What to take away from the daily political headlines

The Means Report

Things have not calmed down in our nation’s capital – or in Georgia’s state capital, for that matter. This episode of The Means Report takes a look at a variety of headlines related to our government, both at the state and federal level, starting with the recent shutdown, the political gridlock that is being witnessed, and then we take a look at the indictments of President Donald Trump’s inner circle that are continuing to be filed and what that could mean going forward. To do that, Dr. Craig Albert from Augusta University returns to the set.

Brad Means: Dr. Albert, thank you for coming back.

Dr. Craig Albert: Always a pleasure.

Brad Means: Well, we haven’t had you back since the midterms and it hasn’t slowed down since then. There wasn’t really even a grace period for things to be nice and calm was there?

Dr. Craig Albert: There was not, it has been hectic.

Brad Means: What about the shutdown? That’s the first big thing that we’ve noticed since we last met. It lasted more than a month. It’s over for now as of this taping of The Means Report. Do you think that we’re going to have another one? Do you think President Trump’s wall request will be met so we won’t have one?

Dr. Craig Albert: I don’t think it’ll be met.

Brad Means: You don’t.

Dr. Craig Albert: And just to remind everybody, this is kind of a temporary reopening. If they can’t negotiate properly before February 15th, then we’ll go right back into the shutdown as we were before. This brief opening, I think, you know there’s a debate as to whether Trump caved or what happened. I think it was a very strategic choice by both sides to pay everybody that needs to get paid, but also on President Trump’s side, he wants to make some announcements during the State of the Union address, and that was not going to be allowed by Speaker Pelosi during the shutdown. So, by reopening the government, he has a chance to go address the nation through the State of the Union, and I would look forward to– I mean I think he’s going to kind of chastise Speaker Pelosi who will sit right behind him during the State of the Union address. And I think he’ll announce some pretty ambitious Trump-like policies on immigration there. So, I’d look forward to some executive actions or orders being announced during that time.

Brad Means: It seems like the wall, and you talked about this long ago, the wall as we originally thought of it was a wall that covered the entire southern border of the United States. Now it looks like maybe a series of fences, or something that resembles a wall, in certain high security areas. Are you saying that you don’t think any of that will ever happen? That there can’t be some sort of middle ground here?

Dr. Craig Albert: Here, I don’t think Trump will budge. The democrats say, look, we can put up a virtual wall.

Brad Means: Right.

Dr. Craig Albert: We can put censors in, we can put motion detectors, we could even increase the number of agents on the border to deal with immigrants coming over. Trump says no, I want a barrier, either concrete or a steel barrier. He seems pretty hesitant to get anything else. I think that’s where the compromise exists. Both sides can claim victory over the other if we say, put 10,000 agents on the border, put censors every mile over, put forward little operating bases where agents can be every few miles where they’re well-equipped and supplied to handle the crisis at the border. I think that’s a perfect compromise between both sides, and where the infrastructure’s needed to rebuild or make the wall higher, go ahead and do that. That’s where the compromise exists and both sides can claim victory.

Brad Means: Alright, I’ll ask you this as I’ve done each time. We’ve talked about this, looking forward to President Trump’s re-election efforts, has he asked enough and have they said no enough for President Trump to go to his base and say, regarding the wall, see I tried.

Dr. Craig Albert: Absolutely, his base is gonna be satisfied.

Brad Means: Okay.

Dr. Craig Albert: Independents, traditional mainstream republicans might not be, and so that’s what this is gonna hinge on more than ever is that independent crowd, or the democrats that voted for Trump this time, working class democrats that voted for Trump in 2016. He hasn’t made a good effort to reclaim them, so they might go back to being democrat for the 2020 elections, and he might lose because of that.

Brad Means: Let’s stay on that re-election theme, shall we? And ask if you’ve seen any candidates pop up yet who can challenge him. A couple have said they’re going to run. Anything that should rattle republicans yet?

Dr. Craig Albert: I don’t think there’s anything that can rattle republicans yet. The one that I think is the most likely to be successful in challenging Trump would be former Vice President Joe Biden. That’s because his personality is much alike to President Trump’s. He knows how to use Trump-like tactics. He has done that before. So, if you wanna play Trump to win the population the way Trump did, I think Joe Biden would be the greatest challenger to President Trump. The problem with that is the millennials and the younger democrats, they don’t like the older generation of Joe Biden. They think that they’re out of touch with the way politics is now. So, the democrats are facing that civil war just like the republicans were in 2016. So, you have these kind of parties splitting within the parties.

Brad Means: What are we witnessing with Stacey Abrams, the democratic nominee for Governor in Georgia who lost by a very slim margin to current Governor Brian Kemp. She’s gonna get to do the democratic response to President Trump’s State of the Union. She’s going to be featured during the Superbowl. What are we witnessing with her?

Dr. Craig Albert: Because of how successful she was at almost turning Georgia from red to blue, the Democratic National party believes that she is the future of the party. I mean, how close was that election? Less than 55,000 votes, that’s phenomenal for what has been the past few years a traditionally red conservative state. Because she handled it so well, and some would say her proposals are the future of Georgia, they want her to run for Senate I think next. So, she has to consider whether or not she wants to run for the U.S. Senate in the state of Georgia, or if she wants to challenge Governor Kemp in 2022 again. So, that’s what decisions she has to make. But they are putting her out as the next best hope for the democratic party.

Brad Means: Yeah, they sure are. We put the announcement that she was going to make, the democratic response on our website and we have this tracking system in the newsroom where you can watch the response. Dr. Albert, people were all over that article for days. There’s a lot of interest there.

Dr. Craig Albert: There is, I mean if she is the future, she has an understanding of what the democrats can do to challenge conservatives. If you can challenge a conservative in Georgia, think of what you can do nationwide. That’s the hope of the democrats.

Brad Means: Alright, right about the time we saw that article go up on the internet about Stacey Abrams and the democratic response, we also saw an announcement, or a prediction if you will, that the Mueller investigation was approaching its conclusion. What do you read on the tea leaves there? We are seeing more indictments from Trump’s current or former inner circle. What do you see happening there when it’s all said and done?

Dr. Craig Albert: We don’t know to be for sure, to be specific on what those indictments are going to include. I still hold true to the fact that I don’t think President Trump himself will be charged with anything involving the Russia investigation.

Brad Means: Right.

Dr. Craig Albert: Or collusion. I think it’s more likely, and this is what I would hypothesize, that perhaps Kushner, perhaps some of his inner circle would be charged with knowingly colluding with Russian agents which is of course against the law. If Trump gets charged with anything or is indicted with anything, I think it would relate to campaign finance laws that he broke, and I think that would be unintentional on his part. That still makes it illegal however, so he wouldn’t get away with it, he would still have to accept copability for that. Those are usually handled through fines, President Obama had a few of those for instance. That’s handled with a fine, there’s nothing impeachable or anything through that, from the way I would read what I think is going to happen. But who knows? The way this has been played out, it’s been two years now, he’s been investigating almost everybody, there’s been dozens of indictments, so it could be anything to think of. An impeachment is going to harm the United States. It’s a hard thing to go through. It threatens the legitimacy of everything. So, I think we ought to be cautious when we think about that could be a possibility that whether you’re a democrat or a republican, this is something we don’t want to happen in America unless it has to happen. This will be a constitutional crisis. A crisis of legitimacy. We need to balance our passions with the reason that this is a crisis and we shouldn’t want it, though if he had did something that merits that, then of course law needs to have met it out.

Brad Means: What do our enemies think about all of this? Do they love the gridlock? Do they love the 50/50 split going on in America?

Dr. Craig Albert: Russia is very happy right now with what’s going on in America. They have an information warfare campaign dating back to about 2012, to 2013 against us. Their purpose of everything that you’ve heard about them influencing social media has been to so discord in American politics. They’re not trying to take over, they’re not trying to engineer anything, they wanna create anarchy and chaos and distrust from citizen to citizen, because if you don’t have trust between citizens you break the bonds that hold together a democratic republic state.

Brad Means: How does that help Russia?

Dr. Craig Albert: It makes them more apt to have power. They can project their influence further around the world which is what they want. Russia is still mad that the Soviet Union lost to the United States during the Cold War. They want that power projection capability back, and they want to influence the United States more than any other country. They see us as their great challenger. Until recently, we only saw China as our greatest challengers, so now Putin has risen Russia’s power back to level. So, they love this. For American political scientists, gridlock isn’t necessarily bad. A 50/50 split where it slows the function of government down is exactly what Thomas Jefferson wanted. He famously said any law that is proposed needs a year waiting period before any legislative act can vote on it. Because it makes sure that we’re reason and the passions are common before we vote on anything. So, gridlock, separation of power, checks and balances can be good, and remember the executive branch always has the right to force them to act on something if an emergency happens. So, the gridlock isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Brad Means: Do you see it continuing? And it seems like you do for the next two years.

Dr. Craig Albert: I see it continuing.

Brad Means: Yeah.

Dr. Craig Albert: I wouldn’t limit it for two years.

Brad Means: Okay, yeah. You wouldn’t look for any major policies to get passed then, I guess?

Dr. Craig Albert: That’s right. I can see something with immigration. Trump has to do something with immigration. If nothing’s passed then the president failed on one of his major policy initiatives as candidate Trump. He has to do something. Remember, President Trump is very happy to use the executive order which is a presidential decree, has the same effect as a law passed by Congress. It can still be challenged in the courts just like any other law by Congress. But, he might use that right before the election if something else doesn’t happen.

Brad Means: When we come back on The Means Report our conversation continues with Dr. Craig Albert taking a look at some of the international issues facing the United States. Political Scientist Craig Albert on The Means Report lending his expertise in a moment.

Part 2

Brad Means: Welcome back to The Means Report, talking with Dr. Craig Albert, director of International Studies at Augusta University and we’re asking him about international issues right now. Beginning with Syria, Dr. Albert, where President Trump is talking about withdrawing troops there. Is the premature? Are we giving our enemies, the Taliban, ISIS, the upper hand by leaving?

Dr. Craig Albert: I think if you analyze this from an international studies perspective, it is premature. Why ISIS formed in that area is from a power vacuum. From so many sects fighting each other in Iraq. Of course ISIS remember was Al-Qauda and Iraq and it transferred power to ISIS. That’s a terrible thing if we pull out all our troops, all of our special forces operators that are there. That’s gonna be horrible. That’s gonna allow ISIS when it’s right in the corners, almost defeated, it’s not defeated yet, from an intel perspective. I don’t think President Trump can claim we have won, it’s over, no. They are almost beaten, but we need to be there for a few more years. And even if we pull out, we still need to provide air support, air power, we still need to keep our special forces operators there and intelligence operations there to make sure nothing happens and nothing can regroup. This ideology will never be defeated. So, even if the physical group of ISIS is defeated, that ideology is still gonna be festering there for other groups with different names but the same goals to take its place. And that’s why we have to be careful.

Brad Means: What is this in the news lately about peace talks with the Taliban? We sit down at the table with those folks?

Dr. Craig Albert: We’ve recently started doing that. There’s not way to have a peace accord with Afghanistan without including the Taliban. It just can’t happen. As much as it might sour in American citizens’ mouths, the fact that we’re having to negotiate with that group that harbored Osama Bin Laden after 2001 there’s no way for peace to be had without that happening. What we need to do is make sure that they’re institutionalized to a democratic form of governance. That women, minorities are protected in Afghanistan. And that’s what we’re doing right now, it’s like okay, if you change some of your viewpoints, Taliban, and you allow these minorities to thrive, you allow equal rights to every group here, then we can negotiate with you. And remember, Trump has always said even during the campaign that he wanted to get out of Afghanistan.

Brad Means: We’re not just blindly trusting these people, the Taliban either when we’re at that negotiating table are we? Believing everything they say? And all of their promises that they’ll do them? And we still walk away from those talks very cautious, very much still watching them, right?

Dr. Craig Albert: I think there’s a lot of people in the administration that are ready to get out of Afghanistan. So, I wouldn’t call it call it anybody blindly believing anything, but I think people are looking for the best case situation that they can get to pull out. Afghanistan has the longest war America has ever been in, and President Trump is just tired of that. I don’t think he personally cares what it looks like to negotiate with the Taliban.

Brad Means: Right.

Dr. Craig Albert: He will frame it and message it to the media as we want a great victory, and he will say, I won the war in Afghanistan and brought everybody home. He’s great at that type of messaging, remember, he can control the situation of messaging. So, I think that’s all he cares about. Military leaders, analysts, political scientists, we might look at it a different way.

Brad Means: Let me ask you this, in our first segment we talked about how Russia probably likes the gridlock, likes the division that it sees in our country. It helps them assert their power more. But do our enemies fear us still?

Dr. Craig Albert: I think our enemies fear us increasingly under President Trump.

Brad Means: Right, you don’t know what he’ll do.

Dr. Craig Albert: That, he has said he wants to be unpredictable. So, this seems great to be unpredictable, because you don’t want anybody to know your motives, your moves, what you’re likely of doing. However, if we look at that from foreign policy analysis or objective political science, when you’re dealing with foreign policy and international relations, you want your enemies to know what your moves might be because it allows for peace. They know if they do this, this and this, you will respond this way. Any type of miscommunication, mistrust, distrust, any of that could accidentally cause our enemies to trigger a war. If North Korea does not completely understand the motivations and actions likely to be taken by President Trump, they might preemptively act and trigger a war. So, in one instance it’s good to keep your enemy not knowing what you’re gonna do. On the other hand, that might trigger a war, so, it’s a dichotomy that needs to be carefully balanced by the best minds we have in the administration.

Brad Means: What happened in North Korea? I don’t hear a single thing about that anymore.

Dr. Craig Albert: They’re gonna meet again pretty soon. So, I think they’re gonna plan to meet in Vietnam next month.

Brad Means: Alright, good, and do you still think that’s on the right track? Have we lost any of the juice that we had going when those talks first happened?

Dr. Craig Albert: I think if the executives of both countries are talking that’s a great start.

Brad Means: Okay, good. Let’s talk about Georgia politics and Governor Brian Kemp’s victory. He was on The Means Report not too long after that, and he talked about his goals and his hopes for Georgia. Do you think the state’s in good hands? And are you optimistic? The previous governor Nathan Deal sure did a lot for Augusta University and our town. Does that continue?

Dr. Craig Albert: It does continue. Governor Kemp has said he loves the Augusta area, he loves the SCRU. He said he wants to make Augusta the cyber capital of the world. There’s talks that we’re getting that way. He said he’s going to continue what former Governor Deal had started here. So, I’m very optimistic. He’s also started some initiatives to raise government salaries, to give state teachers tax incentives, and to give them raises, not incentives but raises. I think that’s a great start, so, it’s way too early to tell objectively whether he’s going to be good for Georgia or bad for Georgia, but I think so far a few weeks into it, it’s the same type of tendencies that Governor Deal had.

Brad Means: What network news should we watch, or I’m sorry, which one should we believe? I’ve been doing a lot of CNN vs. Fox News watching and they really are polar opposites. I’m sure you flip channels. What should we believe in the media and when is it not fake news?

Dr. Craig Albert: That’s a great question, we could do a whole segment on this.

Brad Means: Yeah.

Dr. Craig Albert: I always say, and I tell my students, watch carefully any news that you watch. Even when I tell my students, especially when I tell my students, I say this is objective and straightforward as I try to be, I might have some unknown bias in there, and so you need to check my facts, you need to argue with me in a respectful manner. It’s the same way with all news media organizations. No matter which ones you’re reading, make sure you’re reading the opposite viewpoint. This is the biggest problem in American society today. We’re trapped in this media bubble.

Brad Means: Right.

Dr. Craig Albert: If we’re conservative we only tend to watch Fox News, because it comforts us to watch something that we agree with. You should be watching something you don’t agree with. You should challenge yourself. You should try to poke holes in the arguments. If you’re a you know a liberal, you might watch CNN or MSNBC, the same thing. You don’t wanna sit comfortably with something that makes you already know what you know. Challenge yourself and watch the opposite. You should be watching two, three, four different channels a day. You should be reading two or three or four national news organizations and local. I tend to trust local news media organizations more than national. They don’t have the big corporate understanding that the national outlets have.

Brad Means: That’s true.

Dr. Craig Albert: And importantly, every American citizen should pick two or three international sites to read news daily because they have a different perspective. So, the BBC’s, Apprentice Russia, for instance.

Brad Means: That’s great advice. What about polls? I mean, that’s great advice when it comes to evaluating news content, but what about polls? Which ones of those should we believe? Or should we look at many?

Dr. Craig Albert: I’m gonna get in trouble here with my social science colleagues. I always take polls with a grain of salt. They never capture properly human motivation. How much we lie, how much we deceive. We don’t always tell the truth during polls, so, while they can give us a good understanding of a certain type of population, you can’t be too sure if it’s 100% accurate. And most polls control for that, but they can take the temperature but they can’t diagnose you properly. So, polls are okay, you can say yes these help show something most of the time, but you gotta back that up with more understanding of human nature, that we lie, that we cheat, that we steal, that we hide our instincts. There are polls about how many people lie about their salary for instance, in polls and it’s a lot of people.

Brad Means: It’s a lot of people.

Dr. Craig Albert: So, you don’t want other people to know that and we know this was the Trump effect where people lied about not voting for Trump when they were asked about it because they didn’t wanna be judged too harshly. I think that type of polling error is going to continue. As much as my great fellow social scientists and much better social scientists than I am have tried to remap and re-formalize these polling measures. They’re never gonna be able to control for that element.

Brad Means: So you see that polling effect playing a big role in 2020. Just like you did in 2016.

Dr. Craig Albert: Absolutely, and all the big organizations are taking care of that, they’re trying to investigate it, they’re trying to fix that but this is why you know we’re politics and social scientists. That politics part taking out of social science is human nature.

Brad Means: Yeah.

Dr. Craig Albert: And we have to be able to understand that. That’s why philosophy courses and liberal arts are so important still for people that are going into the social sciences. You have to understand the motives, the emotions, human behavior. What is everything that we’re thinking about? Sometimes that makes us trick pollsters even if we don’t know that we’re doing that. So, you have to understand the grand perspective and understand the human person.

Brad Means: You know, there was an ABC News headline on ABC’s website the other day that said nearly half of all Americans don’t have confidence in Trump. Nearly half of all Americans don’t have confidence in Trump. Two comments stood out to me. One person said, no, the headline should say more than half of Americans do have confidence in Trump. And so the headline writer, you wonder where he or she was coming from. And then another person said, nobody asked me. And I just wonder if this team Trump that’s out there lurking throughout our country is staying very quiet only to rise up again on election day.

Dr. Craig Albert: He has a ground game. You know he initiated his re-election bid the day he became president, the day he was inaugurated, so we should not forget that, that his team has been working for two years already. But, as the 2018 midterm election showed us, so has the democrats.

Brad Means: They sure have.

Dr. Craig Albert: This is what politics should be.

Brad Means: You like it.

Dr. Craig Albert: I love it, that’s why I do it. Everybody should sign up for our courses so that they can learn and have this passion that I do, it’s important.

Brad Means: Well, your advice has been great. I’m sorry, did you have one more quick thing?

Dr. Craig Albert: I did. It doesn’t matter who the president is. We should all trust the institutions. That constitution that we have is the longest constitution in the world right now and the least amended. Think about that. Trust in the system regardless if you’re democrat or republican, if you like a president or not. You trust the system. It has worked brilliantly with some major errors, but brilliantly overall for over 230 years.

Brad Means: I tell you we could use a little more trust among each other and in the system we hope.

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