Donald Trump and James Comey: Does uncouth equate to bad morals and impeachment?

In my best Heath Ledger/Joker voice, “Batman has no jurisdiction.” I think of this line today after reading a report in Reuters about former Federal Bureau of Investigations director James Comey’s assessment of the morality of current president Donald Trump. The book, set for release tomorrow, will detail Mr Comey’s four month tenure in the Trump administration. Mr Comey asserts that Mr Trump is morally unfit to sit in the Oval Office.

The assertion is likely to lift the spirits of many anti-Trump voters who have been hoping that the President’s alleged links to the Russian government will turn into a political noose and lead to an early exit from the White House. Mr Trump has been relatively out of the media spotlight for the past week given the Congressional hearings that were held regarding Facebook’s privacy shenanigans. He has managed to reassert himself quickly into the headlines with last Friday’s missile attack on Syria’s chemical weapon facilities. I suspect that attention will be diverted away from Syria long enough for Democrats to push their talking points and roil up their base.

So far the most tawdry event noted in Mr Comey’s assessment of Mr Trump is an alleged incident involving Mr Trump’s presence in a Moscow hotel room where two prostitutes were allegedly urinating on themselves. Being in the presence of this type of behavior would be off-putting to most Americans. Mr Trump has denied witnessing the event and Mr Comey admits he has no firm evidence the event happened or that Mr Trump was even present if the event happened at all.

One question that comes to mind is, assuming that the event occurred, should the event give buoyancy to arguments from the left that Mr Trump be impeached? My answer is no. Article II, Section 4 of the United States Constitution reads:

“The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

The event is alleged to have happened in 2013, almost four years before Mr Trump took office. In addition, if watching prostitutes pee on themselves in Moscow is legal, I see a very weak argument for convicting him of a crime. “Batman” has no jurisdiction in Moscow.

Another question I have is, what is immoral behavior and does such behavior disqualify a president? Morals are defined as standards of behavior or beliefs concerning what is and what is not acceptable for a person to do. Morals are personal codes until society expresses its disagreement with them and codifies that dissatisfaction in law or statute. As head of a democratic nation-state, Mr Trump is expected by many Americans to manage his personal code within the parameters of community expectations. For a man who reportedly has no problem expressing a tough guy Queens personality, being a boar may not go over well with a progressive socialite from San Francisco. Such behavior, whether it occurred prior to or during the presidency may considered disqualification as head of state, if not head of government.

Going forward, the allegations will not mean much for capital markets. They do not speak to Mr Trump’s management of public capital or the institutions that manage or influence the allocation or distribution of capital. The allegations do put a further dent in Mr Trump’s ability to persuade, probably the most important power a president has. And in the political marketplace, bad optics drives down a political actor’s brand and market value.

A reining in of the political media should be expected under a nation-state model

Forbes reported today about a statement of work issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on 3 April 2018.  The statement of work seeks prospective vendors capable of providing the Department’s National Protection and Programs Acquisition Division with the capabilities to monitor traditional and social media. The specific objective of the services is:

“Services shall enable NPPD/OUS to monitor traditional news sources as well as social media, identify any and all media coverage related to the Department of Homeland Security or a particular event. Services shall provide media comparison tools, design and rebranding tools, communication tools, and the ability to identify top media influencers.”

The statement of work does not get into any specifics as to why the Department would need such a program. It could be one of three reasons. One reason could be a push back by the Trump Administration on what it calls “fake news.” Mr Trump has shown a disdain for what he terms as unfair reporting typically from media perceived to be left leaning. He has no love for CNN, a lack of love expressed with so much disdain that he came out against the Time Warner-AT&T merger, one that is now being challenged by the Trump Justice Department.

The second reason for the proposed statement of work may be to create another tool for dealing with the media attacks a Russian troll service has been accused of. By monitoring media influencers, the United States could make a preemptive strike against journalists, bloggers, broadcasters, etc., that spread fake news and set the stage for divisiveness in American politics.

The third reason I see is that the political media has to be reined in by the nation-state. Part of the nation-state’s political ordering of and for society should include keeping the collective in order by controlling the messaging. While some spin is allowed in order for news organizations to establish some type of brand differentiation, i.e., MSNBC leans liberally forward while FOX is conservatively fair and questionably balanced, the general messages issued by the nation-state via the political media must be uniform enough to keep the masses in line or distracted. Too much spin to the left or to the right creates chaos in the collective, a disturbance in the force that the nation-state cannot afford.

I believe reason three is the purpose for the Department’s statement of work. Some Americans may see the proposal as an attack on a free press, but has the press ever really been free? Except for the occasional “breaking news” (which amounts to a press secretary given their favorite reporter or a reporter they can use the first shot at a story), most political news is initiated by a state actor with the media being tasked for commercial and political reasons for distributing it.

Probably over the weekend we may see some discussion on the meaning of a “free press.” Given that this story is not even trending on Twitter anymore has me wondering how seriously the media is taking the Department’s action.

The Russian attack on democracy was ineffective because they don’t understand democracy.

American democracy is about the creation of a political marketplace where the taxpayer receives certain protective services in exchange for her vote. These services include police services, fire services, transportation services, commercial trade platforms, cultural services, legal and regulatory frameworks, and education services, to name a few. They are delivered by local, state, and federal governments and their costs are recovered by government in the form of property, sales, and income taxes and other fees.

Politicians squabble before, during, and after the election season on how best these services should be delivered, how much the government should pay to deliver them, and how much of the bill the taxpayer should foot for the government’s efforts. Classical liberal, progressive, and conservative philosophies collide during these debates and the clash of perspective is most apparent during election season when more people are paying attention. To secure the majority of voter approval for position and philosophy, politicians engage in the blood sport of electioneering, a blood sport that includes embellishments, character assassinations, and a lot of misinformation.

Reports abound of how a Russian firm, the Internet Research Agency, entered the political fray between 2014 and 2016 and used social media posts, tweets, and blogs to upset the elections. Their activity during an election year would have been business as usual were it not for their status as foreign agents conducting these activities. Whether or not they upset the political markets with their activity will be hard to determine.

For example, will investigators be able to say that the cost of the exchange of the vote for services increased due to Russian interference? I see no data that describes politicians seeking higher taxes for government spending as a result of any information provided by Russian trolls.

Did any information introduced into the political markets by the Internet Research Agency cause voters to leave the market? I have heard one argument that black voter participation fell because of Russian disinformation about Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton has drawn the ire of some blacks as a result of her description of black teenagers as “predators” and her Clinton Foundation taking financial advantage of earthquake relief efforts in Haiti. It is questionable whether any additional misinformation by the Russians could have created any further negative view of Mrs Clinton by blacks. She may have done enough on her own.

American democracy bases societal cohesion on the vote, the ability of the masses to elect its leaders. Leaders promise, as I laid out before, protective services. But what would happen to the democratically-based cohesion if the dependence of Americans on protective services were drastically reduced or eliminated? What if more Americans had 3-D printers and could manufacture their own tools or furniture? What if more Americans grew their own vegetables in their own apartments? What if more Americans were able to take advantage of devices that use unlicensed spectrum in order to form their own local communications networks and reduce their communications expenses? What if more Americans used solar or wind to energize their homes? What if engineers could design apartment buildings such that each unit could take advantage of solar energy?

A true attack on American democracy would be a demonstration of how to live independent of the political elites that thrive on the electorate’s unwillingness to be or ignorance of independence. Whether a democracy or an authoritarian regime, nation-states are about centralizing power. When they attack each other, destroying the core is all that is needed for the knockout punch. Given the Russian Federation’s history of allowing true freedom, an attack on democracy based on independent sovereignty would be thinking way outside the box.

No, American democracy was never really attacked by the Russians. It simply got poked by a player who didn’t have the legal credentials to enter the ring.

 

.@facebook’s role as a digital archive threatened by #Russia and itself…

Robert Mueller’s indictment of thirteen Russian nationals for defrauding the United States by using fraudulent means to leverage social media in order to spread during the 2016 campaign season doesn’t intentionally pick on Facebook as a villain. Members of Congress are asking how the Russian-based Internet Research Agency using 100 or so employees, could have circumvented 22,000 Facebook employees and introduce their “digital political hack” into American cyberspace.

Members of Congress have been acting since last fall when Facebook provided documentation that its platform via paid advertising had been used to send targeted messaging via certain Facebook pages to divide the electorate. For example, H.R. 4077 is a bill designed to increase the amount of transparency in electioneering communication.  Introduced in October 2017, the bill aims for accountability and disclosure of who is behind the financing of paid social media users or, as they are affectionately called, “trolls.”

A companion bill, S. 1989, was introduced at the same time in the U.S. Senate.

S. 625, introduced in the U.S. Senate in March 2017 provides the Unites States Attorney General with investigative tools to flesh out foreign agents using social media to disrupt U.S. elections.  The bill requires prosecution of social media users failing to make this disclosure.

Congress hasn’t gone directly (yet) at Facebook or other social media properties. For the political left, especially members of the net neutrality posse, passing any legislation that hints at slowing down the growth of the very same edge providers that they have been protecting would send a message that they are as dysfunctional as some of the electorate already thinks. Facebook, along with Google and Twitter, has been a proponent of net neutrality rules. They have, to various degrees, built their business models on advertising driven by the free content and personal information that they “hack” from consumers. They make their advertising services available globally and unfortunately for them, their social media levers were pulled expertly by Russian nationals.

Facebook, probably inadvertently, has become a digital archive of America’s thoughts and opinions. Instead of having to rummage through personal libraries in order to learn about what Americans are thinking, historians now have access to digital living history, ironically made open by the openness of the internet. Crackdowns on social media would do more damage to openness than poorly forecasted bad gateway behavior of internet access providers. Net neutrality proponents wouldn’t have to worry about degraded access to content. They would have the bigger problem of congressional regulation of content.

Mr Mueller’s indictment has surmised that the digital hacking of the United States’ electoral system is continuing. Russian nationals may have done some adjusting since 2016 to better avoid detection, problem via some more openness themselves by complying with foreign agent registration laws. As for Facebook, changes in its business model may be on the way.