Are you with America, or are you with Russia? It is time to choose a side.

President’s Day is a good time to reflect on where your alliances lie.

Today we celebrate President’s Day, a patriotic holiday that is normally a time when we commemorate our history and our democracy, and we honor those who have served to lead it. But this year is different… it comes as an opportunity to contemplate the horrific reality that We the People have created for ourselves, and to reflect upon how we might move forward as a nation to remedy the situation.

America had been comfortable for awhile. The country went through a golden age of sorts in the late 20th century, making significant improvements in terms of the health, education, and affluence of its citizens. That age has ended and those trends have seen dramatic reverses in recent years. Life expectancy is declining in America, and the American system of healthcare available to all but the wealthiest of Americans lags that of many other parts of the developed world. Much of America wallows in deep ignorance and embraces alternative facts and shuns science. (See: Let’s Make America SMART Again.) The income divide between the have’s and the have-not’s grows on an ongoing basis. The secular values of our founding fathers are under assault.

McCarthyism of the 1950s (“Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the communist party?”) deeply divided the nation, followed by the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War of the 60s and 70s. Nothing since then has quite split the nation in the way it has become divided in the first year of the Trump presidency. Once Trump won the presidency, this did not come as a surprise to anyone who was paying attention (see my article from November 2016: Amoral Imperative). And with the greatest of irony, we have come full circle from the largely imagined commie plots of the 1950s to the 2010s where the evidence is overwhelming that Russian schemes to harm our democracy are active on an ongoing basis, and large numbers of Americans, including our President, are presently aiding and abetting such schemes in both a witting and unwitting manner.

Divisions have occurred along the lines of liberal versus conservative, Democrat versus Republican, and among those who represent decency versus those who embrace values seen as deplorable by the vast majority. But as the events of the past few weeks have again brought into crystal clear focus, the divide is also, and perhaps most importantly, focused on the very essence of the differences between America and Russia, and on the very idea of whether truth, justice, and the American way will prevail in the future of our nation.

Events that transpire over the next year will set a course for determining if America returns to a path of being a country that imperfectly strives for freedom of speech, freedom of religion, fair elections, and the right of it’s citizen’s to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness… or if America will continue on the downward spiral of the past year, on a collision course to become more Russia-esque, a mafia oligarchy, one nation under Trump (in parallel with Russia’s one nation under Putin).

While only the most preliminary results of Mueller’s investigation are now public, we now have some visibility into the “tip of the iceberg” of the evidence that Mueller has amassed. Sufficient detail has emerged to have a strong sense of where all of this is going. In the near term, we can expect to see a variety of additional criminal indictments handed down related to obstruction of justice and conspiracy to defraud the United States. Mueller undoubtedly senses the importance of focusing on this aspect of the case, as it appears that criminal acts of obstruction are continuing to occur on an ongoing basis.

The two other primary areas of Mueller’s investigation may extend on for years:  1) criminal acts that may have been committed related to collusion with Russia (collusion is not, in itself, a criminal act); and 2) money laundering, other Russia-related business dealings, or other leverage Russia may have over Trump and his family leading to a situation where POTUS is clearly beholden to, and uncritical of, Putin, and where POTUS brazenly violates the very law he signed (under protest) to put sanctions on Russia for its role in election tampering. (See: Trump gives in to Putin, refuses to impose America’s sanctions on Russia.)

The fact that Congressman Devin Nunes, and other Trump surrogates, are going to such outrageous lengths to try to cast doubt on the Russia investigation is telling… it means that Trump knows he is cornered in a “deep shit” kind of way, and is acting like a wounded animal thrashing about in the midst of an inevitable death blow.

A President Beholden to Russia

What is the basis for Russia’s leverage over Trump? That picture has become clearer and clearer over the past year. Some have speculated that they are blackmailing him over something of a sexual nature, but that seems less likely now, given what is already publicly known about him in terms of rape allegations and his affairs. Trump seems to have no sense of shame over what he has done extra-maritally, and such acts probably won’t land him in jail or affect him in a deep financial way, so it is questionable whether he can be blackmailed by them. But Russia knows the details of how Trump has possibly amassed much of his fortune through the laundering of Russian money, they know the details of how his campaign has possibly colluded with them, and they likely have insight into a variety of other crimes he and his family have committed in the course of their business transactions, including conspiracy to defraud the United States. Russian money (along with Chinese money) seems to be continuing to find its ways into Trump’s fortunes on an ongoing basis. These issues are likely the core explanation for Russia’s leverage over Trump. (See: Trump’s Russian Laundromat and Trump’s Biggest Potential Conflict Of Interest Is Hiding In Plain Sight.)

Today the Republican Party remains in power, but its prospects for the future lie in shambles:

  • A political party that once held itself as the champion of family values has become the defender of a man whose family values are exemplified by hush money payments to cover up his marital affairs; who is the subject of multiple, credible, rape allegations; and who, with his own statements, has boasted of his history as a sexual predator.
  • A political party that once held itself as the champion of fiscal conservatism is now led by man with a history of multiple bankruptcies who is focused on grossly exacerbating America’s already dire financial debt situation by vastly increasing government spending and cutting tax revenues at the same time; with a net increase to the deficit of trillions of dollars; at a time at which sound fiscal conservatism dictates exactly the opposite approach. (See: The Great American Tax Heist and With Budget Deal, the G.O.P. Tosses Out the Economics Textbooks.)
  • A political party that once, with considerable justification, decried the moral and ethical lapses of the Obama administration is now led by a man whose administration centers on corruption, ethics violations, and the President’s use of the Office of the President to enrich himself, his family, and his business associates in a manner that dwarfs anything America has ever seen in the past by orders of magnitude. (See: How the Swamp Drained Trump.)
  • Under the control and purchase of the gun lobby, the Republican Party has accepted as a matter of necessity the ongoing deaths of thousands of Americans, including American school children, as the price that they are prepared to pay for the fetishization of weapons. “The claim of this lobby’s complicity in murder is not exaggerated or hysterical but, by now, quite simple and precise: when you refuse to act to stop a social catastrophe from happening, you are responsible for the consequences of the social catastrophe.” (See: Four Truths About the Florida School Shooting.)

And perhaps the most perplexing aspect of it all is that instead of the vast majority of Republicans repudiating this conduct and calling for reform for their party to bring it back to the sound principles for which it once stood, so many instead continue to share Russian propaganda and repeat the gaslighting tactics promulgated by the President (see my earlier article: Narcissism, Codependency, Gaslighting, Reality Distortion Fields and The American Presidency) to try to defend and divert attention to what is utterly indefensible. And in the process, each and every one of them effectively becomes responsible for the sinking of their own ship. This is not only bad for the Republican Party, it is bad for America. As David Frum notes in An Exit From Trumpocracy: “The stability of American society depends on conservatives finding a way forward from the Trump dead end.”

While it would be easy to look at the Russian-sponsored disinformation campaigns and think it would be absurd to believe that anyone could be so naive to buy into any of it, the evidence is overwhelming that the combination of Russian disinformation coupled with Trump’s ongoing gaslighting distortion tactics (including but not limited to: diversion; whataboutism; belittling and dismissiveness; exaggeration; self-aggrandizement; self-victimization; projection; blatant lying; rewriting history and reality denial; normalization; blame reflection and deflection; deconstructive conditioning; idealization and devaluation; bullying, shaming, raging and threatening; fear mongering; isolationism; and false equivalency) have been highly effective, and are often repeated and broadly disseminated on social media by people who should know far better. (See, for example: The Russians pretended to be Texans — and the Texans believed them and A former Russian troll speaks: ‘It was like being in Orwell’s world’.)

Two Cautionary Tales

One could provide thousands of examples, but in the interest of brevity, I’ll just provide two examples that are painfully close to me, of how distortion leads good people down harmful paths.

Both the these examples come from the Facebook feeds of individuals who have been long time friends of mine… both of these individuals are well-educated, they are both very successful entrepreneurs and business owners, with employees whose lives they have enriched. They are both proud and loving parents and grandparents. One of them is a veteran of the American armed services who has served our country with distinction. I’m fairly certain that both of them fly the American flag proudly. Both of them would, and have, gone to extraordinary lengths to help a friend without hesitation, and they both have done so for me in the past. Yet both individuals use their Facebook feeds in very subtle and unsettling ways.

The first person was, like me, once a Democrat, then a Republican, and is now an Independent. He characterizes himself as a conservative who decries the divisiveness and corruption of both major political parties. He posts frequently about the importance of Americans to put America above the needs of partisan politics. We agree on all of these things.

His Facebook commentary during this year’s State of the Union speech was interesting and included:  “Sad. Nancy Pelosi making an angry bitch face during the State of the Union, at least Schumer had the decency to applaud our leader.” and “Nice to see a few who put America above their Party on both sides of the aisle!” (He failed to also mention that John Boehner was noted for the grimaces he made during Obama’s 2014 and 2015 State of the Union speeches, but perhaps he was unaware.)

Yet, over a time period in which 17 people were killed in a school shooting in Parkland, Florida; in which the President has lied to the American people multiple times on a daily basis; in which the President has railed against the freedom of the press that calls him on his lies; in which the President has failed to follow the law and take action against Russian election tampering; in which Russian nationals were indicted for conspiracy against the United States; in which the President has been in the news for hush money payoffs to extramarital lovers; in which fiscal conservatism principles are being grossly ignored by the President to balloon an already grotesque and unhealthy national debt; in which the President has continued on an ongoing basis to use the Office of the Presidency to enrich himself and his family; in which the President has sought to undermine the independence of both the FBI and the Department of Justice, and to use them for his own personal purposes and to obstruct justice… my friend has failed to make a single Facebook post on any of these topics. What seems to make him most upset, at least as evidenced by his Facebook postings, is the angry bitch face Nancy Pelosi made during the State of the Union address.

Then he writes: “To all the Trump haters, I ask you; is DJT dividing our country, or is it partisan politicians? In my late 30’s I tore up my Democratic Party card. Ten years ago I tore up my Republican Party Card. They are one party who seeks to divide us. Don’t kid yourselves. Don’t put a Political party ahead of your friendships, your family, or your country.

The answer, of course, is yes, partisan politics is dividing our country, but even more so, by orders of magnitude, so is Donald John Trump.

Having a two party system is actually inherently healthy for a democracy. It isn’t the fact that we have two parties that disagree that is the problem… it is having the two party system perverted by the ability of special interests to buy politician’s favors that is unhealthy. A two party system, when it operates as it should, provides checks and balances that encourage ethical conduct, ferret out corruption, and foster healthy debate leading to consensus that protects both majorities and minorities. As Jimmy Carter so aptly noted in 2015:

“It [unlimited money in politics] violates the essence of what made America a great country in its political system. Now it’s just an oligarchy, with unlimited political bribery being the essence of getting the nominations for president or to elect the president. And the same thing applies to governors and U.S. senators and congress members.”

Yet the ways that Trump is dividing our country are extraordinary and unprecedented and utterly meretricious. Typically a President strives to act as a uniter, but Trump does everything he can to divide the country on an ongoing basis in terms of race, religion, gender, and political beliefs. Yet, at the same time that he divides through his actions and words, he preaches unity in a truly bone-chilling way.

Immediately prior to giving his State of the Union address this year, Trump gave an interview to PBS… a “Sig Heil!” moment, reminding one of how Adolf Hitler used the burning of the Reichstag (parliament) building in Berlin in 1933 as a pretext to seize authoritarian power. (See: Trump says it will be hard to unify country without a ‘major event’.):

“Trump also said that Americans usually come together during times of suffering.

‘I would love to be able to bring back our country into a great form of unity,’ Trump said. ‘Without a major event where people pull together, that’s hard to do. But I would like to do it without that major event because usually that major event is not a good thing.'”

Trump’s unity is dictator-esque, of course, with similarities to the way that Hilter did unite Germany. He’s not talking about uniting the country behind common democratic ideals. And what he is of course not-so-subtly implying here is: I’d like to do it without a major event, but I don’t know how to do that, so if necessary, and to divert attention from the Russia Investigation when it comes close to removing me from office and putting my family members in jail… it isn’t outside the realm of possibility that I might create a major war to divert the world and protect my ass.

And if you don’t have any idea what that would look like, this article in Vox provides a pretty good idea: Here’s what war with North Korea would look like: A full-blown war with North Korea wouldn’t be as bad as you think. It would be much, much worse.

So what I would say to my friend is this: Our democracy deserves respect. Our Constitution deserves respect. The institution of the Presidency deserves respect. But a man who betrays our democracy on a daily basis in such blatant ways shows no respect for the American people, and he is owed no respect from the American people whatsoever. Rather than it being divisive for Americans to disrespect the President for such conduct, it is their duty to call him out for it.

And in case you think “It can’t happen here…”, you are wrong. It did happen here, and the way that so many in America have turned a blind eye to what is going on right now pretty much proves that it can indeed happen once again. If you have forgotten your American history, take a look at this amazing video showing 20,000 “Patriotic, American-flag waving” Nazi’s holding a rally in Madison Square Garden. (See: When 20,000 American Nazis Descended Upon New York City.)

That brings us to my second friend… he posted just this week:

Just in case you haven’t seen the ads the Russians placed on Facebook, here they are. Look at the number of impressions and clicks. Do you think this is really serious? Should all Nationals of all countries be indicted if they posted an ad like these?” with a link to this article in the Washington Post: “The Facebook ads Russians targeted at different groups“.

There are so many distortions going on in this statement it is hard to know where to start. And it is just jaw dropping to realize that this person found a way to feign outrage at America’s attempts to stop Russia’s tampering into our elections, and he did it in such a way that he covers his ass by posing it as a question so he can back away from his position if needed.

The reality is, of course, that these people were not indicted because they posted ads. They were indicted for conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, and aggravated identity theft, with the intent to disrupt our elections, spread disinformation, and incite violence. It appears they did it under the direct instructions of Putin or those close to Putin. As was noted by Paul Rosenzweig in The Atlantic: Mueller’s Message to America:

“If any significant fraction of what is alleged in the latest indictment is true (and we should, of course, remind ourselves that an indictment is just an allegation—not proof), then this tale is a stunning condemnation of Russian activity. A Russian organization with hundreds of employees and a budget of millions of dollars is said to have systematically engaged in an effort (code named “Project Lakhta”) to undermine the integrity of the election and, perhaps more importantly, to have attempted to influence the election to benefit then-candidate Donald Trump. Among the allegations, the Russians:

Conducted political intelligence-gathering activities in the United States;

Hid their activities by setting up virtual networks in America that masked their extra-American communications;

Influenced the American election by using false personas to organize rallies for Trump, criticizing Muslims and spreading allegations of voter fraud by candidate Clinton;

Stole American identities to create controlled accounts; and

Destroyed evidence of their activities.”

Also keep in mind that these people who were indicted are not in America and will likely never face trial. Mueller brought these charges for two primary reasons: 1) to inform the public about the seriousness of one aspect of Russia’s election tampering; and 2) To have legal standing to subpoena records from various institutions related to these indictments.  It is also clear that Mueller is only playing a small part of his hand with these indictments… There also appears to be a variety of other charges that Mueller could have brought against these people, but has not yet done so. See: The charges Mueller could have brought against the Russians but didn’t.

And alas, there is no other way to look at it… when a person fails to express outrage at Russia’s attempts to interfere in our election, and rather he (or she) uses his (or her) voice to express outrage at America’s attempt to stop such election interference, he (or she) supports Putin’s interests, not America’s.

And when the person doing this is in fact the President of the United States, it constitutes an unpresidented dereliction of duty. As David Frum noted yesterday in The Atlantic (See: America Is Under Attack and the President Doesn’t Care):

“But in front of our very eyes we can observe that they are leaving the door open to Russian intervention on their behalf in the next election. You might call it collusion in advance—a dereliction of duty as grave as any since President Buchanan looked the other way as Southern state governments pillaged federal arsenals on the eve of the Civil War.”

The Sound of Silence

“Fools, said I, you do not know

Silence like a cancer grows

Hear my words that I might teach you”

The Sound of Silence, Simon & Garfunkel

Standing in silence, and not using your voice to repudiate that which is so wrongful, and to not challenge those who promulgate Russian propaganda, is effectively a choice in favor of Russia. “We will talk about it later” has become synonymous with “We will talk about it never.” There is a point where silence becomes complicity. And it is sometimes tempting to adopt the viewpoint… “I spoke out earlier, if I keep speaking out, I’ll just be repeating myself and sound like a broken record.” But adopting such a viewpoint leads to normalization, which is also a grave danger, because others will believe that you have come to accept that which was once unacceptable. Remember that nothing normal is going on here, either for Democratic or Republican politics. This is an ongoing assault on the very foundation of our democracy. It is easy to get complacent about it… to think that speaking out over and over again does no good… but the only alternative is to go silent, and let this criminal insanity become normalized.

My friend Allie posted this of Facebook after the mass shooting in Las Vegas last October.  I’m proud of her for finding her voice, and I hope she continues to do so:

Which side will YOU choose?

So today is President’s Day, and the reality we face is this: the President of the United States has not represented and defended the people of United States of America from an attack on the very foundations of our democracy. Rather, he has repeatedly lied to the American people to try to cover up his, and his campaign’s, complicity. He continues, on an ongoing basis, to spew blatant falsehoods and engage in other actions that conspire to obstruct justice and defraud the United States of America. He has failed to enact and enforce a law, passed in near unanimity by both the House and Senate, requiring the United States to sanction Russia for its attacks on our electoral system.

Today is an opportunity to ask and reflect upon the question… am I on the side of truth, justice and the American way, or am I, like our President, on the side of Russia?

I hope you will find the courage to make a choice, and to not be silent about it.

Read. Share. Resist. Feel free to share this article on Facebook and Twitter so your friends and followers will have a chance to ask and answer the same question.

Cliff Kurtzman
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