Mutual Damage Control

Somehow, the best people don’t run for president. Perhaps the best people know better – it will be a year or more of nasty personal attacks, followed by four or eight year of a thankless absurdly difficult job that no one can do well, if you win. If you lose, you’re now worse than nobody – ask Michael Dukakis or Al Gore for that matter, or Mitt Romney. Only Nixon returned from the dead, eight years after he lost to Jack Kennedy, and look what happened to Nixon. Only those with enormous unshakable egos and in denial of the reality of their obvious flaws run for president – with Dwight Eisenhower and Barack Obama being possible exceptions. Both of them knew their limits and did the best they could with what they had. Both of them were able to say “I could be wrong” now and then.

That’s rare. Our two parties nominate, now, generally, deeply flawed candidates that will admit no flaws, or cannot admit any flaws given our media that thinks it exists to find those flaws, and given their rabid base, that doesn’t want to hear about any flaws – and the parties then have to clean up after them as they campaign. Hillary’s emails showed next to nothing – the Washington Post just gave up on that fruitless effort and others may follow, not that the Republicans will agree. The clean-up will have to continue. That will keep the Democrats busy, and Chuck Todd’s First Read notes that this will keep the Republicans busy:

A day after Donald Trump’s praise of Vladimir Putin at the NBC/MSNBC Commander-in-Chief Forum, the Trump campaign doubled down on Putin. “I think it’s inarguable that Vladimir Putin has been a stronger leader in his country than Barack Obama has been in this country,” running mate Mike Pence told CNN on Thursday. But compare that with what House Speaker Paul Ryan said when asked about Trump’s comments on Putin from Wednesday night. “Vladimir Putin is an aggressor that does not share our interests. Vladimir Putin is violating the sovereignty of neighboring countries. It’s certainly appears he is conducting in-state sponsored attacks on what appears to be our political system,” Ryan said. “That is not acting in our interests and that is an adversarial stance and he is acting like an adversary.”

So maybe more than any issue right now, Putin has become the ultimate test of GOP loyalty to Trump. Do you agree or disagree with Trump on Putin? That question will separate the ardent Trump supporters from the Republicans who aren’t.

Trump made a mess, so now it’s time to cut and run if you can, and save your own House or Senate seat, or not. David Weigel reports that few Republicans see a mess:

After Donald Trump proclaimed this week that Russian President Vladimir Putin was a “stronger leader” than President Obama, many Republicans quickly condemned or distanced themselves from the remarks.

But by Friday it became clear that a significant number of Republicans agreed with him. Not for the first time, Trump has pulled an idea from the political fringes into the mainstream.

His praise of Putin in particular – and a “strongman” style in general – has alienated some of the party’s most experienced foreign-policy hands while stoking no visible backlash from its voters.

But the party’s most experienced foreign-policy hands may not matter:

Hugh Hewitt, a conservative radio host who helped moderate several primary debates, went on MSNBC and Twitter on Friday to label Putin an “evil man” who had nonetheless “served his country’s national interest better” than the sitting U.S. president had served his.

The atmosphere is a far cry from four years ago, when Republicans rallied around GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney after he declared Russia to be the United States’ “number one geopolitical foe” and called Putin a thug.

“I am actually very grateful to him for formulating his position in a straightforward manner,” Putin responded then from Moscow.

Those days are gone, but some still see a mess:

Max Boot, a conservative policy analyst, former Romney national security adviser and author who plans to vote for Hillary Clinton, said that “there’s no precedent for what Trump is saying.”

“George McGovern was not running around saying, ‘What a wonderful guy Ho Chi Minh is!'” Boot said. “It’s never been the view of one of the leaders of our two dominant parties that an anti-American foreign leader was preferable to our president.”

He may stand alone:

“The reason Putin went into Crimea and eastern Ukraine is that he saw President Obama wouldn’t take action,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a recent interview with pro-Trump radio host Laura Ingraham. “What Trump is saying is that we need to negotiate with him from a position of strength, is absolutely true.”

Yet Trump goes further than many Republicans. In his telling, Putin – a “strong leader” – epitomizes how any serious president should position his country in the world. Knowingly or not, Trump builds on years of wistful, sometimes ironic praise of Putin as a swaggering, bare-chested autocrat.

“Bare-chested Putin gallops his horses, poses with his tigers, and shoots his guns,” wrote National Review’s Victor Davis Hanson in a 2014 column. “Barack Obama, in his increasingly metrosexual golf get-ups and his prissy poses on the nation’s tony golf courses, wants to stay cool while playing a leisure sport.”

Since then, Putin has become a more active adversary – and more popular among Republican voters. In a 2014 Quinnipiac survey, when asked whether each president had “strong leadership qualities,” more Republicans applied that sentiment to Putin (57 percent) than Obama (49 percent). At the time, an Economist-YouGov poll found Republicans viewing Putin more negatively than positively by a 66-point margin. This year, when YouGov posed the question again, the negative margin had dwindled to 27 points.

The party seems to have decided Putin is a fine fellow, but others disagree:

“Of all the damage Trump can do to the American conservative movement, making it pro-Putin rather than pro-freedom could be the most serious,” Weekly Standard editor and avowed Trump foe Bill Kristol tweeted Friday morning.

An example of what Kristol fears came later Friday at a Washington news conference meant to introduce reporters to leaders of the “alt right,” the white nationalist movement that has rallied around Trump’s candidacy. National Policy Institute head Richard Spencer said that Russia is “the sole white power in the world” and that Putin defends its interests in a way Americans should be ready to understand.

It seems that Trump’s white nationalist flaw became the party’s flaw, although cause and effect are hard to determine. Future political historians can work that out. As for now, there are calls for damage control:

Many establishment-aligned Republicans are baffled by what has happened.

“I don’t get all the Putin love here,” former Florida governor Jeb Bush told reporters this week in Fort Wayne, Ind., where he was giving a speech about leadership. “He’s a dictator. He’s a forceful leader because he can do whatever he wants. That doesn’t make him an effective leader or someone to praise.”

Gene Healy, the vice president of the libertarian Cato Institute and the author of “The Cult of the Presidency,” was hopeful that Republican affinity for strongmen would subside after the election.

“It’s not just the Putin crush: There’s something warped about a guy who gets giddy about how efficiently Kim Jong Un knocked off his rivals, like he’s admiring a scene from ‘Scarface,’ ” Healy said, referring to earlier remarks by Trump. “But I can’t say that I’ve noticed renewed longing for strong leaders from the right. Just the opposite: Mainstream conservatives are hoping the Trump candidacy is the ‘rock bottom’ Americans need to hit before we can finally admit we have a problem, like the junkie who has a grim epiphany after raiding his mother’s purse.”

This seems to be tearing the party apart, and Chris Cillizza offers this:

The calculation among the bulk of GOP elected officials seems to be that the political hazards of renouncing Trump are greater than simply holding their nose and supporting him. After all, Trump is the party’s nominee. And he is, ostensibly, more conservative than Clinton on key issues for the Republican base like the future of the Supreme Court.

True enough. (The smartest thing Trump has done in months is when he released the names of 11 conservatives he would consider nominating for the Supreme Court.)

But that may not cut it:

The problem that Trump’s effusive praise of Putin poses for Republicans is that it’s not really a partisan stance. Most people in the country – Republican, Democrat and other – don’t view Putin (and Russia more broadly) as someone worthy of being lauded.

This is not an issue in which Republicans can retreat behind the old Trump’s-the-nominee argument. Trump isn’t speaking for the vast majority – or even a healthy minority – of voters within the Republican Party. Backing a candidate who repeatedly flirts with Russia and its leader is not the sort of thing that you can just write off to being a good soldier for the party in the postelection analysis.

Cillizza says it’s time to face the facts about this candidate’s flaws:

If you are a Republican elected official considering whether to jump off the Trump train, it’s now-or-never time. You go along with Trump’s views on Putin’s Russia and you don’t get to run away from him if he goes down in flames over the next 60 days.

Slate’s Jamelle Bouie broadens the problem:

Even as he runs for president of the United States – a liberal democracy of individual rights and constitutional government – Trump can’t hide how impressed he is with dictators. “He was a bad guy, really bad guy. But you know what he did well? He killed terrorists. He did that so good,” said Trump of the late Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein during a July campaign event in Raleigh, North Carolina. “They didn’t read them the rights,” he continued. “They didn’t talk, they were a terrorist, it was over.”

Likewise, in January, Trump expressed respect for North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. “You have to give him credit,” he said, while granting that the dictator was a “maniac.” “How many young guys – he was like 26 or 25 when his father died – take over these tough generals, and all of a sudden – you know, it’s pretty amazing when you think of it. How does he do that? Even though it is a culture and it’s a cultural thing, he goes in, he takes over, and he’s the boss. It’s incredible. He wiped out the uncle. He wiped out this one, that one. I mean, this guy doesn’t play games.”

Bouie sees something terribly wrong here:

You don’t need to spin a web of connections between the Trump campaign and Vladimir Putin to get why Trump sees some advantage in praising the latter. To start, there’s already a language of Putin admiration on the mainstream right, where the Russian president is contrasted as a supposedly masculine alternative to the presumably effete Barack Obama. Take Sarah Palin’s slam from a few years ago. “Look, people are looking at Putin as one who wrestles bears and drills for oil. They look at our president as one who wears mom jeans and equivocates and bloviates.”

From there, it is just a short step to the more aggressive Trump campaign admiration of Putin, especially with Trump’s relationship to white nationalism. Trump and his team swim in the fever swamps of the racist right. Trump’s “campaign CEO,” Stephen Bannon, ran a website that acts as a haven for the youngest generation of white supremacists. Trump’s oldest son, Donald Trump Jr., often tweets and retweets voices from the conspiratorial and white nationalist right, voicing a hard line on undocumented immigrants and the Muslim ban.

Within those fever swamps, there is real admiration for Putin as a “defender” of “Western civilization” against Muslims and multiculturalism.

This is a major flaw:

When you place Trump and his long admiration for authoritarian leaders into the current of modern-day white nationalism and far-right thinking, you end up with what we’ve seen from his campaign – outright praise for a figure who siphons national resources for personal gain, jails dissidents, and is linked to the murder of journalists.

It may be time to rethink this:

Trump’s praise for Putin raises important questions about what, exactly, the Republican presidential nominee means when he says “Make America Great Again.” Under Vladimir Putin, Russia has slid toward right-wing autocracy, with crackdowns on key political liberties. In recent years, Putin’s eye has turned toward ethnic and religious minorities – as well as the Russian LGBTQ community – as a scapegoat for declining economic fortunes and unsuccessful wars.

With Trump’s attacks on immigrants and Muslims, his belligerence, and his long history of poor management and aggressive scapegoating, it seems that this is what we can look forward to under a Trump administration…

Republicans may not want to go there, but Martin Pengelly reports on Trump’s response, that he’s their only hope:

Donald Trump has said the 2016 presidential election is “going to be the last election that the Republicans can win”, because if he is not victorious undocumented migrants “legalized” under a Hillary Clinton presidency will “be able to vote and once that happens you can forget it”.

“I think it’s going to be the last election that the Republicans can win,” he told the Christian Broadcasting Network on Friday. “If we don’t win this election, you’ll never see another Republican and you’ll have a whole different church structure. You’ll have a whole different Supreme Court structure.”

He’s serious:

CBN host David Brody asked Trump whether he was referring to “what Michele Bachmann was talking about”, which was Clinton providing potential citizenship for “many of these illegals”, because “that means Texas and Florida could be gone”.

Bachmann, a former congresswoman from Minnesota who made a brief run for the White House in 2012 and is an adviser to the Trump campaign, last week told CBN: “If you look at the numbers of people who vote and who live in the country and who Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton want to bring in to the country, this is the last election when we even have a chance to vote for somebody who will stand up for godly moral principles. This is it.”

Both Texas and Florida have large populations of undocumented people, relative to other states, and the latter has been tightly contested in recent elections.

Trump repeated: “I think this will be the last election if I don’t win.”

Perhaps that excuses all flaws. If he doesn’t win, all godly moral principles are gone forever.

That may get him off the hook for loving Putin, but David Drucker reports this:

Republican insiders opposed to Donald Trump have begun discussions to prepare a party overhaul whether its candidate wins the presidency or not.

They regard Trump as the symptom of a disease that afflicts the GOP and fear that emergency restructuring is needed to prevent massive losses among racial minorities that are a growing share of the electorate and have generally accelerated every presidential election cycle since 1992.

Those involved in the plotting sessions say the GOP leadership have lost or ceded control of the Republican brand to outsiders who don’t understand or care about the principles for which it stands. Republicans’ top priority, these insiders explain, should be to reclaim authority over their party.

These guys have their own damage-control team:

In interviews with several Republican strategists, some who requested anonymity in order to speak candidly, many concerns about the future of the GOP were aired, as were suggestions for what it would take to right the ship. But one consensus concern was the damage they believe conservative advocacy organizations and influential conservative media personalities have inflicted on the Republican Party.

Republican insiders explain that these two communities, whether motivated by profit or good intentions, have poisoned the party’s image with the base by setting expectation too high to reach in an era of Democratic control of the White House, and until last year, the Senate.

Fine, but those two communities will be hard to rein in, so they can only hope for this:

Some hope that a third consecutive presidential loss, which many predict is coming, will motivate the GOP to stop doing the bidding of critics on the far right and develop the change in culture they believe is necessary for success in the 21st Century.

And, if Trump is elected?

“The party is still in a lot of trouble,” said another GOP strategist who requested anonymity because he did not want to criticize the RNC or the nominee on the record. “He would be toxic even after a win. And the problem with that is that he will control [the RNC] and I don’t think any clear-thinking Republican believes that would be a good thing.”

So there may be no hope, but the Washington Post reports that the Democrats are in damage-control too:

With Election Day less than two months away, Democrats are increasingly worried that Hillary Clinton has not built a formidable lead against Donald Trump despite his historic weaknesses as a national party candidate.

Even the Democratic nominee’s advisers acknowledge that she must make changes, and quickly. Clinton leads Trump by three percentage points, having fallen from her high of nine points in August, according to the latest RealClearPolitics average. That tightening has frustrated many Clinton allies and operatives, who are astonished that she isn’t running away with this race, given Trump’s deep unpopularity and his continuing stream of controversial comments.

“Generally, I’m concerned, frankly,” said former Democratic Senate leader Thomas A. Daschle (S.D.). “It still looks positive, and I think if you look at the swing states and where she is right now, she’s got a lead. But it’s certainly not in the bag. We have two months to go, and I think it’s going to be a competitive race all the way through. I would say she’s got at least a 60 percent chance of winning.”

At the same time, Daschle said, “all the things that Trump has done, the numbers should be far more explicitly in her favor, but they’re not.”

It’s puzzling, but they see the flaw:

Among Democrats’ concerns is the fact that Clinton spent a great deal of time over the summer raising millions of dollars in private fundraisers while Trump was devoting much of his schedule to rallies, speeches and TV appearances – although many of those didn’t go as well as his campaign may have hoped.

Still, he was out there and she wasn’t, so here’s how to contain the damage at this point:

One new goal for Clinton now, aides said, is to spend more time trying to connect directly with voters by sharing a more personal side of herself – and by telling them where she wants to take the country.

She needs to loosen up, and she is working on that:

By the end of this week, the first in which she has traveled on the same plane as her press corps, Clinton had appeared four times before their cameras to answer questions.

Clinton also played to the cameras and showed a flash of irreverent humor Friday when, after she had left the podium following a short press conference on national security issues, she paused and then returned to answer a shouted question about Trump. With dramatic timing and a sardonic smile, Clinton slowly shook her head and took a breath before addressing Trump’s perhaps ill-advised appearance on a television network backed by the Kremlin.

“Every day that goes by, this just becomes more of a reality-television show,” she said. “It’s not a serious presidential campaign. And it is beyond one’s imagination to have a candidate for president praising a Russian autocrat like Vladimir Putin and throwing his lot in with him,” Clinton said.

That may help, and there’s this:

Clinton also addressed head-on the perception that she is chilly or aloof, telling the online interview site Humans of New York on Thursday that her natural reserve is born of the “hard path” she walked as a professional woman.

“I had to learn as a young woman to control my emotions,” she wrote. “And that’s a hard path to walk. Because you need to protect yourself, you need to keep steady, but at the same time you don’t want to seem ‘walled off.’ And sometimes I think I come across more in the ‘walled off’ arena.”

She continued: “And if I create that perception, then I take responsibility. I don’t view myself as cold or unemotional. And neither do my friends. And neither does my family. But if that sometimes is the perception I create, then I can’t blame people for thinking that.”

She did just admit she could be wrong, so she’s not a coldly-calculating ego-driven maniac after all, or she’s less of one than anyone imagined.

That’s good, but she’s still in trouble:

Just as Trump was repeatedly underestimated during the Republican primaries, his aides say he is again being underestimated heading into the general election. There’s a sense in the campaign that things are finally coming together and that Trump can propel himself ahead of Clinton over the next two months.

No, wait:

That optimism is less prevalent outside the campaign, though many operatives are loath to predict an outcome in such a volatile election.

“It’s really quite amazing that after the Trump adventure this is still a competitive race,” said Scott Reed, chief strategist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a longtime Republican operative who managed Bob Dole’s 1996 presidential campaign.

Stuart Stevens, Mitt Romney’s former chief strategist, threw cold water on Trump’s enthusiasm in an interview Friday, saying he has yet to see Trump outperform Romney in any state or with any demographic in a way that would signal that he has a chance to win. Stevens said that any talk of Trump having a ground game is “fantasy” because Trump has yet to build a campaign structure anything like Clinton’s. Stevens called Trump’s optimism “childish.”

“I don’t see the path. I just don’t see the path,” Stevens said. “I’ve been in these races where you’re nine points down, then you’re five down – you’re still losing.”

No one is sure of anything. Our two parties have nominated two deeply flawed candidates this time, and do have to clean up after them as they campaign, this year more than any year before. Everyone is in damage-control mode, day after day, which does not impress voters of any kind at all. But then who wants this thankless absurdly difficult job anyway? With few exceptions, only the flawed apply.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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One Response to Mutual Damage Control

  1. Rick says:

    Lately, people keep saying stuff like, “Our two parties have nominated two deeply flawed candidates this time…”, but I think that’s too much of the same old infamous “both sides do it” bullshit. It leaves the impression that there are two equally-guilty contenders here, of which Donald Trump is one and Hillary Clinton is the other.

    Yes, Hillary has some faults, and so does Barrack Obama, arguably the best (or maybe second-best) president in my lifetime, but neither one of those two is “deeply flawed”. To put this back into perspective, Hillary is actually just fine and whatever flaws she has do not belong inside any equation with those of Donald Trump, period, and belong probably more in the “horserace” category (either “she doesn’t smile enough” or “she smiles too much”) rather than of the stuff that is important, such as “All things considered, would this person make a tolerably good American president?”

    The fact is that Hillary would make a good president, whereas Trump, being an evil scumbag, would not.

    But more importantly right now, here’s something else we’ve been hearing lately:

    “I think it’s inarguable that Vladimir Putin has been a stronger leader in his country than Barack Obama has been in this country,” running mate Mike Pence told CNN on Thursday.

    Okay, but using that standard, you could also say, “Vlad, the Impaler has been a stronger leader in his country than Barack Obama has been in this country”. In fact, by that standard, the 15th-century Rumanian Vlad was even more powerful than the present day Russian one.

    In both these cases, the argument ignores that the reason these guys are/were powerful is that they are/were tyrants, with essentially nobody to report to but themselves. Obama is at a disadvantage there, since he has to work within our American Constitution and, unlike Putin, can do hardly anything without the concurrence of Republicans. Putin can do virtually anything he wants to do, without the inconvenience of having much of any opposition to deal with at all.

    But conservatives just don’t give as much weight to real reality as they to do the so-called optics:

    “Bare-chested Putin gallops his horses, poses with his tigers, and shoots his guns,” wrote National Review’s Victor Davis Hanson in a 2014 column. “Barack Obama, in his increasingly metrosexual golf get-ups and his prissy poses on the nation’s tony golf courses, wants to stay cool while playing a leisure sport.”

    And yet, with all this imagery of galloping horses vs tony golf courses, you might be tempted to believe that the strongman’s domain is going gangbusters, while the leader of the Land of the Free is presiding over a wasteland. Don’t be, since it’s actually the other way around. The United States, much to the chagrin of both Trump and Putin, is doing remarkably well, under the circumstances, while Russia is its usual mess.

    But also, think about the implications of this:

    “He was a bad guy, really bad guy. But you know what he did well? He killed terrorists. He did that so good,” said Trump of the late Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein during a July campaign event in Raleigh, North Carolina. “They didn’t read them the rights,” he continued. “They didn’t talk, they were a terrorist, it was over.”

    Which all sounds fine if you’re just spouting off, without giving it much thought, but the obvious reason they didn’t “read them the rights” is because they didn’t have any!

    After all, Saddam killed lots of people, and I’m willing to bet that whether or not they were “terrorists” was never a real consideration. In fact, I’d bet hardly any of the people he murdered were terrorists! He killed people because he decided he didn’t like them, and also because he could! After all, he didn’t live in the United States of America, where you’re not allowed to do that sort of thing, and the failure to acknowledge this just highlights a lack of appreciation for what the American founders were able to accomplish in creating their republic.

    Will this Putin admiration thing finally be the deal-breaker for Trump? That’s hard to tell, given that the standards for breaking the deal have lowered of late. After all, who of us doesn’t indulge in nostalgia for the days when a simple promise to do three things, then to remember only two of them, was enough to instantly bounce you out of the race? Maybe that’s the way it should be.

    Think of it this way: If you are interviewing a job candidate who, during the course of his initial interview, professes his belief that adults should be allowed to have sex with toddlers, you don’t even consider inviting him back for a second interview in hopes that he might say something to redeem himself. But times have apparently changed, at least in Republican party politics.

    Trump is not, as portrayed by his army of seemingly all-blond surrogates, the “defender” of “Western civilization” against the invading barbarian, he is the invading barbarian! He represents the enemy that this country has traditionally sought to defend itself from!

    First of all, Donald Trump is literally evil (figuratively speaking, of course.) If I were at all religious, I would argue that Donald Trump was sent here by Lucifer to finally destroy the United States of America, at least in the sense of the U.S. as a guiding example of a nation ruled by good people.

    Second of all, we should not elect an evil person president!

    And thirdly, the only thing we can do to keep this evil person from becoming president is not to stay home on election day, or randomly vote for whoever the Libertarians are putting up this year, the only thing America can do is to elect Hillary Clinton.

    “But I just don’t trust her,” (whatever the hell that means), you say? Well, after deftly sidestepping the obvious question, “Trust her to do what?”, you need to seriously ask yourself the crucial question, “But do you distrust her more than you do Donald Trump?”

    And if your answer is yes, then you have to ask yourself this:

    “What, are you nuts? Have you actually lost your mind?”

    Once all of this is behind us, assuming Hillary wins, I do hope America takes a lesson from all this, and maybe looks for a way to fix our system of choosing candidates, to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

    For one thing, as I’ve mentioned before, the Republicans should consider making a rule that nobody who “self-finances” their campaign should be allowed to get the party’s nomination. Trump was only able to take control of the party because he had so much money of his own that he didn’t need to pass any of their qualifying tests. He should have had to impress them, but instead, he ignored them.

    (The GOP might also consider a rule that limits the size of donations, making it more likely that the winner would have widespread popular support, instead of just billionaires who can afford to buy support for their own agenda — but maybe that’s too much democracy for the party to swallow in one gulp.)

    And maybe we do need to take a citizenship test to earn the right to vote, for which you will need to study very hard — to learn, first of all, what it was the founders were trying to do when they created the nation, and secondly, learn about all the trials-and-errors the country had to go through to collectively learn the lessons that it had to learn to get to be what we are today, the longest-lasting democracy in the world.

    Rick

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