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A Master of Conflict Resolution Thought He Could Fix Politics. Politics Won.

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a small playground overlooking a beach

But it seemed to work. In most cases, he could help people come to a solution—one that left their dignity intact. “I had no trouble getting clients,” he said. “People often came against the advice of lawyers. They wanted somebody who was going to be different.” Eventually, he and other colleagues helped invent the field of conflict mediation—which is now popular worldwide.

That’s how it came to pass that Gary Friedman, at age 71, drove his forest-green Mini Cooper to the county elections office and filed the paperwork. He ran for a five-year term on his local Community Services District Board of Directors, a five-member council in charge of area roads and water management. He promised a new way of doing politics. “I am committed to bringing a tone of respect, enthusiasm and openness,” he wrote in his candidate statement.

Thus began one of the greatest trials of his life. It took “about an eighth of a second” for him to get sucked into the conflict, as he puts it. Despite everything he knew, he ultimately lost two years of his life and peace of mind to petty political feuds—a period he now calls his “personal derangement.”

In the process, one of the nation’s leading gurus of conflict management fell into the same traps he’d taught thousands of people to avoid, the kind that make conflict destructive, instead of useful.

“I became defensive,” he says sadly, as if describing a descent into addiction. “I became aggressive. I became strategic.”

Politics, it turned out, was harder than he’d ever imagined.

“I was never thrilled with the way politicians behave,” Gary said, “but I do have much more of appreciation now of how easy it is to get caught.”

Winning

The tiny, fogged-in village of Muir Beach (pop. 250) is only 20 minutes north of the Golden Gate Bridge, yet it feels like a secret—a velvet slip of sand, nestled up against Muir Woods, surrounded entirely by national park land. Over their 40 years in Muir Beach, Friedman and his wife Trish raised four children in the community.

“Muir Beach is magic,” Gary said, speaking before his neighbors at the candidates’ debate in September 2015. “That was the first thought that my wife, Trish, and I had when we first saw it. And that’s why we moved here.”

Friedman and the other candidates were seated in a row behind a long table. The windows behind them overlooked the town playground and beyond it, the vast ocean.

That night, Friedman seemed like a new model of politician, the kind he’d always wanted to see. His face lit up when he talked about the beach and his grandkids. He was quick to laugh at himself. When other people talked, he listened in ways that made them feel heard. He said he wanted to reinvigorate democracy in the town.

“This is a chance for a real change,” he said, “for everybody to be involved.” When someone asked about his experience managing water, Gary responded honestly. “I don’t know that much about water, but I know I can learn,” he said, his wavy white hair blowing in the sea breeze.

This was not what politicians were supposed to say; that was why he said it. Friedman seemed to take pleasure in breaking the political mold, in proving that there was another way to do politics.

A neighbor named Tanya volunteered to be his political adviser. (At Friedman’s request, I’ve changed the names of the neighbors involved in this story to protect their privacy. The names of Friedman and his family are unchanged.) Born into a family of politicians, she’d spent her career as a labor organizer. So it came naturally to her to draft talking points and a strategic plan for Friedman’s campaign. She upped his game, making it more like a traditional political campaign. “We knocked on all the doors three times,” she told me. “That had never been done before.”

With Tanya’s advice, Friedman adopted the campaign slogan, “Do you want to move forward or backwards?” Tanya talked a lot about winning. Soon Friedman did, too. Privately, he started referring to himself and his allies as the “New Guard.” They were the change agents, the upstarts. And the others, the ones who had been in charge for years? They were the “Old Guard.”

One member of the so-called Old Guard, a man named Hugh, had been Friedman’s neighbor for 23 years by this point. He’d actually hired Friedman to mediate a property dispute with another neighbor, years before. So Hugh had thought, initially, that Friedman would be the ideal person to serve on the board. “There’s nobody I would’ve trusted more with this job,” he told me.

On Election Day, the county posted the results online at 11 p.m. Gary received far more votes than any other candidate. “We killed them,” Tanya said. One member of the Old Guard, who had held office for nearly three decades, got ousted.

“It was all very exciting,” Friedman recalled. “I felt heroic, righteous.”

On February 3, 2016, Friedman presided over his inaugural meeting as president of the board. He introduced a new set of rules, called the “Principles of Unity.” He posted the principles on the wall of the community center, where the board met.

“Be respectful of others.”

“One person speaks at a time.”

“No name calling.”

“No eyeball rolling.”

During the public comment period, each person would be limited to just three minutes of speaking, according to the principles. This way, he reasoned, the gadflies who had rambled on at past board meetings would not be able to hijack the conversation; there would be space for more voices to be heard.

There were other changes, too. Under Friedman’s leadership, there were no more bowls of snacks, no more time set aside for socializing. People could do that on their own time, he figured.

He also established volunteer subcommittees, open to any and all, in hopes of bringing more residents into governing the town—just the way he’d brought the full ensemble of musicians into the room in his work with the San Francisco Symphony. There was a subcommittee for community engagement, for audits, for trails, for roads, for everything that might matter to the residents.

He was doing what he’d promised—infusing local politics with new energy and decency. His allies loved the new rules. But some people made jokes. They called the new rules “Gary’s psycho-babble,” and they rolled their eyes, violating multiple Principles of Unity at once.

The Danger of the Binary

“In conflict, the instinct to defend why we are right and the other is wrong is as old as it is pervasive,” Friedman and his co-author Jack Himmelstein wrote in their 2008 book Challenging Conflict. But this binary mode of thinking, they explained, is a conflict trap. “The right-wrong framework is simply too shallow and confining.”

But American politics, by its very nature, sorts people into binary categories: Right versus wrong. Democrats versus Republicans. And, in Gary’s case: Old Guard versus New. There are, all of a sudden, two sides, and everyone must choose.

“Overcategorization is perhaps the commonest trick of the human mind,” psychologist Gordon Allport wrote in his classic book, The Nature of Prejudice. It takes shockingly little for group biases or favoritism to emerge. It’s not for nothing that the word category comes from the Greek word for “accusation.”

In real life, most people have complex, ambivalent feelings about things like immigration, abortion, racial justice or policing. Their knowledge is uneven, and their opinions are manifold. “In very few conflicts is one side totally right and the other completely wrong,” Friedman and his co-author wrote in Challenging Conflict.

But even as he cruised to victory, heralding the advent of a New Guard, Friedman was falling into the same trap he’d identified.

Dividing his neighbors into an us and a them was motivating for Friedman and his allies, but the usefulness of the categories began to decay the moment the election results come in—when the governing began. At that point, people needed to cooperate to get things done. But as Friedman knew from his years practicing law in courtrooms, the primal feelings generated by such a competition linger, long after the results have been decided.

The feeling of winning can make the victorious side feel more aggressive, not less. Winning at just about anything, even a game of dominoes, tends to boost testosterone, researchers have found. In fact, to expect a politician to truly unite a community after winning a contested election is to utterly misunderstand human psychology.

Once Gary had won, the conflict mindset was almost certain to get worse, not better.

High Conflict

Before Friedman took office, Hugh (of the Old Guard) had spent four years on the board himself and then worked as the district manager, a hired position charged with carrying out the board’s decisions. He admits he didn’t always communicate everything to everyone. There were no subcommittees. But he prided himself on his efficiency. And he did try to create a sense of community. Each month, he brought coffee and snacks for everyone who showed up to the board meetings, and there were no time limits on talking.

Then Friedman took over. Within a year, he had created 23 subcommittees. Hugh still remembers the number. “Nothing got done,” Hugh says. A major roads project that Hugh had helped launched two years earlier ground to a halt. Gary very intentionally undid everything Hugh had done, at least in Hugh’s view.

At first, Hugh tried to go along with the new system. But when he tried to join the personnel subcommittee, he was told that Friedman did not want him on it.

“Gary felt that Muir Beach was too dependent on me.” He hadn’t even known there was a new water subcommittee until after it had been formed. “I felt a little put off,” Hugh said. “I felt like I had useful skills.”

Friedman had intended to make politics more inclusive, but he was excluding the Old Guard.

By summer, the board meetings were getting more tense. Hugh considered moving out of Muir Beach entirely. He told his grown children that he just didn’t like the feeling of the town anymore.

Friedman, meanwhile, spent more and more energy enforcing the Principles of Unity.

“I really hope to hold people to our three-minute limit tonight,” he told the spectators as he opened up the June meeting.

When one person tried to ask a question about a different subject, Friedman cut him off. “Not tonight,” he said.

The man raised his voice. “Well, I’m not going to leave here until I get a chance to publicly comment.”

“Well, you can stay all night,” Friedman said, “but we’re not going to address it.”

Later that night, when Friedman came home, he encountered more pushback—this time from his wife, Trish. He was cutting people off, hurting people’s feelings, she told him. “You are running these meetings so tightly. It’s all about the time limit,” she said.

Friedman defended himself. The Old Guard had been sending their minions to the meetings to obstruct change and criticize every initiative, he told her. He’d intended the subcommittees to represent democracy, inclusion, and fresh ideas. The Old Guard saw bureaucracy: wasteful and unnecessary. Everything he did, it seemed, was met with new aggression and derision. Trish did not seem to appreciate that he was under attack, no matter how many times he tried to explain, using that specific word, “attack.”

It was around this time that Friedman and his allies proposed doubling the water rates in the town. It was, in Friedman’s view, a matter of facing facts. Muir Beach hadn’t raised its water rates in seven years, even though water management costs had increased.

But the Old Guard, already feeling rejected and rebuffed, erupted in outrage. They reminded everyone that Friedman had said he knew nothing about water at the debate. How could they allow him to double the water rate?

“The rates don’t need to be increased by 100 percent,” Hugh said at a public meeting. “That’s like off-the-charts high.”

Friedman was arrogant, power hungry, or inept—or some combination of all three, his critics concluded. What else could explain his tendency to cut people off in meetings and create unnecessary rules? Hugh and other Old Guard members mounted a comeback campaign for the next election, in November 2017, further dividing the town. Friedman was not yet up for reelection, but his New Guard ally was, and the campaign got ugly fast.

“It felt like we were at war,” Friedman said. The community disagreements had morphed into high conflict: an all-consuming, larger-than-life, urgent fight. “I no longer had a sense of proportion about me and I lost myself.”

Friedman was prominent enough that he could have been lecturing around the world, writing more books, and taking on lucrative cases. Instead, he had chosen to devote a good part of his time to work—for free—to help his tiny town. Where was the gratitude?

This feeling of being unappreciated, even rejected, by his neighbors was powerful. It felt like a kind of toxin. Why, he wondered, did it bother him so much?

“I feel like we have lost you.”

In his long career as a conflict mediator, Friedman had gotten comfortable with intense emotions. He’d come to see that blame was almost always a mask, covering up some kind of fear or vulnerability. So he’d learned to get very curious about his clients’ vitriol. What were they protecting, underneath the accusations? “The conflict is almost never about what it seems to be about,” he liked to say.

As Friedman knew, when people feel rejected or excluded, they can become more aggressive in response. Aggression restores a sense of control, if only temporarily. And by demonizing others, people who once felt rejected can feel better about themselves, like they are on the side of “good,” fighting “evil.” But of course, aggression tends to incite more aggression from the other side, like throwing jet fuel on a fire.

In Friedman’s case, he had been recruited to run for election as a savior, and he was received, at least by some, as a nag, buffoon or villain. The only rational way to make sense of it, without gutting his own sense of self, was to blame the Old Guard.

But ostracizing politicians typically backfires. Shame makes the opponent stronger. It cements the division, bringing the other side closer together in fear or anger.

By the summer of 2017, Trish started noticing that certain people would no longer make eye contact with her. “It made me really sad. It was painful,” she told me. “I became ‘Gary’s wife,’ and people didn’t like Gary.”

The conflict stalked her husband, too. He’d wake up at 2 in the morning, scheming up ways to force the Old Guard to finally and publicly admit that he was right and they were wrong. He’d replay meetings in his head, over and over.

Someone told him that Hugh had called Gary “Napoleonic.” It was outrageous, Friedman thought. The man who taught listening to thousands didn’t know how to listen? He confronted Hugh about it, but Hugh denied ever saying such a thing.

Friedman felt trapped. “The feeling of hatred coming at me is a nasty feeling,” he said. “Especially when you’re walking the dog, and you know people have said things about you that are not true, and you can’t counter them, because if you counter them, you’re giving life to them.”

At family gatherings, he couldn’t stop talking about the details of neighborhood disputes.

Friedman’s grown children tried to intervene.

“There is this kind of poison seeping into the house, causing you to lose sleep, and you just can’t see it,” his son told him. “I feel like we have lost you,” his daughter said.

An Attempted Coup

Friedman had barely called the meeting to order when a board member named Joel interrupted him. It was October 17, 2017, the last meeting before the election.

“I’m really disappointed, Gary, that there are three items that I asked you specifically to put on the agenda and that you very carefully decided you were not going to put on the agenda,” Joel said, his voice tight.

Friedman responded with forced collegiality. “I did, and thank you for your comments, and we can’t talk about them because they’re not on the agenda.”

It sounded like a theater of the absurd. Friedman had refused to put the items on the agenda, and so the board couldn’t talk about them— because they weren’t on the agenda.

“If we were going to talk about them, we’d have to give advance notice to the community by putting them on the agenda,” Friedman lectured, “so they’re not going to be on this agenda for tonight, which isn’t to say that they’re not important and legitimate to be discussed, and we’ll have the opportunity to put them on a future agenda.”

Another board member complained about her own issue being left off the agenda. Friedman persisted: “It’s not on the agenda.”

A spectator yelled out, “Make an exception!”

“Yeah!” another man shouted. Friedman was losing control of the meeting, and it had only just begun.

“Wait a minute, hold it! Hold it!” he shouted. “Please. Please. No, no, no, no. Hey, wait a minute, wait a minute. I’m running this meeting, I’m doing the best I can, please hold your comments.”

Then Joel did something Friedman hadn’t expected.

“I have completely lost confidence in your ability to serve as president of this board,” he declared. And he called for Friedman’s immediate removal. “And I am making a motion—”

Friedman interrupted him, sounding desperate: “You can’t make that motion. It’s not on the agenda.”

“It does not have to be on the agenda, Gary.”

Friedman was cornered. Just two years ago, in this very same space, he had talked about bringing the magic back to Muir Beach. His family had beamed back at him from the audience. Yet here he was, presiding over a parody of a town council meeting, on the verge of being thrown out of volunteer office in a tiny town no one had ever heard of.

“When conflict takes over, it creates its own reality,” Friedman and Himmelstein had written in Challenging Conflict. These were very fortunate people living in a literal paradise by the sea, arguing over small matters in the grand scheme of things. But that was irrelevant.

On Election Day, Friedman’s closest New Guard ally was voted out of office. It was Friedman’s worst nightmare. She was replaced by Hugh and another of Friedman’s fiercest Old Guard rivals. Friedman’s term didn’t end until 2021, but he had no clear allies left on the board. He would be removed as president and have no real power.

“I felt a deep sense of humiliation, pain and sadness,” he recalled. He considered resigning.

Disrupting the Conflict

On January 25, 2018, at 7:03 p.m., Friedman called to order the last meeting under his leadership. A fire crackled in the community center fireplace. People greeted one another. If you didn’t know better, it would have sounded almost convivial. One minute later, the board voted to replace Friedman as president with a member of the Old Guard. His marginalization was complete.

Then Friedman did something surprising. He voted with the Old Guard for the new president. Then, two minutes later, Hugh got nominated to be vice president. This time, Friedman seconded the nomination.

Friedman did all of this without much comment. Then he spent the next three hours trying to stay quiet and control the expression on his face. The meeting finally ended just before 10 o’clock, an hour later than Friedman would have ended it.

Electoral losses, like snowstorms or pandemics, can destabilize conflicts. There’s a moment when the system is disrupted, and in that moment, huge opportunity exists. For things to get better. Or much worse.

The election defeat gave Friedman just enough time and space to realize what had happened to him. How far he’d fallen from his own ideals.

Friedman decided to vote for the Old Guard that day, he said, not as an act of surrender but as a very intentional way to disrupt the conflict system. He realized that if he stayed on the board, he had to get out of the trap he was in. By voting for his enemies, he was intentionally changing the one pattern in the conflict system that he could control: his own. “Once I admitted that I was part of the problem, even though it’s really hard to do that, it’s actually liberating,” he said.

The new board got rid of Gary’s subcommittees. “I got Obama’d,” Gary said. The Old Guard was undoing almost everything he’d accomplished, just as Donald Trump was doing at the same time to Barack Obama’s legacy, 3,000 miles away in Washington. “They emasculated or reversed just about everything.”

Still, he had no interest in meekly complying with the new board just to reduce the conflict. He’d seen too many people do that in divorce mediations; it was always a mistake, one they regretted later. He didn’t even use the word “compromise” in his office. Compromise feels like a surrender. And Gary was no pacifist. He believed conflict made us better. Or it could. He’d seen it happen.

So he asked himself the same questions he asks divorcing couples: What’s behind that? Why is that important to me? What would it be like if I got what I wanted here?

There was a lot of noise in his head and plenty of blame to go around. But eventually he realized that what he’d wanted most of all was to help his neighbors understand one another, even when they disagreed, so they could make conflict useful and still solve the problems that could be solved. But pressuring people to adopt his worldview was never going to work. He had to return to what he knew from 40 years of mediating conflicts: “The kinds of changes that are significant don’t really come about by coercion. They come about through understanding, and understanding is hard won, and it requires patience.”

To get there, he had to take a long path. He resolved to blur the lines between the Old and New Guard. Every day, he did things to scramble the tendency of everyone involved (including himself) to see the world in binary terms. Some days he voted with one member of the Old Guard; other days he voted his own way. He tried to genuinely reconnect with people, one on one. “When I pass the people who most hate me, I smile at them,” he said. “I ask about their health. One’s mother just died, and I asked about it.”

The beauty of group identities is that there are so many of them, waiting to be lit up. No one is just a Democrat or a Republican, a white man or a Black man. We are also sports fans, churchgoers, pet owners or parents. So Gary tried to revive the other identities in his own mind—and in everyone else.

One day, after he accidentally left his gate open, one of the Old Guard called him up to let him know that his dog, Artie, had wandered up to their house. That felt promising.

Another change Friedman made was to rely less on Tanya, his political adviser, the one who had used words like “kill” and “beatdown” and “thugs.”

He appreciated Tanya’s help, and he knew she understood politics far better than he did. But he got into politics to do something different. “I don’t want to hold hostility in my heart for people,” he told her. “I don’t like living that way.”

They remained friends, but he turned to his wife for political advice instead. He routinely asked her for feedback: Was he too sharp? Too impatient? And she’d tell him.

This all took longer than he would have liked. To hold on to what mattered most, Friedman had to let go of a lot. But in the end, Friedman did help to heal politics in his town. The road got repaired. The water rate got raised. The tone of the meetings improved. The neighborhood made progress, without coming apart. He created what I’ve come to know as “good conflict,” and in that state, he got much more done. In his own way, he built a microcosm of what politics could look like—if it were designed to incentivize our better instincts in conflict, not our worst.

His five-year term just ended, and he has no plans to run again.

As part of her book research on conflict, the author took paid mediation training from Friedman and colleagues through his Center for Understanding in Conflict (which is how she learned about this story).

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‘I have reassessed’: Former Pentagon official now says Trump may not have incited riot

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‘I have reassessed’: Former Pentagon official now says Trump may not have incited riot

Miller echoed the same message.

“I had all the authority I needed, and I knew what had to happen,” the former defense official said, adding that Trump had given him that authority in the days before the riot.

“I think that the lack of direct communication from President Trump speaks volumes,” Maloney said.

Sparks flew between Democrats on the panel and the Trump appointees as lawmakers accused Miller of changing his account to sound more favorable to Trump and faulted Rosen for refusing to discuss his conversations with the president, as well as for dramatic events at the Justice Department in the days leading up to the riot.

While Miller said in a media interview and in his prepared statement for Wednesday’s hearing that Trump encouraged the protesters on Jan. 6, he took a different tack in his live testimony.

“I think now I would say that is not the unitary factor at all…I have reassessed,” Miller said. “It seems clear there was an organized assault element in place that was going to assault regardless of what the president said.”

Miller also went further than Rosen, seemingly defending Trump by insisting that the former president fulfilled his constitutional duties in connection with the storming of the Capitol, which took place as Congress was scheduled to certify the electoral vote.

When asked to assess whether heated political rhetoric was to blame for the riot, Miller painted in very broad strokes and didn’t point a finger at Trump. “I think the entire entertainment, media, political complex is culpable in creating this environment that is just intolerable and needs to change,” the former defense chief said.

When Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) said Miller had reversed himself, Miller replied: “Absolutely not. That’s ridiculous.”

“You’re ridiculous,” Lynch shot back.

“Thank you for your thoughts,” Miller responded.

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) also lambasted Miller over his claims that he is proud of “every decision” he made on Jan. 6.

“I have never been more offended on this committee by a witness statement than yours. You were more concerned about defending your own reputation and justifying your own actions than the sanctity of this Capitol and the sanctity of our democracy,” Khanna said.

When Miller began his answer by praising the service of the troops at the Capitol, Khanna cut him off: “Your pugnacious style is not going to override the democratic process. Learn to respect it.”

Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) seemed angry about Miller‘s stance.

“It’s almost like the military saying, ‘Sure, we lost the battle, but we carried out our plan perfectly,’“ Quigley said. “I had colleagues saying, when does the f-ing cavalry get here? You lost and you don’t have the intestinal fortitude to own up to your part of the responsibility.“

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) suggested Miller was shifting his position to curry favor with Trump. “Maybe the wrath of Donald Trump came down upon you,” she said. “That is disgusting.“

Rosen, who has been publicly silent since Jan. 6 except for a couple of written statements and a prerecorded Justice Department video released a week after the riot, said Justice officials he did not name had instructed him not to speak about his conversations with Trump.

“I cannot tell you, consistent with my obligations today, about private conversations with the president one way or another,” Rosen said in response to a question from Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) about whether Trump had pressed him to take action on election fraud claims.

“We had an unprecedented insurrection that led to seven deaths. Five here and two suicides, and you are saying this is a privileged communication?” Connolly replied. “I think the American people are entitled to answer, Mr. Rosen.”

Rosen suggested he might relay his conversations with Trump if he had permission to do so. A Justice Department spokesperson had no immediate comment on what instructions the agency gave to Rosen, who was deputy attorney general in the last two years of the Trump administration and became acting head of the department when Attorney General Bill Barr resigned on Dec. 24, 2020.

Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) pressed Rosen on whether Black protesters would’ve been treated similarly by law enforcement as the predominantly white crowd that stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6

“I think our preparation and our responses would’ve been the same,” Rosen said.

“I’m going to have to disagree with you,” declared Bush, who was a Black Lives Matter organizer before winning election to the House last year. “The contrast is stark.”

The lawmakers who led off questioning for Republicans at the hearing seemed intent on minimizing the gravity of the events at the Capitol. Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) argued that the shooting of protester Ashli Babbitt as she sought to breach a lobby outside the House chamber was unwarranted.

“Who executed Ashli Babbitt?” Gosar asked. “The truth is being censored and covered up. As a result, the DOJ is harassing peaceful patriots across the country.”

Gosar argued that the massive Justice Department effort to prosecute those who breached the Capitol and fought with police amounted to overkill aimed at persecuting “Trump voters.”

“The FBI is fishing through the homes of veterans and citizens with no criminal record and restricting the liberties of individuals that have never been accused of a crime,” Gosar said. “The government even enlisted Americans to turn in their own neighbors.”

Gosar also suggested that none of the protesters who entered the Capitol had a weapon. Prosecutors have claimed that firearms were brought into the Capitol, but they have not said that guns were actually seized in the building.

Video of the riot shows some who battled with police wore trademark Trump campaign Make America Great Again caps and waved huge pro-Trump flags. However, Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) disputed press reports that those who sought to breach the Capitol were backers of Trump.

“I don’t know who did the poll to say they were Trump supporters,” Norman said.

Several Democrats tried to rebut the Republican stance by citing then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s pointed rebuke of Trump in January for fueling the attack on the Capitol.

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) said Trump’s culpability for the assault was indisputable.

“He pointed them like a loaded pistol at the capitol. Now, we’re getting this outrageous Orwellian revisionist history,” Raskin said.

Despite the sharp criticism Miller took from Democrats, he did seem to break with Republicans seeking to minimize the events of Jan. 6. “I agree it was an act of terrorism,” he said.

Lara Seligman contributed to this report.

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Dozens killed in Mideast conflict that recalls 2014 Gaza war

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Dozens killed in Mideast conflict that recalls 2014 Gaza war

Palls of gray smoke rose in Gaza, as Israeli airstrikes struck apartment towers and blasted multiple Hamas security installations. In Israel, hundreds of rockets fired by Gaza’s Hamas rulers and other militants at times overwhelmed missile defenses and sent air-raid sirens and explosions echoing across Tel Aviv, Israel’s biggest metropolitan area, and other cities.

The death toll in Gaza rose to 53 Palestinians, including 14 children and three women, according to the Health Ministry. At least 320 have been wounded, including 86 children and 39 women. Seven have been killed on the Israeli side by rocket fire, including the first death of an Israeli soldier in this round of conflict. The other deaths have been civilians, including three women and two children, one of them a 6-year-old killed in a rocket strike on an apartment building in city of Sderot. Dozens in Israel have been wounded.

There was no sign that either side is willing to back down. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to expand the offensive, saying it “will take time.” Hamas has called for a full-scale intifada, or uprising. The last such uprising began in 2000 and lasted more than five years.

The latest eruption of violence began a month ago in Jerusalem, where heavy-handed police tactics during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers ignited protests and clashes with police. A focal point was the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, a site sacred to Jews and Muslims.

Hamas, claiming to be defending Jerusalem, launched a barrage of rockets at the city late Monday, escalating the ground tensions into a new Israel-Hamas punching match.

Since then, militants have fired more 1,050 rockets from Gaza, according to the Israeli military, and Israel has conducted hundreds of strikes in the tiny territory where 2 million Palestinians have lived under a crippling Israeli-Egyptian blockade since Hamas took power in 2007. Two infantry brigades were sent to the area, indicating preparations for a possible ground invasion.

On Wednesday, Israel stepped up its targeting of Hamas’ military wing. The military and internal security agency said they carried out a “complex and first-of-its-kind operation” that killed the Hamas commander in charge of Gaza City, the highest-ranking Hamas military figure killed by Israel since 2014, and several other senior militants involved in rocket production.

Israel has struck 350 targets and killed at least 30 militants since Monday night, 14 of them on Wednesday, Israeli military spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said.

In one of the fiercest attacks, Israeli fighter jets dropped two bombs on a 14-story building in Gaza City, collapsing it. The building, located on the busiest shopping street in the Roman neighborhood, housed businesses in addition to offices for Hamas’ Al-Aqsa satellite channel.

Airstrikes also brought down a 12-story office building that housed Hamas offices as well as other businesses, and heavily damaged a nine-story building with residential apartments, medical companies, a dental clinic and, Israel said, Hamas intelligence offices. In both cases, Israel fired warning shots, allowing people to flee.

Soon after, Hamas fired 100 rockets at the Israeli desert town of Beersheba in what it said was retaliation.

Samah Haboub, a mother of four in Gaza, said she was thrown across her bedroom in a “moment of horror” by an airstrike on an apartment tower next door. She and her children, ages 3 to 14, ran down the stairway of their apartment block along with other residents, many of them screaming and crying.

“There is almost no safe place in Gaza,” she said.

One strike hit a taxi in Gaza City, killing a man, woman and driver insider, and a second strike killed two men nearby on the street, witnesses who brought the bodies told The Associated Press at the hospital. Several other bystanders were wounded.

In the Israeli city of Lod, a 52-year-old Arab Israeli citizen and his 16-year-old daughter were killed when a rocket from Gaza hit the courtyard of their home. An Israeli soldier was killed in a strike by an anti-tank missile from Gaza.

The Jerusalem turmoil and the ensuing battle come at a time when the long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process is virtually non-existent, fueling Palestinian frustration.

It has been seven years since the two sides held formal negotiations. Israel’s political scene pays little attention, and the peace process was hardly an issue in the country’s recent elections. Arab nations, including several that recently reached normalization deals with Israel, rarely push for any resolution.

The result has left the nearly 5 million Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem living in a limbo.

Now the recent fighting has unleashed protests in Arab communities in Israel.

“An intifada erupted in Lod, you have to bring in the army,” the central Israeli city’s mayor, Yair Revivo, said. Lod saw heavy clashes after thousands of mourners joined a funeral for an Arab man killed the previous night, the suspect a Jewish gunman.

With the deployment of border guards in Lod and the coastal city of Acre, Netanyahu warned that he was prepared to use “an iron fist if necessary,” and urged Arab Israeli leaders to bring calm.

Still unclear is how this new outburst of fighting will effect Netanyahu’s political future. He failed to form a government coalition after inconclusive parliamentary elections in March, and now his political rivals have three weeks to try to form one.

The longer the fighting drags on, the more it could hamper their attempts at a coalition. It could also boost Netanyahu if yet another election is held, since security is his strong suit with the public.

Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since the Islamic militant group seized power in Gaza from rival Palestinian forces. The conflicts ended after regional and international powers persuaded both sides to accept an informal truce.

Israel faced heavy criticism over the bombing of residential buildings in Gaza during the 2014 war, one of several tactics that are now the subject of an investigation by the International Criminal Court into possible war crimes. Israel is not a member of the court and has rejected the probe.

In a brief statement, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said she had noted “with great concern” the escalation of violence and “the possible commission of crimes under the Rome Statute” that established the court.

Conricus, the military spokesman, said Israeli forces have strict rules of engagement, follow international laws on armed conflict and are trying to minimize civilian casualties.

But Israel has said it has no choice because Hamas fires rockets from residential areas. Hamas has also come under international criticism over its indiscriminate rocket fire at Israeli population centers.

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Opinion | A GOP Civil War? Don’t Bet On It.

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Opinion | A GOP Civil War? Don’t Bet On It.

They shouldn’t be so sure.

First, beyond a few spats that make headlines, it’s getting harder to detect any serious division among rank-and-file Republicans. In Congress, and at the grassroots, the dominance of Donald Trump over the party is more or less total. The small handful who denounced the former president for his massive lies about the election and his seeding of an insurrectionist riot are now either silent, or have embraced a mealy-mouthed argument for “election integrity.” The same state officials who pushed back against Trump’s attempt to overturn November’s results have embraced a series of restrictive voting measures ostensibly designed to combat non-existent “fraud,” all aimed at hobbling voters inclined to vote for Democrats. Mitch McConnell, who denounced Trump’s behavior in high-minded tones in the aftermath of the riot, also—on the exact same day—voted to exonerate him of wrongdoing.

Second, and more significant, history is littered with times that critics on the left, and in the pundit class, were positive the Republican Party was setting itself up for defeat by embracing its extremes … only to watch the party comfortably surge into power. This time there are structural advantages as well: Given the Republican advantages in the House (through gerrymandering, and the statistically “wasted” votes in landslide Democratic districts), in the Senate, in state legislatures and in the Electoral College, a Trump-dominated Republican Party is a strong contender to take the White House next time around. And, contrarian as it may seem, the lockstep devotion to the former president may actually enhance, rather than lessen, its chances. What we’re seeing isn’t a civil war. It’s a purge, and there’s every reason to believe it will work.

This is not the conclusion you’ll reach if you follow much of the mainstream press. A New York Times story on Saturday about Trump’s hold on the GOP quoted former Rep. Barbara Comstock, former Sen. Jeff Flake, GOP consultant Sarah Longwell and Republican strategist Scott Reed, all warning of the political danger of a Trumpcentric party. These are estimable public figures, none of whom remotely speaks for the Republican base. For the past few weeks, much media attention was focused on Michael Wood, the 34-year-old veteran running for a Texas seat with a message that the Republican Party had to move away from Trump. He wound up finishing ninth, with 3 percent of the vote.

For a broader measure of just how one-sided the “civil war” is, you don’t need to stop at the behavior of House Republicans, who are poised to defenestrate Liz Cheney from her leadership post, and who overwhelmingly voted in January to block the certification of electors. A far better picture emerges when you consider the behavior at the grassroots. From one end of the country to the other, state and local Republicans have spoken with one voice.

In Oregon—once the home of moderate Republicans like Mark Hatfield and Robert Packwood—the state party declared that the January 6 pro-Trump insurrection was a “false flag” operation by antifa and Black Lives Matter supporters. In Arizona, where Sen. John McCain once stepped across the aisle to defend the patriotism of Barack Obama, the state party censured his widow, Flake and Gov. Doug Ducey for refusing to embrace the “stolen election” fantasies of Trump. More recently, the GOP-controlled state Senate turned 2.1 million votes from Maricopa County over to an “auditing” firm run by hardcore Trump supporters; the firm is now inspecting ballots for “bamboo fibers,” the better to prove that thousands of ballots somehow made their way from China into Arizona ballot boxes.

In state after state—Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Illinois, Kentucky, Nebraska, Michigan, Washington—local Republican parties are rallying around the ex-president, and censuring those who dare to critique him. If there is any counterweight to this mass impulse, if there are signs of any activity on the other side of this “civil war,” it is happening at a level so low as to be invisible.

From a distance, this all looks somewhere between absurd and suicidal for the party: Pledging total allegiance to a divisive, 74-year-old one-term president who lost his reelection bid by 7 million votes, and lives in a bubble of people telling him he won. He could, and seemingly still can, remove critics from the political stage with the flick of a finger. Should that be seen as a political calamity for Republicans?

If you have a long enough memory, or a grasp of political history, you can point to a moment when the GOP was, indeed, slightly too extreme for American voters: Presidential nominee Barry Goldwater went down to a massive defeat in 1964, in part because the then-significant moderate-liberal wing of the party refused to support him.

But that may be the last time the Republicans truly regretted alienating their moderates. In 1980, Mary Crisp stepped down as co-chair of the Republican National Committee after the party abandoned its support for the Equal Rights Amendment, and put a more or less total abortion ban in its platform. To the pundit classes, her departure was seen an obvious sign that Ronald Reagan’s nomination would drive the then-significant core of moderate and even liberal Republicans away from the ticket. Spoiler alert: The party united behind Reagan and won 44 states. Crisp’s dramatic departure is now a footnote, at best.

For establishment Washington, it was a genuine shock to the system. When 1980 began, an A-list New Year’s gathering in Washington held an informal poll on who would win the presidential election that November. Not a single partygoer chose Reagan. If the collective wisdom of Washington could not imagine the election of a candidate who was twice been elected to lead the largest state in the union, it was beyond the pale in early 2016 to imagine a crude, bullying, recreational liar with the political knowledge of a hamster ascending to the highest office in the land. He would not survive the first in-depth investigative news probe; he would not survive the first primary; he would be turned back at the convention; he would go down to humiliating defeat in November.

And indeed, his ascent triggered what looked like a civil war within the party. Four of the previous five Republican presidential nominees refused to endorse him; a fifth of GOP senators did the same. But Trump won 88 percent of the Republican vote. And after four years of unhinged government, after credible evidence of obstruction of justice, after a pandemic death toll directly linked to presidential indifference and ignorance … Trump won 12 million more votes than he had four years earlier, with the support of 94 percent of Republican voters. That’s slightly better than Reagan did in his 1984 landslide reelection. A shift of 42,000 votes in three states would have thrown the contest into the House of Representatives, where the ludicrously anti-democratic one-state-one-vote rule would have put Trump back in the White House. (Further—had David Perdue won a quarter of one percent more of the vote in the Georgia Senate contest last November, he would have avoided a runoff and the Senate would now be under GOP control).

And despite Trump’s overt attempt to subvert the election, despite his feeding the flames that nearly led to a physical assault of the vice president and speaker of the House, the Republican Party has, after a few complaints and speed bumps, firmly rallied behind Trump’s argument that he was robbed of a second term. A remarkable 70 percent of self-identified Republicans say Biden is not the legitimate president. To prove their commitment to Trump, state legislators, governors and other officials enact laws based on that premise. Rather than holding up their end of a civil war, the objectors are being stripped of their jobs, or leaving the party entirely.

Looking ahead to 2024, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the structural advantages that benefit the Republican Party—in House districts, in the GOP tilt of the Senate and Electoral College—are only tilting further in its direction, buttressed by new laws and regulations passed to make Trump and his followers happy. If Trump really runs, and the 2024 election results have roughly the same profile as 2020’s, it is far more likely that Trump would emerge the victor, given new barriers to voting and the purging of nonpartisan voting officials.

Now throw in the human factors, and imagine how a Republican House and Senate could refuse to certify politically unpalatable state results, thus throwing the election into the House, where the one-state-one-vote rule makes a victory for the Republican candidate probable.

The pattern is striking: if you want to survive as a Republican official, you will support the former president; if you support the former president, you will support laws that reflect his conviction that the election was stolen; if you enact those rules, you are making it more possible that he will win a second term. The party is talking with one voice; the voice is Trump’s, and it’s one that plenty of Americans are still perfectly receptive to.

Yes, there are those within the party who will resist: Cheney, Adam Kinzinger, blue state governors like Larry Hogan, former GOP Chair Michael Steele, who has been effectively divorced from the party for years. As nominal Republicans, they will win a significant share of coverage in the New York Times, and on CNN and MSNBC. But the idea that they represent one side of a major split within the Republican Party is a fantasy.

As a body, that party has embraced notions about the political process that would have seemed the stuff of parody a decade ago. Donald Trump Jr. was right, in his speech to the crowd just before the Capitol insurrection: this is Trump’s Republican Party, and it’s perfectly united in that conviction. To pretend otherwise—and to pretend that there’s an argument about what it stands for, or some kind of damaging fracture still ahead—is an act of delusion.

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