Sunday, June 25, 2017

Sunday Reading

Why We Must Mock Trump — Howard Jacobson in the New York Times.

Let’s look on the bright side: The spectacle of ireful Donald Trump supporters disrupting Shakespeare in the Park’s production of “Julius Caesar” and the subsequent tweetstorm of abuse directed at any company with Shakespeare in its name prove that plays retain the power to shock and enrage. Who said the theater is all anodyne, feel-good musicals?

I didn’t see the production that turned Julius Caesar into a Donald Trump look-alike, so I can’t comment on the accuracy of the impersonation or the violence against the president that some people believe it meant to incite. But there are a few things about the nature of Shakespearean drama in general — its subtle shifts in sympathy, the shocks it administers to our prejudices, its suspension of the drives to definitive political action — that obviously weren’t apparent to protesters.

The first of these is that a play, however incendiary its plot, is a very different thing from a political speech. A speech asks us to go out and do, or at least to go away and believe; a play by Shakespeare moves through time, measures action against motive and shows us consequence. We might enter the theater in rash spirits, but we leave it consumed by thought.

Mr. Trump never, in so many words, promoted the assassination of Hillary Clinton when addressing an election rally about the likely effect of her tinkering with the gun laws, but he avoided incitement only by making a sort of comic drama of his words — imagining what others might think or do, playing with future and conditional tenses, painting himself as innocent of any such intention himself. This wasn’t Shakespeare, but it was a departure from the usual blunt declamations of the “Lock her up!” variety. Deep down in Mr. Trump’s ungrammatical subconscious, some ancient understanding of the nature of dramaturgical, as opposed to oratorical, discourse briefly stirred. No, he had not called for Mrs. Clinton to be shot.

Plays don’t tell you what to think, let alone how to act. A good play won’t even tell you what the playwright thinks. What did Shakespeare believe? We don’t know. Meaning emerges, in a drama, suspensefully, out of the interplay of forces, from the collision of voices. There is no such thing, in art, as non-contingent truth.

That Trumpists don’t recognize this process is not surprising. Mr. Trump’s appeal is to those who think truth comes in a capsule. But their rage at the depiction of the president as the soon-to-be-assassinated Caesar is encouraging to the satirist. Satire is less subtle than Shakespearean drama. It lowers its head and charges. The questions always asked of it — will it do any good, will it change minds, will it even be noticed by the people satirized? — are hereby answered. Yes, no and yes.

Vexation is its own reward. It is consoling to see how thin-skinned the partisans of Mr. Trump are. But in truth, we’ve always known this about people of an absolutist bent. Just before the war, Adolf Hitler tried diplomatic means to get the British cartoonist David Low barred from drawing cartoons of the Führer. It has even been suggested that Mr. Low’s name was on a list of people to be killed when the Nazis occupied Britain.

Communism’s failure of humor is the subject of Milan Kundera’s first novel, “The Joke.” For writing the words “Optimism is the opium of mankind! A healthy spirit stinks of stupidity! Long live Trotsky!” on the back of a postcard to a girlfriend, Ludvik Jahn is expelled from the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia and sent to work in the mines.

The more monocratic the regime, the less it can bear criticism. And of all criticism, satire — with its single ambition of ridiculing vanity and delusion — is the most potent.

This can be only because the boastful are thin-skinned and the intolerant are forever looking over their shoulders. Mr. Trump himself is visibly easy to wound. Should this be a reason to hold back? “Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel?” the great satirist Alexander Pope asked. The question was rhetorical. Wounding the vainglorious is a pleasing pastime in itself and contributes to their demoralization. Fire enough salvos of comedy and their solemn edifices start to crumble. It might be a slow process, but it is at least the beginning.

Derision is a societal necessity. In an age of conformity and populist hysteria, it creates a climate of skepticism and distrust of authority. If mercy droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven, derision spurts up as though from a pantomime geyser, drenching the braggart and the fool in the foulest ordures.

[Photo by Sarah Krulwich, New York Times]

Past Is Prologue — Richard Ben-Veniste, former Watergate prosecutor, has a warning for Trump.

Watching the national controversy over the White House and Russia unfold, I’m reminded of Karl Marx’s oft-quoted observation: “History repeats itself: first as tragedy, second as farce.” I was a close witness to the national tragedy that was Richard Nixon’s self-inflicted downfall as president, and I’ve recently contemplated whether a repeat of his “Saturday Night Massacre” may already be in the offing. Given how that incident doomed one president, Trump would do well to resist repeating his predecessor’s mistakes—and avoid his presidency’s descent into a quasi-Watergate parody.

The massacre began when Nixon gave the order to fire Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox, a desperate effort to prevent him from hearing tape-recorded evidence that proved the White House’s involvement in a conspiracy to obstruct the investigation of a break-in at Democratic National Committee headquarters. Nixon’s misuse of executive power backfired, immediately costing him two highly respected members of his administration: Attorney General Elliot Richardson and his deputy William Ruckelshaus, who both resigned rather than follow Nixon’s directive. Third in command at the Justice Department was Solicitor General Robert Bork, who agreed to do the dirty deed and fired Cox.

At the time, I had been working on Cox’s team for only four months and had just been promoted to chief of the task force investigating obstruction-of-justice allegations against Nixon. It was one of five such task forces that Cox organized to carry out his broad mandate. Although Nixon ordered the special prosecutor’s office abolished and commanded the FBI to seize our office and files, we remained employed by the Justice Department. Homeless, leaderless, and dazed by our proximity to the explosion the president had detonated in our midst, we brushed ourselves off and vowed to continue our work in whatever capacity we could.

It was only a matter of days, though, until the firestorm of public and congressional outrage over Cox’s firing forced Nixon to reverse course and promise to obey court orders that compelled his release of eight tape recordings. We returned to our office and were reunited with our files, and a new special prosecutor, Leon Jaworski, was soon appointed to lead the Watergate inquiry. Amid all the furor—which didn’t end there—the public correctly asked the question “What was Nixon hiding?” The answer was not long in coming: a lot. The tapes proved Nixon was not only a liar, but also an early leader of a plot to obstruct the investigation of those who organized and financed the DNC break-in. Nixon’s choice was either to face the music—likely impeachment, conviction, and removal from office—or resign.

In Watergate’s aftermath, I thought the unique circumstances that led to Nixon’s resignation in disgrace could never be replicated. But after just six months in office, the comparisons between Presidents Trump and Nixon are mounting:

Watergate involved political espionage and electronic wiretapping by the Republican candidate’s campaign committee against the DNC. “Russiagate” involves political espionage by the Russians against the Democrats, with possible collusion by members of the GOP candidate’s campaign or advisers.

Watergate saw the president’s firing of a special prosecutor. In Russiagate, FBI Director James Comey was fired after, in the president’s own words, the bureau’s investigation had put “great pressure” on him.

Nixon called the Senate Watergate hearings a “witch hunt,” and Trump repeatedly uses the same term to criticize the ongoing special-counsel investigation.

Nixon ordered CIA Deputy Director Vernon Walters to tell Acting FBI Director Pat Gray to back off the investigation tracing cash found on the arrested burglars at the scene of the crime. According to Comey’s sworn testimony before the Senate, Trump told him to go easy on former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who is being investigated in part for lying about his contacts with Russian officials.

Nixon aide Alexander Butterfield revealed the existence of a secret White House taping system in Senate testimony. Trump once suggested that he may have covertly taped his conversations with Comey, though on Thursday he denied doing so.

Nixon claimed the special prosecutor’s office was made up of political partisans out to get him, and Trump calls Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his staff “very bad and conflicted people.” Both presidents have also sharply criticized the press, calling it the “enemy.”

As if all these parallels are not enough, Trump’s surrogates have raised the possibility that he will fire Mueller, too. Presidential confidant and Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy told reporters earlier this month he believed Trump was considering the dismissal. Incredibly, longtime Trump supporter Roger Stone, who himself worked on Nixon’s reelection campaign, has loudly encouraged Trump to reprise the Saturday Night Massacre by firing Mueller. This despite the fact that Mueller—tapped to lead the FBI by George W. Bush in 2001 and selected by Trump’s own deputy attorney general to lead the Russia inquiry, has been on the job for only a month and is still hiring staff.

If Trump’s actions seem like a ham-fisted imitation of Nixon’s, they are no laughing matter. Senator Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said she is “increasingly concerned” that Trump will fire Mueller, and send a message that he “believes the law doesn’t apply to him, and that anyone who believes otherwise will be fired”—a perhaps unintentional allusion to Nixon himself, who once said that when a president does something, “that means that it is not illegal.” The usual limits on presidential power must apply to Trump, Feinstein argued: “The Senate should not let that happen. We’re a nation of laws that apply equally to everyone, a lesson the president would be wise to learn.”

The question is not whether Trump can fire Mueller—it is whether it would be a misuse of executive power for him to do so. Should Trump let Mueller go, it would spark a constitutional crisis the likes of which the country has not seen in four decades. The business of Congress would grind to a halt and the stock market would suffer a shock. With Comey’s dismissal as the backdrop, there could be an immediate resolution introduced in the House for Trump’s impeachment for attempting to obstruct a lawful, ongoing criminal investigation.

Rod Rosenstein, in his role as acting attorney general, followed the law in appointing Mueller to be special counsel to “ensure a full and thorough investigation of the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election” and related matters. It should be remembered that Nixon was named by the Watergate grand jury as an unindicted co-conspirator in a conspiracy to obstruct justice, and that the House Judiciary Committee cited his interference with Cox’s investigation among the grounds for voting in favor of impeachment. And only former President Gerald Ford’s pardon precluded an indictment of citizen Nixon for obstruction.

In Watergate, there were several Republicans in both houses who are remembered for putting country above party loyalty. The die-hards who stood with Nixon until the end—not so much. If Trump were to fire Mueller to cut off a full investigation, it would fall to congressional Republicans, who control both houses of Congress, to determine whether the United States continues to be a nation of laws. Americans would see whether a new Howard Baker, Lowell Weicker, Tom Railsback, Bill Cohen, Caldwell Butler, or Hamilton Fish would step forward and join with Democrats, who would no doubt sponsor an impeachment resolution. Or would GOP lawmakers simply go along with a foolhardy reenactment of the Watergate scandal’s Saturday Night Massacre?

O Canada? — Stephen Marche on his home and native land’s inability to celebrate itself.

July 1 is Canada’s 150th anniversary, but nobody seems particularly eager to join the party. The muted attempts at celebration have so far produced either awkwardness or embarrassment. A giant rubber duck, six stories tall, is supposed to arrive in Toronto Harbor on Canada Day, but its imminent appearance has been greeted by outrage over costs and suspicions of plagiarism. In March, the CBC, Canada’s national broadcaster, began televising a documentary series called “The Story of Us” to the almost instantaneous howling of Quebec and Nova Scotia politicians at what they regarded as significant omissions in our supposedly collective narrative. Resistance 150, an indigenous political movement, is planning to disrupt the anniversary itself.

The principal excitement of our sesquicentennial so far has been the fury of national self-critique it has inspired.

The irony is that Canada, at the moment, has a lot to celebrate. Our prime minister is glamorous and internationally recognized as a celebrity of progressive politics. We are among the last societies in the West not totally consumed by loathing of others. Canada leads the Group of 7 countries in economic growth. Our cultural power is real: Drake recently had 24 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 at the same time — for one shining moment he was nearly a quarter of popular music. Frankly, it’s not going to get much better than this for little old Canada.

So why is Canada so bad at celebrating itself? The nationalism that defined the country during the last major anniversary, the centenary in 1967, has evaporated. The election of Justin Trudeau has brought a new generation to power, a generation raised on a vision of history more critical than laudatory. We dream of reconciliation with the victims of our ancestors’ crimes rather than memorialization of their triumphs.

Mr. Trudeau has described the country he leads as “the first postnational state,” with “no core identity, no mainstream.” He may be right. But if we are a postnational state, then why are we even mentioning the formation of a national state in the first place? It seems so arbitrary.

The historical moment we will commemorate next Saturday is Confederation — a bunch of old white guys signing a document that bound a loose collection of provinces controlled by the British Empire into a vague and discontented unity without the slightest consideration of or participation by the First Peoples. It doesn’t seem ideal, or even accurate, as an origin. Needless to say, native people were here for thousands of years before that. And Canada managed to reach proper independence, with the right to amend our Constitution without approval from Britain, only in 1982.

Nonetheless, I will be celebrating. The British North America Act, which I was forced to study in school and which, at the time, I considered the single most boring object ever produced by human consciousness, has grown on me. Maybe I’ve aged. But so has the world. Confederation was an attempt at compromise between peoples within a unified political framework. In this way at least, a moldy 19th-century document has, oddly, prepared Canada for the 21st century surprisingly well.

Nationally, Canada has been spared the populism that has swallowed the rest of the Western world because there is not, and has never been, such a thing as a “real Canadian.” Kevin O’Leary — Canada’s supposed answer to Donald Trump — ended his campaign for the leadership of the Conservative Party, even though he was leading in the polls, because he couldn’t speak French well enough to win an election. To lead this country, you must be able to navigate multiple languages and multiple cultures. Our longstanding identity crisis has suddenly turned to a huge advantage — we come, in a sense, pre-broken.

Pierre Trudeau, Justin’s father, articulated Canada’s difference from other countries perfectly: “There is no such thing as a model or ideal Canadian,” he said when he was prime minister in 1971. “What could be more absurd than the concept of an ‘all Canadian’ boy or girl? A society which emphasizes uniformity is one which creates intolerance and hate.” Despite this country’s manifold failures to uphold its ideals, its core vision has turned out to be much more sophisticated than America’s “E pluribus unum.”

Not that the pre-broken post-national condition is without its agonies. Colonized self-loathing seems to be a national trait we will never fully shake off. Canadian self-flagellation results always in the same warm, comfortingly smug sense of virtue. Self-righteousness is to Canada what violence is to America. It transcends the political spectrum. Whether it is Conservative insistence on frugality and small-town values or the furious outrage of identity politics on the left, everyone has the same point to make: We’re not as good as we think we are, and the government should do something about it.

The virtues of this country are mostly negative anyway, which may also make overt celebration difficult. Canada’s real glories are its hospitals and its public schools, but those, unlike the Marine Corps, cannot be paraded. Canada is, according to several international surveys, the most tolerant country in the world. But it’s absurd to celebrate not being quite as insane as the rest of the world. You don’t get a cookie because you hate people on the basis of their skin color a little less than everybody else.

None of what I have written should be taken to imply that Canadians don’t love their country, or that I don’t love my country. I do. Most Canadians do, too. They just love it quietly. They don’t want to make a big fuss. Britain made a big fuss with Brexit and look what’s happening to it. America at the moment seems full of dedicated, flag-waving patriots who love their country passionately, vociferously; they just can’t stand their fellow citizens or their government.

Canada’s reluctance to celebrate itself is actually something worth celebrating. It has become abundantly clear in 2017 that patriotism is for losers. Patriotism is for people and for countries that need to justify their existence through symbols rather than achievements. Canada is doing well enough that it doesn’t require spackled vanity. It doesn’t need six-story-high rubber ducks.

This is the most Canadian thing I will ever write, I know, but I’m proud of my country for its lack of pride.

 Doonesbury — He’s back.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Friday, June 23, 2017

To Those Of You Who Bought It

Charles P. Pierce on what Trump voters got in their deal.

Hello, suckers.

Yeah, you. All of you. All of you people who’ve been buying what the radicalized Republican party has been selling you since Reagan rode out of Trickledown Gulch back in 1980. All of you who easily gobbled up the fictions about welfare queens, and “crazy checks,” and big black bucks buying T-Bone steaks, and, most recently, of immigrants come to steal your jobs and cut your throats in the night. All of you who worried so profoundly about your neighbors who were black, or Hispanic, or Muslim that you handed the government to the people who have been picking your pocket and selling off your birthright for going on four decades.

And, especially, all of you morons who bought what the inevitable product of 30 years of fear-driven democratic malpractice was selling across the country in 2016: that he had a plan that would lower costs, cover everybody, and not touch Social Security, Medicaid, or Medicare.

Today is not the day for you to ask for my understanding as to how you’re going to afford Grandma’s chemo now that she’s busted the lifetime cap on her insurance. Today is not the day for you to ask for my sympathy for Grandpa who’s going to get his ass hoisted out of his rest home and dropped onto the couch in your basement family room because his Medicaid ran out. Today is not the day for you to moan into TV cameras about how Cousin Clyde with the opioid problem has to go back to sticking up tourists for his fix because the little hospital up by the mountain closed.

Not today. Not this particular Thursday. Maybe by Monday.

The Senate unveiled its big secret tax-cut plan on Thursday morning. It also contains some elements dealing with healthcare that will make the lives of millions of sick and elderly Americans immeasurably worse, but, since it’s actually a tax-cut bill, and it actually does cut taxes for the wealthiest among us, then I guess you can say the strategy was a success. And they say the Republicans can’t govern. Hah.

Of course, it’s as bad as we all thought it would be. It virtually zeroes out Medicaid down the line – letting it “die on the vine,” just the way Newt Gingrich recommended 20 years ago. It forces low-income people to pay more for policies once called “street-surance” back in the day. (John Grisham should sue these guys.  They stole the entire plot from The Rainmaker.) There’s a lot of “handing back to the states,” which can be translated as “Give Sam Brownback more money to hand out to his donors.” The bill is such a transparent sham that one of its provisions, the repeal of the tax on investment income for wealthy individuals and families, was made retroactive to the end of last year. There is no reason on god’s earth to make this retroactive unless your main purpose is to shove more of the nation’s wealth upwards. Which is what this bill is primarily designed to do.

Let me put it in measurements that are particularly of interest to me. By 2050, it is estimated that there will be 16 million people in the United States with Alzheimer’s Disease. Right now, in 2017 dollars, the estimated costs of treating and caring for AD patients is $236 billion dollars. Of that, $154 billion is picked up by Medicare and Medicaid. Tell me now how that gap is made up by a plan that virtually eliminates Medicaid entirely by the time we get to 2025. Churches? Families? Winning the Lotto?

A cure?

Fat chance.

So, yeah, suckers. This is what you voted for. In fact, this is what you’ve been voting for, over and over again, ever since the Death Valley Days of jellybeans and missiles to the mullahs. This bill is the pot of gold at the end of Paul Ryan’s personal rainbow. This bill is everything that every young conservative brought up in the luxurious terrariums of wingnut welfare is taught to revere from the first day of his political gestation, right down to its playing-to-the-cheap-seats whack at Planned Parenthood.

This bill is the pot of gold at the end of Paul Ryan’s personal rainbow.

So far, four GOP senators have said they cannot vote for the bill. They are Ron (Shreds of Freedom) Johnson of Wisconsin, Aqua Buddha from Kentucky, Mike Lee, the konztitooshunal skolar from Utah, and Tailgunner Ted Cruz. They can’t support it (at the moment) because it isn’t repeal-ish enough for them. (Translation: The bill still coddles the poor and infirm beyond the limits God intended when He wrote the Constitution.) Now, as the redoubtable Digby often points out, if they were to torpedo this plague ship, it wouldn’t be the first time the wingiest members of the tribe saved the day. But my money stays on the notion that they will find enough crazy ideas in the House during reconciliation to satisfy the likes of these four. As for the vaunted Republican “moderates,” I have no faith in them whatsoever. I think Rob Portman of Ohio and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia will get bought off by an increase in the bill’s stingy provisions regarding the opioid epidemic. Some version of this creature will stalk its way into law.

I’m sorry, but I can’t let the suckers off the hook on this particular Thursday, not when I know in my bones that, in a year or so, there are going to be more expeditions into The Real America in which we hear sad tales about the closing of rural hospitals, and medical bankruptcies, and children who died because the insurance company denied them a life-saving treatment. There will be all kinds of reasons postulated for this terrible state of affairs. “Culture” probably will be one of them, and it will be the stupidest one of all.

What will not be mentioned is that many of these people brought their tragedies on themselves, that voting has consequences, and that using a presidential election to hock a collective loogie at “The Establishment” and at Those People is a particularly dumbass way to participate in democracy.

Have a nice day.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Out Of The Pool

Trump got into office partly because he promised to get rid of the “millions” of undocumented immigrants in the country, and so far a lot of them have either been deported or left on their own accord.

Predictably, that’s having unforeseen consequences, including for those who voted for Trump, in the agriculture industry.

Undocumented immigrants make up about half the workforce in U.S. agriculture, according to various estimates. But that pool of labor is shrinking, which could spell trouble for farms, feedlots, dairies, and meatpacking plants—particularly in a state such as Kansas, where unemployment in many counties is barely half the already tight national rate. “Two weeks ago, my boss told me, ‘I need more Mexicans like you,’” says a 25-year-old immigrant employed at a farm in the southwest part of the state, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he’s trying to get his paperwork in order. “I said, ‘Well, they’re kind of hard to find.’”

[…]

Others feel the same way. “The threat of deportation and the potential loss of our workforce has been very terrifying for all of us businesses here,” says Trista Priest in Satanta, Kan. She’s the chief strategy officer at Cattle Empire, the country’s fifth-largest feed yard, whose workforce is about 86 percent Latino.

In Haskell County, where Cattle Empire is the biggest employer, 77 percent of voters cast ballots for Trump, compared with 57 percent statewide. But Priest and other employers interviewed for this story complained that the immigration policies emanating from Washington, 1,500 miles away, clash with the needs of local businesses.

Representative Roger Marshall, a Republican whose district includes southwest Kansas, says immigration is the No. 1 concern he hears about from constituents. The freshman congressman says he’s confident that once the border is secure, “President Trump will look at this, too, as an economic problem.”

Right.  The guy that created the economic problem is going to solve it?

Here’s the main point: there’s a labor shortage in all markets (thanks, Obama, for fixing the Great Recession) so even if there were Americans who would take the jobs, they’re not available; they already have a job.  And jobs in agriculture are mainly low-paying, highly physical jobs that don’t appeal to those Trump voters who were promised roses and rainbows and so much success that they’d be tired of it.  So mucking out a feedlot of several tons of literal bullshit is not exactly the American dream.

By the way, “more Mexicans” are getting harder to find.  Immigration from Mexico has slowed to the point that there are more people going back there than coming here.

They Don’t Know, Either

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) says he will release a “discussion draft” of the GOP “healthcare” bill today.  So far not even people in his party and who were helping write it don’t know what’s in it.

Via Bloomberg:

One of the Senate Republicans charged with negotiating an Obamacare replacement expressed frustration Tuesday with the secret process, saying that even he hasn’t seen the proposal set to be released in two days for a possible floor vote next week.

“I haven’t seen it yet, either,” said Senator Mike Lee of Utah amid complaints by other Republicans that they don’t know what’s in the health-care measure being drafted by their own party’s leaders.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he plans to release a “discussion draft” Thursday and that it will go to the Senate floor for a vote “likely next week.”

A week or so to examine the bill isn’t enough, said Lee in a video posted on his Facebook page. As one of about a dozen members of a health-care working group, he criticized the closely held process of drafting the measure.

“Even though we thought we were going to be in charge of writing a bill within this working group, it’s not being written by us,” Lee said. “It’s apparently being written by a small handful of staffers for members of the Republican leadership in the Senate. So if you’re frustrated by the lack of transparency in this process, I share your frustration. I share it wholeheartedly.”

Mr. Lee isn’t the only one.  At least six other Republicans have publicly stated they have issues with both the bill and the methodology of its creation.  Of course that never stopped them from voting in lockstep.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Lawyers Hiring Lawyers

Now why would the Attorney General of the United States need to hire a lawyer?

A Washington lawyer has confirmed that he’s representing Attorney General Jeff Sessions but is not offering any more specifics.

A statement provided by the office of Chuck Cooper on Tuesday acknowledges that Cooper is representing Sessions. But the statement says Cooper won’t comment on any confidential client matters.

I suppose it’s a good idea since Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III has been investigated for his dealings with Russia.  But if the name Chuck Cooper sounds familiar (no, not the actor), it’s because he defended California’s anti-gay marriage Proposition 8 before the Supreme Court…and lost.  In a rather interesting turn, he changed his views on the subject in 2014 when his daughter married a woman.  Of course, he could have been in favor of it all along, but taking the case meant a hefty paycheck win or lose, so there’s that.

Georgia 6 Results

I hate it when I’m right.

At the very least, we made her work for it, and in last November’s election, the Republican won by over 20 points.  So there’s a storm brewing for them.

As for dumb punditry, Chris Cillizza of CNN wins for telling me that the Democrats blew an easy win.  In a district that hasn’t been won by the Democrats since the Carter administration, the fact that Jon Ossoff came within ten points was pretty damn good.  So bite me.

Bonus Track: Josh Marshall.

This is a big disappointment. But remember, by any objective measure these races show a Democratic party resurgent and a GOP on the ropes. These seats came open because they were vacated by people Trump picked for cabinet appointments. They got those picks because they came from safe seats. They are by no means a cross section of House seats. The thing to do is learn what we can from coming up just short and move on to the next fight. No one should expect any of this to be easy. If you do, bow out of civic questions and just watch movies and TV. We need people with more endurance.

Who’s next?

Technical Difficulties

First the server crashed mid-posting, now I can’t post what I want and I can’t delete what I don’t want.

We’ll figure it out and get back to you.

Update – 5:44 a.m. EDT: At 3:00 a.m. EDT, the server that handles this blog (and several other sites I’m familiar with) went off-line as I was writing the “Georgia 6 Results” post.  This happens on occasion, and nothing to worry about; give it time and it will come back.  But this time when it did, I couldn’t edit a post that was in draft, and all I got was an empty page.  When I tried to delete it, it wouldn’t go away, and then when I refreshed, the entire contents of the blog — all 28,000+ posts — was gone.  Template, yes, but content… [poof].

I sent controlled-panic messages to the crack tech support team (my brother) and left for work.  By the time I got to the office, everything was back.  So anyway…

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Autocratic America

David Frum has a very troubling piece in The Atlantic.

It’s 2021, and President Donald Trump will shortly be sworn in for his second term. The 45th president has visibly aged over the past four years. He rests heavily on his daughter Ivanka’s arm during his infrequent public appearances.

Fortunately for him, he did not need to campaign hard for reelection. His has been a popular presidency: Big tax cuts, big spending, and big deficits have worked their familiar expansive magic. Wages have grown strongly in the Trump years, especially for men without a college degree, even if rising inflation is beginning to bite into the gains. The president’s supporters credit his restrictive immigration policies and his TrumpWorks infrastructure program.

The president’s critics, meanwhile, have found little hearing for their protests and complaints. A Senate investigation of Russian hacking during the 2016 presidential campaign sputtered into inconclusive partisan wrangling. Concerns about Trump’s purported conflicts of interest excited debate in Washington but never drew much attention from the wider American public.

Allegations of fraud and self-dealing in the TrumpWorks program, and elsewhere, have likewise been shrugged off. The president regularly tweets out news of factory openings and big hiring announcements: “I’m bringing back your jobs,” he has said over and over. Voters seem to have believed him—and are grateful.

Most Americans intuit that their president and his relatives have become vastly wealthier over the past four years. But rumors of graft are easy to dismiss. Because Trump has never released his tax returns, no one really knows.

Anyway, doesn’t everybody do it? On the eve of the 2018 congressional elections, WikiLeaks released years of investment statements by prominent congressional Democrats indicating that they had long earned above-market returns. As the air filled with allegations of insider trading and crony capitalism, the public subsided into weary cynicism. The Republicans held both houses of Congress that November, and Trump loyalists shouldered aside the pre-Trump leadership.

The business community learned its lesson early. “You work for me, you don’t criticize me,” the president was reported to have told one major federal contractor, after knocking billions off his company’s stock-market valuation with an angry tweet. Wise business leaders take care to credit Trump’s personal leadership for any good news, and to avoid saying anything that might displease the president or his family.

The media have grown noticeably more friendly to Trump as well. The proposed merger of AT&T and Time Warner was delayed for more than a year, during which Time Warner’s CNN unit worked ever harder to meet Trump’s definition of fairness. Under the agreement that settled the Department of Justice’s antitrust complaint against Amazon, the company’s founder, Jeff Bezos, has divested himself of The Washington Post. The paper’s new owner—an investor group based in Slovakia—has closed the printed edition and refocused the paper on municipal politics and lifestyle coverage.

Meanwhile, social media circulate ever-wilder rumors. Some people believe them; others don’t. It’s hard work to ascertain what is true.

Nobody’s repealed the First Amendment, of course, and Americans remain as free to speak their minds as ever—provided they can stomach seeing their timelines fill up with obscene abuse and angry threats from the pro-Trump troll armies that police Facebook and Twitter. Rather than deal with digital thugs, young people increasingly drift to less political media like Snapchat and Instagram.

Trump-critical media do continue to find elite audiences. Their investigations still win Pulitzer Prizes; their reporters accept invitations to anxious conferences about corruption, digital-journalism standards, the end of nato, and the rise of populist authoritarianism. Yet somehow all of this earnest effort feels less and less relevant to American politics. President Trump communicates with the people directly via his Twitter account, ushering his supporters toward favorable information at Fox News or Breitbart.

Despite the hand-wringing, the country has in many ways changed much less than some feared or hoped four years ago. Ambitious Republican plans notwithstanding, the American social-welfare system, as most people encounter it, has remained largely intact during Trump’s first term. The predicted wave of mass deportations of illegal immigrants never materialized. A large illegal workforce remains in the country, with the tacit understanding that so long as these immigrants avoid politics, keeping their heads down and their mouths shut, nobody will look very hard for them.

Read the whole thing, please, and then read the conclusion and hold on to it.

What happens in the next four years will depend heavily on whether Trump is right or wrong about how little Americans care about their democracy and the habits and conventions that sustain it. If they surprise him, they can restrain him.

Public opinion, public scrutiny, and public pressure still matter greatly in the U.S. political system. In January, an unexpected surge of voter outrage thwarted plans to neutralize the independent House ethics office. That kind of defense will need to be replicated many times. Elsewhere in this issue, Jonathan Rauch describes some of the networks of defense that Americans are creating.

Get into the habit of telephoning your senators and House member at their local offices, especially if you live in a red state. Press your senators to ensure that prosecutors and judges are chosen for their independence—and that their independence is protected. Support laws to require the Treasury to release presidential tax returns if the president fails to do so voluntarily. Urge new laws to clarify that the Emoluments Clause applies to the president’s immediate family, and that it refers not merely to direct gifts from governments but to payments from government-affiliated enterprises as well. Demand an independent investigation by qualified professionals of the role of foreign intelligence services in the 2016 election—and the contacts, if any, between those services and American citizens. Express your support and sympathy for journalists attacked by social-media trolls, especially women in journalism, so often the preferred targets. Honor civil servants who are fired or forced to resign because they defied improper orders. Keep close watch for signs of the rise of a culture of official impunity, in which friends and supporters of power-holders are allowed to flout rules that bind everyone else.

Those citizens who fantasize about defying tyranny from within fortified compounds have never understood how liberty is actually threatened in a modern bureaucratic state: not by diktat and violence, but by the slow, demoralizing process of corruption and deceit. And the way that liberty must be defended is not with amateur firearms, but with an unwearying insistence upon the honesty, integrity, and professionalism of American institutions and those who lead them. We are living through the most dangerous challenge to the free government of the United States that anyone alive has encountered. What happens next is up to you and me. Don’t be afraid. This moment of danger can also be your finest hour as a citizen and an American.

Resist.