The Killing of Charleena Lyles: What Should Be Done

The officers involved almost certainly won’t face any legal consequences for Charleena Lyles’ death. But the problems that led to her death are mostly recurring and institutional – and can be fixed.

UPDATE #1 6-23-17: In a classic Friday evening news dump to minimize coverage of unflattering news, SPD has released the interview transcripts from McNew and Anderson, the officers who killed Lyles. It’s bad.

They say both had batons, and Anderson also had pepper spray; and that McNew asked Anderson to use a Taser, but Anderson replied that he didn’t have one. That exchange indicates that there was time, measured in seconds, for the pair to make a decision that didn’t involve the summary execution of Charleena Lyles.

The diagrams accompanying the officers’ interview transcript are even more problematic. They indicate that McNew let Lyles get between him and the door – something that, prior to entering, the officers had specifically discussed NOT allowing Lyles to do. If that’s true, it also means that McNew – the more experienced officer, and the one with 40-hour crisis intervention training – very likely shot Lyles in the back. If she turned to face McNew at the last second, Anderson would have had to shoot her from behind.

The medical examiner’s report will, hopefully, tell us. If it doesn’t find that Lyles was shot from behind, it means either the officers’ diagram is inaccurate, or the medical examiners’ finding is inaccurate. And, again, body cameras would have recorded this critical detail.

= = =

When Charleena Lyles was shot and killed in her home last Sunday, June 18 by two Seattle Police Department (SPD) officers, in front of three of her four children, family and community alike erupted with calls for justice.

That’s not going to happen.

SPD spokespeople say the officers opened fire during an otherwise routine visit, after Lyles had called to report a burglary, because Lyles suddenly brandished a knife at them. (Subsequent reports have claimed Lyles had two knives.) The officers’ audio recordings of the incident show the time between when the tone of the visit suddenly changed from routine to alarmed, to when Lyles was shot dead, was a mere 14 seconds.

Activists should understand that for much of the general public – read general white public – Lyles is an unsympathetic figure, in many ways a stereotype of the worst characteristics assigned to African-American mothers. She was poor, living in low-income housing; a single mother, she had four children, with a fifth on the way; she had a history of convictions and documented drug use; and had struggled recently with mental illness, but reportedly wasn’t taking her prescribed medication, fearing – quite reasonably – side effects that would harm her pregnancy.

Meanwhile, superficially, the two SPD officers involved in the shooting, Steven McNew and Jason Anderson, seemed to do everything right. McNew had completed a full 40-hour training in “crisis intervention certification,” the SPD training that makes officers go-to resources in calls that involve mental health issues. Anderson also had the shorter, eight-hour version of the CIC training, which SPD now emphasizes as part of the federal Department of Justice-mandated reform process a federal court now enforces.

Lyles’ mental health problems were a matter of record for the SPD, especially due to a June 5 incident stemming from a call from Lyles – unrelated to last weekend’s burglary call – in which Lyles’ mood suddenly shifted and she threatened responding officers with a pair of scissors. That incident ended peacefully, but with Lyles charged and later attending a hearing in mental health court.

As a result, McNew, the CIC specialist, was one of the responding officers on June 18, and he and Anderson can be heard on both their audio, their car’s dashcam, and apartment complex hallway surveillance video discussing Lyles’ history before entering her apartment. Once they did so, it was a routine, professional call until, as on June 5, the tone suddenly shifted. A few seconds later, Lyles was dead.

When confronted with a knife, police officers are ordered to shoot if they fear for their lives and the would-be assailant is within 21 feet – seven steps, the time it takes for an officer to draw his or her service weapon, remove the safety, aim, and fire. There is no known video of the shooting itself, but Lyles’ subsidized housing almost certainly left less than 21 feet between her and the officers. Depending on the distance, there may also have not been time to use a less lethal alternative – beyond which, with a knife attack, some less lethal weapons won’t help because they take too long to deploy (e.g., a spooling taser) or an assailant can still lunge forward even as the weapon is deployed (e.g., chemical agents like pepper spray).

Much of the general public, including some people who are otherwise sympathetic to the Black Lives Matter movement, aren’t alarmed at these details. As one progressive white acquaintance noted to me this week, “What were they [the officers] supposed to do?”

As it turns out, there was plenty that could have been done differently. Charleena Lyles did not have to die.

Balanced against these seemingly exonerating details is the visceral horror anyone with a soul feels for Lyles’ death: a diminutive, pregnant mother of four killed in front of three of her own children. Activist response has been the largest of any local incident in the #BLM era, including the 2016 shooting death of Che Taylor. Anecdotally, even many SPD officers were aghast at Lyles’ death.

That doesn’t mean there will be any legal consequences, though; absent a surprising medical examiner revelation (e.g., Lyles was shot from behind), the only evidence in the shooting itself is the audio recordings and the reports of McNew and Anderson. There is nothing to contradict their narrative of a sudden, mortal threat – and officers can’t be charged if they legitimately believe their lives to be in danger.

It’s virtually inconceivable that prosecutors could rebut that standard in the death of Charleena Lyles – let alone that a jury would then convict the officers of any charges. And because of the complexities of Lyles’ case, it also seems unlikely that Lyles’ death will spark any broad public outcry beyond the existing #BLM movement.

But that doesn’t mean Lyles should have died. And it doesn’t mean changes should not be demanded.


What They Could Have Done

Much of the activist wrath this past week has been generated by the simple, visceral reality of another black life taken by a department with a long, sordid history of racially based abuse. But the details in Lyles’ case are far from exonerating, for either McNew and Anderson or for SPD. Why did SPD’s visit to Lyles’ home on June 5 end peacefully, but the one on June 18 – when they were supposedly better prepared to deal with Lyles’ mental health struggles – didn’t? Why, of the countless interactions each day between SPD officers and mentally ill individuals, did this one end so badly?

Much activist criticism has focused on ways to disarm Lyles or de-escalate the situation without gunfire. SPD says the officers were carrying a less-lethal weapon, as required. They’ve said the officers didn’t have tasers, and no batons are visible on the officers in the outside videos. That most likely leaves pepper spray, possibly the least effective weapon for deflecting a potential knife attack in close quarters (or with children present). But it would still have been better than killing her. Why didn’t they use it?

And why was that the only apparent alternative on hand? Lyles’ history, and the risks she presented, were known and discussed in advance of the visit. SPD took the time, on a non-urgent call (the burglary was not in progress), to find an officer with 40-hour CIC training. They could also have taken the time to ensure the officers had adequate choices for defending themselves from a repeat of the June 5 incident. (Of course, we don’t know whether the officers did bring such alternatives, but simply left them in the trunk.) Why didn’t the officers have batons, a far better weapon to deflect a knife attack? For that matter, with kids present, the risks of simply physically disarming the diminutive Lyles were serious but relatively minor weighed against the alternatives – and could have been reduced further with Kevlar or other protective clothing. Officers could also have brought, or improvised, any sort of portable barrier. Lastly, and most obviously, depending on whether they thought Lyles’ children were in danger, they could have chosen to simply leave, barricading the apartment door and calling for backup. If they thought the kids were in danger, protecting the kids – not protecting themselves by leaving the children traumatized and motherless – should have been their top priority.

All of these options depend on where in the apartment the officers, the door, Lyles, and her children were. But since there’s no audio evidence of the children moving during the incident, three of those four elements were under the officers’ control at all times.

And needless to say, if this is how SPD trains its crisis intervention specialists, a hard look needs to be taken at that training. But that’s hardly the only institutional problem that has clouded Lyles’ death.

There’s no visual record of her killing because, seven years after body cameras for SPD officers were first approved, and with funding in place to equip every officer, McNew and Anderson weren’t wearing them. Many SPD officers don’t, because their union, the notoriously reactionary Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG), has opposed them – as they’ve opposed virtually every reform under the DoJ consent decree. Similarly, officers are required to carry a less-lethal weapon, but they have the right, encoded in their union contract, to be able to refuse to carry any particular one. If, say, McNew didn’t have pepper spray with him because he doesn’t like using it, that’s his right, negotiated by his union and agreed to by the city.

Similarly, just because training in mental health intervention (the eight-hour training) is required doesn’t mean officers have to take it seriously. The long-running problems uncovered by the Department of Justice’s investigation – echoing decades of community complaints – paint a picture of a department whose cultural rot extended from top to bottom. Under the reign of SPD Chief Kathleen O’Toole, brought in in 2014 to help implement reforms, there have in fact been some improvements. But corrupted cultures don’t shift quickly, and SPOG in particular has been an unapologetic champion of the department’s Old Ways – and the officers and commanders, some now sidelined by O’Toole, who flourished in them.

Currently, SPOG is working on an expired contract with the city. A new contract was resoundingly rejected by SPOG members last July, and there’s been no public signs of progress on a new agreement since then. Moreover, the SPOG leaders who negotiated that contract – which basically traded a pay increase for accepting court-ordered reforms – were ousted in favor of old hard-liners. SPD’s management union, the Seattle Police Management Association (SPMA), is also negotiating a new contract, and that’s been further complicated by O’Toole’s having staffed top leadership posts with her own people rather than some with more seniority. In both cases, the unions present major impediments to implementing reforms, and the city, under Mayor Ed Murray as in past regimes, has been reluctant to seriously demand them. Moreover, any draft agreement also has to be approved by the federal court overseeing the DoJ consent decree. It’s little wonder contract negotiations are at an impasse.

The unions, especially SPOG, have also been fiercely resistant to any meaningful civilian oversight. The Office for Professional Accountability (OPA), the city’s attempt at such accountability, was grudgingly accepted by SPD during a previous wave of demands to curb SPD abuses, but only because it was set up to be toothless, dominated by law enforcement interests, and limited to reviewing, without subpoena power, previous internal SPD investigations. Under the reform process, its scope and powers have expanded a bit, but it still hasn’t proven itself a significant check on SPD abuses. Another product of the reform process, the Community Police Commission, has been more representative of community concerns, but so far the CPC has mostly been ignored under Murray in police reform discussions.

Without a civilian body with the ability to independently investigate an incident like Lyles’ death, investigation falls to an SPD internal investigation – sometimes farmed out to a different agency, like the King County Sheriff’s Office or the Washington State Patrol, if there’s an institutional conflict of interest. All on-duty killings also get a hearing at a coroner’s inquest that determines the cause and circumstances of death.

Beyond the union contracts, the impediments to legal accountability for officers are formidable. On rare occasions, a self-defense claim by an officer can be rejected, as in the highest-profile on-duty law enforcement killing in recent local history, the 2010 killing of Native American woodcarver John T. Williams by SPD officer Ian Birk. In that case, the mortal threat confronting Birk was Williams, oblivious, walking down the street carving a piece of wood with a small woodcarving knife. He never saw the officer who shot and killed him from behind.

Jurors at Williams’ inquest rejected Birk’s claim that he feared for his life. Instead, they found the shooting “unjustified,” the only instance in literally hundreds of cases since King County enacted its current inquest system 45 years ago in which a law enforcement killing hasn’t been found to be “justified.” But even then, Birk couldn’t be charged. State law not only offers the fear-for-one’s-life defense, but requires that prosecutors show the officer had personal malice directed toward his or her victim – a near-impossible legal standard not found in any other state. Birk was never charged; SPD fired him, but he was free to find work with another law enforcement agency.

McNew and Anderson won’t be charged, either. But there are still plenty of useful, achievable changes that activists should demand.

What We Want

Many of the issues raised by Charleena Lyles’ death aren’t specific to Lyles, and focusing on them rather than Lyles herself sidesteps the tendency of some people (and not a few local media outlets) to focus on passing judgment on Lyles’ life. Whatever her struggles, the symptoms publicly reported are consistent with the onset in many women in their late 20s of schizophrenia, an illness that can be compounded during pregnancy. Whatever her diagnosis, she had no control over her actions on June 5 or on June 18. She didn’t deserve to die over them, and McNew and Anderson didn’t need to kill her. And in similar future cases, there are a whole lot of institutional changes that could help. Broadly, they fall into two categories: law enforcement-related changes and social safety net changes.

1) Social Safety Net Reforms: SPD officers frequently need to deal with homelessness, substance abuse, and other social safety net issues precisely because the government resources directed to these issues are inadequate and, at times, poorly designed and implemented. Mental health is no exception, and over the past two decades there is a long roster of unfortunate incidents involving SPD officers and individuals with mental health issues. Cops shouldn’t have to be safety net first responders – but since they are, clearly the training McNew received, and what he did or didn’t learn from it, needs review. And funding for mental health treatment programs needs to be expanded dramatically.

That, in turn, is a subset of access to health care generally, now under ferocious assault by congressional Republicans – especially Medicaid and other programs helping lower-income Americans. When those changes come, at minimum state and city budgets need to make up the difference. That will take a lot of public pressure.

2) Law enforcement reforms:
Under the reform process, SPD has done remarkably to try to heal the community distrust cemented by decades of systemic abuses, often directed against poor and non-white Seattleites. SPD’s reform plan needs to get serious about such efforts.

Institutionally, there are three levels at which activists need to focus demands in the wake of Charleena Lyles’ death:

The federal court overseeing the DoJ consent decree:
The Department of Justice, under Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III and Donald Trump, no longer much cares when cops kill black people. (Or anyone else.) But the consent decree, negotiated under the Obama DoJ and now in the hands of a federal judge and court-appointed monitor, is beyond the current DoJ’s reach. And it needs to step up. Charleena Lyles’ death is directly related to the implementation of court-ordered reforms, particularly concerning use of force policies and CIC training. An internal SPD investigation and review of Lyles’ death won’t cut it, not when it involves factors the court has already found deficient within SPD. The court needs to authorize its own investigation, and the public needs to demand it.

Those union contracts: Any new agreements with SPOG or SPMA need to pass muster with the court, but city officials need to press much, much harder for contract changes that allow SPD to become more accountable and less a law unto itself. Ironically, body camera video might well provide conclusive evidence to back up the McNew/Anderson narrative of Lyles’ death – and any number of other incidents in which officers’ integrity or actions are publicly challenged. Similarly, choice of weapons, better training, meaningful civilian oversight, and any number of other reforms are stalling not just because of union resistance, but because politicians like Ed Murray have been reluctant to push harder. They need public encouragement on this score. A lot of it. And, next January, a new mayor will take office, and he or she needs pressure, too, before and after the election. (Voters should remember that the current conventional favorite in the mayoral race, Jenny Durkan, was the U.S. Attorney for Western Washington who declined to bring federal civil rights charges in the 2010 killing of John T. Williams.)

Olympia: Finally, the state law that effectively prevents prosecution of cops who kill without proper justification needs desperately to be changed. That won’t happen this legislative year, but 2018 is another matter. Lawmakers also need to be pushed hard next year on health care and mental health funding.

Meanwhile, the state legislature isn’t the only option for law enforcement prosecution reform. I-873, an initiative that would change our state’s uniquely “regressive and dangerous” use of force standards, is currently collecting signatures. You can find out more about it at the home page of Washington for Good Policing.

Ultimately, the challenge of Charleena Lyles’ death isn’t that it was a rare type of incident – it’s that it’s not rare enough. The sooner that we can address mental health care access and pressure the federal court (consent decree), the city (union contracts), and the state (use of force laws), the less likely that future Charleena Lyles are to be killed by the people charged with protecting them.


[Author’s note: Ironically, I had hoped to post this article earlier this week, but was delayed by both additional details being made public and by personal health and money crises. If you find my reporting and commentary valuable – and would like to see me spending more time doing this and less time stressing over how I can pay for food, rent, and medical care myself – please consider donating whatever you can to help support my work. The PayPal button is on the lower right on geov.org’s home page. Many thanks for your help! – Geov Parrish]

Seattle’s War on the Homeless

Capping a catastrophic year for homelessness policy, the city is now quietly preparing to dismantle its shelter network, in favor of “permanent” housing that simply doesn’t exist

Two weeks ago, the Puget Sound region’s homelessness pandemic was back in the news, with the release of the long-delayed Winter 2017 point-in-time census of King County’s homeless. The numbers and local media coverage of them were both bad. But for the homeless, what’s going on behind the scenes is even worse.

Far from leaving the mess for a new executive to tackle in six months, lame duck Seattle mayor Ed Murray and his appointees are proceeding as fast as they can with the mayor’s ill-considered “Pathways Home” approach. In doing so, the city is poised to irreparably harm far more people than it will help. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that what Murray is spearheading – with generous assistance from local media and significant parts of the Nonprofit Homelessness-Industrial Complex – is nothing more than a particularly vicious escalation of previous attempts to “solve” homelessness by attacking the homeless themselves. If we make their lives miserable enough, the thinking is apparently going, perhaps they’ll just go away. It’s worked great so far, right?

The Homelessness Emergency

Eighteen months ago, in late 2015, Both Murray and King County Executive Dow Constantine formally declared states of emergency for the region’s homelessness crisis. This move was one of several that generated significant new funding, at least $55 million, to tackle the problem. A few weeks later, in January 2016, the county’s annual One Night Count posted alarming numbers that justified the declarations. The 2016 count found over 4,500 people living outdoors in King County, and over 10,000 people homeless overall. Those numbers, gathered in the dead of winter, were a staggering 19 percent increase over the previous record Winter 2015 numbers.

For context, in all of Seattle there are about 3800 shelter beds on any given winter night; less in non-winter months.

In the 16 months since that 2016 count, a lot has happened. Murray protected his program of aggressively sweeping homeless encampments – including, most visibly, the Summer 2016 destruction of the long-running unsanctioned encampment known as The Jungle – from city council legislation that would have protected homeless individuals from the chronic capriciousness of city sweeps. Murray then announced – with the support of $80,000 consultant Barbara Poppe – “Pathways Home,” an approach meant to emphasize finding permanent housing for the unhoused. Murray has also launched, last summer, a program to safely park RVs and other vehicles being used for shelter by homeless people; announced, in October 2016, the opening by December of a 75-bed, full-service shelter modeled on San Francisco’s Navigation Center; and announced funding for four new city-sanctioned encampments. Meanwhile, city voters last summer approved a $290 million housing levy with unprecedented funds for affordable housing, and earlier this year the city council added another $29 million for the same purpose.

And as anyone with eyes can attest, homelessness has gotten even worse in this time. What’s going wrong?

In a word: Everything.

Murray’s sweeps remain. A year after his promise to issue revised, more stringent criteria for enacting them, and several months after successfully killing more stringent city council legislation, in January Murray’s office finally released revised protocols for when and how the city would eradicate unauthorized encampments. (The council legislation had been written by the ACLU and other nonprofit groups who even a year ago had given up on the mayor’s assurances.) The revisions offered modest improvements but failed to address a number of chronic complaints – and also abolished the monitoring program that had revealed the city as frequently not following even its own lax guidelines. If anything, the number and ferocity of the sweeps have only increased in the months since.

But while the sweeps are rightly getting a lot of attention, there have been plenty of other problems, too. A pilot program to open three parking lots for the one-third of all homeless that use their vehicles for shelter opened one lot in Ballard last year for 15 RVs before collapsing after two months, leaving vehicle-dwelling homeless residents again with no stable or safe place to park. The city gave up on its pilot program not only because of neighborhood objections, but because it was somehow spending a bewildering $35,000 a month, or about $1750 per vehicle per month, on the program, before concluding that it wasn’t cost-effective.

In March this year, Murray announced he would put a $275 million property tax measure on this summer’s ballot to address the homelessness crisis – and then scrapped that proposal three weeks later, in favor of a more regressive county-wide sales tax measure in November whose details, let alone prospects, remain uncertain.

Six months past its scheduled December 2016 opening, and having already spent over $2 million on the project, Murray’s “Navigation Center-style” shelter has yet to open – but the city did find a location for it, in January, in a building already used by an existing 75-bed shelter, which it promptly evicted so it could remodel the space. In other words, instead of adding new shelter capacity, the city lost 75 beds in the middle of winter. Similarly, of the three (not four, as had been budgeted) “new” sanctioned encampments Murray actually announced, two already existed – one, intended for relocated Jungle residents, and another, an existing unsanctioned encampment called Camp Second Chance. In other words, after 18 months of emergency, and lots and lots of money, the city really hasn’t helped get all that many people off the streets.

Of course, the point of Pathways Home and its “Rapid Rehousing” focus is to house people, not to shelter them. In the two months between February and April of this year, the most recent for which there is public data, Rapid Rehousing found homes for about 40 people, out of over 6,000 on city waiting lists. Extrapolating from the rate at which local homelessness has been increasing, this means that while Pathways Home proudly touts the number of people it has housed, each month the city is actually losing ground; for every 20 people newly housed, nearly 100 are becoming homeless. And these numbers also don’t reflect the city’s plans to de-fund its existing network of transitional housing.

Even beyond that looming crisis, the housing effort may well get worse still. Rapid Rehousing plans for its “permanent housing” to come in the form of three- to nine-month private market rental vouchers. After the vouchers run out, those same formerly homeless people are expected to pay their own rent, in an open market where the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment is now over $1,700 a month in Seattle overall, and well over $2,000 a month in most of the neighborhoods where social services for low-income residents are located.

In the first four months of 2017, according to the King County Medical Examiner’s office, 48 homeless people died in King County. This means that while the city houses 20 people a month, and scores more each month become homeless, an average of a dozen each month are dying.

Which brings us to the past two weeks.

Count Us Out

After 30 years of an annual One Night Count, organized by the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, the county’s annual “point-in-time” count was moved this year to the nonprofit All Home, which contracted with a California company to oversee a supposedly more comprehensive census that could be used to inform Murray’s supposedly data-driven policies. Rather than being announced the following day as in past years, this year the rebranded “Count Us In” finally released its numbers four months later, on Wednesday, May 31.

The totals? Over 11,600 homeless in King County, including 5,485 living outdoors without shelter. About 70 percent of those unsheltered folks were sleeping in the city of Seattle. Some 92 percent of those surveyed said they would accept housing if it were offered.

These are numbers our local politicians invariably want before deciding on policies. How many of those 48 deaths from January to April could have been prevented with more timely publication?

On January 27, the low temperature in Seattle was 37. On May 31, a cloudy day, Seattle’s high was “only” 71, and the urgency of getting people off the streets nicely muted. Official reaction to the Count Us In totals, which were a staggering 22 percent higher than the same figures in 2016, was surprisingly blase. Elected officials almost uniformly echoed the official Count Us In conclusions: Our survey was more comprehensive this year, so we can’t really compare from year to year. Apples and oranges. And Count Us In made sure of that, by failing (in its 112 page report) to include neighborhood-by-neighborhood figures that could be directly compared to 2016, instead opting to create its own new county “regions.” Whatever its motivations, the effective result was a one-year free pass for civic leaders worried about accountability.

But we can make apples to apples comparisons, at least roughly, because it’s a statistical fact that increases in rental costs correlate predictably with increases in homelessness. Any increase of $100 in median one-bedroom rents in Seattle, historically, has been reflected in about a 10 percent increase in homelessness. The 19 percent jump in the 2015-2016 One Night Count totals actually exceeded this – and the same rent factor alone predicts most of the 2016-2017 jump in the new All Home numbers.

Since, by its own figures, the number of people being newly housed through the city this past year has been miniscule, there are only a few possibilities: either the 2016 numbers were high; the 2016-17 changes, for unknown reasons, don’t track as well with historical rental price precedent; or, most likely, there really was an over 20 percent jump in homelessness this past year, and Count Us In really wasn’t much more comprehensive this year than the One Night Count was in 2016. It just cost more money, took a lot more time to report back, and gave great cover to politicians who want to look like they’re doing something while actually doing something else.

Behind the Scenes

The morning after Count Us In released its numbers, the city was back to business as usual, evicting RV owners from an unsanctioned encampment at a state-owned lot in West Seattle that they had arrived at only the previous week. They’d landed there only after police chased them off a previous, informal but supposedly city-approved “safe” lot in SoDo in late May.

Meanwhile, Catherine Lester, head of the city’s Human Services Department, has been meeting with the various churches in the city that are the primary locations for overnight emergency shelters. Lester has reportedly been informing church leaders that their shelter contracts will not be renewed unless they can provide 24-hour services – a simply impossible demand for churches whose buildings are usually in heavy use during the day. Such a demand, if enforced in time for the 2018 budget that city council will pass this November (before a new mayor takes office), would effectively destroy the city’s already grossly inadequate emergency indoor shelter network.

But that’s OK, because according to Pathways Home, we’re going to house them all. With temporary private rental market vouchers.

And yes, that’s even more ridiculous than it sounds.

The Enormous Tusked Animal in the Room

You would never know it from the official reactions to the Count Us In numbers – or from the media accounts of them – but it is utterly impossible to solve our region’s homelessness crisis without first meaningfully addressing its even larger affordable housing crisis.

How bad is the affordable housing crisis? Some simple math will illustrate the scale of the catastrophe.

About 150,000 households in Seattle rent their homes. More of these are below Seattle’s median household income (which now tops $80,000 a year) than above it. Except for a few lucky retirees, these households include almost all of the people with incomes below the federal poverty level (FPL), currently $16,240 a year for a two-person household, or even 200 percent of FPL, or $32,480 a year.

If we use the standard metric that households should pay no more than 30 percent of their income in rent, this means that the nearly 100,000 Seattle households at or below 200 percent of FPL should be paying no more than $800 a month in rent. The over 47,000 households at or below federal poverty level should be paying no more than about $400 a month.

An $800 per month rent per household in Seattle’s private rental market is virtually extinct; $400 a month is laughable. That leaves subsidized housing, which is offered in 133 commercial rental properties in Seattle, totaling less than 10,000 units – many of which are affordable at 200 percent of FPL, but not at FPL. Most of those properties have waiting lists that are either closed or exceed two years. Similarly, the waiting list for federal Section 8 vouchers is closed, too, with occasional lotteries held just to get on the waiting list.

Additional projects, like some of the building authorized by last year’s housing levy, won’t be open for years – and even then, won’t be nearly adequate for today’s demand, let alone the demand years from now.

In other words, for every household now living in subsidized housing in Seattle, at least five more households need it. Meanwhile, those households are left to the private market – where they must compete with tens of thousands of the city’s other, less impoverished renters for what passes for semi-affordable units.

Little wonder there are over 6,000 people on the city’s Rapid Rehousing waiting lists. With only a couple hundred of them a year being rehoused by the city, the program isn’t even close to keeping up with the net figure of 900 newly homeless that Count Us In identified in its 2017 figures.

And between now and when all that newly funded affordable housing comes on line – a development which will at present only make a dent in the crisis – there’s every reason to think that more low-income households will continue to flee Seattle, and that homelessness will become more widespread, not less, unless and until the city or region puts some sort of cap on housing costs.

So why is the city playing whack-a-mole with human lives, pushing the homeless from one site to another, planning to dismantle the emergency shelter network that keeps people alive and (relatively) safe, and promising to instead house them in housing that isn’t available or doesn’t exist, and has no prospect of existing in the foreseeable future?

It’s a war. And like all undeclared, class-based wars these days, it’s the most vulnerable among us who are losing the most.

[Author’s note: Ironically, I had hoped to post this article last week but was delayed by personal health and money crises. If you find my reporting and commentary valuable – and would like to see me spending more time doing that and less time stressing over how I can pay for food, rent, and medical care myself – please consider donating whatever you can to help support my work. The PayPal button is on the lower right on geov.org’s home page. Many thanks for your help! – Geov Parrish]

An Open Letter to Seattle Mayor Ed Murray

Dear Mr. Mayor,

For the purpose of this letter, I am going to assume that the civil lawsuit filed against you last week is completely baseless and without merit, as are the previous allegations from your days in Portland.

You should still end your campaign for re-election. It’s unfair and infuriating, I know, but it is by far the best option for both you and your constituents. Indeed, it is the only option that, once you are exonerated, keeps your legacy focused on your many accomplishments over decades of public service.

Put simply, even after less than a week, the lawsuit and its impacts, including your responses to it so far, are deeply dividing this city. They are making the gay community you’ve championed for so long a target, and also pitting that community against itself. For legitimate survivors of rape and of sexual and child abuse, the allegations themselves, and the extensive publicity given to public reactions to them, have been deeply triggering to many. You undoubtedly consider your aggressive response to your accusers the best way to address the accusations in a way that wins your case and salvages your job, but it has the tragic side effect of demanding that your accusers be silenced – a dynamic that every abuse survivor knows all too well, and one that your own example helps encourage in their lives. Even if you are the victim in this case, you are victimizing many, many other people in what surely seems to you like a necessary response.

Almost all of that goes away if you drop your re-election bid.

You are about to turn 62. Your next job will likely be your last, and opportunities for higher public service were already limited. Seattle just elected a young, dynamic new Congressional representative. Even if a Democrat should retake the White House in 2020, the chances that you would be offered a job in their administration, against much competition, were not great. And Seattle politicians don’t fare well in statewide elections. The most recent to run for Governor (Norm Rice in 1996) or US Senate (Ron Sims in 2004) were both beloved local politicians – and both failed to make it out of the primary. Both are African-American, but at least as important a factor was the animosity towards Seattle from the rest of the state. You know that well from your long years in the state legislature.

Such positions weren’t looking likely for you to begin with; regardless of the lawsuit’s outcome, the publicity from it has already made such further advancement far more improbable. It’s grossly unfair, but it’s reality.

What, then, will be your public service legacy?

Your re-election campaign is what’s driving tensions that on a daily basis are damaging both your constituents and Seattle’s national and international reputation. As you’re well aware, the lawsuit was timed before the filing deadline for mayoral candidates, but late enough that the suit almost certainly won’t be resolved before the primary or even the general election. This means that every Seattle voter is faced with the question of whether to support or oppose your re-election bid, and how strongly to do so. Most people would be content to set aside any opinion on allegations of decades-old misconduct until a court has had its say – but for Seattle voters, this isn’t an option. Even your most ardent supporters will be asked to justify their support. Barring an astonishing legal development, by definition there’s only one way public debate over the lawsuit’s legitimacy dies down before November – and that’s if Seattle voters don’t each feel the need to judge your personal fitness for another term, because you’ve ended your bid for it.

You will save yourself months of agony – which you may not care about. You’ve never been one to back down from a fight or challenge. But more importantly, our city will be torn apart by another seven months of this, including, inevitably, more hate crimes against LGBTQ constituents, and the death of past abuse victims who would otherwise continue to survive. These are not your responsibility, of course – but your actions can impact those outcomes, and people know it. Your legacy of accomplishments would be overshadowed by “…but he sacrificed his city, especially some of its most vulnerable residents, so he could get re-elected.” And that’s even if a court completely exonerates you.

By stepping aside now, you can support a candidate that you trust to finish your unfinished work. Voters can decide whether to ratify your work without the baggage of pending allegations against you. You will be remembered for putting the city first, and your ability to pursue whatever post-public service passion you prefer expands greatly. And you earn the gratitude of many, many Seattleites who are presently dreading the next seven months.

Against this, beyond the gross unfairness of it all, there’s an obvious objection: Wouldn’t this mean that any public official’s career can be shattered by a well-timed lawsuit, no matter how spurious?

Certainly, there’s a risk of that in the future. But several elements in this lawsuit are particular to your case: for starters, the plausibility of the lawsuit (due in large part to the previous allegations), the thankfully now archaic cultural norms of gay men before and during the worst of the AIDS years, and the confluence of sex, age, and sexual orientation involved. And if stepping aside increases the chances that your priorities will continue under a sympathetic successor, this lawsuit is hardly inspiration for the enemies of any future elected official. That simply leaves the motive of personal animus, and there are plenty of other, less painful ways for personal animosities to find expression.

You can’t control what people do in similar cases, especially hypothetical future ones. But you can control how your city responds to this case, in a way that concedes nothing to guilt, saves untold damage, and helps cement your reputation as a leader who put his constituents first.

Sometimes our moments choose us. This is your moment.

It’s time. It’s time to suspend your campaign, serve out your term, and on January 1, 2018, cheer the swearing in of the 54th mayor of Seattle.

Respectfully,

Geov Parrish

On Ed Murray and those 1980s rape allegations

The Seattle Times dropped a bombshell on the local political scene tonight, publishing a lengthy account of interviews with three separate men who claim that Mayor Ed Murray paid them for sex and then raped them for years while they were underage gay drug abusers in the 1980s. The men – two of whom met Murray beginning in 1980 when he lived in Portland, and the third, a Kent man who filed a civil suit today alleging Murray did the same to him beginning in 1986, after Murray had moved to Seattle – gave similar stories, including collaborating details like Murray’s intimate physical characteristics.

This is truly gnarly stuff. Pederasty. Money for sex, which was then used to feed drug habits. These sort of allegations, when credible – and these are – can abruptly end political careers. No doubt a lot of would-be mayoral candidates, scared off this year by Murray’s formidable warchest, are looking anew at their contact lists.

There’s a lot I don’t like about Murray’s record as mayor, starting especially with how he exploits our most vulnerable residents for political points while doing far less than you’d think to help them. But this is much bigger than that. The civil suit doesn’t even need to go anywhere for Murray’s career to be over. The court of public opinion can do that if the allegations are bad enough, and the details here sound really, really bad.

And yet tonight there are plenty of people, especially gay men of A Certain Age, who are defending Murray. To understand why, you have to appreciate two critical bits of context that won’t be included in most news accounts, because those accounts are being written by people who weren’t young gay men in the ’80s. I was.

The very first national gay/lesbian march was held in 1979; the gay rights movement was still a fringe cause in its infancy, and gay male culture was still in thrall to the sexual promiscuity of the ’70s and the reflexive secrecy of since forever. There were no positive role models on TV, or anywhere else, for young gay men.

And, so, a common feature of gay male culture of the era was the notion that young men needed to be “initiated” into their gayness by older, usually middle-aged men. I helped pay for my college expenses (at considerable higher rates than Murray’s more desperate teens supposedly got) catering to the edgier desires of older men like Murray – horny or lonely or predatory or all three. All of them – ALL OF THEM – rationalized their interest in me as not just lust for a hot, barely-of-age twink, but as passing their hard-earned carnal wisdom on to the next generation.

Well into the ’90s this attitude lived on strongly enough among older gay men that NAMBLA – yes, THAT NAMBLA – was allowed to march in gay pride parades around the country, its members arguing that they were just misunderstood gay men who loved little boys. Seriously.

Almost nobody defends those types of practices today. But 30 years ago? It was, in circles Murray surely circulated in, a cultural norm. As personally nauseating as I find today’s allegations – and I didn’t care for such men too much back then, either – part of me wants to give Murray a pass. How fair is it to hold him to a shifted cultural standard of a generation ago, and alleged crimes long past the statute of limitations, just because he’s now become a powerful public figure?

But then there’s that second bit of context. AIDS.

I was really, really lucky; my sex work ended just before AIDS (initially, the “gay cancer”) exploded on the scene. We knew how it was spread long before we understood what it was. For a full decade until initial treatments were developed that could keep it at bay, getting AIDS was a cruel, agonizing, utterly final death sentence. It was an invisible holocaust; countless men died while President Reagan couldn’t even bring himself to utter a word about it. The pandemic thrived in secrecy, shame, and the open glee of religious zealots around the country. AIDS decimated every gay community in the country, and those of us who survived were haunted and terrorized.

Murray’s alleged Portland abuse of runaway foster kids began just before AIDS struck – but by 1986, the year today’s plaintiff says Murray began paying him for sex in Seattle, the New York Times reported that over a million American men had been infected. With no known treatment, let alone a cure. One . Million. Men. Think about that for a second.

By way of comparison, that’s more than 300 times the number of people who died in 9-11.

By the time of the allegations in today’s suit, many tens of thousands of people had already died, including a lot of the people who did sex work for gay and bisexual guys. We knew far more about how AIDS was spread at that point than about what kind of safer sex practices would prevent infection. At that point, the kind of behavior Murray stands accused of wasn’t just abusive – it constitutes an unforgivably reckless disregard for the lives of the young men he was paying.

The salacious details of these accusations are going to consume a lot of local air time in the months to come – and someone’s also going to notice that nugget, buried in the Seattle Times story, that when the Portland men first publicly accused Murray in 2008, he spent campaign re-election funds to help quash the story. That is a potential legal problem well within the statute of limitations.

But there’s this: by 1986, a lot of the young men trading sex for money (or drugs, or housing, or whatever) were dying – because gay men who knew or suspected that they might be infected, and didn’t wish to harm their usual lovers, often turned to desperate – and usually drug-seeking – sex workers instead.

I hope the gay men who inevitably react to this story as an anti-gay smear remember that the sorts of teenage boys Murray allegedly groomed were often themselves gay.

And I wonder how many other 40-something men might also be accusing Mayor Murray if they had lived.

The Investigation of the Trump Administration: Four Additional Thoughts

This morning’s public congressional testimony by FBI Director James Comey, confirming that members of the Trump Administration are in fact subjects of an ongoing investigation for their suspected links to the Russian government, is widely and rightly being described as a bombshell. But while Comey was understandably reluctant to provide any details, what he did say included several other bits of critical information that will be lost in the headlines:

1) The previous Intelligence Community (IC) report on the hacking of the DNC was explicit in its conclusion that the Russian government was responsible, and that it was part of a larger Russian effort to influence the US presidential election – but it did not conclude that members of the Trump campaign colluded in that effort. Comey’s testimony confirmed that collusion is, in fact, part of the scope of the investigation, and that the IC report did not include that possibility because it was part of an investigation that was still ongoing.

There’s a word for conspiring with a hostile foreign power to change the outcome of a presidential election: Treason. And it’s the one charge that, if substantiated, could force the end of the Trump presidency.

That can’t happen, in almost any scenario, unless a substantial number of congressional Republicans want that outcome. In this, timing is everything.

This is likely to be an extremely complex investigation that won’t be complete for many months, possibly not until early 2018. At that point, a disgraced Republican presidency is the one thing that could endanger an otherwise solid Republican congressional majority. Far more Democratic than Republican seats in the Senate are up for election in 2018, and gerrymandering has given Republicans a comfortable majority and mostly relatively safe seats in the House. But if Republicans are seen as enabling Trump’s crimes – and if the Democrats can get off their lazy asses to seriously challenge some of those normally safe seats – that Republican majority will be in trouble next year. A lot of Republicans who are now preoccupied mostly with the threat of primary challenges from their right will suddenly find it’s in the interest of their job security to turn on Donald Trump. And it’s not like Trump has done anything to court them, either.

There’s no other likely scenario that gets this mentally unstable, megalomaniacal would-be dictator out of office before 2020. But that’s now in play.

2) Speaking of timing, Comey’s testimony that the investigation of Team Trump began three months before the election is critical. That places the start of the investigation in early August: after the hacking of the DNC had become public knowledge. At the time Russia was already widely suspected, but this was before WikiLeaks began publishing some of those hacked materials. However, several other interesting things had already happened in early summer.

The first was the June appearance of former Defense Intelligence Agency director Gen. Michael Flynn at the Moscow gala celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Russian government-owned, English language RT television network, attended as well by Vladimir Putin and a host of other high-ranking Russian officials. Flynn began paid commentary on RT shortly afterwards, advocating a Russian line on how to address Syria that was starkly at odds with US foreign policy in the region.

Former military officers are barred from receiving payment from foreign governments or any entities owned or controlled by them. Flynn was already violating that law, and he was also violating it by being an (unregistered) paid foreign consultant for the government of Turkey, a country that, while a NATO ally, is also run by an Islamist despot who is openly hostile to the closest American political and intelligence partner in that region, Israel.

Having someone with Flynn’s security clearance being paid by not one but TWO potentially hostile foreign powers would in itself almost certainly have triggered a counterintelligence investigation. But something else happened in early summer as well. Paul Manafort, a lobbyist with a long track record of consulting for foreign dictators and whose most recent long-term client had been the deposed, pro-Russian former dictator of the Ukraine, was promoted to become Donald Trump’s campaign manager.

Furthermore, just before the Republican National Convention in late July, the team of the soon-to-be-nominated Trump demanded only one change to the proposed party platform Republicans would adopt at their convention: reversal of the anti-Russian plank on the conflict in the Ukraine, including Russia’s 2014 annexation of the Crimean peninsula. At the time, this was widely connected to Manafort, but the actual leaders of the platform change, acting on behalf of Trump, were Flynn, Sen. Jeff Sessions, and their surrogates.

We also now know that this time was the first of Sessions’ two meetings with the Russian ambassador. Sessions has claimed his meetings were part of his work on the Senate Armed Services Committee, but this explanation has been refuted by nearly every other member, Republican and Democrat, of that committee.

That was what had just happened when the investigation of Team Trump began.

3) Much will depend on the scope of the investigation. We already know that four people from the Trump campaign were being subject to phone and Internet monitoring. Three of those have assumed to be Manafort, Carter Page, and Flynn, all of whom have been forced out of their Trump jobs by revelations of improper contact with Russian officials or suspected Russian intelligence assets. It’s been widely suspected that the fourth is Roger Stone, a senior Trump campaign advisor and notorious dirty trickster who had cut his teeth in the Watergate conspiracy and had spent decades lost in far-right conspiracy circles before Trump revived his career. Stone, it’s since emerged, was the catalyst for Trump back-channel communications with WikiLeaks, before and after it published the hacked DNC e-mails.

All four of these men are likely being investigated. But a number of other Trump officials have dubious political or business ties to Russian oligarchs, government officials, or intelligence assets – which, in the land of Vladimir Putin, are often all the same people. That includes several members of Trump’s cabinet, notably Sessions, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

If the scope of the investigation is expanded to include Trump’s business ties, a number of dubious former business partners of the Trump Organization are Russian oligarchs, and several have also already been publicly named as suspected Russian intelligence assets.

Now that Trump is president, a number of other issues are coming up involving corruption and conflicts of interests between Trump, his company, and Trump family members and foreign governments, including Russia. Corruption is a different set of crimes from colluding to influence the election – but Trump, who remains a businessman before he’s a politician, is the link that ties both. It may be impossible to investigate one without including the other.

Incidentally, this is where Trump’s tax returns – which haven’t been made public, but which would be available to any investigation – become important. Unlike the 1040 form Rachel Maddow had last week, it’s the schedules that show where Trump’s income came from. That will tell a story the public has yet to hear.

As Maddow made clear in her commentary, Russia is the only country that has such extensive, recurring connections to Trump – and they’re showing up in every aspect of Trump’s business and political careers. This inevitably raises questions about Trump himself. It would be surprising if any investigation didn’t look into Trump’s role in surrounding himself with such people, regardless of their roles – but it all hinges on how expansive the scope of the investigation is.

4) Lastly and most importantly, this investigation is not shaping up to be a whitewash.

Comey was careful this morning to stipulate that he’d gotten permission from the Department of Justice to make public his confirmation of the investigation. This could not have happened unless now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions had not recused himself from the investigation.

That, in turn, happened because intelligence sources leaked to the media that Sessions had met with the Russian ambassador – and had perjured himself in his Senate confirmation testimony by denying he had ever done so. That should have forced Sessions’ resignation – but it did force his recusal. A similar leak previously forced the resignation of Michael Flynn as National Security Adviser after only three weeks on the job.

In other words, members of the intelligence community acted proactively to get out of the way two administration officials who were suspected to be national security risks and who had the power to stop an investigation that they, personally – as well as, potentially, their boss – were targets in. And they were targets of the investigation before Donald Trump named them to those key Cabinet-level positions.

That raises the question of whether one of Trump’s motivations in naming Flynn as his National Security Advisor – the sole Cabinet-level post that doesn’t require Senate confirmation – and Sessions as his Attorney General, was as insurance that one or both of them would have the power to kill any remaining investigation of the DNC hacks and the Trump campaign’s connections to them. That means IC and DOJ staff wanted to insure, as much as possible, that there wouldn’t be political interference in their investigation – and they acted quickly because they thought both Flynn and Sessions were not only security risks, but threatened the investigation itself. With a mandate from their boss, the president.

And if that is the case – remember Watergate? Several Nixon advisors and cabinet members went to jail for their part in the cover-up. “The cover-up is always worse than the original crime.”

This time, the alleged original crime is pretty bad, too.

All of this risks being an enormous shitshow that, in the end, leaves nothing proven and distracts from the far more immediately damaging aspects of the Trump agenda. But it also has the potential to utterly destroy that agenda, to depose Trump, and to discredit a Republican Party that is on the verge of having a long-term lock on control of all three branches of government, but cannot bridge its own internal divides between its reality-challenged base and “Freedom Caucus” zealots, on the one hand, and the oligarchs that back it, on the other. That division is already playing out in the laughable-yet-terrifying Republican health care proposal and in Trump’s failure to get any meaningful early legislation through Congress.

As further investigation leaks will make clear, IC members want no part of an administration with so many dubious ties to a hostile foreign power; business elites have no use for Trump’s Russian nonsense; and the rubes who elected Trump don’t care about Russia but are at risk of getting hammered by that agenda.

At that point, nobody, not even the Russians, will have any use for Donald Trump. It’s easy to see him in the Nixon role at the end, alone, friendless, roaming the White House hall and spouting incendiary tweets at 3 AM.

The next year is going to be…interesting. It would be tremendously entertaining if it weren’t the future of American democracy at stake.

What Do We Want? How Do We Get It?

How do we best translate unprecedented public outcry into the raw exercise of power needed to stop Trump and his allies?

At 9 AM Pacific Time Monday morning, Donald Trump will have been President of the United States for exactly ten days. In that time, the Seattle area will already have seen four major protests that each involved thousands of people (Inauguration Day, the women’s march, SeaTac, and tonight’s immigration rally). The SeaTac protest. organized in hours and viral in social media, got up to ten thousand people to drop their evening plans to rush to the airport. The women’s march was arguably the largest demonstration in Seattle history. At a fifth protest on the University of Washington campus, an anti-fascist peacekeeper was shot and critically wounded by a man wearing Trump paraphernalia. And similar record-setting demonstrations have erupted in every major city in the US, in all 50 states, and dozens of foreign countries.

And both Trump and the resistance to him are just getting started. We haven’t even gotten to ObamaCare repeal, Medicare & Social Security privatization, attacks on women’s reproductive health, environmental degradation, attacks on public education and unions, massive tax cuts for the rich, repeal of gay marriage, torture, civil liberties and civil rights rollbacks, new voter suppression initiatives, the War on Drugs, the War on Science, military and diplomatic idiocy, a new nuclear arms race, or any of the countless other things likely coming soon, some of them very soon.

Trump, his team, and congressional allies are seeking to move quickly on all of these fronts, and others we don’t expect. Many of these issues will mobilize entirely new constituencies, adding to the folks who’ve rallied and marched already.

At some point, likely very soon, the fact that scores of different outrages will have energized people will become the political and cultural narrative. All of the resistance will itself become the issue – and the right to protest will likely come under attack as well, spawning even more resistance. (Some Trump allies have already suggested cracking down on protesters.)

Just as there will be countless issues, there will also be countless demands; that can’t be helped. But just as the protests are likely to merge in their political and media narrative into one movement, we need to be thinking as well about what the unifying thing is that we want – and how best to achieve it.

The unifying immediate demand is fairly obvious, and is already showing up in protest signs and social media surrounding all of these issues: Donald Trump must go. But how?

Forcing Trump Out

There are, legally, three ways in which Trump’s removal from office can happen within the American political system. He could resign; he could be impeached for “high crimes and misdemeanors”; or he could be removed under Section 4 of the 25th Amendment, which provides for replacing a president who is unfit to serve for any reason, from health to mental issues to dangerous levels of incompetence.

Resignation is the least likely, and, as with Richard Nixon 43 years ago, is only conceivable as a face-saving action if one of the other remedies appears to Trump to be inevitable. Trump’s combination of megalomania and delusion mean that he’d never willingly leave a job like this – where he is literally the center of global attention every day – and he’d likely be impossible to convince of his vulnerability to legal removal even if every other elected official in the country were aligned against him. That leaves impeachment and Section Four.

The bar for both is extremely high. Impeachment is the only way a sitting president can be held accountable for breaking the law, and it’s only happened twice in US history – to Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton – both for political reasons having little to do with the alleged crimes in question. And in both cases, the impeachment was unsuccessful. As for Section Four, the entire 25th Amendment, enacted in 1967 after JFK’s assassination to change the protocol for presidential succession, has never been used.

Can Trump’s transgressions rise to that very rare level? After only ten days, it appears almost inevitable. Already, in terms of crimes, there are serious, multi-agency investigations into whether Trump or his campaign violated economic sanctions – or compromised national security – or encouraged espionage or foreign tampering with the presidential election – in meetings, phone calls, and other contacts the Trump campaign had with representatives of the Russian government. Multiple ethics complaints have already been filed over Trump’s (and several of his Cabinet members’) failure to divest themselves of conflicting business interests. Trump also faces credible accusations of using his position to influence how foreign governments treat his companies. Words like “corruption” and “blackmail” keep coming up. And that’s on top of all of the other alleged criminal behavior we already knew about before the election: the sexual assaults; the defrauding of contractors and swindling of Trump University students; the organized crime connections in the US, Russia, and elsewhere; multiple possible tax crimes; and much, much more.

Trump now has enormous power, but he can’t stop all of these investigations. And as the old political cliche goes, the coverup is always worse than the crime. Secretive and vindictive, Trump has already demonstrated his eagerness to blow off legal requirements he doesn’t like. And a man who is apparently incapable of discerning fact from his own fantasies seems like a prime candidate to get tripped up over, say, lying under oath, the transgression used to impeach both Johnson and Clinton.

His fantastical beliefs are also one of several reasons Trump is already giving enemies a case for his being unfit to serve. Diagnosing Trump’s mental health problems – narcissist, megalomaniac, sociopath, and more – is so common now in the national discourse that it’s hardly controversial. When a moderate mainstream elite columnist can casually write, as the New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof did today in referring to the entirety of Trump’s record thus far, that the new president was either a liar or a crackpot, “unfit to serve” doesn’t seem like much of a stretch. And the evidence will keep arrived daily, delivered in a firehose.

But just because a convincing case can be made that Trump is a crook, a loon, or both, and the mechanisms exist for using those circumstances to remove him from office, doesn’t mean they will be used. That’s where political strategy matters, starting now.

The Anti-Trump Nation

Impeachment requires a majority vote in the U.S. House of Representatives, and a two-thirds vote for conviction in the U.S. Senate. Section Four has an even higher bar; removal is initiated by the Vice-President and “a majority of the principal officers of the executive departments” (basically, Trump’s cabinet), and then requires a two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress.

Both houses of Congress are currently Republican-controlled, and in both cases, the majority caucus is dominated by its most radical members. This means that, in practice, removing Trump from office would require substantial support from even the more unhinged regions of the Republican Party.

At the current rate, that’s not inconceivable. Two weeks ago, in an article I wrote on how to beat Trump, I noted that he has two enormous tactical vulnerabilities: overreach and divisions within his own party. Within just the first ten days, we’ve seen both.

Despite their fear of primary challenges from their Trump-loving base, a number of elected Republican officials have spoken out against some of Trump’s early moves, particularly his immigration orders. Moreover we’ve also seen constituent groups that are normally rock-solid Republican express alarm. Christian evangelicals were widely appalled at Trump’s prioritization of Christian victims of persecution for refugee status; active missionary projects were equally alarmed at the refugee and immigration actions. And, of course, conservative immigrants are directly impacted.

In Congress, many of Trump’s plans – most notably so far the Mexican wall and the call for rapid repeal of the Affordable Care Act – have concerned both fiscal conservatives and the big business interests that many Republicans serve. Those corporations also often rely on trade agreements like NAFTA and on non-citizen employees. The military-loving wing of Trump’s party is up in arms over his disrespect to the CIA’s dead, his nomination of radical incompetents for critical military leadership positions, his disregard for the American tradition of civilian control of the military, and, this weekend, his naming of a self-identified white nationalist with zero national security experience, Stephen Bannon, to a seat on the National Security Council. Trump has also already made powerful enemies in the executive branch: career military and intelligence officials and top agency staff who are by definition politically savvy and accustomed to working with Congress to get things done. And even among avid Trump supporters, you’ll find people who are patriots first and willing to act as such if the president is clearly either acting criminally or badly harming the country. Or both.

The Republican Party under Trump has unprecedented power to enact a radical agenda that a majority of Americans – for members of Congress and for the presidency – voted against. That power was achieved by gerrymandering Congressional districts, the disproportionate weight the Senate gives to small rural states, and the matching bias of the Electoral College. In the face of majority popular opposition, the Republican agenda can only hold if the party stays unified. Ten days in and the cracks are already visible.

The Bigger Project

Jettisoning Donald Trump will require our popular movement, both individually and organizationally, to make common cause with conservatives we wouldn’t normally work with. At the same time, removing Trump gives us a Christian jihadist, Michael Pence, as President. And at least until the 2018 midterms, Pence – who is far more experienced and competent in understanding how government works – would have the same radical congressional majority to work with.

The goal of any drive to replace Trump, then, needs to use his disgrace to make the Republican brand toxic in general, so as to overcome the gerrymandered Republican control of Congress. Between now and those 2018 midterms – or 2020, if Congress stays in Republican hands next year – the more that investigations and dealing with popular resistance can consume the limited time of Congress, the better. But we’ll need to work with some of those same people and groups to remove Trump.

The goal isn’t just to get rid of Trump, but to destroy Trumpism – which I’ll loosely define as the 30-year campaign of “alternative facts,” racism and bigotry, fear, and economic resentment that Republicans have used to fire up their base, a project that has gotten steadily more radical and reality-challenged over time. In this goal, we have several clear advantages: an ever-more-diverse and tolerant population, political control of pretty much every major economic center in the country, and the passion that comes when things we deserve and depend on are denied to us. And, of course, Trump’s radicalism and incompetence is our best recruiter. We are everywhere, and in combating a national regime that only respects power, we have the power to have an enormous impact on this country’s economy, culture, and politics.

A Few Suggested Guidelines

We can, if we choose to, make this country ungovernable. If the Trump impulse toward fascism moves much farther, combined with his impulse to punish and humiliate enemies real and perceived, that might be what it comes to. Already, this weekend, California Gov. Jerry Brown is threatening to withhold money from the country’s most populous and economically powerful state, money that normally goes to the federal government. Events are moving quickly.

In supporting the acts of elected officials who are needed to remove Trump and the threat of future Trumps, however, the bitter divide gripping the country needs to be healed enough for us to make common cause with at least some of the people on “the other side.” And common cause, the idea that we’re all in this together, is also the key to disempowering the divide and punch down tactics of Trumpism. Some people are irredeemable and simply need to be politically neutralized; overcoming a generation of right wing propagandizing is a long-term project. But in the short term, as we look use the tsunami of individual issues to both remove Trump and reverse the broader reactionary rise to power, I’d like to propose a few, necessarily incomplete guiding principles. Add your own:

1) Welcome everyone.
A lot of people have never protested before in their lives. Some are conservative; many just never paid much attention to politics until they personally got impacted by one or another issue. Focus on our common goals and respect. This is not the time to shame or drive away people because we disagree with them on other issues, or because we got politically engaged before they did or know more. We can’t win without an inclusive movement. We also can’t create a more inclusive society without modeling that ideal ourselves.

2) Don’t get discouraged.
Pace yourself; take breaks when you need to. There will be setbacks. Things will be scary at some times, overwhelming or boring at others. We need to take care of ourselves and support each other. Take risks, but be conscious of safety. All of that is, again, also the societal norms we want to encourage.

3) Stay focused. If the goal is to remove Trump, don’t get distracted by police violence or congressional idiocy. If the goal is to, say, save an essential safety net program or act on some other issue, prioritize the leadership of people directly impacted by that issue. A health care rally, for example, is not the time to lecture people on a pipeline; a climate change direct action is not a forum for your homelessness concerns. Check your privileges.

4) Organize, organize, organize! Share information, connect people and groups. Talk with friends, relatives, co-workers, strangers. Do what you can do best, whether it’s donating, offering specialized skills, or simply showing up.

5) Make the connection between popular sentiment and political action. Hold elected officials accountable; tell them what you want, and reward them when they do it. Know what the process is that you want to influence and what the best ways are to influence it. And then tell everyone else.

6) Smile. Rage and fear will take us a long way in getting things done; they also drive away allies we’ll need, and are generally not sustainable in what may be a long struggle. Find joy in things, and above all, remember that standing up for what’s right is also an end in itself. You folks are awesome.

Questions About Last Friday’s UW Shooting

First, the good news: the victim of last Friday night’s shooting outside the Kane Hall appearance of white supremacist Milo Yiannopoulos is recovering from his near-lethal wounds. His condition was upgraded from critical to serious on Sunday, and again to satisfactory on Monday. He’s looking forward to telling his story once he’s sufficiently recovered.

There has been a lot of confusion and misinformation, spread by Yiannopoulos and his allies and then rebroadcast by law enforcement and local media, about what actually happened Friday night. It’s fairly simple. Anti-fascist protesters and Yiannopoulos fans had spent the entire evening verbally, and at times physically, confronting each other. The shooter, decked in pro-Trump regalia, had spent much of the evening trying to instigate such confrontations. When the shooting happened, the victim, acting as a peacekeeper, tried to intercede in a confrontation by physically stepping nonviolently between the shooter and another protester. The victim nearly died for his efforts.

From beginning to end, Yiannopoulos’ appearance at UW, the shooting, and its aftermath raise a number of serious questions:

1) The administration at the University of Washington should never have let Yiannopoulos speak at university facilities in the first place, for two reasons. First, Yiannopoulos’ widely publicized white supremacist views directly violate the university’s Code of Conduct; and secondly, the clear potential for violence between Yiannopoulous’ admirers and protesters.

In general, I support free speech; even hate-mongers like Yiannopoulos have a right to speak publicly. But not when their entire schtick violates the regulations of their host institution, and not when their appearance endangers public safety. Both clearly applied here, and UW’s administration was repeatedly warned on both counts for several weeks ahead of Friday’s appearance. UW administrators bear direct responsibility for this shooting.

2) The actions of the UW police and the additional 80 SPD officers that were called in for the event also contributed directly to thia tragedy. In going to three decades of protests of neo-Nazi, white supremacist, and other hate groups and their representatives, I have rarely seen police fail to physically separate such groups’ adherents and the people protesting them – putting them on opposite sides of a street, or different sides of a building, or simply separated by a police line.

Over a hundred law enforcement officers were present when the shooting happened. What the hell were they doing? From a law enforcement standpoint, the event entrance shouldn’t have been so easy to blockade (and keep blockaded), and the two groups should never have been allowed anywhere near each other. Kane Hall has at least a half-dozen different entrances on three levels. Both as people tried to enter the event, and later when they left, it would have been relatively simple to keep them separated from the protesters. For whatever reason, police failed to take this utterly basic precaution. We know what happened as a result. An anti-fascist peacekeeper should never have had to physically intercede in this kind of melee to begin with.

3) Five hours after the shooting, the shooter and his wife turned themselves in to UW police, reportedly claiming that the shooting was in self-defense. The shooter also reportedly claimed that he thought he was shooting a Yiannopoulus supporter, not a protester. The pair was questioned in the wee hours Saturday morning and almost immediately released.

In those five hours before the shooter turned himself in, detectives had the opportunity to get statements – and photos and video – from dozens of witnesses – not to mention the scores of officers who were already nearby. Even if it was not immediately clear from witness statements and video that the shooter had been a provocateur all evening, and the roles of both he and his victim, there should have been more than enough information to immediately and seriously call into question the shooter’s story, and to cast doubt on whether his situation rose to the legal level of needing to use lethal force in self-defense. Moreover, the shooter also violated a law by carrying his gun onto the UW campus in the first place. (And even if all of that wasn’t clear Saturday morning, it certainly seems to be clear now.)

Suspects can be held while detectives gather evidence and consult with prosecutors. So why was the shooter released so quickly? And why, even afterwards, did official police statements continue to fudge the question of whether the shooter was a Yiannopoulos fan or a protester?

Parenthetically, local media accounts mostly took the police statements at face value, too, even though a number of media outlets had reporters present at the event and also had plenty of time to interview witnesses. Undoubtedly, the actions of both cops and reporters were influenced by their dislike of the black bloc, especially its reputation stemming from Seattle’s annual May Day police riot. That’s no excuse. The facts were relatively clear; the disinformation coming from the Yiannopoulos camp was easily refuted. And yet the shooter was quickly released, and remains free, without having been either charged or publicly identified.

And then, this morning, the Times went ahead and publicly named the victim even though he had requested that media keep his identify anonymous due to his well-founded fear of harassment and threats from Yiannopoulous’ supporters – a tactic they’ve used extensively in the past. The Times‘ decision to name the victim without his permission was made in reckless disregard for his safety. They can’t go out of business soon enough.

4) There will be enormous costs for the victim: huge medical bills, lost work time, legal fees, and all the associated expenses involved in recovering from a serious wound. So far, due to the relatively low-key and often misleading media coverage, donations to help cover those costs have largely come from anti-authoritarian activists and their allies. Both fundraising and publicity about this incident deserve a far wider audience. You can help the victim defray his costs here: https://www.crowdrise.com/medical-fundraiser-for-iww-and-gdc-member-shot-in-seattle.

As for the shooting itself, beyond the hard questions that need to be asked of UW administrators, UW and Seattle police, and local corporate media, people across the country need to know that this happened – that the overt fascism Donald Trump has helped normalize over the past two years can lead and has led directly to the use of deadly force against the targets of fascists’ hate.

For many of us, this is no surprise; as Seattle has gotten steadily wealthier and whiter, hate crimes against people of color, against LGBTQ people, against immigrants, and against religious minorities have increased sharply over the last several years – but much of the general public hasn’t noticed or cared. Now that an unarmed white guy has been shot, perhaps more people will care.

At minimum, other activists and Trump opponents in general, regardless of our ideologies, need to understand that the threat Trumpism represents does not just involve public policy. It also involves at least some of its adherents feeling justified in shooting protesters – or any of the other endless categories of people fascists hate. This sort of violence has already become so normalized that campus administrators can let it happen, law enforcement officials can let it happen and then immediately release the suspect, and media outlets can either misrepresent or whitewash the whole event.

When violence like this becomes normalized and tolerated, more of it happens. Fascists and their sympathizers need to understand that there will be serious consequences for hateful behavior and actions. And their enablers – on campus, in law enforcement, and in corporate media – need to be held accountable as well. We cannot afford to let this crime become yet another item, lost in yesterday’s news. There’s too much at stake.

Why They’re Lying

The New York Times continued its unprecedented, blistering attacks on the new president today. Booman has a pithy summary:

“The New York Times is feeling feisty this morning, going out of their way to point out that the Trump administration’s alternative facts about the inauguration are false in every particular. They also hit the administration with a terrible review of their first days in office from Trump’s own top aides. For good measure, they trashed Sean Spicer, the new press secretary, slapped the president around for not releasing his tax returns, highlighted a new legal challenge that will claim that all foreign payments to Trump-owned companies are violations of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, and provided more coverage of the massive, global, anti-Trump women’s marches.”

The Washington Post, which styles itself as the hometown newspaper of the federal government, wasn’t much nicer.

There’s been a lot of speculation about why new Press Secretary Sean Spicer went out of his way over the weekend to trumpet provably false assertions about something as trivial as inauguration crowd size, and then Trump surrogates like KellyAnne “alternative facts” Conway doubled down on the tactic yesterday. A lot of progressives seem to want to attribute it to Trump’s narcissism. But a former White House press secretary, writing anonymously over the weekend, had a much more credible and sobering explanation.

The gist of it was the reasonable assumption that when the Trump White House contradicts obvious facts, roughly one-third of Americans will recoil in horror; another one-third, Trump’s base, will draw on their years of “liberal media” and Faux News inoculations and believe Trump; and another third will throw up their hands in despair at the shouting back and forth, decide the truth is unknowable, and tune out.

Trump’s strategy is aimed at this last group – to get as many Americans as possible to tune out and drop out from political engagement, disgusted by the dysfunction. The inauguration crowd size kerfluffle was setting an immediate tone for this strategy. And it’s actually a very smart – if incredibly cynical – strategy.

It’s exactly what you’d expect from a lifelong con artist and serial liar, but it’s not a personality quirk. It’s an intentional strategy to disempower potential opposition. It also, as a bonus, reinforces the conservative frame that government by definition is inefficient and incompetent.

News outlets like the NYT, WaPo and CNN don’t have much choice but to scream bloody murder in an unprecedented way. But now that most Americans can get their news, and facts, slanted in whichever way they like, the screaming just plays into Trump’s hands. His base will be confirmed in their beliefs, the opponents were already opponents, and the rest of us mostly just don’t have the time or patience or stomach for all of this.

The only solution I can think of is personal. Personal contact carries far more credibility with most people than traditional media sources do. Many of you reading this are already politically engaged and following the news. It’s up to us to track all of the nonsense that is already, and will continue to be, spewed at us, and patiently explain to our less engaged friends (who have lives 🙂 ) what is, and is not, reality-based.

That won’t be easy or pleasant. I expect a daily firehose of lies, the likes of which we’ve never seen in a political system not based in Pyongyang. It’s a nauseating job to have to do. But nobody else can do it as effectively. It’s up to us.

Cops, Soldiers, Spies, and Donald Trump

Yesterday’s bizarre speech by Donald Trump at CIA headquarters, on his first full day as President of the United States, has set off all kinds of alarm bells about the new president. By turns rambling, detached from reality, and self-aggrandizing, Trump spent much of the 15-minute speech complaining about crowd estimates at his inauguration. His use as a photo backdrop of the CIA’s near-sacred wall of black stars – its memorial to intelligence officers killed in the line of duty – was, probably inadvertently, deeply offensive to the spy community that he had only a week ago essentially called Nazis. Meanwhile, millions marched in the streets against him.

As a new Commander-in-Chief, Trump’s performance should be alarming to everyone, whether you’re a fan of the CIA and the government’s other instruments of power or not. This morning, that – along with all those marchers – is what’s getting all the attention.

But outfits like the CIA don’t generally take getting repeatedly slapped in the face by an idiot passively. Outgoing CIA Director John Brennan is a five-star war criminal who served both Barack Obama and George W. Bush in Deep State leadership positions. Last night, Brennan’s chief of staff publicly quoted him as saying of Trump’s speech that he [Brennan] was “deeply saddened and angered at Donald Trump’s despicable display of self-aggrandizement in front of C.I.A.’s Memorial Wall of Agency heroes…Trump should be ashamed of himself.”

Brennan managed to serve Cabinet-level positions for both Republican and Democratic presidents by being very politic. Launching this sort of angry public attack is unprecedented. And other Agency allies last night were similarly scathing in their responses, as was corporate media coverage.

People like Brennan are politic, but they’re also intensely political. There has always been overlap and rivalry both within and between the government’s instruments of power. Military service agencies have been rivals for centuries, both operationally and for budget money. The same is true for clandestine agencies and for law enforcement agencies.

Since 9-11, with the vast expansion of spending on the American security state, the overlaps have only increased. The Bush/Cheney White House responded to intelligence on Iraq it didn’t like by hugely expanding the size and role of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the Pentagon’s in-house intelligence force. The CIA, in turn, became much more militarized and much more operational, de-emphasizing human intelligence-gathering in favor of overseas operations that overlap with military special forces. And electronic intelligence? One of 2016’s most under-reported stories was the official confirmation that the National Security Agency now routinely monitors the electronic communications of all Americans – a practice that not only makes a joke of the 4th Amendment, but that overlaps extensively with the missions of the FBI and with newly militarized local law enforcement agencies.

Everyone wants the same missions and the same dollars, and now you’ve got a new president who, remarkably, has not only no record because he’s never held elected office before, but has also never in his life served in the military or any other public agency. For the first time in U.S. history, America’s national security institutions are facing a completely blank slate from an incoming Commander-in-Chief – moreover, a Commander-in-Chief who literally by the day is alarming the most reality-based of people with his capricious, conspiratorial, and just plain reality-challenged words and actions.

I promise you that none of these agencies are waiting to see what happens. And that, just as much as Trump himself, should scare the hell out of everyone who cares about democratic institutions in this country.

Trump has already been playing favorites, of course. He famously pandered to law enforcement during his campaign, and law enforcement trade groups returned the favor. He nominated Jefferson Beauregard Sessions as U.S. Attorney General, a man rejected 30 years ago for the federal judiciary because even then, as now, he was such a bizarre relic of an outdated version of Southern racism. That pick was not just a middle finger to the #BlackLivesMatter movement, but a signal in general that under Sessions, local and federal law enforcement agencies need no longer worry about Department of Justice investigations of excessive force practices. The gloves are off, a message underscored by Friday’s instant disappearance on the WhiteHouse.gov web site of its pages on civil rights.

Similarly, Trump’s Cabinet nominations showed much favor to the military, naming no less than four retired generals to security state leadership positions and in the process badly eroding this country’s tradition of civilian leadership of the military. But the actual people Trump has nominated are very much fringe figures within the military itself. Among them, they have records of hyper-aggressiveness, belief in conspiracy theories, poor management records, disturbing financial conflicts of interest, and even more disturbing ties to Russia. The tug-of-war for power between Trump’s political hires and the far more sober military brass will be ferocious.

Trump has made it clear he wants to give all of these agencies more money – a lot more. The Republican-controlled Congress feels the same way. But who gets what is still very much up for grabs; the erratic nature of Trump’s picks to lead these agencies compounded matters; and now the erratic, hallucinatory performance of Trump himself at the CIA yesterday, on Day One of his administration, has to have everyone scrambling. As a further variable, below the Cabinet level, Trump’s team hasn’t even nominated yet most of the 690 positions requiring Senate confirmation, including scores in the security state.

If there’s one thing people who’ve spent their lives in hierarchical institutions hate, it’s unpredictability. This is the mother of all unpredictable scenarios. If you’re a senior CIA official, for example, you don’t know whether Trump is going to give you a huge new area of responsibility next week, with money and resources to match, or whether he’ll abolish the agency entirely. Or both. And now you’re probably worried that he doesn’t know, either.

Trump is already eroding civilian control of the military. But what about the reverse? Nobody knows. These kinds of unpredictable, fluid power vacuums are exactly how coups happen, how assassinations happen, and how dictatorships emerge.

The millions of people marching yesterday were a huge and inspiring development. Trump’s CIA speech, and the security state’s response to it, was a less visible, slower moving story, but it’s just as important. And diametrically opposed to the kind of free democratic expression we saw on the streets yesterday.

These are raw battles between at least three very different kinds of power. People power can win these battles, but – as we saw with Arab Spring – it can also lose them very badly. The security state maneuvering undoubtedly going on behind the scenes, this weekend and beyond, is happening rapidly and very far above the heads of yesterday’s marchers. We have the raw numbers. We’d better get organized.

How to Defeat Trump

On Friday, Donald J. Trump will become the 45th President of the United States. Every single thing he has done since the election indicates that his narcissism is at risk of becoming megalomania, and he is intent on wielding power as ruthlessly as possible. His appointments to date have been an unprecedented circus of oligarchs, ideological zealots, and incompetents. (And fans of Vladimir Putin.) These are not people much concerned about democracy.

Trump’s party also controls Congress, and in both the House and the Senate, the Republican Caucus is in turn controlled by far-right extremists. Moreover, Trump has stated clearly that he intends to appoint federal judges, including to the Supreme Court, only if they share the ideological extremism he has also favored in his Cabinet nominations.

A majority of state governorships and legislatures are also controlled by the same types of people. They share a hatred of government – except when it can be used to kill or shame people – and a love of punching down. It is reasonable to expect, based on the firehose of WTF the Trump transition team and the first days of this Congress have already let loose with, that there will be so many crises, large and small, that it will be impossible for opponents to keep up with it all, let alone fight it all. A lot of laws are going to be passed, a lot of regulations changed or abolished, and a lot of budgets rewritten in ways that will lead to the unnecessary deaths of a lot of people, and serious negative impacts for many of us. That’s the inescapable reality.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that these people are not omnipotent, they’re not a majority by any stretch, and they’re not invincible. They can be beaten back – in ways that initially prevent a lot of misery, and in the longer run swing the political pendulum back to something resembling sanity. And if we’re lucky and smart, more than that.

So what do we do?

Beyond Protest

As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, massive protests, of the type we’ll see this weekend and (I suspect) a lot more in the future, can be useful. But they’re not sufficient. I want to start a conversation about what it will take to beat Trump – and by “Trump,” I’m just using The Donald as shorthand for the entire constellation of politics of ignorance and hatred that will still control our federal government even if Trump were to drop dead on Monday. Trump himself is both a problem and a symptom of a much larger and deeper problem.

It’s easy to print posters or generate memes that say “Resist Trump.” It’s much harder to translate that into actual policy victories. It’s not as though these are people who will see millions in the streets, shrug their shoulders because they know they’re illegitimate, and go home. The people now ascending to power are ruthless. They do not care about mandates, they will act to protect and expand their power in whatever ways they can and they will not care in the least what you think about them unless they are forced to.

How do we get from millions of pissed off people to policy victories in a political system where even the remaining trappings of popular democracy are being relentlessly stripped away by our opponents – because they know they’re illegitimate?

I would like to propose that any broad, heterogeneous movement to resist Trump should prioritize exploiting two major Trump weaknesses, and on building positive infrastructure – the better alternative – in three major ways.

The Opportunities

The first major weakness of the Trump phenomenon is that it’s not a monolith. “Divide and conquer” has been a political strategy for all of recorded human history for a reason: it works. And even though they’re all acting like they’re batshit crazy, many of the people in the Trump/Republican coalition have conflicting priorities and genuinely loathe each other. This is an opportunity.

What do billionaires like Trump and several of his Cabinet picks, Christian jihadists like Mike Pence and Ben Carson, white nationalists like Stephen Bannon, and ordinary suburban white grandparents who didn’t trust Hillary Clinton have in common? Almost nothing – except that all of them don’t have any use for people like you and me.

That’s not glib rhetoric; I phrased it very precisely. The only thing holding Trump’s coalition together is tribalism. Republicans have been building this frame for 30 years, convincing people to vote in many cases against their logical self-interest because they identify with the tribe, and the tribe is almost entirely defined by abstract notions of who it isn’t. They don’t resent you and me personally – just people like us. And people like them, fellow members of the tribe? They’re OK, pretty much by definition. That’s how tribal identity works. And for Republicans, over the last half-century it’s evolved from “my country right or wrong” to “my tribe right or wrong.”

They’re not at all the same thing any longer. For decades figures like Rush Limbaugh have cultivated audiences by demonizing women, blacks, Mexicans, Muslims, gays, Latinos, the disabled, the young, the old, pretty much everyone, because it’s all an abstraction: The Other. The scary, threatening, sinful Other. But Joe Bob, in Congress? He’s one of us.

Donald Trump is the logical extension of this intentional long-term Republican strategy. The first in his long litany of targets for insult and contempt was establishment Republicans, and, as with the Tea Party, they were targets precisely because they hadn’t followed through enough on their promises to punish people not in the tribe. So they were banished. Immigrants are still coming in, abortion is still legal (kind of), gays can even get married now. These are issues that establishment Republicans used for decades to fire up voters, but that they didn’t really care much about themselves – generally speaking, they were all about the plutocracy. And Trump’s genius was to hammer them as no longer being worthy members of the tribe.

There’s a reason Trump’s chief strategist is a white nationalist. Tactically as well as ideologically, white nationalism can go nowhere unless white people start to think of themselves as white (rather than, say, “normal.”) Promoting tribal identity is the entire white nationalist project. And it’s Trump’s project, too. Whittle away at the tribe, and he fails. That’s why someone with Bannon’s experience is so invaluable to Trump.

There are a multitude of potential fissures to exploit within this tribe, starting with the people in power. Oligarchs, bigots, generals, and soldiers in Christ have entirely different and often conflicting goals. To name some obvious examples: a lot of oligarchs like cheap immigrant labor; the bigots, not so much. ObamaCare must be repealed because it was that Kenyan dude’s idea, and he definitely wasn’t in the tribe. But throwing the country’s health care system into crisis is going to be really, really bad for business.

The Republican civil war was over before it started in terms of who has power; the radicals won, and every Republican office holder now faces an imperative to cater to The Tribe. But the fissures are still there to be widened. Skillful lobbying, messaging, and political pressuring can help.

Trump’s second major weakness is all but inevitable for authoritarians in general, and especially megalomaniacal narcissists like Trump: overreach. They have enormous power, but they always want more. They’re often fine with violating laws to get what they want, and they may or may not bother to change the laws first to legalize what they’re doing. (We’re already seeing this, for example, with the endless conflict of interest law violations by both Trump himself and many of his nominees.) Our judiciary is clearly in danger of losing its independence, but some checks and balances still do exist there.

As for popular resistance, the famous Gandhi quote -“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they crack down, then you win” – doesn’t just describe the particular tactics that he, and later Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela (among many others), used so effectively against enormously repressive opposition. It describes overreach. More recently, before the Occupy Movement died a slow, largely self-inflicted death, for a moment it held widespread public support. That came not just because Occupy targeted predatory banks (though that was an excellent target), but due to publicity from a series of widely publicized incidents of police abuse of protesters in places like New York, Davis (California), and Seattle. Overreach.

This doesn’t have to be a matter of police violence, either. Taking essential health care access away from millions of sick people is overreach, too. The effort in 2005 to privatize Medicare and Social Security was overreach then, and likely will be again. Ditto with mass immigration enforcement, criminalization of contraception, risking economic catastrophe by refusing to pay on the national debt, or any number of other voluntary crises these people are quite capable of launching. When they do – and they will – we need to be ready to take full political advantage.

What We Can Do

People are gonna do what they’re gonna do. Different people will express their fear, anger, disgust, and righteous solidarity in the era of Trump in countless different ways. But I’d like to suggest that beyond reactive protests, we’ll be best served strategically by taking the initiative in three major arenas.

Tell Our Stories

Tribal identity is a Trump strength, but it’s also a weakness – and without it, Trump is lost. Undoing more than a generation of demonizing and abstract caricatures is a long-term project, but there’s no better time to start than now. It’s perhaps the most important thing any of us can do, and everyone can do it.

The thing about the Trump tribe is that it’s largely abstract. For example, nationally Trump won a narrow majority of the votes of white women despite his widely documented (and frequently criminal) personal misogyny. Why? Trump demonizing his victims – defining them as Not In The Tribe (because, for example, she’s fat and ugly, not like you) was part of it. A much bigger part was that Trump positioned himself as being a central voice for The Tribe. Crooked Hillary clearly was not – and she never even seriously tried to be, which was tailor-made for someone like Trump.

But the personal stories of so many victims of Trump’s alleged, serial sexual assaults did more to damage him than any other single thing in a campaign that was full of revelations and incidents that would have doomed a more traditional candidate. Why? When his victims told their stories, they became real, recognizable people rather than caricatures. The women who were able and willing to imagine being in that situation after hearing such stories were the ones who were far more likely to turn away from their potential support for Trump

Now multiply that impact by the number of people in your own lives who could tell stories: of being unable to get health care or affordable housing, of having an elderly parent whose pension was stolen or whose Medicare became an unusable voucher; the neighbor who got deported or died from a botched illegal abortion; and on, and on, and on.

Tens of millions of people, minimum, will be seriously negatively impacted by what Republicans are lining up to do. The more that a Trump tribal member hears stories of people they personally know who are struggling or worse with such policies, the more humanized we abstract “Others” become, the more the whole tribal frame crumbles. We are everywhere, and you already know us. Chip away at the tribal identity. Because without the Tribe, the Trump coalition has nothing, literally nothing, to unite it. Divide and conquer, one story at a time.


Create Our Own Institutions

As a generalization, communities and nations create government institutions to collectively do the kinds of things that can’t easily be done individually or in small groups. That can mean anything from national defense to building highways to funding public schools to running the power grid.

When our elected representatives are all about taking away funding for some of the things we’ve taken for granted as collective responsibilities – whether it’s our social safety net, or access (however flawed) to health care, or enforcement of laws that keep our water and air clean, whatever it might be, we have three choices. We can go along with it, or we can elect new representatives that will reverse the actions, or we can create other institutions – preferably ones safe from Trumpian interference – to accomplish the lost tasks.

A lot of pressure is going to fall on state and local governments to do what the feds stop doing. Where possible, we need to work to ensure that they act accordingly, and work to ensure that they have the necessary resources. But whether it’s large-scale projects like public banks or community clinics, or essential social safety net work like food banks, housing co-ops and land trusts, or homelessness services, there are plenty of things individuals, nonprofits, and conscientious businesses can do to help. We’ll need activism – and money – on all of those fronts in the next few years. Get busy. While we work to change policies, there will also the immediate need to triage the coming damage.

More and Better Democrats

And then there’s that bit about elected representation.

The surge of activism in 2005-06, around the Iraq War, the New Orleans diaspora, and a host of other Bush administration failures, used the phrase “more and better Democrats” to describe the need to take power back from the Bush cabal in DC. For a time, it worked – until Obama won and people (mistakenly) got complacent. But it’s still the bottom line.

They don’t have to be Democrats, of course. If the Greens or some socialist party or FSM-loving group can position itself to gain power at Republican expense, awesome. But right now, the Democratic Party is the best vehicle for combating the Trump coalition in DC. That’s why Bernie Sanders, lifelong independent socialist, ran for that party’s presidential nomination. The party is just a vehicle. The Democratic vehicle can be effective, but it needs much better drivers. Long-term? The future is unwritten.

Short-term, however, we’re stuck with the Dems, and any party establishment that can unite behind a fatally flawed candidate like Hillary Clinton, simply put, needs to go, from DC to the state and local level. Clinton’s campaign in 2008, when she started as an overwhelming favorite and wound up losing the nomination to some black dude with a funny name, should have warned away any sentient politico. HRC has a lot of skills, but she doesn’t inspire people. Nobody outside, maybe, Lower Manhattan wants to be in her tribe. Even the one enthusiastic base she did have in 2008, older feminists, largely disappeared in 2016.

Clinton was uniquely poorly suited to competing with the sort of tribal politics Trump represents. Obama, in 2008, inspired people. In 2016, Sanders inspired people. Politics has changed, media has changed, and how we get our information has changed since the Clintons left Arkansas for the big city in 1992. Business as usual will no longer cut it, dry policy recommendations will no longer cut it, and at every level Democrats who don’t understand this emotional imperative need to move or be moved out of the way. Evolve or die.

This is already happening. At the grass roots, across the country, people energized by the Sanders campaign are starting to run for office themselves. New leaders like Pramila Jayapal – who rose to prominence by telling the stories of demonized “Others” and by being fierce advocates for them – will be far more effective in resisting Trump than the sorts of sclerotic party hacks who may do great work behind the scenes, but are no longer appropriate to lead the party even if it’s “their turn.”

One of the great benefits of getting involved in local politics is that at the state and especially county and city level, some of the battles are winnable – and given the massive changes coming down the political food chain from DC in everything from health care to education to housing to labor and environmental protection, there will be massive battles over how to prioritize resources among multiple pressing needs; how to raise more resources; and how to create the kinds of community institutions that can help when the programs we’ve come to take for granted fall victim to hatred, ignorance, or short-sighted greed. At the end of the day, community is our best security. We take care of each other. Tribes built on love, and mutual help, are more powerful and lasting than the ones built on hatred and fear.

Love doesn’t always win. Our opponents, generally speaking, could not care less about moral witness. They understand and respect power, and little else. But power comes in many forms, and a movement that is both humane and sympathetic, and at the same time unapologetically fierce and willing to take risks – that’s a very powerful movement.

Love’s failures notwithstanding, politicians sell hope for a reason. People want love to win. They want a better future for the people they care about. If we model that, and tell our stories, and elect as our decision-making representatives people who understand the need to fight fiercely for what we all need, our odds get a lot better. We won’t win every battle, but we won’t lose them all, either, and over time we’ll win more, and then more. And even dictatorships crumble when it becomes clear that they’ve lost legitimacy. Speaking truth to power isn’t just about feeling good about our own moral clarity.

Tell your stories, and get organized.