Political Animal Blog

That’s Not Draining the Swamp

The way the Trump administration is selling access to the incoming cabinet may not be illegal or unprecedented, but this appears to be the best defense you can make of it:

“The way that I think about about is that what is happening right now is that President-elect Trump is pulling back the curtain on what has been going on for a while,” said Meredith McGehee, a government ethics expert and strategic adviser at the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center. “These are all of the ways we have of raising money. He’s just doing it without shame or compunction.”

It’s not much of a defense, and it become a lot more inadequate when you consider that he’s supposed to be “draining the swamp.”

After all, how can Joe Six-Pack compete with this:

The cost of admission for the Cabinet dinner is included in a package for either $100,000 or $250,000 to the presidential inaugural committee, while dinner with Vice President-elect Mike Pence is open to donors and corporate underwriters at the $500,000 and $1 million-level as part of multi-day itineraries, with the level of access determined by the amount of cash given, according to inauguration brochures obtained by POLITICO.

I have a warning for the folks who are thinking of ponying up six-figure checks for the opportunity of attending one of these dinners. Donald Trump is a well-documented ripoff artist.

The invite states that only “select” Cabinet officials will attend, prompting concerns that only a few lower-profile nominees would be on hand. If that happens, “people will be pissed,” the Trump donor said.

If you’re thinking you’ll get to chat up James Mattis about how he got his “Mad Dog’ nickname or talk to Rex Tillerson about what its like to get the Order of Friendship award from Vladimir Putin, you may have to satisfy yourself with talking to Ben Carson about pyramidal grain storage or with Betsy DeVos about the best way to defend elementary schools from grizzly bears.

You may find yourself feeling like one of the folks who ponied up thirty grand for a degree from the unaccredited Trump University.

Will Trump’s Team Rein In His Worst Instincts?

A couple of months ago I tried to calm my nerves a bit by verbalizing what I thought was the most dangerous part of a Trump presidency…the unknown.

The question of character loomed large in the 2016 presidential election and the country elected the man who is unfit for office. Trump demonstrated that he is a narcissist who doesn’t really care to inform himself about facts and has no attention span for subjects when he isn’t the center of attention. He also showed himself to be a bully who assesses any threat as a question of dominating or being dominated. He harbors authoritarian instincts – as he demonstrated in the world leaders he admires.

It is the moment when the unknown happens during the next four years that Trump’s character will be on display the most. That is why it is the part of his presidency that worries me the most.

It actually helped a bit to bring that one out of the shadows and expose it to the light of day. But now Ben Rhodes, Obama’s Deputy National Security Advisor, has stirred it all up again with this comment to Michael Crowley.

What concerns me is the things that happen every week. I don’t think people realize how many decisions the president of the United States makes about military action. The Iranians harass some vessel of ours in the Persian Gulf: What do we do in response? There’s shelling around our diplomatic facility in X Middle Eastern country. The Chinese pass too close for comfort by a U.S. Navy ship in the South China Sea. These decisions come all the time, and they’re going to come from Day One. I would be more focused on that. Because a dust-up with the Iranians or the Chinese could get out of hand very fast.

Add that to this news from Mark Landler:

The Obama administration has written 275 briefing papers for the incoming Trump administration: nearly 1,000 pages of classified material on North Korea’s nuclear program, the military campaign against the Islamic State, tensions in the South China Sea, and every other kind of threat the new team could face in its first weeks in office.

Nobody in the current administration knows whether anyone in the next has read any of it.

Less than three days before President Obama turns the keys to the White House, and the nuclear codes, over to President-elect Donald J. Trump, Mr. Trump’s transition staff has barely engaged with the National Security Council below the most senior levels…

But the chronic upheaval in Mr. Trump’s transition, a delay in appointing senior National Security Council staff members, and a dearth of people with security clearances have deprived the Trump team of weeks of prep work on some of the most complex national security issues facing the country.

The best that we can hope for in the immediate future is that nothing challenging happens until a Trump team gets up to speed. From there, we’ll have to put our confidence in the possibility that the president-elect surrounds himself with people who will rein in his worst instincts. That is a very narrow opening from which to gain much assurance.

Bears are No Joke

I grew up in Central New Jersey. Mercer County is the home of the state capital as well as Princeton University. A large chunk of the Route One business corridor runs through it. It’s not bear country. In fact, in the eighteen years that I lived in Princeton, I never once heard of a bear sighting. I don’t think I knew that any bears lived in New Jersey. If you wanted to see one (and you probably didn’t), I figured you needed to head across the river to Pennsylvania or go up to the Catskills or Adirondacks. I was very wrong.

The recently concluded bear hunt in New Jersey netted 607 bears. To me, that seems like a ton of bears. But when I looked at the county by county breakdown, I wasn’t surprised to see that zero bears were killed in Mercer County. There were also zero bears killed in Somerset, the county immediately to the north.

I live in Chester County, Pennsylvania now. I actually live in a cabin in the woods. But this is still not bear country. I’ve never seen a bear here, and I’ve never heard that any of my neighbors have either. However, this year I received a notice from my son’s school that there was a lockdown at one the district’s elementary schools due to a bear sighting. And articles started cropping up in the local papers about bears roaming around in the area, including one that got caught on closed circuit television moseying around the parking lot of a nearby shopping center at three in the morning.

One gentleman who lives a couple of towns over encountered a bear in his yard when he went outside at 10pm to water his plants before leaving town on a business trip

So, I started thinking about bears a little more than in the past. I’d think about them when rolling my garbage cans down my wooded driveway to the street in the dark. What would I do if I encountered a bear?

If you live in genuine bear country, having a gun around seems like common sense to me. But that’s up to each individual. What doesn’t seem warranted is to make that decision for someone.

I felt the same way when I lived in high crime areas of Philadelphia. Home invasions were common, and the police were overwhelmed and slow to respond. I didn’t own a gun in the city, but I definitely felt that I should retain the right to own one.

I’ve never been a gun control hardliner. I’m appalled at the prevalence of gun crimes and accidents in this country, and I definitely wish we didn’t make military-style weapons readily available to people. I think gun ownership comes with responsibilities, and that we under-regulate in a seemingly suicidal manner.

I can think of many ways that we can assure that people can acquire guns for personal protection that also make it more difficult to quickly get a gun, to get a gun without proper training, or to use a gun without traceability and accountability.

But I also think it’s not quite as ludicrous as many people think it is to talk about the need to have guns to protect yourself from bears.

The more bears there are where you live, the less ludicrous it sounds.

Betsy DeVos is a ridiculous person and a foolish choice for Secretary of Education. And the schools in Wyoming seem to be doing just fine with their bear protection plans without the need to keep a small armory on their campuses.

So, this isn’t a defense of her testimony at her confirmation hearing. It’s just a reminder that there’s a cultural disconnect on issues like this. And bears are no joke.

Obama Granted Clemency to Chelsea Manning, and 272 Others

Yesterday President Obama commuted the sentence of Chelsea Manning, the former army intelligence analyst convicted in 2013 for disclosing military and diplomatic documents to WikiLeaks. She is scheduled to be released in May after serving almost 8 years of her 35-year sentence. That is the story that garnered all the headlines. But there were other significant stories included in this announcement. For example, the sentence of Oscar López Rivera was commuted as well.

López Rivera…has been incarcerated for 35 years for his role in fighting for Puerto Rico’s independence.

The 74-year-old, who has spent more than half of his life behind bars, was convicted of “seditious conspiracy” for plotting against the US. The US government had also classified him as a terrorist…

Many prominent figures have aggressively lobbied for López Rivera’s pardon, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu; the governor of Puerto Rico, Alejandro García Padilla; the Hispanic caucus of the US Congress; former US president Jimmy Carter; former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders; and Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator of the smash Broadway musical Hamilton…

US congressman Luis Gutiérrez celebrated Obama’s decision on Tuesday, saying in a statement, “I am overjoyed and overwhelmed with emotion. Oscar is a friend, a mentor, and family to me … The long fight against colonialism in the Caribbean has had many chapters and we have all put violence behind us. Releasing Oscar Lopez Rivera back to his homeland and his people is a step towards peace and reconciliation and is being celebrated by Puerto Ricans of all political stripes, classes, colors and geographies.”

Beyond these two, the President commuted the sentences of 207 other individuals and granted 64 pardons. That brings the total number of commuted sentences under this administration to 1,385 (including 504 life sentences) – more than any other president in our history. In addition, President Obama has now granted a total of 212 pardons. According to Justin Sink and Shannon Pettypiece, he’s not done yet.

The president will announce another series of clemency decisions on Thursday, his final full day in office, an administration official said.

The reason this is important (even though most of these recipients will not garner headlines) is because back in April 2014, President Obama announced a Clemency Initiative. The goal was not only to commute the sentences of drug offenders who had been subjected to previous mandatory minimum sentences that have since been reduced, but to reform the Pardon Attorney’s Office.

The president complained that the pardon attorney’s office favored petitions from wealthy and connected people, who had good lawyers and knew how to game the system. The typical felon recommended for clemency by the pardon attorney was a hunter who wanted a pardon so that he could apply for a hunting license.

Here is how then-Attorney General Eric Holder described the initiative:

Holder told The Huffington Post that it was important for DOJ to “find people who are not traditionally thought of as good candidates” for clemency and “change the focus” of the Office of the Pardon Attorney.

“We have to have a process that I think works better, we need to come up with ways in which we identify people who are worthy of clemency, commutations, and not in the way I think we have traditionally done,” Holder said.

This reform effort ran into some challenges initially that seem to be mostly related to personnel and the fact that they initially received over 25,000 petitions. But those have been addressed since Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates was put in charge of the process and now, the Justice Department reports that they have reviewed all of the remaining 16,000 petitions.

These efforts have been aided by the fact that the U.S. Sentencing Commission decided to apply the Fair Sentencing Act (which reduced the disparities in federal mandatory minimum sentences for powder and crack cocaine) retroactively – affecting approximately 50,000 federal drug offenders. Finally, in 2013 AG Holder implemented a prison reform package that averted the imposition of severe mandatory sentences for low-level, nonviolent drug offenders with no ties to gangs or large-scale drug organizations.

Taken together, these initiatives provide the context for a recent report from Pew Research.

President Barack Obama is on pace to leave the White House with a smaller federal prison population than when he took office – a distinction no president since Jimmy Carter has had, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

The number of sentenced prisoners in federal custody fell 5% (or 7,981 inmates) between the end of 2009, Obama’s first year in office, and 2015, the most recent year for which BJS has final, end-of-year statistics. Preliminary figures for 2016 show the decline continued during Obama’s last full year in office and that the overall reduction during his tenure will likely exceed 5%.

By contrast, the federal prison population increased significantly under every other president since 1981.

As the White House is always quick to point out, this is not a comprehensive remedy for the problem of mass incarceration in this country. That would require Congress to pass a criminal justice reform package and, even more importantly, efforts at the state and local level. And while it’s clear that the incoming administration is unlikely to continue these efforts, this is an important part of President Barack Obama’s legacy.

Quick Takes: You Don’t Know What You’ve Got ‘Til It’s (Almost) Gone

* Robert Pear reports:

President-elect Donald J. Trump and congressional Republicans appear to have accomplished a feat that President Obama, with all the power at his disposal, could not in the past seven years: They have galvanized outspoken support for the Affordable Care Act.

People who benefit from the law are flooding Congress with testimonials. Angry consumers are confronting Republican lawmakers. And Democrats who saw the law as a political liability in recent elections have suddenly found their voice, proudly defending the law now that it is in trouble.

Thousands of people across the country held rallies over the weekend to save the health care law, which Republicans moved last week to repeal with a first but crucial legislative step. A widely circulated video showed Representative Mike Coffman, Republican of Colorado, eluding constituents who had wanted to meet with him to express their concerns on Saturday at a community event in Aurora, Colo. Rallies on Sunday to save the health law drew robust crowds around the country.

* In addition to the video mentioned above of protests at an event with Rep. Coffman, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) felt some heat as well.

The House’s fourth highest-ranking Republican was heckled during a speech at Martin Luther King Jr. Day rally by attendees protesting the GOP’s plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

“We may not always agree with one another, but we can come together and find common ground to create change and progress right here in Eastern Washington,” Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) said before being interrupted by chants of “save our health care.”

* Look what happens when you venture outside of your epistemically closed bubble:

* Perhaps people are waking up to the fact that they’ll lose their ACA benefits if Congress repeals Obamacare.

* In the midst of all this, we got an updated CBO report on what happens if Republicans repeal Obamacare.

CBO estimates that, compared to what’s already projected to happen under current law:

* 18 million more people would become uninsured in the first full year after the bill’s enactment — rising to 32 million more people by 2026;
* premiums in the individual insurance marketplaces would soar — they’d go up 20 to 25 percent above currently projected increases in the first full year after repeal, and “would about double by 2026”;
* and access to coverage on the individual markets would plummet — about half of the US population would live in areas “that would have no insurer participating” in the individual market, CBO projects.

* In related news, the abortion rate in the U.S. fell to it’s lowest level since prior to Roe v. Wade.

No…this isn’t happening because Republicans are making it increasingly difficult for women to get access to abortion services.

A more important driver of the declining abortion rate, Jones said, appears to be improved access to contraception, particularly long-acting birth control options like IUDs. She noted that women in the United States have been using the highly effective devices in growing numbers for more than a decade, and said the declining birthrate suggests more women are preventing unwanted pregnancies.

“Abortion is going down, and births aren’t going up,” Jones said.

* While Trump’s approval numbers are at an historical low for a president-elect, the opposite is true for President Obama.

Fifty-eight percent of Americans view President Barack Obama favorably as his second term nears its end. The latest figure, along with the 61% and 62% favorable ratings Obama received in the weeks after the 2016 election, is one of the president’s highest marks since the “honeymoon” period during his first year in office.

* All of that has me playing this Joni Mitchell tune in my head today:

The Republicans Are Stuck on Health Care Reform

I think it’s reasonable to talk about what would have happen if Congress repeals the Affordable Care Act without replacing it because there is no assurance that anything will replace it. The Republicans can try to reassure people that all these horrible things won’t happen, but there’s no reason to believe they’ll be able to make good on that promise.

For one thing, the reason that horrible things will happen is because they want to get rid of most of the things that make the health care scheme work. In order to make it possible to be profitable while insuring people with pre-existing conditions, you need lots and lots of healthy people paying premiums who don’t actually use much health care. That’s why there is an individual mandate. The subsidies in the individual market and the Medicaid spending are what makes it affordable for millions of people to get coverage, so if you eliminate or drastically reduce those subsidies, tens of millions will lose their health care access. The Republicans’ plan is not fully developed, but we know that they things they don’t like are the things that keep the insurance pool of young and healthy enough that premiums can be kept at an affordable level.

What the GOP is going to attempt to do would be unpopular even if they had better intentions for many of the same reasons that Obamacare has struggled to maintain widespread support. People will be forced to change plans and doctors. Insurance companies will stop serving their market. They’ll get blamed for premium hikes even if, somehow, those hikes are lower than they have been in the past.

To avoid some of this, they’ll need to avoid messing up the scheme, but they can’t do that if they break the scheme apart.

Most importantly, they’ve arranged things so that they need only fifty votes in the Senate to mess things up but still need sixty (and a majority in the House) to fix them. Republicans won’t want to replace what they’ve just repealed, especially the things they hate. So, it looks like an impossible task to replace Obamacare with anything that would work.

Needless to say, they won’t be able or even willing to keep Trump’s promise to provide everyone with health care even if they can’t afford it.

What will they actually do?

I’m not sure that anyone really knows.

Putin Warns of a “Maidan in Washington”

It will come as no surprise to anyone that today Vladimir Putin defended his BFF Donald Trump at a news conference in Moscow. Demonstrating a bizarre tone-deafness to the current allegations, he accused those who are spreading them of “acting like prostitutes.” He also affirmed how much he and the president-elect have in common when it comes to objectifying women.

Putin also sarcastically suggested that Trump, who met the world’s most beautiful women at the pageant, had a better choice for female companionship than Moscow prostitutes, even though Putin claimed “they are also the best in the world.”

But the most fascinating thing he said was this:

He said Trump’s foes are ready to go as far as to “stage a Maidan in Washington to prevent Trump from entering office”…

It’s clear that Putin was actually talking about the protests we now refer to as Euromaidan, which led to the 2014 Ukrainian revolution.

The demonstrations that shook Ukraine throughout November and December 2013 reached a critical turning point on December 17th, when the country’s embattled president, Viktor Yanukovych, struck a surprise deal with Vladimir Putin in which Russia bought $15 billion in Ukrainian bonds and slashed the price on natural gas by a third. This news flash came as blunt confirmation that Yanukovych had no intention of giving in to the innovative protest movement that had put his government in crisis by demanding that the country look west toward Europe instead of becoming a Russian ally once more. As the protesters digested what seemed to be a significant coup by Putin, the question of what would come next hung in the air. But by New Year’s Eve, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators were in the streets again, stronger than ever.

The Russian president is basically equating Trump with another corrupt Putin puppet, Yanukovych. Perhaps he is so blinded by his own bias that he thinks that is a helpful way to defend Trump. But he just confirmed every suspicion many of us have harbored about the president-elect.

Trump Off to Historically Bad Start

Dana Milbank collected a (still incomplete) list of all the people Trump has insulted and gloated over since we won his surprising election in early November. As I read it, I kept having the same experience: “Oh yeah, I forgot about that one.” It’s more evidence that the specifics of the insults don’t matter. What’s important is that he’s always on offense. He’s always giving his audience more.

It’s true that this demonstrates continuity with this approach to the campaign, but it also makes him a sore winner. And very few people like sore winners. Milbank probably puts too much emphasis on this one point as he uses it to explain Trump’s astonishingly bad poll numbers, but it’s a factor.

Looking back, it will also be hard to judge the way the Bush presidency handled winning the presidency despite losing the popular vote because the 9/11 attacks reshaped everything. But he was struggling by Labor Day of 2001. In late may, Senator Jim Jeffords of Vermont was already so incensed by the way Bush was handling the presidency that he defected from the Republican Party and handed control of the Senate over to the Democrats. By late-August, a rift had opened up between Colin Powell at the State Department and the Cheney/Rumsfeld axis. The overall perception was that Bush was acting as if he’d won some giant mandate that simply didn’t exist, and that he wasn’t doing enough to reach out to those who had opposed his presidency. It was beginning to cost him.

Trump may need some unifying event like 9/11 to have any hope of governing with anything approaching approval from the American people.

Compared with other presidents, Trump’s handling of the transition has been judged harshly by respondents. As with his favorable rating, 40 percent say they approve and 54 percent disapprove. In comparison, roughly 8 in 10 approved of the way Obama and former presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush handled their transitions. And about 7 in 10 approved of the way former president George W. Bush handled his, even though it came amid the rancorous 37-day recount of ballots in Florida and a controversial Supreme Court decision that helped put him in the Oval Office…

…So far, Trump has generated little confidence about his ability to make sound decisions as president. When asked generally about their faith in his decision-making, just under 4 in 10 say they have either a “great deal” or a “good amount” of confidence in him, and about 6 in 10 say they have “just some” or “none at all.” That is the mirror opposite of attitudes eight years ago on the eve of Obama’s first inauguration.

It hard to say what factors have played the biggest role in this disapproval. It’s important to remember that 70% to 80% of the people have traditionally given good marks to previous transitions. That means that Trump has failed in getting any honeymoon from people who opposed him. In fact, a higher percentage voted for him than approve of how he’s handling the job so far.

Some things are obviously beyond his control, but the people he’s chosen to serve in his administration must be as important as how he’s conducted himself on Twitter. He wants to gloat more than mend fences, it’s true, but his appointments are their own form of revenge and disrespect. In many cases, they also seem to betray the messages and promises he made on the campaign trail, which may explain why he’s lost support from so many of his own voters.

The way he’s tormenting our allies in Asia and Europe could also be having an effect, especially among more establishment and cosmopolitan Republicans.

However you look at it, he’s off to a miserable start and it’s hard to see how things can get better from here.

The History of Kompromat Both Here and Abroad

With the publication of the Steele dossier, many Americans were introduced to a new word: kompromat.

Kompromat is a Russian squishing together of two words: “compromising material,” which Americans refer to as “blackmail.”

But Amanda Taub tells us that most people’s understanding of that word is too narrow.

In fact, kompromat is more than an individual piece of damaging information: It is a broader attempt to manufacture public cynicism and confusion in ways that target not just one individual but an entire society.

And although this practice tends to be associated with Russia…it is a common feature of authoritarian and semiauthoritarian nations around the world.

Specific leaks may take aim at powerful individuals, but in the longer term, kompromat serves the interests of the powerful, which is why it is often a tool of autocrats. By eroding the very idea of a shared reality, and by spreading apathy and confusion among a public that learns to distrust leaders and institutions alike, kompromat undermines a society’s ability to hold the powerful to account and ensure the proper functioning of government.

That broader view of the term struck me as something we’ve been hearing a lot about lately. Jochen Bittner uses a word coined by the East German Stasi, “zersetzung.”

What Russia does today is very much the digital version of what we Germans, before 1989, termed “Zersetzung.” The term is hard to translate, but it’s best described as the political equivalent of what happens when you pour acid on organic material: dissolution and disintegration.

The methods of Zersetzung are to cast doubt on the basic norms of the Western liberal order and its institutions; to distort and thereby discredit the purposes of the European Union, NATO and the free-market economy; to erode the credibility of the free press and free elections. The means of Zersetzung include character assassination and, through the spreading of lies and fake news, the creation of a gray zone of doubt in which facts struggle to survive.

Neil MacFarquhar calls it “dezinformatsiya.”

The fundamental purpose of dezinformatsiya, or Russian disinformation, experts said, is to undermine the official version of events — even the very idea that there is a true version of events — and foster a kind of policy paralysis…

Although the topics may vary, the goal is the same, Mr. Lindberg and others suggested. “What the Russians are doing is building narratives; they are not building facts,” he said. “The underlying narrative is, ‘Don’t trust anyone.’”

Peter Pomerantsev distinguishes this from the kind of propaganda that is often associated with information warfare.

The new Russia doesn’t just deal in the petty disinformation, forgeries, lies, leaks, and cyber-sabotage usually associated with information warfare. It reinvents reality, creating mass hallucinations that then translate into political action…

The point of this new propaganda is not to persuade anyone, but to keep the viewer hooked and distracted—to disrupt Western narratives rather than provide a counternarrative. It is the perfect genre for conspiracy theories, which are all over Russian TV…

Ultimately, many people in Russia and around the world understand that Russian political parties are hollow and Russian news outlets are churning out fantasies. But insisting on the lie, the Kremlin intimidates others by showing that it is in control of defining ‘reality.’ This is why it’s so important for Moscow to do away with truth. If nothing is true, then anything is possible.

Lest we think this all started with Russia, I would remind you of what Paul Glastris wrote a few months ago about the “merchants of doubt.”

…there is phrase for those who insist on keeping a controversy going long after enough facts are in to draw reasonable conclusions: “Merchants of Doubt.” The label comes from the book about a loose group of scientists who helped corporate and conservative political interests sow doubt in the public’s mind regarding the certainty of the science linking tobacco to lung cancer and fossil fuels to global warming. It’s the same strategy creationists use when they lobby school boards about gaps in the fossil record and how it’s important and fair-minded to “teach the controversy” about evolution.

That was in response to the media’s insistence on what Matt Yglesias called the “assumption of corruption” in regards to the Clintons.

The perception that Clinton is corrupt is one of her most profound handicaps as a politician. And what’s particularly crippling about it is that evidence of her corruption is so widespread exactly because everyone knows she’s corrupt.

Because people “know” that she is corrupt, every decision she makes and every relationship she has is cast in the most negative possible light.

Much of that was fueled by the strategy Steve Bannon implemented to “weaponize a story” by selling it to mainstream media through his Government Accountability Institute – as they did with the book “Clinton Cash.”

But Bannon was simply building on the decades of work along those lines by groups like Citizens United.

Citizens United became a clearinghouse for all this shady material, alternating between spoon feeding enticing tidbits to the press and dumping vast amounts of incomprehensible material that sounded bad but ended up being misleading at best when the facts were untangled. This was the essence of ’90s-style “smell test” politics in which many people observed the sheer volume of complicated accusations, threw up their hands and assumed that where there’s this much smoke there must be a fire somewhere.

A precise definition of each of these activities might point to some differences among them. But overall, any attempt to explain what just happened in the 2016 election that doesn’t take all of this into account is seriously off the mark. And now, these same forces are at work against Angela Merkel in Germany’s up coming election. If you needed any proof…there’s this:

That is why President Obama, in his farewell address, said that this is a threat to democracy.

In the course of a healthy debate, we prioritize different goals, and the different means of reaching them. But without some common baseline of facts, without a willingness to admit new information, and concede that your opponent might be making a fair point, and that science and reason matter — then we’re going to keep talking past each other, and we’ll make common ground and compromise impossible.

The answer to that threat is multi-faceted. But it involves a media that is determined to evaluate facts and provide context to the way these campaigns of disinformation are being used to manipulate them. It also involves a citizenry that is prepared to distinguish between facts and spin – even if it means challenging their own biases. That includes doing so ourselves – not only pointing to the way conservatives are being manipulated.

The Bridge: From John Lewis to Barack Obama

In a week that is book-ended by our annual celebration of the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the passing of the baton from this country’s first African American president to Donald Trump, I suppose that it should come as no surprise that we witnessed a verbal battle between Rep. John Lewis and the president-elect.

It all started with an interview on Meet the Press.

In an exclusive interview with NBC News’ “Meet the Press,” Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., said he does not believe Donald Trump is a “legitimate president,” citing Russian interference in last year’s election.

Asked whether he would try to forge a relationship with the president-elect, Lewis said that he believes in forgiveness, but added, “it’s going to be very difficult. I don’t see this president-elect as a legitimate president.”

When pressed to explain why, he cited allegations of Russian hacks during the campaign that led to the release of internal documents from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign co-chairman, John Podesta.

“I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected. And they helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton,” Lewis told NBC News.

Trump was quick to hit back on twitter.

Trump demonstrated his ignorance – both in saying that Rep. Lewis’s district is crime infested and falling apart, as well as a suggestion that the Congressman is all talk, no action or results. Just in case you are not aware of how wrong Trump was on the former charge:

The district that Trump described as in “horrible shape” includes Emory University and Morehouse College, as well as Spelman College and Georgia Tech. The Coca-Cola headquarters is just one of that district’s many, high-profile corporate residents. Lewis represents Midtown’s shiny residential high-rises and the pricey Intown neighborhoods filled with renovated homes, the Beltline and Ponce City Market.

The typical cost of a house in the most sought-after neighborhoods within Georgia’s 5th Congressional District ranges from over $500,000 to $1 million, said Bill Adams, whose real estate company has operated in the district’s neighborhoods for years. “Certainly there are major pockets of poverty, but the central core of Atlanta is flourishing — big time,” Adams said. “He’s thinking about a different Atlanta than the one I live and work in.”

Most of us are aware of Rep. Lewis’s history that is directly the opposite of all talk, not action. David Remnick captures the most significant moment when Lewis and other protesters faced down Alabama state troopers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965.

Given one minute to disperse by the troopers, Lewis had the protesters kneel in prayer. They would not leave. “And then they were upon us.” The troopers charged, and the first among them brought down a nightstick on the left side of Lewis’s skull. His legs gave way. “I really thought I was going to die,” he said. He curled up on the ground, as he had been trained, in a “prayer for protection” position.” The trooper hit him again. And then came the canisters of tear gas. His skull fractured, his coat a mess of mud and blood, Lewis refused to go to the hospital. Barely conscious, he reached Brown Chapel, the headquarters of the movement, ascended to the pulpit, and told those gathered, many of them still gasping from the tear gas, “I don’t know how President Johnson can send troops to Vietnam. I don’t see how he can send troops to the Congo. I don’t see how he can send troops to Africa, and he can’t send troops to Selma, Alabama. Next time we march, we may have to keep going when we get to Montgomery. We may have to go on to Washington.”

That night, an audience of forty-eight million people watched a fifteen-minute report on Selma. President Lyndon B. Johnson, who had urged civil-rights leaders to force his hand if they wanted him to support a voting-rights bill, now saw that it was time to promote one. On national television, he compared Selma to Lexington and Concord as a “turning point in man’s unending search for freedom.” And the Voting Rights Act—now under assault in many ways—became law.

No matter how many times you hear that story – it is gripping. Notice that, after having his skull fractured by a trooper’s baton, Lewis is immediately talking about “next time we march.” It’s hard for most of us to even comprehend that kind of determination and courage. And when it comes to results…the Voting Rights Act – a milestone in American history.

It was particularly poignant to read Remnick’s account of all this. Back in 2010 he published the book, “The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama.” The inside flap on the front of the hardcover version is the iconic photo of John Lewis staring down Alabama state troopers, and on the back is a photo of Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009. Remnick starts with the history of that confrontation on the Edmund Pettus Bridge and demonstrates it’s connection to the life and rise of Barack Obama. He ends with a simple story of something that happened eight years ago this Friday.

Obama had kept a wall of heroes at the Hart Senate Office Building down the streets: a portrait of Gandhi at his spinning wheel; Thurgood Marshall in his judicial robes; Nelson Mandela reclining in a golden armchair, his cane at his side; Martin Luther King, Jr.,  at the microphone; Alexander Gardner’s photograph of a war-weary Lincoln. Obama also displayed a framed cover of Life magazine from March, 1965; it showed a long line of demonstrators, led by John Lewis, about to confront the Alabama state troopers at the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Lewis had signed and framed the cover and given it to Obama as a gift. Now, at the luncheon following the swearing-in ceremony, Lewis approached Obama with a sheet of paper and, to mark the occasion, he asked him to sign it. The forty-fourth President of the United States wrote, “Because of you, John. Barack Obama.”

History would go to on to show the two of these men marching across that bridge again to celebrate 50th anniversary of that confrontation, where Obama gave one of the most memorable speeches of his presidency. He opened that speech with these words:

It is a rare honor in this life to follow one of your heroes. And John Lewis is one of my heroes.

On Friday, the baton will be passed on to someone who obviously has no appreciation of this history or the role that John Lewis played in creating that bridge. I think I can speak for millions of Americans when I simply say, “Sad!”