington and paid off politicians to
tilt the system just a little more in their direction. And year by year, bit by
bit, more of the wealth and opportunity went to the people at the very top.
That’s how, today, in the richest country in the history of the world, tens of
millions of people are struggling just to get by.
This disaster has touched every community in America. And for communities of
color that have stared down structural racism for generations, the disaster has
hit even harder.
We can’t be blind to the fact that the rules in our country have been rigged
against people for a long time – women, LGBTQ Americans, African Americans,
Latinos, Native Americans, immigrants, people with disabilities – and we need
to call it out.
When government works only for the wealthy and well-connected, that is
corruption – plain and simple. It’s time to fight back and change the rules….
is enough, enough is enough.
is enough. Enough is Enough, the crowd responds.]
will say it is “Class warfare” – they’ve been waging class warfare against
middle class for decades. It’s time to fight back.
protect their economic advantage, the wealthy and well-connected have rigged
our political systems as well. They have bought off, bullied politicians in
both parties to make sure Washington is always on their side, some even try to
buy into office..The economy is working great for oil companies, government contractors,
private prisons, great for Wall Street banks and hedgefunds, but not anyone
of Climate Change, our existence is at
stake, but Washington refuses to lift a finger without permission from fossil
fuel companies. That is dangerous and wrong.
isn’t just climate change – any other major issue in America – gun violence, student loan debt, crushing
cost of health care, mistreatment of veterans, broken criminal justice system,
an immigration system that lacks commonsense and under this administration,
lacks a conscience. Overwhelming majorities want action – huge crowds march on Washington
demanding change, there are letters, phone calls, protests – but nothing
Because if you don’t have money and y9ou don’t have connections, Washington doesn’t
want to hear from you.
government works, only for wealthy and well connected that is corruption plain
and simple, and we need to call it out.
is a cancer on our democracy, and we will get rid of it only with strong
medicine, with real structural reform.
fight is to change the rules, so that our government, our economy, our
democracy work for everyone.
want to be crystal clear about exactly what I mean:
First we need to change the rules to
clean up Washington, end the corruption.
all know trump administration is most corrupt in living memory – but even after
Trump is gone, it won’t do just to do a better job of running a broken system. We
need to take power in Washington away from the wealthy and well connected and
put it back in hands of people where it belongs.
is why proposed strongest, most comprehensive anti corruption laws since
shut down the revolving door between Wall Street and Washington; end lobbying
as we know it; ban foreign governments from hiring lobbyists in Washington, and
make justices of US Supreme Court follow a basic code of ethics.
members of Congress from trading stocks. How is that not already illegal?
just one more: make every single candidate for federal office put their taxes
on line – I’ve done it.
Change the rules to put more economic power
in the hands of the American people. Workers and small businesses, middle class
families and people of color have been shut out of their chance to build wealth
for generations. That requires real structural change. Right now, giant
corporations in America have too much power, just roll right over everyone
else. Put power back in hands of workers. Make it quick and easy to join a
union. Unions built America’s middle class and will rebuild America’s middle class.
American companies accountable for their action; raise wages by putting workers into corporate
board rooms where real decisions made; break up monopolies when choke off
competition; take on Wall Street banks so big banks can never again threaten
security of our economy. And when giant
corporations and their leaders cheat customers, stomp out competitors and rob
workers, let’s prosecute them.
more thing: I am tired of hearing that we can’t afford to make real, real
investments in child care, college
and Medicare for All. I am tired of hearing we can’t afford to make
investments in things that create economic opportunities for families,
investments in housing and opioid treatment, that we can’t afford
to address things like rural neglect
or the legacy of racial discrimination,
I am tired of hearing what we can’t afford because it’s just not true.
are the wealthiest nation in the history of the world. Of course we can afford these investments. But we
need a government that makes different choices- choices that reflect our values
– stop handing out enormous tax giveaways to rich people and giant
corporations. Stop refusing to invest in
our children. Stop stalling on spending money, real money, on infrastructure and clean energy and a Green New
asking the people who have gained the most from our country to pay their fair
share. And that includes real tax reform
in this country, reforms that close loopholes
and giveaways to people at the top and an ultra
millionaires’ tax to make sure that rich people do their part for the
country that made them rich.
Change the rules to strengthen our
starts with a constitutional amendment
to protect the right of every American citizen
vote and have that vote counted.
that’s just the beginning.
every single voter suppression rule
that racist politicians use to steal votes from people of color.
partisan gerrymandering – by Democrats
Citizens United, our democracy is
not for sale.
not just elections. Real democracy requires equal justice under law. It’s not equal justice when kids with
ounce of pot gets thrown in jail, while bank executive who launders money for
drug cartel gets a bonus. We need reform.
not equal justice when for the exact same crime, African Americans are more
likely than whites to be arrested, charged, convicted, and sentenced. Yes we
need criminal justice reform and we need it now.
We must not allow those with power to
weaponize hatred and bigotry to divide us. More than 50 years ago, Dr. Martin
Luther King Jr went to Montgomery and warned us of danger of division, how bigotry
and race bating used to divide blacks from white Americans so rich people can
keep picking all their pockets – that playbook around forever, whether straight
against gay, middle class against poor – same – rich and powerful use fear to
divide us. We’re done with that. Bigotry
has no place in the Oval Office.
is who we are – we come from different backgrounds, religions, languages,
experiences. We have different dreams. We are passionate about different
issues, and we feel the urgency of this moment in different ways, but today,
today we come together ready to raise our voices together until this fight is
movement won’t be divided by our differences, it will be united by the values
we share. We all want a country where everyone, not just the wealthy, everyone
can take care of their families; where every American, not just the ones who
hire armies of lobbyists, lawyers, can participate in democracy, a country
where every child can dream big and reach for real opportunity and we are in
the fight to build an America that works for everyone.
get it – this won’t be easy – a lot of people with money, power, armies of
lobbyists and lawyers, people who are prepared to spend more money than you and
I could ever dream of to stop us from making these solutions a reality – people
who will say, extreme or radical to demand an America where every American has
economic security and every kid has opportunity to succeed.
say, get ready, because change is coming
faster than you think.
is coming, change is coming, the crowd roars.]
This kind of fundamental change will be
a lot of people, including some of our friends, will say it’s so hard, it’s not
worth trying. But we will not give up. When I was home with my first baby, I had
the notion to go to law school. It was a crazy idea, but I persisted. It took
some time but eventually I figured out admissions, applications, how to pay
tuition, mapped out the 45 minute commute to campus. Weeks out, there was just
one more thing: child care.
daughter Amelia was nearly 2 years old. I looked for childcare but everywhere,
I struck out over and over. So down to the weekend before law school would
start, I finally found small place with cheerful teacher, play area, nothing
smelled funny, I could afford it. But the place would only take children who
were dependably potty trained. I looked over at Amelia – 5 days to dependably
potty train and almost 2 year old. I stand before you today courtesy of 3 bags
of M&Ms and a cooperative toddler.
that day – never let anyone tell me that anything is too hard.
they have tried.
said it would be too hard to build an agency that would stop big banks from
cheating Americans on mortgages, credit cards. We got organized. To date, big banks
have paid $12 billion to those they cheated.
When Republicans tried to sabotage the agency, I came back to
Massachusetts and then ran against one of them. No woman had ever won a Senate
seat in Massachusetts, and people said it would be “too hard” for me to get
elected. But we got organized, we fought back, we persisted, and now I am the
senior Senator from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
So, no, I am not afraid of a fight. Not even a hard fight.
the women of the Everett Mill walked out from their machines and out into that
cold January air all those years ago, they knew it wouldn’t be easy, but they
knew what was at stake for themselves and their families, and they weren’t
going to tell anyone it was too hard – doubters told abolitionists, the
suffragettes, the foot soldiers of civil rights movement, it’s just too hard,
but they all, all kept going and they changed the history of America.
Sure, there will be plenty of doubters and cowards and armchair
critics this time around. But we learned a long time ago that you don’t get
what you don’t fight for. We are in this
fight for our lives, for our children, for our planet, for our futures – and we
will not turn back.
So here is the promise I make to you today: I will fight my heart out
so that every kid in America can have the same opportunity I had – a fighting
chance to build something real.
And here’s a big piece of how we’ll get it done: We’ll end the
unwritten rule of politics that says anyone who wants to run for office has to
start by sucking up to rich donors on Wall Street and powerful insiders in
taking a dime of PAC money in this campaign or a single check from a federal
lobbyist. I’m not taking applications from billionaires who want to run a Super
PAC on my behalf. And I challenge every other candidate who asks for your vote
in this primary to say exactly the same thing.
We’re going to keep building this campaign at the grassroots.
So now that Democrats have taken back control of the House, there is the internal (eternal) argument between the progressives and what I would call the pragmatists as to whether to act immediately to impeach Trump or use their powers for good and solve the ailing problems of the nation (health care, immigration reform, infrastructure, criminal justice reform, voting rights). As if that were even possible, given Mitch McConnell’s death grip over the Senate, and Trump’s likely veto.
But Democrats can do both – develop, debate and pass necessary legislation on health care, drug prices, protecting DACA recipients, rational immigration reform, gun violence prevention, campaign finance – and still hold the hearings and fulfill their Constitutional obligation for oversight and checks-and-balance on government.
Trump must be impeached. And it doesn’t matter if impeachment is likely to fail in the Senate where it is unlikely to get 67 votes. In the best of all worlds, the evidence would be so compelling, so damning, that even Republicans will go to Trump (as they did to Nixon), and say: resign or else (the “else” would be prosecution of Trump for high-crimes, along with his children; threats to prosecute his close associates would likely not bother Trump at all.) That is, if Republicans retain even a scintilla of actual patriotism and concern for the national good rather than retaining power, no matter how unscrupulously.
Certainly, Democrats should wait until the Mueller investigation is concluded – or re-start the hearings that should have taken place in Congress until sabotaged by the likes of Devin Nunes and others more loyal to Trump than to their oath of office. (Nunes, don’t forget, was on the transition team that brought Michael Flynn in as National Security Adviser.) Those hearings need to be held because the Republicans did a superb job of protecting and insulating Trump and preventing any real understanding or defense against what Russia did and how they did it, opening the way for others – be it China, Israel or North Korea, or a billionaire with a mission like Sheldon Adelson or the Kochs – to replicate the process with even greater sophistication and efficiency in the future.
Despite the fact impeachment would likely fail to get the 67 votes needed in the Senate, if Trump is not prosecuted for the slew of “high crimes and misdemeanors” already committed (violation of Emoluments Clause, repeated obstruction of justice, abuse of power, likely violations of Federal campaign laws and tax evasion, not to mention the likely conspiracy or collusion with Russia and other felons who hacked into the DNC), that sets a new standard for what a candidate and a president can do.
Either you have an Emoluments Clause or you don’t. Either you impeach for “high crimes and misdemeanors” or you say that actual “high crimes and misdemeanors” has nothing to do with it, impeachment is “political” with a political standard of criminality so that unless you lie about committing adultery when your opponents control Congress, nothing you do is illegal. You can violate Federal Elections law, hack voting machines, steal absentee ballots, but if you win and become president through such criminality, well then, tough luck for the rest of the world that has to abide by laws. If impeachment is only based on who has the majority, then there is no real Rule of Law, and no bedrock principle that “no man is above the law.” This would incentivize the next billionaire Mafioso who can offer $1 million and a pardon to a henchman to flip votes or hack or undertake a propaganda campaign (and shouldn’t there be some sort of “Truth in Advertising” standard for political messaging?).
In all of American history, there has never been a person endowed with the powers of the presidency who has been this blatantly corrupt and the very epitome of the monarch wannabe the Founders feared and thought they had inoculated the country against. It’s as if Trump things if he commits crimes openly, the outrageousness of it inoculates him. The Founders may have had their bouts with fake news but could not have anticipated data mining and Facebook and gerrymandering with the precision of knowing how to cut through a single block to produce an edge. They couldn’t have predicted black-box voting, the ability to hack into election rolls, to purge voter lists based on their propensity to vote for the other party, the mathematical calculations that go into shutting down polling places and devices.
The Justice Department has a “policy” against indicting a sitting president? Well, it’s just a policy. The Constitution actually requires the Senate to “advise and consent” on Supreme Court nominees, but that didn’t stop Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell from doing the unprecedented thing of blocking Obama’s nominee for a year to save the seat for a radically right wing “justice.” The Justice Department has never been faced with a sitting president who has been named as Individual #1 in multiple felonies.
“Policy” didn’t stop the Supreme Court from ruling that a civil suit against President Bill Clinton having nothing to do with his presidency or crimes against the state, should go forward, or requiring him to give testimony under oath, or for that matter the Republican Congress from impeaching him, rather than censuring him, for lying about a consensual adulterous affair.
So far, Trump, who reacted to the sentencing memos against his consigliere Michael Cohen, and his former campaign manager Paul Manafort, both of whom had pleaded guilty, that included him as “Individual #1” as if he had somehow been absolved because he wasn’t actually named, and instead of the word “collusion,” Mueller used a synonym, “synergy.” Trump may also be thinking that because Russia had worked with his flunkies, even for their own reasons (Manafort to pay off his debt?) or to enrich the Trump Organization rather than win, not realizing that Putin was out to win the presidency, that therefore he will be absolved of actual “collusion” or “conspiracy.”
“Totally clears the President. Thank you!” Trump tweeted, very possibly because he didn’t actually read the sentencing memos or doesn’t understand the meaning of the word “synergy.”
But if Trump is not impeached and his campaign’s criminal activity that amounted to stealing an election are not held to account, what will stop the next celebrity billionaire from buying his way onto the ticket, paying for a propaganda campaign, possibly paying off hackers to switch just enough votes with the promise of a hefty cash reward and likely pardon, or collaborating with a foreign power to use the full force of its intelligence/cyber apparatus? (Answer: Nothing. It will become the new modus operandi, and you don’t even need a foreign power to collude.)
The argument that Democrats need to be focused on “solving the problems” of the nation is sweet and sentimental, but the reality is anything that comes out of the Democratic-controlled House will be stopped in the Republican-controlled Senate, or by Trump veto. And when progressives realize that Democrats were ineffectual, instead of rallying in 2020, they will punish Democrats, as they did in 2010 (recall Sanders led that charge, then too, and got progressives to “protest” by staying home) and 2014 (when I bet Hispanics punished Obama for failing to get Comprehensive Immigration Reform through) despite McConnell having said right after Obama’s election that his priority was to make him one-term president. You can see it already in the way the progressive wing is determined to destroy any ability of Democrats to be successful by attacking Nancy Pelosi instead of advancing one of the young bucks into a different leadership position so they can be groomed when she does in fact step aside.
But if Trump is not impeached for high-crimes and misdemeanors, for obstruction of justice (firing Comey, Sessions, to list just two); abuse of power (sending US military to the border for a political purpose); campaign finance violations; violations of the Emoluments Clause and using foreign policy for personal enrichment (Russia, Qatar, UAE, China, India), tax fraud, money laundering, then what would be impeachable? Lying about adultery? (Oh, he did that too).
Malcolm Nance, the counterterrorism and intelligence expert seen frequently on MSNBC, was watching the early Midterm Election returns on November 6, 2018, and was frantic. “We are ‘x’ number of days from the end of American democracy,” he thought. “If we lose and Republicans keep control, Trump will be like Saddam Hussein” believing he could wield unbridled power.
“We saved democracy – put collective values together and decided not to let government go unchecked. Before, we were rather reserved about how bad things were – seeing our constitutional republic collapsing before our eyes,” he said, in a return visit to Temple Emanuel of Great Neck, Long Island, December 7.
“The shock to our belief system came from Russia, but not the Russians alone. It had to include others,” said the author of “The Plot to Destroy Democracy.”
His book documents how Putin needed to make Russia – essentially a third world country with atomic bombs – great again by destroying, degrading the #1 country at top, the US. Russia, he noted, is a very poor nation, with a Gross National Product equal to Italy. “The US does more trade with Chile than Russia. Russia is a trailer park with atomic bombs – all they sell is weapons, oil, natural gas.”
Russia is led by Putin, an ex-KGB officer, who, when he left Russian intel service, was collapsing. “Putin became the controller, the enforcer of the Russian Mafia in St. Petersburg.
“What happened to Russia after Communism was unbridled, unabashed, crazy Mafia-like capitalism, out of control for 10 years. Russia sold off tanks, airports, took the money and put it into Western real estate – some to New York City – to launder money.
Putin became a billionaire, but something was missing. When Soviet Russia collapsed, what was the philosophy to replace Communism? Putin realized something fundamental – Russians are extremely conservative – religious – they don’t believe in the family values of the West.
The Russian society had to be built anew and Putin knew to steer it more deeply to the Russian Orthodox Church. As the first director of Russian intel, he rebuilt a church next to KGB headquarters (it had been torture center under Stalin) because he realized if he controlled the Russian Orthodox Church, he could bring the population in line. He started funding rebuilding of Russian orthodox churches. Russians are extremely [socially] conservative, so he introduced policies to cater to homophobes and racists [just as Trump is catering to anti-immigrant fervor].
So in 2010, American Conservatives started saying out loud that Russia was a better example of Christian Conservatism than the West. The National Organization of Families – an extremist group – started holding “Persecution of Christians” conferences in Moscow. “Aggrieved Americans who hated Muslims, would fly to Moscow, meet with people from the Russian Orthodox Church and Russian government, and talk about the persecution of Christians around the world.” By 2015, Franklin Graham, son of Christian evangelist Billy Graham, was flying to Moscow and meeting with Putin.
“Russians understood this was part of America they could work with – they could co-opt. There is a lot of reporting about how Russians and Christian evangelicals in the US have been working together for the last decade.”
Another group, the NRA, was also vulnerable. Enter Maria Butina, who, by all definitions is a spy – a “honeypot,” a trained agent who will have sex to get what they want. She cultivated NRA leaders. In July 2015, she appeared at a FreedomFest Q&A session in Las Vegas featuring Trump and got to pose the first question, to describe his foreign policy and his views on “damaging” economic sanctions against Russia. “I know Putin and I’ll tell you what, we get along with Putin,” Trump said. “I don’t think you’d need the sanctions.”
[The FBI and Mueller are investigating whether the $30 million the NRA spent to elect Trump actually came from Russia.]
“David Duke has an apartment in Moscow. All the senior Alt-Right leaders, who organized the Charlottesville riot, believe Russia is bastion of Christian conservativism, the pinnacle example of how we should behave [in the US].
“Most important; Russia already co-opted virtually ever conservative group in Europe. Because when the Soviet Union fell and rejected Communism and brought themselves into strongman autocratic leadership, European conservative groups – ex-Fascists – were looking for leadership and money.
“The government of Austria is controlled by a political party organized in 1952 by two Austrian SS officers who later rose up in power. They had no chance of ruling in government until last 10 years. The rise of right wing fascist political parties in Europe is part of this story that will scare you – because these are same political groups [as the Nazis].” A warning that resonated profoundly in this audience in the synagogue.
“In Germany, the AFD – Alternative for Deutschland – is anti immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic. They are unabashed in their open racism, in their belief that liberal democracy should be supplanted by conservative groups in the West who will create an axis of autocracies, and make laws so no one has to vote anymore.
“Remember that Hitler was elected with 37% of vote – before Nazi Germany, it was the Weimar Republic. He was elected in a fair and free election, but once in power, he changed the laws.”
That movie, “Judgment at Nuremberg,” Nance said, was about showing that people need to be held accountable. “When I saw the film later as an adult, I understood what the trial was – of the German Supreme Court justices who validated every law justifying rape, murder, sterilization. They justified execution through lethal injection of every mentally ill patient in the country. Then they authorized the mass murder of 6 million Jews, while Hitler’s wars around Europe killed 50 million more.
“The Supreme Court Justices of Nazi Germany were elected, the government was elected. People chose them. Then they changed laws to make everything they did legal in the Nazi German system.
“’Judgment at Nuremberg’ is about how it was amoral to human decency to do what they did. They needed to be held accountable. Even as a young guy, I understood it was wrong to hurt people using the legal system,” said Nance, who noted that he had grown up in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Philadelphia, and had his understanding of the Shoah profoundly changed after visiting Auschwitz.
[One should note at this point that the perversion of law is exactly what the Indian Removal Act, the Dred Scott Decision, and Jim Crow were about. And now, how Republicans in lameduck session, are stripping power from incoming duly-elected Democrats in Michigan, Wisconsin, North Carolina.]
Putin’s plan is simple: to get rid of democracy you don’t need to have a coup d’etat, you can do it through election that votes democracy out of existence.
Steve Bannon, former advisor to the president, is an adherent to the philosophy of Russian ultra-nationalist Alexander Dugin, dubbed “Putin’s Rasputin” by Breitbart News when it was run by Steve Bannon. Dugin advocates for neo-EuroAsianism, where the poles of power from Washington to the European capitals to the rest of world, should be eliminated, along with West. (See: The Russian ‘philosopher’ who links Putin, Bannon, Turkey: Alexander Dugin)
If figures in Putin’s efforts to shift Turkey’s alliance from NATO to Russia and to ally with Syria and Iran – moves that Michael Flynn, who was a paid lobbyist for Turkey’s Erdogan, was effecting.
“The election of Trump is the end state of what Russia doing in Europe- every major political party in Europe is owned by the United Russia Party that loaned money. The French candidate, Marine le Pen in France, got 50 million Euro loan from Putin. Her job was to break up NATO and the European Union on one day; she spoke about it openly and publicly.
Far right extremism was pushing across Europe. It was only the common sense of the French people in March 2017 [and reports of Russia hacking of social media, as in the 2016 election in the US] that saved European democracy from collapsing. The European Union would have broken up if France withdrew. It was a very near thing. But they got away with putting Trump into office.”
“It is very bad for the US if all our allies start collapsing one by one… If Britain doesn’t get its act together in next 90 days, they can face economic collapse.
“Brexit – the Leave group – are saying ‘Donald Trump will give us unilateral deal.’ The last time that happened was Lend Lease. The Atlantic was on fire, Europe fell under the Nazis. Who talks like that?
“Like Alexander Dugin, Trump uses ‘globalist’ as if a dirty word. We invented globalism when we started shipping all over world. We saved Britain, invaded France. Trump doesn’t understand any of that.
“How critical it is for you to watch what is happening in Europe – it is run by open fascists who come from ex Nazi party, who are close to Putin and also to Trump. This is why Steve Bannon went to Europe, where he said, ‘When they call you a racist, embrace it. Wear it as a badge of honor.’
“What kind of upside down world are we living in? We have to put the lines back in place. If we don’t – and maybe the win in Congress in 2018 is an aberration – if Trump doesn’t get impeached, or if he is impeached but survives and wins 4 more years – we will get a repeat of history.”
Nance, in response to a question, said that the Americans who were involved in the theft of the 2016 election committed treason.
As to whether Republicans would ever abandon Trump, he said that once the evidence is released, if it is so overwhelming, “this nation will end up in a Benedict Arnold moment. It will be so clear that Trump was to win at all cost, to make money and be master of the universe, and because he would control the government, he would be untouchable and still get the Ivanka Spa in the Trump Moscow Tower. It will be so clear, so overwhelming, this eclipses Benedict Arnold. We have a president under the control of a foreign power.”
But will he be impeached? Indicted? Or pardon himself and his entire family?
One possibility: at the point Republicans are convinced that Trump is damaging their brand, possibly even causing the party to disappear into a miasma of fascism, kleptocracy and bankruptcy, the leaders will come to Trump with an offer he can’t refuse: they will suspend prosecution of Don Jr., Ivanka and Jared Kushner, halt impeachment and promise not to prosecute him for the many felonies (campaign finance violations, tax fraud, money laundering, conspiracy with a foreign adversary) if he resigns. That would save the party for Mike Pence, who is in fact the president they wanted all along.
A dialogue between Malcolm Nance, a renowned counter terrorism and intelligence consultant for the US government’s Special Operations, Homeland Security and Intelligence Operations, and 4-star Admiral James Stavridis who was the 16th Supreme Allied Commander at NATO, senior military assistant to the Secretary of the Navy and Secretary of Defense, moderated by Errol Louis, a political anchor at NY1 News, took place at Temple Emanuel of Great Neck, Long Island on March 18, 2018. It proved to be a seminar on foreign policy, with some tough words for the need to defend democracy against a tide of anti-democratic, authoritarian forces both domestic and foreign. “We have to solve this –at the ballot box.”
Here are highlights from the provocative discussion:
Errol Louis: Moderator: Both of you were at the Pentagon on 9/11; Nance was even an eyewitness. With the rise of terrorism, how safe are we?
Malcolm Nance: Since 9/11, we went for a short while in the correct direction in counterterrorism, bringing the world together to confront global threat. Unfortunately the invasion of Iraq in 2003 broke the mechanisms in Mideast that were functioning – poorly, but indigenous – strongman dictators. Once we invaded, we unleashed demons we could not foresee. The ebb and flow of regional solutions all went out the window.
Before, the hardest problem was people trying to solve Palestinian problem. That’s nothing compared to radical Islam. You can negotiate with Palestinians, even Hamas, groups in Iran.
We have a bigger problem: just keeping the democratic norms in the world, not just US. Democracy as an ideology is now under attack, every day.
Admiral James Stavridis: I agree. Go back 100 years – 1918. The world is coming out of World War I, Spanish influenza pandemic sweeping, 40% of world’s population were infected, 20% of those will die. US walking away from Europe, isolating ourselves, rejects the League of Nations, erects enormous tariff barriers – cracked the global economy. You can drop a line from that to the rise of fascism and World War II. That is a dark global picture.
We have mechanisms to deal with many of the challenges but agree [with Nance] that the whole ideology of democracy is wrapped up in great power politics, the rise of two authoritarian figures- Putin [just “re-elected” to a fourth term]. President Xi Jinping isn’t even putting on faux election, he declared himself the new emperor. These authoritarian systems are a challenge to democracies in ways we haven’t dealt with in 100 years.
We have two other concerns: a new pandemic – don’t spend much time thinking – but every 100-200 years of human history, a pandemic rises, despite fact of enormous advances in medicine. We are due for one – ability to manipulate genome can allow dark dark work. [Consider how Trump has cut funding to the CDC, and would likely not step in to stop a new outbreak of Ebola or Zika outside the US.]
Our vulnerability is in cyber. We are utterly dependent on massive cyber systems. We are at great risk – that’s where the two strains – cyber vulnerability and way authoritarian regimes will come after us – those streams are crossing – we have work to do, tools,
So, how safe are we? We have challenges, but I am cautiously optimistic. The question is whether our democracy will put in the right people.
Louis:Pointing to [Trump’s] new direction in foreign policy [and the fact that the State Department is considering removing ‘human rights’ from its mission statement], why is it to our advantage to fight for democracy and human rights and why is this not a form of international charity?
Nance: NATO, after World War II [was devised] to stop wars by creating a grand alliance – to spread that ideology around the world., not just American democracy, but allow others to develop their own form of republic, democratic governorship, whether a constitutional monarchy or a republic like France. That is under attack. Democracy is in retreat. ‘Democracy’ has been removed from mission statement of the State Department.
When we were struck on 9/11, it hurt me deeply – I spent my life in worst parts of world getting back. Now, that threat is from within – people in our country do not believe in democracy; autocracy, as being pushed by [Putin] former director of KGB, is better alternative to liberal democracy and European parliamentary democracy-Iit’s all under attack.
It is not a charity – America doesn’t do this as charity. We invented globalism – in WWII –we literally dropped it out of airplanes; people wanted our products at the end of war. Now people believe our system of economy is fundamentally wrong, NATO should be disbanded, the European Union should go away and every country in Europe should be its own autocracy with Moscow as polar center. There are people in US government who believe that.
Stavridis: Why does democracy work? It’s not simply the value system. There’s a pragmatic element. With democracy, people [who are disaffected, aggrieved] get to change government peacefully – a safety value. That’s why we worry about authoritarianism –eventually [discontentment] will blow, and when that happens [authoritarian regimes] will go in search of monsters abroad, look for scapegoats, combat operations. We ought to be very concerned about authoritarianism.
What do we do about it? What’s our move? A couple of different things can do – continue to rely on a system of alliances – that’s why we should worry about tariff barriers, and walking away from NATO, that take global structures apart. We need to rely on those. We need to get vastly better at strategic communications, explaining our ideas. War of ideas? It’s a marketplace of ideas. We have to compete – democracy, liberty, freedom of speech, education, assembly, racial and gender equality – we execute them imperfectly but they are the right ideas. We have to communicate that in ways that get beyond ‘We have the right answer.’ Lay it out pragmatically: why it works. Because there are forces pushing against it.
Louis: Trump’s statements about NATO alarmed people, [yet] US deployed troops to Poland as part of NATO task force exercises. Is his rhetoric worse than reality?
Stavridis: Candidate Trump said NATO was obsolete and he would consider pulling out altogether. Fortunately, on this subject, he [appears to have] listened to General Mattis, the Defense Secretary; General McMaster, National Security Adviser [so far], Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (oops). But on NATO, I am cautiously optimist he has gotten the message that NATO really works.
Nance: NATO is 28 nations, 52% of world’s GDP, 3 million troops under arms, 24,000 combat aircraft, 800 warships, 50 early warning aircraft – it is the richest, most powerful alliance in human history. US spends $600 billion/year on defense, the Europeans $300 billion. To put that into perspective, Russians spend $80 billion, Chinese $150 billion. We outspend in part because of our European allies – they should spend 2%, and are on track to do so in next 3-5 years. The alliance remains fundamental to US – it is pragmatic value for US to be in alliance.
Where did this idea come into Trump’s head that NATO wasn’t a good value, that US was connected to countries not paying their fair share? In November 2013, Trump went to Russia for the Miss Universe pageant and while he was there, he was brought to a private 2 hour meeting arranged by Aras Agalarov, [a billionaire Russian real estate mogul with ties to Putin] who funded the pageant, in a restaurant owned by Galaroff. [Trump] came out of that meeting spouting the Kremlin party line – anti-NATO, anti-globalization, anti European Union, anti treaties and alliances, believing that Russia is the premiere superpower. The only thing we don’t know is whether he believed it or whether some inducement got him to believe – he said it during campaign. Now he seems to have some change of view. NATO [which Admiral Stavridis once commanded] unilaterally evoked Article 5 after [the US was attacked on] 9/11 – for 10 years they gave their blood and treasure to defense of this nation. This is the single greatest force for good since world War II. Russia wants to do away with NATO – they call us Atlanticist, globalist – their philosopher Aleksandr Gelyevich Dugin [who holds fascist views] convinced Steve Bannon, almost the Goebels of the anti-democratic movement, goes around the world, trains, help foster other countries to believe the Atlantic alliance is the problem in the eastern and western hemisphere.
Stavridis: Why NATO matters: 1) The values we share. We will never see another pool of partners who have these values. It is no coincidence because [the Founding Fathers] got them from Europe, from the Enlightenment. 2) The geographic position of Europe matters – why we need those Cold War bases in Europe – those are forward operating stations in the global war on terror 3) It’s the economy and trade between US and the NATO countries.
Also, when I commanded 150,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan, the nation that lost the most on a per capita basis was Estonia. Number 2 was the Netherlands. The US was number 3. They were with us in that fight because we had been attacked on 9/11. This is an alliance that stands and delivers for us. (applause)
Louis: What does [Trump’s] firing of [Secretary of State Rex] Tillerson mean in the broader sense. Is it deliberate, a competence question, a larger crisis, an administration not executing?
Stavridis: When Secretary Tillerson got the job, I thought it was a good choice –a global businessman, contacts all over the world, quiet, laconic, very serious Texan, tough minded. I thought it an interesting choice, it might turn out well. But Tillerson simply was not a very effective Secretary of State. He couldn’t gain real connectivity in the White House – in a state of constant chaos. How can you be Secretary of State for a president who one minute, says, ‘We will solve Korea with fire and fury like never seen – a preemptive declaration of war –and three months later, be ready to go and cut ‘the deal of the century’ – a defensible policy choices but not for same person. So to be Secretary of State trying to articulating that –the work of Sisyphus, boulder rolling down. As a result, morale in the State Department cratered, applications for foreign service are down 50% in the last 2 years. You don’t get that back –you lose a generation if you can’t fill those slots, let alone, not filling crucial ambassadorships [including South Korea]. This is as bleak a moment for American diplomacy. A chaotic inexperienced White House that sadly doesn’t seem to be getting better in 14 months (feels like 14 yrs).
Nance: It appears diplomacy has shifted over to war fighters. Trump thinks diplomacy is not speaking, thinks diplomacy is a big stick, and if everyone sees us as a big stick nation, there will be no communications. The acting Secretary of State is technically Ivanka Trump –Trump is using Ivanka and Jared as an alternate State Department because Trump doesn’t know what the state department is, what diplomacy is. His way of negotiating is threatening –he sees no value in the institution or maintaining. [He is defunding the State Department, institutes]. But the institutes (nongovernmental) are there to help foster democracy and republicanism within countries. They brought about change in countries that would otherwise become a dictatorship – gone. A generation [of diplomats] is gone. Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams –our first 3 ambassadors – must be spinning in their graves.
Louis:Will the opening of US embassy in Jerusalem bring about a cataclysm?
Nance: It could happen. What’s happening in Mideast – so much change, dynamics. You can even see in how the Israeli-Palestinian problem is pushed off – rise of Iran, Syria, Turks invading northern Syria and setting up against the entirety of Kurds (who we fund), Yemen. Palestine-Israel conflict is the ‘good ol days.’. When the deed is done, and US embassy is moved, Saudis may give head tilt to that. I don’t know if there will be another intifada – the strings were cut after the Iraq invasion.
Stavridis: These kinds of conflicts – religious with a geopolitical overlay – are very dug in, and go on and on. The really bad news is that in middle is our greatest friend and ally in the region, Israel.
What should we do? Four things: stand with Israel – (applause)- the reasons are pragmatic, values, all the same things that make us want to be in NATO, should energize our alliance with Israel – 2) Need to work closely with Sunnis (Saudi Arabia, Gulf States, Egypt, Jordan). The Saudis are giving head nod on the peace plan, drawing closer to Israel, willing to exchange information, intelligence, missile defense, early warning. Why? because both are concerned about Iran (which is Shi’a). We ought to understand the Iranian self-view: we think of them as mid-size power, they think of themselves as inheritors of the Persian Empire which 2000 years ago, dominated the region. That’s what they want to reconstruct. Working with Israel, alliances, better in cyber, insuring missile defense strong, stand with Israel.
Louis:How to address the humanitarian disaster in Syria, knowing Russia is smack in the middle?
Nance: We had the opportunity to crack this nut in 2012 after Assad’s chemical attack. I advocated then to destroy the Syrian air force utterly – that’s the strategic advantage Syria has over the allies. Then you have put Israel in powerful position; limits Iranian involvement (because they won’t have a runway to land), and gives opportunity to show Arab States here is a chance to use ground forces to do humanitarian intervention. Arab League, Egyptians, Jordanians, Saudis have enough forces to be in Damascus in 72 hours out of northern Jordan. But so long as Russia backed and Syria can resist, won’t do it.
Stavridis: We last saw a problem like Syria in the Balkans, 20 years ago: Yugoslavia blew up – forced migrations, 100,000s killed – like Mideast – Catholic Croatians, Orthodox Serbians and Muslim Bosnians – a religious war with geopolitical overtones that was ultimately solved by partition. Yugoslavia was broken apart and created sub-states. That was imperfect but at the end of the day, that is what will happen in Syria – it is broken now, and won’t go back- that’s 3-5 years away.
Why is Iran in Syria? Iran wants a land bridge so it can move missiles and fighters from Tehran to Lebanon because that endangers Israel. That’s why we need to move to international solution that somewhat marginalizes Iranian influence – can do with leverage over Russia – the White House needs to get tough on Russia.
Louis:China. The notion they now have a president for life there, with no mechanism to change leadership – if there are internal problems, if there is a falling out within society or economy or ideology in a bad place, what happens?
Stavridis: The good news is that China will continue to grow at 5%. If they do, the population will stay relatively quiescent. But China’s road gets rough in out years- demographics – an aging population, the imbalance between men and women created by the One-Child policy which led to killing baby girls. We’ve never seen a society as ill balanced. Plus, China’s environment is disaster, requiring billions if not trillions to remediate. The housing market is overheated (reminiscent of 2008 in US). With no democracy, there is no way to relieve the pressure. Xi will have smooth run for awhile, but it gets rough in 5-10 years. That’s when we should worry about Chinese foreign policy that is nationalistic, seeks to find a scapegoat outside, and look for conflict in South China Sea. (See the movie, “The Last Emperor,” about Puyi and read Robert Kaplan’s, Asia’s Cauldron”.)
Louis:What is Putin’s end game?
Nance: Putin has imperial goals – Atlantic Alliance between Washington and European states has since WWII brought economic, cultural influences Russia cannot stand – They believe it has marginalized Russia’s limited economic power. All the good that has come from NATO, the EU single market, the US flow of traffic across Atlantic does no benefit to Moscow. Putin realizes that 75% of Russians live in the European part (75% of land in Asia). He believes Russia should be the pole in which Europe should do trade – EurAsianism. He is ruling more like Czar Nicolas I – religious orthodoxy, nationalism, autocracy (while France was creating fraternity, liberty, equality). Russia is buying every conservative, neoNazi group in Europe – owned, lock stock and barrel by Moscow.
Last march, for the second time in American history, France saved democracy – had Marine Le Pen won, France would have withdrawn from NATO,broken up the European Union and aligned France with Moscow, bringing along everyone to Moscow.
Stavridis: Putin’s end game: H will be the dominant force in Russia until the day he dies, and Russians accept it. This is Russian custom, history, culture. Read literature- Dostevsky, Pushkin – how Russians look at powerful male leaders. Sometimes they get a Peter the Great, the next time Ivan the Terrible; sometimes get Stalin, but then get a Gorbachev – they are willing to roll the dice. But the dice have landed on Putin, he will not give up power. We have to deal with this operative. I met Putin a couple of times. Bush Jr. met Putin and was completely taken –he said, ‘I looked into his eyes and saw his soul. We can work with Putin.’ McCain, a true war hero, met with Putin and said, ‘I saw 3 letters: K-G-B.’ I think McCain got that one right – and that’s what we will deal with.”
Is climate change a national security issue?
Stavridis: Climate change is a significant national security threat. Because of global warming, ice is melting in the Arctic, opening up shipping lanes and hydrocarbons, creating a great power competition – on one side is Russia, on the other side US, Canada, Iceland, Norway – they are all NATO; 2) Rising sea levels gradually affect our ports, our ability to operate in major naval bases and ports 3) Global warming will impact our ability to operate globally because of cost – we will have to mediate against environmental concerns, which will put downward pressure on defense budgets 4) What should worry us most is that as oceans heat up, photosynthesis is diminished affecting oxygen in the atmosphere. Vice President Gore called the Amazon the lungs of the earth; Nope, 70% of oxygen comes from photosynthesis in oceans, and we are abusing them. These are major national security concerns.
What if in the next few months Trump abrogates the Iran Nuclear Treaty?
Stavridis: I expect Trump to abrogate the Iran Nuclear Treaty. 1) That will have chilling effect on negotiations with North Korea – they are unlikely to enter into grand bargain having just witnessed the abrogation of the Iran treaty. 2) Iranians will almost immediately restart their nuclear program – they are probably in primed position to do so. 3) The treaty is not perfect but ending it will put Israel at greater risk because of re-energization of the Iranian nuclear program 4) Allies will be furious, it will put enormous strains on the NATO alliance, and probably not lead to European allies walking away, so US will become even more of an outlier. I wasn’t a fan initially – it isn’t a good/bad deal, it is a done deal, the best we could have at this point.
Nance: I spoke with a senior briefer at CIA who briefed Obama on the details that convinced Obama to sign the Iran Nuclear Treaty: The way the agency assessed, Iran was 6-12 months away from developing an atomic bomb, but with the treaty, Iran gave up all components, 90% of its enriched nuclear material and was pushed back 15 years We do not want a war with Iran. Why would we put ourselves in a position to give Iran the ability to have a nuclear weapon? There is no limit to the mischief that would create. And if [unleashed], Iran would go straight to North Korea with $ millions to buy a nuclear weapon.
How to solve the humanitarian disaster that is Syria?
Stavridis: A combination of defense, diplomacy, development – hard and soft power. [This was shown to work in Colombia, after a 60-year insurgency that destroyed the fabric of the country; and the Balkans.] You don’t have to choose hard or soft power. So often, the long game is combination of all those tools – development, diplomacy and defense when need it – to get balance right, requires leadership. We are very good at launching missiles. We need to get better at launching ideas. We can do both. (Applause)
Nance: That’s smart power. We are a global force for good but have to be global force for diplomacy.
Considering the hollowing out of our diplomatic forces to the benefit of Putin, [possible collusion] in cyberwarfare, why is there reluctance to use the word ‘treason’ in regard to Trump?
Nance: There is a legal definition – Article 3 – to ‘treason.’ You literally have to be at declared war with an enemy and give aid and comfort to enemy. That is rarely invoked – we have sent people to prison for espionage, divulging secrets but the last time anyone was tried for treason was the Rosenbergs. I don’t think that word applies legally – from what we’ve seen. Where the president violated his oath of office, you can use ‘treason’ rhetorically if you feel betrayed, or ‘treachery’. I don’t think will be able to use ‘treason’ in legal sense . this investigation started as national counter intel – a spy hunt – still a hunt for citizens in direct communications with foreign intel officers.
What check is there on this president who many think is a madman, is the military prepared to step in and save democracy?
Stavridis: ‘I solemnly swear to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic – no expiration. The military isn’t going to step in and solve this. We have to solve this –at the ballot box. In 1840, Alexis de Toqueville wrote about this strange new phenomenon of democracy. He was largely laudatory, but the punch line: ‘the tragedy of democracy is that in the end you elect the government you deserve.’ We need to own this problem. No one will solve it for us. We need to get out in November, and again two years later, and we can solve this problem.
Nance: We have entered the greatest period of political activism – I believe it will even eclipse the Vietnam era – 1968. But since World War II, we have gotten fat and lazy and enjoy fruits of democracy.
We have guardrails – you have 246 days to solve part of this problem – but to do that you have to bring yourself and everyone who has not voted in last election.
The military is not designed for coup d’etat. We would really be a third world banana republic. But we can stop stupid – unlawful orders.
Emperor Xi. China building pipelines through Africa into the Stans, helping China, become #1 in world, developing 5G. How will that affect us?
Stavridis: China historically has not had global ambition, but 16 months ago, President Xi gave a “coming out speech” at Davos for China in the 21st century: One belt, one road philosophy – using economic power to further the interests of China. China just built its first overseas military base, at the Horn of Africa. China is on the move. When historians 300 years from how write about the 21st century, how that story comes out will be US and China and the rise of India. We need to be mindful of China, align with India, hold close our global allies, help develop this hemisphere to the south of US. That ought to be our strategy. And China should be top of the list to watch.
Nance: If this administration would understand strategy: China is brilliant. Go to sub-Saharan Africa –that used to be the land of the Land Rover, then Toyota, now you see Chinese Long March and Running Deer pick ups – they are $2000-$5000 but are everywhere. China is colonizing the sub-Sahara economically– buying whole sub-sections of countries to ship food to China. If China develops 5G cell telephone networks before the US gets it into Manhattan, China can export worldwide and own global communications. China is building wind plants, is now the world’s largest producer of solar panels (an industry we used to own). Without a strategy, where you think about where we are, where we will go and put together government resources to get there, we are dead in water. And that requires diplomats.
To what do you attribute Iran’s vitriolic hatred for Israel?
Nance: Iranians love America –they are held down by an authoritarian regime using Islamic fundamentalism which the bottom 20% believe, not the people who used to run the country or could be, not the youth who all want what all in the Mideast want – a 2018 Toyota Corolla – they want trade, to be involved with world. Hatred for Israel is a schtick. They don’t really care – they care about religion, family and to be left alone to do what they want. If they see a threat to Al Aksa mosque, they will respond. Palestinians smartest arabs in mide, most educated – everywhere but Palestine – if I were them, would work out public-private partnership to rebuild Palestine as moderate state, so don’t get Islamic cultism of ISIS. If that happens, will be zombie scene, walk into guns. Hopefully Saudi Arabia will focus away from ‘Death to Israel.’
What is impact of Erdogan of Turkey turning his back on western values toward Islamic fundamentalism?
Stavridis: President Erdogan, an authoritarian, is consolidating power rapidly, the most accelerated of all the authoritarian leaders in having taken his nation from functioning secular democracy to one man rule in 5 years. Extraordinary. The bad news is that Turkey is vital to Europe, to US. We need a stable western-looking Turkey – now drifting out of our orbit. We should pay attention, show respect, send high level missions, but behind closed doors, convince Erdogan the trajectory he is on will isolate his nation,. He will never have cozy relationship with Russia or Iran – that won’t work for Turkey. Turkey understands that at a fundamental level. We need to work with Europeans to exert pull on Turkey also. Turkey is more than a bridge (between Asia and Europe), it is a center of power – its population will exceed Russia’s. Turkey is on the move. We need to keep them in our orbit.
The intel community wanted the $120 million appropriated by Congress to fend off cyberattacks on our electoral system. Homeland security issued an alert that Russians already in our computers that run powerplants, and now could turn off electricity. What do we do about that?
Stavridis: We need to reveal more about what we know, to underpin the argument for retaliation –so we can be more aggressive in how we retaliate. We need better private-public cooperation. Government can’t solve this by itself – all our electric grids are intertwined. We have got to get government agencies working together on cyber – agriculture, interior – nobody is focused on cybersecurity.
Considering the rise of authoritarians, what happens If in the next 3 months, Trump fires Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, and a new one fires Mueller. Will Trump be impeached?
Nance: Trump won’t be impeached before November. But we have guardrails. John Dean said that the day after Nixon fired Watergate investigators, the rest were still at work, he just fired the leadership. If Trump fires [Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein] (and [Special Counsel Robert] Muller), he would have sealed his doom about obstruction of justice and the investigation will continue
Stavridis: I believe Congress, including enough Republicans, would respond – not impeach, but there would be a [Constitutional] crisis and the guardrails would kick in.
In the present nuclear environment, is the doctrine of mutually assured destruction still relevant?
It’s already begun. The unraveling of eight years of progress under Obama. Contrast their first actions: Obama signed the Lily Ledbetter Act so women can have a legal remedy for pay equity. Trump signed an executive orders to dismantle Obamacare and to withhold funding from any NGO anywhere that funds abortions.
Donald Trump doesn’t care that more than twice as many people came out to protest his illegitimately gained presidency, his morals and his agenda than came out to support his inauguration (I was at both. I saw despite the lies that Trump is spewing.) His warped ego will probably take it as a matter of pride that more than 500,000 people descended on Washington from all over the country while millions more filled out gargantuan protests in NYC (400,000), Los Angeles (750,000), Chicago, Atlanta, St. Louis – indeed, all across the US – plus cities in 50 countries including Paris, London, Sydney.
They came out to declare: Women’s Rights are Human Rights, women are not chattel, a mere vessel (vassal) to harbor an embryo. And so women and their men and children were standing up for reproductive rights, access to health care, gun safety, climate action, immigration reform, criminal justice, pay equity, public education, voting rights, campaign finance – all those things that together constitute “women’s issues”. Economic justice, climate justice, criminal justice, social justice, political justice, national security and peace in the world are all “women’s issues.”
“From the shores of Sydney, Australia to the tundra of Kodiak, Alaska we marched. Signs held high, our voices carried across Little Rock, Arkansas and Nashville, Tennessee, Phoenix, Arizona and Lansing, Michigan. Pink knit hats stretched as far as the eye could see in London, England, New York City, Los Angeles, California and Washington DC,” writes Heidi L. Sieck, Co-Founder/CEO, #VOTEPROCHOICE.
In fact, this was the single largest political demonstration day of protest in US history and most certainly the largest outpouring of opposition at the opening of a new administration. Trump, who lost the popular vote by 2.6 million and carried only 42% of The Women’s Vote, comes into the White House with the lowest favorability rating probably since Lincoln, and 20 points lower than the outgoing president, Barack Obama.
And if Trump would actually have listened to his own nonsensical, dystopian, bizarre inaugural speech, he would realize that the women, men and children who protested rightfully have the political power that Trump said no longer resided in Washington.
“January 20th 2017, will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again,” Trump intoned. “The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer. Everyone is listening to you now…. At the center of this movement is a crucial conviction: that a nation exists to serve its citizens.”
And yet, Trump managed to turn a deaf ear to the roars from the Women’s March that literally shook buildings with its force (yet he had to see them because his motorcade drove through twice on his way to the CIA).
In his first 100 days, what Trump vows to do would undo the progress of 100 years, violating the will of the vast majority of Americans.
But here it is: Trump managed to resurrect a militant feminism that, frankly, was dormant during the election campaign when Hillary Clinton could have, should have (in fact did, were it not for the Electoral College), break that ultimate glass ceiling to run the White House. Women of all ages, all races and creeds, and men and children, marching together in solidarity. A man carried a sign saying “I can’t believe we’re still fighting for this”.
Now what will those who marched do? What will happen? Will that energy and activism be sustained against the forces of disillusionment, frustration, paralyzing despair and self-preserving apathy? Or will they return home feeling vindicated and affirmed that their fears and concerns are real and they are not to be silenced? I think they will return empowered, invigorated with a mission, with a voice, a language to articulate grievances and a clarity of purpose. Indeed, the Women’s March organizers are posting 10 action items for the first 100 Days at womensmarch.com.
Also, there are ways and avenues and organizations to channel that rage and turn it into strategic, well articulated constructive action, in order to fight against the despair that will come when we aren’t able to immediately stop the steamroll of anti-democratic, regressive initiatives that come from the Trump/Republican camarilla.
Donald Trump may not care about the protests, feeling somehow above and immune in his bubble of sycophants. In a creepy way, he probably drew orgasmic delight that 4 million people around the world focused their attention on him, no matter that he was the target of their contempt, disdain and hatred.
But Congressmen know. Senators know. State legislators know. And they should be quaking in the reverberation of the marchers. And that’s where the focus has to be. This is Day 1 of the 2017 campaign to take back state offices. This is Day One to take back the House and/or the Senate in 2018. Because taking just one house would cut Trump’s Presidency to 2 years instead of an excruciating 4.
That is, if he isn’t impeached first for his corrupt business practices and likely collusion with Russia (not likely with a Republican Congress that clearly doesn’t care about actual illegalities like blatant violations of emoluments clause of Constitution and conflicts of interest that go against the national interest). He is more likely to be removed by a military coup when he orders bombing civilians, repopulating Guantanamo with prisoners snatched up with bounties, reopening black sites in order to torture, or, as he told the CIA, getting a second chance at taking Iraq’s oil because, you know, he learned as a boy “to the victor belong the spoils.”
Individually, we feel powerless, but collectively we have power. And it starts with pressing our village and city mayors, town and county supervisors, state representatives, governors and Congressmen need to be bold – like the San Francisco and New York mayors vowing to repulse Trump’s attack on sanctuary cities, governors like Cuomo in New York State standing up for a climate action agenda and protecting women’s reproductive rights; generals vowing to reject an order to bomb civilians or torture terror suspects. It’s newspapers being willing to lose privileged “access” and risking lawsuits to publish investigations. It’s government workers with the courage to be whistleblowers.
By these measures, the simple act of voting would seem an easy way to counter Trumpism, yet a disgraceful number don’t even do this; people need to start early to get registered to vote and vote in every election, especially local and state elections and not just the presidential.
But all of this requires us to stay active. We have to resist being immobilized by despair (that’s their strategy) and take action. If it seems too overwhelming with everything being thrown at us, just pick one or two issues to stay on top.
How to counter Trump?
Conflicts of Interest: Support Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s legislation that would require Trump to disclose his business holdings and require him to disclose his tax forms. Investigate – after all, what is Government Oversight Committee for, beyond investigating Benghazi and Clinton’s emails? Sue for violations of the emoluments clause, for Trump Hotel in Washington violating the law that prevents an elected official from leasing property from the federal government. Impeach Trump and any of his lackeys for their self-serving, self-dealing conflicts of interest. Boycott Trump’s business holdings and the corporations that enable him, including Trump Hotels and golf courses, “Celebrity Apprentice,” and Fox News.
Cabinet appointments: Democrats will be unable to stop Trump’s appointments, thanks to the hypocritical Republican lapdogs. But Senate Democrats have a duty to expose their self-interest conflicts, their ineptitude, their extraordinary lack of qualifications so that they will be put on notice that their actions will be scrutinized.
“Through cutting-edge reports, social media, newspapers, radio and TV, and much more, we’re going to highlight this rogues’ gallery’s history of law-breaking, how their corporate ties will corrupt policymaking, and how their reactionary views will harm everyday Americans.” says Robert Weissman, President of Public Citizen (citizen.org).
What should Senate, House Democrats do? Oppose with every tool and tactic they can the anti-Democratic principles, including using the Republican tactics against them like the filibuster, holds on nominations, lawsuits, articles of impeachment (though McConnell and Ryan will likely take away the very tools they used to unprecedented degree). That isn’t the same thing as opposing for opposing sake, to make the president fail, as Republicans did even as Obama was trying to keep the country from economic collapse. But Democrats are obligated to fight back where the agenda destroys progress. What Democrats should not do? Try to appeal to the pseudo-populism and the mythical “poor” “underserved” “voiceless” white working class, as if they are the only “real Americans” who matter. And yes, they should sue the Trump Administration just as the Republicans sued Obama over DACA and Obamacare. If Republicans don’t offer any means to compromise or impact policy, Democrats should go nuclear.
Support the Fourth Estate – the journalists who fulfill their function of investigating and being a watchdog on government and powerful interests. Be vigilant in calling out falsehoods, fake news and propaganda. That means that when the economy goes down, unemployment goes up, tens of thousands die without access to health care and Trump and the Republicans blame Obama and the Democrats, that The Media hold them to account. Write letters to the editor, comments online. Alert news media to issues. Defend journalists who are doing their job. Cultivate social media networks to counter the right-wing propaganda machine. The success of the Women’s March to rally support solely through social media shows these networks have taken root.
Fight the rabidly regressive agenda that Trump/Republicans will steamroll through in the first 100 days. The more that Republicans refuse to accept compromise or allow Democrats to participate in forming policy, the more militant the opposition has to become. Boycott, strike, protest, rally. Use your body, your voice, your pen.
Sue. Sue. Sue. “Presidents do not rule by fiat,” declared Mitch Bernard, Chief Operating Officer, for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “Donald Trump may not simply undo international agreements, overrule enacted laws, or violate environmental regulations on his own say so. If — when — he ignores environmental laws, NRDC will meet him in court. And we’re gearing up to give him the fight of his life.”
The Trump/Republican strategy (copied from Karl Rove and the Bush/Cheney debacle) is to have so many outrages coming so fast, deflecting attention and paralyzing any action, and more significantly to normalize the destructive actions simply by being equivalent or (imagine) not as bad as the previous outrage.
“In the face of Trump’s parade of horribles,” says Robert Reich of MoveOn.org, “it would be easy (and understandable) for people to get numb, hunker down, and pray that they’ll make it through the next four years. But human history teaches us of the perils of complacency and fear in response to political extremism and violence.”
If it is too paralyzing because of all the issues that are infuriating to your core, pick one, two or a few to focus on – keep active and aware of what Trump and his collaborators in the Congress and the Cabinet are doing. Write, call, visit, rally at representatives’ offices. Speak up to family, friends and neighbors. Go to town halls and civic meetings. You cannot be a Silent Majority.
Support key organizations – give what you can – because they will need money to lobby, sue, organize protests and petition campaigns, can offer language for legislation and expose facts about the impacts of overturning regulations allowing corporations to pollute the air and water; repealing the Affordable Care Act, (losing 3 million jobs, adding billions to the budget deficit, depriving 18 million newly insured people of access to health care, instead of saving 87,000 lives, seeing 36,000 die needlessly for lack of health care); of the public health, environmental, economic, international repercussions of rolling back climate action. (Caveat: Organizations can’t just seize on the latest outrage to fundraise without actually doing something.)
“Together, we must resist the Trump Dynasty with everything we’ve got — starting with marches all over the country today,” declared Robert Weissman of Public Citizen. “It won’t be easy. We can be honest about that. The fights that matter most rarely are. But with all of our vigilance, all of our acumen, all of our strength, we can — we will — prevail over greed and hatred and corruption.”
It’s commencement season. Speakers typically offer bromides to the newly minted graduates, about to take their first independent steps into an uncertain future, outside the protected confines of these lofty institutions. But President Obama’s commencement speech at Rutgers University was not like that. It was a sober reflection formed from the wisdom and experience of nearly eight years at the pinnacle of power – his own valedictory address. It was meaningful and important and real. And in the end, optimistic.
Rutgers was the perfect place for his address – not just because it was celebrating its 250th anniversary of its founding in 1766 – but that it has become one of the largest universities in the country, with 67,000 students (15,000 graduating on this day, alone) and arguably, the most diverse and more importantly, inclusive. These students left their own neighborhoods that formed the boundaries of a world view and entered this United Nations of ethnicities and backgrounds and found they could live together, learn from each other, create a new community.
Indeed, Rutgers is the worst nightmare for the brand of Know Nothingism, nativism, America Firstism that has taken hold of presidential politics.
“You’re not only better educated, you’ve been more exposed to the world, more exposed to other cultures,” he said. “You’re more diverse. You’re more environmentally conscious. You have a healthy skepticism for conventional wisdom…. You’ll look at things with fresher eyes, unencumbered by the biases and blind spots and inertia… So you’ve got the tools to lead us.”
Obama’s speech was a lesson in civics, in democracy, in personal responsibility. He called for critical thinking, participation, civil discourse. Fitting for a university founded before the Revolutionary War, he evoked the Founding Fathers, steeped in the Enlightenment, “rational thought and experimentation, and the capacity of informed citizens to master our own fates.”
Obama was warmly welcomed to Rutgers – indeed, the school lobbied him for three years to come, and he was the first sitting president to visit the university – and his speech was frequently interrupted with applause and cheers.
Here are highlights from his address:
Today, you join a long line of Scarlet Knights whose energy and intellect have lifted this university to heights its founders could not have imagined. Two hundred and fifty years ago, when America was still just an idea, a charter from the Royal Governor — Ben Franklin’s son — established Queen’s College. A few years later, a handful of students gathered in a converted tavern for the first class. And from that first class in a pub, Rutgers has evolved into one of the finest research institutions in America. (Applause.)
This is a place where you 3D-print prosthetic hands for children, and devise rooftop wind arrays that can power entire office buildings with clean, renewable energy. Every day, tens of thousands of students come here, to this intellectual melting pot, where ideas and cultures flow together among what might just be America’s most diverse student body. (Applause.) Here in New Brunswick, you can debate philosophy with a classmate from South Asia in one class, and then strike up a conversation on the EE Bus with a first-generation Latina student from Jersey City, before sitting down for your psych group project with a veteran who’s going to school on the Post-9/11 GI Bill. (Applause.)
America converges here. And in so many ways, the history of Rutgers mirrors the evolution of America — the course by which we became bigger, stronger, and richer and more dynamic, and a more inclusive nation.
But America’s progress has never been smooth or steady. Progress doesn’t travel in a straight line. It zigs and zags in fits and starts. Progress in America has been hard and contentious, and sometimes bloody. It remains uneven and at times, for every two steps forward, it feels like we take one step back.
But progress is bumpy. It always has been. But because of dreamers and innovators and strivers and activists, progress has been this nation’s hallmark. I’m fond of quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” (Applause.) It bends towards justice. I believe that. But I also believe that the arc of our nation, the arc of the world does not bend towards justice, or freedom, or equality, or prosperity on its own. It depends on us, on the choices we make, particularly at certain inflection points in history; particularly when big changes are happening and everything seems up for grabs.
And, Class of 2016, you are graduating at such an inflection point. Since the start of this new millennium, you’ve already witnessed horrific terrorist attacks, and war, and a Great Recession. You’ve seen economic and technological and cultural shifts that are profoundly altering how we work and how we communicate, how we live, how we form families. The pace of change is not subsiding; it is accelerating. And these changes offer not only great opportunity, but also great peril.
Fortunately, your generation has everything it takes to lead this country toward a brighter future.I’m confident that you can make the right choices — away from fear and division and paralysis, and toward cooperation and innovation and hope. (Applause.) Now, partly, I’m confident because, on average, you’re smarter and better educated than my generation... You’re not only better educated, you’ve been more exposed to the world, more exposed to other cultures. You’re more diverse. You’re more environmentally conscious. You have a healthy skepticism for conventional wisdom.
So you’ve got the tools to lead us. And precisely because I have so much confidence in you, I’m not going to spend the remainder of my time telling you exactly how you’re going to make the world better. You’ll figure it out. You’ll look at things with fresher eyes, unencumbered by the biases and blind spots and inertia and general crankiness of your parents and grandparents and old heads like me. But I do have a couple of suggestions that you may find useful as you go out there and conquer the world.
Point number one: When you hear someone longing for the “good old days,” take it with a grain of salt. (Laughter and applause.) Take it with a grain of salt. We live in a great nation and we are rightly proud of our history. We are beneficiaries of the labor and the grit and the courage of generations who came before. But I guess it’s part of human nature, especially in times of change and uncertainty, to want to look backwards and long for some imaginary past when everything worked, and the economy hummed, and all politicians were wise, and every kid was well-mannered, and America pretty much did whatever it wanted around the world.
Guess what. It ain’t so. (Laughter.) The “good old days” weren’t that great.Yes, there have been some stretches in our history where the economy grew much faster, or when government ran more smoothly. There were moments when, immediately after World War II, for example, or the end of the Cold War, when the world bent more easily to our will. But those are sporadic, those moments, those episodes. In fact, by almost every measure, America is better, and the world is better, than it was 50 years ago, or 30 years ago, or even eight years ago. (Applause.)
And by the way, I’m not — set aside 150 years ago, pre-Civil War — there’s a whole bunch of stuff there we could talk about. Set aside life in the ‘50s, when women and people of color were systematically excluded from big chunks of American life. Since I graduated, in 1983 — which isn’t that long ago — (laughter) — I’m just saying. Since I graduated, crime rates, teenage pregnancy, the share of Americans living in poverty — they’re all down. The share of Americans with college educations have gone way up. Our life expectancy has, as well. Blacks and Latinos have risen up the ranks in business and politics. (Applause.) More women are in the workforce. (Applause.) They’re earning more money — although it’s long past time that we passed laws to make sure that women are getting the same pay for the same work as men. (Applause.)
Meanwhile, in the eight years since most of you started high school, we’re also better off. You and your fellow graduates are entering the job market with better prospects than any time since 2007. Twenty million more Americans know the financial security of health insurance. We’re less dependent on foreign oil. We’ve doubled the production of clean energy. We have cut the high school dropout rate. We’ve cut the deficit by two-thirds. Marriage equality is the law of the land. (Big applause.)
And just as America is better, the world is better than when I graduated. Since I graduated, an Iron Curtain fell, apartheid ended. There’s more democracy. We virtually eliminated certain diseases like polio. We’ve cut extreme poverty drastically. We’ve cut infant mortality by an enormous amount. (Applause.)
Now, I say all these things not to make you complacent. We’ve got a bunch of big problems to solve. But I say it to point out that change has been a constant in our history. And the reason America is better is because we didn’t look backwards we didn’t fear the future. We seized the future and made it our own. And that’s exactly why it’s always been young people like you that have brought about big change — because you don’t fear the future.
That leads me to my second point: The world is more interconnected than ever before, and it’s becoming more connected every day. Building walls won’t change that. (Applause.)
Look, as President, my first responsibility is always the security and prosperity of the United States. And as citizens, we all rightly put our country first. But if the past two decades have taught us anything, it’s that the biggest challenges we face cannot be solved in isolation. (Applause.) When overseas states start falling apart, they become breeding grounds for terrorists and ideologies of nihilism and despair that ultimately can reach our shores. When developing countries don’t have functioning health systems, epidemics like Zika or Ebola can spread and threaten Americans, too. And a wall won’t stop that. (Applause.)
If we want to close loopholes that allow large corporations and wealthy individuals to avoid paying their fair share of taxes, we’ve got to have the cooperation of other countries in a global financial system to help enforce financial laws. The point is, to help ourselves we’ve got to help others — (applause) — not pull up the drawbridge and try to keep the world out. (Applause.)
And engagement does not just mean deploying our military. There are times where we must take military action to protect ourselves and our allies, and we are in awe of and we are grateful for the men and women who make up the finest fighting force the world has ever known. (Applause.) But I worry if we think that the entire burden of our engagement with the world is up to the 1 percent who serve in our military, and the rest of us can just sit back and do nothing. They can’t shoulder the entire burden. And engagement means using all the levers of our national power, and rallying the world to take on our shared challenges.
You look at something like trade, for example. We live in an age of global supply chains, and cargo ships that crisscross oceans, and online commerce that can render borders obsolete. And a lot of folks have legitimate concerns with the way globalization has progressed — that’s one of the changes that’s been taking place — jobs shipped overseas, trade deals that sometimes put workers and businesses at a disadvantage.But the answer isn’t to stop trading with other countries. In this global economy, that’s not even possible. The answer is to do trade the right way, by negotiating with other countries so that they raise their labor standards and their environmental standards; and we make sure they don’t impose unfair tariffs on American goods or steal American intellectual property. That’s how we make sure that international rules are consistent with our values — including human rights. And ultimately, that’s how we help raise wages here in America. That’s how we help our workers compete on a level playing field.
Building walls won’t do that. (Applause.) It won’t boost our economy, and it won’t enhance our security either. Isolating or disparaging Muslims, suggesting that they should be treated differently when it comes to entering this country — (applause) — that is not just a betrayal of our values — (applause) — that’s not just a betrayal of who we are, it would alienate the very communities at home and abroad who are our most important partners in the fight against violent extremism. Suggesting that we can build an endless wall along our borders, and blame our challenges on immigrants — that doesn’t just run counter to our history as the world’s melting pot; it contradicts the evidence that our growth and our innovation and our dynamism has always been spurred by our ability to attract strivers from every corner of the globe. That’s how we became America. Why would we want to stop it now? (Big cheers, applause.)
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Four more years!
THE PRESIDENT: Can’t do it. (Laughter.)
Which brings me to my third point: Facts, evidence, reason, logic, an understanding of science — these are good things. (Applause.) These are qualities you want in people making policy. These are qualities you want to continue to cultivate in yourselves as citizens. (Applause.) That might seem obvious. (Laughter.) That’s why we honor Bill Moyers or Dr. Burnell. We traditionally have valued those things. But if you were listening to today’s political debate, you might wonder where this strain of anti-intellectualism came from. (Applause.) So, Class of 2016, let me be as clear as I can be. In politics and in life, ignorance is not a virtue. (Applause.) It’s not cool to not know what you’re talking about. (Applause.) That’s not keeping it real, or telling it like it is. (Laughter.) That’s not challenging political correctness. That’s just not knowing what you’re talking about. (Applause.) And yet, we’ve become confused about this.
Look, our nation’s Founders — Franklin, Madison, Hamilton, Jefferson — they were born of the Enlightenment. They sought to escape superstition, and sectarianism, and tribalism, and no-nothingness. (Applause.) They believed in rational thought and experimentation, and the capacity of informed citizens to master our own fates. That is embedded in our constitutional design. That spirit informed our inventors and our explorers, the Edisons and the Wright Brothers, and the George Washington Carvers and the Grace Hoppers, and the Norman Borlaugs and the Steve Jobses. That’s what built this country.
And today, in every phone in one of your pockets — (laughter) — we have access to more information than at any time in human history, at a touch of a button. But, ironically, the flood of information hasn’t made us more discerning of the truth. In some ways, it’s just made us more confident in our ignorance. (Applause.) We assume whatever is on the web must be true. We search for sites that just reinforce our own predispositions. Opinions masquerade as facts. The wildest conspiracy theories are taken for gospel.
Now, understand, I am sure you’ve learned during your years of college — and if not, you will learn soon — that there are a whole lot of folks who are book smart and have no common sense. (Applause.) That’s the truth. You’ll meet them if you haven’t already. (Laughter.) So the fact that they’ve got a fancy degree — you got to talk to them to see whether they know what they’re talking about. (Laughter.) Qualities like kindness and compassion, honesty, hard work — they often matter more than technical skills or know-how. (Applause.)
But when our leaders express a disdain for facts, when they’re not held accountable for repeating falsehoods and just making stuff up, while actual experts are dismissed as elitists, then we’ve got a problem. (Applause.)
You know, it’s interesting that if we get sick, we actually want to make sure the doctors have gone to medical school, they know what they’re talking about. (Applause.) If we get on a plane, we say we really want a pilot to be able to pilot the plane. (Laughter.) And yet, in our public lives, we certainly think, “I don’t want somebody who’s done it before.” (Laughter and applause.) The rejection of facts, the rejection of reason and science — that is the path to decline. It calls to mind the words of Carl Sagan, who graduated high school here in New Jersey — (applause) — he said: “We can judge our progress by the courage of our questions and the depths of our answers, our willingness to embrace what is true rather than what feels good.”
The debate around climate change is a perfect example of this….climate change is not something subject to political spin. There is evidence. There are facts. We can see it happening right now. (Applause.) If we don’t act, if we don’t follow through on the progress we made in Paris, the progress we’ve been making here at home, your generation will feel the brunt of this catastrophe. So it’s up to you to insist upon and shape an informed debate…
Look, I’m not suggesting that cold analysis and hard data are ultimately more important in life than passion, or faith, or love, or loyalty. I am suggesting that those highest expressions of our humanity can only flourish when our economy functions well, and proposed budgets add up, and our environment is protected. And to accomplish those things, to make collective decisions on behalf of a common good, we have to use our heads. We have to agree that facts and evidence matter. And we got to hold our leaders and ourselves accountable to know what the heck they’re talking about. (Applause.) ..
Point four: Have faith in democracy. Look, I know it’s not always pretty. Really, I know. (Laughter.) I’ve been living it. But it’s how, bit by bit, generation by generation, we have made progress in this nation. That’s how we banned child labor. That’s how we cleaned up our air and our water. That’s how we passed programs like Social Security and Medicare that lifted millions of seniors out of poverty. (Applause.)
None of these changes happened overnight. They didn’t happen because some charismatic leader got everybody suddenly to agree on everything. It didn’t happen because some massive political revolution occurred. It actually happened over the course of years of advocacy, and organizing, and alliance-building, and deal-making, and the changing of public opinion. It happened because ordinary Americans who cared participated in the political process.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Because of you! (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Well, that’s nice. I mean, I helped, but — (applause.)
Look, if you want to change this country for the better, you better start participating. I’ll give you an example on a lot of people’s minds right now — and that’s the growing inequality in our economy. Over much of the last century, we’ve unleashed the strongest economic engine the world has ever seen, but over the past few decades, our economy has become more and more unequal. The top 10 percent of earners now take in half of all income in the U.S. In the past, it used to be a top CEO made 20 or 30 times the income of the average worker. Today, it’s 300 times more. And wages aren’t rising fast enough for millions of hardworking families.
Now, if we want to reverse those trends, there are a bunch of policies that would make a real difference. We can raise the minimum wage. (Applause.) We can modernize our infrastructure. We can invest in early childhood education. We can make college more affordable. (Applause.) We can close tax loopholes on hedge fund managers and take that money and give tax breaks to help families with child care or retirement. And if we did these things, then we’d help to restore the sense that hard work is rewarded and we could build an economy that truly works for everybody. (Applause.)
Now, the reason some of these things have not happened, even though the majority of people approve of them, is really simple. It’s not because I wasn’t proposing them. It wasn’t because the facts and the evidence showed they wouldn’t work. It was because a huge chunk of Americans, especially young people, do not vote.
In 2014, voter turnout was the lowest since World War II. Fewer than one in five young people showed up to vote — 2014. And the four who stayed home determined the course of this country just as much as the single one who voted. Because apathy has consequences. It determines who our Congress is. It determines what policies they prioritize. It even, for example, determines whether a really highly qualified Supreme Court nominee receives the courtesy of a hearing and a vote in the United States Senate. (Applause.)
And, yes, big money in politics is a huge problem. We’ve got to reduce its influence. Yes, special interests and lobbyists have disproportionate access to the corridors of power. But, contrary to what we hear sometimes from both the left as well as the right, the system isn’t as rigged as you think, and it certainly is not as hopeless as you think. Politicians care about being elected, and they especially care about being reelected. And if you vote and you elect a majority that represents your views, you will get what you want. And if you opt out, or stop paying attention, you won’t. It’s that simple. (Applause.) It’s not that complicated.
Now, one of the reasons that people don’t vote is because they don’t see the changes they were looking for right away. Well, guess what — none of the great strides in our history happened right away. It took Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP decades to win Brown v. Board of Education; and then another decade after that to secure the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. (Applause.) And it took more time after that for it to start working. It took a proud daughter of New Jersey, Alice Paul, years of organizing marches and hunger strikes and protests, and drafting hundreds of pieces of legislation, and writing letters and giving speeches, and working with congressional leaders before she and other suffragettes finally helped win women the right to vote. (Applause.)
Each stage along the way required compromise. Sometimes you took half a loaf. You forged allies. Sometimes you lost on an issue, and then you came back to fight another day. That’s how democracy works. So you’ve got to be committed to participating not just if you get immediate gratification, but you got to be a citizen full-time, all the time.
And if participation means voting, and it means compromise, and organizing and advocacy, it also means listening to those who don’t agree with you. I know a couple years ago, folks on this campus got upset that Condoleezza Rice was supposed to speak at a commencement. Now, I don’t think it’s a secret that I disagree with many of the foreign policies of Dr. Rice and the previous administration. But the notion that this community or the country would be better served by not hearing from a former Secretary of State, or shutting out what she had to say — I believe that’s misguided. (Applause.) I don’t think that’s how democracy works best, when we’re not even willing to listen to each other. (Applause.) I believe that’s misguided.
If you disagree with somebody, bring them in — (applause)— and ask them tough questions. Hold their feet to the fire. Make them defend their positions. (Applause.) If somebody has got a bad or offensive idea, prove it wrong. Engage it. Debate it. Stand up for what you believe in. (Applause.) Don’t be scared to take somebody on. Don’t feel like you got to shut your ears off because you’re too fragile and somebody might offend your sensibilities. Go at them if they’re not making any sense. Use your logic and reason and words. And by doing so, you’ll strengthen your own position, and you’ll hone your arguments. And maybe you’ll learn something and realize you don’t know everything. And you may have a new understanding not only about what your opponents believe but maybe what you believe. Either way, you win. And more importantly, our democracy wins. (Applause.)
So, anyway, all right. That’s it, Class of 2016 — (laughter) — a few suggestions on how you can change the world. Except maybe I’ve got one last suggestion. (Applause.) Just one. And that is, gear yourself for the long haul. Whatever path you choose — business, nonprofits, government, education, health care, the arts — whatever it is, you’re going to have some setbacks. You will deal occasionally with foolish people. You will be frustrated. You’ll have a boss that’s not great. You won’t always get everything you want — at least not as fast as you want it. So you have to stick with it. You have to be persistent. And success, however small, however incomplete, success is still success. I always tell my daughters, you know, better is good. It may not be perfect, it may not be great, but it’s good. That’s how progress happens — in societies and in our own lives.
So don’t lose hope if sometimes you hit a roadblock. Don’t lose hope in the face of naysayers. And certainly don’t let resistance make you cynical. Cynicism is so easy, and cynics don’t accomplish much. …
Is it any wonder that I am optimistic? Throughout our history, a new generation of Americans has reached up and bent the arc of history in the direction of more freedom, and more opportunity, and more justice. And, Class of 2016, it is your turn now — (applause) — to shape our nation’s destiny, as well as your own.
So get to work. Make sure the next 250 years are better than the last. (Applause.)
Good luck. God bless you. God bless this country we love. Thank you. (Applause.)