Revelatur Newsletter January 8, 2010
The State of Our Democracy
“Darkness has a hunger that's insatiable
And lightness has a call that's hard to hear” - Amy Ray and Emily Saliers
Hello dear readers! In today’s Revelatur Newsletter we focus on three related aspects of the challenge to American Constitutional Democracy. In the first piece (“Where the Hell Are We, Anyway?”), we detail its current state relative to its own history, other existing Democracies, and its potential and purported aspirations. In the second section (“Seeing through a Glass, Darkly”), we explain why the lens most Americans use to view the state of our Democracy is inaccurate, at best sub-optimal, and in most cases, counter-productive. In the final part (“It’s Much Worse than we Thought”) we describe a more accurate, objective and valuable lens, and then turn that lens on the Republican ecosystem to reveal their active complicity in the erosion of American Democracy.
In these articles we leaned heavily on “How to Save a Constitutional Democracy,” a phenomenal 2018 book by Tom Ginzburg and Aziz Z. Huq -- both as a deep well of information about the state of American Democracy, and also to illustrate the shortcomings of traditional academic analysis as a prescriptive guide to citizen, interest group and institutional action in time of crisis.
Where the Hell Are We, Anyway?
First, let’s be clear what we are evaluating. It is the state of our democracy, not the health of our economy, the size of our military, education levels, levels of hard and/or soft power, or measures of national self-regard and or/individual well being. Those are important and systemically connected to that which we do measure here, but beyond the scope of this analysis.
That said, it turns out that there is no national or international, canonical or even political science domain agreement on what a Democracy “is” – as distinct from other forms of political organization. Lack of such agreement makes comparative analysis among democracies difficult. And it renders the longitudinal analyses we desire to measure our own progress problematic as well. While there is benefit to multiple visions of healthy democracy; lack of consensus is being exploited by authoritarians globally and by Republicans here in the U.S.
For purposes of this newsletter, we incorporate the Ginzburg/Huq concept of “Liberal Constitutional Democracy,” composed of three essential elements:
1. Free and Fair Elections
2. Rights of Speech and Association
3. Rule of Law (How to Save a Liberal Democracy,” Tom Ginsburg and Aziz Z. Huq, pp. 8-10)
To meet the authors’ threshold of a functional liberal constitutional democracy, all three elements must be present and functioning, because “liberal constitutional democracy emerges as a system-level effect of these institutional building blocks.” (Ibid, p. 14) Note: hereafter we’ll use the term liberal constitutional democracy interchangeably with ‘democracy.’
However, in our opinion, the system-level effect enabling democracy to ‘emerge’ from its previous state requires much more than the three building blocks noted here, including most notably:
Optimal Constitutional Design, particularly the Separation of Powers
Optimal Institutional Design, particularly Mechanisms of Restraint and Mutual Oversight
Optimal Information Flow
Citizen Engagement, comprising: a threshold level of Citizen Knowledge in Civics, English, Math/Statistics, and Systems Thinking; broad participation in political decisions and oversight of institutional execution of such
Combining the two lists, we now have seven macro-level ingredients for our democracy stew, or better yet, seven macro-level measures of national political health.
So what? While we admittedly lack commonly-accepted measures for the seven, based on our research and analyses, we hypothesize that for the United States at present: we are not minimally healthy in any one of the seven areas; the conditions necessary for generating the systems effect of a functioning democracy are therefore not present; therefore the U.S. does not meet the minimum definition for a liberal constitutional democracy.
Additionally, the national political health trends are -- in the aggregate -- negative; there are multiple vicious cycles in place accelerating negative trends and making their reversal ever more difficult; most citizens are insufficiently knowledgeable, aware, concerned and/or engaged to make a difference. Perhaps worst of all, a healthy percentage of Americans are increasingly, indeed primarily, more concerned about the health of their checkbook than the health of the nation -- and this condition is being deliberately exacerbated and exploited by the right.
Here are some of the most notable facts we included in our analysis, divided into two categories. In the first set we present information curated by organizations that study democracy, and in the second we include admittedly non-comprehensive data points we validate as pertinent from systems analysis and intelligence analysis we’ve conducted.
Fact Set 1:
· The Economic Intelligence Unit, in its 2016 democratization index, downgraded the U.S. from “full” to “flawed” Democracy.
· The Freedom House Global Freedom Score (access to political rights and civil liberties) of 210 Nations for the U.S. is 86, behind 25% of nations, including: Greece, Slovakia, Mauritius, Granada, Latvia, Italy, St, Kitts and Nevis, Malta, Lichtenstein, France, Chile, The Bahamas, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Czech Republic, Lithuania, Costa Rica, Spain, St Lucia, Capo Verde, Palau, Micronesia, Kiribati, Taiwan, Austria, Marshall Islands, Tuvalu, Dominica, Germany, Cyprus, Andorra, Estonia, U.K., Iceland, Slovenia, Barbados, San Marino, Belgium, Switzerland, Portugal, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Denmark, Ireland, Uruguay, Canada, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Sweden, Norway and Finland.
· In the book “Democracy in America,” authors Gilens and Page ran a horse race between the preferences of average voters and those of economic elites – defined as individuals at the top tenth percentile of the income distribution – to see which voters exert greater influence. They found that the effect of the average voter drops to insignificant levels, while that of economic elites remains substantial. The implication is clear: when the elites’ interests differ from those of the rest of society, it is their views that count – almost exclusively. As Gilens and Page explain, we should think of the preferences of the top 10% as a proxy for the views of the truly wealthy, say, the top 1% – the genuine elite. In other words, there is a direct correlation in the U.S. between income, wealth and political power that belies the concepts of “one person, one vote,” and “all people are created equal.”
· In the same vein: “The value of a Wyoming citizen’s vote to California is 70 to 1,” “A Different Democracy,” Steven L. Taylor, Matthew Soberg Shugart, Bernard Grofman, and Arend Lijphart, p. 74.
· Ibid, p. 348: In all of the studies, the U.S. emerge as having the lowest level of intergenerational upward mobility, with the exception of the U.K.
· The U.S. Electoral College has put five “losers” (received fewer popular votes than the winner of the Electoral College) into office. Ibid, p. 262: “of the 12 countries with popular presidential elections – only in the U.S. is it possible for the candidate with the most votes to lose out in favor of a candidate with fewer popular votes.
· U.S. citizens who believe it would be a good thing for the Army to rule is now 1 in six; only 38% of American, compared with 65% of Germans, for instance, rate democratic governance (the system we have) as a “very good” thing, “World Values Survey.”
· “Recent years have seen a resurgence in academic research on income inequality, driven by the influential body of work by Piketty and co-authors charting the evolution of top incomes in the advanced economies over the course of the 20th century. A central finding from that literature is that while top incomes fell for several decades after the Second World War, they turned a corner and began rising, most dramatically in the Anglo–Saxon economies, from the 1980s onwards. Correlational evidence from cross-country panel studies has found that lower taxes on the rich, especially top marginal income tax rates, are strongly associated with rising top incomes over this period. Although, studies exploring the effects of individual tax reforms paint a less clear picture, with some finding persistent effects on income inequality and others only short-term effects. Proponents of tax cuts for the rich often argue for their beneficial effects on economic performance. In fact, this line of reasoning, focusing on efficiency gains and the reduction of behavioral distortions, was central to the arguments made for major tax reforms in the US. The results also show that economic performance, as measured by real GDP per capita and the unemployment rate, is not significantly affected by major tax cuts for the rich. The estimated effects for these variables are statistically indistinguishable from zero, and this finding holds in both the short and medium run. Our findings align closely with the existing correlational evidence showing that tax cuts for the rich are associated with rising top income shares. We make an important contribution to this literature, however, as our empirical strategy allows for the estimation of causal effects. This is particularly pertinent in this case, as there is a large political science literature on the power of rich voters and organised business interests to shape public policies. (International Inequalities Institute, Working Paper 55, December 2020, David Hope and Julian Limberg).
· The U.S. ranks 20 of 21 OECD countries for union density and collective bargaining coverage.
· “Stripping citizens of the ballot flipped seven Senate seats, all of them from blue to red,” “Democracy in One Book or Less,” David Litt, p. 45.
· “If green card holders were their own state, they’d have more electoral votes than Ohio,” Ibid, p. 48
· “Increasing the average distance to a polling place by just five blocks reduces turnout by 2 to 5%, Ibid, p. 88.
· In the UK, parties can spend only $25 Million per election, Ibid, p. 199.
· The “U.S. is only modern Democracy in which ex-prisoner may be permanently disenfranchised,” Ibid p. 138.
· “In 2012, while 2.4% of the total population has been disenfranchised due to imprisonment, 8.3% of all African Americans had been,” Ibid, p. 139
Fact Set 2.
· “Americans' latest assessment of their mental health is worse than it has been at any point in the last two decades. Seventy-six percent of U.S. adults rate their mental health positively, representing a nine-point decline from 2019. The latest weakening in positive ratings, from a Nov. 5-19 poll, are undoubtedly influenced by the coronavirus pandemic, which continues to profoundly disrupt people's lives, but may also reflect views of the election and the state of race relations, both of which were on Americans' minds this year.” (Gallup, “Wellbeing,” December 7, 2020)
· The U.S. Underemployment Rate (total unemployed, plus all marginally attached workers, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all marginally attached workers”) as of 3rdquarter 2020: 12.3% - U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This number is provided by the U.S. Government, and notably does not include the category for Americans who feel underemployed. We don’t know that number yet, but we do know that >80% of Americans consistently report that they dislike their jobs, and presumably such dislike is to some extent driven by feelings of underemployment.
· US. Covid-19 deaths as of January 7, 2020 – 361,000 (accumulated in less than 12 months), more than WWII combat deaths (accumulated over four years), which constitutes 19% of the global total compared to the U.S.’ 4% share of overall population – a 500% over-representation!
· “In 2020 the U.S. alone had weathered at least 16 climate- or weather-related disasters each costing more than $1Billion,” Science News December 19, 2020, p. 32.
· In the forty years before Donald Trump was elected President, America’s population grew by 50%. But the number of Americans barred from voting because of a felony conviction grew by 500%,” Litt, op cit, p. 43.
· Under Trump, “2.3 million Americans lost their health insurance, accounting for up to 10,000 “excess” (Covid) deaths,” The Atlantic, February 2021, “The Legacy of Donald Trump,” George Packer, p. 9.
· “Trump withdrew U.S. from 13 international organizations, agreements and treaties,” Ibid, p. 10.
· “Trump reversed 80 environmental rules and regulations,” Ibid, p. 10.
· “Trump appointed 220 judges to the federal bench, including three Supreme Court justices,” Ibid, p. 10.
· “Under Trump, the national debt increased 37%,” Ibid, p. 10
· “2/3 of U.S. companies pay no income tax,” Mother Jones Newsletter
· “ExxonMobil has spent >$30M promoting climate denial despite confirming truth of human impact on climate in 1981,” Ibid.
· “Gun violence costs the U.S. $229B annually in first responder, legal proceedings, medical treatment, lost wages and long-term care. Six times what we spend on foreign aid,” Ibid.
· Number of American Facebook subscribers at close of 2020: 223 million (statista), 68% of the population. Interestingly, “a 1-standard deviation increase in “likes clicked” (social media) was associated with a decrease of 5% - 8% of a standard deviation in self-reported mental health (“Age of Surveillance Capitalism,” Shoshana Zuboff p. 464)” – you do the rest of the math!
Seeing Through a Glass, Darkly
In the concluding chapter of “How to Save a Constitutional Democracy,” (p. 240) the authors aver: “the United States has two political parties, that, by and large, remain committed to democratic politics, not simply to the permanent and entrenched capture of governmental power. Whether or not Karl Rove ever really harkened forward to a “permanent Republican majority,” we do not think he meant the end of democratic competition. Rather, he hoped for a sustained political coalition that would endure through several election campaigns.”
The authors present this as an analytical finding based on their research, as such consistent with the argument and facts they laid out in the book. It is in fact totally at odds with the facts they presented. It is instead an unacknowledged – and therefore unexamined – assumption based on the culture and practices of the domain (academia) and field (political science) in which they work. Their conclusion is understandable but dangerously incorrect.
Academics, consistent with their approach, do not take a target-centric approach (beginning with the end in mind, in this case, a thorough understanding of what information their domain practitioner customers need to decide and act effectively) -- therefore the information they gather is not comprehensive or tractable -- meaning conclusions and prescriptive actions are not logically derived nor can they be probabilistically evaluated in advance. The underlying problem is that the authors are making assumptions that they are unaware of and therefore can’t reveal -- thus neither they nor we can develop testable propositions from them because such require explicit articulation of assumptions.
Therefore, instead of meaningful analysis of data you instead get what you had going in -- tired and unexamined mental models given a fresh excuse to generate ungrounded recommendations.
The mental models themselves are also neither communicated nor communicable -- therefore no one can “check their work.” Academics are of course bounded to some degree by the peer review process, but this is a poor and inconsistent ‘bound,’ crippled as it is by the same mental models that the authors deployed. Interestingly, academics can be sanctioned for violating domain standards, just not for being wrong!
Journalists make this same error, bounded as they are only by their journalistic ethics and protocols. Those do not force journalists to surface, much less include in their writings, their assumptions -- therefore there is no way for the reader to evaluate them properly.
Social Media and its customers take maximum advantage (monetize is the relevant Orwellian euphemism) of American’s increasing inability to discriminate meaningfully. Collectively then the sources of information flow reaching individual citizens are all flawed, and all flawed in the exact same way.
Now the average citizen is armed with neither explicit approach nor rigorous protocol, so there is even less bounding to their thinking and communications than for academics and the press.
The common problem with lack of rigor and multiple perspectives in thinking, analysis and communications is bias. Bias is “a disproportionate weight in favor of or against an idea or thing, usually in a way that is closed-minded, prejudicial, or unfair (Wikipedia).” People in general, Americans perhaps more so than other democratic citizens, are losing their ability to discriminate between truth and falsity, are becoming increasingly more “biased,” which is in turn driving an erosion in critical thinking, morals and civility in a systems manner. There are multiple types of bias – indeed experts have identified 30 different biases impacting decision-making alone (“Business Dynamics,” John D. Sterman, p. 30). Intelligence professionals recognize and formally account for multiple types of potential bias; this is one of the primary reasons we incorporate that discipline into our trans-disciplinary approach.
The use of multiple modeling techniques also substantially reduces bias by cancelling them out to some degree. Journalists and academics use just one formal frame; while citizens apply no structured frame to critically evaluate inbound information at all. No wonder we’re in the shape we’re in!
It’s Much Worse Than We Thought
So then to get better results and reverse some of these really ugly political trends and dynamics we need first to employ a multi-lens approach that reduces bias and enables a much clearer picture of reality. Unfortunately when we do so some even uglier truths are brought to light. But back to that in a moment.
How do we reduce bias and sharpen our view of reality? At Revelatur we use an empirical approach, and base our conclusions on evidence, quantitative and qualitative data, and structured analytical processes. Ours is a trans-disciplinary combination of intelligence analysis, system dynamics, risk management and the scientific method.
Here is a quick synopsis of our intelligence and systems methodologies:
We’re defining “intelligence” as: 1. The discipline, value stream and business processes in which people integrate structured analytic techniques, tradecraft, technology, teams, means and tools to discern the intentions and capabilities of adversaries -- to enable their stakeholders to understand their operating environment with sufficient precision to achieve meaningful objectives across all levels of action; 2. The output or “product” of the intelligence process that is provided to customers.
We deploy a structured yet extensible trans-disciplinary intelligence methodology honed over a lifetime of intelligence work in the military, Federal Government and commercial sector -- augmented by commercial sector and government experience in design, knowledge management, systems thinking, Lean and Translational Research. Our firm’s intelligence experience includes being part of teams that: decrypted purportedly undecipherable Soviet strategic communications; obtained and exploited imagery of Top Secret facilities in China, North Korea and the Soviet Bloc; prevented several Islamic Terrorist attacks on the United States; located and captured multiple Mexican Drug Cartel leaders; substantially reduced the cartel-related violence in Cuidad Juarez, Mexico; developed multiple technology tools to enable probabilistic forecasting of future competitor or adversarial actions.
The intelligence system or model we use includes the following top-level elements:
Intelligence assessments based on evidence in the form of observables (actions and signals, primarily) and indicators (such as language and pattern changes). Evidence is then filtered by structured analytic techniques, with assessments made and conclusions drawn using the three primary reasoning approaches: deductive; inductive;andabductive. Collectively the assessments and conclusions form a model of the transactional environment in which the two ecosystems compete for political power.
Customer – technically, the entity that will “action” the product. In the government, intelligence products typically have multiple customers, which makes satisfying each customer’s requirements challenging. Regardless of the environment or domain though, the customers and their requirements drive the intelligence value stream.
Target – a description of the purpose or intent of the product from the customer’s perspective; a target ranges from a discrete entity such as a person, place or capability that will be adversarially engaged in some manner by the customer, to a detailed situational understanding of a complex situation enabling optimal decision-making.
Requirements – intelligence term of art for the process and precise language used to convey a customer’s information gaps to the functional entity that will satisfy them.
Capability – a detailed (ideally both quantitative and qualitative) functional and technical description of an intelligence organization, process, or value stream, or an intelligence collection asset (such as a sensor).
Sense-making – the process of rendering environmental and/or domain-relevant information into actionable intelligence by enabling a customer to achieve a pre-determined threshold of situational understanding, via a structured methodology.
Feedback and Continuous Improvement.
What we mean by “target-centric intelligence:” - The target-centric intelligence process is a non-linear, extensible, network process with all contributors focused first on the target or objective -- vice their individual technical responsibilities. Unlike the classic intelligence cycle where targets “emerge” or are discovered from rigorous adherence to a linear intelligence cycle, target-centric intelligence begins with one or more hypotheses of the target and the approaches to servicing it. With hypothesis in mind, resources and approaches are applied using design as a frame, with the target(s) being addressed through a process of successive approximation leveraging modern metrics such as Lean target conditions.
Our systems approach in a nutshell:
● Tools: We deploy the following systems tools: system modeling; causal loop diagrams; stock and flow diagrams; Plectica system maps, Transactional Environment Diagrams, Calculus and Differential Equations,Graph Theory/Networks.
● Process: Using these tools, we map the current state of the environment and model the specific problem. From this map and model we posit multiple hypotheses, from which we derive indicators whose observances will either invalidate our hypotheses, or strengthen the probability that they are correct.
● A quick introduction to systems terminology for readers unfamiliar with the topic:
§ Complex Systems: “networks made of a number of components that interact with each other, typically in a nonlinear fashion. Complex systems may arise and evolve through self-organization, such that they are neither completely regular nor completely random, permitting the development of emergent behavior at macroscopic scales.” The U.S. Political system is a complex system.
§ Emergence– “a nontrivial relationship between the properties of a system at microscopic and macroscopic scales. Macroscopic properties are called emergent when it is hard to explain them simply from microscopic properties;” a future systems state or characteristic of a system that could not have been predicted or discerned based on an analysis of prior system states.
§ Nonlinearity– “the outputs of a system are not given by a linear combination of the inputs.”
§ Feedback– “interactions among the components of a system leading to complex system behaviors,” for instance, learning.
§ Vicious and Virtuous Cycles: “The terms virtuous circle and vicious circle, also known respectively as virtuous cycle and vicious cycle, refer to complex chains of events that reinforce themselves through a feedback loop. A virtuous circle has favorable results, while a vicious circle has detrimental results. Both circles are complex chains of events with no tendency toward equilibrium (social, economic, ecological, etc.) -- at least in the short run. Both systems of events have feedback loops in which each iteration of the cycle reinforces the previous one. These cycles will continue in the direction of their momentum until an external factor intervenes and breaks the cycle. A well-known example of a vicious circle in economics is hyperinflation.”
§ Stocks and Flows: “Economics, business, accounting, and related fields often distinguish between quantities that are stocks and those that are flows. These differ in their units of measurement. A stock is measured at one specific time, and represents a quantity existing at that point in time (say, December 31, 2004), which may have accumulated in the past. A flow variable is measured over an interval of time. Therefore, a flow would be measured per unit of time (say a year). Flow is roughly analogous to rate or speed in this sense. For example, U.S. nominal gross domestic product refers to a total number of dollars spent over a time period, such as a year. Therefore, it is a flow variable, and has units of dollars/year. In contrast, the U.S. nominal capital stock is the total value, in dollars, of equipment, buildings, and other real productive assets in the U.S. economy, and has units of dollars.”
§ Tipping Point: “the critical point in a situation, process or system beyond which a significant and often unstoppable effect or change takes place.”
§ Computational Support Requirement – While we can gain useful and in some cases actionable insights into the dynamics of complex systems using data, simple tools and graphics, the unfortunate truth is that ‘usefully accurate’ -- usually termed “robust” in system terms -- models of complex systems and environments require heavy duty digital computational support, calculus, graphing and simulation. Without these tools, human beings are incapable of developing models of complex systems sufficiently robust to: describe complex systems; estimate the effectiveness of decisions and/or the probabilities of course of action efficacy; or generate sufficient data to drive useful simulations of complex environments. Technically, this is because: “the mental models people use to guide their decisions are dynamically deficient. Our cognitive maps of the causal structure of systems are vastly simplified compared to the complexity of the systems themselves.” This is, in turn, a consequenceof “bounded rationality, that is, the many limitations of attention, memory, recall, information processing capability, and time that constrain human decision making.”
§ Network Effects:“A network effect is the effect described in economics and business that an additional user of goods or services has on the value of that product to others. When a network effect is present, the value of a product or service increases according to the number of others using it.” Republican strategy integrates this effect with the phenomenon that false information spreads more rapidly than does the truthful to amplify both effects to engender a favorable and asymmetric systems effect. Democrats cannot simply push back with the truth to reverse this dynamic, they must instead develop a comprehensive and costly communications strategy with complimentary countermeasures. This is a classic example of asymmetric warfare in action.
§ Hypotheses vice “Truth”-- due to the nature of Ecosystems and Network Effects as we have just described them, and because the systems of interest to us are complex and evolving, descriptions and graphic depictions of them are best characterized as “hypotheses” about the way things are/work, vice a capture of “objective truth.” Using systems thinking we are creating a model of the system and environment under study. Like with science and its method, we attempt to disprove and improve our hypotheses – to make them increasingly more “robust” in systems terms -- through a process of successive approximation based ontesting, computation andsimulation.
Value of Trans-disciplinary Approach:
To illustrate the utility of the trans-disciplinary approach, let’s examine the right’s use of disinformation. Using intelligence analysis, we determine (through indicators) that the right uses disinformation broadly, frequently and continuously both in attack (against democrats and American institutions) and defense (the Russian election in 2016 could have been some fat guy sitting on his bed). Based on intelligence and national security domain expertise we conclude that such usage is strategic and therefore Republicans deem it critical to their success. But if their supporters don’t even require explanations and Democrats don’t believe anything they say, how can such actions be strategic? So we pose what is called a “Key Intelligence Question,” in this case: “What purpose does disinformation play in Republican strategy?’ Simply posing the question sharpens our collection and analysis of information, but of course by itself is only a piece of the emerging resolution.
Now we bring in the system dynamics perspective. Remembering that information flow is one of the seven pillars of a healthy democracy, we model such flow as a subsystem within the larger national political system. Doing so reveals that the additional information flow from disinformation (Bannon’s “flooding the zone” concept) introduces delays between the receipt of information, the creation of knowledge, and effective response on the part of definitive sources, such as the mainstream press, and the public. This delay in turn generates a delay in Democratic Congressional response (representatives of the citizenry) sufficient to reduce citizen outrage below the mandatory response threshold, and also enables the right to introduce subsequent outrages (and delays) into the dynamic before previous outrages are addressed.
The net effect is the creation of “conceptual impunity spaces” that shelter Republicans from meaningful sanction. Years of such tactics have weakened the will and response mechanisms of Democrats and progressives, and the growing impunity spaces have drastically reduced the response playbook. This dynamic constitutes a classic vicious cycle.
Our military experience then allowed us to recognize that through the strategic use of disinformation, the right has seized the initiative (the power of making our adversary’s movements conform to our own) and forced Democrats into a passive, defensive and response-only mode of operation.
Why is this so important? I mean, everyone knows they lie, lie lie. Isn’t this just a dressed up version of that truth. Au contraire. Knowing that the challenge is caused by delay begins to reveal a pathway to solution. First, by eliminating ineffective counter-measures, to wit, “fact-checking.” Fact-checking consumes limited resources, is wholly reactive, and doesn’t communicate anything to anyone who already doesn’t know – or doesn’t want to know – the truth. It is precisely the type of trap one falls into when lacking the strategic initiative, and it reinforces instead of blunting the right’s intended effects.
More effective solutions fall into the much-harder-to-implement category, and include:
1. Deploying your own long-term, proactive communications strategy;
2. Developing a playbook of counter-measures that are immediately brought to bear when disinformation is employed by the adversary (Representative Ocasio-Cortez does this well);
3. Sanctioning disinformation formally and immediately where there are applicable laws and institutional rules. One of the axioms of criminal justice is that sure and swift justice is the biggest deterrent to subsequent action.
Is there proof that our methodology works? Here is a relevant subset of hypothesis we presented in our October 2020 U.S. National Election Report:
o Republicans have: seized the initiative and are on the offense; deployed a brilliant, low risk strategy that is not dependent on sustained electoral majorities, neutralizes Democratic demographic advantages, and takes advantage of liberal proclivities; created an enduring asymmetric environment favorable to themselves with underlying dynamics that are difficult and costly to reverse.
o We assess that Trump and the Republican Party, enabled by a powerful ecosystem, is conducting hybrid warfare against American citizens and state institutions through: information warfare operations; collaboration with foreign powers, violations of oaths of office; dereliction of Constitutionally designated duties (e.g., criminally-negligent response to the Covid-19 pandemic, among others); intimidation and threats; and the violation of citizens’ constitutionally-protected rights. “Hybrid warfare is a military strategy which employs political warfare and blends conventional warfare, irregular warfare and cyber warfare with other influencing methods, such as fake news, diplomacy, lawfare and foreign electoral intervention.” Wikipedia.
o We assess that the Republican ecosystem is: executing a long-term plan through integrated strategy, campaigns and tactics with a principle objective of creating asymmetric conditions to maximize their power at the expense of their perceived and declared enemies (Democrats, liberals, progressives); constraining their enemies from fully deploying their strengths; simultaneously obscuring their intent behind a wall of lies and contradictions, confusion, communications overload, propaganda, projection, hypocrisy, degradation of public discourse and critical thinking; and protecting their ecosystem assets with an ever-more powerful System of Impunity.
o Notwithstanding current polls, Democrats, progressives and American democracy are in grave peril. Republican ecosystem power brokers realize that losing power is catastrophic, and that cheating in the election and/or and its aftermath does not add substantially to their risks and rap sheets; while cheating does potentially provide them a path to retention of power and thus continued impunity. Secondly, they have yet to find a threshold they cannot cross with impunity, emboldening themselves and dispiriting progressives. We assess that Trump and most Republicans will not be constrained by law or norms in their approach to the election and (likely) Presidential administration transition period. We further assess that the Democratic-Progressive ecosystem is not sufficiently aligned, organized and prepared with counter-measures to prevent an authoritarian “soft coup” following the elections. Likely Republican tactics -- many of which are already in play -- include but are not limited to:
o Voter Intimidation, Ballot Location Closings, Arbitrary Voter and Ballot Disqualifications, Interference with United States Postal Service operations;
o Frivolous Election-challenging Lawsuits and Ballot Recounts;
o The imposition of Martial Law, suspension of the Writ of Habeas Corpus (technically the President does not have this authority) and the right to assemble; Emergency Orders declaring a national emergency, prohibition on work stoppages, designation of progressive organizations as “terrorists,” temporary shutdown of the banking system; Presidential Declarations declaring selected election results “invalid” based on (specious) evidence of voter fraud; manipulating the Electoral College process.
At time of writing, every posited potential action of Trump and his enablers has occurred except for some of those in the last bullet. And those may occur before the transfer of Presidential power in two weeks!
The really bad news: We updated our analysis in light of subsequent events that have occurred since the October publication of our 2020 Election Report. Indicators allow us to confidently confirm a previous hypothesis that Republican strategy has been, for forty plus years, to seize and maintain as much power as possible. At that point in time (October, 2020), we hypothesized that “as much as possible” was bounded by the tenets of American democracy -- liberal constitutional democracy as we now term it.
The reality is unfortunately much darker. Our emerging hypothesis is that the seizing of power by the Republican ecosystem is not ultimately bounded by any form of national or democratic principles, or democratic practices --– in fact it is only ever temporally bounded by what can be “afforded” and protected by the right’s system of impunity at discrete points in time. In other words, Biden’s win is the proverbial dodging of a bullet, and does not constitute any sort of “shield” protecting against the further erosion of democracy or the right’s rapaciousness.
Indicators leading to this hypothesis include:
1. Trump’s unending, unconstitutional attempts to influence the election itself as well as its results, culminating (we hope) the January 6, 2020 attack on Congress
2. Trump’s use of his position and mechanisms of government to present false information about the election to citizens
3. Trump’s incitement to violence against democratic politicians
4. Trump’s pardons of political allies and the illegal quid pro quo underlying each; and his abuses of power such as awarding the Medal of Freedom to fascists (Limbaugh) and traitors (Nunez)
5. Trump’s continued use of the Justice Department for political ends
6. Republican Party and individual republican elected official support for Trump’s attempts to overturn the election results; and collective failure to reproach Trump for his transgressions
7. Trump supporters’ massive donations to support (in their minds anyway) the attempt to overturn the election results
8. Trump and McConnell’s continued obeisance to Putin including failure to properly protect American citizens from Russian warfare operations (kinetic as well as information warfare)
9. McConnell’s interference with critically necessary Covid and Economic relief efforts
10. The complete absence of a Republican Platform or governing agenda
In the intelligence business, using abductive reasoning, we conclude this is clearly a situation where “if it walks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it probably is a duck.” Overthinking this is how we got to the situation we’re in in the first place, and use of intelligence analysis enables us to cut that thinking off at some point and provide our customers with our best capture. Bottom line: it’s a duck.
In risk management, we err on the side of caution. If our hypothesis is wrong you haven’t lost anything by accepting it. On the other hand, if we’re right and you don’t act on that basis, it’s potentially existential for our democracy. If you wait until all the evidence is in re the existentiality of the threat, you will not have sufficient time or power to act. You must act like you have a stake in this thing, for you surely do, as does everyone yet to come.