Monthly Archives: February 2017

Media Bias Isn’t A Problem. Your Bias Is

James Callender was a crackerjack dirty linen waver who makes contemporary fake news factories look like purveyors of mild pish and milquetoast posh.  He sported a fifth degree black belt in fact strangling and his partisan fug spewing skills rated an eleven on the Limbaugh Scale (and Rush only clocks a ten). He made his reputation during the republic’s first-ever slander-fest between rival political parties—the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans—who were duking it out around the time of John Adams’ administration. Thomas Jefferson, who wanted Adams’ job, hired Callender as a sort of Ye Olde Breitbart News, tasked with whipping up populist sturm und drang and directing it at the Federalists.

Callender did so with relish. He reported that Hamilton was canoodling with a comely twenty-three year old whose irate husband was demanding hush money. This was the nation’s first political sex scandal, and made Hamilton the inaugural recipient of the “I Shagged Away My Political Career” award.  Calllender smeared George Washington as a traitor and a liar, and called Adams a “repulsive pedant.” In public Jefferson and his fellow Democratic-Republicans tut-tutted. In private they cackled with glee at the salutary effect of Callender’s we-report-you-decide mud chucking on their political fortunes. Callender’s trail of slime greased Jefferson’s path right into the White House.

I mention this history of guttersnipe slam and scandal to make the point that media bias, fake news and alarms over its ability to put partisan anger on the boil is nothing new. There’s no democratic code or canon that demands the press be free of bias. Democracy simply requires that the press be free. Given human nature, it’s hardly surprising that partisan propagandists would use that liberty to buy ink by the barrel and take every chance, fair or foul, to stick a rhetorical shiv into their opponents. James Callender, Father Coughlin (look him up), Sean Hannity and a long list of others across the years have done exactly that. The First Amendment will always give shelter, succor and huge audiences to blowhards with dodgy political values and generous levels of factual flexibility. Trafficking in complete applesauce about politics and government is a natural byproduct of having freedoms of speech and of the press.

What isn’t natural is having a news media that consciously regulates itself to accurately report on governmental goings on while keeping partisan bias to a minimum. Astonishingly, for the past fifty or sixty years, that’s more or less what we’ve had. In the first half of the 20th century people like journalist Walter Lippman and New York Times publisher Adoph Ochs began championing the idea of objective journalism, the notion that newspapers (and later radio and television news) should focus on reporting verifiable facts rather than pushing any partisan line. This was a pretty radical idea with no real historical precedent.

And, at least for a bit, Americans actually seemed kind of grateful to have this huge social institution that took on the job of keeping an eye on the government while really making an effort to give their audience the straight story. Walter Cronkite—CBS’ iconic news anchor—was, without irony or sarcasm, known for years as “the most trusted man in America.” That sort of faith in journalism and journalists has long gone. These days less than a third of Americans trust the mainstream press to accurately and fairly report the news, the lowest recorded since reliable public opinion polls on the matter have existed. What went wrong?

Most seem to genuinely believe that somewhere along the line the media started playing partisan favorites again, though predictably conservatives think that problem is down to pinko reporters while liberals chalk it up to amoral corporate conservatives like Rupert Murdoch. Political scientists and communication scholars have devoted a lot of effort trying to detect systematic partisan bias in the mainstream press.  After decades of diligent digging we haven’t found much of anything to support the notion that mainstream news media consistently tilt the partisan scale one way or the other.

On the other hand, we’ve never had any problem finding systematic favoritism among media consumers. There’s an Everest of evidence pointing to this inescapable conclusion: Humans are big jiggling bags of bias. We have built in predispositions to discount stuff we don’t want to believe and to massively overweight stuff we do want to believe. If we don’t like the message we are quick to suspect the messenger of spin and sophistry. We rarely consider the possibility that our own biased processing of information, not bias in the information source itself, might be shading things one way or the other.

These tendencies are rarely consciously checked because we have nothing in our psychology equivalent to the sophisticated vetting and verification processes mainstream news operations employ to keep eager partisan thumbs off the scale. Our built-in predilections for our own prejudices kind of come out in the wash, though, if we are all getting the same story from the same sources and share some faith that those messengers are, more or less, on the up and up. And, at least for a while, that’s what we had. Cronkite worked in an era when the news media consisted of three major TV networks, their radio offspring, a handful of news magazines and the newspapers. That was pretty much it, and all of them were largely staffed by professionals whose main goal, most people accepted, was not scoring partisan points.

The big problem with that arrangement was that depending on whose ox was getting gored by the story of the day, a sizable chunk of people was always thinking, “the media is not telling me what I want to hear.” Well, no worries. New communication technologies—cable news, the World Wide Web—sprang up to supply that demand. Old technologies, especially radio, got in on the act too. These days you can tell the Uncle Walts of the media world to go stuff it. Just cruise the alt-media options and cherry pick the information that makes your political bits feel all warm and tingly.  A big casualty of this trend is the mainstream news media, which is still plodding along like an objective journalism mastodon while the alt-media hyenas rip at its flanks, undermining its credibility in order to better sell the ideological codswallop that is their stock in trade.

The alt-media phenomenon is mostly (though not exclusively) a product of the ideological right, and some in that crowd are belatedly realizing that maybe it was a bad idea to play on partisan prejudices to paint the likes of The New York Times and CBS News as little more than Callender fanboys. Charles Sykes—a long-time conservative radio host—is pretty upfront about this.  He says that delegitimizing mainstream news outlets basically destroyed “much of the right’s immunity to false information” and ran all the adults right out of the conservative movement. The lads over at Fox News—at least the real journalists, the Shep Smiths, Britt Humes and Chris Wallaces—likewise seem alert to the danger of reinforcing Sarah Palin “lamestream” fairy tales. They’re clearly alarmed at a presidential administration that doesn’t seem to have much belief in the idea of a free press. Wallace’s spanking of Trump’s Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, especially his defiant we’re-not-enemies-of-the-people and you-don’t-get-to-tell-us-what-to-do moment, provides some small hope that the project of Lippman and Ochs is not going to be abandoned entirely.

Right now, though, it’s looking pretty shaky. There are simply too many “news” operations out there that are largely predicated on feeding people what they want to hear. They’re hugely successful because, facts be damned, gorging on the sweet syrup of confirmation bias tastes better than the eat-your-veggies offerings of the mainstream media. And, believe me, you only make people mad by pointing out all that if your information diet lacks fortifying factual fiber you’re probably full of crap.

There is a cautionary tale from history about how these sorts of partisan stokers of righteous indignation end up. Jefferson welshed on a promise to make Callender postmaster, and was in turn consumed in the fires of Callender’s pen. Callender went public with the story of Jefferson’s licentious extra-curriculars with his slave Sally Hemmings. Lesson there: Those who profit from partisan muckrakers also tend to get burned by them (I’m betting the Donald will experience that sooner rather than later).  As for Callender himself, he came to an ignominious finish. Sloshed to the gills, he pitched face first into the James River and drowned, apparently too sozzled to extricate himself from water only three feet deep. His legacy will live on, though, as long as we citizens are more interested in justifying our own prejudices than in really understanding our politics. Because ultimately, it’s not the mainstream news media that are Callender fanboys. It’s us.

Ya Gotta Have Faith: Why We Should Trust Government (at least a little bit)

 

In his inaugural address, Thomas Jefferson, Founding Father smarty pants and winner of the 1796 International Navel Gazing Contest, famously pondered the nature of trust and government.  The underlying philosophical conundrum he articulated succinctly:  “I wouldn’t trust half the wingnuts in this burg to govern a third-grade spelling bee, so why the heck should anybody trust you suckers to run a government?” Okay, I’m paraphrasing a bit, but the basic point stands: Why should we trust government?

The short answer from much of the contemporary citizenry is that we shouldn’t. And, given the current crop of chiselers and poppycock peddlers running things, you can hardly blame them. And that’s fine. Generally speaking, a chary and skeptical electorate is more likely to keep a government honest, or at least keep its knavery to a tolerable minimum.

At some point, though, levels of distrust and suspicion becomes so high they undermine legitimacy, becoming corrosive not just to competent governance but to social cohesion. That tipping point is getting uncomfortably close. Right now we don’t trust much at all. Not government, not the media, not schools or scientists and experts, and, increasingly, not each other. We only seem to trust that which confirms what we want to believe, and if that’s contradicted by fact, truth and the incontrovertible ocular evidence of our own observation, screw it, we’ll place our faith in alternative facts. How did things get so bad that even reality can’t be trusted?

Some of it was premeditated political strategy, mostly (though far from exclusively) pursued by right-leaning types who spent decades being ticked off about never getting the chance to fully run things. Ronald Reagan led the charge, though being Reagan, he did it with a cheery good spiritedness. He dissed the government with a twinkle in his eye: “The most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’” Newt Gingrich’s bomb throwers picked up and amplified these general themes, as did the neo-cons and Tea Party pique posse. For sure, there’s a principled argument for limited government (I’m partial to it myself), but somewhere along the line a bunch of this crowd got their angry levels jacked up to eleven, stampeded off of Bill Buckley’s ranch of reasonableness and thundered up the trail to kooky town. The Gipper’s one line gigglers morphed into a sustained assault on the credibility not just of government, but on a broad swath of social institutions. A good deal of this involved liberally sprinkling splenetic bunkum over pretty trivial or even wholly imagined misdemeanors in hopes it would transmute them into some sort of Nazi-league villainy. The basic idea seemed to be if we can convince everyone that the government, the media, and anyone who knows anything who disagrees with us is either venal and/or deceitful, maybe they’ll put us in charge.

The end result is these days if the government does something you disagree with it’s not because that’s just the half-a-loaf nature of representative democracy. Nope, it means there’s some dark conspiracy at work. It’s because judges are partisan hacks, because Congress is in the pocket of special interests, because the media is biased, because scientists are using their Bunsen burners to cook numbers, because the poll numbers are faked, because illegal immigrants are swanning around voting in their millions while a shadowy transgender mafia plots invasions of public restrooms. And we know this because Rush told us on the noon-time rant, because we read it on aluminumfoilhats.com and, the clincher, we caught that irrefutable internet meme Uncle Fruitcake posted on our Facebook wall.

Okay, so most people would agree as a nation we’re coming down with a bad case of melodrama. But does any of it really amount to even the teensiest existential threat to the republic? Well, some of this wack-a-loonery probably would not have surprised or alarmed folks like James Madison or Alexander Hamilton. For the most part, they assumed the average citizen was a sucker for the flim-flammery of political opportunists. The basically saw the entire electorate as rabble on a hair-trigger rouse. This is why they put their faith not in people, but in institutions. Which is exactly why the current state of politics would give pretty much the entire delegation of the Constitutional convention a severe case of the fantods.

The institutions that sustain our civic life—those that make up the government, electoral systems, the media, our repositories of science and expertise—are not pre-ordained and come with no guarantee of permanence. Indeed, they are largely artificial creations, they exist because of broadly accepted rules and norms. If those rules and norms lack trust and credibility, the institutions start to wobble and sooner or later we’re a Stephen Miller fib-fogged smug-storm away from a pretty serious crash.

This is especially the case when those placing the demolition rhetoric come from personages such as certain current presidents and Congressional caucuses I could mention. If it’s the ill-tempered crackbrains and the alt-right drivel swimmers who are hallucinating about black helicopters hauling off ballot boxes and trilling about the Secret Protocols of the Elders of Obama, that’s one thing. That adds a bit of spice to the republic. It’s another thing entirely when this sort of dystopian flapdoodle is being fire hosed out of the White House, both chambers of Congress, state houses, governor’s mansions, cable news operations, and sundry think tanks which are considerably more tank than think. That sort of stuff doesn’t bounce of the institutional walls, it starts to scour away at the foundations.

Can those institutions take it? Dunno, but I dang sure hope so. Given a modicum of space to operate as intended, those institutions constitute a pretty amazing self-correcting system. The big danger is we won’t let them work as designed. If we ignore all evidence and abandon faith in the idea that we have free and fair elections, that elected officials serve at the pleasure of their constituents, that the mainstream media does a reasonable job of keeping us informed, that eggheads who devote their adult lives to scientific investigation might actually know more about their subject of study than anyone else, if we give up on the rules and norms and processes that have evolved with and piloted the system from the get go, well, we’re sunk.

Ultimately, whether these institutions are allowed to work is up to us. Jefferson saw that. After raising the issue of trust in government, he said the following: “let us then, with courage and confidence, pursue our own federal and republican principles; our attachment to union and representative government.” I’m pretty sure what the windy old fart meant was don’t confuse the meal you ordered with the chef who prepared it. If you are fed up with your pedestrian diet, its small portions and absence of satisfying zest, and you decide to shake things up by ordering a croissant au merde because it sounds like an exciting burst of flavor, you shouldn’t be too shocked if you end up with a crap sandwich on your plate. That’s no reason to drag the chef into the alley and debone him—he’s just giving you what you asked for. Maybe next time you could just order old fashioned meat and veg. Sometimes sticking with the norm simply works best. Trust me.

United We Stand, Divided We Shop

I’ve spent a good portion of my working life trying to convince skeptical and bored young adults that politics and government are relevant and important to their lives. Thanks to Donald Trump these sorts of civic appeals are now rarely needed. Indeed, the current crop of college students is approaching politics more with impassioned militancy than somnambulant indifference. Even before my crowd gets a word in our charges are off the leash, zooming around the civic sphere, marching for the cause, and machine gunning Twitter feeds with social activist slogans and calls to collective action.

This puts people like me in an awkward and ironic position. We’ve spent decades pleading with the youngsters to pay attention and now we face a sort of be-careful-what-you-ask-for situation. If you watch the undergrads rocketing around the political arena like unguided missiles, some distance behind you might spot a huffing and puffing middle-aged polisci prof giving chase and yelling things like, “before you start the revolution you should know that some of this stuff really isn’t THAT important.” And you know, some of it isn’t.

Case in point is the growing movement to make consumer spending an extension of politics by other means. Now I love a good boycott as much as the next pointy-headed waffle jockey. Using your credit card to stick it to the man if you’re a righty, or to the gender-neutral, third-person pronoun if you’re lefty, feels good. Besides, as far as political activism goes, it’s easy. Or at least it used to be.

Time was, being politically active with your wallet was fairly straightforward. If you wanted to smack the Bible brigade’s righteous snoot you just bought your glitter glue from Michael’s rather than Hobby Lobby, and went home smiling at the thought of anguished bottom-line tears falling during boardroom prayer meetings. If you were conservative you just didn’t buy anything from any guy with suspiciously good taste and a knack for interior decorating. And, well, that was about it. These days the boycotts are coming on so fast and thick it’s tough to keep track of it all. Food, drink, cars, clothes, consumable durables, businesses of every stripe and hue—pretty much all outposts of capitalism are on someone’s political no-no list.

This makes simple stuff like a trip through the drive-through an ethical tussle for the politically sentient, be they a college undergrad or not. Was it KFC who was anti-gay? Or was that Chick-Fil-A? Before we invest in that Big Mac, where does McDonald’s stand on school vouchers? Heaven forbid we unknowingly scarf chicken nuggets slathered in the sickening sauce of someone else’s political views. This is why entire websites are being dedicated to disseminating helpful checklists for the politically discriminating consumer. Grabyourwallet.org has a long list of corporate Trump toadies for the discerning liberal to avoid. The Gateway Pundit has an equally long list of businesses who bailed on Breitbart and who thus don’t deserve a conservative’s dollar.

We’re getting to the point where consumer decisions are starting to take on shades of declaring Crips or Bloods levels of loyalty.  Tony’s getting a ride from Uber? Clearly a conservative. Katy has a Lyft app? Huh, didn’t know she was a liberal. Consumer politics has even intruded into that most sacred of American communal experience—Super Bowl ads. Budweiser ticked off conservatives with an ad tracing the immigrant story of its founder and the go-home prejudice he faced before becoming an all-American purveyor of down-market intoxicants. At least Aldolphus Busch was a European immigrant. 84 Lumber’s ad had immigrants with more of a tan coming through a Trumpian wall on the nation’s southern border. That pretty much politicized plywood and 2X4s.

Liberals meanwhile are putting the full billfold boycott to any business peddling items from the vast collection of Trump-branded kitsch and crapola. Nordstrom’s has tossed Ivanka’s shoes and any fella looking for a red tie long enough to dangle past his wing-wang should probably look elsewhere too. On the left’s list of merchants to cold shoulder is Macy’s, LL Bean, Dillards, Amazon, and Bed Bath and Beyond. It goes without saying that Trump hotels shouldn’t anticipate any conference action from liberal leaners for the foreseeable future.

I’ve got mixed feelings on this burgeoning consumer politics thing. I’m all in favor of boycotting Budweiser, but mostly because it tastes like the carbonated runoff from Betsy the Amazing Incontinent Mule’s travel trailer. I’m also in favor of boycotting Trump branded merchandise, but not because of its political implications. Nope, I avoid the Trump brand mostly because it’s gauche overpriced rubbish. You know, the sort of stuff that looks like it was designed to  appeal to Persian pimps or the noveau riche crowd who think gold plated toilet seats are classy. Crap is crap, regardless of whose ideological bottom line it pads.

But hey, it’s a free country—at least for another day or two—and it’s your money (or at least your 24.9 percent APR Visa card), so do with it what you will. As for me, I declare neutrality, I am the Switzerland of consumer purchases, and will say no more. Except about coffee. I mention this because Starbucks has conservatives all a-twitter because they pledged to hire 10,000 refugees. Right wingers angrily reacted to this initiative by demanding to know why Starbucks wasn’t pledging to hire veterans instead. Starbucks pointed out that they already do—they’ve had a “Hiring Heroes” program for a while (they’ve hired nearly 9,000 since 2013) and been involved in military/veterans support long before hawking java took on political overtones.

Here is an instance of what might be termed the Starbucks paradox, the sort of political conundrum these boycotts can lead to. Should those of the right-leaning persuasion skip the Grande mango frappucino to teach Starbucks a lesson in extreme vetting? Or should they make it a Venti to show support for Starbucks and the vets? Advice to my conservative friends: Go to Starbucks, but make your purchase say something about your politics. Don’t get the mango frappucino because the only people you see quaffing such frou-frou libations are Bernie Bros and Birkenstock commandos. Instead, get the biggest cup of black coffee available. I’ll bet that’s just the sort of jacked juice SEAL Team Six slings down their necks before taking out the bad hombres. Sip proud, patriot.

Bottom line is that, as tuned into politics as I am, I can’t quite bring myself to join or endorse all the pecuniary picketing and bucks backing that’s going on, even if it is prompting the back row of my classes into some dim semblance of political awareness.  I most certainly could never, ever bring myself to boycott any purveyor of the magic bean of consciousness. I don’t care if Starbucks baristas are all refugees or Medal of Honor winners. Shoot, I don’t care if they all have small hands, orange tans, squirrels on their heads, weep for victims of the Bowling Green massacre, and dutifully respond to Fox News’ muezzein-like calls to face Washington, D.C. and chant the morning alternative fact. In a time of high partisan passions, sometimes we need to keep things in perspective. Politics be damned, sometimes a cup of Joe is just a cup of goddam Joe.

The Presidential Power Amateur Hour

Well, we now have a preliminary finding from the grand experiment on what governance looks like if you get rid of government professionals: amateurish. And that may be the good news. It’s possible the only thing keeping the league of extraordinary lightweights running the executive office from doing lasting damage to the republic is their own mumping incompetence.

The president’s executive order limiting immigration was a case study in how not to formulate and roll out a policy. It goes without saying that it had little input from issue-relevant experts, because what the hell would those pointy-headed, smug elitists have to contribute? Nobody likes a lawyer, so it wasn’t properly legally vetted. It effectively had no agency review. Congressional leaders in the president’s own party were blindsided by the executive order. The head of the Department of Homeland Security had little clue it was coming. The Department of Justice was caught off guard. The people implementing it weren’t sure exactly who was and wasn’t supposed to be allowed in. A series of judges more or less immediately ruled at least parts of the order legally unenforceable and the acting attorney general said she wouldn’t defend it.

The political fallout from this strength-five Charlie Foxtrot ranged from astonishing to cosmically jaw dropping. Politics is renowned for playing Tinder to unlikely bedfellows, but, honestly, watching Michael Moore, Dick Cheney and the pope swipe right and snuggle up together under the same side of the policy blankie? Seeing hard-core conservative partisans like Bill Kristol and the Koch brothers—the freakin’ Koch brothers—lining up with the American Civil Liberties Union to condemn what was going on? Even the heads of long-term political cynics like me were getting some serious Meadowlark Lemon spin on.

And speaking of the ACLU, Trumps order prompted 356,306 people to fork over $24 million—six times the organization’s average annual donation—in two days. And protestors were already having to fight through the phalanx of lawyers descending on airports to offer pro bono legal services.

That was just on the domestic front. The executive order gave America’s international relationships another big step towards Charlie Sheen levels of irreconcilable differences. Angela Merkel felt the need to inform Trump of the Geneva Convention and the legal obligation its signatories (which include the United States) have to refugees fleeing war zones. Let that sink in. A German head of state feeling compelled to clue in the leader of the free world on the Geneva Convention. Trump might not be an iron chancellor, but he’s lead candidate for irony chancellor. Across the channel a petition calling to rescind an invite for an official visit to the United Kingdom—America’s oldest and bestest buddy—went super-viral. In a matter of hours, more than a million Brits signed on, and you could watch it jump by thousands in real time. These were reactions, keep in mind, from America’s close allies. Those wishing us ill just quietly wet themselves with glee.

So, on the down side, the executive order as written was a ham-fisted legal mess; as no effort was made to lay the necessary administrative groundwork, its implementation was a giant cluster; politically it made the president’s administration look like bumpkins and bumblers and his party as well as Congress look like afterthoughts; it provided a big boost to the nascent national movement coalescing in opposition to his policy agenda; and it created a big enough war chest for a group to lay legal siege to whatever he does for years. Oh, and national security and terrorism experts of all partisan and ideological persuasions said it probably will do little to achieve its stated goal of increasing the safety of US citizens, and will almost certainly do exactly the opposite. Their verdict was that it’s basically an “Uncle Sam says screw you” recruiting campaign for ISIS. Yay.

Are there any positives to find in this whole sorry mess? Well, the figures are still a bit murky, but last weekend roughly speaking somewhere between 500 and 1,000 people were either denied entry to the United States or preventing from boarding a flight to the United States. These included scientists, students, filmmakers, families fleeing oppression and war, and others who had risked their lives working for the American military. No one could come up with even an alternative fact suggesting any of them was a suspected terrorist. There wasn’t even a hint that someone in the bunch was the sort of bastard who’d cheat at Scrabble and fib on their tax returns. I suppose no one has comprehensively ruled out that one of the detained toddlers wasn’t the next budding Osama bin Laden, so, who knows, maybe we did dodge a bullet.  And, well, that’s about it. By any normal political or policy calculus this was a calamity that incurred huge costs with trifling payoffs. This wasn’t breaking eggs for an omelet, it was torching the hen house to boil one.

What was the president’s reaction to this? Trump fired the acting attorney general, dropped tweet-bombs on Lindsay Graham and John McCain, and took a quick taste of Chuck Schumer’s tears and declared them delicious.  He declared the immigration ban was “working out very nicely,” and blamed any notion that anything was amiss on the press, AKA the “opposition party.” Apparently they’re bouncing off the springy platforms of alternative facts in the West Wing and catapulting themselves into alternative universes.

The eye-watering winds of political chaos seeded by the immigration executive order says something pretty fundamental about the basic level of governing competence of the Trump administration: They haven’t got any. Look, people can disagree about the right approach to immigration and there are reasonable arguments about reforming refugee policies, and as polling has consistently shown that Americans want tougher immigration rules there’s a fair enough expectation that government will respond to those preferences. As a candidate Donald Trump repeatedly promised to clamp down on immigrants and refugees and spoke of stuff like “extreme vetting.” It’s no surprise, then, that a Trump administration moved quickly on immigration—as a general principle, most of us are in favor of elected officials actually following through on campaign promises.

What is surprising, or at least hard for professional political observers like me to wrap their heads around, is the accompanying ration of eye-popping and mean-spirited incompetence. Even in pursuit of contentious policy objectives, you really don’t have to piss off/offend/humiliate every possible person, country, or cause possible, nor is there any requirement that said pursuit demands basic expectations about good law, good process, good politics and even common decency be crapped on. The whole sorry performance suggests the Trump administration is either alarmingly unprepared for delivering competent governance or, even worse, it just likes doing this sort of thing. Either way, America’s credibility and prestige was just needlessly sullied. That cack-handed executive order carpet bombed not just the country’s interests, but—and surely some grown up in reasonable proximity to this embarrassing fumble gets this—the interests of the Trump administration itself. All governments do dumb things, but this represents Defcon Four levels of ineptitude.

And, unfortunately, it tells everybody—Russia, China, Europe, lefties, righties and everyone in between—exactly who is running the United States government: Amateurs.