Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Too Close

The only disappointment with Doug Jones’s win in Alabama yesterday was that it was so close.

That’s a difference of 20,715 votes; basically the population of Perrysburg, Ohio.  Put another way, 650,436 people in Alabama were willing to vote for an outlaw Jesus-shouter with a penchant for teenage girls over a barely liberal Democrat.  And there were more votes for a write-in than the margin of victory for Jones.

Yes, Alabama is a deeply red state.  The last Democrat elected to the Senate was 25 years ago, and he was a Southern Democrat, a distinction that made them a party unto themselves, and he switched to the GOP shortly thereafter.  (Southern Democrats were a hold-over from the days of Reconstruction who began to leave the party after the election of FDR and continued for the exit with Strom Thurmond in 1948.  They slammed the door shut after LBJ signed the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts in 1964 and 1965.  They took their robes and crosses to the GOP in 1968 under Nixon’s Southern Strategy and took up permanent residence with Reagan in 1980.)  But one would hope that with such a deeply flawed candidate supported by an equally repulsive president, they would at least think twice about supporting their party’s nominee.  I take some comfort in the large number of write-ins, but a vote for Teddy the Wonder Lizard or Cap’n Crunch was still not a vote for Mr. Jones.

Mr. Jones will have to run again in 2020.  I hope by then he can convince a few more Alabamaians that he’s worth their trust.  But for now, I’ll take the win.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Doug Jones Wins

I love it when I’m wrong like this.

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — In a contest that received national attention, Democrat Doug Jones is the apparent stunning winner over Republican Roy Moore in the Senate race in this deeply red state, according to an NBC News projection.

It took an extraordinary alignment of events, including a sex scandal involving teenagers, for Alabamians to elect their first Democrat to the Senate in 25 years, but they triggered a political earthquake that will be felt far and wide.

With 99 percent of the vote in, Jones was leading 50-49 percent, or 641,173 votes to 631,613 votes.

The apparent result is a rebuke to President Donald Trump, who had endorsed Moore despite the misconduct allegations and in contrast to much of the Washington Republican establishment, which had opposed the Republican candidate.

Moore adamantly denied the allegations of sexual misconduct with underage girls decades ago, but the weight of the questions proved too difficult for him to overcome.

Stronger-than expected turnout, including from African-Americans, of more 1 million voters helped Jones.

Yip-yah!

A Ten-Point Lead?

If this Fox News poll is to be believed, Doug Jones has a ten-point lead going into today’s special Senate election in Alabama.

I don’t believe it.

There are a lot of reasons, both statistical and historical, to doubt that Alabama will suddenly flip that far, and the fine art of polling and analyzing tea leaves got the shit kicked out of it last year when every respectable poll had Hillary Clinton winning up until the moment the polls closed.  But even including all the comfort-food results that show Alabamians getting some courage to vote for a Democrat and make Trump look like a loser, it still amazes me that anyone would think that even given the choice between Moore and Jones, the race would be this close.  In any other situation, even in a deeply conservative state such as Alabama, the idea of electing this antebellum caricature of a racist homophobe and alleged child molester would gross out George Wallace at his worst.

We’ll know this time tomorrow.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Sunday Reading

We’re With Stupid — Timothy Egan in the New York Times.

It would be much easier to sleep at night if you could believe that we’re in such a mess of misinformation simply because Russian agents disseminated inflammatory posts that reached 126 million people on Facebook.

The Russians also uploaded a thousand videos to YouTube and published more than 130,000 messages on Twitter about last year’s election. As recent congressional hearings showed, the arteries of our democracy were clogged with toxins from a hostile foreign power.

But the problem is not the Russians — it’s us. We’re getting played because too many Americans are ill equipped to perform the basic functions of citizenship. If the point of the Russian campaign, aided domestically by right-wing media, was to get people to think there is no such thing as knowable truth, the bad guys have won.

As we crossed the 300-day mark of Donald Trump’s presidency on Thursday, fact-checkers noted that he has made more than 1,600 false or misleading claims. Good God. At least five times a day, on average, this president says something that isn’t true.

We have a White House of lies because a huge percentage of the population can’t tell fact from fiction. But a huge percentage is also clueless about the basic laws of the land. In a democracy, we the people are supposed to understand our role in this power-sharing thing.

Nearly one in three Americans cannot name a single branch of government. When NPR tweeted out sections of the Declaration of Independence last year, many people were outraged. They mistook Thomas Jefferson’s fighting words for anti-Trump propaganda.

Fake news is a real thing produced by active disseminators of falsehoods. Trump uses the term to describe anything he doesn’t like, a habit now picked up by political liars everywhere.

But Trump is a symptom; the breakdown in this democracy goes beyond the liar in chief. For that you have to blame all of us: we have allowed the educational system to become negligent in teaching the owner’s manual of citizenship.

Lost in the news grind over Roy Moore, the lawbreaking Senate candidate from Alabama, is how often he has tried to violate the Constitution. As a judge, he was removed from the bench — twice — for lawless acts that follow his theocratic view of governance.

Shariah law has been justifiably criticized as a dangerous injection of religion into the public space. Now imagine if a judge insisted on keeping a monument to the Quran in a state judicial building. Or that he said “homosexual conduct” should be illegal because his sacred book tells him so. That is exactly what Moore has done, though he substitutes the Bible for the Quran.

I don’t blame Moore. I blame his followers, and the press, which doesn’t seem to know that the First Amendment specifically aims to keep government from siding with one religion — the so-called establishment clause.

My colleagues at the opinion shop on Sunday used a full page to print the Bill of Rights, and urge President Trump to “Please Read the Constitution.” Yes, it’s come to this. On press freedom, due process, exercise of religion and other areas, Trump has repeatedly gone into Roy Moore territory — dismissing the principles he has sworn to uphold.

Suppose we treated citizenship like getting a driver’s license. People would have to pass a simple test on American values, history and geography before they were allowed to have a say in the system. We do that for immigrants, and 97 percent of them pass, according to one study.

Yet one in three Americans fail the immigrant citizenship test. This is not an elitist barrier. The test includes questions like, “What major event happened on 9/11?” and “What ocean is on the West Coast of the United States?”

One reason that public schools were established across the land was to produce an informed citizenry. And up until the 1960s, it was common for students to take three separate courses in civics and government before they got out of high school.

Now only a handful of states require proficiency in civics as a condition of high school graduation. Students are hungry, in this turbulent era, for discussion of politics and government. But the educators are failing them. Civics has fallen to the side, in part because of the standardized test mania.

A related concern is historical ignorance. By a 48 percent to 38 percent margin Americans think states’ rights, rather than slavery, caused the Civil War. So Trump’s chief of staff, John F. Kelly, can say something demonstrably false about the war, because most people are just as clueless as he is.

There’s hope — and there are many ways — to shed light on the cave of American democracy. More than a dozen states now require high school students to pass the immigrant citizenship test. We should also teach kids how to tell fake news from real, as some schools in Europe are doing.

But those initiatives will mean little if people still insist on believing what they want to believe, living in digital safe spaces closed off from anything that intrudes on their worldview.

A Test For Liberals — Amy Davidson Sorkin in The New Yorker.

At the press conference last week in which Beverly Young Nelson described how when she was a high-school student, in 1977, Roy Moore, the Alabama Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate, who was then a deputy district attorney, tried to physically force her to engage in oral sex with him, she also talked about her vote in last year’s election. “My husband and I supported Donald Trump for President,” Nelson said. “This has nothing whatsoever to do with the Republicans or the Democrats.” Yet Moore, and his campaign, wanted to make it exactly about that, even as other women came forward with charges against him. (As of last Friday, a total of nine had done so.) In a statement to the Washington Post, the campaign said, “If you are a liberal and hate Judge Moore, apparently he groped you. . . . If you are a conservative and love Judge Moore, you know these allegations are a political farce.”

From this perspective, the news, last Thursday, that Senator Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota, also had misconduct allegations against him looked to some like an opportunity to test a similar formulation. Leeann Tweeden, a radio host, said that in 2006, two years before Franken ran for office, she joined him on a U.S.O. tour to Afghanistan and Iraq, and he kissed her during a rehearsal, although she told him not to. He later posed for a photograph in which he appeared to grab her breasts while she was sleeping, wearing camouflage gear and a Kevlar helmet. If you are a liberal and love Al Franken, would you decide—indeed, know—that these allegations are a political farce? The answer, properly and unambiguously, is no.

A number of Franken’s Senate colleagues, including Amy Klobuchar, also of Minnesota, and Elizabeth Warren, of Massachusetts, condemned his acts. Franken, after a first, halting apology, offered a fuller one, in which he said that he was “disgusted” by his own behavior and that he will coöperate with an ethics-committee investigation into the allegations. The committee, though, hasn’t sanctioned anyone in years. Last week, several women lawmakers reported that sexual harassment on Capitol Hill is pervasive, and that, as Representative Jackie Speier, Democrat of California, put it, the system for dealing with it is “a joke.” During the past twenty years, Congress has paid out seventeen million dollars to settle claims of harassment and other forms of workplace discrimination, while keeping those payments secret. Speier also said that there were two cases involving current members of Congress.

In some ways, the Franken story is a small, sad proxy for his party’s Bill Clinton problem. Last week, as more sexual-harassment and assault charges came to light, some people started looking again at a rape allegation that Juanita Broaddrick brought against the former President. In 1978, Broaddrick, a nursing-home administrator, met Clinton, at that time the Arkansas attorney general, for a business meeting in her hotel room—to avoid the press, she thought—and there, she said, he attacked her. (A lawyer for Clinton has denied this.) A colleague says that she heard the story from Broaddrick immediately afterward, when she found her with torn panty hose and a swollen lip.

Broaddrick’s story came out, in 1999, largely thanks to Lisa Myers, of NBC News, after Clinton’s acquittal in his impeachment trial—a case that grew out of a sexual-harassment suit brought by Paula Jones—and the charge was left unresolved. Early in the impeachment imbroglio, Hillary Clinton had attributed her husband’s troubles to “a vast, right-wing conspiracy.” There was a well-funded conservative effort to target the President, but, in this instance, the charge feels too close to Moore’s assertion that liberals simply believe one thing, and conservatives another.

When Clinton ran for President in 2016, she may not have gauged how profoundly Bill Clinton’s record with women would hurt her. Just a month before the election, after the “Access Hollywood” video emerged, in which Trump bragged about grabbing women’s genitals, he brought Broaddrick and Jones to a Presidential debate. Clinton dismissed this as a stunt, meant to throw her off her game. But the key audience for it was purple-state women, particularly middle-aged or older working-class women, who might identify with Broaddrick, or be receptive, based on their own experience, to the contention that, as Trump put it, Hillary was Bill’s “enabler.” (Polls after the election showed that Clinton performed less well with those voters than her campaign had hoped.) For others, Clinton’s decision to make her husband an active part of her campaign—and the potential First Spouse—constrained it.

Many factors played into Clinton’s defeat, but at that juncture Bill cost her heavily, by keeping “Access Hollywood” from costing Trump the election. As hard as it is to hear, particularly given the historic nature of Clinton’s candidacy and her laudable record on everything from climate change to children’s health, her nomination compromised the Democratic Party. There were other choices, early on; perhaps one of the fourteen Democratic women in the Senate in 2015 might have emerged. Voters in Alabama, where Moore is on the ballot in December—and in Minnesota, where Al Franken is up for reëlection next year—might remember that they have choices, too.

President Trump, for his part, tweeted that the “Al Frankenstien picture is really bad,” adding, “And to think that just last week he was lecturing anyone who would listen about sexual harassment.” Some of that “lecturing” has been directed, with good cause, at Trump himself; he shouldn’t expect it to end. Efforts, like the President’s, to act as though one transgression can cancel out another suggest that the problem is just one of calculating how many Frankens add up to a Moore—how many charges of groping for one of attempted statutory rape. There is no abuse-indulgence account that each party can draw on, though.

That is also true in assessing their ideologies. The national Republican leadership has, to an extent, backed away from Moore—the Alabama state Party has not—but it had earlier supported him even though he said that he did not believe that Muslims ought to be seated in Congress or that gays and lesbians should have basic rights. That shows not only who Moore is but what the G.O.P. has become. Franken has worked hard for progressive causes in his political life. But, here, too, whatever points that earns him, or his colleagues, are not spendable in some market in women’s dignity. The Democratic Party is better than that.

The Simplest Way — John Nichols in The Nation.

Republicans elites feel so entitled to the Alabama Senate seat that Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III vacated to become Donald Trump’s attorney general that they are meticulously neglecting the easiest strategy for keeping Roy Moore out of the Senate.

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has called on Moore, the scandal-plagued former judge who now faces multiple allegations that as a 30-something prosecutor he molested teenage girls, to quit the Alabama race. But Moore’s not quitting. In fact, he says McConnell should resign.

So DC Republicans are spinning complex scenarios for keeping Moore out of their caucus. The scenarios have grown increasingly arcane, and unworkable. But they keep coming.

There has been speculation that if Moore is elected in the December 12 special election, he could be seated and then expelled. But there’s no guarantee that it will happen. Expulsions are rare, and there’s a reason for that: A super-majority of senators—two-thirds of the chamber—is required to overturn an election result.

Then there are the proposed write-in campaigns: for Strange, for Sessions, for just about any Republican except Moore. But write-in victories are almost as rare as expulsions. And the wrong strategy for a write-in run could end up splitting the anti-Moore vote.

It’s likely that McConnell and his compatriots will proposing convoluted political “fixes.” But none of them will be certain, or in some cases even likely, to block the judge.

Moore faces a credible opponent in Democrat Doug Jones, a former US Attorney with a distinguished record of defending the rule of law and prosecuting the violent racists who were responsible for the 1963 bombing of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church. He is running a strong campaign; indeed, some polls are now giving him the lead in this intense contest.

Jones has been endorsed by a number of grassroots Alabama Republicans; he is even running television ads featuring them.

There is a very long history in American politics of voters crossing partisan lines to reject candidates they object to—or to support candidates who impress them. The 1924 Democratic nominee for president, corporate lawyer John Davis, frequently endorsed Republicans who were running against Franklin Delano Roosevelt. There were “Democrats for Eisenhower” groups in the 1950s, “Republicans for Johnson” groups in 1964 and “Democrats for Nixon” groups in 1972. Bill Weld was elected governor of Massachusetts in 1990 because a lot of cross-over voters preferred his libertarian-leaning Republicanism to his Democratic opponent’s social conservatism. And Barack Obama ran in 2008 with a long list of endorsements from prominent Republicans and former Republicans.

There are contests where it is ethically necessary to put aside partisanship and back a candidate from another party. There are also times when it is politically practical to abandon your party line for one election.

The Alabama contest meets the ethical standard, and the practical standard. A few wise Republicans recognize this. Asked last week if he would support a Democratic candidate over Moore, Arizona Senator Jeff Flake replied: “If the choice is between Roy Moore and a Democrat — the Democrat, no doubt.”

Flake added: “I would literally — if I were in Alabama — I would run to the polling place to vote for the Democrat.”

The choice in Alabama, as its stands now, is between Republican Roy Moore and Democrat Doug Jones.

If Mitch McConnell and his Republican allies are serious about keeping a reprehensible Republican out of the Senate, they don’t need convoluted strategies. They need only to recognize the reality of their circumstance—and the logic of the electoral calculus that Jeff Flake had already explained.

Doonesbury — What it’s not.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Why She Won

There’s been a lot of talk about the election of Danica Roem to the Virginia House of Delegates because she’s the first transgender person elected to statewide office in the country.  Not only that, she did it by beating Republican Bob Marshall, one of the state’s most conservative delegates who proudly labeled himself as “chief homophobe” and authored an anti-transgender “bathroom bill” that thankfully died in committee earlier this year.

I’d like to think that the reason Ms. Roem won had nothing to do with her gender or how she identifies herself on her driver’s license.  I’d like to think that it had to do with the fact that she ran a campaign about doing things in her district that needed doing.  There are potholes that need to be filled.  There are schools that need to be funded.  There is healthcare that needs to be provided, and the rest of the day-to-day problems that crop up that need to be dealt with and then moving forward.  What was Bob Marshall doing?  Freaking out about where people urinate.

I’d also like to think that the people in her district have grown up enough to realize that the abstract worries about things such as LGBTQ issues and walls in Texas are less important than taking care of the potholes and schoolrooms.  It doesn’t matter what bathroom you go into as long as you are ready and willing to do the job when you come out.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Winning Where It Really Matters

It is very good news that Ralph Northam won the Virginia governor’s race, showing that “Trumpism without Trump” — championing his issues without embracing the man — doesn’t sell.  But even more important in the long run is that the Democrats made huge gains in the Virginia House of Delegates, their version of the state legislature.

Unofficial returns showed Democrats unseating at least 11 Republicans and flipping three seats that had been occupied by GOP incumbents who didn’t seek reelection. Four other races were so close that they qualify for a recount, and results will determine control of the chamber. The results marked the most sweeping shift in control of the legislature since the Watergate era.

Republicans, who have controlled the chamber since 2000, went into Tuesday holding 66 of 100 seats.

Several winners made history in a year in which a record number of women ran and Democrats fielded the most candidates in recent memory.

One Democrat became Virginia’s first openly transgender person to win elective office, unseating an opponent of LGBT rights. The election signaled a major shift in the gender of a body long dominated by men: Of the 14 seats Democrats flipped, all were held by men and 10 were won by women. And two of those women, both from Prince William County, became the first Latinas elected to the General Assembly.

“This is an unbelievable night,” said House Minority Leader David J. Toscano (D-Charlottesville) in an interview an hour after polls closed. “There were districts we didn’t think we had much of a shot in.”

The final results may not be known for a while since a number of the races are still too close to call and will need recounts, but even if the Republicans hang on, this is a major shift at the state level.

That is where it really matters.  State legislatures are where voting district lines are drawn and where gerrymandering takes place, creating GOP strongholds when there are a majority of Democrats in the region.  Medicare expansion, school funding, and infrastructure spending is determined by the state, doling out federal dollars as they see fit.  Gun laws, restrictions on reproductive rights, and even rules on who can pee in certain places all come out of the state capitol.  (It’s especially glorious that the Republican who proposed Virginia’s anti-transgender bathroom bill was defeated by Danica Roem, the state’s — and the nation’s — first openly transgender candidate.  Karma, ya done good.)

So while it is important who wins the presidency and who’s running the House and Senate in Washington, it’s at the state and local elections where the real work — and influence — gets done.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

A Year Later

Booman (Martin Longman) took a look back to what happened a year ago.

Like him, I’ve been dealing with the harsh reality that yes, this country really did elect a man who is incapable of empathy, of rational thought, and who treats women, minorities, and people who disagree with him as appallingly as he does in such a casual manner.  The most dismaying thing is how it has become normalized.  For a long time I and others have asked “Are we better than this?”

Looking back a year later, it’s a struggle not to succumb to a well-earned cynicism. We don’t like to repeat our mistakes, which makes it tempting to over-correct for them.

There were a lot of times when President Obama stood up and told the American people that we’re better than this, that we can do better and be better. It’s not a good feeling to know that the response was, “No, we’re not, and no we can’t.”

But Obama was right. Maybe the answer isn’t that when they go low then we go high, as Michelle liked to say. But one giant mistake doesn’t condemn us in perpetuity.

I actually find comfort and a cause for optimism that so many people were unable to imagine a Trump victory. It means that I wasn’t alone in having some standards or in believing that we can be better than this.

It’s just going to be harder and take longer than I was willing to imagine.

But it is worth it.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Monday, October 23, 2017

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Sunday Reading

How The Draft Reshaped America — Amy J. Rutenberg in the New York Times.

“Greeting: You are hereby ordered for induction in the Armed Forces of the United States.” In 1967, more than 300,000 American men opened envelopes with this statement inside. Few pieces of mail ever incited the same combination of panic, anticipation and resignation as a draft notice. The words struck terror in the hearts of many recipients. Others found them comforting after years of waiting for the Selective Service System to come calling.

The Vietnam generation came of age with the threat of military service hovering in the background. Although the Selective Service called relatively few men between the end of the Korean War in 1953 and American escalation in Southeast Asia in 1965, the draft had been in almost continuous operation since before the United States joined World War II. During that time Selective Service, under the leadership of Gen. Lewis B. Hershey, faced little public criticism. In fact, Hershey had shaped it into a venerated institution. Although most men may not have wanted to dedicate two years of their life to active military service, draftees generally acquiesced to Uncle Sam’s wishes.

After President Lyndon Johnson mobilized ground troops in 1965, draft calls tripled. With each passing year, more men faced conscription to fight a war with whose goals and methods a significant number disagreed. Stories of privileged men finding ways to beat the draft began to circulate. Newspaper articles with headlines like “Young Men Dream Up Some Ingenious Ways to Avoid the Draft” and “Avoiding the Draft Is Becoming the Favorite Sport Among Youth” horrified Americans who believed military service should be an equal obligation of male citizenship. At least as portrayed by reporters, these men were almost always middle class, with seemingly All-American families.

Critics at the time and since have identified the Selective Service’s system of deferments as the main cause of military inequity during the Vietnam War. Although the Department of Defense did not keep records on the socio-economic status or racial identification of service personnel beyond whether they were African-American or not, there’s no doubt that men with fewer resources were less likely to obtain deferments than those with more. As a result, they were more likely to be drafted, serve in combat and die in Vietnam. Long Island’s war dead, for example, hailed overwhelmingly from working-class backgrounds.

But why? How is it that the Selective Service, which had used deferments during both World Wars and the Korean War, allowed the situation to become so bad that by 1967 fewer than half of Americans polled believed that the draft operated fairly? For this answer, one must look to the goals of Cold War liberals, both Republican and Democrat. The deferment policies that created such havoc during the Vietnam War were the direct outgrowth of Washington’s desire to fight Communism at home as well as abroad.

Deferments are a necessary element of any system of selective military service. If a nation does not require all of its citizens to participate in the armed forces, then someone must decide who goes and who stays. Deferments allow those with skills needed on the home front to exempt themselves from their military obligations because, especially during the upheaval of war, they ensure a viable domestic economy and stable society. Factories, hospitals and schools, for example, can operate only when fully staffed with skilled employees. Farmers and agricultural workers maintain necessary food supplies. In theory, deferments should be limited only to those considered more valuable to war aims as civilians than as soldiers.

But the nature of the Cold War, especially early on, complicated things. Defeating Communism was more than a military endeavor; the home front became a crucial site of defense operations. Americans believed that triumph over the Soviet Union required a prolonged ideological, technological and economic struggle. The circumstances of the Cold War, therefore, granted the Selective Service System license to use deferments as a tool of social engineering.

Hershey believed that all able-bodied American men had the obligation to serve the nation, but he began to advocate a definition of service that included civilian pursuits, particularly in science, mathematics and engineering. Throughout the 1950s, the perception that the United States was in danger of falling behind the Soviets caused national panic, especially after the U.S.S.R. successfully launched its Sputnik satellite in 1957. According to politicians and intellectuals, American superiority rested on outpacing Soviet technological development, both in the domestic realm and in the military sector. The Army’s strategic plans for countering atomic attack depended on the invention of new weapons, while consumer capitalism required new products to buy and sell. The United States needed a steady supply of men in STEM fields to develop the state-of-the-art appliances and futuristic weapons systems that it so desperately wanted.

In Hershey’s view, the Selective Service was the “storekeeper” of America’s manpower supply. He believed that the promise of deferments could be used as a tool to coerce — or bribe — men to go to college and enter occupations defined as in the national interest. In the words of one planning memo, the Selective Service could use the “club of induction” to “drive” individuals into “areas of greater importance.” This policy, known as manpower channeling, specifically defined these pursuits as service to the state on a par with military service.

The availability of deferments for men attending college and in professional fields ballooned. Occupational deferments increased by 650 percent between 1955 and 1963. But men had to qualify for higher education and be able to pay for it. Since part-time students did not receive deferments, men could not take semesters off to earn tuition money or recover from academic probation. Eligible occupations skewed toward those with college degrees. Unlike during World War II, most factory and agricultural workers could not gain occupational deferments by the late 1950s. Such dispensations were reserved for scientists, engineers, doctors and teachers.

Even those deferments theoretically available to anyone really were not. Medical deferments, for example, were harder for poorer men to obtain. The doctors performing the cursory exams at pre-induction physicals often failed to detect health defects that would have guaranteed exemptions from military service. And if men did not have a record of private medical care, they had little recourse when declared available for service.

By 1965, many middle-class men had come to expect deferments. Military service, to them, was for “suckers” who had made poor choices. Working-class men, of course, were not “suckers.” Rather, Great Society policies meant to strengthen the economy by alleviating poverty ended up targeting them for military service.

Policy makers in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations began to focus on America’s poor as the weak link between national strength and the promise of democracy. Secretary of Labor W. Willard Wirtz identified the Selective Service as an “incomparable asset” in locating men who could benefit from government aid. Virtually all American men underwent a pre-induction exam. Approximately one-third failed. Such “rejectees” were overwhelmingly from poor and minority backgrounds. In early January 1964, less than two months after taking office, Johnson ordered the Selective Service, the Department of the Army, the Department of Labor and the Department of Health, Education and Welfare to address the problem.

Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara actively wanted the armed forces to be part of the solution. He firmly believed that military service could be used to “rehabilitate” men caught in the cycle of poverty. He, along with Assistant Secretary of Labor Daniel Patrick Moynihan, argued that military training freed poor men from the “squalid ghettos of their external environment” and the “internal and more destructive ghetto of personal disillusionment and despair.” McNamara wanted a program that would bolster national security by eliminating a source of social unrest and benefit American combat readiness by boosting the number of men in uniform.

In August 1966, he announced the Defense Department’s intention to bring up to 100,000 previously ineligible men into the military each year to “salvage” them. Project 100,000, as it came to be known, would “rescue” poor and especially minority men from the “poverty-encrusted environments” in which they had been raised. These so-called New Standards men — who were otherwise ineligible for military service — were to be admitted into all branches of the armed forces, both voluntarily through enlistment and involuntarily through the draft.

Over all, all branches of service added a combined total of 354,000 New Standards men to their active-duty rosters between 1966 and 1971, when the program ended. Forty percent of these men were black, at a time when the entire military averaged only 9 percent African- American. McNamara hoped that a stint in the military would make New Standards men better husbands, better fathers and better breadwinners, and thus better citizens. Most ended up as infantrymen in Vietnam.

It was no coincidence that those men who already fit the middle-class mold of domestic masculinity — those men who were college students or teachers or scientists — received deferments. Midcentury liberals believed such men did not need the military to lift them up. Meanwhile, every slot filled by a New Standards man was one a middle-class man avoided.

Ultimately, what made sense during the militarized peace of the Cold War did not during a hot war. Many middle-class men did not consider it their responsibility to serve in the military, especially in a war they often categorized as somewhere on the continuum between unnecessary and immoral. Instead, they learned to work a system designed to encourage them to see military service as a personal choice rather than an obligation. Working-class men simply were not offered the same option.

Diagnosing Trump — Masha Gessen in The New Yorker.

The question is not whether the President is crazy but whether he is crazy like a fox or crazy like crazy. And, if there is someone who can know the difference, should this person, or this group of people, say something—or would that be crazy (or unethical, or undemocratic)?

Jay Rosen, a media scholar at New York University, has been arguing for months that “many things Trump does are best explained by Narcissistic Personality Disorder,” and that journalists should start saying so. In March, the Times published a letter by the psychiatrists Robert Jay Lifton and Judith L. Herman, who stated that Trump’s “repeated failure to distinguish between reality and fantasy, and his outbursts of rage when his fantasies are contradicted” suggest that, “faced with crisis, President Trump will lack the judgment to respond rationally.” Herman, who is a professor at Harvard Medical School, also co-authored an earlier letter to President Obama, in November, urging him to find a way to subject President-elect Trump to a neuropsychiatric evaluation.

Lifton and Herman are possibly the greatest living American thinkers in the field of mental health. Lifton, who trained both as a psychiatrist and a psychoanalyst, is also a psychohistorian; he has written on survivors of the atomic bombs dropped on Japan, on Nazi doctors, and on other expressions of what he calls “an extreme century” (the one before this one). Herman, who has done pioneering research on trauma, has written most eloquently on the near-impossibility of speaking about the unimaginable—and now that Donald Trump is, unimaginably, President, she has been speaking out in favor of speaking up. Herman and Lifton have now written introductory articles to a collection called “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President.” It is edited by Bandy X. Lee, a psychiatrist at the Yale School of Medicine who, earlier this year, convened a conference called Duty to Warn.

Contributors to the book entertain the possibility of applying a variety of diagnoses and descriptions to the President. Philip Zimbardo, who is best known for his Stanford Prison Experiment, and his co-author, Rosemary Sword, propose that Trump is an “extreme present hedonist.” He may also be a sociopath, a malignant narcissist, borderline, on the bipolar spectrum, a hypomanic, suffering from delusional disorder, or cognitively impaired. None of these conditions is a novelty in the Oval Office. Lyndon Johnson was bipolar, and John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton might have been characterized as “extreme present hedonists,” narcissists, and hypomanics. Richard Nixon was, in addition to his narcissism, a sociopath who suffered from delusions, and Ronald Reagan’s noticeable cognitive decline began no later than his second term. Different authors suggest that America “dodged the bullet” with Reagan, that Nixon’s malignant insanity was exposed in time, and that Clinton’s afflictions might have propelled him to Presidential success, just as similar traits can aid the success of entrepreneurs. (Steve Jobs comes up.)

Behind the obvious political leanings of the authors lurks a conceptual problem. Definitions of mental illness are mutable; they vary from culture to culture and change with time. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is edited every few years to reflect changes in norms: some conditions stop being viewed as pathologies, while others are elevated from mere idiosyncrasies to the status of illness. In a footnote to her introduction, Herman acknowledges the psychiatric profession’s “ignominious history” of misogyny and homophobia, but this is misleading: the problem wasn’t so much that psychiatrists were homophobic but that homosexuality fell so far outside the social norm as to virtually preclude the possibility of a happy, healthy life.

Political leadership is not the norm. I once saw Alexander Esenin-Volpin, one of the founders of the Soviet dissident movement, receive his medical documents, dating back to his hospitalizations decades earlier. His diagnosis of mental illness was based explicitly on his expressed belief that protest could overturn the Soviet regime. Esenin-Volpin laughed with delight when he read the document. It was funny. It was also accurate: the idea that the protest of a few intellectuals could bring down the Soviet regime was insane. Esenin-Volpin, in fact, struggled with mental-health issues throughout his life. He was also a visionary.

No one of sound mind would suspect Trump of being a visionary. But is there an objective, value-free way to draw the very subjective and generally value-laden distinction between vision and insanity? More to the point, is there a way to avert the danger posed by Trump’s craziness that won’t set us on the path of policing the thinking of democratically elected leaders? Zimbardo suggests that there should be a vetting process for Presidential candidates, akin to psychological tests used for “positions ranging from department store sales clerk to high-level executive.” Craig Malkin, a lecturer at Harvard Medical School and the author of “Rethinking Narcissism,” suggests relying on “people already trained to provide functional and risk assessment based entirely on observation—forensic psychiatrists and psychologists as well as ‘profilers’ groomed by the CIA, the FBI, and various law enforcement agencies.” This is a positively terrifying idea. As Mark Joseph Stern wrote in Slate in response to last December’s calls for the Electoral College to un-elect Trump, it “only made sense if you assumed as a starting point that America would never hold another presidential election.”

Psychiatrists who contributed to “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump” are moved by the sense that they have a special knowledge they need to communicate to the public. But Trump is not their patient. The phrase “duty to warn,” which refers to a psychiatrist’s obligation to break patient confidentiality in case of danger to a third party, cannot apply to them literally. As professionals, these psychiatrists have a kind of optics that may allow them to pick out signs of danger in Trump’s behavior or statements, but, at the same time, they are analyzing what we all see: the President’s persistent, blatant lies (there is some disagreement among contributors on whether he knows he is lying or is, in fact, delusional); his contradictory statements; his inability to hold a thought; his aggression; his lack of empathy. None of this is secret, special knowledge—it is all known to the people who voted for him. We might ask what’s wrong with them rather than what’s wrong with him.

Thomas Singer, a psychiatrist and Jungian psychoanalyst from San Francisco, suggests that the election reflects “a woundedness at the core of the American group Self,” with Trump offering protection from further injury and even a cure for the wound. The conversation turns, as it must, from diagnosing the President to diagnosing the people who voted for him. That has the effect of making Trump appear normal—in the sense that, psychologically, he is offering his voters what they want and need.

Knowing what we know about Trump and what psychiatrists know about aggression, impulse control, and predictive behavior, we are all in mortal danger. He is the man with his finger on the nuclear button. Contributors to “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump” ask whether this creates a “duty to warn.” But the real question is, Should democracy allow a plurality of citizens to place the lives of an entire country in the hands of a madman? Crazy as this idea is, it’s not a question psychiatrists can answer.

Democrats Can Win — Charles P. Pierce on contesting every race.

I’m reluctant to point this out, lest I blow the covert aspects of some good news, but it seems that, almost without anyone’s noticing, very progressive African-American candidates have been getting elected to be mayors in cities in the very deepest parts of the deep South. First, it was Chokwe Lumumba, an actual Socialist, who was elected mayor in Jackson in Mississippi Goddamn. From Oxford American:

In Lumumba’s successful campaigns for city council in 2009 and for mayor in 2013, “Free the land” had been a common refrain of his supporters. His platform, too, echoed the vision he and his fellow New Afrikans had harbored for their new society on Land Celebration Day. He pledged that his office would support the establishment of a large network of cooperatively owned businesses in Jackson, often describing Mondragon, a Spanish town where an ecosystem of cooperatives sprouted half a century ago. In debates and interviews, he promised that Jackson, under the leadership of a Lumumba administration, would flourish as the “Mondragon of the South”—the “City of the Future.”

If I may repeat, this is Jackson. The one in Mississippi. Goddamn.

Then, on Tuesday, a man named Randall Woodfin challenged and beat the incumbent mayor of Birmingham, Alabama, William Bell. Woodfin is 36, which will make him the youngest mayor of that city in over a century. More significantly, Woodfin had the active support of Bernie Sanders and the people allied with Sanders’ late campaign for president. Sanders recorded a robo-call on Woodfin’s behalf late in the race and Nina Turner, the head of Our Revolution, the Sanders-affiliated political operation, made two trips to Birmingham on Woodfin’s behalf.

(It should be noted that the Sanders folks also scored victories on Tuesday night in preliminary contests for mayor of Albuquerque and for an open seat in the California Assembly.)

If the Democratic Party weren’t so terminally bumfuzzled, and if many of its activists could get over the wounds their delicate fee-fees suffered during the 2016 presidential primaries, the party could see a great advantage in coordinating efforts between the formal party apparatus and what could be described as the progressive shock troops that carried Woodfin to victory in Birmingham.

Right now, for example, if you can believe it, the Democratic National Committee seems to be slightly baffled about what to do as regards the race for the open U.S. Senate seat in Alabama. The Democratic candidate is Douglas Jones, the former U.S. Attorney who sent to prison the last of the terrorists who bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963. The Republican candidate is a lawless theocratic nutball named Roy Moore, who lost his job as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court twice because of flagrant judicial misconduct.

It would seem to the casual observer that people generally should realize it to be their patriotic duty to keep Moore out of the Senate for the good of the country. However, as reported by The Daily Beast, the Democratic Party apparatus can’t even decide if it should go all in for Jones.

A spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee said only that the group is closely monitoring the race and providing support if necessary to the Democratic candidate, Doug Jones. The spokesman also said that Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), the chairman of the DSCC, had made a personal contribution to the Jones campaign. Democratic super PACs, meanwhile, are evaluating their options when it comes to the Alabama general election, which isn’t until December. Before making any investments in the race, they first want to assess how vulnerable Moore is in the state. The former chief justice has emerged from a primary during which virtually every establishment Republican institution was against him. Democratic operatives said on Wednesday that they’re looking to see if some GOP voters keep their distance from Moore before deciding to come to Jones’ aid.

Good god, how is this even a question? Roy Moore is a howling extremist, if that word has any meaning at all anymore. Why would the Democratic Party worry about whether or not Republicans in Alabama are going to “keep their distance” from their party’s lunatic candidate? (Pro Tip: They almost never do.) Get in there with both feet immediately and don’t get out until the job’s done.

Or, if you insist on overthinking yourselves into paralysis, turn Nina Turner and the people allied with her loose and then come in at the end—cooperatively, mind you—and drown the race with money and ads. And if the Our Revolution people hold back because they don’t want somebody on the Internet to get mad at them for “selling out,” they should tell that person to shut up and dance. This is too important. There are now two mayors who’ve proven that progressive candidates can win just about anywhere. Learn that lesson or you deserve to lose forever.

Doonesbury — Hits keep coming.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Monday, August 14, 2017

This Is Us

Trying to make sense of what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Saturday is a fool’s errand because things like that don’t — or shouldn’t — make sense in the true meaning of the term.  The people who organized the march to “unite the right” knew they would provoke a strong reaction from other people; they were counting on it.  And they got it, and I’m probably not alone in thinking that the bloodier it got, the more they liked it.

The organizers called it a march to “Unite the Right,” but it’s not as if the right really wants to “unite.”  The right-wing Establishment controls all three branches of the federal government, but to the folks who paraded through the streets with Nazi and Confederate flag, they don’t think of themselves as the same kind of right wingers that have been elected to Congress and state houses.  The marchers consider the Establishment to be weak and ineffective, and the fact that Nazis and Confederates felt compelled to come up with this demonstration, aside from provoking the outrage, was to register their opinion that the Republicans who dog-whistled and winked and nudged their way into office by exploiting the far-right base have not delivered what the Nazis and gun nuts demanded.  They want to see the immigrants loaded onto boxcars, they want to see the gays and lesbians marginalized and Muslims terrorized; they want to see whatever it is they think will make America great again, and if it takes killing a few freaks and coloreds to do it, well, that’s how they do it.  The Establishment wants basically the same thing but without the violence and echoes of Nuremberg.

Despite a tweet or two to the contrary, the far right was probably just as disappointed in Trump’s limp statement of condemnation as the rest of us were.  They expected him to stand up for them — after all, what about all those rallies where he said he would? — and now he comes out with this P.C. line about “many sides”?  To them, a true patriot would have stood with them and given them the “fire and fury” support that they saw in the campaign.  This is the one who said to “knock the crap out of them,” and cheered when demonstrators got roughed up.  Where is he now? they wonder.

The shock and the horror will fade, but now comes the reckoning.  There will be investigations, there will be the funerals, there will be the TV interviews with the neighbors, and the delving into what drove the kid from Maumee, Ohio, to step on the gas.  But if past is any guide, it will be the same kind of short-term navel-gazing until the next distraction comes along, the same way we deal with mass shootings and similar fits of madness.

It’s common practice for pundits and TV shrinks to say things like “we are all to blame” for whatever is the incident of the moment, whether its a mass shooting or a bridge collapse.  It’s an easy way to get out of offending anyone and letting us move on.  But in this case, that’s not the case.

Every person who voted for Trump owns this.  It doesn’t matter why; whether they hated Hillary Clinton and her e-mails or her laugh or her wardrobe collection; whether they were an aggrieved white person who had harbored resentment against Barack Obama for being the first black president and who was able to pull off two terms without so much as a whisper of scandal and thereby disproving all of their crackpot theories about the inferiority of the African-American race; or if they just voted for Trump because that’s the way to show the rest of America that they too think the way to run the country is through tantrums and bullying.  In the end it doesn’t matter why; they just did.  And now they see what they have wrought.

We heard a lot of Republican elected officials express outrage and put forth a lot of “thoughts and prayers” for the victims, and they felt safe joining the chorus who said Trump’s Saturday statement was less than enough.  But they have been enabling him since the election — some of them long before — and now they’re shocked and saddened as if this was completely unexpected.  All that proves is that they are either too stupid to recognize what was going on or they were willfully ignorant of the shouts and banners that came along with the marchers who goose-stepped through Charlottesville.  They have been to these rallies before.  They have heard the chants.  They were there.  They did nothing.  Now they have to answer for it.

So what do we do?  First, we do not accept that there are two sides to this.  In their worst day of whatever demonstrations the left has held in the last forty years, they never came close to the vitriol and aggravated hatred that has been seen at the average Trump rally, let alone last weekend.  There is simply no comparison, and anyone who says there is is full of shit.  Second, we must stand up to this kind of bullying and hatred and not allow it to be bellowed unanswered.  There must be a firm stand against this kind of hatred and bigotry.  That they have the right to say it is not in dispute.  But that doesn’t give them the license to go unanswered or not be held responsible for the consequences.  If people get fired from their jobs for spouting hate, that’s not a violation of the First Amendment; it’s an enforcement of a code of civil and responsible behavior as a citizen.

Most importantly, we need to recognize that this is who we are.  There are people in this country who would do it harm by trying to remake it in a perverted interpretation of laws and genetics.  It’s not a matter of “both sides are equally responsible.”  It’s a matter of seeing those among us whose values and objectives are dangerous to the country we have become over the last 240 years and who believe the only way to get it to where they want it is through violence and tyranny.  There are more of us who believe in stable government, the rule of law, equality for all, and peace in our streets than those who don’t.  It is well beyond the time to stand up.  That is what we do.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Monday, July 31, 2017

Friday, July 21, 2017