A referendum on what? There are so many options.


Today’s election is obviously a referendum on Donald Trump. As the New York Times told us on Sunday: A Nation in Turmoil Prepares to Deliver a Verdict on Trump.

But it’s also a referendum on racism. “By running so overtly on racially tinged messages, the GOP is putting that explosive form of politics on the ballot,” explained the Washington Post.

Actually, it’s more than that. “Above all, it’s about something more elemental: what kind of country Americans see today and want to see in the future,” the esteemed Dan Balz wrote in the Post.

Well, it’s really all those things. “It is a competition for the soul of America — a referendum on Trump and the venomous political culture that many blame for gridlock in Congress and a recent spate of hate crimes and politically motivated attacks,” declared the Associated Press.

That’s how the national political media sees it.

But the midterm election is not one election, it is a multitude of elections, each with its own dynamic. Consider the map Bloomberg made showing the dominant issue in political ads, by media market.

Bloomberg graphic.

And the way the elections have been playing out on the ground may not fit so neatly into the national media’s narrative. The parts may not add up to a whole, or if they do, it may be a different whole than the pundits are expecting.

Here are some other ways of looking at today’s election:

It’s a referendum on the political parties.

The binary choice is not between Trump and not-Trump, it’s between Republicans and Democrats. Some Republicans have bound themselves closely to Trump, others not. Some Democrats are barely mentioning Trump at all, casting their appeals to voters on different grounds. (Another Bloomberg map showed how Democratic ads didn’t mention Trump at all in many media markets.) You have two deeply flawed political parties, both dominated by elites, both corrupted by money, both doing what they think it takes to win. One party is utterly devoid of intellectual honesty and is appealing to the worst strands of American hate, nativism and know-nothingism. But if you believe that a large majority of Americans don’t share Trumpist values, you’ve got to ask yourself: what it is about the Democratic Party that makes this a close contest in the first place?

It’s a referendum on which tribe dominates.

American politics is increasingly tribal, a function of where you live, who your friends are, where you worship, what you eat and who everyone you know is voting for. So the battle today is between two tribes; between two ways of seeing the world. Once you have picked a tribe, renouncing it is very hard, no matter what. Once you’ve experienced the feeling that white Christian America is being victimized by pluralism and the social safety net, how do you suddenly change sides?

It’s a referendum on gerrymandering.

The “generic” congressional Democratic candidate may have a nine-point lead over the Republican, but partisan gerrymandering in congressional maps drawn by Republicans is so severe that according to a Brennan Center for Justice report, Democrats would likely have to win the national popular vote by nearly 11 points to attain a majority of House seats. (Check out this interactive map.) Democrats could win the popular congressional vote, but not the majority.

It’s a referendum on voter suppression.

Republicans have worked hard to make voting harder, rather than easier — a truly despicable, but effective way to play politics. Restrictions on voting include strict voter ID rules, the purge of voter rolls and other measures that disproportionately affect strongly Democratic constituencies – particularly minority voters – either forcing them to cast “provisional” ballots, disqualifying their ballots, or turning them away from the voting booth entirely. Republicans have curbed early voting and closed polling places. Enforcement of voting rights for minorities declined sharply after the Supreme Court struck down the core of the 1965 Voting Rights Act five years ago. Instead, Trump tweets scary, unfounded warnings of voter fraud, which is essentially nonexistent.

It’s a referendum on the media (part one).

The American media landscape has become so fractured that people can now exist in their media bubble of choice – and one of the biggest is a hodgepodge of right-wing fantasy, nightmares and conspiracy theories with no basis in actual fact. Fox News, right-wing websites and lunatic-fringe social media have somehow tapped into a market — and a business model — that no one in the age of Walter Cronkite could remotely have imagined, even in their most dystopian nightmares. The continued existence of this bubble is a threat to liberal democracy.

It’s referendum on the media (part two).

“Real” newsrooms have only recently and grudgingly been able to call what Trump does lying. But they still let Trump set the agenda, they still broadcast his words, and they focus on him almost to the exclusion of other Republican leaders. The main storyline today should not be about Trump, directly, it should be about the Republican Party’s abject surrender to a maniac; their hypocritical embrace of someone most of them know is unfit for office; their enthusiastic exploitation of Trumpism to achieve their swampy, pro-corporate agenda; and their complete failure to fulfill their constitutional role as a check to the executive. Senate leader Mitch McConnell lies as much as Trump (percentagewise), but has gotten a pass from real newsrooms. One story that should have been everywhere in this election cycle is the fraud that was the Republican “middle-class tax cut”. But instead of showing where the money went, compared to where Republicans said it would, the media narrative gives the GOP credit for the economic boom. Is there any limit to how far Republicans will go in abasing themselves to Trumpism? That’s the  question that should have been driving election coverage.

Alternately…

Today’s election could have been a referendum on truth. It could have been a referendum on fear. It could have been a referendum on the rise of authoritarianism, Trump’s attack on the rule of law, the failure of checks and balances against an overpowered executive branch, and the desperate need for a resurgent Congress that reclaims its role in governing. It could have been a referendum on corruption. But Democrats and the national media never pitched it that way, for whatever reasons.

How, then, should we read the results tomorrow? An overwhelming Democratic victory in the House, Senate and gubernatorial races would certainly signify the dawn of an American renewal, possibly even a revolution. But anything short of that, who knows?

Giving Trump officials anonymity is a whole new world of dangerous

Trump arriving at a political rally in Florida on November 3, 2018.

Here’s a small case study in why you don’t give government officials anonymity when announcing policy. (Ever, but certainly with Trump).

Back in February 2017, Washington Post then-White-House reporter Jenna Johnson wrote an article headlined White House: Air Force One will not be used as a ‘prop’ at political rally.

Its equally authoritative lede was based on a quote from “an administration official”:

The White House said Thursday that President Trump does not plan to use Air Force One as a backdrop at his political rally in a hangar in Melbourne, Fla., on Saturday evening.

The president plans to travel to the rally in Air Force One, as he does for all trips, but an administration official said the plane would “not [be] used in the background as a prop.”

Flash forward 18 months to this morning, and the Washington Post’s Phil Rucker is out with a story headlined A ‘there-it-is’ moment: Trump wows fans by using Air Force One as a campaign prop.

Rucker noted the earlier Post story, and concluded: “That policy was clearly dropped as the president’s campaigning picked up pace, however.”

I’m not pointing this out to denigrate Johnson, or Rucker, who have been among the most diligent major-newspapers reporters out there in terms of trying to hold Trump accountable. See, e.g., Rucker’s brilliant, brutally honest summation of Trump’s 2018 campaigning, also published today, ‘Full Trumpism’: The president’s apocalyptic attacks reach a new level of falsity.

But think about what happened: Some unnamed official was allowed to speak with complete authority on behalf of “the White House.”

That’s a mistake. To quote NYU media critic Jay Rosen, “There is no White House, really. Not in the sense that the term has been traditionally used. There’s just Trump and people who work in the building.”

And those of us who would like to ask the original source some questions can’t. We can only hope Johnson does.

So I emailed her this morning. The Post’s communications office got right back to me and said she wasn’t going to respond, but here’s what I asked her:

  • Do you think that source was telling you the truth as (s)he knew it at the time?
  • If so, will you go back to the source and say: What happened?
  • How do you think things would be different if you had used the source’s name?
  • Do you think the campaign would have had a harder time “reversing” a policy announced by someone by name?
  • Would that source be more likely (under more pressure) to explain why what (s)he said is no longer operative, if his/her name were associated with it?

I’m never a fan of granting government officials anonymity, unless 1) they’re exposing something of great public importance and 2) they might lose their job if their name was associated with it.

Actually, I’ll take either 1 or 2. Or at least a bit of 1 or 2. I get it, we live in the real world.

But granting anonymity to people who work for Trump – particularly when they are announcing some sort of forward-looking policy or personnel decision — is a completely different ballgame. Consider:

  • Trump is so fickle, vain and impulsive that there’s no way for anyone but him to speak with any authority. (Corollary: Even when Trump says something, he is quite possibly lying and/or about to change his mind.)
  • If anonymous sources are announcing a sound, reasonable, and forthright policy (as above), it gives them a positive headline – but when Trump (almost inevitably) violates that policy, there is no accountability.
  • So many Trump plans attributed to anonymous officials are so unprecedentedly vile that by not attributing them to specific people, journalists are simply letting Trump test public reaction – and reduce the shock element when and if the proposal is formally announced – without any accountability.

This also brings me back to the case of Jonathan Swan, the scoop machine for Axios, who I wrote about last week.

I left out two important things about Swan in that story.

As Paul Farhi of the Washington Post and Michael M. Grynbaum of the New York Times noted in somewhat swooning profiles of Swan over the weekend, he is in fact responsible for more, bigger scoops than I gave him credit for. Per Farhi:

Swan was first to report that Trump intended to pull the United States out of the Paris climate accord; that Trump planned to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem; that White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon would be fired; that House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) wouldn’t seek reelection; that Trump would end President Barack Obama’s executive order protecting children brought to the United States by undocumented immigrants; that Anthony Scaramucci would be named White House communications director; and that Trump had accepted Nikki Haley’s resignation as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

But the other thing I left out was that Swan’s sourcing is almost always anonymous. I’m not saying it’s easy to get Trump officials to talk to you, but it sure is easier if you essentially promise they’ll never be held accountable for what they tell you.

So: Sources tell Swan something, and he reports what they say, anonymously. He does so regardless of motive. He doesn’t fact-check. He doesn’t have time to get a response.

As Farhi finally notes, in the penultimate paragraph of his Swan story, “his stories sometimes read like news flashes or blurbs, shorn of context, depth or larger connections.”

One of the reasons I launched this website was because I think it’s so important that people see each of Trump’s incremental actions in their proper, alarming context. Nothing he says or does – and nothing his “White House” says he’s going to do — can be taken on face value. Virtually every action is part of a racist and corrupt assault on pluralism, truth, and what I (still) consider core American values.

In the early years of internet news, a mantra in many newsrooms was that getting it right is more important than getting it first.

In the age of Trump, I would argue that putting it in context is more important than getting it first. In fact, in the greater scheme of things, getting it first really doesn’t matter at all.

No, the government doesn’t decide what ‘legitimate press functions’ are First Amendment worthy

A shot from the 2010 Wikileaks “Collateral Murder” video showing leaked footage of an Army helicopter gunner opening fire on a good Samaritan who had stopped to help innocent victims of an Army massacre in Baghdad in 2007. A Reuters photographer was killed in the first assault. Two children inside the van were badly injured; their father was killed.

Originally published at Just Security

Former Obama administration lawyers Bob Bauer and Ryan Goodman make a dangerous argument in their November 2 essay on Just Security: that coordination with a political campaign is outside the “legitimate press function” and therefore not protected by the First Amendment.

On its face, that would – for better or worse – deny constitutional protection to significant chunks of the political media on the left and right, where journalists (increasingly) take their cues – if not their instructions – directly from their partisan sources.

I’m not saying that seeking and taking guidance from partisan hacks is a good thing for journalists. (As I’ve argued before, political journalism is ideally anti-partisan, not partisan or even bipartisan.) But if it’s not protected by the First Amendment, that’s a Trumpian fantasy come true.

See, i.e., from Glenn Greenwald:

I would add that it’s not even arguable that websites like Breitbart and the Daily Caller collaborate closely with Republican Party leaders.

Bauer and Goodman were writing in the context of the civil suit brought in April by people associated with the Democratic National Committee regarding the hacking and dissemination of DNC emails in 2016. The defendants include elements of the Trump campaign, the Russian government – and WikiLeaks.

Although most of their essay is an argument that the Trump campaign isn’t protected by the First Amendment, they also address what they call the “misplaced concern that a defeat for this First Amendment defense puts media protections at risk.” Their position is that the First Amendment doesn’t protect media organizations if their conduct is outside the “legitimate press function” – as determined by the U.S. government.

They cite federal campaign regulation as a model:

It exempts standard journalistic activity, but denies those protections to conduct outside the “legitimate press function.” It is clear from disclosures by an internal WikiLeaks critic that Julian Assange targeted Hillary Clinton and sought to work with the Trump campaign and the Russians to secure her defeat. This is not a “legitimate press function.” And the conflation of WikiLeaks’ plan of campaign attack with standard journalistic activity undermines important distinctions critical to the protection of the free press. (Internal hyperlinks omitted).

Even if First Amendment protections can, in certain cases, not apply in election law, that doesn’t mean it’s something worth emulating. But in any case, the election regulations that determine what’s “legitimate” would easily validate  WikiLeaks.

A 2011 Federal Election Commission advisory (in the matter of Stephen Colbert and the Colbert Report) laid out how determinations are made:

In determining whether the press exemption applies to an entity, the Commission has conducted a two-step analysis. First, the Commission asks whether the entity engaging in the activity is a press entity. See, e.g.AOs 2005-16 (Fired Up) and 1996-16 (Bloomberg). Second, the Commission applies the two-part analysis in Readers’ Digest Ass’n v. FEC, 509 F. Supp. 1210, 1215 (S.D.N.Y., 1981), which requires it to determine: 1) Whether the entity is owned or controlled by a political party, political committee or candidate, and 2) whether the entity is acting as a press entity in conducting the activity at issue (i.e., whether the press entity is acting in its “legitimate press function”).

To determine whether a press entity is acting in its legitimate press function, the Commission considers two factors: 1) whether the press entity’s materials are available to the general public, and 2) whether the materials are comparable in form to those ordinarily issued by the press entity. See AOs 2005-16 (Fired UP) and 2000-13 (OPHTHPAC).

In the matter of WikiLeaks: check, check, check.

I hate seeing Goodman and Bauer argue for strict government-determined delimitations on the First Amendment.

I am sympathetic to their First Amendment arguments relating to the Trump campaign and the Russians, because if there was actual collusion to commit a crime, then legal sanctions would certainly appear to be justified. But by lumping Wikileaks in with the others – especially when the DNC lawsuit does not even vaguely allege that Wikileaks or its founder Julian Assange helped plan the hack in the first place – they do harm to the free press

Last month, also in Just Security, First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams posited this hypothetical:

Suppose, though, that the reality was that WikiLeaks itself had discussed with Russian authorities before the hacking how they would disseminate the information obtained so as best to embarrass the Clinton campaign. It is not a bizarre bit of conjecture. In that circumstance, there would be no First Amendment protection for WikiLeaks, just as there would be none if the campaign had done so.

I found that somewhat glib. But it’s also a different argument than the one Bauer and Goodman make. We journalists know that if we pro-actively suborn an illegal act, all bets are off.

I much preferred the May 2017 essay (also on Just Security!) by Elizabeth Goitein, who co-directs the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program. She wrote, in the context of then-FBI Director James Comey’s indication that criminal charges were pending against Assange:

He explained his reasoning as follows: Publishing classified information “crosses a line when it moves from being about trying to educate a public and instead becomes just about intelligence porn, frankly. Just pushing out information about sources and methods without regard to interest, without regard to the First Amendment values that normally underlie press reporting.” That, to Comey, describes WikiLeaks’ behavior: “[I]n my view, a huge portion of WikiLeak’s activities has nothing to do with legitimate newsgathering, informing the public, commenting on important controversies, but is simply about releasing classified information to damage the United States of America.”

In other words, the line Comey seeks to draw is not between leaking classified information and publishing it, but between publishing it for “good” reasons and publishing it for “bad” ones. Those who do the former are “journalists,” while those do the latter are not. And presumably, the Department of Justice gets to say which is which—at least when it comes to bringing a prosecution.

Goitein didn’t think much of that:

How will the government decide which outlets have an acceptable motivation? Comey didn’t go into detail, but he pointed to one indicator: “American journalists . . . will almost always call us before they publish classified information and say, is there anything about this that’s going to put lives in danger, that’s going to jeopardize government people, military people or—or innocent civilians anywhere in the world. And then they work with us to try and accomplish their important First Amendment goals while safeguarding those interests.”

In other words, media outlets that work in partnership with the U.S. government and are willing to self-censor based on official claims of national security are journalists. Those who conceive their role differently are not.

Former Obama White House associate counsel Andy Wright (also in Just Security!) warned this past May that: “First Amendment precedent, applied here to a platform like WikiLeaks could later serve as the basis of opinions affecting the Washington PostWall Street Journal, or the New York Times.” Wright noted that if WikiLeaks can be proven to have “advance knowledge coupled with a commitment that incentivizes the criminal acts,” then the case moves “closer to the line between the First Amendment and criminality.”

But, he wrote:

Mostly, the DNC complaint repeats the allegation that WikiLeaks published material it knew had been stolen in order to maximize political damage to Clinton. The DNC describes WikiLeaks as the publisher of “leaked or stolen confidential and classified information,” and Assange as a person who “has exhibited support for the Russian government and has hosted a talk show on Russia Today (“RT”), a television propaganda outlet funded by the Russian government.” In the “Nature of the Action” section of the suit, the DNC alleges that Russian operatives “transmitted [stolen] data to Defendant WikiLeaks, whose founder, Assange, shared the defendants’ common goal of damaging the Democratic party in advance of the election.”

What is missing is a direct allegation that Assange or WikiLeaks had knowledge of the plan to steal DNC information ahead of time, or that they knowingly incentivized the criminal behavior.

So count me as firmly with my former Intercept colleague Glenn Greenwald and Trevor Timm, the director of Freedom of the Press Foundation, when they wrote, within hours of the filing of the DNC lawsuit:

The DNC’s suit, as it pertains to WikiLeaks, poses a grave threat to press freedom. The theory of the suit — that WikiLeaks is liable for damages it caused when it “willfully and intentionally disclosed” the DNC’s communications (paragraph 183) — would mean that any media outlet that publishes misappropriated documents or emails (exactly what media outlets quite often do) could be sued by the entity or person about which they are reporting, or even theoretically prosecuted for it, or that any media outlet releasing an internal campaign memo is guilty of “economic espionage” (paragraph 170).

Look, Assange is not my kind of journalist. Although I’m proud to say that I was the first journalist to write about the extraordinary “collateral murder” video WikiLeaks released in April 2010 — and I’ve published many articles since then based on records WikiLeaks uncovered — I think much of what Assange has done lately is despicable. Although when I was Washington Editor of the Intercept, we mined the hacked DNC emails for legitimate news stories, I abhorred the heedless, unedited publication of the non-newsworthy and personally hurtful ones.

But Assange remains a journalist. (He even won the 2011 Martha Gellhorn prize for journalism.)

In the Trump era, when the president of the United States is using his office to attack journalists and journalism itself, the First Amendment is a key bulwark of liberty.

Here’s what Steve Vladeck, the co-editor-in-chief of Just Security and a law professor at the University of Texas School of Law, wrote to Goodman in a Q&A on the site (of course) in 2017, in the context of potential Espionage Act charges against journalists – criminal charges related to the simple possession of classified information: “I’m skeptical that Assange (or the New York Times, for that matter) would have a clear-cut First Amendment defense to the publication of classified information in anything but the most extreme case of public concern (and perhaps even then).”

Vladeck continued:

I’m just not that sanguine about the prospect of the Supreme Court recognizing a First Amendment right to publish national security secrets in anything but such a compelling case (and wonder, for example, if Snowden’s disclosures, at least of the phone records program, would fit the bill). Simply put, the principal historical constraint on prosecutions of the press for publishing national security secrets has been prosecutorial discretion, not constitutional law. And so one does not need to have a particular view about Assange (or think that he is or is not a journalist) to have a view on the implications here; the key is if he’s prosecuted as a third party under the Espionage Act, which, of itself, would set a dangerous precedent for press freedom.

And with a Supreme Court increasingly stacked with far-right judges who read the Bill of Rights very narrowly, now is not the time to test its protections.

Trump’s use of troops for political stunt comes under heavy fire

Obama in Florida.

Donald Trump’s decision to send military troops to the southern border is being increasingly criticized as a naked and cynical move to make political points with American troops. (See my October 30 article, Trump willingness to use the military for crassly political purposes sets off alarms.)

Former President Barack Obama on Friday combined mockery and outrage as he told the audience at a political rally in Florida about Trump’s move.

“They’re telling you the existential threat to America is a bunch of poor refugees 1,000 miles away,” he said. “They’re even taking our brave troops away from their families for a political stunt at the border. And the men and women of our military deserve better than that.”

Former Obama-era Secretary of Defense and Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel told CNN  on Thursday that Trump’s move “is folly. This is political distraction of the highest magnitude.”

Trump is “using our military and our troops in a very political way that … really casts a lot questions about the competency of his leadership,” Hagel said

He continued: “I know the kinds of sacrifices these men and women are involved with every day, and their families. To use them as political pawns like this for a complete fabrication is really wrong.”

Rep. Adam Smith, the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, told the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent that a Democratic House would hold hearings on the decision.

“We would ask the Pentagon to come in and explain to us in an open public hearing what they’re doing and why,” Smith told Sargent. “I don’t think we should let the president get away with this type of policy with no justification and no explanation for it.”

A letter from Smith, three other Democrats who would take over top House investigative committees, and 104 of their colleagues to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis demands an explanation, while asserting that “This effort is nothing short of a militarization of the southern border to score political points and stoke misleading fears among Americans regarding immigrants.”

Meanwhile, Newsweek reporters James Laporta, Nicole Goodkind and Chantal Da Silva found that “multiple Pentagon sources” say the move “took officials by surprise, with many senior-level Defense Department officers saying they believed the move was politically motivated and a waste of money.”

“There is no practical or tactical reason for this to happen,” one source told Newsweek.

The AP’s Robert Burns and Lolita C. Baldor point out how the move goes counter to Mattis’s core mission:

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has left no doubt that his top priority as leader of the military is making it more “lethal” — better at war and more prepared for it — and yet nothing about the military’s new mission at the U.S.-Mexico border advances that goal. Some argue it detracts from it.

They also quote James Stavridis, a retired Navy admiral and former head of U.S. Southern Command, saying the troops should be preparing for combat and other missions, “not monitoring a peaceful border.”

Trump, meanwhile, backed off his ominous statement on Thursday, indicating that the active-duty troops might open fire on migrants at the border. (See my November 1 post: Trump mocks rule of law by saying active-duty troops might open fire on migrants.)

“I didn’t say shoot. I didn’t say shoot,” Trump said Friday.

“They won’t have to fire. What I don’t want is I don’t want these people throwing rocks,” he said. “But if they do that with us, they’re going to be arrested for a long time.”

Trump mocks rule of law by saying active-duty troops might open fire on migrants

On the migrant caravan. (Save the Children)

Donald Trump said Thursday that he is ordering the active-duty U.S. troops he is sending to the southern border to open fire on migrants if they throw rocks.

Trump is using the last days before the midterms to conjure up an “invasion” scenario to rile up his political base.

But in threatening to actually use the military against would-be asylum seekers, he’s also making a mockery of the rule of law, which specifically prohibits U.S. troops from engaging in domestic law enforcement. (His proposal to limit the ability of migrants to request asylum also appears to break U.S. and international law.)

Asked by a reporter if U.S. troops might fire on the migrant caravan full of women and children that is currently about 900 miles away, and moving very slowly, Trump said: “I hope not, I hope not — but it’s the military.”

Then he explained: “They want to throw rocks at our military, our military fights back. We’re gonna consider, and I told them consider it a rifle. When they throw rocks like they did at the Mexico military and police, I say consider it a rifle.”

The scenario is absurd. When what’s left of the rag-tag caravan makes it to the U.S. border, their intent is to apply for asylum, not storm the barricades.

The Pentagon has insisted that the troops being sent to the border would operate purely in a supporting role, helping with logistics, transportation and engineering. That’s because the troops’ activities on domestic soil are strictly limited by the Posse Comitatus Act, which establishes the prohibition of military involvement in domestic law enforcement.

University of California at San Diego law professor Harry Litman does a particularly effective job of explaining the significance in a Washington Post op-ed today:

Its obscure name and rare deployment notwithstanding, the Posse Comitatus Act enshrines the bedrock democratic idea that civil society is separate from and superior to military force, and that regulation of citizens by military is antithetical to liberty.

Civil law enforcement is governed by constitutional protections and accountability to the court. Military force is governed by the law of war and the imperative of national defense against other militaries. They serve critically different functions, practically and morally; and they ought not overlap.

I wrote on Tuesday about the danger posed by Trump’s casual use of active-duty troops for nakedly political purposes.

Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy expressed outrage at Trump’s lates comments: “I didn’t think I’d live to see the day when an American president threatens lethal military force against individuals who are throwing rocks. The professionals in our military are among the best in the world, and have invested countless hours and tax dollars in training about the lawful use of force to accomplish their mission. The illegal and immoral practice the President endorsed is beneath their and our country’s dignity.”

Jamil Dakwar, director of the ACLU’s human rights projects, tweeted:

Also today, Deborah Pearlstein, a Cardozo law school professor, pointed out that the current deployment of about 2,000 National Guard troops is arguably a violation of the law.

The Guard deployment was authorized under Title 32 of the U.S. Code, which allows the Guard to be used for operational homeland defense activities. That means providing protection that is “critical to national security, from a threat or aggression against the United States.”

Pearlstein, in a conference call arranged by the American Constitution Society, said there is obviously no immediate threat to the homeland – nothing remotely like an “invasion” of the sort Trump warns about.

“I actually think it is a national security concern,” she said, but only “because it is a national security threat for the president to apply troops in this way.”

She continued: “The word ‘war’ and the words ‘national security’ get used all the time…. If you care about those kinds of threats out there, avoiding the temptation to let that language be overused and misused is very important.”

Clapper and Hayden liken radicalization of extremists by Trump to ISIS and al Qaeda

Clapper and Hayden at George Mason University. (C-SPAN)

In an extraordinary exchange on Wednesday first reported by Deep State website editor Jefferson Morley, former director of national intelligence James Clapper and former CIA head Michael Hayden directly likened the radicalization of domestic terrorists by Donald Trump to the radicalization of extremists by ISIS and al Qaeda.

Clapper, who was the intended recipient of one of the pipe bombs sent to prominent Trump critics last week, said Trump’s words were having a radicalizing effect “not unlike what I experienced with the likes of ISIS.”

“And as long as a ‘stable genius‘ creates an environment that can seemingly condone this sort of behavior, we’re going to have more of it, I’m convinced,” he said.

Hayden agreed. “I don’t want to oversimplify this and create an equivalency, but there are parallels.”

Clapper said there’s a new breed of “political dissidents” who “now have a set of grievances to which they can attach themselves that have been essentially articulated by the president of the United States of America.”

The two former intelligence heads were the keynote speakers at a discussion on threats to U.S. democratic institutions hosted by the National Security Institute at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School on Wednesday.

You can watch the video of the discussion of radicalization here, on the C-SPAN website.

The event was moderated by Atlantic editor Jeffrey Goldberg, who asked the two men:

Do you think this is the end of it, or do you think we’re in the middle of a long process in which people are being radicalized and are going to try to carry out their anger violently?

Clapper replied:

Regrettably, yes, I think personally we’re probably in for more of this sort of thing….

This is how people get energized, radicalized. It’s not unlike what I experienced with the likes of ISIS, who was very successful at using social media only, to recruit and radicalize people. And it’s almost, to me, a very similar psychology at work here. And as long as a “stable genius” creates an environment that can seemingly condone this sort of behavior, we’re going to have more of it, I’m convinced.

Hayden followed Clapper’s statement with a long explanation of radicalization that I think is worth getting on the record:

I don’t want to oversimplify this and create an equivalency, but there are parallels. We were asked, looking at the radicalization of Islamist terrorists, alright? One of the questions, one of the arguments that we had, is, well, is this the ideology of al Qaeda or Isis, or is this really just unhappy young males who don’t have a good job. And the answer is yes, alright?

What’s the character in children’s fiction, the pushmi-pullyu? Remember that? This is a push-me-pull-you. So, societies create folks — more often than not young men — who are unattached, who are disappointed, who are fearful, who feel as if they have grievance, and they look for something larger than self – and something larger than self to which they can attach themselves.

Now in some cases it is a very positive step. They join the Army. They join the boys club. Alright? The way I used to phrase it back at CIA was this probably has more to do with the Crips and the Bloods than it does with the Holy Koran when it comes to radicalization. With the meaning being that the same dynamic that draws someone to join a gang is probably the same personal dynamic that makes someone attach that grievance to this larger cause. But then the point I make is: It matters what gang you join.

And so what you get are individuals who are unhappy – violence-prone on their own, with a great sense of grievance who now get legitimization and justification for their grievance by attaching it to something larger than themselves.

For an Islamist terrorist, it could be a particularly violent version of one of the world’s great monotheisms. For political dissidents, they now – and this is the newness part — they now have a set of grievances to which they can attach themselves that have been essentially articulated by the president of the United States of America.

And if you look at the bomber, I mean, it’s all about – [Goldberg interjects: “It’s all there on the van.”] It’s all there.

If you look at the incident in Squirrel Hill in Pittsburgh, alright? There’s a latent anti-Semitism. But the proximate cause was his belief that international Jewry was sponsoring the invasion of America from that caravan, still a thousand miles from the Rio Grande — which has been a constant theme coming out of the White House.

So I guess to answer your question a little bit, I’m kinda with Jim, in the current atmosphere I don’t think we have any reason to believe that this is going to stop. It’s just hard to predict when that combination may happen again.

Morley has more, including the two men’s comments on how Trump’s behavior is damaging the country’s democratic institutions, perhaps irretrievably. “We have four years to stop him,” Morley quotes Hayden. “We don’t have eight.”