When bias beats logic: why the US can’t have a reasoned gun debate

Mass shootings in the US are consistently followed by calls for action and then political paralysis. Thats because people refuse to see nuance, experts say

In the week since the mass shooting in Las Vegas left nearly 60 people dead and hundreds injured, Americans have spoken out in outrage and grief, demanding action. They have asked, again: why cant the US pass any gun control laws?

At the same time, just as they did after Sandy Hook and San Bernardino and Orlando, these passionate advocates have endorsed some gun control laws with very little evidence behind them, even some policies that experts have labeled fundamentally not rational or a hysterical violation of civil rights. The great bipartisan gun control victory of this year may be new restrictions on bump stocks, a range toy used to make a semi-automatic rifle fire more like a fully automatic rifle, which arguably should never have been legal in the first place. That wont do much to reduce Americas more than 36,000 annual gun suicides, homicides, fatal accidents, and police killings.

Why does the US feel so paralysed every time it is confronted by a new attack?

Jon Stokes, a writer and software developer, said he is frustrated after each mass shooting by the sentiment among very smart people, who are used to detail and nuance and doing a lot of research, that this is cut and dried, this is black and white.

Stokes has lived on both sides of Americas gun culture war, growing up in rural Louisiana, where he got his first gun at age nine, and later studying at Harvard and the University of Chicago, where he adopted some of a big-city residents skepticism about guns. Hes written articles about the gun geek culture behind the popularity of the AR-15, why he owns a military-style rifle, and why gun owners are so skeptical of tech-enhanced smart guns.

He watches otherwise thoughtful friends suddenly embrace one gun control policy or another, as if it were a magic bullet.

Some kind of animal brain kicks in, and theyre like, No, this is morally simple.

Even to suggest that the debate is more complicated that learning something about guns, by taking a course on how to safely carry a concealed weapon, or learning how to fire a gun, might shift their perspective on whichever solution they have just heard about on TV just upsets them, and they basically say youre trying to obscure the issue.

I dont want to see that kid dead any more than you do, Stokes said. If there was a magic fix, I promise you I would support it.

In early 2013, a few months after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school, a Yale psychologist created an experiment to test how political bias affects our reasoning skills. Dan Kahan was attempting to understand why public debates over social problems remain deadlocked, even when good scientific evidence is available. He decided to test a question about gun control.

Kahan gave study participants all American adults a basic mathematics test, then asked them to solve a short but tricky problem about whether a medicinal skin cream was effective or ineffective. The problem was just hard enough that most people jumped to the wrong answer. People with stronger math skills, unsurprisingly, were more likely to get the answer right.

Then Kahan ran the same test again. This time, instead of evaluating skin cream trials, participants were asked to evaluate whether a law banning citizens from carrying concealed firearms in public made crime go up or down. The result: when liberals and conservatives were confronted with a set of results that contradicted their political assumptions, the smartest people were barely more likely to arrive at the correct answer than the people with no math skills at all. Political bias had erased the advantages of stronger reasoning skills.

The reason that measurable facts were sidelined in political debates was not that people have poor reasoning skills, Kahan concluded. Presented with a conflict between holding to their beliefs or finding the correct answer to a problem, people simply went with their tribe.

It wasa reasonable strategy on the individual level and a disastrous one for tackling social change, he concluded.

When it comes to guns, Americans want it both ways. A recent Pew study found that just over half of Americans want stronger gun laws. Even stronger majorities of Americans also believe that most people should be allowed to legally own most kinds of guns and allowed to carry them in most places.

There is room for thoughtful gun control within these constraints. But the extreme polarization of Americas gun debate the assumption, as the late-night television host Stephen Colbert argued when talking about the Las Vegas shooting, that the bar is so low right now that Congress can be heroes by doing literally anything obscures how symbolic and marginal some of the most nationally prominent gun control measures are. Like closing the terror gap, so that people on terror watchlists are not allowed to buy guns, or rolling back an Obama order on guns and mental illness that had been opposed by disability rights groups and civi liberties campaigners.

After the 1996 Port Arthur massacre, Australia imposed a mandatory buyback and melted down more than 600,000 semi-automatic rifles and other long guns, about a third of the countrys gun stock. They have not had a high-casualty mass shooting since.

American politicians and pundits are always asking: Australia tackled their mass shooting problem. Why cant we? But no one actually proposes an equivalent Big Melt in the United States, which would require a mandatory buyback of 90m American rifles, at a cost that might be in the billions of dollars.

Instead, an American assault weapons ban, which lasted from 1994 to 2004, allowed everyone to keep the military-style guns they already had, and defined assault weapons in such a technical way that gun companies were able to make cosmetic tweaks to certain models and produce virtually identical, but now legal, guns. A former Obama White House official told the Guardian candidly that the assault weapon ban does nothing and though Obama had nominally endorsed it in 2013, we would have pushed a lot harder if we had believed in it.

Part of the weakness of major gun control proposals is the result of the NRAs catch-22, said Adam Winkler, a gun politics expert at the University of California Los Angeles law school. The NRA waters down the gun laws and makes them ineffective and then says, Look, the gun laws are ineffective, we told you that gun laws never work.

But the biggest distortion in the gun control debate is the dramatic empathy gap between different kinds of victims. Its striking how puritanical the American imagination is, how narrow its range of sympathy. Mass shootings, in which the perpetrator kills complete strangers at random in a public place, prompt an outpouring of grief for the innocent lives lost. These shootings are undoubtedly horrifying, but they account for a tiny percentage of Americas overall gun deaths each year.

The roughly 60 gun suicides each day, the 19 black men and boys lost each day to homicide, do not inspire the same reaction, even though they represent the majority of gun violence victims. Yet there are meaningful measures which could save lives here targeted inventions by frontline workers in neighborhoods where the gun homicide rate is 400 times higher than other developed countries, awareness campaigns to help gun owners in rural states learn about how to identify suicide risk and intervene with friends in trouble.

When it comes to suicide, there is so much shame about that conversation and where there is shame there is also denial, said Mike McBride, a pastor who leads Live Free, a national campaign for gun violence prevention and criminal justice reform. When young men of color are killed, you have disdain and aggression, fueled by the type of white supremacist argument which equates blackness with criminality.

First-hand experience can be profoundly transformative the guitarist Caleb Keeter, who was caught up in the Las Vegas shooting, said afterwards: Ive been a proponent of the 2nd amendment my entire life. Until the event of last night. I cannot express how wrong I was. We need gun control. RIGHT. NOW.

But as Nicole Hockley, the mother of Dylan, one of the children killed at Sandy Hook, put it, many Americans seem exhausted and alienated by the gun debate itself, that cyclical conversation that moves from assault weapons to arming more Americans to mental illness to policy proposals that may or may not relate at all to what actually occurred.

Its time to open up the conversation, she argues to focus on different ways to save lives, rather than the same old gun law stalemate.

Otherwise, she wrote: By the end of next week this story will be almost gone as if it never happened, even while those most impacted are still reeling from shock and grief.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/oct/07/us-gun-control-debate-bias

Year of the woman: the Democrats inspired by Trump to run for office

Those committed to electing Democratic women to office worried Hillary Clintons loss would repel female candidates. But then the sun came up

Election night 2016 was devastating for Democratic women who had hoped to elect the first female president. But it was doubly so for the organizers committed to electing Democratic women to office. They worried Hillary Clintons loss to a man who boasted on tape about grabbing women would repel female candidates from entering politics. But then the sun came up.

It really started immediately, said Andrea Steele, the president and founder of Emerge America, a national organization that recruits and trains Democratic women to run for office. The next day our phone began to ring and it didnt stop. Emails poured in. Women all over the country woke up and decided to take some action.

Since the 8 November election, Emerge America has reported an 87% increase in applications to its training programs.

Emilys List, an organization dedicated to helping elect pro-choice Democratic women, said more than 16,000 women have expressed interest in running for office since the election, while that number was 920 during the entire 2016 election cycle. Similarly She Should Run, a nonpartisan organization that trains female candidates, said 15,000 women inquired about running in an election,compared to about 900 during the same period last year.

Donald Trumps election has led to a surge in political activism among Democratic women, according to a June survey of college-educated voters by Politico, American University and Loyola Marymount. But so far, the survey found, that energy hasnt totally translated yet into more women wanting to run for office.

Jennifer Lawless, a professor of government at American University and the co-author of the study, said backlash to Trump may have planted a seed but that it could take several more election cycles for that seed to bloom.

Organizers agree that political parity is still years away. But even so, theyre optimistic the interest will usher in another year of the woman.

We look at this not just as our crop of candidates for 2018, because theyre not all going to run right away, Emilys List president Stephanie Schriock told reporters earlier this summer. This is an extraordinary pipeline of future candidates for the next decade.

The Guardian spoke with a handful of candidates who are putting their names on the ballot next year for the first time, and asked what drove them to run.

Elissa Slotkin, congressional candidate for Michigans eighth district

A few months into the Trump presidency, Elissa Slotkin was still on the fence about running. And then her congressman Mike Bishop voted for the House Republican healthcare bill.

Slotkin said she was shocked that he would cast such a consequential vote without at least holding a town hall and hearing from the constituents.

Too many politicians in Congress have forgotten that they are public servants, that they are voted in by people and that their one responsibility their one job is to improve the lives of their constituents, Slotkin said. It just seemed like a hell of a lot of people who had forgotten that.

Slotkin, a former intelligence official, worked at the Pentagon, the state department and the CIA during the Bush and Obama administrations. As a Middle East analyst at the CIA, she served three tours in Iraq.

During her 15 years working in intelligence and defense, she said no one ever asked her party affiliation. And thats the approach shes taking to her campaign.

Voters are surprised that she is openly critical of the national Democratic party, but she reminds them that her job was to give frank assessments of a controversial war to two presidents with very different perspectives.

I think they take that as a sign that I still understand how to speak truth to power, she said.

Throughout her career, Slotkin said she was often one of the few women in the room or in the combat zone where she deployed.

I have really worked hard to be in some instances twice as competent and twice as capable, she said. But Ive always found that if you know your stuff and youre willing to put yourself out there then people respect that and your gender means less than your competence.

Jena Griswold, candidate for Colorado secretary of state

After the election, Jena Griswold watched in horror as Trump claimed without any basis that millions of people had voted illegally, costing him the popular vote. And then he convened an election integrity commission to prove it.

Griswold, a former voting rights lawyer for Obamas 2012 campaign, decided she couldnt stay on the sidelines.

We saw firsthand how our election could be affected, she said, referring to the conclusion by the intelligence community that Russia interfered in the US election, which Trump has repeatedly doubted.

And now this commission should have us all on high alert. We need secretaries of state who will stand up and say: No, were not going to roll back our democratic institutions on false allegations.

She noted that after the commission started requesting voter data, hundreds of Colorado residents canceled their voter registrations, and that county elections offices reported a flood of calls from voters concerned about their data privacy.

Our democracy requires participating and when people are taking themselves out of voter rolls, were decreasing participation, she said.

Before launching her campaign, Griswold spent hours mulling the decision with fellow female politicians. Griswold had questions about what to expect from running at such a young age and though she felt qualified to do the job, this would be her first campaign.

Eventually, she said, a mentor told her: If youre excited about this, you should run. Maybe not having run for office before will be a benefit.

At just 32, Griswold is running her first campaign and pitching her youth as an asset.

Younger people are being turned off by how our politics work, she said. I understand that. And as a younger person running, I have innovative ideas and a fresh perspective on how to change that.

January Contreras, candidate for Arizona attorney general

For most of her career, January Contreras has disregarded the calls to run for office, choosing instead to serve in other ways. That is, until now.

It became clear that were at this very important crossroads, Contreras said of her decision to run. I decided to step forward and give Arizona a choice that they can trust.

Contreras said special interests have been pulling the strings for too long and that, if elected, she intends to shift the focus of the attorney generals office back to fighting for working families and small businesses.

I came into the race feeling like I have to fight hard for all of these people in vulnerable positions because I know the choices they have to make, she said.

But what I have been surprised by since starting the campaign is that there are a lot of people who have a good home, have a job but are afraid of their government.

Though shes a political novice, Contreras has a lengthy resume with a record of public service.

She worked as an assistant attorney general in the office she now hopes to run, an ombudsman with the US Citizenship and Immigration Services and a senior advisor to Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano. In 2013, she founded the nonprofit Arizona Legal Women and Youth Service, which provides no-cost legal services to survivors of sex and labor trafficking and vulnerable children.

Contreras said she has been fortunate to work for and with female leaders throughout most of her career, like Napolitano, who was one of Arizonas four female governors.

Seeing other women step up to run for office has been inspiring, Contreras said. If we achieve getting more women elected, well see more work across the aisle and more problem-solving because lets face it, moms get stuff done.

Kim Schrier, congressional candidate for Washingtons eighth district

Kim Schrier spent election day on the phone pleading with voters in Florida to turn out for Hillary Clinton. Hours later the state would fall to Trump, along with the rest of the south and a large swath of the midwest.

The election was a real wake-up call for me, said Schrier, a pediatrician in Washington state. It felt like the world changed overnight.

The next morning, her eight-year-old son asked if they were going to have to move to another country.

I knew right away that this was one of those times when youre called upon to stand up and protect everything you love, she said.

The idea of leaving her practice where she has worked for the last 16 years to seek elective office would have sounded absurd a year ago, she said. But as she watched Republicans lead the effort to repeal Obamacare, Schrier saw an opportunity.

As a pediatrician in Washington [DC] I could serve all the children of the country far more than I could serve one ear infection at a time in my office, she said.

The final straw was when her congressman, Dave Reichert, refused to hold town halls with his constituents as the healthcare debate raged in the capital. In a campaign video, Schrier announced her candidacy next to an empty chair meant to symbolize Reicherts reluctance to meet with voters.

If elected, Schrier said she would naturally gravitate toward issues involving healthcare and science. She noted that there are currently no female doctors serving in Congress.

I think having a woman doctor at the table is an important perspective, especially during discussions of womens health and reproductive rights, she said.

Mikie Sherrill, congressional candidate for New Jerseys 11th district

When Mikie Sherrill told her family she was considering running for Congress, the former Navy pilot expected to be called crazy. Instead, they wholeheartedly agreed.

Now the Democrat is running to take on Trump and the districts nine-term Republican senator, Rodney Frelinghuysen.

I started this campaign because I was really disturbed by Trumps attack on the institutions of our democracy, Sherrill said, adding that Trumps equivocating response to the deadly violence in Charlottesville have brought his presidency into sharp relief.

I think now there is a feeling things have come to a head and this is simply not who we are as a country.

As a US Navy pilot, Sherrill spent nine years flying helicopters in Europe and the Middle East. After leaving the Navy, Sherrill attended law school at Georgetown University and later became a federal prosecutor with the US attorneys office in New Jersey.

During the 2016 election, Sherrill said she was especially appalled by Trumps treatment of Gold Star families and his disregard for Senator John McCain of Arizona, who spent more than five years in captivity during the Vietnam war.

Sherrill said she is encouraged but not surprised that so many veterans are running for office.

Veterans at one time in their life have signed up to serve their country, Sherrill said. Whats happening to this country now is a grave concern to a lot of people but veterans in particular feel the need to get engaged and help protect this country and the institutions of our government.

Sherrill said knowing she is joining a fleet of Democratic women around the country in seeking office in 2018 has been empowering.

Ive always found being a woman to be a double-edged sword, Sherrill said. Ive run into corners where Ive experienced some veiled sexism and some not so veiled sexism. But after this election the women are so engaged and that support has really gotten my campaign to where it is.

Olivia Scott, candidate for Charlotte school board – district three

Olivia Scott thought she was too young, too inexperienced, too soft-spoken for politics. The thought of running had crossed her mind but she quickly dismissed it as afar-fetched dream. But then Trump won and that equation changed.

I thought, if he can win the presidency I can definitely win a seat on the school board, Scott said.

At just 25, Scott said shes running for school board to try to change the trajectory for young students in Charlotte, where children born into poverty have little chance of escaping it.

As an undergraduate student at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Scott studied English with a concentration in childrens studies. She now works as a director-in-training at a five-star child care center in Charlotte and is a volunteer with the local Big Brothers Big Sisters program.

Scott said she is the right person to serve on the District 3 school board because she attended a similar school growing up. As a student, Scott said she was acutely aware of the disparities between school districts.

I couldnt figure out why the schools I went to were so depressing on the inside or why students I went to school with didnt always succeed, she said.

Scott has a three tier platform that she believes will help address some of the obstacles that exist, especially for the poor African American students in her district, including improving communication skills and boosting test scores in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Being young can seem like an obstacle sometimes, but its also an opportunity, she said.

I get a lot of How old are you again? she said. Most people are extremely supportive. When I introduce myself to millennials, a lot of them are impressed and ask how they can get involved.

Hala Ayala, candidate for Virginia House of Delegates district 51

Like so many women, she marched and now shes running.

Hala Ayala has been active in Democratic politics for more than a decade, but it wasnt until after she helped organize a contingent of Virginia women of the Womens March on Washington that she saw her name on the ballot.

We woke up the next day and I dont even know if this is clinically correct but we had political depression, she said. But then I went to the march and the experience, marching with these women, it really energized me and inspired me to take the next step.

For years, Ayala has worked to promote women in politics and civic life. She revived her county chapter of the National Organization for Women and serves on Governor Terry McAuliffes Council on Women.

As a single mother of two boys, one of whom has a serious medical condition, Ayala relied on welfare and Medicaid for support. At one point, she worked as a cashier at the local gas station before enrolling in a training program that put her on a path to a career in cyber security.

Ayala recently left her job as a cyber security specialist with the Department of Homeland Security to join a record number of women to seek a seat in the Virginia legislature. The decision was not without risks and she said she still occasionally wonders if it was the right decision for her family.

There is a lot of sacrifices that we make to run for office and those are not taken lightly, she said.

So far this risk has been rewarding. In June, Ayala won her primary. She is now among 10 women challenging Republican incumbents.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/sep/04/democrats-inspired-by-trump-to-run-for-office-hillary-clinton

Will Ivanka Trump be a great policy ‘moderator’ or a wolf in sheep’s clothing?

Recent TV interview adds to confusion about the first daughter, who has said so little that the influence she plans to exert from her White House role is unclear

Ivanka Trump, who months ago stated her intention to be just a daughter to Donald Trump, has given her first television interview since being appointed to a formal White House position as special assistant to the president.

The first daughter toed a difficult line, seemingly embracing the role of policy moderator to her father, while at the same time telling CBSs Gayle King: Im still my fathers daughter.

Where I disagree with my father, he knows it and I express myself with total candor. Where I agree, I fully lean in and support the agenda, Trump said in the interview which aired on Wednesday.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/apr/05/ivanka-trump-tv-interview-moderator-policy-white-house

New EPA head Scott Pruitt’s emails reveal close ties with fossil fuel interests

Documents suggest former Oklahoma AG followed lobby groups guidance on challenging environmental regulations, and put letterhead to oil firm complaints more than once

The close relationship between Scott Pruitt, the new administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and fossil fuel interests including the billionaire Koch brothers has been highlighted in more than 7,500 emails and other records released by the Oklahoma attorney generals office on Wednesday.

The documents show that Pruitt, while Oklahoma attorney general, acted in close concert with oil and gas companies to challenge environmental regulations, even putting his letterhead to a complaint filed by one firm, Devon Energy. This practice was first revealed in 2014, but it now appears that it occurred more than once.

The emails also show that American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, an oil and gas lobby group, provided Pruitts office with template language to oppose ozone limits and the renewable fuel standard program in 2013. AFPM encouraged Oklahoma to challenge the rules, noting: This argument is more credible coming from a state. Later that year, Pruitt did file opposition to both of these regulations.

The letters also show the cosy relationship between Pruitt and the American Legislative Exchange Council (Alec), the influential US lobbying network of Republican politicians and big businesses, and other lobby groups sponsored by the Koch brothers, the billionaire energy investors who have spent decades fighting against environmental regulation.

Alec has consistently challenged the science on climate change and fought against tougher environmental regulation. Companies including Google, Ford and Enterprise Rent-a-Car have quit Alec in protest of its climate change activities.

The emails contain correspondence between Pruitts executive assistant and Amy Anderson, Alec director and Oklahoma membership contact, about Pruitts appearance at a May 2013 Alec board meeting in Oklahoma City.

That meeting attracted more protesters than attendees, with 600 firefighters, teachers, environmentalists and church leaders carrying signs reading ALEC is Not OK and chanting: Backroom deals are Alecs game / Sweetheart deals for corporate gain.

Pruitt addressed a workshop entitled Embracing American Energy Opportunities: From Wellheads to Pipelines.

The emails state that Pruitt spoke on state primacy in oil and gas regulation and the EPAs sue & settle modus operandi. The lunch meeting was sponsored by Koch Industries, a major Alec sponsor.

Pruitt was congratulated for his work on pushing back against the EPA by another Koch-backed pressure group.

Thank you to your respective bosses and all they are doing to push back against President Obamas EPA and its axis with liberal environmental groups to increase energy costs for Oklahomans and American families across the states, said one email sent to Pruitt and an Oklahoma congressman in August 2013 by Matt Ball, an executive at Americans for Prosperity, a nonprofit group also funded in part by the Kochs. You both work for true champions of freedom and liberty! the note said.

Last week, an Oklahoma judge ordered that emails from a January 2015 open records request be released by Tuesday. A further batch of emails is due to be turned over next week. The Center for Media and Democracy, which has made nine separate open records requests for Pruitts emails, said it will attempt to obtain all of the sought-after communications without exceptions.

Pruitt was confirmed as EPA administrator on Friday. Democrats had sought to delay the Senate vote until the emails were released but were unsuccessful.

The emails show a very cosy relationship between Pruitts office and particularly Devon Energy, as well as other coal, oil and gas companies, said Nick Surgey, research director at the Center for Media and Democracy.

Pruitt is the worlds top environmental regulator now and these emails raise serious conflict of interest concerns. He has very close ties to fossil fuel firms and has shown himself to be generally opposed to the rules the EPA has to protect the environment.

Pruitts appointment as EPA chief has been vigorously opposed by environmental groups, Democrats and even some EPA staff as antithetical to the agencys mission. More than 700 former EPA employees wrote to senators to urge them to vote against Pruitt, while some current staff in Chicago took part in protests against him. This effort did little to budge the mathematics of the Senate, with only one Republican, Susan Collins of Maine, voting against Pruitt.

Following the confirmation, the EPA put out a press release listing those that cheer Pruitts appointment. They include Republican representatives and lobbyists for mining, farming and grazing, who were quoted in the EPAs own release calling the agency rogue and one of the most vilified agencies in the swamp of overreaching government.

The former Oklahoma attorney general, a Republican, has described himself as a leading advocate against the EPAs activist agenda and sued the regulator 14 times over pollution regulations relating to mercury, smog, methane and sulfur dioxide. Fossil fuel companies or lobbyists, a frequent source of Pruitts past donations, joined with him in 13 of these cases against the EPA.

A staunch opponent of what he sees as federal overreach, Pruitt said following his appointment that citizens dont trust the EPA is honest with its scientific work, particularly around climate change. Pruitt has said he accepts the planet is warming but has questioned the degree of human influence over this, despite the volumes of scientific literature on the impact of greenhouse gases.

In his first speech at EPA headquarters in Washington on Tuesday, Pruitt praised career employees and promised to listen, learn and lead. He said regulators such as the EPA ought to make things regular. Regulators exist to give certainty to those that they regulate.

He added: I believe that we as a nation can be both pro-energy and -jobs, and pro-environment. We dont have to choose between the two.

John OGrady, an EPA environmental scientist and head of a union that represents 9,000 agency staff, said that Pruitt came across very professionally and conciliatory, he didnt come out heavy handed.

But OGrady said that many staff are nervously waiting for the administrations agenda to unfold, with Donald Trump expected to sign executive orders that aim to do away with the EPAs effort to reduce greenhouse gases and regulate Americas expanse of waterways.

Mr Pruitt isnt a proponent of addressing climate change or of a strong EPA, so it wont surprise me when they start to whittle away at what we do as an agency, OGrady told the Guardian. Im wondering when the hammer is going to fall.

  • Readers: help us search the cache of Scott Pruitts emails. Follow this link and scroll down to find nine documents containing the emails. Each document is searchable using keywords. If you spot something interesting, email oliver.milman@theguardian.com.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/feb/22/scott-pruitt-emails-oklahoma-fossil-fuels-koch-brothers

Robert Mercer: the big data billionaire waging war on mainstream media

With links to Donald Trump, Steve Bannon and Nigel Farage, the rightwing American computer scientist is at the heart of a multimillion-dollar propaganda network

Just over a week ago, Donald Trump gathered members of the worlds press before him and told them they were liars. The press, honestly, is out of control, he said. The public doesnt believe you any more. CNN was described as very fake news story after story is bad. The BBC was another beauty.

That night I did two things. First, I typed Trump in the search box of Twitter. My feed was reporting that he was crazy, a lunatic, a raving madman. But that wasnt how it was playing out elsewhere. The results produced a stream of Go Donald!!!!, and You show em!!! There were star-spangled banner emojis and thumbs-up emojis and clips of Trump laying into the FAKE news MSM liars!

Trump had spoken, and his audience had heard him. Then I did what Ive been doing for two and a half months now. I Googled mainstream media is And there it was. Googles autocomplete suggestions: mainstream media is dead, dying, fake news, fake, finished. Is it dead, I wonder? Has FAKE news won? Are we now the FAKE news? Is the mainstream media we, us, I dying?

I click Googles first suggested link. It leads to a website called CNSnews.com and an article: The Mainstream media are dead. Theyre dead, I learn, because they we, I cannot be trusted. How had it, an obscure site Id never heard of, dominated Googles search algorithm on the topic? In the About us tab, I learn CNSnews is owned by the Media Research Center, which a click later I learn is Americas media watchdog, an organisation that claims an unwavering commitment to neutralising leftwing bias in the news, media and popular culture.

Another couple of clicks and I discover that it receives a large bulk of its funding more than $10m in the past decade from a single source, the hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer. If you follow US politics you may recognise the name. Robert Mercer is the money behind Donald Trump. But then, I will come to learn, Robert Mercer is the money behind an awful lot of things. He was Trumps single biggest donor. Mercer started backing Ted Cruz, but when he fell out of the presidential race he threw his money $13.5m of it behind the Trump campaign.

Its money hes made as a result of his career as a brilliant but reclusive computer scientist. He started his career at IBM, where he made what the Association for Computational Linguistics called revolutionary breakthroughs in language processing a science that went on to be key in developing todays AI and later became joint CEO of Renaissance Technologies, a hedge fund that makes its money by using algorithms to model and trade on the financial markets.

One of its funds, Medallion, which manages only its employees money, is the most successful in the world generating $55bn so far. And since 2010, Mercer has donated $45m to different political campaigns all Republican and another $50m to non-profits all rightwing, ultra-conservative. This is a billionaire who is, as billionaires are wont, trying to reshape the world according to his personal beliefs.

Donald Trumps presidential campaigned received $13.5m from Robert Mercer. Photograph: Timothy A Clary/AFP/Getty Images

Robert Mercer very rarely speaks in public and never to journalists, so to gauge his beliefs you have to look at where he channels his money: a series of yachts, all called Sea Owl; a $2.9m model train set; climate change denial (he funds a climate change denial thinktank, the Heartland Institute); and what is maybe the ultimate rich mans plaything the disruption of the mainstream media. In this he is helped by his close associate Steve Bannon, Trumps campaign manager and now chief strategist. The money he gives to the Media Research Center, with its mission of correcting liberal bias is just one of his media plays. There are other bigger, and even more deliberate strategies, and shining brightly, the star at the centre of the Mercer media galaxy, is Breitbart.

It was $10m of Mercers money that enabled Bannon to fund Breitbart a rightwing news site, set up with the express intention of being a Huffington Post for the right. It has launched the careers of Milo Yiannopoulos and his like, regularly hosts antisemitic and Islamophobic views, and is currently being boycotted by more than 1,000 brands after an activist campaign. It has been phenomenally successful: the 29th most popular site in America with 2bn page views a year. Its bigger than its inspiration, the Huffington Post, bigger, even, than PornHub. Its the biggest political site on Facebook. The biggest on Twitter.

Prominent rightwing journalist Andrew Breitbart, who founded the site but died in 2012, told Bannon that they had to take back the culture. And, arguably, they have, though American culture is only the start of it. In 2014, Bannon launched Breitbart London, telling the New York Times it was specifically timed ahead of the UKs forthcoming election. It was, he said, the latest front in our current cultural and political war. France and Germany are next.

But there was another reason why I recognised Robert Mercers name: because of his connection to Cambridge Analytica, a small data analytics company. He is reported to have a $10m stake in the company, which was spun out of a bigger British company called SCL Group. It specialises in election management strategies and messaging and information operations, refined over 25 years in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan. In military circles this is known as psyops psychological operations. (Mass propaganda that works by acting on peoples emotions.)

Cambridge Analytica worked for the Trump campaign and, so Id read, the Leave campaign. When Mercer supported Cruz, Cambridge Analytica worked with Cruz. When Robert Mercer started supporting Trump, Cambridge Analytica came too. And where Mercers money is, Steve Bannon is usually close by: it was reported that until recently he had a seat on the board.

Last December, I wrote about Cambridge Analytica in a piece about how Googles search results on certain subjects were being dominated by rightwing and extremist sites. Jonathan Albright, a professor of communications at Elon University, North Carolina, who had mapped the news ecosystem and found millions of links between rightwing sites strangling the mainstream media, told me that trackers from sites like Breitbart could also be used by companies like Cambridge Analytica to follow people around the web and then, via Facebook, target them with ads.

On its website, Cambridge Analytica makes the astonishing boast that it has psychological profiles based on 5,000 separate pieces of data on 220 million American voters its USP is to use this data to understand peoples deepest emotions and then target them accordingly. The system, according to Albright, amounted to a propaganda machine.

A few weeks later, the Observer received a letter. Cambridge Analytica was not employed by the Leave campaign, it said. Cambridge Analytica is a US company based in the US. It hasnt worked in British politics.

Which is how, earlier this week, I ended up in a Pret a Manger near Westminster with Andy Wigmore, Leave.EUs affable communications director, looking at snapshots of Donald Trump on his phone. It was Wigmore who orchestrated Nigel Farages trip to Trump Tower the PR coup that saw him become the first foreign politician to meet the president elect.

Wigmore scrolls through the snaps on his phone. Thats the one I took, he says pointing at the now globally famous photo of Farage and Trump in front of his golden elevator door giving the thumbs-up sign. Wigmore was one of the bad boys of Brexit a term coined by Arron Banks, the Bristol-based businessman who was Leave.EUs co-founder.

Cambridge Analytica had worked for them, he said. It had taught them how to build profiles, how to target people and how to scoop up masses of data from peoples Facebook profiles. A video on YouTube shows one of Cambridge Analyticas and SCLs employees, Brittany Kaiser, sitting on the panel at Leave.EUs launch event.

Facebook was the key to the entire campaign, Wigmore explained. A Facebook like, he said, was their most potent weapon. Because using artificial intelligence, as we did, tells you all sorts of things about that individual and how to convince them with what sort of advert. And you knew there would also be other people in their network who liked what they liked, so you could spread. And then you follow them. The computer never stops learning and it never stops monitoring.

Steve Bannon, Donald Trumps chief strategist, is an associate of Robert Mercer. Photograph: Evan Vucci/AP

It sounds creepy, I say.

It is creepy! Its really creepy! Its why Im not on Facebook! I tried it on myself to see what information it had on me and I was like, Oh my God! Whats scary is that my kids had put things on Instagram and it picked that up. It knew where my kids went to school.

They hadnt employed Cambridge Analytica, he said. No money changed hands. They were happy to help.


Because Nigel is a good friend of the Mercers. And Robert Mercer introduced them to us. He said, Heres this company we think may be useful to you. What they were trying to do in the US and what we were trying to do had massive parallels. We shared a lot of information. Why wouldnt you? Behind Trumps campaign and Cambridge Analytica, he said, were the same people. Its the same family.

There were already a lot of questions swirling around Cambridge Analytica, and Andy Wigmore has opened up a whole lot more. Such as: are you supposed to declare services-in-kind as some sort of donation? The Electoral Commission says yes, if it was more than 7,500. And was it declared? The Electoral Commission says no. Does that mean a foreign billionaire had possibly influenced the referendum without that influence being apparent? Its certainly a question worth asking.

In the last month or so, articles in first the Swiss and the US press have asked exactly what Cambridge Analytica is doing with US voters data. In a statement to the Observer, the Information Commissioners Office said: Any business collecting and using personal data in the UK must do so fairly and lawfully. We will be contacting Cambridge Analytica and asking questions to find out how the company is operating in the UK and whether the law is being followed.

Cambridge Analytica said last Friday they are in touch with the ICO and are completely compliant with UK and EU data laws. It did not answer other questions the Observer put to it this week about how it built its psychometric model, which owes its origins to original research carried out by scientists at Cambridge Universitys Psychometric Centre, research based on a personality quiz on Facebook that went viral. More than 6 million people ended up doing it, producing an astonishing treasure trove of data.

These Facebook profiles especially peoples likes could be correlated across millions of others to produce uncannily accurate results. Michal Kosinski, the centres lead scientist, found that with knowledge of 150 likes, their model could predict someones personality better than their spouse. With 300, it understood you better than yourself. Computers see us in a more robust way than we see ourselves, says Kosinski.

But there are strict ethical regulations regarding what you can do with this data. Did SCL Group have access to the universitys model or data, I ask Professor Jonathan Rust, the centres director? Certainly not from us, he says. We have very strict rules around this.

A scientist, Aleksandr Kogan, from the centre was contracted to build a model for SCL, and says he collected his own data. Professor Rust says he doesnt know where Kogans data came from. The evidence was contrary. I reported it. An independent adjudicator was appointed by the university. But then Kogan said hed signed a non-disclosure agreement with SCL and he couldnt continue [answering questions].

Kogan disputes this and says SCL satisfied the universitys inquiries. But perhaps more than anyone, Professor Rust understands how the kind of information people freely give up to social media sites could be used.

Former Ukip leader Nigel Farage is a friend of the Mercers. Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images

The danger of not having regulation around the sort of data you can get from Facebook and elsewhere is clear. With this, a computer can actually do psychology, it can predict and potentially control human behaviour. Its what the scientologists try to do but much more powerful. Its how you brainwash someone. Its incredibly dangerous.

Its no exaggeration to say that minds can be changed. Behaviour can be predicted and controlled. I find it incredibly scary. I really do. Because nobody has really followed through on the possible consequences of all this. People dont know its happening to them. Their attitudes are being changed behind their backs.

Mercer invested in Cambridge Analytica, the Washington Post reported, driven in part by an assessment that the right was lacking sophisticated technology capabilities. But in many ways, its what Cambridge Analyticas parent company does that raises even more questions.

Emma Briant, a propaganda specialist at the University of Sheffield, wrote about SCL Group in her 2015 book, Propaganda and Counter-Terrorism: Strategies for Global Change. Cambridge Analytica has the technological tools to effect behavioural and psychological change, she said, but its SCL that strategises it. It has specialised, at the highest level for Nato, the MoD, the US state department and others in changing the behaviour of large groups. It models mass populations and then it changes their beliefs.

SCL was founded by someone called Nigel Oakes, who worked for Saatchi & Saatchi on Margaret Thatchers image, says Briant, and the company had been making money out of the propaganda side of the war on terrorism over a long period of time. There are different arms of SCL but its all about reach and the ability to shape the discourse. They are trying to amplify particular political narratives. And they are selective in who they go for: they are not doing this for the left.

In the course of the US election, Cambridge Analytica amassed a database, as it claims on its website, of almost the entire US voting population 220 million people and the Washington Post reported last week that SCL was increasing staffing at its Washington office and competing for lucrative new contracts with Trumps administration. It seems significant that a company involved in engineering a political outcome profits from what follows. Particularly if its the manipulation, and then resolution, of fear, says Briant.

Its the database, and what may happen to it, that particularly exercises Paul-Olivier Dehaye, a Swiss mathematician and data activist who has been investigating Cambridge Analytica and SCL for more than a year. How is it going to be used? he says. Is it going to be used to try and manipulate people around domestic policies? Or to ferment conflict between different communities? It is potentially very scary. People just dont understand the power of this data and how it can be used against them.

There are two things, potentially, going on simultaneously: the manipulation of information on a mass level, and the manipulation of information at a very individual level. Both based on the latest understandings in science about how people work, and enabled by technological platforms built to bring us together.

Are we living in a new era of propaganda, I ask Emma Briant? One we cant see, and that is working on us in ways we cant understand? Where we can only react, emotionally, to its messages? Definitely. The way that surveillance through technology is so pervasive, the collection and use of our data is so much more sophisticated. Its totally covert. And people dont realise what is going on.

Public mood and politics goes through cycles. You dont have to subscribe to any conspiracy theory, Briant says, to see that a mass change in public sentiment is happening. Or that some of the tools in action are straight out of the militarys or SCLs playbook.

But then theres increasing evidence that our public arenas the social media sites where we post our holiday snaps or make comments about the news are a new battlefield where international geopolitics is playing out in real time. Its a new age of propaganda. But whose? This week, Russia announced the formation of a new branch of the military: information warfare troops.

Sam Woolley of the Oxford Internet Institutes computational propaganda institute tells me that one third of all traffic on Twitter before the EU referendum was automated bots accounts that are programmed to look like people, to act like people, and to change the conversation, to make topics trend. And they were all for Leave. Before the US election, they were five-to-one in favour of Trump many of them Russian. Last week they have been in action in the Stoke byelection Russian bots, organised by who? attacking Paul Nuttall.

Politics is war, said Steve Bannon last year in the Wall Street Journal. And increasingly this looks to be true.

Theres nothing accidental about Trumps behaviour, Andy Wigmore tells me. That press conference. It was absolutely brilliant. I could see exactly what he was doing. Theres feedback going on constantly. Thats what you can do with artificial intelligence. You can measure ever reaction to every word. He has a word room, where you fix key words. We did it. So with immigration, there are actually key words within that subject matter which people are concerned about. So when you are going to make a speech, its all about how can you use these trending words.

Wigmore met with Trumps team right at the start of the Leave campaign. And they said the holy grail was artificial intelligence.

Who did?

Jared Kushner and Jason Miller.

Later, when Trump picked up Mercer and Cambridge Analytica, the game changed again. Its all about the emotions. This is the big difference with what we did. They call it bio-psycho-social profiling. It takes your physical, mental and lifestyle attributes and works out how people work, how they react emotionally.

Bio-psycho-social profiling, I read later, is one offensive in what is called cognitive warfare. Though there are many others: recoding the mass consciousness to turn patriotism into collaborationism, explains a Nato briefing document on countering Russian disinformation written by an SCL employee. Time-sensitive professional use of media to propagate narratives, says one US state department white paper. Of particular importance to psyop personnel may be publicly and commercially available data from social media platforms.

Yet another details the power of a cognitive casualty a moral shock that has a disabling effect on empathy and higher processes such as moral reasoning and critical thinking. Something like immigration, perhaps. Or fake news. Or as it has now become: FAKE news!!!!

How do you change the way a nation thinks? You could start by creating a mainstream media to replace the existing one with a site such as Breitbart. You could set up other websites that displace mainstream sources of news and information with your own definitions of concepts like liberal media bias, like CNSnews.com. And you could give the rump mainstream media, papers like the failing New York Times! what it wants: stories. Because the third prong of Mercer and Bannons media empire is the Government Accountability Institute.

Bannon co-founded it with $2m of Mercers money. Mercers daughter, Rebekah, was appointed to the board. Then they invested in expensive, long-term investigative journalism. The modern economics of the newsroom dont support big investigative reporting staffs, Bannon told Forbes magazine. You wouldnt get a Watergate, a Pentagon Papers today, because nobody can afford to let a reporter spend seven months on a story. We can. Were working as a support function.

Welcome to the future of journalism in the age of platform capitalism. News organisations have to do a better job of creating new financial models. But in the gaps in between, a determined plutocrat and a brilliant media strategist can, and have, found a way to mould journalism to their own ends.

In 2015, Steve Bannon described to Forbes how the GAI operated, employing a data scientist to trawl the dark web (in the article he boasts of having access to $1.3bn worth of supercomputers) to dig up the kind of source material Google cant find. One result has been a New York Times bestseller, Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich, written by GAIs president, Peter Schweizer and later turned into a film produced by Rebekah Mercer and Steve Bannon.

This, Bannon explained, is how you weaponise the narrative you want. With hard researched facts. With those, you can launch it straight on to the front page of the New York Times, as the story of Hillary Clintons cash did. Like Hillarys emails it turned the news agenda, and, most crucially, it diverted the attention of the news cycle. Another classic psyops approach. Strategic drowning of other messages.

This is a strategic, long-term and really quite brilliant play. In the 1990s, Bannon explained, conservative media couldnt take Bill Clinton down becausethey wound up talking to themselves in an echo chamber.

As, it turns out, the liberal media is now. We are scattered, separate, squabbling among ourselves and being picked off like targets in a shooting gallery. Increasingly, theres a sense that we are talking to ourselves. And whether its Mercers millions or other factors, Jonathan Albrights map of the news and information ecosystem shows how rightwing sites are dominating sites like YouTube and Google, bound tightly together by millions of links.

Is there a central intelligence to that, I ask Albright? There has to be. There has to be some type of coordination. You can see from looking at the map, from the architecture of the system, that this is not accidental. Its clearly being led by money and politics.

Theres been a lot of talk in the echo chamber about Bannon in the last few months, but its Mercer who provided the money to remake parts of the media landscape. And while Bannon understands the media, Mercer understands big data. He understands the structure of the internet. He knows how algorithms work.

Robert Mercer did not respond to a request for comment for this piece. NickPatterson, a British cryptographer, who worked at Renaissance Technologies in the 80s and is now a computational geneticist at MIT, described to me how he was the one who talent-spotted Mercer. There was an elite group working at IBM in the 1980s doing speech research, speech recognition, and when I joined Renaissance I judged that the mathematics we were trying to apply to financial markets were very similar.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/feb/26/robert-mercer-breitbart-war-on-media-steve-bannon-donald-trump-nigel-farage

Anti-Trump ‘alternative inauguration’ to toast president-elect’s popular vote loss

In conservative upstate New York an alternative inauguration party will hail the fact that 3 million more people voted for Clinton as defiance spreads nationwide

On the evening of 20 January, just a few hours after the former host of Celebrity Apprentice has taken the oath of office to become the 45th president of the United States, about 80 people in the tiny snowbound town of Saranac Lake in heavily conservative upstate New York will gather for an inauguration party.

The event is being billed as a celebration, a chance to rejoice in the electoral victory that saw their political ideals prevail. Food and drink will flow freely, musicians from across the area will perform. The Stars and Stripes will be flown to denote the deep patriotism of the event. And then at the height of the night the carousers will participate in a rendition of Leonard Cohens Hallelujah, with lyrics specially rewritten for the occasion.

Trump said hed make us great again

But we dont even trust the man

He lies and cheats and tries to foster anger

As the lyrics suggest, the party will not be honoring the electoral victory of the newly enshrined President Trump. On the contrary, Saranac Lakes Alternative Inauguration Party will mark the defeat of Donald Trumps brand of anti-establishment xenophobic nationalism.

A celebration of Trumps defeat on the day of his inauguration seems several stages beyond fanciful. The real estate billionaire did after all pull off one of the biggest electoral surprises of modern times.

Yet the progressive inhabitants of Saranac Lake are not alone in such thinking. Across the country, a growing chorus of influential voices can be heard exhorting liberals not to wallow in despondency in the wake of the Trump ascendancy, but to embrace optimism and celebrate a victory of their own.

From national leaders such as Bernie Sanders and the Rev Al Sharpton, to state authorities on both coasts, through urban bastions and university towns scattered across the heartlands, a unifying message is emerging. Do not despair, it says, we won!

The counterintuitive idea of liberal victory in the 2016 presidential race is posited on Hillary Clintons startling triumph in the popular vote. With the final tally of votes now certified by all 50 states, the definitive result of the presidential election carries quite a punch.

Clinton attracted the support of 65,844,610 Americans. Trump was backed by 62,979,636. Which means that fully 2.9 million more Americans voted for Trumps Democratic opponent than for him.

Whether those millions voted because they liked Clintons vision for the country, or because they detested Trumps, is impossible to say. But it is fair to say that Trump failed to persuade a majority of voting Americans to back him on his unlikely journey to the White House.

National political leaders have begun, like the folk of Saranac Lake, to draw strength for the no-doubt brutal fight ahead by focusing on the popular vote as a measure of the depth of support for progressive values that persist in the US today. Bernie Sanders, who played no small part in boosting Clintons numbers by inspiring young people to rally to the liberal cause, told the Guardian that in his view the president-elect had to take on board the truth of his defeat in terms of national votes and act accordingly.

Mr Trump has got to understand that he does not have a mandate. He lost by almost 3 million votes.

Sanders went on to say that the knowledge that most voting Americans backed progressive policies on 8 November should embolden people as the new Trump era begins. If we stand together, we can effectively take on Mr Trumps ugly ideas and continue the fight for a progressive vision for this country. On virtually every major issue facing this country whether its raising the minimum wage, pay equity for women, rebuilding our infrastructure, making public colleges and universities tuition-free, criminal justice and immigration reform, dealing with income and wealth inequality the strong majority of the American people are on our side.

The Rev Al Sharpton speaks during the National Action Networks We Shall Not Be Moved march in Washington DC on 14 January. Photograph: Aaron P Bernstein/Reuters

For civil rights activist Al Sharpton, the issue of the popular vote is especially poignant and personal. On 20 January 2001, as George Bush was being inaugurated at the Capitol building having lost the popular vote to Al Gore, Sharpton staged a shadow inauguration in DCs nearby Stanton Park as a protest against what he saw as the stealing of the election.

Last Saturday Sharpton echoed that event by leading a We Shall Not Be Moved march from the Washington Monument to the Martin Luther King Memorial. Again, Sharpton is exercised by the popular vote. As he explained to the Guardian: Numbers do not lie. Most American voters, by almost three million, supported our policies and program our values were not rejected.

Sharpton predicts that the 2016 presidential election will go down in infamy because of the scale of Clintons margin of victory in sheer votes as well as evidence of Russian hacking and other peculiarities. He said the popular vote result should comfort progressive Americans, but more importantly it should energize people to do something about this misdeed. Rather than say we were robbed and then sit around and have a pity-party, we should be getting even.

The We Shall Not Be Moved march will be followed a week later by the climax of the alternative-inauguration wave of 2016: the Womens March on Washington. Hundreds of thousands of people of both genders are expected to descend on Washington or attend some 200 sister marches to be held across the US and around the world.

Linda Sarsour, one of four co-chairs of the march, said that she saw in the popular vote results the dominance of progressive values in the US. We intend to let the president-elect know on his first day in office that we are strong, we are united and we will protect those most vulnerable to attack.

Sarsour also said that she wanted to see more attention paid to the millions of Americans who cast no ballot on 8 November. We are focused on the silent majority, those who sat at home and did not vote at all. We want to understand why they were inactive, so that we can provide the spark that will inspire them to be involved.

Lawrence Lessig: The Republicans are so good at the chutzpah of their claim to power. Photograph: Brian Snyder/Reuters

Will President Trump hear all these messages as he takes his seat in the Oval Office? Lawrence Lessig, the Harvard law professor who made a brief bid in 2016 for the Democratic presidential nomination, predicts that Trump will ignore calls for him to show electoral humility, just as Bush did in 2001.

The Republicans are so good at the chutzpah of their claim to power minority presidents acting as though they are dominant in the world. We have to develop a way of tamping down their arrogance these are minority presidents who do not represent most Americans.

The idea that Trumps contentious rhetoric from immigration and trade to climate change represents a minority view was what drove Saranac Lake to throw an alternative inauguration party. The town of just 5,500 residents is situated in the middle of the highly conservative rural north country of upstate New York, close to the Canadian border, but it is a liberal oasis, a tiny dot of blue bobbing on a sea of red.

On the morning of 10 November, two days after the election when the entire country was still reeling from the shock of election night, four local friends happened to bump into one another in a shop on Main Street owned by one of them, Barbara Curtis.

The four were all Sanders supporters who had transferred their allegiance to Clinton in the general election, mainly in the hope of blocking Trump. That morning they were each filled with disbelief and despair that a man whom they consider to be a racist and misogynist had been anointed head of state.

We were in a miserable mood, said one of the four, the director of the local library, Pete Benson. But then we had the idea.

The idea began by asking a question: what do we do now? The four decided to set up a new group to generate discussion around that conundrum. They called it Now what?.

As the days passed, and Clintons lead in the popular vote began to grow as late results were counted, they began to see a way forward. It made us think we could be optimistic, said another of the gang of four, Emily Martz, an environmental development worker. The majority of Americans did not vote for the hatred and tolerance of Trump. The values that we believe in, of inclusion and justice for all, freedom of the press and religion and assembly, had in fact prevailed.

Saranac Lake is a liberal oasis in the midst of conservative upstate New York. Photograph: Rob Fountain/AP

Out of that sense of hope the Alternative Inauguration Party was born. It was such a simple idea, but it gave us hope the feeling that we were not alone, said the fourth founding member, Emily Warner.

So just how much of a thumping did Trump take in terms of the popular vote? And why should we care anyway? Under the arcane rules laid down by the Founding Fathers for the selection of the nations head of state, its essentially irrelevant who wins the most votes nationally. Presidents are chosen not directly by the American people, but indirectly through the electoral college that is put together on a state-by-state basis.

Famously, it takes a presidential hopeful 270 electoral college votes out of the total of 538 to win the keys of the White House, and on that official count Trump won handsomely. When the chips were down, according to the centuries-old rules of the game, he soundly defeated Clinton by 306 electoral college votes to 232.

So yes, Trump won, and no amount of brouhaha over recounts and faithless electors and talk of Russian hackers will change that now. But there is another way of looking at the results, one that resonates with the vocabulary of modern democracies in which we the people are supposed to call the shots.

What we think of as democratic legitimacy these days is winning popular support, said John Woolley, professor of political science at UC Santa Barbara. Theres an equation in most peoples minds that in a modern democracy winning means getting more votes than anyone else.

The Now What? group in Saranac Lake like to quote the figure that 72% of Americans of eligible voting age did not vote for Trump a statistic achieved by combining Clintons votes to the almost 8 million ballots cast for third-party candidates and then rolling in the hordes of those who did not vote at all. Other estimates put that figure even higher, at 75%.

The 72% figure should be handled with great caution, as there is no way of knowing what the no-voters would have done had they got themselves to the polling stations. But you dont need to stretch the boundaries of electoral mathematics to know that what happened on 8 November 2016 was historically significant.

Though America is well accustomed to backing presidents who failed to win more than half of the votes cast, winning on the plurality Abraham Lincoln in 1860, Woodrow Wilson in 1912 and Bill Clinton in 1992 all falling into that camp it is very rare for presidents to be elected having garnered fewer votes nationwide than their opponent.

Only five presidents in US history have been put into the White House having suffered such ignominy: John Quincy Adams (1824), Rutherford Hayes (1876), Benjamin Harrison (1888), George W Bush (2000) and now Donald Trump.

Even among that handful of popular vote losers, Trump stands out. Woolley has produced a graph comparing the popular and electoral college vote percentages for all presidential elections since 1824. It shows Trump failing in terms of democratic legitimacy more conclusively than in any other presidential election than that of Adams.

us election popular vote

Thats not a flattering comparison from Trumps perspective. Adams was accused in 1824 of in effect bribing his way into the White House by forging a corrupt bargain with another candidate to whom he then gave a plum administration job.

The extent of Trumps defeat is underlined by the 2000 election with its legendary hanging chads. Progressives are still agitated 16 years later by what they denounce as the stolen election, yet in that case Al Gore won the popular vote by only half a million more votes than Bush compared with the margin of almost 3 million enjoyed by Hillary Clinton.

In Woolleys analysis, the size of Trumps popular vote defeat is remarkable. Its a pretty big fact. Because it resonates so deeply with liberals and Democrats and is such a source of anger, Donald Trump is going to be embattled. There is going to be resistance at every turn, and this just fuels the fire.

That might help explain why Trump has been so touchy on the subject. In his eagerness to minimize the significance of the issue he has turned to fake news stories about illegal voting in 2016 touted by the conspiracy theory site, Infowars.

Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump)

In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally

November 27, 2016

The resistance that Woolley predicts can already be seen sprouting across the country. Theres the visible manifestation of it in set-piece marches such as the Womens March and Sharptons We Shall Not Be Moved; there is the spawning of a myriad of social media-facilitated groups like the aptly named Resistance Party; and there is the rapidly developing notion of communities ranging from towns to cities to entire states erecting firewalls around themselves to protect their people, undocumented immigrants included, against any Trump assault.

Here too the advocates of the concept of sanctuary status are drawing sustenance from the popular vote victory. Progressives have been demoralized by the outcome of the election, but keep in mind we won the popular vote, winning the message with Americans, said Ed Murray, the mayor of one of the leading sanctuary cities, Seattle.

Nowhere is the power of the popular vote combined with the concept of sanctuary more evident than in California, a state that Clinton won by a whopping 4.3 million votes, with 61.6% to Trumps 32.8%. Californias secretary of state, Alex Padilla, told the Guardian that he respected the electoral college process and the outcome of the 2016 race, but added: That being said, the result was politically misleading in terms of giving any mandate to the president-elect.

He said that California was more committed than ever to the progressive direction, extending access to quality healthcare, accepting the science of climate change and acting to combat it, and immigration. No state has more at stake when it comes to immigration than us; our economy is dependent on it.

Three thousand miles away on the east coast, New York state is also pursuing the sanctuary concept, Clinton having won there by 1.7 million votes, 58.8% to Trumps 37.5%. But it doesnt feel a strong Democratic state if you are located up in Saranac Lake, surrounded by rural Trump supporters, and they have had to deal with their fair share of local antagonism.

The four organizers of the Alternative Inauguration Party have been lambasted as seditious by trolls on their Facebook page. They found it hard securing a venue for the party, as commercial property owners largely didnt want to know.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jan/19/alternative-inauguration-party-saranac-lake

Sanders’ New York buzz may not deliver enough votes as polls still favor Clinton

Despite Bernie Sanders visibly enthusiastic support before the pivotal primary, Clintons campaign seems confident that Tuesday will be a night to celebrate

A New York spring is in the air in the parks and streets of the Big Apple as Bernie Sanders rallies tens of thousands of adoring supporters with a message of political revolution he hopes could still block Hillary Clintons seemingly unstoppable path to the Democratic presidential nomination.

But in the television studios and political salons, the focus is on the harsh reality of polling numbers and electoral mathematics ahead of Tuesdays crucial primary election showdown between the two increasingly bitter rivals.

Although some polls suggest Clintons once commanding lead may have shrunk in recent weeks, she remains an average of 13 points ahead, and few professional observers expect the former secretary state who represented New York for eight years in the US Senate and even beat Barack Obama in the 2008 New York primary will do anything other than win here again.

While Sanders plans to be off in Pennsylvania for more packed rallies before the next series of primaries on 26 April, Clinton is due to return to New York on Tuesday night for what she fully expects will be a victory party at the Sheraton hotel in Times Square.

And with Donald Trump even more comfortably ahead of rivals Ted Cruz and John Kasich in polling for New Yorks simultaneous Republican primary, a leading pro-Clinton fundraising committee has even begun reserving airtime for TV commercials ahead of what it considers to be the more important general election contest it sees looming in November.

Clintons increasingly confident aides were in combative mood before what could be the last significant contest of the Democratic primary, describing New York as must-win for Sanders who had a lot on the line.

If Sanders loses NYC to Clinton, will he say it is because it is in the southern part of New York state? taunted her spokesman, Brian Fallon, in response to suggestions that early wins in conservative-leaning states in the deep south had made Clintons national delegate lead look more unassailable than it really was.

The Sanders campaign, in contrast, is dialing back predictions of a win but remains buoyed instead by the undeniable enthusiasm among its supporters in the Empire state.

We dont have to win New York on Tuesday, but we have to pick up a lot of delegates, wrote his campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, in an email on Sunday that flagged an outlier poll suggesting he and Clinton could be within six points of each other. This poll shows that if we keep fighting, we may actually have a chance to do both. Itd be the most shocking upset in modern political history, he added.

But even by the Sanders campaigns own, more optimistic, estimates, it remains 214 pledged delegates behind Clinton in the race to reach the finishing line of 2,383, and further behind still if the calculation includes controversial superdelegates party elites who overwhelming favour Clinton. To overturn this delegate momentum, Sanders needs to win heavily, not just in New York but in most of the remaining contests.

Explaining the disconnect between the Bernie buzz and Clinton confidence has driven some political pundits to distraction. Harry Enten, a columnist with the data-driven website fivethirtyeight.com, once promised to pour a bucket of cold water over his head if Clinton fell behind in national polling, a pledge that could yet prove rash as the two close within a percentage point across the country.

The pundits argue instead that the 2016 primary is more than halfway through and the polling that really matters shows Clinton winning in all the states that look most similar to the demographic profile of Democrats nationwide.

But the buzz is infectious too. While Clinton drew a few hundred supporters to her rally in Staten Island on Sunday, Sanders drew a record 28,300 supporters to Prospect Park in Brooklyn on Sunday, where messages such as free college tuition and universal healthcare remain powerful stimulants.

I am literally walking away with goose bumps. I feel like I am going to cry, said 36-year-old Long Island makeup artist Jennifer Wright. I am a single mom. I have worked hard my whole life, I have never been on any kind of welfare, I have worked my ass off my whole life and I want to make sure my son has a fair chance at university. I am here for his generation.

Clinton supporters may be quieter, but have their own hopes and dreams too and are increasingly frustrated that they are being drowned out in the noise of the Sanders revolution.

Maxine Outerbridge, a 28-year-old accountant, took such umbrage with the public narrative that young voters are uninspired by Clinton that she wrote a letter to the campaign detailing why she was a supporter. She soon found herself introducing Clinton at the rally on Staten Island, at the historic Great Hall at Snug Harbor, two days before the New York primary.

Recounting how she became pregnant while still in school, Outerbridge said her daughter would not have access to health insurance had it not been for the State Childrens Health Insurance Program championed by Clinton and signed into law during her husbands administration. She also identified herself as a former victim of domestic violence while praising Clinton as an advocate for women.

She is a fighter, Outerbridge said. And so as a young woman, as a minority, as a domestic violence survivor, and as an aspiring entrepreneur, I support Hillary.

  • This article was amended on 18 April 2016 to correct the number of years Hillary Clinton served as a US senator. She was in the Senate for eight years, not six.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/apr/18/new-york-primary-poll-bernie-sanders-hillary-clinton