The Case for Republicans Speaking Out Against Trumpism

First, the case against. The belief is that GOP voters overwhelmingly support the president, and that speaking up is to risk alienating voters at a critical time (i.e., the midterms). The greatest risk exists during primary season, when they could be faced with losing the opportunity to compete in the general election if their primary opponents hew to the president while they speak up.

The risk in the primaries is real enough. But we will not see for another couple of months whether that is the only risk the GOP candidates recognize. That is, post-primary will they continue to say nothing? How many will then speak up? I’m guessing not many.

The candidates are overestimating the risk of bucking this president. They are failing to account for the moderate voters who will punish them at the polls for giving cover to a depraved executive. They are underestimating the number of conservatives willing to hear criticism. Not MSNBC-esque criticism, mind you. But regular gee-shucks GOP-style criticism would be welcomed by Republican voters, even during the primaries.

In the primary it would bring in moderates. It might even bring in Democrats who want to hedge their bets that their candidate can win in November.

Now, campaigns that would consider speaking up lack a pipeline. It’s well-established that the political rhetoric on the GOP side flows from special interest groups like Koch-funded PACs and Adelson-funded PACs, through conservative media, and gets picked up by campaigns. But there is an easy fix: recycling.

Most of the criticisms that the GOP used for years against President Obama are things they can criticize Trump for. He’s all executive action. He has few real legislative accomplishments, and those he has were all hands-off. They were done by Republican legislators, without any real help from Trump. So just dust off those old talking points and you have a search-and-replace function change the names.

It gives the candidates the ability to say they’re consistent, particularly if they can find clips of their primary opponents critical of Obama for the things they’re giving Trump a pass on.

The real risk isn’t the primary, but the general election. It may well be that the public is wary enough of Trump that even a good moderate Republican will go down in November.

Without Republicans standing up to Trump, many of his voters will remain hardened against reality. They will only depart from their anger-fueled reverence for the irreverent if they hear some voices of reason that speak their language. They need to hear the McCains and Flakes say their piece against what can only be seen as a president divorced from the American goalpost of international order and economic prosperity for all.

When you go to church of whatever flavor, you repeat the same things week to week. Repetition is a key to learning. The refrains of our shared values as humans help to buttress them against erosion. But one of the common voices of the refrain now silent, the others must grow louder. The Republicans need to speak up.

The Best We Can Do

The Republican voters and leaders today believe that American decline is inevitable. That we have lost what counts and that the best we can do is to embrace the likes of the president. The populist ideas espoused (if you can call them ideas) seem to boil down to one thing: take what we can get.

We aren’t smart enough to solve our problems, so we will take what we can get. On trade, we cannot be competitive enough on manufacturing, so we will oppose trade. On immigration, we can’t afford to help refugees or find a legal path for all these workers, so we will deport them all.

This is the thinking of people who have already lost. We need folks who believe that the common victory of the earth, raising living standards and increasing cooperation, is still attainable. That includes any optimistic Republicans that still believe in the America that can solve problems.

The most excellent idea of the sitting Congress was to cut taxes and roll back regulations. Their master plan, as it were. But they have not done anything to better worker conditions. They did nothing to fix immigration. They did nothing to make housing more affordable. Nothing for healthcare. They do not solve problems. They only paint those who do as being worse than doing nothing.

They did not fix infrastructure, and spending is still runaway. Their EPA is practically begging for more pollution. They largely refuse to even conduct oversight, taking a mice-will-play, cat-will-nap attitude to that role.

Now, with the rending of the Iran deal, the Republicans believe that diplomacy is dead and peace is not attainable.

They believe that doing nothing is the best we can do.

And the best we can do is a loudmouth president. Someone with a fear of facts and reading, who regularly claims to be an expert, only to say that nobody knew it was so complicated.

The best we can do is complicity from Republican members of Congress, too worried about the blue wave to bother with pushback. Never mind that the key to disarming the denuded emperor is to call it out. Hans Christian Andersen told us that a long time ago. But the best they can do is a few mealy-mouthed statements about how the president isn’t helpful.

They wouldn’t dream of pushing back. Some of them even want to see how far they can push tampering with the investigations into the administration before they get charged with obstruction. Some of them must be descendants of Guy Fawkes. Unable to wrap their head around the task at hand, they would rather blow it up. The best Nunes can do, apparently.

The rest of the country still believes in America and believes it can do a lot better than this.

The Balance of America

It’s understandable for the press to worry about its reputation. It’s natural to not want to alienate Trump voters, however much damage their political choice may have done and will do. Most of them are still good Americans, if a bit lost.

But that should not bleed into defending the indefensible. It should not give a whit of cover to lies from the highest offices.

Now, maybe some of the liars are, behind the scenes and as anonymous sources, fighting the good fight. They still do not get the kid gloves. If they are secretly helping, they are still publicly harming, and any balancing of the books should and will come in the course of history. Keep your notes, journalists, and you can publish your memoirs of how and who helped once they are no longer a privileged source.

But the Office of the President is not a toy. It is being treated like a toy by its current inhabitant. It is being treated like an alternate reality game (ARG) in which the only thing that matters is winning. We heard that same “winning” drool spew from Charlie Sheen at the peak of his meltdown. Fuck winning. Good governance is much more important. Good comport and walking away from bullshit is better.

There may come a day when America itself is untenable. Far better, if that bad moon ever arises, that we should move on to a better system and not lament or limp about at it. That day is not yet come. For now the correct behavior is to keep aware, speak up when lines are crossed, be ready to vote. The lines varies depending on the rhetoric and behavior.

Be tolerant of the ignorant that do support the wrecking of our values for mere winning. But do not tolerate the wrecking itself.

One question that comes up a lot with the midterms is whether and how Democrats should court Trump voters. They should. They should do it by laying out the basic values and policies that have always worked and will always work for America.

Investing in our country (infrastructure and children). Giving people in need a hand up, regardless of their background, and because it’s the right thing to do. Tending the garden of capitalism, weeding it and watering it, as everyone knows a garden needs care.

Basic policy for a basic country that doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel. That’s Democrats.

They don’t need to tailor their policy for any groups if their policy is for America. Inner cities need better schools and need interventions economic or judicial. Rural areas need better schools and need interventions economic or judicial. Broadband and healthcare. Better oversight of lenders.

It’s mostly the same problems wherever you go. It’s mostly the same solutions, too.

The same goes for the press. Hiring parrots of the president isn’t balance. It’s exactly what it sounds like. If a president holds positions without reasoning behind them, no amount of hiring can hide that fact. The press should be critical of all bad ideas, but it’s clear that worse ideas more widely shared deserve more scorn (and rebuttal ink).

We are a half-year from the midterms. If you aren’t registered to vote, USA: Register to Vote or search for your Secretary of State’s website.

Pruitt’s Data Rule and Deep Learning

(Soon-to-be former?) head of the EPA Pruitt has proposed a public data rule (RIN 2080-AA14). This could be a good rule, but it really depends on the implementation. This post focuses, briefly, on the implication for deep learning science in such a rule.

Briefly, deep learning takes normalized, record-based data and creates a mapping from input data to some per-record output determination.

Think of a phone book (the data) with individual listings (the records) and then some determination you want to do on those records. It could be something very simple (last name has n vowels) or something complicated.

The data itself may be public, but depending on the implementation of the proposed rule, making this secondary data public in any meaningful sense may be very difficult.

There are several challenges. One is simply the amount of records that may be used. Another is the trained network may be proprietary or non-portable or even dependent on custom hardware. There may also be situations where several neural networks act in tandem, each derived from a bulk of training data (some of which may itself be output from other networks), which would further complicate the data access requirements.

But there is also the question of whether the output would be public, even if published. Normally data is public when the individual measurements are available and the methodology behind those measurements is known. But there is a reasonable and inevitable blindness to the internal workings of deep learning. Trying to explain the exact function the machine has derived is increasingly difficult as complexity increases, and even if all the inputs and outputs are public, the transition function may be obscure.

Which isn’t to say that data, methods, and findings should not be replicated, peer reviewed, and subject to introspection. The EPA should, for example, draw a stricter line against carbon fuel companies and other chemical companies, requiring that more of their filings be public.

In the case of deep learning, not for the EPA’s sake, but for the sake of science itself, better rules for how to replicate and make available data and findings are needed.

Others have already pointed out the difficulty of studies predicated on sensitive personal data like medical records. But there is a general need to solve that problem as well, as the inability to examine such information may block important findings from surfacing.

This is similar to the fight over minors buying e-cigarettes online: opponents of e-cigarettes act as though there is a particular, nefarious plot by vendors, but we do not have anything close to a universal age verification system. Better to develop one for all the tasks that require it.

And so it is with the EPA rule: Congress should draft a law that allows all scientific data used by the government to be as public as is possible.

To Combat Fake News, Give People More Media Control

Whether it’s Sinclair’s five minutes of hate, Alex Jones’ rants, Russian Federation bots’ tweets, Assange’s leaks, or Fox News’ commentators’ lies, one of the biggest problems today is bad information, media pollution.

And there’s an open question of how to deal with it all. Well, to deal with some of it. Really, it depends whom you ask.

But the best solution is to empower people by giving them greater control over what they read and watch, how they read and watch it, and how they share content with others. That’s a heavy lift, as the same lack of control that empowers the bad actors helps the media conglomerates to exert influences that pad their own pockets.

Copyright law badly needs an update for the modern world, where it’s easy and useful to share content beyond what the strictures of existing law allow. Having greater control over hardware and software that enables media access would shake up the marketplace while letting users spend their finite time more wisely. There is much work needed here, and there is little impetus for the incumbents to roll up their sleeves.

This past week on at least one cable provider The View and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert had their listing data screwed up. That meant that at least some users’ DVRs failed to record James Comey’s book promotions. It’s almost certain to be a screw up in the listing distribution chain, but it is an example of media pollution that people who have paid for the privilege may have missed content they wanted to see. They could jump through hoops to see the interviews, but it’s not in their preferred format or at their preferred time.

The technology industry could have a hand in empowering viewers, but the FCC blocked a proposal to force cable companies to grant access to third party hardware. For whatever reason, the Apples and Googles of the world did not lobby hard enough to make it happen. Missed opportunity. These talking-listening hubs they sell for homes would be much more useful if they allowed for interaction with the real main home hub: the television.

On websites like Twitter and Facebook, the limited access they give their users to filter and augment the feed means that people are forced to dig, scrounge, or put up with so many bad behaviors. Every single time I search on Twitter, I’m bound to find at least one tweet with every hashtag under the sun trying to advertise some stupid thing (or porn).

Now, you say, back when newspapers were the thing, people didn’t have control. But newspapers, I say, weren’t endless streams of data. Paracelsus says the dose makes the poison, and high-volume media vehicles like Twitter increase the dose considerably.

The media companies that aren’t thrilled about the likes of Trump, Fascism, and the Anti-American Way should give more power to the viewer. Make it happen. It’ll make you more money in the long run, and it will help to thwart bad actors like Sinclair in the meantime.