Countering Russian Insurgency

The Case for Optimism: Rejecting Trump’s Poisonous Pessimism

This essay was originally published on the website Medium.

So, imagine if you lived in America at a time when:

  • Incomes of everyday people are at an all-time high, have been rising for at least four years now and saw their largest annual increase in recorded US history just a year ago.
  • The unemployment rate is 4.3%, about at what economists consider “full employment.” This rate is historically low — over the past 70 years (821 months), the rate has only been lower in 130 of those months or just 16% of this 70 year stretch. A reminder that the unemployment rate never dipped below 5.3% during the entire Reagan Presidency.
  • More people have health insurance and access to quality than any time in American history. A recently implemented health care law has materially improved the lives of tens of millions Americans in a very short period of time.
  • The US stock market is at an all-time high, and 33% percent higher than any sustained high in US history and between 5 and 10 times higher than where it has been most of last 50 years. So really high.
  • The high school graduation rate is the highest ever recorded.
  • Violent crime rates are half of what they were a generation ago, and cities across the US are blossoming, seeing growth, investment and people once again living “downtown.”
  • Teenage pregnancy rates are plummeting, and now are at all-time low.
  • There has not been a foreign fighter terror attack on US soil in 16 years, few American troops are dying overseas and the US faces no true existential threat from a foreign power.
  • Due to smart policies and years of investment, the flow of undocumented immigrants into the US has dramatically slowed, seeing no net increase for a decade now.
  • The US is taking control of its energy future, seeing a sharp decrease in foreign oil imports and sharp, even historic, increases in the production of renewable energy.

Would that America sound like a good America to you? I think so. And of course this list describes the America of today, early June, 2017. America is not without its problems, of course. Despite our economic success, we are still leaving too many behind. Growing levels of inequality are corrosive to the social fabric and bad for the economy too. We have too much public and private debt. Tribalism, racial strife and social coherence remain daunting challenges. Mass incarceration too. The opioid epidemic is tragic, and needs far more attention and action. Too few people vote in America, and our civic life needs renewal on many fronts…..

But it is the premise of this essay that while America has very real challenges, somehow the positive side of the nation’s balance sheet — and there is a lot there — has been recklessly ignored in our national discourse. It is my contention that contrary to the claims of our President, America hasn’t lost its greatness, and that by many historical measures there has never been a better time in all of America history to be alive. Certainly better than the Great Depression, or when we held millions of slaves in cruel bondage, or when kids worked and didn’t go to school, or before there was a minimum wage or a social safety net, or when little black kids and little white kids couldn’t drink from the same water fountain, or when hundreds of thousands were dying in Vietnam, or a Cold War could lead to nuclear annihilation at any moment? Or when sky high interest rates prevented us from buying homes, or women couldn’t vote or work or pursue their dreams, or when OPEC decided to punish America, forcing us to wait in lines for hours just to buy gas? Or especially, my Republican friends, when Ronald Reagan was President and the unemployment rate never dipped below 5.3?

Which brings us to Trump. So much of what he is doing flows from the argument that America isn’t managing this new age of globalization well but being defeated by it. It is the rationale behind stripping health care from tens of millions, dismantling common sense environmental regulations, and getting out of the Paris climate deal and TPP; behind his harsh new immigration enforcement and criminal justice policies; behind his dancing with dictators and distancing himself from democracies. And of course, the data above suggests that this argument — the entire rationale for Trump’s Presidency — just isn’t true. Not even close. Things are far better than he says, or perhaps, understands.

Our new President is the first in our history to be under investigation for treason while in office. Whether he has in fact betrayed our nation to a hostile foreign power (and I think he did) will be determined soon. But to me the greater betrayal of this remarkable nation and its hundreds of millions of decent, hardworking people is the President’s denigration of our collective accomplishments over the past generation. Despite the many headwinds of the modern world America has made true, substantial progress. We are a better and more prosperous nation than we were a generation ago. Our companies lead the world in just about every possible sector, and the innovation and creativity in our private sector remains the envy of the world. Our military has no near peer, and remains the greatest fighting force ever assembled. We are taking control of our energy future, and making great strides against climate change. We are working through our unique challenges with race and tribalism, and while Trump is an obvious setback we just saw a man of color lead our nation successfully for the first time in history. Millions of new Americans are starting businesses, building families and making their mark. Our universities are the best in the world, and our public schools are getting better. I could go on and on and on.

But the bottom line is by selling us short Trump betrays both the greatness of our country and the goodness of the American people every day of his Presidency.

And this is the key. To defeat Trumpism we must be optimists, patriots, pragmatists now. To defeat the man, we must defeat his fallacious arguments about America and what we have become. While he talks down America, we must talk it up. We should be proud stewards of a great nation, but steely-eyed and resolute about tackling the real challenges that remain. In many ways, even in these nasty early days of Trump, I have never been more proud of my country, more in touch with what it means to be an American. For it remains the greatest country on Earth, the inspiration for so many — and it will reclaim that role in the days after Trump if we can together not just defeat the man, but defeat the dark pessimism his brand of politics has unleashed into America and the rest of the world.

Can we do it? In the words of another who came before, there is no doubt in my mind that “Yes, we can.”

 

Our Most Important Battle - Please Support the Good Work of NDN Today

Dear Friends,

For more than a decade now NDN has helped our elected leaders and policy makers better understand the big changes sweeping America and the world. We’ve helped lead ongoing conversations about demography, technology and media, globalization and its related geopolitics for over a decade now. Along the way we’ve had some inspiring victories and accomplished some important things. But no time in our history feels as important as today and these early days of the new era of Trump.

These past few months we’ve been heads down, helping create early understandings about what exactly we and the world are dealing with. We wrote early on about Trump’s worrisome and potentially treasonous relationship with Russia; his unprecedented corruption and willingness to ignore long held Democratic norms; his dramatic reluctance to align himself with the West and its values; his reckless economic policies and betrayal of the voters who elected him; and his inhumane immigration crackdown. In each of these areas NDN has made early and sustained contributions to creating a better understanding of what was indeed happening.

But it has not all been about Trump. We’ve offered a series of pieces about the future of the Democratic Party; about the need for Democrats to embrace their sound economic stewardship over the past generation as the critical first piece of the development of a new and compelling agenda; about the need to let the Democrat’s generational wheel turn and a new wave of promising leaders to step forward; about the need to be patriots now not partisans; and about the urgency of Democrats to assume responsibility for the global order built by previous generations of Americans and work to both modernize and preserve it for our kids and theirs. We can’t beat something with nothing as has been said, and we are also trying to do our part to help ensure what comes next for the center-left is even better than what we’ve had.

So, yes, we’ve been busy. But that’s what we are here for, and why we need your support today. There is a lot of work to be done. And your support is what makes it all possible. I hope you will step up with a contribution of whatever amount makes sense – $25, $50, $100, more. As you know well it is the generosity of our community that makes all this cutting edge and impactful work possible.

So please do give today. We don’t have a grassroots army or compelling television ads. But we do have years of experience, resilient keyboards and powerful insights – and those too have their place in our current and extraordinary struggle. Your support will ensure the good work just keeps on coming at this critical time.

Best,
Simon

On Trump's Meeting w/Lavrov Today: Time To End The Appeasement of Russia

This morning we released the following statement to the media and our community: 

When President Trump meets with Vladimir Putin’s most senior aide at the White House today, it is essential that the President use this time to raise concerns about Russia’s rising ambitions on the global stage. Among the issues that should be on the agenda:

• Russian interference in the elections and internal politics of the United States and Europe
• Russia’s violation of the INF nuclear treaty (link)
• The imperative of returning Crimea to Ukraine, and cessation of its adventurous military operations in the region
• Rising Russian support of the Taliban in Afghanistan (link), and escalation in Libya (link)
• Russia’s establishment of a military installation in Nicaragua (link)
• And of course, the need for Russia to stop propping up Syria’s murderous dictator, and prolonging the Syrian Civil War

“While Americans should be very concerned about Russia’s intervention in our election last year on behalf of Donald Trump, what is far more worrisome is President Trump’s unwillingness to challenge Russia’s rising ambitions on the global stage since becoming President” said NDN President Simon Rosenberg.

“In another age we would call President Trump’s early approach to Russia “appeasement.” Today, President Trump has an opportunity to demonstrate to the American people that he is capable of standing firm against this rising global threat from a newly ambitious Russia. His failure to raise these matters with FM Lavrov and demand a change in Russia’s course would send a signal to the world that America supports Russia’s newly aggressive stance. Such an approach is of course unacceptable, and would give additional fodder to those who have been argued that Trump can be friends with Putin or be President of the United States - but he cannot be both.”

Update: So the meeting happened.  Lavrov brought along Ambassador Kislyak, thought to be the chief Russian spymaster in the US.  These two men helped lead the Russian campaign to elect Trump.  And Our President met with them without any other American in the room - no translator, no press, no national security council staff.  Just Putin's top aide, and the Russian spymaster in the US.  How Kislyak was allowed into the Oval Office is beyond comprehension.  And of course the White House's read out of the meeting was milquetoast, and neglected to mention Kislyak's presence.  And of course did not mention anything about the ongoing Russian interference campaign in the US or in Europe.  Pure, clear, mighty appeasement it is. 

Update: So I took to Twitter and elaborated on this piece a bit.  Well worth your time.  Biggest issue in American politics today. 

"No Normal Time" - A Special Note from Simon

Dear Friends,

Some days it is important to note just how unusual, and pernicious, American politics has become. Sally Yates’ testimony today reminds us that our President and his allies are under an unprecedented investigation for treason and active collusion with a hostile foreign power. The House passed ACHA and its emerging budget strategy is an extraordinary betrayal of everything Donald Trump campaigned on; would do clear, measurable harm to tens of millions of Americans in order to give tax cuts to the wealthiest among us; and as Paul Krugman argues today in the New York Times represents a degree of direct lying about policy that is also unprecedented in modern American history. More stories of rank and unprecedented corruption by the Trump family once again dominate our headlines this morning. And just this morning our President took to Twitter to discuss golf and once again give clumsy cover to the Russian attack on the American homeland (and French, German and many others) last year. These things are not normal, or okay.

While there is good news out of France this morning, we cannot forget just how extraordinary this moment in American politics is. There is no “business as usual” option here, a sense that things will somehow settle down to something resembling “normal politics.” This is why we’ve so aggressively advocated that Democrats start to make these matters – the appeasement of Russia, the corruption, the epic malevolent lying, the denigration of democratic norms – front and center in their negotiations with Trump and the GOP. We cannot segregate off traditional policy considerations from these broader areas of concern as doing so will be in its own way a form of appeasement and acceptance.

We also have recently advocated that the RNC be challenged to take far more aggressive steps in combating the reoccurrence of foreign attempts to influence our elections that FBI Director Comey predicted will come. The RNC and thus the entire Republican Party and all of its members played a significant role in mainstreaming the Russian operation in the US last year, and were thus critical to its success. This shameful legacy needs to be confronted by the current leadership of the RNC, and steps taken to work with willing Democrats to create a united political front against foreign interference in our elections.

These are no ordinary times. History tells us that in times like these many well-intentioned people will fail to understand how extraordinary the moment is, and to allow wishful thinking to overwhelm good sense. We in America don’t have a lot of experience with this kind of politics, so perhaps it is understandable. But let me be as clear as day – this organization will not stop challenging those in power to meet this worrisome moment head on and with force equal to what is coming at us. Creativity, strategic thinking and good old fashioned courage are required now. And we are going to do our part in making sure that America comes out of this time stronger, wiser and more just than before. We hope you will continue to partner with us in these consequential days ahead to assure that it is so.

Best,

Simon

Monday, May 8th 2017 From Washington, DC

Column: Dems should put Russia, corruption and tax returns on agenda w/Trump

Today, US News and World Report published Simon's latest column,“Standing Firm.” In the column Simon recommends that in the coming negotiations with President Trump on a wide variety of issues – including the budget, debt ceiling, infrastructure, improving the Affordable Care Act and even matters of war and peace – Democrats should add three more important issues to the agenda:

1. Full presidential cooperation with the various probes into Russian interference in U.S. politics.
2. Commonplace financial transparency - release of tax returns, public audit of Trump's holdings.
3. Cessation of presidential use of his private businesses for matters of state.

To continue reading, please refer to the US News link. You can Simon's previous US News columns here.

Column: The RNC’s Russia Problem

Friends,

Today US News published Simon's latest column,“The RNC's Russia Problem: The RNC Should Take The Lead In Preventing Future Interference In Our Elections.”

An excerpt –

"The main purpose of the two congressional investigations into the Russian campaign to interfere in America's electoral process is to prevent such a campaign from ever happening again. There are legitimate reasons to be concerned about future reoccurrences. Just today, Facebook closed 30,000 accounts in France, ones it determined were spreading misinformation in the run up to the French election. So these malevolent efforts by foreign governments to interfere in the democratic processes of important Western powers continue and remain a serious threat to sovereignty and security of the United States.

As policymakers forge an appropriate response to this ongoing threat, the Republican National Committee has a particularly important role to play in future efforts to protect this part of America's homeland. For as we've learned in recent weeks, the RNC was at the center of two of the most important components of the Russian campaign – the penetration of Trump's campaign by the Russian government, and the normalization and use of Russian disinformation."

To continue reading, please refer to the US News link. You can Simon's previous US News columns here.

Be sure to also read Simon's statement on Secretary of State Tillerson's meetings with Putin and Lavrov as well as his statement on the White House and Department of Homeland Security to release their plan to protect US elections from future interference by foreign powers.

Release: Tillerson failed to make Russian interference in US elections central to his mtgs w/Lavrov, Putin

“Based on his statements in his Moscow press conference this afternoon, Secretary of State Tillerson failed to make the issue of Russia’s interference in US politics and its ongoing efforts to disrupt the politics of our European allies central to his meetings with Russian President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov today. In his opening statement describing the talks he did not mention these ongoing and serious aggressions by Russia. They only came up when Tillerson was queried by a reporter, and his exact words were “we touched on it briefly.”

A direct Russian attack on the American homeland is not peripheral to the US-Russian relationship. Failure by Tillerson to make this far-ranging interference campaign central to these talks and to publicly condemn Russia for their aggressive actions here and in Europe is a tacit sign of approval of these efforts by the Trump Administration. It is also an invitation for Russia and other nations to attempt these kind of interference campaigns again in future elections here and abroad.

I for one reject the argument that what is happening in Syria and North Korea is more important than Russian’s extensive and ongoing efforts to undermine democracy in the US and Europe. These efforts should have been given equal weight to these other global challenges, and should have been central to the talks today. It is another disturbing sign of how Donald Trump’s admiration and relationship for Russia is interfering with his ability to be an effective President for the American people.

A few days ago NDN called on the White House and The Department of Homeland Security to release their plans to prevent the kind of interference we saw in 2016 from happening in this upcoming election cycle, including the special election in Georgia next week. The apparent failure of Tillerson to make these matters central to the talks today makes the production of such a go-forward strategy by the WH even more urgent.”

-Simon Rosenberg, President, NDN

 

Column: The End of Innocence: Trump's Fantasy World Crashes Hard Into The Real One

Today US News published Simon's latest column,“The End of Innocence: Trump's Fantasy World Crashes Hard Into The Real One.”

An excerpt –

"In the coming days, Trump's willingness to shed his clear admiration for Putin and Russia will be central to our emerging Syria policy, and to Trump's broader foreign policy vision. It is also perhaps the most important indicator of his willingness to shed the childish fantasy world his campaign constructed that is causing his early presidency to fail. Whatever Trump believed about Putin, and whatever transactions have gone down between them, Putin is anathema to the American creed. He is working to weaken America and the West on the global stage, advance autocracy as an alternative to democracy, undermine the global consensus about the need to find a better energy paradigm than one based on fossil fuels and has been Assad's funder and partner and thus is directly responsible for the greatest humanitarian crisis in generations. There is a strong argument to be made that defeating Putinism is the most significant challenge facing our new president. And because of this Trump will have to choose. He can be president of the United States or a friend of Putin's. He cannot be both."

To continue reading, please refer to the US News link. You can Simon's previous US News columns here.
 

NDN Calls on WH/DHS To Release Their Plans for Protecting US Elections from Foreign Interference

Today, the advocacy organization NDN is formally calling on the Trump Administration to release its plans for preventing another Russia style attack on our electoral systems in the 2018 election cycle.

Russia’s interference in our elections in 2016 was among the most serious attacks on the homeland of the United States in recent decades, perhaps in all of American history. The success of the operation will certainly encourage Russia, and perhaps other foreign actors, to try again. Foreign actors will be further encouraged if the American President and his Administration continue to discount the threat, and are not doing all that is required to keep America and its electoral system safe. To deter such activity, and to hopefully to prevent its reoccurrence, the Administration must take steps in the coming days to assure the American people they have a plan and are acting upon it.

This is not some far off issue. Special elections for the House of Representatives have begun this month, and there are primary and general elections in several states in 2017 that are already underway. Systems for monitoring foreign activity and creating real time communication with the DNC, RNC and possibly affected campaigns should have already been put in place by the Trump Administration. It is time for the President to act.

Congressional leaders of both parties should be demanding a clear plan from the Administration. The Chairs of the DNC and RNC should work together this time to create systems for monitoring and sharing information. And this time, the Republican Party should commit to the American people that it will not knowingly use stolen materials and disinformation spread by a foreign power to influence an American election, as it did in 2016. This is not a partisan issue, but an American one, and it is time for the Trump Administration to lead an ambitious, bi-partisan, well-staffed and well-funded effort to prevent foreign interference in our elections.

We hope others will join our call, and encourage the Administration to act without delay.

Column: Why the Return of WikiLeaks Is a Problem for Trump

In his new US News column,“Why the Return of WikiLeaks Is a Problem for Trump,” Simon argues that the new WikiLeaks release reminds us the campaign Russia is waging against the West and the US is an ongoing effort, not something that happened in the past.

An excerpt from "Why the Return of WikiLeaks Is a Problem for Trump" 

"The new Wikileaks release of sensitive CIA documents about its cyber capabilities is many things, but perhaps most importantly it is a reminder that the campaign Russia is waging against the West and the United States is an ongoing effort, not something that happened in the past.

Not only does this new release involve Wikileaks, the main outlet for Russia's stolen materials from the Clinton campaign and the DNC, but a big part of the new dump provides previously undisclosed information about the CIA's Center for Cyber Intelligence, the unit assigned by President Obama to respond to Russia's interference in our politics last summer.

In a normal time, Russia's re-emergence would be considered the greatest security threat to America and our traditional allies. But the Trump administration has been remarkably silent on the issue. Despite tweeting on issues ranging from the ratings of his old television show to Ivanka's businesses, the new president has not once gone to Twitter to condemn any of these Russian aggressions. Nor has he even acknowledged that Russia intervened in our politics last year (let alone condemned it) or authorized a collective response to its ongoing efforts to disrupt the politics of our most important allies in Europe.

Consider that not only has Russia taken unprecedented aggression in the homeland of the United States, but it is, right now, waging similar cyber/disinformation campaigns inside of many of our most important European allies. It has escalated its activities in Eastern Ukraine. It has broken a 30-year-old nuclear treaty with the United States, deploying new offensive nuclear capacity that threatens Europe. It has propped up the Assad regime in Syria, helping prolong the civil war there and keeping the destabilizing flow of refugees into Europe. And it is even expanding its activities in places like Afghanistan and Libya."

To continue reading, please refer to the US News link. You can Simon's previous US News columns here.
 

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