Why The Russian Connection Matters

“So what? What’s the big deal? Wouldn’t it be good if we got along with Russia?”

Those seem to be general responses I see in a lot of places when Russia gets brought up. It could be brushed off in favor of looking at other issues, but I believe the connection to Russia is crucial to understanding the way President-Elect Trump has acted.

It might look like him innocently trying to build foreign relations, but that’s just not enough. That could explain a few small actions, but the totality of the evidence makes it clear that there is more to this. If we’re not careful, we’ll see the Russian version of The Man in the High Castle get way too real. We’ll end up being The Soviet States of America.

As citizens who exercise our right to vote for a democratically elected leader, we have the right to expect them to put the interest of America first when making decisions. That’s Trump’s whole thing, right? America first? Why, then, does he appear more worried about cozying up to Russia than he is about healing wounds internally within the United States? It certainly seems like Trump is putting Russia first, and any manner of decisions made during his presidency using such a premise could be catastrophic for our nation.

What makes Putin so bad?

Okay, this one almost seems rhetorical, but I know some people really don’t see an issue here. We’ve had issues with Russia in the past, but that’s far from the only reason Putin is “not our friend” as even Fox News contributer Julie Roginsky explained.

Whether you agree the actions of Russia influenced the outcome of the election or not, the evidence shows that they were trying to tip the scales in favor of President-Elect Trump. They also sought to undermine our democratic process. Not just Russia in general, but Vladimir Putin himself was directly involved.

As Senator Marco Rubio outlined while questioning Rex Tillerson, the former ExxonMobil CEO who has been tapped as Trump’s Secretary of State, Vladimir Putin is a war criminal. His transgressions are vast, and his views and actions do not line up with American values. No good can come from this.

Some Lies About Russia

So, it often seems like President-Elect Trump’s favorite pastime is lying. He may like to call it “truthful hyperbole,” but I’m not interested in covering bullshit with a layer of political correctness. A lie, is a lie, is a lie. Now, let’s cover just four of the Russia-related lies.

Lie #1: At a campaign event, Trump said Putin “called [him] a genius.”

Truth: Putin called Trump “very flamboyant, very talented.” This was the way it was reported by Reuters, and basis behind the miscommunication seemed to be a bad translation. However, innocent as this one may seem, it shows Trump’s desire to believe Putin was complimentary to him.

Lie #2: On Twitter, said Russian hacking wasn’t brought up before the election.

Truth: So, this one is so baffling. Trump was essentially continuing to brush off claims about Russian hacking as if no one knew anything, but he also said, “why wasn’t this brought up before [the] election?” It’s an interesting question…since this was brought up before the election.

He was asked TO HIS FACE during the third presidential debate about the hacks. That’s because, even before the election, 17 intelligence agencies agreed that Russia was behind election-related hacking. This was also during his infamous “no puppet, you’re the puppet” retort where he tapped into his inner toddler and denied knowing Putin or having anything to do with Russia, the latter of which is also a lie.

Lie #3: Continued to claim “nobody knows” who was behind the election hacks. Because if you say it enough, it becomes true, right? WRONG.

Truth: I could just refer you to the above answer, but since this lie came later, I’ll go with the something slightly more recent. Only two days before Trump said again that nobody knows what happened, The Atlantic featured an in-depth article focusing on discussions with Congressman Adam Schiff about the reports they’d received before the election.

Lie #4: On Twitter, stated that intelligence indicated there was “absolutely no evidence that hacking affected the election results.”

Truth: This is one that some people might want to debate about. It is up for debate how much impact the actions had, and whether or not they actually tipped the scales. However, this was a specific statement that Trump gave immediately after meeting with the heads of the intelligence community. The actual report explicitly stated: ‘We did not make an assessment of the impact Russian activities had on the outcome of the election.’ So, that’s gonna be a straight up lie from the President-Elect.

Trump, Putin, and Twitter

Since Twitter continues to be the President-Elect’s favorite medium, let’s take a look at some of the things he’s said about Russian President Vladimir Putin. Believe it or not, he was not always a fan.

During the lead up to the 2012 Presidential Election, Trump was very vocal in his support of Mitt Romney. More accurately, he was vocal in his disapproval of President Obama.

To give some context, this was a time when Russia was increasing their influence in Syria to support the Assad regime. Today, the atrocities taking place in Syria continue to be a hotly debated issue. Trump seemed to show belief at the time that Russia needed to be taught a lesson, or at the very least dealt with in a stern manner.

This continued his desire to support Romney’s view on Russia, and criticize the actions that President Obama and his administration had taken in regards to Russia. This was the last time Trump mentions Putin for nearly a year, but everything appeared to change after Trump made a deal to bring the Miss Universe Pageant to Moscow.

From that point on, Trump’s tone regarding Putin tends to shift. He rarely says anything directly critical of Putin, and if he does there’s more spin on it criticizing President Obama. It’s almost as if he excuses every negative action Putin makes by laying blame on Obama for letting him.

This last tweet stands as an interesting excerpt showing Trump’s tendency to toss praise in the direction of Putin. The tweet came shortly after an episode of 60 Minutes that featured separate interviews with Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin in the same episode.

Now, you might be wondering if they got to know each other as a result of this 60 Minutes episode. Luckily, Trump already answered that back in the Republican Presidential Debate in November of 2015.

“I got to know him very well because we were both on 60 Minutes, we were stablemates,” Trump said about the experience. Except…what was it he said in a later debate after he got over the “you’re the puppet” nonsense?

“Now we can talk about Putin. I don’t know Putin. He said nice things about me. If we got along well, that would be good.”

Is it just me, or do those statements not add up? Now, for clarification, there was no direct contact between Trump and Putin during the production of the 60 Minutes episode, contrary to the way he spoke about it. They were interviewed separately, but were featured on the same episode. The contradictions continue, as a report from Yahoo News today outlines a recently discovered audio tape from a radio show where Trump explicitly states that he has met Vladimir Putin.

President-Elect Trump’s on-again, off-again relationship with the truth muddies the waters between these comments. Going back to the original tweet, I’m curious as to why Trump chose to quote this specific tweet. I’m sure he had plenty of complimentary tweets to choose from, but he decided on the one that commended Putin, as well as Trump.

This last one is especially unsettling. It may seem like a simple jab at President Obama, but putting stock in Putin’s popularity is bothersome. More than a year later, Trump brought up Putin’s approval ratings during the Commander-in-Chief Forum hosted by Matt Lauer.

Putting any stock in these numbers is disturbing because of the nature of Russia’s relationship with the media. Freedom of the press does not exist in Russia. President Putin and his administration have a firm grip on the press and essentially silence any opinions that don’t support Putin.

This connects directly to the issues Trump has had with the media here, including his misunderstanding of the definition of “fake news,” scolding of reporters, desire to open up libel laws and threaten the First Amendment, and willingness to ban outlets that don’t agree with him.

The Russian Connection Matters

There is a vast array of evidence that President-Elect Trump’s connections and relationship to Russia and President Vladimir Putin have a lot more to them than he would like us to think.

Just today, Vladimir Putin came to Trump’s defense and dismissed claims from the recently released (though unverified) dossier that allege Russia has leverage on Trump and that they were in contact with his campaign. President Putin went even further and accused the Obama administration of attempting to “undermine the legitimacy” of President-Elect Trump.

Plus, since we’ll probably never see Trump’s tax returns, we’ll never know the extent of his business ties to Russia. Despite Trump’s claims that no one cares, we absolutely do care. As the days go by, Trump doesn’t ease concerns about conflicts of interest. He doesn’t calm tensions between an increasingly divided country. He doesn’t care.

There could be plenty of reasons that Trump wants to stay friendly with Putin. Trump could have a key relationship with Putin that he wants to pay back by creating policies favorable to Russia. He could literally be paying back Russia, or Putin, with his actions.

It is our job, as citizens, to hold him accountable. That includes not forgetting about his tax returns. That includes paying close attention to his connections with Russia and Vladimir Putin. I know it’s tempting to arrive at the “all smoke, but no fire” conclusion for some, but I’d much rather we find a way to put out the fire before Trump starts it. Especially if that fire is nuclear in nature.

If not, Trump gets his way. Putin gets his way. We’ll be the Soviet States of America. They’ll make the world “great again,” but chances are their definition of “great” isn’t one that we’re going to appreciate.

A billboard showing a pictures of President-elect Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin is seen through pedestrians in Danilovgrad, Montenegro. REUTERS/Stevo Vasiljevic

Silence is Complicity

I’ve been going back and forth about this for months, but I’ve finally reached my breaking point. My platform is small, but I feel it’s my duty to use it as best I can. I vehemently oppose the President-Elect of the United States, and with every passing action, he solidifies himself as the most inept and dangerous individual to ever reach the highest office in our nation. When I see commercials advertising coverage of his inauguration this Friday, I feel sick to my stomach that such an atrocity is going to take place.

Now, as fair warning, a large chunk of this is going to be about my own political journey from growing up as a traditional conservative who voted straight party to a liberal democrat who has a few conservative views. If you’d rather skip to the meat of things, jump down to the section titled “Silence is Complicity.” If you want a little background, continue on from here.

Growing Up Republican

Before I get into specifics about the current state of things, I want to take a step back. I’ve gone through an ideological journey over the last few years, and the context of that I think will help put things into perspective. As a man who was born and raised in south Texas, it’s pretty much standard that I grew up as a traditional conservative republican. Those always seemed to stand as the “right values.” Liberal opinions and being a democrat all had these underlying stigmas, and it took me a long time to see through those.

I vaguely remember the election in 2008; I was only a Junior in High School at the time. I remember seeing classmates wearing John McCain shirts. I remember jokes about Sarah Palin. I remember Obama being called the Anti-Christ. I remember people saying he was just a good speaker and comparing him to Hitler. I was picking up the absurdly anti-Obama conservative undertones that would dominate the political conversation on the right for the next eight years.

I remember hearing so much frustration and off comments about Obama and what he was doing. I don’t remember him being referred to as President Obama. Instead, he was delegated to only his last name as if the office had no bearing on him. I don’t remember most people on the right giving him any modicum of respect, at least not in the way they’re insisting everyone does for President-Elect Trump now. Over the next few years, finishing up high school and my brief foray at the University of Houston, my political leanings almost didn’t exist. I had a few issues that I considered somewhat important, I always considered education to be important, but overall I just wasn’t informed enough or interested enough.

By the time 2012 rolled around, I was old enough to vote for the first time in a presidential election. I didn’t consider it a big thing, but mainly just something I was able to do finally. I made my way to the polls and did like anyone else raised like I was might have. I voted straight ticket Republican. That included Mitt Romney, who though I felt was boring, seemed like the better choice at the time. There was almost no basis or research behind that opinion, but Romney was the republican. As plain as he seemed, it felt like Romney was my only option. I’d been conditioned to see voting republican as the only thing that was right.

Now, I want to clarify that statement because it might sound really damning. I’m not saying there was some sort of conspiratorial brainwashing that turned me into a republican by default. My parents never forced or pressed me into believing things one way or another. If anything, I always felt curiosity was encouraged. I never felt that questioning something was off limits, and trying to understand why things were a certain way almost always came into play when I found an interest in something.

An Intro to Politics

That brings me to 2015. Up to this point, I’d considered myself a conservative. I was pretty stereotypical. Not radical, but predictable. I was a Christian conservative who thought his views were centrist. I took a few political tests here or there, but I never really paid too much attention. Throughout 2015, the build to the 2016 Presidential Election was already beginning to take hold. I started to pay attention to things a little more than I had in the past, and the more research I did the more my opinion began to change.

Something that definitely played a role in this is the fact that I work in law enforcement, especially when considering the police shootings and scrutiny in the last few years. I’d heard all sorts of things regarding this. The consensus from everyone on the right always seemed to be “just do what they say.” My frustration usually centered around the difficulty in discerning truth from complex situations. I’d often see a small chunk of video, and I know from work that there’s usually a lot more to it than that. I usually gave officers the benefit of the doubt, but I rarely got involved in the conversation. “I don’t like conflict,” I’d think to myself. “I don’t feel like arguing about it,” I’d rationalize.

The reality was that I’d never dug deep enough to develop strong opinions and stances on the issues. I’ve always been very cautious to throw my support behind something unless I know it well. This applies to pretty much everything in life, but I’ll give a simple example. You know how superheroes became cool again, and suddenly there is Marvel and DC apparel everywhere? Very little of that I’d ever buy, because I don’t consider myself knowledgeable enough on the subject matter. If I’m wearing a Batman t-shirt, I would expect myself to know more than just a few movies and the basics. In order to consider wearing a Green Lantern hat, I’d have to be pretty well versed in his comics. I usually won’t even buy clothing for a band unless I’ve seen them live.

I know that sounds random, but it ties back in. I know this is something that sets me apart and a lot of people are happy to toe the party line without getting too deep into the specifics of everything. Once I started to dive deep into some issues, the picture looked a lot different than I’d expected. Seeing the stances that so many Republicans have taken in terms of education was always very jarring. Shifts towards “school choice” and all these other buzz words that were, in reality, just gutting schools of funding and usually muddying the waters with unrelated talk to disguise that.

I began to see how voices on the right seemed so determined to push the narrative that there was a “war on police.” Now, the tragedies we’ve seen in Dallas, Baton Rouge, and elsewhere can’t go without mention. They were disgusting acts, but the reaction to them didn’t make sense. There was so much anger and hatred for the actions, but it was being pointed at groups like Black Lives Matter. I understood that people wanted justice, but the men who committed those heinous acts had justice done to them that day. Neither lived to see the next morning, and there is no question that lethal force was justified in those circumstances.

Racism & Implicit Bias

Yet, the anger seemed more broad. Somehow people were shaping a narrative where this was some sort of African American war on law enforcement. That didn’t make sense to me, and the deeper I dug the less credible opinions like that became. Meanwhile, I would see stuff question why there was Black History Month but not a White History Month. People talking about how if white people are proud it’s racist, but if black people do it it’s okay. It always sounded sort of silly to me, but there so so much more at work in those seemingly pointless comments than I ever realized.

It was around this time that I really became aware, and more knowledgeable, of the issues of systemic racism and implicit bias. To me, for a long time, racism was always a really radical concept. It was a term reserved for the most blatant of radicals. The people who spout the n-word like it’s a casual insult like “idiot.” The ones who make comments about “their kind” sticking with each other. These more obvious verbal aggressions that, to me, were clearly fueled by a feeling a racism.

Those aren’t the biggest issues creating a racial divide and preventing racial equality. Instead, they’re just the most obvious ones. It feels like white people, and especially white people on the right, of which I used to be one, are always terrified of being branded as a racist. Yet, most of the people who react in that way exhibit several microaggressions that show their bias. Unfortunately, they’re bothered by the thought of holding such bias that they refuse to even admit that an issue exists. All my life, I’d heard little things like “he’s one of the good ones.”

I’d heard people say they “don’t date black guys,” but they’d immediately follow it up with a “but I’m not racist.” Clue number one. If you feel like you have to add a “but I’m not racist” qualifier to the end of the statement, your gut instinct is probably telling you that it’s a racist statement. Deal with that, don’t cower from it. If you think you’re incapable of racism because you “don’t see color” or “have a black friend,” you need to take a step back and think about that. You shouldn’t have to create reasons that you aren’t a racist. If you aren’t, you know it.

If you’re too scared of the word “racist,” focus on implicit bias. Basically, you’ve had enough opinions seep into your mind over time that, whether you realize it or not, you’re making snap judgments that have to do with some underlying prejudice. Then there’s systemic racism, where you have an extension of the times of Jim Crow and slavery that have found their way into new institutions and parts of society and continue to hold down people of color.

Now here’s the real trick. If you’re at this point, and you’re suddenly angry and feel like I’m calling you a racist, take a deep breath cowboy. Everyone suffers from implicit bias. Regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, or origin, implicit bias is always at play. Facing that doesn’t make you a bad person. On the contrary, it’s good to admit. Once you become aware of it, you can look for it in your daily thoughts and actions. That lets you begin to prevent it, see it in others, and move forward.

You’re telling me Trump is a conservative?

All of this led me to question some traditional opinions on the right that didn’t seem to fit with everything I was beginning to understand. Issues like opposing gay marriage, being pro-life, supporting family values, these were all things that I’d traditionally applied to the republican party. Yet, some of them really fell apart as the election got rolling. When I started to dig in deep, I was focused on the republican primary. I was interested enough to attend a primary election and cast my ballot for Marco Rubio.

I knew he was a longshot by that point in the primary, but I stuck with it. I’d really leaned towards John Kasich, but he was so far behind that even a comeback was out of the realm of possibility. Ted Cruz wasn’t someone I was a huge fan of, but I didn’t see him as a bad person. Then there was Donald Trump. Yep, we’ve arrived. Like many other people, I didn’t take Donald Trump’s campaign seriously. At first, it seemed like a publicity stunt. As the race began to narrow, things became more and more alarming.

By the time he had become the party’s nominee, I was basically just standing back in utter confusion. I was baffled. How had a system allowed him to become an official party’s nominee? How had people actually voted for him? His base of support got louder, and people started talking about Republicans coming home to the party and standing behind Trump for the good of the GOP. Meanwhile, it felt like his insanity was being normalized. I saw a select few voices steer clear of him, but eventually, even Ted Cruz, whose wife had been insulted by Trump, decided he would look past everything and support the nominee.

When I say “look past everything,” it seems like a lot of people don’t grasp just how much “everything” is referring to. Before I get into the usual argument that ensues where someone brings up Hillary and her emails, I’m going to focus on Donald J. Trump. Let’s remember some of the many things this man has done that should disqualify him from holding the job. I’d cover all of them, but we’d be here all day.

First, there are the lies. Sure, politicians lie. I hear you, but Trump lies more often, more obviously, and more spectacularly. A few things he said that are factually untrue: said he opposed the Iraq War before the invasion, implied that the Clintons murdered Vince Foster, talked about Ted Cruz’s father being involved with JFK’s assassination, posted an absurd Breitbart article that implied President Obama had supported ISIS, shared inaccurate murder statistics that black-on-white homicides largely outnumber white-on-white homicides, continued to say the Central Park Five were guilty despite DNA evidence proving otherwise, blatantly lied in a debate about a tweet he’d posted in the middle of the night telling people to check out a sex tape, and that’s just scratching the surface.

His most prominent lie was the birther controversy where he continued to push the baseless claim that President Obama wasn’t born in this country. Let me be very clear. Birtherism is racism. I’m not the first to say this, but it’s important to keep repeating. When the facts started to fall apart, Trump resorted to saying President Obama was Muslim. Which, first of all, there is nothing wrong with, and second of all, is also blatantly wrong. He used his ability to invade the media to push racism, islamophobia, and only widen the racial divide in our country.

The irony is not lost when Trump begins to scream and moan like a baby on Twitter because the legitimacy of his own presidency is being called into question. I haven’t even mentioned the mistreatment of women, the numerous sexual assault allegations, the disparaging comments about Mexicans, the condescending views on the African-American community, his ridiculously thin skin, his lack of knowledge about our nuclear arsenal, oh and “grab ’em by the pussy.” Don’t forget about that little gem.


Silence is Complicity

I appreciate you getting this far, because if you did you are genuinely interested in what I have to say. Some of this might seem random, but it being the first time I’ve really entered this realm of the journalistic spectrum, I felt like I needed to get down to brass tacks this time. I doubt things will get this long in the future because there will be less to clarify. For now, this provides the context behind things. Now, it’s time to get blunt.

“You can’t believe the news,” I hear someone yelling from the ether. Let me squash that one real quick. This manufactured hatred of “political correctness” and “liberal media” is complete and utter horseshit. All media involves bias. All words involve bias. Life involves bias. However, facts are not biased. Daniel Patrick Moynihan once famously said, “you are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.”

The growth of far-right websites such as Breitbart that lean so far to one side they lose most of those facts in their agenda has created what some have called a “post-truth era.” I’ve got a little optimism left, and I hope we can recover from this, but the sentiment sticks. The infection of true “fake news,” where a website creates an intentionally false story with no basis in truth whatsoever and gives it a provocative headline, has spread like wildfire amongst social media. Facebook seems hardest hit, but it’s definitely not the only place it’s happening.

The average user seems something unbelievable, hits share, and the chain reaction causes these absurd baseless reports to be misinterpreted as actual journalism. This is eroding the nature of true journalistic integrity, which has sadly been under attack by President-Elect Trump even more in recent days. From his childlike shouting match at a press conference in refusing to give CNN a single question, topped off with his “you are fake news” quip, to his equally baseless tweets, the man who will, unfortunately, become the 45th President of the United States in a few days is eroding the very fabric of democracy.

How he continues to be surprised when he’s criticized is beyond me. Presidents have been under the microscope for decades. This isn’t exactly new. What is new, however, is the grade school antics which he uses in response to most things. With every single move he makes, Trump continues to prove himself unfit for the office he will soon occupy. He continues to leave himself open to massive conflict of interest. He even felt it appropriate to attack a civil rights icon, Rep. John Lewis. Why? Because he hurt Trump’s feelings.

It’s the latest in a series of appalling actions taken by this man. We’ve also got his odd infatuation with Vladimir Putin and inability to realize the atrocities Putin has been party to which, combined with the unconfirmed reports that Russia could have compromising information on him, makes it feel like we’re becoming the Soviet States of America.

It is for these reasons, and so many more, than I am compelled to speak out. I am compelled to step out from the shadows and use my voice as best I can. It started with questioning things, led to sharing articles on Facebook, evolved into adding my own opinion as I shared those articles, and has finally arrived here. Rather than using the words of others, it’s time I used my own. I cannot remain silent, for silence is complicity.

If you choose to sit by and remain silent in the face of oppression, you are also guilty. If you choose to ignore issues when your fellow man is in dire need of help, you are also guilty. If you see injustice and refuse to fight it, you are also guilty. If you stood behind and supported an irredeemable candidate only because you disliked his opponent, you are also guilty.

If you have fallen into any of those categories, it’s never too late to step up. It’s never too late to face the flaws and hold him accountable for his actions. The election is over. Regardless of Russia’s influence, it’s done with. No matter how much I wish the outcome could have been different, it’s set in stone. Donald J. Trump will be the 45th President of the United States this Friday, but I will speak out as loud as I can from the first day of his presidency to the last. I will do what I can to hold him accountable.

You can too, even if you used to support Trump. This isn’t about punishing people for their votes. This isn’t about any of the things you might worry it is, but instead it’s exactly what it appears to be. An authoritarian bigot is getting ready to occupy the greatest office in our land, he’s putting his daughter in the White House as if she’s the First Lady (the same daughter he seems to have a little too much affection for), and he’s cozying up with the Russia while angering other countries 140 characters at a time.

This is only the beginning. Trump says he wants to “Make America Great Again,” but the truth is that he wants to control America. He wants it to love him, and that’d be something great in his mind. I refuse to normalize this monstrosity. I refuse to provide him respect by default due to the position he holds, in the same way that so many refused to provide respect to President Obama, a dignified family man, when he actually deserved it.