The Political Backlash Against Public Protest

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Now that we’ve embarked on the winter of our discontent, millions of Americans find their civil liberties, health, and personal safety either severely compromised or under constant threat. Since January, the Trump administration and Republican Party’s actions have repeatedly illustrated that it has no respect for America’s democratic values or its people. Regardless of what Trump supporters believe in, these are not normal times. Supporting such an unrespectable man is inherently unacceptable. Not because I’m a liberal Democrat who doesn’t respect other people’s values or opinions I don’t agree with. Though that may be true to some extent, especially if their beliefs can be translated into policies undermining mine or anyone else’s quality of life, fundamental rights as human beings, and affordable access to basic needs and opportunities. And I am deeply convinced that Trump’s presidency as well as Republican politicians in the federal and state governments champion policies that do nothing but screw Americans’ lives in more ways than one. For many including myself, resistance to Trump and the GOP isn’t strictly due to politics nor is it in any way optional. Yet, though I have turned to blogging the occasional diatribe several times, many have staged protests such as taking to the streets numerous times. Over the past year, a historical level of protest and activism has spilled out into the nation’s parks, streets, and sidewalks. The Women’s March anchored in Washington D.C. with echoes across the nation, was perhaps the single largest day of protest in American history.

Nevertheless, since the end of 2016, a Republican lawmakers in more than 20 states have introduced wave of anti-protest bills in state legislatures. These pieces of legislation attempt to criminalize and penalize protesting in various ways such as increasing fines and jail sentences for protestors obstructing justice, tampering with or trespassing on infrastructure such as railways and pipelines, picketing, wearing masks, or refusing to leave an “unlawful protest.” Anti-protest bills in North Dakota, Tennessee, and Florida remove liability from drivers who “accidentally” hit and kill protestors. A bill in Indiana initially instructed police to clear protestors from highways by “any means necessary.” Proposed legislation in Washington and North Carolina label protests, “economic terrorism.” A bill in Minnesota charges policing costs to protestors. Bills in Michigan and North Carolina allows businesses to sue individuals protesting them. A bill in Arizona uses anti-racketeering laws to seize protestors’ assets. And a bill in Oregon would require public community colleges to expel students convicted of participating in a “violent riot.” As the ACLU’s Vera Eidelman said, “The proposed bills have been especially pervasive in states where protests flourished recently. This flood of bills represents an unprecedented level of hostility towards protesters in the 21st century. And many of these bills attack the right to speak out precisely where the Supreme Court has historically held it to be the most robust: in public parks, streets and sidewalks.” The United Nations has also decried the trend as “incompatible with US obligations under international human rights law” and that they represent “a worrying trend that could result in a detrimental impact on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression in the country.”

Despite that some media articles portray the recent increase in legislation targeting protesting due to large and almost daily demonstrations since Trump’s inauguration, this troubling trend actually began before he took office. Anti-protest bills in Washington, Minnesota, Michigan, and North Dakota were among the earliest introduced as a direct response to the labor movement lobbying to raise the minimum wage, Black Lives Matter demonstrations erupting following police killings, and resistance against the Dakota Access Pipeline by Indigenous water protectors at Standing Rock. Still, due to Trump’s 3 executive orders on policing, Republican domination of most state legislatures, the Trump administration’s pro-policing and pro-business attitude, and the rise of constant and spontaneous anti-Trump protests, you get an atmosphere where many powerful interests have stake in suppressing mass dissent. Of course, journalists, civil liberties experts, lawyers, and Democratic lawmakers have addressed that these bills criminalize peaceful protests and chill dissent. They note that penalties for these actions already exist. For instance, there isn’t a single city or county in the US that can’t already prosecute people for intentionally obstructing cars or pedestrians or for trespassing on private property. When a protest in Baton Rouge grew so large it spilled into the streets, the problem wasn’t that law enforcement couldn’t arrest anyone engaged in wrongdoing. In fact, quite the contrary since the police relied on existing trespass or obstruction laws to dramatically and unconstitutionally overcharge peaceful protestors. Not to mention, many existing laws always attempt to balance between the right to protest and the ability to drive. Also, anti-protest legislation is obviously unconstitutional since it violates the First Amendment protecting freedom of speech. Several of these bills have already been rejected such as those in Virginia, Michigan, and Arizona. But many still remain under consideration so anyone with an interest in protecting dissent must still remain vigilant and vigorously opposing those still on the table.

Yet, there are disturbing trends behind introducing such flagrantly unconstitutional legislation are false assumptions about protesting. For instance, Arizona’s anti-protest bill was explicitly based on the claim that protestors are paid to be in the streets. The “paid protestor myth has long existed as well as been codified in police training manual and Trump’s rhetoric. However, while seasoned activists mostly dismiss the paid protestor idea as a joke, the politicians introducing these anti-protest bills are deadly serious. And it’s mostly believed that liberal billionaire George Soros who usually distributes the protesting paychecks that don’t really exist. Despite his Open Society Foundation offering grants to those working on specific projects like civil liberties and criminal justice reform, there’s absolutely no evidence he’s paid people to be in the streets. Yet, that didn’t stop Washington State Senator Doug Eriksen specifically naming him and the Sierra Club as intended targets while introducing anti-protest legislation in his state. Another protest myth is behind a measure in Georgia’s pro-policing bill package which creates a new felony for protestors throwing “human or animal excreta” at police during demonstrations. Yet, though throwing literal shit at cops has often been cited in police manuals, there’s no evidence such incidents actually happened.

Additionally, another alarming trend besides punishing people with significant imprisonment and fines based on claims with no supporting evidence, anti-protest bills also attempt to redefine what a “riot” means so more actions can fall under this category and to link protesting to terrorism. Arizona’s proposal would’ve expanded the state’s anti-racketeering laws to designate rioting under organized crime. It also would’ve redefined rioting to include vandalism. Washington’s bill went a bit further to recharacterize protests as acts of “economic terrorism” like a non-violent demonstration hurting a company’s bottom line is being re-classified as a serious threat deserving severe punishment.

Of course, the recent anti-protest legislation surge isn’t the first time state legislatures tried to clamp down on effective demonstrations. In 2006, Congress passed The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act which allegedly protects animal enterprises by defining “eco-terrorists” as animal and environmental activists who successfully pose a threat from businesses profiting from critters. This legislation tied protesting to “terrorism” that animal rights activists were imprisoned despite doing nothing more than running a website. After AETA, the conservative bill mill known as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) produced model legislation for the state level, expanding on AETA to further erode Constitutional rights and heavily punish animal rights and environmental activists. Hopefully, none of the proposed bills were passed by any state legislature.

However, we should really keep in mind that Republican lawmakers didn’t stop there. Instead, they used an incremental approach of inserting these failed bills’ key provisions into other legislation. Some of these can include using specific language like ecological terrorism or including the same penalties for a more limited number of offenses than the original legislation. So keep that lesson in mind when it comes to this round of unconstitutional and punitive legislation.

Fortunately, many of these current anti-protest bills are so obviously unconstitutional and based on outright lies that they’re unlikely to past. Already many have failed while others have been sent back to committees for revisions to make them more acceptable to lawmakers and the general public. And we should expect to see some parts of these bills introduced elsewhere should they fail in their current form. Even so, the fact so many of these anti-protest bills that have been introduced will likely have a chilling effect on dissent as well as create a climate of confusion and fear. Few people would be as willing to protest if they thought they could easily get arrested, fined, jailed, or even killed. The lack of clarity over where these bills stand in the legislative process, the low likelihood they’ll bass in their current forms, and the actual consequences if they do is enough to cast doubt among any would be protester.

Civil liberties advocates are now questioning which individuals or interest groups are behind this legislation wave targeting mass protest and the right to dissent. ALEC is most likely involved due to its anti-worker and anti-environmental platform which many of these protests are at odds with. Yet, ALEC’s model legislation strategy is commonplace and well-absorbed so it doesn’t need formal organization from above. Lawmakers could simply copy or adapt legislation from other states. Another possible organizing force behind anti-protest legislation are police unions and their coordinated efforts of law enforcement. Thanks to the Trump administration’s pro-policing stance, it’s not much of a surprise for law enforcement organizations prioritizing criminalizing protest activity.

Americans have a love-hate relationship with protesting. On one hand, it’s disruptive to normal activity as it’s supposed to be. But on the other hand, it’s an American tradition that’s helped to advance considerable progress on civil rights and improved living conditions. Many of what the US has accomplished to create a more perfect union was made possible thanks to public protests. Of course, not all of them have been peaceful such as the labor protests during the Gilded Age. Nevertheless, even without that, it’s possible I may not be able to attend college or write this blog today. Nevertheless, to criminalize peaceful protests is a flagrant violation of the First Amendment which guarantees freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of petition. Criminalizing peaceful protest isn’t only unconstitutional, it’s un-American and unacceptable. In a representative democracy, when people come together to voice their dissent, they help create change. Today, state representatives should be celebrating that their constituents are getting out into the streets and making their voices heard. Yet, tragically, thanks to corporate campaign donors, state reps call their efforts “garbage” and are proposing bills that would criminalize protests or even put protestors’ lives in danger. Sure they won’t admit to it when promoting these bills. But that’s the ultimate aim. Legislators in states with significant protest activity should listen to those voices speaking out, especially in moments of disagreement. Not silence them.

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Why We Need to Stop Likening Donald Trump to Andrew Jackson

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As president, Donald Trump has often been linked to Andrew Jackson in both good qualities and bad. Trump has braced the comparison since he chose to grace the Oval Office with Jackson’s portrait as well as laid a wreath at his grave at the Hermitage in Nashville, Tennessee to honor his 250th birthday. Though he doesn’t try to claim that he shares the policies and attitudes Jackson embraced, he’s proposed to be in the 21st what the seventh president was during the 19th. After all, what made Jackson so fondly remembered by some was his connection to ordinary people as well as his embodiment of populist politics. Meanwhile, detractors often note how Jackson was an unapologetic racist and slave owner whose harsh treatment of Indian tribes eventually led to the Trail of Tears. And they often remark compare it to how Trump used racism to win over the support of working class whites as a political outsider taking on the establishment and riding into Washington to return power to the people. However, though understand Americans’ need to make historical comparisons, I find the idea of likening Trump to Old Hickory deeply insulting to Andrew Jackson and his memory.

Now I understand that Andrew Jackson wouldn’t rank among many Americans’ favorite presidents for very justifiable reasons. Sure he was an unapologetic racist who defended slavery without question and his policy on Indian removal in the Southeast resulted in tragic consequences such as the Trail of Tears, destruction of tribal culture, and genocide. In addition, Jackson’s dismantling of the Bank of the United States led to the Panic of 1837 as well as decades of frequent bank failures and economic instability until the creation of the Federal Reserve. Jackson’s practice of appointing personal associates, wealthy friends, and party loyalists to federal offices as a reward for victory generated what would later be called the spoils system which led to a lot of government corruption for decades and eventually the assassination of a US president. And yes, I understand that like Trump, Jackson could be especially harsh on his enemies, violated political norms and constitutional concepts he didn’t like, had some anti-intellectual tendencies, was obsessed with the media, occasionally had little regard for the law and institutions, and was seen by his detractors as an unstable demagogue and a would-be dictator.

However, besides inspiring distrust in certain elements of political elites in their day along with some other qualities, Trump and Jackson have little in common. In fact, Andrew Jackson would’ve despised Trump and liken his sham populism to an image of William Henry Harrison drinking hard cider in front of a log cabin. Jackson certainly would’ve been greatly insulted of Trump citing him as his hero and a reflection of himself. Such notion that a draft-dodging elitist and opportunist who’d apply to his high-born privilege in order to skirt the consequences for his legion of despicable business practices and did nothing to demonstrate a commitment to public service could resemble Old Hickory basically desecrates almost everything about him and what he stood for. Whenever you see Jackson’s portrait in Trump’s Oval Office, don’t see it as being enshrined in a place of honor regardless of what you think of him. Rather think of Jackson’s presence in the Oval Office as one of great misfortune of having to see a man like Trump exploit him as nothing more than a mere prop to shamelessly project his faux populist image in order to deceive his constituents with no second thought. Only to betray his lowly supporters by using his presidential power to enrich himself along with his elitist friends, backers, allies, as well as the GOP and corporate establishment at the common people’s expense. All Jackson can do is hopelessly watch by, unable to tell the world what he was all about in his defense while Trump distorts his image and legacy for his own benefit. Jackson may not have been an exemplary role model, but he was certainly no Donald Trump. And we should see Trump’s honoring him as nothing short of disgraceful to a man who’s currently turning in his grave.

By all accounts, Andrew Jackson was a complex and fascinating man who remains one of the most studied and controversial Americans in the 19th century. Whether you love him or hate him, there are plenty of qualities about the man you have to respect as well as the impact he made. And despite all the awful stuff he did, there’s a reason why historians rate his presidency so highly. Generations of parents named their sons after Jackson, often placing both his names before their surname. Jackson’s election to the presidency comes off as a vindication of American ideals and affirms American greatness. Jackson’s unapologetic defense of slavery and infamous policy regarding Indian removal have marred his complicated legacy and for very good reason. The fact he made his fortune speculating Indian lands as well as owning (and possibly trading) slaves doesn’t help his reputation. Yet, he was a staunch believer in popular democracy (at least among white men) and believed in the sanctity of the American Union with almost religious conviction. But despite his lasting reputation as an aggressive, no nonsense, I’ll-do-things-my-way kind of guy, Jackson was far more than the one dimensional caricature he’s often depicted as. He was self-raised, self-educated, and well-read in current events (with a subscription to 17 newspapers). He conducted himself as a quintessential Southern gentleman with exquisite manners and a rather gallant attitude towards women. Though nasty and spiteful to enemies, he was generous, considerate, and loyal to his friends and a devoted husband to his wife Rachel. Though strong in his convictions and an intense partisan, he was not without moments of compromise and indecision. And he wasn’t above appointing cabinet members who disagreed with him like his closest advisor Martin Van Buren as well as Edward Livingston and Louis McLane. Nor did he always hold grudges for he welcomed Thomas Hart Benton back into the fold despite being a longtime foe. Furthermore, he considered his word his bond as well as strived to exhibit fidelity, honor, and integrity.

We need to understand that what attracted ordinary people to support Jackson was totally different than what attracted people to Trump. Though 19th century political campaigns often involved nasty mudslinging, Jackson’s appeal to the common people had much more to do with the great positive sentiment Jackson evoked in the average Americans at the time. What ordinary Americans loved most about him was that he really was one of them. His father died before he was born while his mother died in his teens. Everything Jackson achieved in life came through his own efforts. What Jackson projected is the belief that any kid can grow up to be president. If a poor kid from the Carolinas can reach the White House, then it must be the case that talent, grit, and honor could make up for the humblest beginnings. His modest background as a self-made man on the frontier who championed those of his former station cast him as an outsider from the aristocracy of Washington’s political elite. The people loved him for it and voted for him out of affinity and pride. His 1829 inauguration saw one of the largest crowds by that point as he took the oath of office at the US Capitol’s East Portico. After the ceremony, Jackson invited the public to the White House for a reception where thousands of his supporters held a raucous party, inflicting a degree of damage to the fixtures and furnishings

And Andrew Jackson had done plenty in his lifetime of public service to earn his supporters’ admiration that they were glad to cast their vote for him. He served as a courier to a local colonial militia during the American Revolution and at the Battle of Hanging Rock during his early teens. At 14, he was taken captured by the British, where he braved small pox, starvation, and being slashed by a British officer for refusing to clean his boots. When he moved to Tennessee as an adult, he spent much of that time in the service of his adopted state and the US. He helped write the state’s constitution and served as a circuit judge. He represented Tennessee in the House and the Senate. He was governor of Florida while it was a federal territory. Most famously, Jackson commanded Tennessee militia and later US Army troops during the War of 1812, earning the name “Old Hickory” for his resilience in combat and willingness to endure the same hardships as his men. He fought a war against the Creek Indians with an arm in his sling from a shoulder wound. His victory at the Battle of New Orleans was the signal triumph of the American armed forces between the Revolution and the Civil War. During that time, Jackson was broadly acclaimed as second only to George Washington among the pantheon of American military heroes. Because despite the War of 1812 being virtually over for 2 weeks thanks to the Treaty of Ghent, the British had still viewed the Louisiana Purchase as illegitimate. Had the Brits seized on New Orleans, they were prepared, treaty or no treaty, to declare the Louisiana Purchase a dead letter and redraw the political map of North America. Jackson’s victory ensured that the British wouldn’t renegotiate peace terms ending the war. Though some people questioned Jackson’s politics, nobody questioned his courage and patriotism.

We should also understand that there was much more about Andrew Jackson than this image of a wild backwoodsman initially suggests. When a young woman from South Carolina named Julia Ann Conner visited his Hermitage in 1827, she found him to be nothing like she expected. Rather she wrote him to be a “venerable, dignified, fine-looking man, perfectly easy in manner.” She noted how Jackson kept articles he received from the Washington’s family on his mantelpiece as “preserved with almost sacred veneration.” Conner even joined him in a game of chess and referred Jackson as an “excellent player” as he “frequently directed my moves—apparently much interested in the fate of the game … there were no traces of the ‘military chieftain’ as he is called!” This is a very different portrait of Jackson than what many Americans are used to. But it nonetheless explains much of his character. Though he may come off as reckless, he more often played games in politics and war with skill and patience. His enemies and much of posterity never quite understood that what was the most fundamental fact about Jackson wasn’t a problem with his temper, but more often than not, his ability to control it and harness that energy in ways that would’ve driven other politicians to ruin such as intimidating his foes or advancing his agenda. Sure he was prone to fits of rage and for getting into duels and brawls, especially as a young man. But he was self-aware enough to understand his weaknesses and took care to compensate for them. With that came a kind of self-restraint, which worked so well his closest advisor, Martin Van Buren marveled how Jackson could turn anger on and off at will. But as Conner noted, he was as at home with his chessboard as he was with charging blindly forward. Though he certainly was a powerful personality, Jackson’s rise from his humble beginnings could never be possible without his shrewdness, resourcefulness, as well as his capacity to cultivate himself while retaining an image as a fearsome and violent man of action he used to his advantage. Yet, seeing Jackson this way makes the idea of him being a reflection of Trump astoundingly laughable.

Andrew Jackson’s distrust for elites and the Washington establishment was also very different from Trump’s. A political centrist and believer in Jeffersonian principles, Jackson believed that monied and business interests would corrupt Republican values. While his defeat of the Second Bank of the United States and his opposition to federal public works projects hurt ordinary Americans, his rationale behind both reflects that sentiment. Back in the 19th century, legislatures often granted corporations charters to build infrastructure which gave them valuable privileges. State governments often shared corporate ownership with private investors. Jackson feared that public investments offered unearned advantages to insiders that would surely lead to corruption and as he put it, “destroy the purity of our government.” Nevertheless, despite vetoing the Marysville Road project, Jackson’s administration saw more federal funding on infrastructure than all his predecessors combined. And Jackson’s Marysville Road veto had more to do with it connecting two towns in Kentucky, which he viewed as nothing more than a pork barrel project for Henry Clay’s home state.

As for the Second Bank of the United States, well, it was a public-private corporation partly funded by taxpayers but controlled by private investors, some of whom were European. Despite its hold on the nation’s currency gave it immense economic powers such as destroying state banks by calling in their loans, it faced no democratic oversight. And its capital was twice the federal government’s expenditures. The Panic of 1819 was particularly devastating for ordinary Americans thanks excessive land speculation, unsecured loans, misrepresentation, and the unrestrained use of paper money. The Bank did little to relieve since it was deeply enmeshed in these inflationary practices. Jackson opposed the Bank because he considered it a privileged, monopolistic, and undemocratic corporation. He was sure the Bank made dubious loans and campaign contributions to influence politicians and editors as well as to even buy elections. When the bill to renew the charter reached his desk, Jackson vetoed it bristled with populist attacks ringing eerily familiar. He charged that “The rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes.” They sought special favors “to make the rich richer and the potent more powerful,” rightly leading “the humbler members of society—the farmers, mechanics, and laborers … to complain of the injustice of their government.” In his farewell address, Jackson warned that the people, “have little or no share in the direction of the great moneyed corporations,” and were always “in danger of losing their fair influence in the government.” Today, you’d find many of these anti-big business sentiments in a Bernie Sanders speech against the Citizens United ruling, a Supreme Court decision that Jackson would’ve certainly not enforced. Trump, on the other hand, clearly sees absolutely no problem with corporate influence on government as illustrated by his donations to various political entities including Citizens United, receiving generous campaign contributions, and appointing billionaire CEOs to cabinet positions.

Nevertheless, what’s the most outrageous about the Trump-Jackson analogy is the most basic. Regardless what you think about him, Andrew Jackson was the president who more than any other, secured the future of American democracy. For the quarter-century before Jackson, presidents were essentially aristocrats who essentially appointed their own successors with the Election of 1800 being the only exception. When he was elected to the presidency in 1828, he won with 56% of the popular vote which was 12 points more than his opponent, John Quincy Adams. By frustrating Adams’s bid for reelection, Jackson broke the mold and became president at a time when states had started abandoning their property and residency voting requirements, which he both encouraged and benefitted from. Sure Jacksonian democracy fell short of today’s model since most women and blacks couldn’t vote. But by enfranchising all white males other than property owners, it represented a huge step forward from the unabashed elitism characterizing the 18th century. That elitism was part of why many in the political establishment in Jackson’s time likened him to a dangerous demagogue as well as an unstable, would-be dictator. We should note that the Founding Fathers came up with the Electoral College and election of senators through the state legislatures because they harbored a lot of distrust toward the common people and likened democracy to mob rule. Jackson knew this and as president, had repeatedly called for a constitutional amendment to abolish it for reasons we don’t have to get into after 2016. And it was certainly why then Speaker Henry Clay encouraged the House of Representatives to choose John Quincy Adams over Jackson in 1824, which resulted in his appointment as Secretary of State. Furious Jackson supporters would call this a “corrupt bargain” because their candidate won at least 42% of the popular vote. Yet, because no candidate received a clear majority of electoral votes (due to the race consisting of 4 different guys), the decision fell to the House. Still, had Jackson succeeded in eliminating the Electoral College, Trump would’ve never become president since he lost the popular vote by the largest historical margin of anyone who’s ever won the presidency.

Moreover, Andrew Jackson’s character and worldview reflected a genuine conviction in the people’s ultimate wisdom. He came to that populism through his experience and his own humble beginnings. As a self-made man, he saw his political mission to remove what he believed to be corrupting influences such as the Second Bank of the United States, entrenched federal appointees, and money speculators. That so ordinary Americans which he called “the planter, the farmer, the mechanic, and the laborer” could rise to prosperity. In other words, Jackson believed the federal government should benefit the interests of all Americans and that political participation should be a right. And he expanded the role of the presidency from mere executive to active representative of the people. Another one of Jackson’s most central beliefs was the inviolability of the federal Union and that concepts like secession and nullification were unacceptable. The fact he was willing to go to war with South Carolina when it threatened to secede during the Nullification Crisis illustrate this. Jackson believed that popular democracy spoke most clearly when the nation spoke as the nation. Not as separate polities in individual states. And that the union must be preserved above all else. His ideas in popular democracy and devotion to the Union above all else have left an indelible mark in the American consciousness, both of which he considered as inseparable. Generations after him have built on them and expanded on and in ways even he wouldn’t have imagined. Yes, his idea of popular democracy only included all white men. But it nevertheless provided a foundation for women and minorities to campaign for their voting rights as well as inspired almost every liberal and progressive movement and policy ever since. Jacksonian democracy became a touchstone of American politics that every presidential candidate since had to possess a common touch or effectively fake it. His idea of the president being the people’s representative has helped shaped the modern American presidency as we know it. And the Jacksonian concept that the union must be saved above all else strongly influenced the Union cause during the Civil War. Jackson’s policy during the Nullification Crisis set a precedent for Abraham Lincoln to follow through by sending military force against the Confederacy.

Andrew Jackson may have done plenty of terrible things that have hurt a lot people during his lifetime as well as led to plenty of negative repercussions even after he left office. He could sometimes be woefully wrong on what he thought was best for the American people. He may have stood on the wrong side of history in regards to defending slavery and removing Native Americans from their land so his friends could build plantations. Yes, he personally profited from stealing land from the Indians during the Indian wars. Yes, he brought a new coalition to elites into power such New York politicians, Pennsylvanian businessmen, and Southern slaveholders. And yes, he tended to their special interests as any typical politician. Still, Jackson was no opportunist and didn’t use populism as a political device. He didn’t use his image as a temperamental man for mere theatrics. He wanted to accomplish things. He never ever threw his friends under the bus even it was expedient to do so. He never embarrassed foreign dignitaries nor handled diplomatic disputes with anything other than moderation and skill. Nor did he try to profit from the presidency since he asked a friend to settle his business affairs after he won the election so he could focus on being president. But regardless of how we view Jackson today, he was a military hero who served his country in combat and a politician who generally placed the nation’s interests above his own. He symbolized the democratic struggle among the great majority against unearned power and special privilege. Furthermore, he was a firm believer in American democratic values as he once said, “As long as our government is administered for the good of the people, and is regulated by their will; as long as it secures to us the rights of persons and of property, liberty of conscience, and of the press, it will be worth defending.”

As Thomas Hart Benton said of the Jackson presidency, “Great is the confidence which he has always reposed in the discernment and equity of the American people. I have been accustomed to see him for many years, and under many discouraging trials; but never saw him doubt, for an instant, the ultimate support of the people … He always said the people would stand by those who stand by them.” Andrew Jackson was a very flawed man whose life and legacy reflected the best and the worst of America in his time and all time. Yet, even the ugliest parts of his life and legacy don’t dismiss him as any less than a man who tried to be worthy of the American people’s support. After all, despite that America has viewed itself as a beacon of liberty, democracy, and prosperity, it was also built on slavery and Native American displacement and genocide. And Jackson’s attitudes and actions regarding slavery and Native Americans are so glaring that they can’t be ignored. Nor should they be. Though his grave sins keep us from viewing him as an icon of reverence, Jackson’s life should teach us that even heroic men like him are seldom pillars of perfection. Jackson knew this for though he may have been critical of the founding generation, he nonetheless appreciated those responsible for crafting and refining the systems of checks and balances on which the nation was based. Even though he didn’t always observe them as president. Not to mention, a lot of Jackson’s own supporters didn’t always agree with him including close friends and advisers. Still, if Jackson and his fellow Democrats can get things so badly wrong, then we’re forever vulnerable as well. History may well remind us that we’re always at risk of falling short in the unending search for a more perfect Union.

Nevertheless, while Jackson shouldn’t be idolized on a pedestal, he doesn’t deserve outright vilification either even if he deserves being called out for his sins. Nor should he ever be reduced to a one-dimensional caricature since there’s nothing simple about him. Such approaches do a disservice to him as the complex and fascinating man he was and how he should be remembered as. Nor should he be embraced by a president who knows nothing about him, shares none of the causes he championed, and praises him so he can depict him in his own image. Donald Trump is no Andrew Jackson nor does he even come remotely close. Unlike the 7th president, this unrespectable man has repeatedly demonstrated that he cares more about himself than the American people and what is best for this nation’s future. His praises of dictators show he has more affinity for a culture common in authoritarian systems where ruling regimes have a monopoly on truth. Though he has promoted himself as a successful businessman, he’s very much a product of inherited wealth and unearned privilege which have gotten him where he is today. And he often used his status to avoid military service, federal taxes, and taking responsibility for his despicable business practices. Nor was his success the result of his hard work and natural ability. It’s very clear that Trump’s populism is a sham. Then there’s the fact Trump has promoted his real-estate investments during his presidential campaign as well as acknowledges that he “might have” discussed his global business interests in his talks with foreign leaders since his election. Even as president Trump hasn’t separated himself from his business, which puts him in clear violation of the Emoluments Clause. It’s very clear he’s profited from both his campaign and his presidency. His business interests abroad might have an impact on American foreign policy. To equate Jackson with Trump normalizes the latter in ways that should offend us in 2017. Jackson for all his faults doesn’t deserve to be equated to this unrespectable man, regardless of his sins. Jackson may not have been a great hero to many people’s eyes for very good reasons. But what Trump embodies basically goes against almost everything that Jackson stood for as well as exemplify why Americans still admire him today.

On the Firing of FBI Director James Comey

The decision to fire Comey happened so quickly that virtually no one had any warning. Various media outlets reported that multiple senior FBI and Department of Justice officials having no knowledge of Trump’s announcement ahead of the White House’s release. In fact, one CNN reporter tweeted about FBI sources texting him on whether the Comey news was true. Congress didn’t know either. Senator Dianne Feinstein knew about Comey’s firing only 20 minutes before White House announced it. Senator John Cornyn claimed he learned about it on his iPhone during a meeting. Comey found out while trying to recruit FBI agents in Los Angeles from a TV in the background. Comey laughed in response thinking it was a prank. Nevertheless, whether you liked him or hated him, his firing has profoundly troubling implications for the United States government. Like it or not, Comey was one of the few people in the Justice Department truly independent of Trump and willing to hold him accountable for his actions. And his ousting raised serious questions on Justice Department independence and possibly the integrity of American democracy as we know it.

As a liberal Democrat, I am no fan of FBI Director James Comey. I am still mad at him for his mishandling over Hillary Clinton’s e-mails, especially when he released a statement about discovering more of them in late October. Back in July, he claimed that while her use of a private e-mail server as Secretary of State was “extremely careless” in regard to classified information, he didn’t recommend bringing any charges against her. Then in late October, he wrote a new letter to Congress saying he discovered new Clinton e-mails that could be relevant which turned out to contain no significant new information. Nonetheless, the damage was done and Comey’s rogue conduct in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election may have cost Clinton the White House. But it also gave the impression that the FBI was intervening in an election and politicizing the US legal system. Comey’s behavior certainly violated longstanding FBI norms against trying targets of an investigation in the media. It didn’t help that in March 2017, Comey announced that the FBI had been investigating into Russian interference and links to the Trump campaign and whether there had been any coordination since July 2016. So if the FBI was looking into Trump’s connections with the Russians last summer, why didn’t Comey mention it earlier? And why did he decide to say anything about investigating Hillary’s e-mails instead? So, on one hand, I can totally see why Comey’s firing was deserved.

However, Comey’s dismissal is deeply disturbing since Donald Trump fired him and why. According to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, it was over mishandling Hillary Cinton’s e-mail investigation last year. Sure Comey’s surprise public announcement of recommending no charges brought against Clinton “was wrong” because “it is not the function of the [FBI] director to make such an announcement.” The FBI should investigate while the Justice Department should decide whether to bring charges. But as Rosentein states, Comey, “announced his own conclusions about the nation’s most sensitive criminal investigation, without the authorization of duly appointed Justice Department leaders.” Yes, Comey “laid out his version of the facts for the news media as if it were a closing argument, but without a trial,” which Rosenstein writes, “is a textbook example of what federal prosecutors and agents are taught not to do.” And yes, Comey shouldn’t have told Congress about the FBI’s discovery of new Clinton e-mails while his defense whether to “speak” or “conceal” the investigation does him no favors. As Rosenstein argued, “When federal agents and prosecutors quietly open a criminal investigation, we are not concealing anything; we are simply following the longstanding policy that we refrain from publicizing non-public information.” Now I can’t disagree with Rosenstein’s points. Yet, it’s very clear the Trump administration is lying their asses off. Because while Comey certainly did mishandle Hillary’s e-mail investigation, Democrats have made strikingly similar criticisms about his behavior for months. They’ve even argued that Comey’s decision to send the letter in October might’ve put Trump in office.

In addition, what Rosenstein wrote in the Justice Department letters completely contradicts everything Trump and his boss Attorney General Jeff Sessions have said about Comey and Hillary Clinton since the campaign. Trump repeatedly complained that Comey was too soft on Clinton and responded to his late October letter to Congress saying, “It took guts for Director Comey to make the move that he made.” And he has long maintained that the FBI director was right to release it. If he has any complaints about Comey’s behavior, it’s that he didn’t go far enough. Then Senator Jeff Sessions that Comey had “an absolute duty, in my opinion, 11 days or not, to come forward with the new information that he has.” And he defended the FBI director’s July statements on Clinton stating that Obama’s Justice Department had put him in a position so he “had” to speak for himself. Neither of these men cared whether Comey violated longstanding FBI norms against trying investigation targets to the media. And it’s obvious there’s no reason to believe either would change their minds. Because both these men benefitted significantly from what Comey did. Besides, during his first week in office, Trump had asked Comey to stay on his post and he planned to serve out the full remainder of his term. By then, everything about his actions in the Clinton investigation were well-known. What changed between now and then that would’ve led Trump or Sessions view Comey’s handling of the situation so differently, is impossible to fathom. Nor would it make any sense. Besides, a New York Times report that Sessions had been “had been working to come up with reasons” to fire Comey since at least last week.

Donald Trump is a notorious liar and has a long history of corruption. For years, he called New York tabloids using a fake name. He claimed that climate change was a Chinese hoax before alleging he never said that during a debate. He’s constantly lied about his wealth that we’re not even sure how much he makes. He’s promised to release his tax returns but still hasn’t. He denied mocking a reporter with a disability when there’s a video showing him doing just that. He said Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the JFK assassination. He denied telling America to “check out [the] sex tape” of former Miss Universe Alicia Machado. He promised to get behind a healthcare bill that covered everyone, lowered deductibles, and avoided Medicaid cuts. But he endorsed the American Healthcare Act which does the opposite on all 3 counts.  It’s widely reported that Trump lies all the time that we just assume it whenever he opens his mouth or is on his Twitter feed.

Another reason is that what’s changed between January is that in March, Comey revealed the FBI is investigating whether Trump’s campaign or associates colluded with Russia during the 2016 election. Two days after his testimony, CNN reported that “the FBI has information that indicates associates of President Donald Trump communicated with suspected Russian operatives to possibly coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.” And that the information came from “human intelligence, travel, business and phone records, and accounts of in-person meetings.” Though CNN’s reporters cautioned the info “was not conclusive,” the FBI was pointing in a direction it could implicate Trump officials. Had the bureau actually found hard proof that the Trump campaign had coordinated with the Russians, it would’ve been the kind of scandal that topples a presidency. By early April, the FBI investigation into Russia had to form a special unit for it in Washington. Meanwhile, the House investigation had stalled thanks to Rep. Devin Nunes’s weird insistence on backing up Trump’s wild claims about Obama spying on him in Trump Tower. And the fact Nunes was chairing the investigative committee despite that he served on Trump’s campaign and transition team. At the same time, the Senate proceeded slowly due to being given only limited funding and staff. But it was to the point where senators publicly complained about the pace. So that left the FBI conducting the most serious investigation to Trump’s Russia ties by far. And it was one Congress or journalists couldn’t match. The bureau had money, trained investigators, and access to powerful surveillance tools. But most importantly, it had a director entirely behind the investigation. This is easily illustrated in a report from the New York Times. According to them, just days before Comey’s firing, the FBI director asked the Justice department “for a significant increase in resources for the bureau’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the presidential election, according to three officials with knowledge of his request.”

Since at least last spring, there have been ongoing allegations of Russian collusion with the Trump campaign. Vladimir Putin is no fan of western democracy and has repeatedly tried to show his people how it’s no better than any other government system. Trump has praised Putin on multiple occasions along with other authoritarian leaders. And there’s mounting evidence multiple members of Trump’s campaign and administration were in direct contact with Russian intelligence in the run up to the election. And several have lied about it. Trump’s association with Russia has been the center of a scandal he can never shake off. And his sudden decision to oust Comey ensures that the scandal will haunt the rest of Trump’s presidency and hopefully end it prematurely.

Recently a report from CNN states that the FBI’s Russia investigation is just heating up. Grand jury subpoenas were issued to associates of fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. They wrote, “Investigators have been looking into possible wrongdoing in how Flynn handled disclosures about payments from clients tied to foreign governments including Russia and Turkey.” We should also account that President Barack Obama and former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates had warned Trump about Flynn well in advance. We all know that Flynn was fired for lying about his contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Now Flynn has sought immunity from prosecution (which he didn’t get) as it became clear he accepted money from the Russian and Turkish governments without properly disclosing it. Trump’s son-in-law and Senior White House aide Jared Kushner also held undisclosed meetings with Kislyak during the transition period and only made them public a few months later. Even more disturbing, then Attorney General designate Jeff Sessions lying under oath during his confirmation hearings. He told lawmakers he had no interactions with the Russian government. Only it turned out he had held conversations with Kisylak so he promised to recuse himself from the FBI investigation. Well, sort of. Because Sessions recommended that Trump fire Comey.

For a president to fire the FBI director looking into him and his associates, it’s natural to question about a cover-up. Nevertheless, Trump has repeatedly denounced the Russia story as “fake news.” He was reportedly very angry when Sessions recused himself from any investigations into the 2016 election in early March. Less than 24 hours before firing Comey, he apparently called the investigation of or hearings on the subject a “taxpayer funded charade,” and asked when it would “end.” In the letter in which he fired Comey, Trump stated that: “I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation. I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau.” It’s obvious he intended to shield himself from cover-up allegations.

A report from Politico states that Trump “had grown enraged by the Russia investigation, two advisers said, frustrated by his inability to control the mushrooming narrative around Russia.” According to an adviser, Trump, “repeatedly asked aides why the Russia investigation wouldn’t disappear and demanded they speak out for him. He would sometimes scream at television clips about the probe.” Several other people familiar with the events said that Trump “had talked about the firing for more than a week, and the [Justice Department] letters were written to give him a rationale for firing Comey.” Now this makes a lot more sense than what the administration said. Jake Tapper from CNN quoted a “source close to Comey” claiming the FBI director was fired for refusing to provide Trump “with any assurance of personal loyalty,” and because the bureau’s Russia investigation wasn’t going away but “accelerating.” And two New York Times reporters stated that on the day before the firing Trump, “told people around him that he wanted Mr. Comey gone, repeatedly questioning Mr. Comey’s fitness for the job and telling aides there was ‘something wrong’ with him.”

Trump has a long history of covering stuff up. It’s easy to presume the real reason behind Comey’s firing had something to do with the ongoing Russia investigation. However, we don’t really know that. Nevertheless, over the years, despite never facing a serious criminal investigation, he’s repeatedly bumped against one. Mostly because Trump has been able to use his money, power, and celebrity to get away with stuff that would’ve landed someone else in jail. So it’s no surprise he’d use his presidential powers to obstruct and subvert justice. All his life, Trump has gone to great lengths to avoid taking responsibility for his actions. He has viciously retaliated when anyone challenges him on them. And he has often rationalized them, often by blaming the victim. He seems to have been mixed up with the Mafia. His casinos have paid civil fines for evading money laundering rules. He’s been involved in empty box tax scams. Not to mention, he may have committed criminal tax evasion with his Trump Foundation. It’s possible Comey’s firing could’ve had something to do with Russia. But the FBI could’ve easily found some totally unrelated criminal misconduct. Or that Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns has nothing to do with Russian bribes or blackmail. What we do know is that Trump appears covering something up. We’re not exactly sure what it is. But it sure seems like something big and important. Since all the evidence seems to paint a very clear picture of a president deciding to fire an FBI director to obstruct an ongoing investigation before stitching together a shaky justification for doing so. In short, Trump fired Comey out of self-preservation which is consistent with everything else he’s done all his life.

Nevertheless, Comey’s firing was among 3 instances where Trump fired major Justice Department officials who served in the Obama administration. In his first 4 months in office, President Pussygrabber has fired the acting attorney general, asked 46 US attorneys to resign, and dismissed the director of the FBI. Some of these moves don’t seem unusual, at least in isolation. But take them together and it raises the question whether Trump has been trying to impede investigations into himself or his associates through muscling out independent actors in the Justice Department. Shortly after he was sworn in Trump fired Acting Attorney General Sally Yates for refusing to defend his travel ban in court. Though this move was unusual, it was aimed at someone who’d eventually leave her post once Jeff Sessions was confirmed. Yet, Trump would call her “an Obama Administration appointee who is weak on borders and very weak on illegal immigration” who “betrayed the Department of Justice.” Not to mention, Yates had given Trump’s White House counsel Doug McGahn a disturbing briefing warning that then-National Security adviser Michael Flynn was, “potentially vulnerable to Russian blackmail.”

In March, Trump asked for resignations from 46 US attorneys held over from the Obama years. In case you don’t know, these people are powerful DOJ law enforcement officials in their states and districts with a tradition of acting mostly independently. Yet, there’s a precedent for a new president to replace all his predecessor’s appointees though Trump has yet to nominate a single person for a US attorney post. But the firing of Preet Bharara stands out because Trump had asked him to stay on several months earlier and he refused to step down. ProPublica later revealed that Bharara had been investigating Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price’s stock trades. Even more interesting, the New York Times reported that the day before he asked the US attorneys to resign, Trump’s office placed an unusual call to Bharara’s office for a call back. According to the report, Bharara reviewed Justice Department protocol and decided it wouldn’t be appropriate to return Trump’s call. Bharara suspects something weird going on, sending cryptic sounding tweets. One of these referred to the “Moreland Commission” which New York Governor Andrew Cuomo created to investigate state politics and hastily shut down as part of a political deal. Now Bharara was unanimously confirmed by the US Senate as US attorney was one of “the nation’s most aggressive and outspoken prosecutors of public corruption and Wall Street crime.” His tenure as the US attorney for the Southern District of New York prosecuted nearly 100 Wall Street executives for insider trading and other offenses. Hell, he was even speculated as a potential candidate for attorney general. Nevertheless, Bharara has sworn that serving as US attorney was “the greatest honor of my professional life” and that “one hallmark of justice is absolute independence, and that was my touchstone every day that I served.” However, the fact he operated on Trump’s home turf and possibly angered many of his donors probably had something to do with his firing.

But Trump’s firing of Comey is different since it’s the move with the least precedent and justification. The FBI director is a nonpartisan appointee who serves a 10 year term. Recent new presidents usually keep their predecessors’ FBI directors on as Trump said he’d keep Comey on, too. The only recent firing of an FBI director was in 1993 over alleged financial misdeeds. Democrats and Republicans alike may have dealt intense criticism to him over his handling on the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation. But by January, he seemed to have all that behind him as Trump had told him he’d keep his post. Nevertheless, Comey’s ouster calls the independence of the US’s top law enforcement institutions into serious question, which is deeply troubling. Even Democrats deeply critical of Comey’s handling of Clinton’s e-mails have reacted in horror since he was clearly independent of Trump. And like Bharara and Yates, was highly regarded for his work. With his and earlier two firings, Trump has sent an unmistakable message to the Justice Department and other law enforcement officials refusing to toe the White House line may not keep their jobs for long.

Democrats have good reason to compare the Comey firing to the biggest political scandal: Watergate. If you’re American, Watergate has a singular resonance that nearly every scandal eventually has a “-gate” added to its name. And they’re quick to call to create the position that ultimately led to Richard Nixon’s downfall: a special prosecutor with broad investigative powers and the freedom to follow evidence without needing congressional approval. Massachusetts Senator Edward Markey remarked that the Comey firing was “disturbingly reminiscent of the Saturday Night Massacre during the Watergate scandal and the national turmoil it caused.” What Markey describes is when Nixon tried to kneecap a dangerous investigation into his own wrongdoing. In October 1973, special prosecutor Archibald Cox issued a subpoena ordering Nixon to turn over copies of taped conversations in the Oval Office. Nixon refused before ordering Attorney General Elliot L. Richardson to fire him. Richardson refused and resigned in protest. Nixon then gave the same order to Deputy Attorney General William D. Ruckelshaus who refused and also quit in protest. So Nixon turned to then-Solicitor General Robert Bork who agreed to do what the other two officials would not. After Cox was out, Nixon, according to the Washington Post, “also abolished the office of the special prosecutor and turned over to the Justice Department the entire responsibility for further investigation and prosecution of suspects and defendants in Watergate and related cases.”

And that’s where it becomes all the more relevant. It’s not just that Trump fired the guy charged with leading the explosive investigation into whether his campaign colluded with the Russians as Moscow searched for ways to ensure Hillary Clinton’s defeat. It’s that Trump is putting that investigation back into the hands of a Justice Department led by Jeff Sessions. Sessions’s own ties to Russia and his own lies about them make him spectacularly unfit for any role in determining the Trump-Russia investigation’s future course or who’d be leading it. And we all know that Trump won’t let the executive branch investigate his own and his associates’ actions. By ousting Comey and putting FBI and Justice Department independence into question, Trump has given employees potential motivations to leak further in an administration already plagued by damaging anonymous leaks from intelligence agencies and law enforcement already. And those leaks could have serious consequences. After all, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s famous source Deep Throat turned out to be a high-ranking FBI agent.

Yet, when Nixon tried to curb the Watergate investigation through firing Justice Department officials, it led to bipartisan backlash. A new special prosecutor was appointed who seriously pursued the matter, a congressional investigation moved forward, and it all ended with Nixon’s resignation in order to what seemed like certain impeachment. But back then there were principled Republicans like Ruckelhaus, Richardson, John Dean, and Senator Howard Bakker who put country over party and acted with courage and honor. The political system has considerably changed since 40 years ago, especially in the Republican Party. Whether serious investigations into Trump will continue depends on a large part on how congressional Republicans act since they control the House and Senate. But now we have Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan who Trump is unfit for office but won’t act. So far for the most part, they’ve been willing and eager to try to defend Trump and shield him from potentially damaging investigations. Though several Republican senators did criticize him the night of the firing and the party can come under increased pressure to create a special bipartisan committee investigating either Comey’s ouster or the Russia scandal.

Still, despite everyone demanding for a special prosecutor and that the next FBI director be independent and impartial, it would be naïve to think that the Republican Party cared about the integrity of American government institutions to force Trump into complying with some basic ethics guidelines and undertake meaningful financial disclosures. But we should remember that this is the same party that blocked Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court during the Obama administration because they didn’t want the highest court in the land to flip Democrat after Antonin Scalia’s sudden demise. In the Trump administration, we have Ivanka Trump hawking a book from inside the West Wing and nobody having any clue what kind of sweetheart deals corporations or foreign governments with business before the US government are striking with the Trump Organization. And in exchange for turning a blind eye towards Trump’s corruption, Republicans get a slate of conservative judges, a solid roster of business-friendly regulators, and if they’re lucky, a giant tax cut for the rich and millions cut off from Medicaid benefits and Obamacare exchanges. Nevertheless, the price is obvious. The deeper you get in bed with Trump, the more tightly your fate is intertwined with his. And keep in mind, that last week, House Republicans had a big party at the White House for passing a profoundly malicious healthcare bill nobody wanted. But whether Republicans will continue sucking up to Trump or put nation over party remains to be seen. Nevertheless, a reporter from Marketwatch has said that McConnell and Ryan won’t do their jobs out of fear that exercising their duty could rile up Trump’s supporters, which may cost them their power. And because of their fear of the mob, they enable Trump’s narcissism, incompetence, corruption, and contempt for the Constitution and the American people.

It’s clear Comey’s firing doesn’t seem to faze Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who’s said he doesn’t see any need for a special prosecutor or an independent commission to review Russia’s influence on the 2016 election. He also implied that calls for another investigation were “partisan” arguing that Democrats should be in favor of Trump’s decision. Sure Dems have bemoaned how Comey handled Hillary Clinton’s e-mail probe. But not to the degree that they wanted him fired, least of all by Trump. And it’s especially the case since he was the man investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election as well as seemed to be among the few who could’ve truly held Trump accountable. Besides, several congressional Republicans are now beginning to question the timing and rationale behind Comey’s firing, too. Senator John McCain said in a statement, “I have long called for a special congressional committee to investigate Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. The president’s decision to remove the FBI director only confirms the need and the urgency of such a committee.” Senator Richard Burr tweeted, “I have found Director Comey to be a public servant of the highest order.” And that, “His dismissal further confuses an already difficult investigation by the Committee.” Not to mention, the Senate’s Trump/Russia investigation has started getting serious as the committee announced it’s issued a subpoena to former National Security adviser Flynn and demanded he turn over related documents. Committee Chair Burr and ranking member Senator Mark Warner have also declared they’d subpoena anyone else asked to produce documents but didn’t. And they’ve asked the now ousted Comey to testify. But as far as Republicans are concerned there is still a long way to go.

Yet, what’s certain is that replacing Comey with a well-qualified FBI director or continuing with existing congressional inquiries will not remedy the situation ousting him has put us in. We all know that Trump is going to replace Comey with a swamp crony and that congressional Republicans squabble amongst themselves over this for the time being. What’s needed is a separate investigation featuring sworn testimony from key players, subpoenas, and documents into why Comey was fired. But even so, it’s obviously clear Trump fired him in order to obstruct an ongoing investigation. America can’t afford to have Republican leaders protecting and defending Trump again and again. Even they know he’s a thoroughly unfit, corrupt, dangerous, and unrespectable man. Even if their party does benefit from his horrible leadership, their stance to stick by him as long as they get what they want is profoundly troubling as well as sets a terrible example for the country. And it’s especially the case if what they want is a maliciously cruel healthcare plan nobody else wants that would cut healthcare access from millions of Americans and will result in many deaths if it becomes law. For the sake of the nation, congressional Republicans need to put their country and constituents first. Or else, his erratic ways will eventually drag them down with them. Though breaking with Trump might risk riling up his supporters, they should remember he is incredibly unpopular with record low approval ratings. So it’s best they reconsider before it’s too late, even if it does cost them their careers in the long-term. If they don’t, then the American people will certainly need different lawmakers to represent them. To let Trump get away with firing the guy investigating his and his associates Russia ties is morally indefensible and an unforgivable shame.

To the Honorable United States Representative Tim Murphy of the Pennsylvania 18th District

Note: I was going to e-mail this to my congressman on his website as a way to express my righteous indignation at his voting for the monstrosity known the American Healthcare Act. But since it’s rather long and the language is so colorful and direct, I thought it would be better to publish this piece on my blog and open to the public. Of course, this is probably not a good way to treat a US Congressman. However, in my defense, he pretty much deserves to be humiliated as much as any of the 217 Republican Congress responsible for passing this morally reprehensible bill. Even more so if that particular congressman is none other than House Speaker Paul Ryan. As a citizen, I believe it is our duty to hold any Republican who supported the AHCA accountable. Since I can’t write 217 blog posts for each GOP congress member who did, then I hope my piece to Murphy sets an example. A legislator voting to deny Americans healthcare is inherently unacceptable and there is no justification for it. People’s lives are at stake depending on whether it becomes law and we cannot let that happen. The AHCA is an absolute moral disgrace and any legislator who supported it must never live it down.

Dear Congressman Murphy:

I am writing to you to express my seething moral outrage and disgust on your vote in favor of the American Healthcare Act on May 4, 2017. You claim you voted but repeal the Affordable Healthcare Act in order to save Southwestern Pennsylvania. But in reality, you voted for a bill casting tens of millions of people off their health insurance, slash hundreds of millions from Medicaid, and send premiums through the roof for older and poorer Americans. The AHCA is a bill of unspeakable cruelty as well as a policy depicting nothing but appalling disdain for the human dignity among the most vulnerable and a flagrant violation of this nation’s ideals.

Voting in favor of such morally indefensible legislation virtually destroys your credibility among your constituents as their US representative. Your support for this bill expresses that you would put the interests of your party, your donors, and your career over those of the very people you were elected to represent. It absolutely horrifying that you could even think your vote in favor of the AHCA was your way of rescuing Southwestern Pennsylvania from the ACA when the AHCA is significantly worse. The AHCA is not an important first step to fixing our nation’s broken healthcare system. But it breaks it down even further by making healthcare even more unaffordable and inaccessible for Americans. And it undoes many of the ACA regulations and consumer protections that have significantly improved and increased healthcare coverage for millions of Americans. I understand that the ACA needs fixed since it does not lower healthcare prices nor cover everyone. However, any ACA replacement bill that does away with these protections as well as deny and worsen coverage for Americans like the AHCA is absolutely unacceptable. Your vote for the AHCA did not rescue Southwestern Pennsylvania. But instead you condemned and sold out Southwestern Pennsylvania. If this bill is ever made into law, people will die and blood will be on your hands.

Looking at your website, I see headlines of articles regarding your advocacy for people suffering from disabilities, drug addiction, and the mentally ill. Under the AHCA, states can apply for waivers to opt out of ACA regulations and protections, allowing insurance companies to deny the very care these people need. They can eliminate required coverage for mental health services, substance abuse treatment, and prescription drugs. They can offer policies with annual and lifetime limits. They can deny coverage to those with preexisting conditions like mental illness and disability. It even sabotages Medicaid which a lot of the people you claim to champion depend on. It is a disgrace that the Schizophrenia & Related Disorders Alliance of America recognized you as “Exceptional Legislator.” It is an appalling shame that the National Association of Psychiatric Health Systems recognized you as “Mental Health Champion.” Your vote for the AHCA was a profound betrayal to these people since they are among the most vulnerable in society. It is deeply cruel of you to call yourself their champion but are willing to throw them under the bus. Well, you can consider yourself their champion no longer. If you truly are, you would have vehemently opposed this legislative travesty in the first place. As a “Mental Health Champion,” you should have voted against it even at the expense of your career. Twenty-one of your fellow congressional Republicans were willing to do just that. Sure you may claim that you secured $15 billion for mental health and addiction treatment in the AHCA, but that is a very empty gesture. Nor does it shield anyone suffering from addiction or mental illness from being turned away from the very treatment they need. You have lost any semblance of credibility in order to be a “Mental Health Champion.” Now you are just another lapdog for the Trump administration.

I do not care what you believe in or why you voted for the American Health Care Act. What your views makes no difference to me, especially in matters of life or death. Even as a Republican congressman, your support for the American Healthcare Act is completely inexcusable on so many levels. As a lawmaker, you were charged with representing your constituents’ interests, which the AHCA completely goes against. Most Americans do not want it especially if it puts their healthcare access in jeopardy. Practically every organization in the medical establishment condemned it. The AHCA is a vicious piece of legislation threatening people’s access to healthcare which is irresponsible, inexcusable, and dangerous. This goes especially for an “Exceptional Legislator” and a “Mental Health Champion” like you, which you completely failed to live up to when voting for that morally indefensible bill. Twenty of your colleagues from your own party understood that, including four from Pennsylvania. They may not be in good shape in 2018 but they are significantly better people than you will ever be.

Whether you like it or not, your vote for the American Healthcare Act illustrates that you advocate a healthcare vision that demeans human life and is indifferent to human suffering. May you never be allowed to forget it and may you have to live with your vote for the AHCA for the rest of your days. I sincerely hope you are held responsible for what you have done, especially if the wretched bill becomes law. Let your name be dragged through the mud wherever you go. May the disabled, addicted, and mentally ill spit on you for selling them out. And may your constituents greet you with the anger and revulsion over your betrayal that you deserve. As my congressman, I have lost all respect for you and nothing else on your record could ever change that. There is nothing you can do to redeem yourself for not even Jesus could ever forgive what you did. If you have to support legislation threatening Americans’ access to affordable healthcare, then you are not worth the blood that flows in your veins.

A Letter on the American Health Care Act

The United States House of Representatives has just passed the phenomenally unpopular American Healthcare Act which is nothing but a complete travesty and a moral disgrace. The bill in question will repeal the Affordable Care Act as well as institute a healthcare policy that would take away or worsen coverage from millions of Americans, especially those on Medicaid and/or with preexisting conditions. In addition, the AHCA would allow states to apply for a waiver to opt out most of the regulations and consumer protections Obamacare gives. Under these waivers, states could allow insurance companies to charge older people 5 times more than the young for the same policy. They can eliminate required coverage called essential health benefits such as maternity care, mental health care, emergency services, hospitalization, preventive care, substance abuse treatment, and prescription drugs. And they can charge more or deny coverage to those with preexisting conditions like cancer, diabetes, or arthritis. Not to mention, these waivers can also impact those with employer-based health insurance because they’d allow insurers to offer policies with annual and lifetime limits that the ACA bans. And some companies may choose those policies for their workers to lower their premiums. Never have I seen any form of legislation emanating such disdain for the most vulnerable suffering among us. And what horrifies me more is that these 217 Republicans would proudly cast their vote for such appalling disrespect of human dignity. This is a moral outrage and there’s absolutely no justification for it. These 217 Republicans don’t deserve any respect or recognition as decent human beings. Because no principled legislator, Democrat or Republican, would vote for a horrendous bill like this or celebrate taking healthcare away from their constituents afterwards.

For Republicans to craft such policy in the first place is nothing but monstrous cruelty. So it goes without saying that the AHCA is a bill that nobody asked for and nobody wants. The whole healthcare industry and medical establishment virtually condemned it. Countless polls show that the overwhelming majority of Americans hate it for very good reasons. Experts tore it to shreds. But 217 Republicans voted to pass this wretched AHCA anyway despite such strong objections, including from their own constituents who elected them. Congressional Republicans just moved this travesty to the floor with no Congressional Budget Office Score, no committee hearings, no studies, and very few public discussions. It was all put to the floor in secrecy and haste. And Republicans tried to sell this bill with a campaign of flat-out lies and deceit. Cheeto Head has promised to cover everyone, even those who can’t afford healthcare. Republicans repeatedly promised that the AHCA would give Americans more choice and lower premiums and deductibles. Even House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy swore that nobody would have their Medicaid taken away from them. But they’ve opposed any specific healthcare plan that does these things and refuse to defend their policy outcome their actual position would bring about. What’s in the AHCA clearly reflects this.

I can’t think of anyone in their right mind who’d support this nightmare bill that is nothing but a disaster to all Americans. The American Healthcare Act is just a $1 trillion tax cut scheme to benefit their selfish donors who don’t want to pay for someone else’s medical treatment. But it’s a scheme that would cause tens of millions to lose coverage, slash hundreds of millions of dollars from Medicaid, and send premiums skyrocketing for older and poorer Americans. If it becomes law, the consequences will be absolutely devastating. The AHCA will kill significant numbers of Americans. Some will lose their Medicaid, won’t go to the doctor, and will wind up finding out too late that they’re sick. There will also be some whose serious conditions will put up against lifetime limits or render them unable to afford what’s on offer in the high-risk pools and suddenly can’t get treatment. Families will go bankrupt due to high medical bills. Such notions aren’t abstractions or exaggerations but the reality. To millions of Americans, whether the AHCA became law isn’t just a matter of politics or even morality. It’s a matter of life or death.

What the AHCA vote to pass it shows that 217 congressional Republicans don’t think their lives matter and are indifferent to their suffering. And it’s even worse that they celebrate their morally abominable actions with carts of booze and liquor rolling in to the chambers. Now they have blood on their hands. These people must be held to account as well their decision can and should be a career-defining vote for every member of the House. No congressman voting for such vicious legislation should ever be allowed to forget it. Angry and betrayed constituents should make their intensity and revulsion of what their representatives had done clear. And these reps should be challenged about it at every townhall meeting, at every campaign debate, in every election, and every day with letters and phone calls. Even if this malicious bill never becomes law and its potential harm averted, it still doesn’t excuse its supporters’ moral responsibility. The AHCA is one of the most critical moments of American history and an act of unspeakable cruelty that should haunt those who supported it to the end of their days.

As a Catholic, liberal, and American, I believe that healthcare is a fundamental human right that should be guaranteed for all. To me, a for-profit market healthcare system the United States currently has simply shouldn’t exist. Nobody should be denied healthcare, especially when they need it. To deny a sick person needed care for whatever reason is nothing short of discrimination at best and a human rights violation at worst. Your access to healthcare shouldn’t be determined by what job you have or whether you got one, how much money you make, whether you have a preexisting condition, whatever health plan you have, how sick you are, who your parents are, where you live, or whatever else. All Americans are entitled to seek the medical treatment they need without breaking the bank. And nobody should die for being denied a medical treatment that would’ve saved their life.

Unfortunately, much of the country doesn’t see it that way since the for-profit healthcare is what dominates the US medical system which I strongly believe is discriminatory, costly, and unsustainable. Though Obamacare has significantly expanded coverage for millions of Americans as well as achieved significant progress, there’s still a long way to go. It may not cover everyone nor is it perfect, but the fact it has improved and increased healthcare coverage for millions of Americans who’d otherwise wouldn’t have makes it worthy to uphold for the time being. If Obamacare should be repealed and replaced, then it might as well be in favor of a single payer system or at a plan that at least fixes its problems. Any healthcare plan that provides anything less is unacceptable. Any plan that takes coverage away from any Americans and makes healthcare even more unaffordable is morally reprehensible. And anyone in Congress who supports a healthcare plan like the AHCA doesn’t stand for their constituents’ interests. Sure they may not believe healthy people shouldn’t pay for sick people’s care. But such constructs are utterly indefensible when American lives are at stake. Besides, the idea of healthy people paying for the sick is how health insurance works. It’s not anyone’s fault for getting sick, injured, mentally ill, or having a disability. So why should they be punished for not pulling their weight if they can’t afford treatment? There’s no reason for it because they certainly don’t deserve to die.

As the American Healthcare Act moves to the Senate, the lives and futures of Americans are now at stake. People are deeply terrified of this bill becoming law. Regardless of party affiliation, the US Senate must do everything it can to make sure the AHCA dies and never becomes law. The fight for affordable healthcare in America isn’t a matter of political football. It’s a matter of life or death. To support the AHCA is to defend the indefensible. To threaten access to people’s healthcare is irresponsible, inexcusable, and dangerous. And it flagrantly violates our nation’s values. Clearly, Americans deserve a better healthcare plan than this utter monstrosity. And they deserve better representatives with the 217 Republicans who just sold their souls. There’s nothing decent about the AHCA and no lawmaker should ever vote for it. And its passage in the House of Representatives doesn’t reflect the will of the American people at all nor brings credit to our nation’s ideals. The last thing the United States needs right now is to return to the horrors of the pre-Obamacare system which the AHCA seeks to bring back. For the love of God, I plead to my fellow Americans to not have us go through that hell again. And if it becomes law, I will absolutely not stand for it. Enough is enough and we can’t allow this catastrophe. The AHCA must die for the sake of the nation. These are the times that try men’s souls as now is the winter of our discontent. And we do what we can until the AHCA is completely dead before it ever gets to Trump’s desk. Because if it gets there, we’re all fucked.

Why Do You Still Support This Unrespectable Man?

As President Cheeto Head approaches his first 100 days of his term, it is increasingly alarmingly clear that he is as much a disaster for the United States as I surmised. Already he has supported, devised, and enacted policies that go against everything I stand for as well as in the interests of most Americans. He has surrounded himself with an entourage of sycophants, billionaire backers, racist extremists, lobbyists, crooks, family members, incompetents, and general degenerates of every stripe. He has shamelessly abused his power and his position to enrich himself, his family, and his allies. He has used public funded resources to support his lavish lifestyle which includes having his wife and son at Trump Tower and weekends golfing at his Mar-a-Lago resort. He has constantly misled the American people with promises he never intends to keep by inflicting populist rhetoric, racist dog whistles, nostalgia, and outright lies onto his supporters. He has viciously retaliated against anyone who’s criticized or challenged him whether they be the media, celebrities, government officials, experts, or federal judges. He has made ethnic and religious minorities objects of anxiety, disdain, and fear through fostering politics of resentment and encouraged scapegoating. He has constantly embarrassed our nation with his very unpresidential behavior as well as stripped the American presidency of its integrity. He has praised and defended dictators who’ve suppressed civil liberties and committed atrocities against their own people. He has put Americans constantly on edge every time he makes a decision, signs an executive order, or just opens his mouth. And he has displayed a stunning amount of disrespect for democratic norms and values, constitutional rights, civil liberties, knowledge, culture, history, the truth, and any sense of common decency as well as everything what America greatness stands for. Throughout these 100 days, Trump’s presidency has deprived Americans the democratic luxury of not following politics with nerve-wracked constancy as well as a demoralizing daily fixation for anyone concerned with global security, the vitality of the natural world, the national health, civil rights, constitutionalism, public education, a free press, science, and the distinction between fact and its opposite.

What Donald Trump has done during his presidency during his first 100 days doesn’t surprise me since I took the time to extensively research about him during the 2016 Election campaign and know what kind of despicable fraud he is. But even before I set out finding more about him to write those 3 blog posts, I knew I couldn’t give him a chance. I cringed when he experienced spikes in popularity during the GOP primaries, especially after he attacked John McCain for being a prisoner of war and called Mexicans rapists, drug mules, and criminals. I wasn’t happy at all when he clinched the GOP nomination while I felt deeply distressed seeing Trump signs in my neighborhood and community. And I was absolutely furious, devastated, and betrayed when he won the presidency that I could only sleep 5 hours on Election night. Sure I may have underestimated him and doubted his chances of winning. Yet, it was mostly because I thought many of my fellow Americans would know better than to elect a grossly unqualified, petty, greedy, dishonest and despicable piece of shit without any principles. But I knew that a Trump presidency would spell disaster for the nation. To this day, I have no reason to trust him and there is nothing about him I can ever respect. Having to acknowledge Trump as President of the United States goes beneath my dignity for I consider that reality as unacceptable. Even now, I cannot bring myself to even respect the presidential office as long as President Pussygrabber remains in the White House. And I vehemently refuse to support him, obey him, accept him, normalize him, or give him any recognition of legitimacy. Not because of my liberal politics. But because I refuse to bow down to an authoritarian demagogue who cares nothing for the United States nor has any respect for basic facts or liberal democratic values.

Having to witness the Trump presidency play out on the news is akin to watching a circus perform within the burning ruins of a recently derailed train. It’s a ridiculous sight to watch that’s nonetheless distressing but you can’t look away from it. Since Trump first announced his run for the presidency in 2015, he’s dominated the news cycle and has been a constant media presence. At least when he was a candidate, there was considerable hope he’d quit or lose and everything would return to normal. But Trump’s election shattered that prospect and now there seems to be no end in sight. Since Trump was sworn in, not one day seems to go by when you hear about another outrage or embarrassment. Sometimes there’s an urge to normalize his juvenile outbursts, his blatant dishonesty and incompetence just so you can go through a news cycle or two without hearing about it. But at the same time you dread what fresh hell might come next. And it’s no help that his casual policy reversals come with alarming regularity. The only saving grace is that Trump remains deeply unpopular and hasn’t accomplished much of anything other than getting a conservative justice on the Supreme Court. But that saving grace still doesn’t dissuade the dread Trump will inflict mass carnage on a whim.

But what outrages me most about Trump’s first 100 days isn’t the scandals, the infighting, the leaks, the shows of incompetence, or the unending dread that Trump will do something reckless or support disastrous GOP policy. Nor how the Trump administration can be so blatant about breaches of ethics or see nothing wrong with clear abuses of power. Nor how the news mainstream media allows Trump dominate the news cycle each and every day. Rather it’s that so many Americans for whatever reason see nothing wrong with having Trump in the White House, especially within his own party. Back during the GOP primary, many Republicans spoke out against Trump with very convincing arguments. Once Trump won the party nomination, the GOP establishment surrendered their dignity and got behind him, though holdouts still remained. But after Trump got elected, even many of them started playing nice for whatever possible gain. Despite that Trump has refused to release his tax returns, has refused to divest from his businesses, has appointed his daughter and son-in-law as high-ranking White House advisers, and is now under FBI investigation on his ties in Russia. It is abundantly clear that Trump and his family are currently profiting from his presidency as we speak as multiple reports confirm that no meaningful separation between Trump and his businesses exist. Hell, the Secret Service has rented golf carts at his Mar-a-Lago resort for $35,000 and $64,000 in elevator services at Trump Tower. Had a Democratic president entered office with even a fraction of such unprecedented political corruption, congressional Republicans would be immediately conducting investigative hearings with a vengeance. Perhaps they’d even start impeachment proceedings in the process. But under the Trump administration, congressional Republicans have made it clear that there will be no investigations into any potential scandals as long as they run the show. Such inaction is inexcusable since his conflicts of interest are no secret to the American public. Nor are his business ties to Russia and other nations with questionable human rights records. By refusing to investigate Trump’s business ties for whatever reason (like enacting partisan legislation to benefit corporate donors and win reelection), congressional Republicans are basically letting Trump get away with this shit, which is in flagrant violation of the Emoluments Clause in the US Constitution.

We need to be aware that corruption changes policy and not always for the better. Sure Ivanka can easily secure business deals with China and Japan which will improve their relations with the US. The Trump family has business interests in the Persian Gulf and Hamster Hair’s foreign policy puts the United States in much closer alignment with the Gulf monarchies, including deeper involvement in a disastrous war with Yemen and abandonment of any pretense giving a damn about human rights in Egypt. Yet, there’s an article from The Intercept has reported, “[a]ssociates of Donald Trump in Indonesia have joined army officers and a vigilante street movement linked to ISIS in a campaign that ultimately aims to oust the country’s president.” This movement includes current and former army officers trying to evade accountability for past crimes during Indonesia’s time as a military dictatorship, but also “Hary Tanoe, Trump’s primary Indonesian business partner, who is building two Trump resorts, one in Bali and one outside Jakarta.” Under any normal presidential administration, many would assume that American attitudes towards civil strife in Indonesia as primarily driven by policy considerations and not by the president’s personal financial interests. Under the Trump administration, we no longer have that assurance.

However, the fact Republican politicians haven’t been doing their job of adequately representing their constituents isn’t too surprising. After all, it was the Republican senators who threatened a government shutdown over Obamacare and refused to hold confirmation hearings for Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland after the death of Antonin Scalia. Not to mention, the fact they’re in power means that we won’t see any meaningful federal legislation in the American people’s best interest anytime soon. Hell, they’re against policies many of their own voters support like Obamacare, raising the minimum wage, and net neutrality. But it’s amazingly disturbing how Republicans’ support for Trump has led them to abandon their values and standards. And it’s even more distressing how they’ve constantly excused his morally reprehensible behavior.

Yet, I’m also pissed off at the very people who supported him for whatever reason. To support Trump in any capacity means accepting the unacceptable, excusing the inexcusable, tolerating the intolerable, and justifying the unjustifiable. If you still think that Trump is doing a good job, then you think it’s perfectly fine for a US president to have ongoing conflicts of interests and a history of mind boggling corruption scandals. Or that overt racism and xenophobia, sexual assault allegations, pathological dishonesty, sociopathy, avoidance of responsibility, or a profound ignorance of how government works doesn’t disqualify one from the presidency. Yet, to support him regardless of what he does and what harm he brings to your life is simply pathetic. For the love of God, where the hell is your self-respect? Can’t you see that he’s conning you?  You may think he speaks the truth but in reality he just stokes your prejudice against minorities and appeals to your rose-tinted version of the past. You may think he deserves a chance to lead but I know you wouldn’t want him around in your neighborhood. And you know he sets a very poor example to children. But why support this unrespectable man when you have absolutely no good reason to? Why put your trust in a total fraud? You may not disapprove of him now, but you better start. And you better stop supporting him. Because a Trump presidency should never be acceptable to anyone in any capacity or under any circumstance. I don’t care if he abides by your politics or you think he can give you what you want. He’s an unrespectable man who deserves nothing but your contempt. Not to mention, his flagrant abuse of power, his disregard for facts, his disrespect for the Constitution and American values, his lack of moral principles, his gross incompetence, and his authoritarian demagoguery could pose a threat to American democracy as we know it. If you still approve of Trump after these 100 days, then I strongly urges you to come to your senses. To approve of Trump is to enable him and possibly embolden others to commit atrocities against their fellow countrymen. To give Trump any legitimacy is to let him walk all over you and your fellow Americans. And to entrust him to lead the nation just makes no sense. You have nothing to gain from supporting Trump who will bring you nothing but a string of disappointment, broken promises, and a world misery. You deserve a better president than this piece of shit who neither understands nor cares what you’re going through. And America deserves a leader who embodies America at its best, instead of at its worst.

Hands Off My PBS and NPR: Why We Still Need Public Broadcasting

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Established by the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting has ensured universal access to non-commercial, high quality content, and telecommunications services. And does so by distributing more than 70% of its funding to more than 1,300 locally owned public radio and television stations along with the Public Broadcasting Service and National Public Radio. The CPB is part of our nation’s commitment to ensuring culture, learning, and the arts are available to all Americans.

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This cartoon from the Indianapolis Star shows Trump slashing the Corporation for Public Broadcasting from the federal budget. And here we see horrified Sesame Street muppets look on.

This March, President Cheetohead unveiled his federal budget plan proposing to ax the federal funding from several government programs, including the CPB. The reason? According to Trump budget director Mick Mulvaney, “When you start looking at places that we reduce spending, one of the questions we asked was can we really continue to ask a coal miner in West Virginia or a single mom in Detroit to pay for these programs? The answer was no. We can ask them to pay for defense, and we will, but we can’t ask them to continue to pay for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.” His justification to cut public broadcasting in order to increase defense spending by $54 billion makes absolutely no sense. The CPB receives about an annual $485 million from the federal government, consisting of about .00006% of the federal budget. By contrast, annual US defense spending is about $500-$600 billion, consisting of half the federal budget at least (estimated). Yet, Mulvaney also has the audacity and the stupidity to state that we can’t ask a West Virginia coal miner or a Detroit single mom whether we can keep funding public broadcasting programs. It’s like he thinks that public broadcasting plays no role in ordinary Americans’ day to day lives. Does he have any idea parents and children are a key demographic for shows like Sesame Street? Or that PBS Kids is the only educational resource for 3- and 4-year-olds whose parents can’t afford sending them to preschool? And that local public stations may be the only source of free local news and programming in many rural areas? Or when West Virginia’s governor proposed cutting state funding to its public media from its budget, only to change his mind afterwards? Besides, it only costs the average American $1.35 each year for it. People have paid more for overdue library books for God’s sake. And given PBS and NPR’s penchant to air quality program that have been on for years, I consider it an investment well spent. Thus, I think asking single moms and coal miners to pay for public broadcasting is fairly reasonable. Of course, I may be a little biased since I watch PBS on a regular basis because I’d rather watch intellectually stimulating shows than meaningless crap. And I will defend PBS and NPR with my life. But don’t take my word for it since 73% of all Americans oppose cutting federal funding for the CPB including 83% of Democrats and 60% of Republicans.

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On May 1, 1969, Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood would testify before a US Senate committee to defend funding for public broadcasting. His words about how his show benefits young kids still echoes today. Since he’s from Latrobe and his show was based in WQED Pittsburgh, he holds a special place in my area as a local legend.

Critics of public broadcasting often view NPR as a liberal media hotbed and PBS as an obsolete relic of a bygone age. Republicans in particular, don’t think that the federal government should support public broadcasting even if it’s funding represents a miniscule fraction of the federal budget. They believe that we should let the market decide whether it wants science, arts, or music. Besides, if you want quality educational and cultural programming, then cable should be quite sufficient since you have whole channels devoted to education and culture. Or so they say. However, Americans should view their public broadcasting system as a national treasure since it provides a vital public service for local communities as well as the nation. As a media outlet, public broadcasting provides educational and high quality programming for all Americans. Without it, the United States would be a far worse off place. So much that disgraced four-star general Stanley McChrystal called cutting public media for increased military spending, “a false choice.” Nevertheless, American taxpayers pay only a small investment in public broadcasting that pays out big dividends in a way that’s indispensable to society. And as McChrystal said, it should be pitted against the spending more in improving our military. Not to mention, many viewers would miss out on all the intellectual and educational richness public media has to offer. Thus, if Trump should kill public broadcasting, America loses. Because public broadcasting is part of what makes America great. To eliminate federal funding for the CPB would be catastrophic to public broadcasting, especially where local stations rely on CPB funds. And I give you the following reasons why federal funding for PBS and NPR is worth protecting.

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A lot of these educational cable networks may have started off with high quality programming. But they later degenerated into airing crap in order to appeal to a larger 18-34 audience and sponsors. As you can see from these charts, it tells you what The Science Channel, National Geographic Channel, the Discovery Channel, and the History Channel air nowadays.

Most attempts at providing quality educational and cultural programming to cable television have failed.– Out of all the cable stations providing quality educational and cultural programming, only Turner Classic Movies and the Smithsonian Channel continue to do so 24/7. Other channels like National Geographic and the Weather Channel can also have educational content. But they can also feature a lot of crap. Nevertheless, there was a time when cable had a real chance of replacing PBS, but that was back in the early days. We should remember that the Discovery Channel, A&E, The History Channel, and TLC were created to provide such programming. A&E stood for Arts and Entertainment as well as used to show content relating to arts, dance, theater, history, literature, and nature. TLC once stood for The Learning Channel which used to feature science and nature documentaries and was co-owned by NASA. The Discovery Channel also featured science programming while the History Channel broadcasted documentaries on history. Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, conservatives could use networks like TLC, A&E, the Discovery Channel, and the History Channel, to argue that we don’t need PBS anymore. Nowadays, try to argue that point and all you get is a room full of obnoxious laughter. Today you will find that A&E is best known for airing Duck Dynasty, Dog, the Bounty Hunter, and Love Prison. TLC’s programming centers around trashy reality shows exploiting toddler beauty pageants, obese people, people who need therapy, and families who don’t mind putting children in the spotlight. The Discovery Channel may still have Shark Week but they feature reality shows like Amish Mafia and Naked and Afraid. As for the History Channel, well, basically they’ve devoted timeslots to reality shows as well as programming featuring pseudoscience and conspiracy theories. PBS, meanwhile, still shows the same type of programming throughout its existence at the same quality. So why did these cable networks departed so far from their original programming concepts while PBS didn’t? Mostly because these cable networks are for-profit businesses that exist to make money. Many times a cable channel’s management might add shows they feel that a larger audience wants to see, leading to additional profits. And by producing irrelevant or low-quality programming, they can increase their ratings to a target audience, increase viewership, and increase revenues. This is a process known as Network Decay or Channel Drift. The degree of channel drift may vary with some nonconforming programming retaining some degree of association with the channel’s original purpose like Pawn Stars on the History Channel. Yet, other programming may have no association whatsoever such as whatever you see on TLC. PBS, by contrast, primarily exists to provide programming of social benefit to their viewers that may not be commercially viable to the mass market like public affairs shows, documentaries, and educational shows. Many have been on the air for years, if not decades. In fact, one of the principles of public broadcasting is to provide coverage for interests for which there are missing or small markets. Quality educational and cultural programming would usually fit the bill. PBS’s non-profit status allows them to do so while not being obligated to appeal to the lowest common denominator, advertisers, or profits. Furthermore, PBS relies on government and private funding sources because it strives for the kind of independence in order to fulfill its educational and cultural mission to the public.

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In 2013, WNET New York released a series of ads of fake reality shows both on posters and in commercials. This was at a time when reality shows were very popular. Nevertheless, Bayou Eskimos is probably as realistic as Duck Dynasty or Amish Mafia. But since a lot of cable networks many thought would replace PBS now have hours of reality shows, I think it shows a lot about our culture.

Just because a TV show is commercially viable, doesn’t mean it’s good.– As much as I hate reality shows, I have to concede that networks find them particularly attractive. They’re relatively cheap to produce than a scripted series as well as is often said to be more authentic and engaging to viewers. Reality shows were very popular among audiences during my adolescence with the primary demographic being teenagers and young adults. Sponsors like them since they provide an opportunity for product placement, giving more time to market their products. However, reality shows aren’t quality entertainment as well as be rather exploitative and offensive regardless of popularity. Nor do they reflect “reality” as we know it since such shows use a lot of behind the scenes trickery. Yet, popular reality shows seldom ever get cancelled. Nevertheless, we need to understand that popularity among the masses doesn’t translate into quality. As a writer who enjoys old movies, I understand this concept incredibly well. Not every bestseller becomes a literary classic. And not every box office hit will be held as a cinematic masterpiece. Trash culture has always existed whether it be porn, penny dreadfuls, pulp novels, exploitation films, B-movies, and reality shows. Each generation has its own form of mindless entertainment. Nevertheless, the fact channels like A&E, TLC, the Discovery Channel, and the History Channel switched from their educational programming to sleazy entertainment demonstrates how some good quality shows aren’t always commercially viable. Many of the shows PBS airs like Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, NOVA, Nature, and others wouldn’t have a chance on other channels. Nor would they be able to otherwise compete what’s available on other channels if it weren’t for PBS. For example, when Fred Rogers addressed the US Senate in 1969, he’d say that he knew his haircut decision could excite kids once he was in front of them. But he also knew it would be hard to compete for their attention as on-screen violence and special effects became ever more present outside public media. He also talked about how watching two men working through their emotions is much more important, relevant, and dramatic than guns firing. Cable channels may air marketable content but it doesn’t mean such shows are good.

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While the federal government provides some of the CPB’s funding, most of it comes from private along with state and local government sources. And it is because public broadcasting receives money from a variety of public and private sources that it’s able to air quality programming and exist as an independent non-profit entity.

Public broadcasting is not beholden to anyone but its mission and its viewership.– While public broadcasters may receive some funding from state and local governments, most financial support comes from underwriting from foundations and businesses ranging from small shops to corporations, along with audience contributions via pledge drives. They may rely on advertisers, but not to the same degree as commercial broadcasters or at all. Nor are they owned or operated by the government either. Rather many owned by non-profit groups affiliated with a local school district, a college, a non-profit organization, or by state or local government agencies. Stations receiving CPB funds must meet certain requirements such as the maintenance or provision of open meetings, open financial records, a community advisory board, equal employment opportunity, and lists of donors and political activities. And most of PBS’s national programming is produced by member stations, particularly WPGH Boston, WNET New York, and WETA Washington providing most of them. Though my local PBS station WQED Pittsburgh produced the iconic Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. NPR also broadcasts content from national providers like Public Radio International or American Public Radio. Yet, they also can air from other stations as well. For instance, the celebrated “Car Talk” was produced by WBUR-FM Boston while Minnesota Public Radio brings “A Prairie Home Companion.” Nevertheless, PBS is a great station for those who would rather teach lessons and enrich minds than make money. As long as it’s quality programming benefitting the public, PBS doesn’t care much about ratings as it does about access and viewers like you.

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Though kid shows exist on commercial networks, they often don’t alleviate parents’ and teachers’ worries since they may show violence, teach terrible lessons, and advertise junk food. PBS shows like Sesame Street have a great reputation since they aim to put kids’ interests first. And the fact parents and young children enjoy this show so much over the years has made it one of the most beloved on TV.

What’s good for the market isn’t always what people want.– Despite what public media opponents may say, there is a demand for educational and cultural programming no matter how small that may be. While networks like A&E, TLC, the Discovery Channel, and the History Channel weren’t as commercially viable while airing such programs, they did have an audience. When they embarked on the long road through network decay, that audience abandoned them. Nevertheless, a classic example of this is in children’s programming. Though commercial networks often air kid shows as well, parents and teachers have often expressed concern on what children watch on them. The fact cartoons can depict violence while sponsors air ads possibly promoting unhealthy eating habits doesn’t help. But above all parents and teachers worry whether kids are learning the right lessons from the stuff they watch. By contrast, PBS’s educational mission and commercial free programming earns a lot of trust from parents and teachers in regards to children’s TV in preparing them for lifelong learning. Not to mention, public broadcasting often puts kids’ best interests first. Of course, most of their kids’ programming aims for young children. But in a way it makes sense, since early childhood is a very vulnerable age where fostering a lifelong love of learning is vital. And a lot of them aren’t yet in school. Besides, most of PBS’s adult shows are usually appropriate for children anyway. Schools frequently show a lot of PBS documentaries and the network’s website often features lesson plans to go with them. After all, airing shows like Nova, Nature, and the occasional Ken Burns documentary should inspire kids to value learning and make a difference. PBS and NPR also provide news coverage from local events to international affairs and with as little bias as possible. Public radio stations even feature music like jazz, classical, and indie music you might not find on other radio channels. We should also account that PBS currently ranks #6 among all broadcast and cable networks for primetime household ratings, is watched by 82% of American households, and a monthly audience of over 95 million.

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This is a diagram of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s operating budget from 2014. As you can see most of it goes to supporting local TV and radio stations. Many of these are in impoverished rural areas and serve as the only source for local news and other services.

Local NPR and PBS affiliates put local audiences first.– As of 2015, PBS maintains current memberships of 354 stations across encompassing 50 states, the District of Columbia, and 4 US possessions. This gives PBS the distinction as the only TV broadcaster in the United States, commercial or non-commercial with station partners in every US state. By contrast, none of the 5 major commercial broadcast networks has affiliates in certain states where PBS has members with the most significant example being New Jersey. PBS’s estimated reach is 93.74% of all US households (or 292,926,047 Americans with at least one set). Along with national programming like Nova, Nature, Frontline, and Antiques Roadshow, local PBS stations also air a lot of locally produced content they probably wouldn’t see anywhere else. My local PBS station WQED Pittsburgh has aired locally produced documentaries, cooking shows, and film shorts. WQED has also hosted local forums on local issues as well as debates in important statewide election races. In rural areas, local PBS stations serve an important role in their communities that larger state and even national outlets can’t replace. For these residents, their PBS station might be the only place to see their county fair or their neighbors talking about their WWII service. They may also support local initiatives regarding education, adult literacy, and workplace development. In some areas, their public broadcast station might be the only source of news, entertainment, and emergency broadcast service available. And a lot of their poorer residents can’t even afford cable. Since many of these areas don’t have wealthy members like Pittsburgh’s WQED and WESA do, their rural stations rely on government funding for support. Even in the most conservative areas of the country, people usually have high esteem for their public broadcast stations which they might see as a neighbor or friend. And these stations often benefit their communities tremendously.

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From its debut in 1975, the PBS NewsHour has earned a reputation for excellence in its in-depth coverage on issues and current events. And it’s one of PBS most popular shows as one of the closest to a truly objective news source on the media landscape.

More people trust PBS and NPR than most government and media institutions. – In a nation where public trust in American institutions are on the decline such as the government and the media, PBS and NPR have consistently ranked as among the most trusted. Sure your local PBS and NPR stations won’t cover local sports, weather, and crime, but their commitment to viewers, listeners, and their mission has considerably helped their reputation. Not to mention, both PBS and NPR are among the only media outlets to have high public trust among Americans across all demographics as well as the political spectrum. Though both PBS and NPR have been criticized for showing liberal bias, most can at least name something they like about either. For instance, whenever conservatives criticize PBS and NPR, it usually has more with their national news content than anything. Though it’s not all they do. And there are plenty of conservatives who might think NPR is liberal but would certainly riot if you did anything to their public radio station. Parents and teachers trust PBS have consistently rated PBS as the #1 educational media brand for kids under 18 in the nation for very good reason. Hell, the American Academy of Pediatrics pointed to PBS Kids as a leading resource for educational programming. After all, PBS Kids puts greater emphasis on quality over quantity. As for news, PBS has highly acclaimed programs like the News Hour and Frontline. NPR is currently the most trusted news source in the nation with an audience that doesn’t just consist of white college educated liberals. Furthermore, PBS and NPR have been the only media outlets reporting on climate change during the 2016 election. PBS’s news programming has won 14 News and Documentary Emmys in 2016 which is more than any other organization. And Frontline took 7, which is more than any other individual series.

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PBS plays an especially critical role in educating young children, particularly those in low-income families unable to afford preschool. Without it, there would be no way for many children to prepare for kindergarten.

PBS is highly committed educating all children, especially those most at risk. – As a public station, PBS strives to make sure all Americans have access to free, evidence-based, high quality, and educational programming. Nowhere is their mission more important than in their kid shows that they added the PBS Kids channel available for everyone. As a result, PBS Kids reaches more young children and more kids from low-income families than any other children’s TV network. On air, PBS Kids attracts higher proportions of minority and low-income homes. Whereas more than 2/3 of children from 2-8 watch PBS. Not only that, but PBS also provides over 120,000 Pre-K-12 digital resources along with more than 1.8 million users with registered access to PBS Learning Media. Recent studies confirm that 9 out of 10 parents use PBS Kids resources for school preparedness while three-quarters say their kid engages in more positive behavior and higher critical thinking skills after engaging with the network. PBS Kids programming provides a vital service in school readiness to more than half of America’s 3-4 year-olds who don’t have the opportunity to attend preschool. For these children, PBS Kids is the only source of educational media content supporting school readiness which could boost their long-term educational opportunities. Such PBS Kids content supports a whole child ecosystem addressing core needs such as social-emotional learning, math, engineering, literacy, and science. And early childhood education is absolutely crucial in life that PBS understands. For older children, PBS and member stations have partnered for the “American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen” initiative. This program brings public media together with key community stakeholders to help students stay on the path to on-time high school graduation and future success. This partnership consist of PBS stations in over 30 states partnered with more than 1,400 community leaders, local organizations, and schools to help students succeed from Pre-K to high school graduation and beyond. Not to mention, PBS Learning Media includes content from award winning shows like Nova, Nature, American Experience, and Frontline that educators and parents could access at any time. PBS’s commitment to educating children of all ages has made the network absolutely essential.

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Cutting funding for PBS and NPR won’t free up a lot of money for military spending. But a United States without public broadcasting wouldn’t be a nice place to live. PBS and NPR have informed, educated, and inspired people as well s made our nation smarter, stronger, and safer. There are so many stories from viewers on how public media has made a positive impact in their lives. The fact Trump and his swamp cronies are willing to eliminate the CPB really illustrates how he values American greatness and values. Like not at all.

Public broadcasting creates makes Americans better citizens. – Though providing early childhood education and molding young children to be intellectually curious, empathetic, and prepared for school and life, it’s only one of the ways PBS enriches people’s lives. Unlike commercial TV stations, PBS treats its viewers as citizens instead of simply consumers as well as promote education, public trust in institutions, and civil discourse. Public broadcasting makes our country smarter, stronger, and safer. PBS and NPR both can inform, educate, and inspire people. And they both push us into elevating us and our sights. They both also encourage us to think and understand as well as bring us together. Today trust among Americans and for many national institutions is at its lowest in generations. Stereotyping, prejudice, and anti-intellectualism have proliferated that the US has elected a narcissistic sociopath as president who thinks little of America and embodies the country at its worst. Since PBS is ranked #1 in public trust, it can help build connections between different groups of people as well as promote a civil society. And we should note that most Americans oppose cutting federal funding for public television. Still, if Congress and Trump eliminate CPB funding, America would be a much more inhospitable place since PBS and NPR have played an essential role in millions of Americans’ everyday lives as well as benefited our country in so many ways. Even Fred Rogers realized this back in 1969 that he testified before Congress to defend PBS funding when Nixon wanted to cut it. More than ever we need a media outlets that value people over profits as well as enrich our lives. $1.35 a year is a small price to pay. Besides, the fact Trump is willing to cut PBS and NPR funding means he doesn’t value what’s great about America.

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