A Preliminary Strategic Cultural Assessment of the US 2020 Political and Election Operating Environment

My bread and butter, in terms of analytical work, for the Army was doing cultural assessments. First at the tactical level and then at the theater and national strategic levels of operation. Much of the formats for these assessments were my creation because they largely didn’t exist in a formal sense until I was assigned to USAWC and then temporarily assigned out to assist III Corps in 2012, US Army Europe in 2013 and 2014, and to provide assistance and support to a variety of Divisions, Army Service Component Commands, and Geographic Combatant Commands beginning in 2010. I tried to broadly root what I was doing in the closest thing the US military has to a doctrinal definition of culture, which can be found in CJCSI 1800.01E/The Officers Professional Military Education Policy. It is a very broad definition of culture:

The distinctive and deeply rooted beliefs, values, ideology, historic traditions, social forms and behavioral patterns of a group, organization or society that evolves, is learned, and transmitted to succeeding generations.

In many ways a lot of what I do is what the British refer to as cultural intelligence, which is basically looking at the human geography of the problem set, the people, places, and things within the operating environment, and trying to assess how they all interact in regard to opportunities, challenges, and threats the US is facing within that operating environment.

For a while now I’ve been thinking about the US as an operating environment, specifically in regard to the politics of and around the looming 2020 election. Here’s some preliminary thoughts, as a preliminary assessment, on this operating environment.

The Context Within Which the 2020 Elections Will be Contested

It is exceedingly important to understand the American operating environment in 2019 and going into 2020, especially for those planning on running for office or working on their campaigns, and to place their campaign strategies and planning, and, perhaps, their campaigns themselves within the context that the US is at war. Putin has made it very clear since 2014 that as far as he was concerned Russia was, at least, in a new cold war with the US and the US was the aggressor. And 2014 is around when he started to really ramp up his active measures and cyberwarfare campaign of information and psychological warfare against the US, the EU, and NATO. At the same time the US is also enmeshed in a low intensity internal war between revanchists who seek to establish a white Christian herrenvolk state and society and those that don’t. This is largely breaking along party lines. The Republicans, especially the base that supports the President, fighting for herrenvolkism. The Democratic Parties broad multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and multi-religious coalition fighting against it. And Putin’s active measures campaign, his war against the US, is stoking the Republicans and seeking to demoralize and deactivate the Democrats. This is the theater of operations in which everything – from the primaries to the general election to senatorial and congressional elections to state and local elections – will take place over the next two years.

The Human Geography: A Tale of Two Tribes

A lot of the discussion of American politics has lapsed into the shorthand of discussing the two major parties as tribes. This isn’t really accurate, but it makes for a convenient shorthand. As has been documented by many scholars and analysts, the political parties began to resort themselves during and after the Civil Rights era of the 1960s, largely finishing their internal realignments in the 1990s, and finished consolidating in the early 00s. This has left us with two very distinct political parties.

Right now the Democratic Party is going through some generational changes. A lot of which were reflected in the 2018 midterm elections. The Democratic Party is changing to better reflect the demographics of its members. This observation isn’t rocket science. A lot of it is generational turnover that has accelerated and been moved to the foreground in response to Trump and a long overdue realization, from the Democratic/Democratic leaning side, of what the base of the GOP/the President’s base within the GOP and the conservative movement actually have been consolidating into as a result of the partisan realignment begun in the late 1960s. It has become an insurgent, revanchist party and movement promoting a herrenvolk democracy for white, largely evangelical Christians. These ideas and identity components that have been very heavily foregrounded, for a variety of reasons, within the GOP and the conservative movement over the past two and a 1/2 years has been remade to better support and reflect the President, his views, and his agenda such as it is. As a result, these ideas of nativism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism paired with Christian Zionist support for Israel, homophobia, and Islamophobia appear to be ascendant within the GOP in 2019. Should the GOP, as it has been presenting itself over the past three years or so, ever get its way, the traditionalist Catholics, Mormons, and Orthodox Jews that are along for the ride will be first to be purged. And then the various evangelical denominations and sects will turn on themselves until they achieve purity. Think the 30 years war with Mitch McConnell presiding over the Senate.

The Democratic Party is in many ways the mirror opposite of the Republican Party. Rather than shrinking itself, it has broadened itself into a sort of tribal confederation – a tribe of tribes. It’s strength, that it is far more diverse, may ultimately become a weakness if that diversity can’t be channeled in a way that provides enough for each of those diverse tribes and sub-tribes to feel as if their interests are being met within the coalition and by the coalition’s leadership. The Republican Party, especially the President’s base, after what we’ve observed over the past three years or so, should be seen as a coherent, solid tribe with a couple of caveats. It is clear that some Republicans are just going through the motions because, unlike the NeverTrumpers, they can’t bring themselves to make the partisan break with their long held political affiliations and identities. Other Republicans, especially the professional ones, are simply being opportunistic and expect, when the President’s term of office eventually ends, to be able to reinvent themselves and try to get everyone to ignore what they’ve done since 2015. Some are simply trying to ride the tiger without getting mauled and eaten. However, the base of the Republican Party, which is the President’s base, is becoming a hardened white, largely evangelical Christian ethno-party. And this dynamic is being promoted and consolidated, often for profit, by Fox News, conservative talk radio, many conservative publications online and dead tree, and conservative social media.

Spoilers!

I hope that I’m wrong, but I’m very concerned that when Senator Sanders does not get the Democratic nomination, and I think that will become very clear very early on in the primaries next year because the US in 2019 is a very different world than the US in 2015 and 2016, that his supporters and his monomaniacal focus on economics issues, coupled with his ego, will drive him to run as an independent. And if he doesn’t, Nina Turner will shiv him and do it herself. I’m actually quite surprised that she hasn’t done this already. I honestly didn’t think she had this much restraint. Sanders won’t get the nomination because of the internal evolution and generational changes within the multi-ethnic and multi-religious coalitions that comprise the Democratic Party. A lot of his platform was incorporated into the broader Democratic platform in 2016 when Secretary Clinton was the nominee and more of it has been incorporated since then. At this point he should declare victory for his ideas and try to function as a senior mentor/the grand old sage. Unfortunately, I don’t think he’s wired that way. He also won’t get the nomination because his trusted lieutenants, for lack of a better term, are even more abrasive than he is. No one paying attention to the Democratic Party’s internal politics has forgotten that neither he, nor his most senior and vocal agents, will take yes for an answer. The behavior of Turner, Konst, and several others at the various DNC events and meetings over the past 18 months or so was unprofessional, unpleasant to watch, hear, and read about, and, frankly, way out of line. What little welcome they had, they’ve worn it out. Sanders, no matter what he does, has the potential to function as a super spoiler for the Democrats in 2020. Think Jill Stein’s effect on the electoral college on steroids. And if he decides he’s going to be a team player and not do so, his trusted agents won’t play ball and you’ll have the same problem regardless. And we can now add Congresswoman Gabbard to the potential spoilers category emanating from Sanders orbit.

I expect an effort will be made, most likely by Rick Wilson again (as he detailed in his book), to draft Gen (ret) Mattis into running for President as an independent. The remarks by Mattis’s brother in an interview he gave in December shortly after Mattis resigned in protest, suggest that Mattis may be thinking about it. The question will be whether how Mattis served as Secretary of Defense, and how he resigned, would be enough to overcome the anger of Democratic leaning independents/no party affiliation and actual Democrats for anyone who accepted a position in the Trump administration no matter how noble that person’s intentions may have been.

It is also likely that one or more Republicans will try to primary the President. Though this has gotten harder now that the Republican National Committee has passed a resolution of support for the President and his effective presidency ahead of the 2020 election. The resolution basically locks the party into supporting the President’s reelection. So if Governors Hogan, Weld, and/or Kasich or Senator Flake decide to primary the President, they’ll be doing it in opposition to the Republican Party.

I think it is entirely likely that at least one, if not more, individually wealthy elite and/or notables will attempt an independent run. Some of these may be Democrats, some Republicans, some long term independents/no party affiliations that lean one way or the other. They will be driven by one or both of two things. The first is a desire to remove Trump from office and end this nightmarish farce before it leads to tragedy that cannot be fixed. The second is that they, and the people advising them, will have decided that running within one of the two major parties does not provide them with the flexibility or the support that it will for the traditional politicians. This seems to ignore the well documented within political science empirical reality that there is not a plurality of Americans who are actually really independents. Rather these self declared or described independents are actually hidden partisans who almost always lean to one of the two major political parties or the other and vote that way as well.

The belief that an independent run for the presidency can be successful also fails to account for a major structural impediment: the electoral college. Regardless of its original purposes, the electoral college largely serves to force and keep US politics divided into two major parties. As a result, candidates trying to run outside the two parties, especially given that we know the Russians and others are going to continue their active measures and cyberwarfare campaigns against the US, have the potential to serve as spoilers on steroids. These potential independent candidacies are far more likely to peel off just enough support from the Democratic nominee to allow for a rerun of the 2016 election where the Democrat wins the popular vote, but Trump once again wins a narrow majority in the electoral college. Democratic candidates and campaigns will begin to develop strong and proactive strategies and plans to counter this dynamic.

Larry Sabatow, the Director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics and one of the best political pollsters in academia, has already had this reaction to Howard Schultz’s 60 Minutes interview earlier this evening.

It’s also what American political historian Kevin Kruse, who just coauthored a history of the development of the modern and contemporary American partisan political divide, thinks too:

And it is what Howard Wolfson, who is a long time senior advisor to Michael Bloomberg, has concluded, which helps explain why Bloomberg is planning to run as a Democrat, not an independent, if he runs:

The 21st Century American Resource War: An Ideological and Partisan Dispute Over Who Gets to be an American

The most divisive political dispute, for lack of a better or less incendiary term, that is going on in the US right now and will continue into and through the 2020 election is one over resources. This is not a dispute over physical resources; and it is not really over even political and economic power in the sense that we’re used to understanding those types of disputes in the post WW II United States. Rather, the actual resource in dispute is Americanness itself. As in who actually is, or may make a claim to be, an American. This is not a new fight within and between Americans. It goes back to the origins of the country. And it, as it is doing right now, usually flares back up immediately after there has been an extension of civil liberties and rights to groups that were not previously considered, whether for political, social, religious, and/or ethnic/racial reasons, to be entitled to the full rights, protections, and liberties of other Americans. We are, unfortunately, currently in one of these periods. And the fight is over two very different visions of what it means to be an American and who gets to be an American

The President, his senior policy advisor Stephen Miller, fellow travelers like Congressman Steve King, many of his outside advisors like Anne Coulter and Ginni Thomas, and his base are committed to a very narrow, crimped, and small minded vision of what it means to be American and who gets to be an American. Those in opposition to this have a far broader, expansive, open minded, and welcoming understanding of Americanness. This is the real core political, social, and religious dispute in the US today. It is an ideational, ideological, and in some cases theological and dogmatic war over the resource of Americanness. And, for the time being, it is fortunately and largely non-violent. Though the acts of domestic terrorism that are being driven by the most extreme adherents of the narrow, crimped, small minded understanding of Americanness and who is an American are accelerating as we saw in Pittsburgh.

One final thought, for now, on what the human geography in the theater of operations in the 2020 elections looks like. If we use the military doctrinal term “center of gravity” meaning a key constituency, or social, political, economic, religious, or physical structure or institution, there is an additional one to the Republican Party/the President’s base and the Democrats. This third center of gravity is the part of the electorate that doesn’t vote. It too is subdivided. Some of these voters don’t vote because they don’t believe they know and understand enough about what is going on to vote. As a result the idea of voting makes them uncomfortable as an exercise in decision making. Some don’t vote because they see politics as so messy and unsettled that it turns them off. These are Americans who don’t vote because they’ve bought into the propaganda and influence operations that tells them that their vote must only be given to the ideologically pure. For these voters the good or very good electoral choice is always the enemy of the perfect one! A final group within this third portion of the electorate just don’t have the time and the resources to vote. They feel overwhelmed in their daily lives; their existence as Americans is a struggle to get by from day to day. As a result they choose to focus their limited resources and energy on trying to survive to the next day, rather than pay attention to politics. Whichever candidate can make inroads into this large pool of potential voters will be able to tap an electoral resource that is waiting to be mined.

Open thread!



Breaking: Speaker Pelosi Publicly States the State of the Union is Not Planned at this Time!

At the eleven minute mark (it should be set to start there) in the video above, Speaker Pelosi just responded to a question about whether the President will be allowed to deliver the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress next week with:

The State of the Union is not planned now. Get that. What I said to the President is when government is opened, we’ll discuss a mutually agreeable date, and I’ll look forward to doing that and welcoming the President to the House of Representatives for the State of the Union when we agree on that mutual date.

As I wrote on Wednesday when Speaker Pelosi clarified that their would be no State of the Union address next week:

The President needs to come to terms with a simple reality: he is not in control over this matter. Speaker Pelosi is both smarter than he is and a strategic thinker, which he isn’t. He has no power over her. And he has no power over the House of Representatives, provided it is is not being led by a figurative invertebrate, like Paul Ryan, who is afraid of mean presidential tweets, Gym Jordan, Mark Meadows, and the base of the Republican Party. While Senator McConnell may be willing to finish his project of transforming the Senate into a parliament subservient to the President as head of government provided the president is a Republican, Speaker Pelosi is not willing to do that with the House of Representatives. She is also not going to play the President’s games. She said no, she means no, and she has the ability, unlike the President’s other female targets and victims over the years, to actually enforce that no.

Anyone want to place bets on whether he refuses to sign the three week continuing resolution once it clears Congress this afternoon?

Open thread!



Violations of Norms Create Loaded Guns Left Lying Around and Are Highly Addictive: Potential National Emergency Declaration Edition

From CNN:

Washington (CNN)The White House is preparing a draft proclamation for President Donald Trump to declare a national emergency along the southern border and has identified more than $7 billion in potential funds for his signature border wall should he go that route, according to internal documents reviewed by CNN.

Trump has not ruled out using his authority to declare a national emergency and direct the Defense Department to construct a border wall as Congress and the White House fight over a deal to end the government shutdown. But while Trump’s advisers remain divided on the issue, the White House has been moving forward with alternative plans that would bypass Congress.

“The massive amount of aliens who unlawfully enter the United States each day is a direct threat to the safety and security of our nation and constitutes a national emergency,” a draft of a presidential proclamation reads.

“Now, therefore, I, Donald J. Trump, by the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, including the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C 1601, et seq.), hereby declare that a national emergency exists at the southern border of the United States,” the draft adds.

The draft was updated as recently as last week, a US government official told CNN.

According to options being considered, the administration could pull: $681 million from Treasury forfeiture funds, $3.6 billion in military construction, $3 billion in Pentagon civil works funds, and $200 million in Department of Homeland Security funds, the official said.

As lawmakers discussed a short-term measure to fund the government Thursday, Trump again raised the prospect of other ways to fund a border wall without congressional approval.

“I have other alternatives if I have to and I’ll use those alternatives if I have to,” he told reporters.

“A lot of people who wants this to happen. The military wants this to happen. This is a virtual invasion of our country,” Trump said.

I want to make four important points about this prospective course of action being considered by the President:

1) If the President does do this, it does not also mean that it then clears the way for the shutdown parts of the government to be reopened. While it may free the majority Republican caucus in the Senate to move a clean continuing resolution, it also frees the President up to just ignore it. He’ll have gotten what he wants, immediate funding and the gratification that comes with it, for his wall. At that point there’s no pressure on him to sign any continuing resolutions or appropriations bills. Regardless of what Republican senators and/or conservative pundits might think, this doesn’t break the logjam preventing funding to reopen the shutdown portions of the government. Rather, it relieves any pressure on the President to actually reopen them as he will have found a way to unilaterally get what he wants, which removes all the pressure being brought to bear on him.

2) If the President crosses this line and declares a national state of emergency regarding border security, he’ll quickly become addicted to it. Some of this will be because of the rush of violating norms, rules, and traditions in a very public and very large scale way. Some of this will be because of all the attention he’ll get from doing so. And some of this will be because he will suddenly have a new toy to play with. If he does this for a fictional border security crisis, he’ll also do it for his other factually inaccurate but deeply held fetishes: multilateral trade agreements that are ripping the US off, Chinese currency manipulation, multilateral military and national security alliances that are taking advantage of the US – none of which are actually happening. And as was the case with his military transgender ban, he’ll be encouraged to use his transgressive new powers for a variety of other hard right dreams such as rewriting US immigration law (which he actually publicly considered doing several months ago), outlawing abortion, declaring national constitutional or reciprocal carry of firearms to ensure Americans can defend themselves against the terrorists, gang members, and drug dealers that are not actually poring over our southern border, etc.

3) While the lower courts, including many of the Federal Courts of Appeal, will overturn this proposed action of declaring a national emergency on the southern border to reallocate funds without Congress’s consent to build his wall, and enjoin them from taking place, the Supreme Court will uphold the action. The one constant in the nominations and appointments of Chief Justice Roberts and Associate Justices Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh is that they all hold the most expansive views possible of executive branch and presidential power, especially when the president is a Republican. As much as they may or may not overturn a variety of precedents such as Roe V. Wade or try to reinstate the Lochner era of Federal jurisprudence, they were chosen to rubber stamp the executive branch and presidential actions of what Karl Rove thought would be a permanent Republican majority America, where the Congress would have a GOP majority and the president would be a Republican for at least a generation.

4) If we’re lucky enough that the President, should he actually declare a national emergency on the southern border in order to reallocate funds without congressional approval to build his wall, and not actually decide to use this power over and over again, Republican elected and appointed officials, as well as conservative commentators, think tankers, and legal scholars need to prepare themselves for a future Democratic president, perhaps as early as January 2021, declaring a national emergency regarding climate change and thereby forcing the Green New Deal. Declaring one regarding income inequality repealing all the tax cuts since the 1960s. Declaring one that Justice Gorsuch, as well as all the Federal district and appellate court justices who are were confirmed because McConnell refused to allow confirmation of Obama’s nominees, all received stolen goods when they were confirmed and sworn in on the Supreme and other Federal courts, and therefore increasing the size of them and filling those appointments without the Senate’s advise and consent to prevent the GOP from further ratfuckery in Federal judicial appointments. And declaring one regarding mass shootings and school shootings in order to radically reinterpreting the 2nd Amendment and force gun safety measures.

Violating norms, ignoring traditions, and breaking rules are sometimes necessary. None of them should be done for trivial reasons, which includes process reasons, which includes a declaration of national emergency to allocate funds that Congress has not and will not appropriate for a border wall. Violating this norm, issuing a national emergency because the President cannot get Congress to go along with something he wants, is unwilling to negotiate in good faith, and has run out of other options to achieve his goals, creates a very dangerous precedent. We will be lucky, should the President decide to issue such a declaration, that it is just a one off and that future Democratic majorities in Congress and a future Democratic president can agree to revise the law regarding national emergencies and rebalance power back to the legislative branch. Unfortunately, we are more likely to see this President to become addicted to his new toy and try to use it over and over and over again. Republican officials, like Senator Graham, will rue the day they encouraged the President to do this. Unfortunately the rest of us are going to rue it too. It will not only be a massive violation of norms and rules, it will also be a massive threat to national security and that threat will be coming from the Oval Office aided and abetted by the Republican majority Senate and Republican nominated and approved conservative majority on the Supreme Court.

Open thread!



Better Call Your Senators!!!!

You know what to do!!!!

Open thread!



The Supreme Court Lifts the Nationwide Injunctions Preventing the President’s Ban on Transgender People from Serving in the US Military

Amid all the other hullabaloo today, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to lift the nationwide injunctions that were preventing the President’s ban on transgender people serving in the US military.

From The Associated Press:

The Trump administration can go ahead with its plan to restrict military service by transgender men and women while court challenges continue, the Supreme Court said Tuesday.

The high court split 5-4 in allowing the plan to take effect, with the court’s five conservatives greenlighting it and its four liberal members saying they would not have. The order from the court was brief and procedural, with no elaboration from the justices.

The court’s decision clears the way for the Pentagon to bar enlistment by people who have undergone a gender transition. It will also allow the administration to require that military personnel serve as members of their biological gender unless they began a gender transition under less restrictive Obama administration rules.

The Trump administration has sought for more than a year to change the Obama-era rules and had urged the justices to take up cases about its transgender troop policy immediately, but the court declined for now.

Those cases will continue to move through lower courts and could eventually reach the Supreme Court again. The fact that five justices were willing to allow the policy to take effect for now, however, makes it more likely the Trump administration’s policy will ultimately be upheld.

Both the Justice and Defense departments released statements saying they were pleased by the Supreme Court’s action. The Pentagon said its policy on transgender troops is based on professional military judgment and necessary to “ensure the most lethal and combat effective fighting force.” Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said lower court rulings had forced the military to “maintain a prior policy that poses a risk to military effectiveness and lethality.”

Before beginning to implement its policy the administration is expected to need to make a procedural filing in one case in Maryland challenging the plan. That request could be made this week.

Groups that sued over the Trump administration’s policy said they ultimately hoped to win their lawsuits over the policy. Jennifer Levi, an attorney for GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, said in a statement that the “Trump administration’s cruel obsession with ridding our military of dedicated and capable service members because they happen to be transgender defies reason and cannot survive legal review.”

More at the link.

Today’s lifting of the nationwide stay on the President’s policy is frustrating, but it is not the end of the case. The Supreme Court majority – its five conservative/GOP appointed justices – were willing to lift the nation wide stay, but not consolidate and fast track the separate cases wending through the Federal court system. This means that these separate suits to overturn the policy will continue through the courts and it is possible that as they proceed through the appellate phase that new injunctions will be implemented. As disturbing and discouraging as today’s ruling is, it is not the last word on this issue. It is entirely possible that the various suits take so long to get through the Federal courts, which will largely close on Monday because of the partial government shutdown, that a Democratic administration will come into office and reverse the ruling. That is small comfort, but the fight isn’t over.

And it is very important to continue this fight. Especially because the President’s decision to do this was not driving by a request from then Secretary of Defense Mattis. This was a completely unnecessary policy change. It will actually have real negative effects on readiness by making it harder to make recruiting quotas and by driving Americans who feel called, for whatever reason, to serve in the military away from that service. There’s no way to know for sure, but the President’s decision to change this policy on the fly was likely driven by the Vice President and his senior policy advisor Stephen Miller. This type of pointlessly cruel policy is just their speed.

It is also important to know that important, high visibility veterans, both cis and transgender, are planning to fight on.

Here’s Senator Duckworth’s response:

DUCKWORTH STATEMENT ON SUPREME COURT ORDER ON MILITARY TRANSGENDER BAN

 

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] — In response to the Supreme Court’s order this morning allowing Donald Trump’s discriminatory ban on transgender servicemembers to take effect, combat Veteran and U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) released the following statement:

“When I was bleeding to death in my Black Hawk helicopter on that dusty field in Iraq, I didn’t care if the American troops risking their lives to help save me were gay, straight, transgender, black, white, male or female. All that mattered was they didn’t leave me behind. If you are willing to risk your life for our country and you can do the job, you should be able to serve—no matter your gender identity or sexual orientation.

“Today’s decision is disheartening not only because it will help the Trump Administration discriminate against an ever-shrinking portion of our population who are willing to serve in uniform, but also because it enables the Administration to further disrupt to our military and weaken our national security.

“I hope the Court takes up this case and loudly and clearly tells the Administration that this sort of discrimination has no place in our military, and I hope my colleagues on both sides of the aisle in Congress will send the same message and show our servicemembers that we have their backs.”

And here’s retired Senior Chief Special Warfare Officer and former member of Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU) Kristin Beck’s response:

Senator Duckworth and Chief Beck are fighting, in the words of the DEVGRU motto, For Something Greater.

Open thread!