A Message from Jacqueline Salit on 2034

A special message from Jackie Salit
President, Independent Voting

2034: A Novel of the Next World War

By Elliot Ackerman and Admiral James Stavridis

In her message, Jackie Salit talks about the themes explored in the book:

It deals with everything from our overreliance on technology, both the ways in which it makes us vulnerable but also the ways in which it distances us and alienates us… Another really important theme of the book is the risk of over reaction, politically, militarily and the ways in which ideology or preconceived notions can affect decision making at the highest levels that have incredibly dangerous and destructive effects. And the book also deals with the question of the difference — and in some ways the conflict — between national interests and a collection of national interests versus the interests of human beings and humanity….”


Thursday, August 12th at 2pm ET
For the Politics for the People ZOOM Event
With 2034 Authors Elliot Ackerman
and Admiral James Stavridis


What Happens if the Military Starts Doubting Our Elections?

Elliot Ackerman, co-author of 2034, is a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times covering foreign policy, culture and politics. This is his latest guest essay.

Ashley Gilbertson/VII Photo, via Redux

The first presidential election I witnessed as a member of the military was George W. Bush versus Al Gore in 2000. I was in college, as a naval R.O.T.C. midshipman, and on Election Day I remember asking a Marine lieutenant colonel who was a visiting fellow at my university whether he’d made it to the polls. In much the same way one might say “I don’t smoke” when offered a cigarette, he said, “Oh, I don’t vote.” His answer confused me at the time. He was a third-generation military officer, someone imbued with a strong sense of duty. He then explained that as a military officer he felt it was his obligation to remain apolitical. In his estimation, this included not casting a vote on who his commander in chief might be.

Although I don’t agree that one’s commitment to remain apolitical while in uniform extends to not voting, I would over the years come across others who abstained from voting on similar grounds. That interaction served as an early lesson on the lengths some in the military would go to steer clear of politics. It also illustrated that those in uniform have, by definition, a different relationship to the president than civilians do. As that lieutenant colonel saw it in 2000, he wouldn’t be voting for his president but rather for his commander in chief, and he didn’t feel it was appropriate to vote for anyone in his chain of command.

As it turned out, the result of that election was contested. Mr. Gore challenged the result after Florida was called for Mr. Bush, and the dispute went all the way to the Supreme Court between the election and the inauguration, by which point Mr. Gore had conceded.

There are many ways to contest an election, some of which are far more reckless and unseemly than others, but our last two presidential elections certainly qualify. In 2016, Democrats contested Donald Trump’s legitimacy based on collusion between his campaign and Russia. In 2020, Republicans significantly escalated the level of contestation around the election with widespread and unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud, which ultimately erupted in rioting on Jan. 6.

Little progress has been made to understand this cycle of contested elections we are trapped in, with the most recent attempt — the Jan. 6 commission — failing to pass in Congress. Today, dysfunction runs deep in our politics. While the images from Jan. 6 remain indelible, the images of entire cities in red and blue states boarded up in the days before last Nov. 3 should also concern us. If contested elections become the norm, then mass protests around elections become the norm, and if mass protests become the norm, then police and military responses to those protests will surely follow. This is a new normal we can ill afford.

This takes us back to that lieutenant colonel I knew in college and his conviction to stay out of politics. Increasingly, this view has seemed to fall out of favor, particularly among retired officers. In 2016, we saw large speaking roles doled out to prominent retired military leaders at both parties’ national conventions. This trend has accelerated in recent years, and in the 2020 elections we saw some retired flag officers (including the former heads of several high commands) writing and speaking out against Mr. Trump in prominent media outlets, and others organizing against Joe Biden’s agenda in groups like Flag Officers for America.

The United States military is one of the most trusted institutions in our society, and so support from its leaders has become an increasingly valuable political commodity. That trust exists partly because it is one of the few institutions that resists overt political bias. If this trend of increased military politicization seeps into the active-duty ranks, it could lead to dangerous outcomes, particularly around a contested presidential election.

Many commentators have already pointed out that it’s likely that in 2024 (or even 2022) the losing party will cry foul, and it is also likely that their supporters will fill the streets, with law enforcement, or even the military, called in to manage those protests. It is not hard to imagine, then, with half of the country claiming an elected leader is illegitimate, that certain military members who hold their own biases might begin to second guess their orders.

This might sound alarmist, but as long as political leaders continue to question the legitimacy of our president, some in our military might do the same.

After I served in Afghanistan and Iraq, I covered the war in Syria as a journalist. It’s often forgotten that the refusal of Sunnis in the military to follow the orders of Bashar al-Assad was a key factor in pushing that political crisis into a civil war. That’s because when the military splinters, the defecting elements take their tanks, their guns and their jets with them. Obviously, we are very far from that sort of instability. But cautious speculation has its uses; it can be critical in heading off conflict. My experience in the military and my understanding of past conflicts have convinced me that the forces our politicians are playing with when they contest elections are dangerous ones.

Last week, Senator Joe Manchin expressed his hopes of reviving the Jan. 6 commission with a second vote in Congress. Understandably, lawmakers crave answers and accountability, and perhaps he’ll find success in that effort. But the solution to our troubles isn’t in looking backward, it’s in looking forward: by passing bipartisan voting rights legislation like the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which could create at least some consensus on the terms under which the next election takes place. Consensus on anything in Washington is hard to come by these days, but there is a common interest here. Both parties will certainly agree that if they win the next election, they won’t want the other side to contest it.

Elliot Ackerman, a contributing Opinion writer, is the author, most recently, of the novel “Red Dress in Black and White” and “2034.” He is a former Marine and intelligence officer who served five tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. @elliotackerman


Politics for the People Zoom Event
With Authors Elliot Ackerman
and Admiral James Stavridis
Thursday, August 12th at 2pm ET


Politics and Prose with Elliot Ackerman and Admiral James Stavridis

At a Politics and Prose event earlier this year, authors Elliot Ackerman and Admiral James Stavridis were interviewed by Martha Raddatz. They had a rich conversation about their book, 2034: A Novel of the Next World War.

Watch the conversation below:

(Check out more from Politics and Prose here.)

Some Highlights From the Conversation:

Elliot Ackerman: “We were, very early on, in total alignment that we wanted this to be a character driven novel that was both global in its reach — you’re traveling everywhere — but intimate in that you’re traveling to all these places with a pretty well-developed set of characters.”

“Partisanship presents a national security threat.”

Admiral James Stavridis: “What we tried to do with this novel is to imagine our way into this future and talk realistically about where we think in 15 years the military term alert, correlation of forces will be. In other words, how will the two sides be balanced. The short answer is we don’t know, but my guess is that China will advance rapidly, in cyber, in quantum computing, in A.I. And therefore, will be able to leverage new stealth technologies, etc, etc, etc. I think the United States has some work to do to keep up. We’re still slightly ahead but if you kind of follow those threat lines along and you consider nationalism and look at demographics and polarization in this country it starts to look like there is a moment of real danger about 15 years from now…. If anything, we hope [2034] is a cautionary tale that allows us to reverse engineer what’s happening and think our way through how do we avoid it.”

“This is not predictive fiction. This is cautionary fiction.”


Politics for the People Zoom Event
With Authors Elliot Ackerman
and Admiral James Stavridis
Thursday, August 12th at 2pm ET


Summer Selection! 2034: A Novel of the Next World War

Kirkus Reviews on 2034: A Novel of the Next World War

“A frightening look at how a major-power showdown might race out of control.

It’s 2034, and the Chinese are sick and tired of the U.S. Navy violating their territorial waters with “freedom of navigation patrols.” Near the Spratly Islands and Mischief Reef, a Navy ship stops to aid the incapacitated trawler Wén Rui. But there’s something fishy about the boat (hint: electronics), so the Navy holds it. Thousands of miles away, an unknown force takes control of the F-35 piloted by Maj. Chris “Wedge” Mitchell over the Strait of Hormuz, and he becomes a prisoner in Iran. China will arrange for the F-35’s return in exchange for the trawler, but what they really want is a confrontation and uncontested control of the South China Sea. They put a cyber stranglehold on the U.S., cause a nationwide blackout, and sink several American naval vessels, believing the conflict will be limited and China’s victory will be total. But murder a few thousand people here and a few thousand there, and pretty soon you have a “needless war” in which the dead number in the millions. And this is only with tactical nukes. This novel starts out like a Tom Clancy thriller, but whether Wedge Mitchell is more like Jack Ryan or Dr. Strangelove is for the reader to decide. Maybe Wedge just wants to live up to the military legacy of his Pop and Pop-Pop and then go light up a celebratory Marlboro. Better that than lighting up the Chinese coast. Among the colorful cast of characters are a Chinese admiral with an American mother, an American security official with family in India, and a female U.S. president who, despite a fair number of references, is never named. Finally, an elegiac coda describes an aftermath wished for by no one. Unlike with the never-ending Clancy series, it’s hard to imagine a sequel to this dark warning about human folly and miscalculation.

This compelling thriller should be required reading for our national leaders and translated into Mandarin.”


Politics for the People Zoom Event
With Authors Elliot Ackerman and Admiral James Stavridis
Thursday, August 12th at 2pm ET


Is Good Governing No Longer Good Politics?


Join Independent Voting and The People for the first in a series of Citizen Engagement Forums on Wednesday evening, March 10th at 8 pm ET. We will be hearing from FixUS Director Mike Murphy on the topic: Is Good Governing No Longer Good Politics?

Mike Murphy will be sharing the new Fix US report:

“Why is Governing No Longer Good Politics?: Reflections from a Thousand Years of Public Service”

FixUS brought together a group of public servants for their unique perspectives – including former members of Congress, cabinet secretaries, governors, and ambassadors – to shed some light on the severe polarization and bitterly divisive politics facing our country. The perspectives in this report represent nearly 1,000 years of public service, spanning every presidential administration from John F. Kennedy to Donald J. Trump, and evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. 

After Mike’s presentation, we will be having a lively discussion about how, as citizens, we see the issue of the erosion of good governance and our electoral process. 

Register for the event here.

In the Balance of Power – A Politics for the People Conversation with Author Omar H. Ali

On Sunday, February 21st, people from across the country joined Politics for the People host Cathy Stewart for a conversation with Dr. Omar H. Ali, author of In the Balance of Power: Independent Black Politics and Third-Party Movements in the United States.

Click on the video below to watch the full conversation.

Reader’s Forum — David Cherry

Remembrances — Sunday, February 21st

David Cherry

On this date 56 years ago – Sunday, February 21, 1965 – Malcolm X was assassinated in Harlem in New York City.  My father was a member of Malcolm’s Organization of Afro-American Unity and regularly attended his Sunday afternoon rallies.  My father was at the Audubon Ballroom when Malcolm was shot and killed and often spoke about the real-life nightmare and tragedy which occurred that day.

Malcolm X was an independent Black leader. Rarely is he portrayed this way by most people who praise him today. During his lifetime, he was very controversial and frightened people by how he called out the Democratic Party for their inability or unwillingness to stop the violent suppression of the civil rights movement during the 1960s – despite controlling the presidency, the House and the Senate.  Malcolm excoriated the Democratic Party and the Republican Party for the horrendous conditions of racism and poverty suffered by Black people in America.

Lenora Fulani

When Dr. Lenora Fulani made history by becoming the first woman and the first African-American to get on the ballot in all 50 states for president in 1988, my father and I proudly voted for her in the general election that year.  Like Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Fannie Lou Hamer and other powerful leaders of the 1950s and 1960s, Dr. Fulani is an independent Black leader. My father from South Carolina was an independent.  My mother from Alabama was an independent. I proudly follow in their footsteps as an independent. 

Malcom X

The horrendous conditions faced by Black people 50 and 60 years ago still exist today by all of those suffering with racism and poverty.  Many of us who are independents are committed to creating new political environments where we can finally engage and change these conditions instead of becoming political party partisans who enthusiastically divide people for the sole purpose of winning elections.

Thank you to Dr. Omar Ali for his excellent book which highlights the many principled people who have dedicated their lives to dismantling our toxic politics and creating a new America of democracy, liberty and justice for all.

David Cherry, Chicago, Illinois, is the City Leader of the All Stars Project of Chicago. For more than 25 years, Cherry, a seasoned community organizer and activist, has helped diverse communities develop around issues of democracy, social justice and inclusion. He is the founder of United Independents of Illinois and serves on Independent Voting’s Board of Directors.


In the Balance of Power:
Independent Black Politics and
Third-Party Movements in the United States
By Omar H. Ali

Video of our Feb 21st Zoom conversation with Dr. Omar Ali will be available soon.


Reader’s Forum — Tiani Coleman

Only by Breaking the Partisan Divides Can We Find True Equality

Tiani Coleman

Imagine if George Floyd had died, instead of less than six months before one of the most polarizing, rhetorically charged partisan elections in our history, it had been prior to a top-five nonpartisan/truly public primary?

A top-five primary, or any iteration thereof, greatly opens up our political process to give all voters and all candidates a level playing field. All candidates from all party preferences, including no party preference, appear on the same primary ballot, and the top five (or other iteration) of vote-getters, regardless of party affiliation, advance to the general election, where voters use ranked choice voting to determine the final winner. Would his death, and the ensuing protests, have been viewed and responded to through a less partisan lens?

Although Omar Ali didn’t directly pose this question in his book In the Balance of Power: Independent Black Politics and Third-Party Movements in the United States, I feel like he’s invited me to ask it.

Ali outlines the contributions and influences of Black outsider movements throughout our nation’s history, showing that the strength of the struggle for equality, justice and democratic reform has largely been found through independent politics among African Americans, and that true equality must be forged through a Black and independent alliance.

Unfortunately, the nature of our two-party system wields power in such a way as to heavily disadvantage and block those who try to work independent of the two major parties; it practically forces those trying to make a difference to wed themselves to a party.

In particular, Ali demonstrates how the Democratic party that has taken the Black vote for granted has both succeeded and failed. He points out that “there are over six times as many African Americans serving in Congress as there were in 1965. The number of elected African Americans serving in local, state and federal offices now exceed 8,000 – from less than 300 prior to 1965.” But, Ali asserts, “Despite the substantial number of Black Democrats serving in office (and some Black Republicans, including at the highest levels of office . .), the Black community – as a whole –remains politically marginalized and chronically poor.”

George Floyd’s death, and the ensuing protests, should have united our country to come together to make further advancements towards equality, and to make visible progress in obliterating systemic racism and disparate income inequality. But instead, his death further divided us.

Jackie Salit, in her Afterword to the book, eloquently quotes James Baldwin from his 1965 debate with conservative icon William F. Buckley Jr. The topic being debated was, “The American Dream Is at the Expense of the American Negro.” Baldwin said,

[W]e the American people . . . have to accept . . . that on th[is] continent we are trying to forge a new identity for which we need each other, and that I am not a ward of America, I am not an object of missionary charity, I am one of the people who built this country. Until this moment, there is scarcely any hope for the American dream.”

Baldwin also said,

What is crucial here is that unless we can manage to establish some kind of dialogue between those people whom I pretend have paid for the American Dream, and those other people who have not achieved it, we will be in terrible trouble . . . .”

That is the problem with our partisan political structure. It doesn’t bring about true equality and it doesn’t foster dialogue. We need to forge a new identity to enliven the American Dream, and Omar Ali writes about those who have been working on that for years in the African American community.

I have countless friends and family on the Republican side who believe that there is no systemic racism, that we’ve already achieved “equal opportunity,” and now it’s just a matter of people “working hard.” They don’t believe that “victim mentality” serves anyone. Perhaps somewhat ironically, they also believe that the tables have now been turned against them. That racial minorities, buoyed by Democrats, seek disproportionate power to wield the state to advance themselves above THEM, to begin a new era of discrimination against THEM.

On the other hand, my Democratic friends have absolutely no sympathy for this mindset and are quick to label anyone on the right who doesn’t favor Democratic policies as racist, bigoted, fascist, uneducated, etc.

If our political system didn’t divide us into two competing teams, as well as along racial, class and ideological lines, we’d be able to see each other better and we’d be less apt to view a different viewpoint as the enemy, but simply as different. We’d work harder to incorporate various perspectives into policy rather than find ways to manipulate the system to marginalize the viewpoints we don’t like. We’d be able to see that politics doesn’t have to be about power and non-power, but it can be about empowerment, for everyone.

While it may appear like Black Americans are currently prospering with a home in the Democratic party, we need to create a political environment where they can move politically as freely as whites do, and not feel as though the Democratic party is “their only real home.”

I agree with Ali and Salit that to “transform an exploitative and divisive political and cultural system,” hope lies in a successful Black and independent alliance. We need to continue building coalitions that are cross-racial, cross-ideological, and that cross the class divides. Moving to nonpartisan / public primaries is a good way to press forward in the same spirit of many who went before, documented by Omar Ali. In fact, it seems our country, in my lifetime, has never been so in need of, and ready for, these changes.

Tiani Xochitl Coleman is a mother of five, a graduate of Cornell Law School, and President of New Hampshire Independent Voters and New Hampshire Ranked Choice Voting.


In the Balance of Power:
Independent Black Politics and
Third-Party Movements in the United States
By Omar H. Ali

Video of our Feb 21st zoom conversation with Dr. Omar Ali will be available soon.


Reader’s Forum — Al Bell

Omar Ali and In The Balance of Power

Commentary by Al Bell

February 5, 2021

Old white guys like me generally don’t know much about the history Omar Ali unfolds in the update of his 2008 book, In the Balance of Power: Independent Black Politics and Third-Party Movements in the United States. I am hardly alone in that, of course. This is a crash course in the historic ebb and flow of political influence and impact by Black Americans and avowed independents. The story has special relevance to American political forces taking shape in this pivotal initial fifth of the twenty-first century, driven increasingly by the “outs:” Independent Voters who do not choose to kowtow to the Democratic and Republican party dictates and Black Voters who continue to seek their legitimate place at the table of governance. Formidable obstacles confront both of them and new ones emerge regularly.

I owe readers of this commentary (not review) a full disclosure: All of this matters, I believe, because the Great American Experiment faces unusual internal challenges. Parties, labels, silos, movements, interest groups, tribes, myriad organizations, etc. all have their place. The purpose they are part of, however, is much larger than any of them, including what we refer to as the Independent Voter movement, in which most (if not all of us) following the Politics For the People book club are active. Viewed this way, political and voter rights for independence is not merely an end (though that is worthwhile); it is a means. So, for that matter, are political parties from time to time, but current party behavior belies any real grasp of purpose other than raw political advantage.

One more disclosure: my current stack of “must read” books has me overwhelmed. Why, then, should I bump all of that aside and read Omar Ali’s book? Well, I didn’t. I only read parts of it and skimmed the rest. I have never written a review of a book on that basis. I am now in uncharted territory.

On a personal level, I will finish it in increments over the next few weeks. Driven by the P4P calendar, I am reluctantly sharing my thoughts thus far in the hope that they will stir interest by others. This is not a review; it is a commentary. These observations are stimulated by what I have read so far, including the major update: an afterword by Jackie Salit.

Do not expect the following points to follow any pattern; they don’t. And please do not blame Dr. Ali for these comments; he is responsible for stimulating them, but has no responsibility at all for my interpretation. I hope he doesn’t cringe if he reads them, but he surely has that privilege.

We continue to be faced with what I refer to as a “DuopoLith” (the duopoly of two parties; the monolith of the two-party power collusion and world view) of American political life: the seemingly impregnable fortress constructed by the Democratic and Republican parties as a pathetic surrogate for American governance. It is a dismal distortion of what the Great American Experiment requires. Not surprisingly, the challenges to this domination arise from outside the parties. Black Americans, often associated with other marginalized segments of the population (though not always) have played significant roles in bending the Nation’s political trajectory. Indeed, they are sometimes the determinators, as are independents, increasingly. Black independents are a force of nature in electoral terms.

Winners get to write the history books. That is why so many make it seem like the DuopoLith is the only game in town. That is often true in the short run and seldom in the long run. That is a major reason why this book is so important—and remains so over a decade after its first edition.

Parties focus on ideology and control; independents, often including Black Americans, focus on issues requiring resolution. The process often consumes decades, with sharp reversals and varied alliances along the way. The long game requires a long view; difficult to achieve and sustain when the consequences for large swaths of Americans are often so significantly degraded. That includes Black Americans for the last 456 years (from St. Augustine onward) and poor populations generally throughout our history (and everyone else’s).

Our society, from the very wording of the Constitution in 1787 until today, takes certain segments of the population for granted, as do parties with voters who are not loyal to the DuopoLith but vote for party nominated candidates anyway because there are seldom options. Parties want our money for campaigns and our votes for candidates and then our silence until the next election.

The DuopoLith views the political landscape as a zero-sum environment, in which there must always be winners and losers, with the parties dictating who is which. Black Americans have experienced this phenomenon from all parties throughout our history.

The so-called party base (for each party) is impervious to critical thinking and voting for the most part. This leaves the “margins” to determine who wins and who loses elections in selective areas—in recent years, coming down to half a dozen states or so that swing numerically relatively little, but enough to elect a President. Those thin margins are populated in large measure by Independent Voters and Black Voters in different proportions and at different times. Many factors account for this micro-focus on a few areas: the nature of the electoral college, gerrymandering, DuopoLith collusion, cynical voter suppression tactics, segregated socioeconomic patterns evolving over time, and skewed economic policy, to mention a few.

A key example of this cited by Mr. Ali is the drop-off in ballots cast by Black Voters between 2008 and 2012, in which millions of Black Voters did not cast ballots. Contrary to conventional description, however, they did vote. They voted for the winner. All people who are able to cast ballots and do not, vote for whoever wins. Jackie, in her afterword, mention’s Michael Dawson’s quote used by Omar Ali in his book:

Political behavior also includes the decision whether or not to vote.”

That is not the decision; the decision is whether or not to cast a ballot. Either way is a vote. The reason this perspective is so pivotal in terms of increased voter rights and responsibilities (a bias: those words must always appear together) requires more words than belong here. Some other time.

Much of the history described here is about having a voice—or not—in the political arena. The problem with the DuopoLith is that it is one thing to have a voice; it is quite another to be at the table with other voices when the critical choices and decisions are made. The DuopoLith is very accomplished at maintaining a “pure” table, as they choose to define it, by whatever means works. Black Voters and Independent Voters can tell you all about that. So can poor White Voters in economically devastated communities.

A major issue discussed in depth is the matter of self-determination or consolidation (more broadly, integration), a theme that keeps reappearing through history. My only comment at this point is this; we are one Nation and that embraces the theoretical vision of the Union. In reality, as has often been the case, we are all “in this,” but not at all together. To understand how this happens and what we might do about it, we can benefit greatly by understanding past evolutions of attempts to bridge that span, both successful and not.

Now I know why I need to finish the book.

Al Bell lives in Peoria, AZ and is an activist with Independent Voters for Arizona. Al served on Independent Voting’s Eyes on 2020 National Cabinet, working to get the 2020 presidential primaries open to independents across the country.


Politics for the People Zoom Event
With Author Omar H. Ali
Sunday, February 21st
7pm ET
Click here to RSVP!


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