Thursday, December 1, 2016

Foot Voting vs. Ballot Box Voting: Exploring Ways to Make Democracy Work Better

Democracy and Political Ignorance: 
Why Smaller Government is Smarter
Ilya Somin
Stanford University Press, 2d Ed. 2016
312 pages.

"I'm shocked, shocked that gambling is going on in here," Captain Renault famously feigns to Rick in Casablanca. Ilya Somin's newly reissued and updated book has a bit of Captain Renault about it: "I'm shocked, shocked that voters in modern democracies are woefully ignorant and uninformed when it comes to choosing their leaders; we should immediately reduce the size of government, privatize many government functions, and let voters make decisions for themselves in the private realm, or let them vote with their feet by moving away from jurisdictions whose policies they do not like and towards jurisdictions whose policies they do like because they pay better attention when they do this."

Somin is a professor at the Antonin Scalia School of Law at George Mason University. His research focuses on constitutional law, property law, and the study of popular political participation and its implications for constitutional democracy. He is a libertarian and his arguments serve the libertarian cause. But Somin is also a generous, intellectually honest, and interesting writer who is genuinely struggling with the problems of democracy and the rule of law. If you care about democracy and the rule of law--and we had all of us better care in this age of Trump--Somin's book presents a thorough and broad survey of the challenge posed by voter political ignorance, and suggests some places to look for solutions.

The Extent of Voter Ignorance

Somin begins with an assessment of the extent of political ignorance. It's bad. "Father forgive them, for they know not what they are doing" Jesus cried out on the cross, and he might well cry out today after 62 million voters have made Donald J. Trump President elect of the United States.

Before the 2014 election, Somin reports, 62% of voters did not know which party controlled Congress. In August 2013, 44% of voters did not know whether Obamacare was still in effect. With Trump appointing Obamacare foe Congressman Tom Price to run the Department of Health and Human Services, it looks like the answer may soon be "No," even as many Trump voters have come to rely on Obamacare.  See NYT 11/25/16.

A September 2014 Pew study found that two in three Americans mistakenly thought that we spend more on foreign aid than on social security. In reality, foreign aid accounts for less than one percent of the budget while social security accounts for ~25 percent of the budget. It's hard for the electorate to evaluate political talking points when they have such a high level of misunderstanding about the underlying facts and issues.

We've been talking about income inequality for the past few years, yet only a small sliver of Americans can recognize the shape of our income inequality on a chart.

How can we have a meaningful public discussion about income inequality when most voters cannot recognize what income inequality looks like on a chart? 

As the Bush v. Kerry campaign was heating up "in late 2003," says Somin, "more than 60 percent of Americans did not realize that a massive increase in domestic spending had made a substantial contribution to the then-recent explosion in the federal deficit.”  With the federal deficit a hot campaign topic, it's hard to imagine voters who don't have any sense why the deficit increased (Bush tax cuts, Iraq war, medicare drug benefits) making an informed choice between the competing policy directions on offer in the 2004 election.

As we might expect, a corollary to this is that most of the public is unaware of the wide range of government programs structured as tax deductions, or the massive extent to which many of these programs transfer wealth to the affluent. 

In 2007, after more than three years of war in Iraq, and non-stop news coverage about the Middle East, 68 percent of the public could not identify “Sunni” as a major branch of Islam when prompted with “Shiite” as the other branch. It's this level of ignorance that has enabled Donald Trump to ride the xenophobic mob specter of "radical Islam" among the 90 million white non-college educated crowd who favored him with nearly seventy percent of their votes. 

Most voters lack an ideological framework for processing political information, says Somin. As a result they miss the connections between issues and their views are very fluid and subject to crass manipulation. 

There is a large political knowledge underclass, “know nothings” who possess little if any basic political knowledge, says Somin. This voting army of "know nothings" riding roughshod over the field of politics seems to comprise as much as 25-35% of the U.S. public.

Here's G.W. Bowersock , NYR 11/10/16,  characterizing where this all can lead in light of the most recent election results: “The present election process has revealed that an ignorant, mendacious, and inherent bully can find support among important segments of the American people. The impact of this support is potentially catastrophic…. The people, whom the Greeks called demos, whence democracy derives its name, can be easily swayed by plainspoken leaders who speak directly to their deepest anxieties.” What price we will all pay for this particular election outcome remains to be seen.  

Do Voters Know Enough

Can we make democracy work with an electorate that lacks basic knowledge about the important issues of the day and doesn't seem to care?  "Do voters know enough?" asks Somin. 

It's a rhetorical question. Of course we voters don't know enough, and when we do know things we often apply our knowledge irrationally. But what choice do we have? Smaller government, and making more political decisions through people voting with their feet, says Somin. When citizens move away from government policies they don't like towards jurisdictions that have policies more to their liking, says Somin, citizens take their information gathering more seriously, they know more, and they make better decisions. We should be looking for opportunities where foot voting is feasible.

In 1950 Joseph Schumpeter observed that “The typical citizen drops down to a lower level of mental performance as soon as he enters the political field. He argues and analyzes in a way which he would readily recognize as infantile within the sphere of his real interest. He becomes primitive again.”  Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy (1950). 

Somin tries to steer us to the conclusion that, yes, democracy may be the best thing going, but as actors in democracy we are not nearly as competent than we are as actors in our spheres of real interest--our jobs, our hobbies, our passions. The more we can shift the burden of collective decision-making to our private spheres of real interest and away from ballot box voting, therefore, the better off we'll be. 

There are four common notions of how democracy works in theory, says Somin.  They are fictions, really, thought-props. Looking at the amount of knowledge required from voters, from least to most, says Somin, these are: 1) retrospective voting, 2) Burkean trusteeship, 3) representation of popular preferences on specific issues, and 4) deliberative democracy. Lets just focus on the least demanding, retrospective voting. 

Schumpeter advocated for the retrospective voting model. “Electorates normally do not control their political leaders in any way except by refusing to reelect them,” said Schumpeter.  Somin claims that the idea of retrospective voting assumes that citizens can assess the performance of incumbent officeholders.   “At the very least retrospective voting requires that the electorate possess sufficient knowledge to determine how well political leaders are performing their assigned duties.”  Kindle Loc 964. When voters lack knowledge, retrospective voting can be counterproductive, says Somin: with lack of knowledge voters are at risk of elevating scoundrels and incompetents over smart, experienced, technocratic leaders.

There are four knowledge prerequisites for competent retrospective voting, says Somin. Voters must: 1) have some understanding of which problems are caused by poor government policies, or what problems can be alleviated by good government policies; 2) voters must know which incumbent officeholders are responsible for which issue areas; 3) they must know at least the basic facts about what happened with respect to those issues during the incumbent’s term; and 4) they must be able to determine, at least to some extent, whether the incumbent's policies were the best available under the circumstances, or whether their opponent’s ideas might have fared better.  Loc 986.   “[Retrospective voting] calls for a much greater level of political knowledge than the theory’s more enthusiastic advocates acknowledge,” Somin concludes. Kindle Loc 993.

But why "must?" We clearly don't meet these "prerequisites," but what of it?

As Brad DeLong notes, "Democracy has never been a particularly good way of choosing smart, technocratic leaders." Democracy's main virtues are that (a) it rules out the mirage of violent revolution as a solution to current disappointments, and (b) that, despite all, it provides powerful insulation against certain rent-seeking by the currently rich, who are always in favor of wealth extraction from the rest, and always opposed to the creative destruction that economic growth brings (because it is their wealth that is being destroyed). But the problem of "being ruled by the current group of clowns" that the people chose, when the people can vote to change the "current group of clowns"--even if the people were incompetent in appointing the "current group of clowns," and may be incompetent in appointing the next--is a more benign problem than the problem of people being oppressed by a tyrant that they are stuck with, no matter how technocratically incompetent, corrupt, or venal that tyrant may be.

But surely we can do better. How do we improve?

Somin thinks voters don't know enough and we, therefore, need mitigating measures to guard against misguided voter action. "Do no harm" is the gist of the Hiipocratic oath, and the majority who voted for Hillary Clinton in the election might well be wondering how to minimize harm over the next four years. But what are such mitigating measures?

Democracy and Political Ignorance sets out to open our minds to the possibility that improvements might be found in smaller government, more foot voting, and more private action in the marketplace, thereby reducing the scope of issues that must be decided (or overseen) by an unknowledgeable electorate at the ballot box.

The Rationality of Political Ignorance

Somin seeks to reduce the range of issues to be decided at the ballot box because he feels there are no effective shortcuts to actual knowledge that are available to the electorate (there is a whole chapter on this) and because he does not believe that the level of voter knowledge can be significantly raised in the foreseeable future (and he has a chapter on that).  A real problem, suggests Somin, is that it is rational for voters to take no more than a superficial interest in voting because an individual voter has virtually no chance of influencing the outcome of an election—possibly less than 1/100 million in modern U.S. presidential election, says Somin. Kindle Loc 1460. 

We have a rough general sense that devoting more than minimal time and effort to acquiring political information is rarely worth the trouble.  Loc 1448.  The task of becoming adequately knowledgeable is too daunting. Take, as one example, the Trans Pacific Partnership: even experts have a hard time assessing its merits, how could the rest of us ever hope to evaluate it? 

But does this say anything about whether the TPP is a net positive or negative? Whether we, as a country, should go through with it or not?  It seems to me the conclusion "We should not have the TPP" does no follow from the premise "the electorate is not able to meaningfully evaluate it rationally!"  

Somin ponders the question "why do people vote at all?"  Rational choice models seem to predict that people wouldn’t vote unless they have some reasons for casting a ballot that is unrelated to the likelihood of changing the result, he says. But if the core of the problem is that we are partisan and irrational, we use our reasoning skills, our argumentative skills, and the little knowledge we gain to advocate for the stories we tell ourselves (and the stories we tell ourselves are highly dependent on which tribe we belong to), then rational choice theory does not appear to be the correct place to be looking for answers. 

It seems silly, for example, to suggest that 129 million people voted in this election because they mistakenly (or irrationally?) thought their individual vote might be determinative. Voting is a social act of civic involvement. We have to look at the psychology of crowds, at our civic values--or lack thereof, not to the rationality or irrationality of individual voters. Voting is something we do as a community because we have internalized certain civic virtues. We vote in spite of the fact that we know our individual vote will make no difference. We vote because we trust in our fellow citizens and because we believe that collectively we can make a difference. All those non-college educated whites in Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Florida who came out to favor Trump in this election determined the outcome. They may have been less than rational in their choice, but who is to say they were irrational in showing up to vote and responding as a group? 

As Matt Yglesias recently noted: "It's important to remember that 2016 fundamentals favored the GOP and Trump underperformed. There is no secret political magic to his candidacy." The shocking thing about the election, of course, is that Trump, given his inexperience, his dishonesty, his extreme and disturbing rhetoric, and lack of any clear program managed to garner 46.4% of the vote and a majority of the Electoral College. For the 48.2% plurality of voters who voted for Clinton, this is a problem, but it's not clear that it's a problem that smaller government would have avoided. 

It's ironic that the harm feared by the majority who voted for Hillary Clinton in this election is the very "remedy" that Somin advocates: the shrinking of government. The Clinton plurality fear the federal government will retreat from environmental oversight, from consumer protection, giving tax cuts to the wealthy and providing fewer benefits for the elderly, the sick, and the poor.  There is talk of privatizing medicare and government providing less support for education. All of this might shrink the size of government, but savy electorate or ignorant, it's not at all clear how this would make most of us better off.  

Somin is exploring whether we'd be better off with more foot voters and smaller government than our current size of government that ballot box voters are not able to properly oversee.    

Prospects for Foot Voting over Ballot Box Voting

So what is foot voting and how would it make us better off?

Somin cites three different kinds of foot voting: (1) voters physically leaving one jurisdiction and moving to another jurisdiction to live; (2) residents abandoning state services of that jurisdiction and using private services as a substitute (sending our kids to private school would be an example); and (3) consumers making purchasing decisions in the market place. 

Mormon migration West 1846-47
Federalism enables citizens to “vote with their feet” by moving from one jurisdiction to another. Within the United States it is easy to pack your bags and move from one state to another. We have many ways to learn about specific conditions in other states: we can visit, we have friends and family there, and the official news media and social media provide us with information about relative conditions. Want to live among self-reliant survivalists?  Move to Heyden Idaho. Want to live in a vibrant LGBTQ community? How about San Francisco, Seattle, or New York? It's a lot easier to move to San Francisco, property values and rents notwithstanding, than it is to convince Mississippi to pass legislation to protect LGBTQ rights.  Want to make a living in the marijuana industry? Move to Humboldt County, California.

Somin points to both historical and current examples. There was the migration of the Mormons to Utah in the 18th century. Then between 1880-1920 one million southern born African Americans migrated to the North or West.  Relatives and acquaintances already living there provided information. Black media encouraged migration.  There were emigrant agents recruiting for businesses seeking to hire African American Workers.

Foot Voting against Jim Crow
Black migrants had good reasons for leaving the South: lynchings, racial discrimination, and other hostile government policies. But the choice they faced was complex because there was extensive racism and government sponsored discrimination in the North as well. Most scholars agree, Somin reports, that Blacks benefited from moving to the North overall and that in doing so they made effective use of the knowledge that they acquired and, that generally, they chose their destinations wisely. They displayed better information gathering skills than ballot box voters.

African American foot voting during Jim Crow (about 10 percent of the African American population migrated) had positive effects for those left behind. In response, southern states were forced to provide a better education to Blacks and to provide better protection for their persons and property in order to keep the labor force. And these improvements came about without ballot box voting, and probably could not have been achieved through ballot box voting.

Today, libertarians are flocking to New Hampshire. The state collects neither a sales tax nor an income tax. If that's what you like, it's easier to move to the granite state (population 1.3 million; median household income of $61,000) than to convince California it should abandon its income tax and sales tax through an initiative.

And foot voting opportunities exist even without having to pack up your bags and leaving your state. State residents can choose to opt out of state services, or state services can be streamlined in ways that facilitates foot voting over ballot box voting. Privately planned communities such as condominium associations are examples of foot voting, says Somin. These associations take care of many needs traditionally provided by government, such as trash removal, tree pruning, security, environmental protection, local land-use rules, etc.  A single metropolitan area can contain many planned communities, making it easier for potential residents to find a community that best fits his or her needs. Unlike local governments, planned communities are entirely self-supporting. This increases their incentive to compete for residents. The profit motive introduces incentives to make good decisions in a way that is often missing from government services. At the same time, planned communities must be keenly attuned to their member's desires because people have fewer ideological commitments to planned communities than to municipalities.

Local governments can be structured to promote foot voting. Bruno Frey, a Swiss economist, says Somin, is working on developing models for government services with overlapping jurisdictions. These models would allow citizens to choose between different government service providers across jurisdictional lines, thus forcing government service providers to compete with each other. Current common examples are companies choosing which jurisdiction will govern a commercial transaction, or selecting the jurisdiction where a business is incorporated.

The more issues that fall under control of regional or local governments, as opposed to national, the greater the range of policy choices over which citizens can exercise leverage through foot voting.   Information gathering advantages inherent in foot voting suggests that we should be looking for opportunities to take more issues outside the control of government entirely, leaving them in the hands of the private sector and vibrant engaged foot voting citizens. 

James Madison in Federalist 62 said: “It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made by men of their own choice if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood.” He had a point. Smaller government, suggests Somin, could help with voter ignorance because there is less government for voters to know about. The greater the size and scope of government the more voters have to know to control the policies through the ballot.

Consumers, of course, routinely make foot voting decisions through their loyalty to and abandonment of competing products and brands.  In the private sector, voting with your feet against a product or service entails minimal moving costs. The same holds true for most civil society organizations. To the extent that some government services can be devolved to the private commercial sector or to civil society organizations, voters can be given a greater opportunity for foot voting, and voting will be better informed and effective.

Foot voters have greater and better incentives to make well-informed decisions, to acquire accurate and reliable information, than ballot box voters do, says Somin. The consequences of foot voting decisions are real, tangible, and result in more immediate consequences than ballot box voting. Take the Bush administration's prescription drug bill, passed in 2003: although seventy percent of ballot box voters were unaware of this legislation when it passed, most seniors were able to act in a way to take advantage of the new law, says Somin. It's an example of low information at the ballot box, but effective information gathering sufficient for foot voting.

Friedrich Hayek, argued that rational behavior causes individuals to be successful, and forces others to imitate this rational behavior to also be successful. Such positive imitation is absent among ballot box voters. Ballot box voters have no need to be more rational (or as rational) than the rest. In the marketplace, foot voters have the incentive to become fully informed in a way that ballot box voters simply do not. The effect can be nearly magical. A Yale study reported by Somin found that subjects who were able to properly interpret statistical data regarding the effectiveness of skin cream to eliminate rashes were unable to properly interpret the same data applied to politically charged issues, like gun control, when it cut against their ideologies. 

Foot voters in the private sector, of course, also make mistakes due to ignorance or irrationality, says Somin. But much research suggests that cognitive biases that show up in laboratory experiments largely disappear under conditions that closely approximate real world market decisions. Foot voters are apt to learn from their mistakes; ballot box voters forget their mistakes the next morning and proceed as if nothing ever happened.

Foot voting, of course, has its disadvantages as well. These include moving costs; destructive races to the bottom in which competition between regions enables harmful policies to prevail; and danger that federalism might lead to the oppression of minority groups. Economic externalities such as pollution, global warming must be taken into account and guarded against in any system that attempts to promote foot voting over ballot box voting.

Coda

We humans have been living in complex societies, cities and states, for only 150 generations or so. That's about four fruit-fly years. It's not a long time to fine tune how to live in a complex social, peaceful, and mutually beneficial manner. On the whole we've not done so well. As the Marcus Turner tune goes: "... these eternal executions, and the bloody revolutions, and the ultimate solutions too, have all been seen before."

Somin's work in Democracy and Political Ignorance is preliminary exploration. Opportunities for effective foot voting in a manner that benefits society as a whole must be fleshed out, and how broadly foot voting can effectively replace ballot box voting remains to be seen. This work should be pursued independently of any ideological commitments to "smaller government" for its own sake.

As the TPP example shows, "government should be smaller" does not necessarily follow from the fact that voters don't know enough. A question left hanging is whether smaller government providing fewer services might in fact be significantly worse for some? Somin does not here try to describe what smaller government would look like, or why it would be better for most people. He makes no comprehensive effort in this book to come to terms with the question of how small?

But the fact that foot voters are better at gathering information, and that they are more responsible in their choices seems persuasive. We should all be looking for ways to make democracy better for all, and exploring where we might productively rely on foot voting over ballot box voting seems like useful and productive work.

You can purchase a copy of Somin's book at Stanford University Press  HERE and at Amazon HERE.

Follow me on Twitter @RolandNikles.


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

In Case You Were Wondering: "No, You can't strip flag-burners of citizenship" and flag burning is not a crime ...


Eugene Volokh at the Volokh Conspiracy has the low down on last night's tweet.

"Contrary to President-elect Donald Trump’s tweet, even if flag-burning weren’t protected by the First Amendment (and it is), you couldn’t strip people of their citizenship for it. 
Let’s begin with the constitutional text, here from section 1 of the 14th Amendment:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. 
Once you have American citizenship, you have a constitutional entitlement to it. If you like your American citizenship, you can keep your American citizenship — and that’s with the Supreme Court’s guarantee, see Afroyim v. Rusk (1967)
"There is no indication in these words of a fleeting citizenship, good at the moment it is acquired but subject to destruction by the Government at any time. Rather the Amendment can most reasonably be read as defining a citizenship which a citizen keeps unless he voluntarily relinquishes it. Once acquired, this Fourteenth Amendment citizenship was not to be shifted, canceled, or diluted at the will of the Federal Government, the States, or any other governmental unit."
(Special bonus in Afroyim: a cameo appearance by a Representative Van Trump in 1868, who said, among other things, “To enforce expatriation or exile against a citizen without his consent is not a power anywhere belonging to this Government. No conservative-minded statesman, no intelligent legislator, no sound lawyer has ever maintained any such power in any branch of the Government.”) In Vance v. Terrazas (1980), all the justices agreed with this principle."
Read the whole thing HERE, including a couple of fine points...., and be sure to check back to Volokh Conspiracy when First Amendment concerns arise, which is bound to happen under this incoming administration.

Follow me on Twitter @RolandNikles.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Foot Voting and Jewish Identity Politics in the Age of Trump

Ilyia Somin says voters are rationally ignorant; as a result they can't be trusted to make sound decisions about who should lead them.  And who would say he's wrong after this election? Who knew there could be so many deplorables? Somin's proposed solution for the ignorant voter--which he's advocated for some years now--is to limit the size of government, have greater variety in a federal system, and let people vote with their feet. Let people move away from policies they don't like and towards policies they like better.  

Indeed, ahead of the election on November 8, some on the left fantasized about moving to Canada if Trump won. But that's a bitter joke. As John Oliver quipped: the only reason to move to Canada is a) you were born there, b) you're a goose, and c) it's springtime.  Foot voting is not a solution for democracy. 

Foot voting is a solitary activity. It's a selfish individual move; it is not intended to serve the body politic. People leave the place where they grow up for many reasons: some positive (adventure, opportunity, advancement, love of another place) and some negative (personal or business set-backs, lack of opportunity, oppression, persecution, or other dangers). It's more like selling out than voting.

Jews have been foot-voters for centuries, too often to escape persecution. Some have heard dog-whistles of anti-Semitism in this campaign. It taps ancient fears. It also taps into one of the ultimate rationales for the State of Israel as a haven for Jewish foot voting.  

The day after the election, Yehuda Kurtzer, President of the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, described his disorientation at temple B'Nai Jeshurun in New York City. Kurtzer was born in the United States and has four American grandparents, which makes him American enough for Anne Coulter. The day after the election, Kurtzer himself was not so sure. 

For centuries in Europe, Jews were an alien group. They kept and were kept separate from the wider Christian community. During the middle ages, Jews were alternately tolerated, expelled, converted, and killed. In 1516 the first ghetto was founded in Venice, enabling longer term integration. In 1789 France was the first European country to grant citizenship to all of its Jews. But Jewish integration in Europe came to a bitter end in 1939 with the advent of World War II and the Holocaust. Foot voting made sense, if you were able to so vote. 

Indeed, over the years many Jews from Europe have voted with their feet to arrive at America's shores.  Starting in 1654 Jewish settlers from Portugal and Spain made their way to New Amsterdam (Southern tip of Manhattan Island, NY) and other American colonial ports. Significantly, from the beginning, American synagogues departed from European custom and did not attempt to tax or regulate the commercial lives of their congregants, thus establishing a separation between Jewish and worldly domains which has worked out so well. Between 1840 and the outbreak of World War I approximately 240,000 German Jews made their way to America. And between 1880 and 1924, more than 2 million Jews arrived from Russia, Austria-Hungary, and Romania.  Today, the Jewish community in America numbers approximately 6 million. 

The Jewish community in America, says Yehuda Kurtzer, tells itself two conflicting stories about how to relate to American culture and the American body politic. Both stories stem from textual tradition and deep historic memory. 

Rabbi Gamliel in Aphrodite's Bathhouse


The first is the happy story of Rabbi Gamliel (1st century CE) in the bathhouse of Aphrodite in Akko (Mishna Avoda Zahra 3:4). Akko was one of the most Greek cities in Palestine in the first century CE, and this bathhouse--an item of Greek culture--was dedicated to the Greek goddess of love, beauty and pleasure. While bathing in Aphrodite's bathhouse Rabbi Gamliel is challenged by Proklos, the son of a philosopher  (a Hellenized Jew) to explain "what are you doing in the bathhouse?"--suggesting that is something rabbis should not do. But Rabbi Gamliel is very confident in his Judaism and his presence in the bathhouse as a Roman and a Jew. "We don’t answer questions about Torah in the bathhouse," said rabbi Gamliel. But once finished, he patiently explained: "I did not go into her (Aphrodite's) domain; she came into mine. Aphrodite is an adornment for the bath, but the bath is neutral space. I am an equal stakeholder in everything that is Rome, including this bathhouse, and the fact that you stuck Aphrodite on it, doesn’t make it holy or forbidden to me. I belong here as much as you do. We are responsible for this environment together."

This story resonates with the experience of Jews in the United States. We have separation of church and state, and Jews can comfortably go to Catholic schools or Catholic hospitals, just as Christians can comfortably attend Jewish community centers. We are all equal stakeholders in the same body politic. We all belong here, we are fully American, even as we also have separate ethnic, cultural, class, religious, and sexual identities. 

In Kurtzer's taxonomy there is a liberal and a conservative version of this Gamliel story. The liberal version looks at the privilege and power gathered by Jews in this country and it asks "What is our obligation? What are we to do with this power and wealth?" And it answers "We need to focus on our moral responsibility. Tikkun Olam." It is the Judaism that President Obama was drawn to in his encounter with the prophetic liberal Judaism he found in Chicago in his 20's. See Beinart's TOI article (2012). It is a version of Jewish exceptionalism. Jews must act as a light unto the nations of the world, but also here at home. And for a long time, this self-identification in the liberal Jewish community has aligned with our vision of American exceptionalism: America as a beacon for universal democratic and human rights. Advocating for Tikkun Olam has been to advocate for our American values. This alignment of values has been a unique feature of the American diasporic experience.

In the wake of this election, "it feels a little different," says Kurtzer. By embracing Trump, an Electoral College majority has challenged the story of American liberal universalism and it's alignment with Jewish Tikkun Olam. Trump voters have responded to anti-Semitic dog whistles. A white working class has rejected "elite" liberal values and asserted itself on the political landscape. By embracing Trump they have put a xenophobic white nationalist stamp on this election and on our next administration. See this excellent description of the plight and anger of the white working class by Joan C. Williams, or listen to the podcast, HERE

The conservative version of Rabbi Gamliel's story is that Jews can assert their dominant position in society as a matter of right, not to improve values in the public square, but to build a powerful Jewish community with a strong identity. Right-wing Gamlielism has embraced right wing Israeli politics. The Sheldon Adelson, AIPAC, ZOA wing of the American Jewish community has embraced Netanyahu, ethnocracy, and permanent occupation of Palestinians. To the extent that American politics appears set to take a lurch to the right with white nationalism under a Trump administration, America's new found ethnic isolationism will fit right in with Israel's right wing power Judaism. 

Rabbi Akiva in the Evil Empire


The second story the American Jewish community tells itself is the bittersweet story of Rabbi Akiva in the evil empire (Berakhot 61b). Following the Bar Kokhba revolt (132-136 CE) Rome decreed that Jews were not permitted to study Torah. Rabbi Akiva ignored the decree and studied and taught Torah in the public square. "Are you not afraid?" asked Pappos ben Yehuda (another Hellenized Jew). And Rabbi Akiva explained, for him to not study Torah would be like a fish jumping out of the water onto dry land. He would perish. So albeit the water was dangerous with the decree not to study, what could he do. And, indeed, a short time later, both Rabbi Akiva and Pappos were arrested, and Akiva was put to a death. His flesh was raked with iron combs, but he died a happy man. And that is the age old story of anti-Semitism. Jews are a people set apart, and they may be accepted for a time, even a prolonged time, but sooner or later the jig will be up. They are not fully part of the body politic, and sooner or later the body politic will spit them out. 

But it is worth noting that Rabbi Akiva, who was put to death in 137 CE, did not vote with his feet. He did not leave for foreign shores. Like Socrates, he stood by his truth and he accepted his fate by being true to himself. And a mere 75 years later, by the edict of Caracalla, all free adult males living in the Roman empire were granted Roman citizenship, and Zippori was a thriving center of Jewish learning.

Here is Peter Beinart on the morning after the election: 
As an American, I’m totally unprepared. The only way I can ground myself is as a Jew. My grandparents were born in Lithuania and Egypt. My parents were born in South Africa. They didn’t feel safe. They didn’t understand the people with whom they shared their country. They didn’t believe history marched forward toward a better day. .... My grandmother, who began her life in Alexandria and ended it in Cape Town, used to laugh at me when I boasted about America. She told me not to get too comfortable. She said a Jew must always know when to leave the sinking ship. 
I’m not leaving America. It’s my country. I have to fight for it. I have to fight – every American Jew has to fight – to protect the American Muslims who right now must be terrified beyond belief. I have to fight the dozens of American Nazis who have descended on my Twitter feed to celebrate their victory. I still love America to my core. But I don’t trust it in the same way. And I don’t trust progress. I keep hearing my grandmother’s voice in my ear.
Beinart here is giving voice to the Akiva story. The liberal version of the Akiva story is to do as Beinart suggests: fight to protect the Muslims, and all other minority groups, because only in this way can Jews ultimately protect their own status as an ethnic and religious minority in the body politic. But Beinart also gives a nod to the conservative version, that Jews must hunker down to protect their own, and keep in mind the grandmother's advice that you should keep your suitcase packed.

As for Yehuda Kurtzer, he says his belief has been shaken that his Jewish values will always align with the values of America. A little doubt creeps in, he says: perhaps, today, we are living a little bit more in a Rabbi Akiva story, and a little less in a rabbi Gamliel story. What happens when the Electoral College majority asserts values that are very different than the values we seek to live by? 

Do we vote with our feet and leave? "I'm not leaving America. It's my country. I have to fight for it," says Beinart.  Similarly, Kurtzer says that when a gap opens between the world we wake up in the day after an election, and the world we thought we were living in the day before the election, it's time to double down and work that much harder to close the gap between the reality we are living in and the world of our stories, the world of the values we want to live by.

We're all Immigrants in this Home 


It sounds like good advice. I'm not Jewish but I live among the American Jewish community. I'm twice an immigrant. My family left Switzerland for Canada when I was 12 years old, and I immigrated to the United states when I was 24 years old.  But America is my home. I will stay and fight for the values we want to live by. 

Follow me on Twitter @RolandNikles

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Stephen Bannon: Trump's Scary Chief Strategist

Stephen Bannon/celebrity news
On November 13, 2016 President Elect, Donald J. Trump, appointed Stephen Bannon as his chief strategist and senior counselor.

Bannon (born 11/27/53) grew up in a working class family in Norfolk, Virginia. He graduated from Virginia Tech in 1976, and immediately joined the navy. There he rose in rank to navy officer and was stationed in the Persian Gulf ahead of the unsuccessful attempt to free the Iran hostages in 1979. Bannon was sour on President Carter. "You could tell the operation was going to be a goat fuck," he told Joshua Green for his profile in Bloomberg Politics. Returning from the Persian Gulf, Bannon became assistant to the Chief of Naval Operations, admiral Thomas B. Hayward. The chief of Naval Operations is a political position appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate.

Bannon became a big fan of Ronald Reagan and the way his larger than life movie-actor persona translated to politics.

While working for admiral Hayward in DC, Bannon attended night school and obtained a Master’s Degree from Georgetown University in National Security Studies. After leaving the military he enrolled at Harvard Business School, graduating with an MBA in 1983. He worked at Goldman Sachs, specializing in media companies. In 1990 he moved to Los Angeles and launched Bannon & Co. with Goldman Sachs colleagues. The company developed a model for valuing media firms, a specialty that brought them a lot of business. When Westinghouse wanted to sell Castle Rock Entertainment, Bannon arranged a sale to Turner Network, and, in lieu of fee, obtained a stake in five shows, including Seinfeld. [“We calculated what it would yield if it made it to syndication—we were wrong by a factor of five,” he told Joshua Green of Bloomberg Politics] In 1998 he sold Bannon & Co to Societe General, the French bank. As Green puts it, this enabled him to embark on Hollywood moguldom. [His net worth, however, is unclear: I've seen estimates of $10 million, $20 million and $41 million--none of which would put him in "mogul" territory]

Bannon served as acting director of Biosphere 2, in Arizona in 1993 (he shifted the focus of the work from space exploration to studying pollution and global warming).

So far so good.  But then....

In 2004 Bannon made a documentary “In the Face of Evil: Reagan’s War in Word and Deed” based on the Peter Schweizer book. "In the Face of Evil" is a grandiose, apocalyptic, hagiographic documentary of Reagan. "Carthage must be destroyed," intones the narrator. Reagan was "an outsider, a radical with extreme views..." the film says admiringly. Bannon, we are left to conclude, takes all the apocalyptic imagery dead seriously: "You and I have a rendezvous with destiny; we'll preserve for our children this the last best hope for man on earth, or we'll sentence them to take the last step into a thousand years of darkness," intones Reagan. But the trailer for the film makes clear Bannon is not thinking of the cold war: he's thinking post 9/11, he's thinking today.... "The story isn't over; you and the audience are part of the conflict." We'll destroy the world in order to save it, suggests the film.

"Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that's my goal too," Bannon told a writer at the Daily Beast who met him at a party in 2014. "I want to bring everything crashing down and destroy all of today's establishment." By getting Trump elected, he's made a good start. As Trump's chief strategist he's in a prime position to wreak maximum havoc.



“This country is in a crisis," Bannon told a gathering of conservatives in Washington D.C.  "And if you’re fighting to save this country, if you’re fighting to take this country back, it’s not going to be sunshine and patriots. It’s going to be people who want to fight.”

It's a frightening thought that In the Face of Evil and Bannon's statements about wanting to "destroy the state" may be even vaguely honest reflections of Bannon's motivating force. It's hard to sleep knowing these are the thoughts of the most important advisor of the president of the United States. It's doubly frightening to think that this man is the most prominent advisor to a president who is a thin skinned, incendiary bully.  In the Face of Evil, and "I want to destroy the state" are worrying reflections as to what Stephen Bannon is about.

Bannon has made other documentaries, "big, crashing, opinionated films with Wagner scores and arresting imagery," says Joshua Green.  Battle for America(2010) celebrated the Tea Party just in time for the 2010 mid-term elections; Generation Zero (2010), examined the roots of the financial meltdown ("in history there are four turnings..., finally the unraveling"); The Undefeated (2011), championed Palin ("to hell with the Establishment, because it's the Establishment that put us in this position in the first place").  Andrew Bretibart described him as the Leni Riefenstahl of the Tea Party movement....

These films and his writings suggest Stephen Bannon longs for the unraveling. He longs for the abyss. He's drawn to it. In his current position, he might just have the power to pull us all down.

In 2005 Bannon met Andrew Breitbart just as Breitbart was leaving the Drudge Report. Breitbart would soon start the hard right opinion and news site Breitbart News Network. He was inspired, together with Larry Solov, on a trip to Israel in 2007: together they would build an unapologetically pro-Israel,  pro-freedom site. A far right wing site. The result is Breitbart News, Breitbart radio, and Breitbart television. Bannon has been its CEO since 2012. The site, they say, has moved farther right since Bannon took the helm. In the wake of this election it has 18 million viewers a month.

Breitbart Network's far right wing politics aside, it lacks integrity. You don't go there for balance,   measured right wing reflection, or wisdom. Bannon is not striving for wisdom; he's out to create chaos. People are apt to get hurt. In 2010 Breitbart published a fraudulently edited video provided by a right wing activist. The video was of Shirely Sherrod, an African American Department of Agriculture official giving a talk to the NAACP. The video was edited to make it seem like she was saying racist things about a white farmer, when in fact she was highlighting the need to overcome personal prejudice. The misleading Breitbart piece was picked up and given a wider audience on Fox News. Shirely Sherrod was fired from her job within hours. Once it was established that the video conveyed the opposite of truth, Fox was in a pickle and Breitbart was banned from Fox for a time. Breitbart's readership and support suffered.

Shirley Sherrod was used as a tool in a propaganda war. She was an innocent victim. But she's not what counts. Sherrod's innocence, her privacy, her honor were cannon fodder like 18 year old boys in trench warfare. It's about ends justifying the means. But what is the end in "I want to destroy the state?" "Chaos?" What means do such ends justify?

“When we do an editorial call," said Alex Marlow, Breitbart's editor in chief, to Joshua Green, "I don’t ... bring ... a one-off story, even if it’d be the best story on the site. Our whole mindset is looking for these rolling narratives.” The most popular "rolling narratives" on Breitbart News are Immigration, ISIS, race riots, and what they call ‘the collapse of traditional values.’ But Hillary, "I’d say Hillary Clinton is tops,” said Marlow to Green last year.

What will they turn to now?

As with Shirley Sherrod, the specific truth, fairness, and objectivity did not matter in Breitbart's rolling Clinton narrative. [The same can be said about much of the media coverage on Clinton's private email server] Wisdom is subordinated to the rolling narrative. When any of us sacrifices truth, fairness, and wisdom on the altar of a rolling narrative it's bad. When this is done by the chief strategist at the head of the Executive Branch of the U.S. Government it's terrifying. What does it lead to when the name of this overarching rolling narrative is chaos?  

Following the Shirely Sherrod affair Breitbart spent two years in the wilderness. It made its way back with another scandal. This time the victim, New York  Congressman Anthony Weiner, was no innocent, but the means employed to bring him low were just as sleazy.

Joshua Green:
Tipped to Weiner’s proclivity for sexting with female admirers, Bannon says, the site paid trackers to follow his Twitter account 24 hours a day and eventually intercepted a crotch shot Weiner inadvertently made public. The ensuing scandal culminated in the surreal scene, carried live on television, of Andrew Breitbart hijacking Weiner’s press conference and fielding questions from astonished reporters.
Is there any reason to think Bannon would shy away from such tactics in his new position as chief strategist and senior counselor to the president? I can think of none. To think that the chief strategist at the head of the Executive Branch would employ the vast powers of the NSA, the FBI, the CIA to go after political enemies in support of his preferred "rolling narrative," and to subordinate truth, justice, and wisdom to a preferred "rolling narrative" is plum scary. You may think "but those are professional organizations, they wouldn't play along." All it takes is a few rotten apples strategically placed.

Read Joshua Green's profile in Bloomberg Politics published October 2015 here.

Follow me on Twitter @RolandNikles

Friday, November 11, 2016

Is the New York Times a Trusted Information Intermediary?


Is the The New York Times still to be trusted as an information intermediary for our democracy? The Times started the whole Clinton email server story in lurid terms back on March 2, 2015. Since that time they have relentlessly hyped and covered this story.

It's a story worth uncovering for discussing the issues it raises. It is not a story that should weigh heavily in the electorate's decision of Clinton vs. Trump.

When FBI Director James Comey made his announcement on October 28, 2016 that the F.B.I had discovered an additional stash of emails they would look at, the Times assured maximum coverage for this story. Collectively the media pressed this lemon of a story for all the innuendo that could be squeezed from it. The Times led the charge by writing seven articles and posting one video, all on October 28. For the next seven days--the life span of this non-story--the Times continued to hammer on Clinton, providing three times more coverage to this than the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, or USA Today.  During this time, the Times wrote three times as many stories about Clinton's emails as they devoted to any issue relating to Trump.

Media Matters graphic

By the time Comey informed Congress, two days before the election, that the new emails warranted no further action, the damage had been done.  Late deciding voters strongly broke for Trump in the last week before the election and Trump will become President despite Clinton's winning the popular vote. 

It is hard to imagine that relentless hype of the Clinton email scandal for the past 18 months, and innuendo laden revivals of this story in the last week of the election, has not contributed to the electorate making a grave error in judgment this week. Just how grave an error this was we'll find out over the next four years.

The Times sought to deflect criticism by arguing that it is not appropriate for a newspaper to make judgments between stories, or to prioritize stories. Not so, says Media Matters: "one of the basic functions of a newsroom is to make judgment calls about which stories deserve attention and which don’t." Comey's announcement on October 28, 2016 did not deserve front page treatment for a week right before the election.

The New York Times has exercised poor judgment in this election, just like the electorate has. Now, apparently, the Times are concerned about subscription cancellations.  This morning Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. the publisher, and Dean Banquet, the executive editor sent an email, "to our readers:"
When the biggest political story of the year reached a dramatic and unexpected climax late Tuesday night, our newsroom turned on a dime and did what it has done for nearly two years — cover the 2016 election with agility and creativity. 
Listen guys, what you have done for the past two years has contributed to Tuesday's surprise result bigly.
After such an erratic and unpredictable election there are inevitable questions: Did Donald Trump’s sheer unconventionality lead us and other news outlets to underestimate his support among American voters? What forces and strains in America drove this divisive election and outcome? Most important, how will a president who remains a largely enigmatic figure actually govern when he takes office? 
If you, New York Times, want to be the national paper of record, the question is can we trust you as an information intermediary, or not? Can we trust your judgment?
As we reflect on this week’s momentous result, and the months of reporting and polling that preceded it, we aim to rededicate ourselves to the fundamental mission of Times journalism. That is to report America and the world honestly, without fear or favor, striving always to understand and reflect all political perspectives and life experiences in the stories that we bring to you. It is also to hold power to account, impartially and unflinchingly. We believe we reported on both candidates fairly during the presidential campaign. You can rely on The New York Times to bring the same fairness, the same level of scrutiny, the same independence to our coverage of the new president and his team. 
The Times have demonstrated, the evidence is mounting, that we should not rely on their judgment. They need to do more, therefore, than "rededicate" themselves.  Perhaps they think they can't do that and make money? If so, we don't need the New York Times as a paper of record.
We cannot deliver the independent, original journalism for which we are known without the loyalty of our subscribers. We want to take this opportunity, on behalf of all Times journalists, to thank you for that loyalty.
On the eve of the election The New York Times reported Hillary Clinton was almost certain to win the election (85% chance). They gave Hillary Clinton a 67% chance of winning Florida (Trump won by 2%) and an 74% of winning North Carolina (Trump won by 3.7%).  To my eye, The New York Times has not only missed the story,  they have missed what matters, and through their reporting they have contributed to the result. They have undermined their credibility as a trusted information intermediary.

Remember the invasion of Iraq in 2003?  They blew that one too.... And let's not even go into their Israel coverage.

Does the Times still deserve our loyalty and respect?  The trust of a newspaper of record must be earned by being a trusted information intermediary. The New York Times has mortgaged its reputation as a trusted information intermediary and capitalized on Trumpism for clicks and excitement.

This is different than media bias. Many perceive the Times as having a liberal bias, or a pro-Israel bias. For example here, here, or here. You can have a bias and be a trusted information intermediary. But you need to have integrity, quality, and good judgment. It's o.k. to be the liberal paper of record, or the conservative paper of record, like the Wall Street Journal. But hyping a story for clicks and excitement is not good judgement, no matter what the bias or the cause. It is not what trusted information intermediaries do.

Follow me on Twitter @RolandNikles

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

A Historic Upset


A solid victory for Donald Trump. What a surprise.  At Clinton headquarters they are breaking down the stage, ignominiously abandoning the field. Hillary Clinton just called Trump to concede.

Cornell Belcher on PBS points out the polls predicted Hillary's share of the vote (47%) but the late undecided vote broke for Trump. She came in with high negatives: most people have never accepted her. The country rejected her in favor of Donald Trump. It must be incredibly painful for Hillary. 

It's hard to believe.  There will not be divided government. The Republicans have the House, the Senate, and the Presidency. The Supreme Court will swing right, not left. 

Married white men voted for Trump over Clinton by 25%.  A third of Latino men voted for Trump. Many black men and millennials voted for third parties. Third parties accounted for 4.7% of the vote. It looks like, at the end of the day, the protest vote for third party candidates hurt Clinton more than Trump. The country as a whole has chosen Trump over Clinton. 

It's a moment of change. It's the end of the Clinton battles; the end of the long hangover from Watergate. There will be a new beginning.

It's a moment of disruption. It's a moment of uncertainty. The government will be in Republican hands across the board. 

We'll see how much disruption will follow. Obamacare will be gone. Will Congress provide money to build a wall along the Mexican border? It's a public works project; it will provide jobs.  It will be like digging holes in the desert and filling them. It would be better to build high speed rail and fix roads. But it will provide jobs. 

What action will happen on immigration? On identifying and removing undocumented workers? How bad will it get? What will happen on foreign policy? The tone of the country will be very different. 

"I pledge I will be President for all the people in the land," says Trump. He was gracious to Hillary. He speaks of rebuilding infrastructure, doubling growth, "finally" taking care of veterans.... But the fantasy game is about to end. He and the Republican Congress will have to come up with actual policies to implement.  

Giuliani, Chris Christie, Jeff Sessions, Reince Preibus, General Michael Flynn, and the Secret Service. Here they come.... 

It's a historic election; it's a historic night. It's a sad night. The end of an era. 



Monday, November 7, 2016

One Campaign Ad that Expresses the Essence of Donald Trump



Can a campaign commercial reveal a candidate's soul?

The Trump campaign sought to take maximum advantage of FBI Director James Comey's announcement on October 28, 2016 that additional emails had come to light by issuing the above video.  It's interesting, and telling, to re-watch this Trump campaign commercial following James Comey's  big "never mind!" about those additional emails.

The whole Clinton private server and email business has been entirely overblown. See Matt Yglesias's explanation HERE: "The real Clinton email scandal is that a bullshit story has dominated the campaign."

The Clinton email server has entertained us for more than a year now, so when Comey made his announcement on October 28, Donald Trump could hardly contain himself.  "[The FBI] are reopening the case into her criminal and illegal conduct," announced Trump. "Hillary Clinton's corruption is on a scale we have never seen before," he crowed. "We must not let her take her criminal scheme into the Oval Office." With mock solemnity Trump intoned: "I have great respect for the fact that the FBI and the Department of Justice are now willing, to have the courage,  to right the horrible mistake that they made. This was a grave miscarriage of justice, that the American people fully understood, and it is everybody's hope that it is about to be corrected."

Trump hit pay dirt. Comey's announcement combined with press sensationalism promptly dropped Clinton three points in the polls.

Here is a closer look at this ad the Trump Campaign trotted out to take advantage:

1.  "The Clintons, from dead broke to hundreds of millions," it begins.  

But it's a lie. The Clintons are not worth "hundreds of millions."  Hillary Clinton is apparently worth about $31 million (mostly from speaking fees); Bill Clinton may be worth another $80 million--so their combined net worth is slightly in excess of ~$111 million. This is a sizable sum. But unlike Trump, the Clintons have paid income taxes on their earnings from speaking fees (43.2% in 2015) and they donated generous amounts to charity (10% of their income in 2015).

Voters concerned about wealth in the White House might note that Trump boasts of being worth $10 billion, but is probably worth more like $3.7 billion. We're not sure because Trump still refuses to share his tax returns. We think he has not paid income taxes in ten years on account of past bankruptcies.  So anyone listening to this ad should hear an echo:  "Trump, from dead broke to billions... without paying taxes." And voters are supposed to do what with this information?

2. "So how did Hillary end up filthy rich? Pay to play politics..."says the ad.

The ad pulls a bait and switch from the Clintons' combined net worth ($111 million)--falsely represented as "hundreds of millions"--to "how did Hillary end up filthy rich."  And the ad further jumps from the source of Clinton's wealth (speaking fees--on which, as noted she paid substantial taxes) to charitable donations flowing to the Clinton foundation (which is not a direct source of their wealth).

The allegation of "pay to play" politics here is the loosest of innuendos. Yes, $225,000/speech speaking fees  by a person about to run for president raises a concern of influence buying. It illustrates a problem that is endemic in our politics: but it is not an issue that distinguishes Clinton from any of the other 538 elected officials in Congress. An appearance of impropriety on account of big money is not an issue that favorably distinguishes Trump (who has not paid taxes on billions of income over a period of years, and whose organization has sizable Russian financial entanglements with Putin's inner circle) from Clinton.

3. "From criminals, dictators, countries that hate America..."  

The Clinton Foundation is a well respected and legitimate charity. The foundation makes its donors public. Who on that list is the ad referring to as "criminals, dictators, and countries that hate America...?" The ad does not say.

4. "Hillary cut deals for donors..."  it goes on.

What deals and what donors, any thinking person would ask. But, of course, such ads are not aimed at thinking persons.

5. "Now the FBI has launched a new investigation..." it concludes.

Another lie. There was no "new" investigation. The ad references Comey's letter to Congress on October 28, 2016 wherein he informed Congress about an additional batch of emails they would look at. The FBI was simply following up on the prior work it had done in reviewing emails--leading to the conclusion that no laws were broken. But the ad attempted to blanket Comey's announcement  with a slimey ooze of innuendo about Clinton speaking fees and donations to the Clinton Foundation.

We've seen ads like this before. Back in the 1988 election Michael Dukakis attracted almost as much animus from the GOP faithful as Hillary Clinton.  Unknown neighbors tore down and vandalized our campaign signs for Dukakis. The George H.W. Bush campaign ran its infamous Willie Horton ad, alleging that "Dukakis grants weekend passes from prison to murderers." As misleading, nasty, and racists as that ad was, at least it had the decency to identify a particular scary criminal.  The Trump ad here merely says "Trust me...., the Clinton foundation takes donations from criminals, dictators, and countries that hate America," never mind who. Never mind identifying an actual issue of substance about the email server.

This Trump ad about Hillary "corruption" is every bit as sleazy and odious as the Willie Horton ad. It makes false allegations about Clinton's net worth, and it links the Clinton Foundation and its donors to the emails "scandal" as if there were a real scandal, or as if these things had anything to do with each other.  But whereas the Willie Horton ad represented a shameful aberration and was not reflective of George H.W. Bush's true character, this Trump ad expresses the very essence of Donald Trump.  "I'm Donald Trump and I approved this ad," he says.

We cannot be sending someone with Trump's character into the Oval Office. Voting ends tomorrow, so fingers crossed.

You can follow me on Twitter @RolandNikles