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Ideas | The Atlantic
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Ideas | The Atlantic
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The Truth About Nonvoters
Senator Bernie Sanders is now the presumptive Democratic nominee for the presidency. As he has risen in the polls, so has a theory about elections: The key to a progressive victory is motivating previous nonvoters to show up at the polls.“To defeat Donald Trump,” Sanders proclaimed at a recent rally in Exeter, New Hampshire, “the simple truth is we are going to need to have the largest voter turnout in the history of American politics. That means we are going to have to bring people into the political process who very often have not been involved in the political process.” The senator’s most famous surrogate, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, put the point more succinctly at a rally in Las Vegas: “The swing voters that we’re most concerned with are the nonvoters to voters.”[Ibram X. Kendi: The other swing voter]The logic underlying this theory is that Americans who are eligible to vote but rarely do so tend to favor leftist policies. A new survey of 14,000 Americans, conducted by the Knight Foundation, provides the best data available so far to test that hypothesis. The answer given by the study is unambiguous: “If they all voted in 2020,” the report concludes, “non-voters would add an almost equal share of votes to Democratic and Republican candidates.”Many advocates of what I have called the “progressive theory of mobilization” assume that the typical nonvoter is young, brown or black, and very progressive. But while of course some nonvoters fit that description, an overwhelming majority don’t.Nonvoters are in fact somewhat more likely than voters to be brown or black: While 10 percent of voters are black, 13 percent of nonvoters are. And while 11 percent of voters are Hispanic, 15 percent of nonvoters are. But among nonvoters, the overall share of people of color is quite small: Nearly two out of every three nonvoters are white.Nonvoters are also far less progressive than is commonly believed. They are more likely than voters to support constructing a wall on the southern border with Mexico, less likely to support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, less likely to support abortion rights, and less likely to favor gun control. Nonvoters do skew left on some important economic issues, such as support for a higher minimum wage. But on the defining cultural issues of the moment, they are markedly more conservative.In light of their views on public policy, it is hardly surprising that nonvoters are not particularly likely to describe themselves as liberal or to say that they favor the Democratic Party. Among voters, 38 percent consider themselves Democrats and 30 percent Republicans, for a differential of eight points. Among nonvoters, 31 percent consider themselves Democrats and 26 percent Republicans, for a differential of only five points. The ideological breakdown of nonvoters is even more revealing: A clear majority of them consider themselves either moderate or conservative; only one in five say that they are liberal.Nor is there much evidence that nonvoters are particularly energized to remove Donald Trump from office. They are less likely than voters to say that the country is going in the wrong direction or to believe that the upcoming election holds more importance than previous ones. And whereas 46 percent of all voters say that they are likely to vote for the Democratic Party’s nominee, only 33 percent of nonvoters say they’ll vote this way if they choose to go to the polls.[Peter Beinart: Regular Democrats just aren’t worried about Bernie]The best way to understand nonvoters, the authors of the Knight Foundation study suggest, is to divide them into two broad camps. Nearly half of them simply have little interest in politics; when they record opinions about politics at all, they rarely fall into a clear ideological camp. A little more than half do have a more determined set of political preferences. But, like the American electorate as a whole, this group is almost evenly split among three different ideological groups: progressives, moderates, and conservatives.It is natural for ideologues of every hue to project their hopes and aspirations on the reservoir of voters who rarely show up to the polls.In the past, centrists have been most likely to make that mistake. Rightly observing that a large majority of Americans are dissatisfied with the two existing political parties, they wrongly assumed that this group was lying in wait for the (somewhat conservative) economic and (more robustly liberal) policies preferred by moderate elites.Today, many progressives seem to believe that most nonvoters are young leftists who are being kept away from the polls because the Democratic Party doesn’t cater to their preferences. But if Democrats wants to remove Trump from the White House, they need to take a careful look at what nonvoters actually think. Any candidate for office, moderate or progressive, is unlikely to win if he stakes his strategy on an imaginary electorate.
theatlantic.com
What Bloomberg Did to Peaceful Protesters
Michael Bloomberg has come under attack for his past comments about women and support for stop-and-frisk policing. But his rivals have yet to raise a lesser-known part of his record that could be as damaging: When last in power, Bloomberg presided over the mistreatment of Democrats who sought to protest Republicans, violating the constitutional rights of hundreds of dissenters.At the time, Bloomberg was a first-term Republican mayor of New York. The GOP hoped that holding the 2004 Republican National Convention in the city, a site of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, would help reelect George W. Bush. Protests in deep-blue New York were inevitable. Bloomberg had months to prepare.[Annie Lowrey: Just how rich is Michael Bloomberg?]And he did. Nearly as soon as the convention location was announced, the police department that Bloomberg presided over launched a secret mission to infiltrate protest groups, The New York Times later reported: For at least a year before the 2004 Republican National Convention, teams of undercover New York City police officers traveled to cities across the country, Canada and Europe to conduct covert observations of people who planned to protest at the convention, according to police records and interviews. From Albuquerque to Montreal, San Francisco to Miami, undercover New York police officers attended meetings of political groups, posing as sympathizers or fellow activists, the records show. Some people planned to break the law during protests, but in hundreds of secret reports, the NYPD “chronicled the views and plans of people who had no apparent intention of breaking the law,” including “members of street theater companies, church groups and antiwar organizations, as well as environmentalists and people opposed to the death penalty, globalization and other government policies.”Spying was just the beginning.About a month before the convention, district-court Judge Robert W. Sweet ruled that the NYPD had been unconstitutionally restricting access to early demonstrations, and unlawfully confining demonstrators in pens and searching them. The judge’s ruling barred the use of those tactics at the RNC proper.After the RNC began, Bloomberg failed to safeguard the right of dissenters to peaceably assemble while presiding over dubious arrests. The debacle ended in a class-action civil-rights lawsuit and an $18 million settlement.A judge who ruled on the legality of the policing tactics gave an account of one mass arrest of peaceful protesters: The undisputed facts indicate that the police granted permission to the protesters to conduct their march on the sidewalk, only to have that permission abruptly revoked. The undisputed facts, particularly the video, confirm that the marchers on Fulton Street were attempting to comply with police instructions and that the revocation of consent for the march came suddenly and without any realistic opportunity to disperse or correct the problems with the march. The judge went on to characterize the city’s defense as “one of group liability”: essentially, that the unlawful acts of a few members of a massive group of protesters justified the arrest of everyone. If a few people in a group of hundreds started blocking the sidewalk, the protocol was to throw them all in detention.[John McWhorter: Bloomberg flunks the wokeness test]In total, 1,806 people were arrested during the convention. Some were legal observers and members of the press. Some were mere bystanders who unwittingly encountered protesters while walking in the city and got swept up in indiscriminate mass arrests. “I was just walking by––I had a receipt from a store that I had bought something from on that street,” Veepa Majamutar told Democracy Now some 12 hours after her arrest. “All of a sudden the street basically just gets cordoned off and we cannot move. So before I was arrested I was just standing still because that's all we could really do. And then they just started putting handcuffs on people. They gave us no warning.”She went on to describe the conditions at Pier 57, which the NYPD used to cage dissenters during the convention: So many of us are cold ... Some of us need medical attention … It's been more than 12 hours now. They ridicule us if we start to complain. And the conditions here are atrocious. It's dirty. It’s smelly. It’s filthy. We don’t have a blanket ... We are sitting on the floor. There's dirt on the floor. There’s oil on the floor. It's smelling bad. We are like a hundred people in a very small room … It's almost like rats in a hole ... I mean, all our clothes are dirty, our hands are dirty. We had to eat an apple with our extremely dirty hands because we have no tissue paper, nothing to clean our hands with. We are just basically packed. Nobody can sit down. They don't even give us a plastic bag to sit on. They don't even give anything to lie down on. We just have to lie on the hard floor, basically. And there is not enough space for everybody to lie down because we have to sit so close. The Guardian later reported that, upon release, some people were taken straight to the hospital for treatment of rashes and asthma “caused by oil-soaked floors and chemical fumes.” Simone Levine, a representative of the National Lawyers Guild, said during a contemporaneous television interview: The police department has known for over a year that they are going to be having the Republican National Convention here. They have said for over six months that they expect 1,000 arrests a day, [yet] they provided a detention facility which was slick with oil, which is causing people to have chemical burns. It used to be a bus depot. And they have a holding facility in which we have received calls from demonstrators that they have been held in for 20 and 30 hours. Were the detention-center conditions the result of administrative incompetence or premeditated cruelty? Neither option speaks well of the mayor who was in charge of the crackdown and wants to preside over the entire federal bureaucracy. The truth is hard to determine, partly because the mayor’s office fought to suppress 1,900 pages of internal documents detailing surveillance and planning in advance of the RNC. “So now and forever,” the New York Times columnist David Carr later mused, “the reason that 1,800 people were arrested, many preemptively, during the convention and placed in a pen on the Hudson River—nicknamed Guantanamo on the Hudson by some—will remain very much a mystery.”The New York Civil Liberties Union published a report in the controversy’s aftermath noting that more than 90 percent of those arrested had had their cases dismissed or conditionally dismissed, or were acquitted as of July 2005––and that “on top of the fact that hundreds of people were held far longer than the 24 hours permitted under state law, the NYPD was accused of intentionally delaying the release of protesters to keep them from participating in demonstrations taking place while the President was in the city.”Democrats should not want a president who prepares for political gatherings by conducting intrusive surveillance of those who intend to dissent outside; a president who oversees mass arrests of peaceful protesters, houses them in makeshift detention centers with filthy floors and noxious air, and treats some arrests as justified even when the arrestees were trying to follow the law.How would they react if Donald Trump did any of that?No lawful protester should be treated like a criminal. Elected officials are bound not only to tolerate protest, but to affirmatively protect and defend the rights to free speech, peaceable assembly, and political dissent. Bloomberg failed that test repeatedly during his tenure. If Democrats nominate him, they will force a choice between two authoritarians in the 2020 election.
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theatlantic.com
Trump’s Most Dangerous Destruction Yet
During the 2016 presidential campaign, many observers worried about what Donald Trump might do with the U.S. intelligence apparatus. These organizations kill people, after all, with scary flying robots. They have the ability to spy on huge numbers of people all over the world. And they have a history of scandal. So it was reasonable to wonder: What happens when you put organizations such as the CIA and the NSA in the hands of a person as vindictive, petty, and contemptuous of law and his political enemies as Trump?The answer, for a while at least, was a somewhat uneventful interlude. Trump had his eyes on other bureaucratic targets. The president rejected important intelligence conclusions, particularly vis-à-vis Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. And he reportedly had little patience for briefings and tended not to believe the community’s conclusions when they were inconvenient to him. But his abusive energy focused far less on the agencies that collect and analyze foreign intelligence than it did on the Justice Department and its investigative component, the FBI.That changed this past week, when Trump moved decisively to politicize the intelligence community, beginning the process of transforming a group of agencies that produce apolitical analysis of regional and global trends and threats to the United States into a blunt tool of presidential power. The changes will make it easier for the president to lie about matters of the gravest consequence. The move is objectively alarming—and yet, for some reason, has not generated the alarm it is due.[Read: Revenge of the intelligence nerds]On Wednesday, Trump dismissed the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, following a blowup over a briefing to Congress on election interference. Trump was reportedly enraged by the briefing, in which, as The New York Times reported, “intelligence officials warned House lawmakers … that Russia was interfering in the 2020 campaign to try to get President Trump re-elected.” According to the Times, the “disclosure … angered Mr. Trump, who complained that Democrats would use it against him.” In particular, “Mr. Trump was particularly irritated that Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California and the leader of the impeachment proceedings, was at the briefing” and “the president berated … Maguire … for allowing [the briefing] to take place.”In Maguire’s place, Trump installed on an acting basis Richard Grenell, the current ambassador to Germany and a Trump loyalist of no particular intelligence background. Grenell has moved swiftly to put his stamp on the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, removing the No. 2 official, Andrew Hallman, and replacing him with Kashyap Patel, a White House national-security official who had gained notoriety earlier as an aide to Representative Devin Nunes, the Republican chief of the House Intelligence Committee , himself a peddler of conspiracy theories.The politics here were not subtle; the president’s own tweets on the subject made his concerns perfectly clear. Over the course of several days, Trump tweeted his rage that Schiff has had access to the briefing about Russia once again intervening on Trump’s behalf. “Just another Shifty Schiff leak. Isn’t there a law about this stuff?” he wrote. Later, he added: “Somebody please tell incompetent (thanks for my high poll numbers) & corrupt politician Adam ‘Shifty’ Schiff to stop leaking Classified information or, even worse, made up information, to the Fake News Media. Someday he will be caught, & that will be a very unpleasant experience!”All of this was taking place as Trump was simultaneously attempting to prevent former National Security Adviser John Bolton from publishing his book, which reportedly contains new information about Trump’s campaign to pressure Ukraine to announce investigations into Joe and Hunter Biden. The Washington Post reported last week that Trump has taken the position that “everything he uttered to [Bolton] about national security is classified and that he will seek to block the book’s publication.” Again, the politics don’t even have the shame to lurk beneath the surface; they are right out in the open. According to the Post, Trump has determined that the book “should not see the light of day before the November election”—as though legitimately classified material would be any less sensitive after the election.So the president spent the week reshaping the intelligence community to serve his political needs, removing those who speak inconvenient realities, and using control over classified material to suppress criticism. And the result was, within a remarkably short period of time, exactly the sort of public abuse of intelligence one might expect from such conduct.This weekend, National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien made the rounds on the Sunday talk shows to cast doubt on the intelligence community’s conclusions regarding Russia’s election interference. On CBS’s Face the Nation, he told the host, Margaret Brennan, that “there's no briefing that I've received, that the president has received, that says that President [Vladimir] Putin is doing anything to try and influence the elections in favor of President Trump.” Instead, he argued, “what I've heard is that Russia would like Bernie Sanders to win the Democrat nomination.” On ABC’s This Week, George Stephanopoulos asked whether O’Brien was “flatly denying that the intel community has analysis that Russia is favoring Trump.” O’Brien responded that he “hadn’t seen that analysis.” And yet again, he claimed that “there are these reports that [Russia] wants Bernie Sanders to get elected. But that's no surprise. He honeymooned in Moscow.”In other words, O’Brien capped the week of the shake-up by both declaring on national television that the intelligence community hadn’t concluded something known to upset the president and implying that it had concluded that Trump’s emerging Democratic rival was benefiting from Russian assistance.[Read: Top military officers unload on Trump]It is possible that O’Brien was carefully speaking to some genuine ambiguity on the first point. In the hours after O’Brien’s television appearances, reports surfaced that seemed to call into question whether the intelligence community really had concluded that Russia was aiming to help Trump in its current interventions. But the factual dispute here is exceedingly narrow. And even with the new reporting in mind, O’Brien’s comments are still a stretch. According to a “senior national security official” who spoke with CNN, the intelligence community has assessed both that Russia views Trump as someone the Kremlin can “work with” and, separately, that Russia is interfering in the 2020 election.” This, the official told CNN, is “a step short” of saying that Russia has a preference for Trump. Likewise, The Washington Post reported that, according to an official, arguing that Russia prefers a Trump win “may overstate the underlying intelligence.”Fair enough. If some space exists between the conclusion that the Kremlin is working to help Trump and the view that the Kremlin is both meddling in the election and regards Trump favorably, it is not unreasonable for the national security adviser to clarify that. But O’Brien went well beyond such a clarification, suggesting that he was unaware of any analysis of the sort. What’s more, if O’Brien’s comments stemmed from a desire to preserve nuance, it’s hard to see why he would have claimed that “reports” indicate the Kremlin’s desire to elect Sanders. Instead, he seems to be reading intelligence-community analysis narrowly in order to cast doubt on any Russian support for Trump, while also seizing on the broadest possible reading of the available material—including not only intelligence-community work, but also unspecified “reports”—to exaggerate Russian support for Sanders. (The Democratic candidate himself, meanwhile, has condemned Russia’s efforts, telling the Post: “My message to Putin is clear: Stay out of American elections, and as president I will make sure that you do.”)O’Brien’s comments offer a template for the politicization of intelligence to the president’s advantage in an election season. A politicized intelligence apparatus can be used both to deny truths the president doesn’t like and to justify falsehoods the president wants to propagate—not to mention create an environment of distrust so that people don’t know what to believe.This is really dangerous stuff. Removing intelligence officers for having the temerity to give their unvarnished assessments is a recipe for groupthink and analytic distortions based on what people think the boss wants to hear. Remember, these are the people the president needs to rely on when he decides whether to take military action. Do we really want them worrying about whether he will like their honest assessment, about whether telling the truth to Congress will give the opposition party information to use against the boss during an election season, or about whether they can blow the whistle on political lies about intelligence without retribution?Imagine that it’s August 2020. The presidential campaign is in full swing. A group of hackers believed by cybersecurity analysts to be affiliated with Russian military intelligence has released documents appearing to contain information damaging to the Democratic nominee. After some hemming and hawing, the press publishes story after story based on the new releases. Meanwhile, Congress continues to get briefings about election security, but they are milquetoast analyses that assiduously avoid assessing Russian intentions to favor or disfavor either side.And once again, the national security adviser appears on television and announces that the U.S. intelligence community has seen nothing to suggest that the hack-and-leak operation is linked to Russia, or that Russia has any interest in securing Trump’s victory; in fact, he says once again, “reports” indicate that the Kremlin is backing the Democratic candidate.Who exactly will contradict him?
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theatlantic.com