Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Real Enemy Of The People

Editorial boards across the country and even overseas are joining the Boston Globe to speak out against Trump’s attacks on the media as, to quote Josef Stalin, “the enemy of the people.”  The Miami Herald, as a part of the McClatchy chain of papers, printed their thoughts.

No American president, or any city council member, for that matter, has ever unreservedly delighted in the way he or she was presented in the press. “I so appreciate the accuracy of their reporting on my perceived flaws!” said no official ever. “And good for them for holding me accountable.”

But President Donald Trump has veered into unfamiliar and perilous territory with his unceasing all-out assault on the free press and the First Amendment. Of course, the irony of Trump’s attacks on the “SICK!” and “very dishonest people” in “the fake media” he accuses of purveying, yes, “fake news” is that he himself is a product of the New York tabloids. He’s as savvy about manipulating his coverage as he is adept in undermining it.

But today the consequences of the president’s perpetual battle against journalists extend far beyond the Manhattan gossip pages. And the animus you see directed at CNN’s Jim Acosta isn’t just reserved for the White House press corps. Everywhere in the country, any matter that an official doesn’t want to talk about or that a reader doesn’t want to hear about is “fake news” now.

In our business, we know how much words matter. We know, too, that Trump’s references to us as the “enemy of the American People” are no less dangerous because they happen to be strategic. That is what Nazis called Jews. It’s how Joseph Stalin’s critics were marked for execution.

Every reporter who has ever covered a Trump rally knows the scratch of a threat that’s conveyed during that ritual moment when he aims the attention of the crowd to reporters, many of whom no longer stand in the press pen in the back for that reason.

And as real as the threat of physical violence is, especially after the murder of our colleagues in Annapolis, Maryland, Trump’s aggressive posture toward the First Amendment worries us even more.

That’s why nearly all of McClatchy’s 30 daily newspapers, which almost never speak with one voice, are doing so now. That’s why we’re joining with fellow journalists across the country in calling for an end to the president’s war of words against our free press.

It’s an affront to the U.S. Constitution when President Trump threatens to eliminate the First Amendment protections the Supreme Court has built into our nation’s libel laws — or when he suggests revoking the FCC licenses of broadcast news organizations whose reporting he doesn’t like.

The White House’s besmirching of journalists who are doing their jobs is dangerous to the public as well as to the press. It’s not just that we dislike being called “fake news.” That misnomer discredits facts and creates what Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway called “alternative facts,” making reasoned and informed debate basically impossible.

We all — as citizens — have a stake in this fight, and the battle lines seem pretty clear. If one first comes successfully for the press as an “enemy of the American People,” what stops someone for coming next for your friends? Your family? Or you?

Not even President Richard Nixon, whose original “enemies list” of the 20 private citizens he hoped to use his public office to “screw” included three journalists, tried to incite violence against reporters. While stewing privately about Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein as “enemies … trying to stick the knife right in our groin,” not even Nixon tagged the lot of us, Soviet-style, as “enemies of the people.” Nor did even he dare to take on the idea that our free press is worth protecting.

Donald Trump swore on Abraham Lincoln’s Bible to uphold the Constitution. And the First Amendment’s guarantee that “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press” implies that no branch of government will do so.

That 44 percent of Republicans polled recently said Trump should have the autocrat’s power to shut down news outlets shows how successful his efforts have already been.

Like Nixon, Trump still pines for the kind of coverage his behavior makes impossible. But his place in history will be far less mixed than Nixon’s if he continues to menace James Madison’s best work.

Having worked, however briefly in the news business (nine months), I know all too well the pressure reporters are under to get the story, get it right, and make sure that it is reported as fairly and without bias as possible.  That’s all you can hope for, and there’s never time to sit back and try to spin it or slant it.  You ask questions, you do your research, and if someone tells you something, you check it out.  The people you report on may have an agenda, but the only one you have is to the truth as best you can find it.  In other words, it’s too hard to come up with “fake news;” getting the real news is hard enough, and anyone who voluntarily takes the low pay, the long hours, and the countless attempts to prove you wrong are truly dedicated to their mission.

Trump’s attacks on the press and the people who report the news stink of desperation and consciousness of guilt.  Granted, no one likes seeing their faults printed or being called out for falsehoods, but that’s human nature.  The true sign of maturity and of civilized society is the ability to either accept it, laugh it off, or make amends.

The real enemy of the people are those who would try to repress the true expression of the truth or the attempts to do so.

Purity Tests

One of the results of Tuesday’s primaries — and some others before — has been that the Republicans are being drawn in to nominating candidates who are true to the Trump brand and rejecting those who might have said an unkind word about him.

Case in point: former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s failed attempt to win the GOP nomination for his old job.  He lost, according to observers, because he had the nerve to criticize Trump for the Access Hollywood tape, calling him “unhinged and unfit.”  Apparently Minnesota Republicans are out to redefine “Minnesota nice” as smiling politely when they go to grab your genitalia.

Mr. Pawlenty isn’t the only one to find himself on the outs with the True Trumpers, and in several races around the country through the primary season we’ve seen Trump-endorsed candidates beat the more traditional faction.  Kansas could be on their way to having Kris Kobach, who never met an immigrant or a non-white voter he couldn’t demonize, and pick up a lucrative consulting fee in the process, elected governor, and the winds — at least in the tornado alley of GOP politics — are blowing from Trumpland.

A number of pundits are saying that this could be great news for the Democrats; the more Trumpistas the GOP runs the more the Blue Wave will become a tsunami and once and for all push those lemmings over the cliff and down onto the rocks of oblivion below.  And it could well happen; I’m pretty sure the good people of Virginia aren’t going to elect a white supremacist to the Senate, or any of the other alt-right candidates for Congress or local offices that have come slithering out from under their rocks now that we have a president who thinks home-grown Nazis can be very good people, too.  But I also remember the same assurances two years ago when a lot of people were sure that it would be a Democratic landslide and that Trump would be back to shilling his crap on QVC by January 2017.

There are a number of outside factors that on the surface have nothing whatsoever to do with the mid-terms: the outcome of the first Manafort trial, a report from the Mueller investigation, economic troubles from the tariff wars, and even more tell-alls from dismayed supporters.  But the fact that the GOP is handing the country some very clear choices in state and local elections will be the truest test of whether or not we’re going to be the ones to put an end to this calamity.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Sunday Reading

This Is A Test — Elaina Plott in The Atlantic on gauging the GOP response to this weekend’s Nazi rallies.

This weekend, an untold number of white nationalists and their sympathizers will gather in Washington, D.C., to rally against, in their words, the “civil-rights abuses” they endured in Charlottesville, Virginia, exactly one year ago. The “Unite the Right” gathering will take place in Lafayette Park, just across from the White House. It will mark the anniversary of not only the group’s march through Charlottesville, tiki torches ablaze, but also the horrors that resulted from it, including the murder of 32-year-old Heather Heyer.

It also potentially marks a paradigmatic shift for the Republican Party. President Donald Trump responded in the dark aftermath of last year’s march not by emphatically denouncing the bigotry that sparked it, but by reminding Americans of the “very fine people on both sides.” Chief of Staff John Kelly may have hung his head as Trump delivered those remarks, but, like most officials in this administration, he never spoke out against them.

It is this fact and its consequences that bear considering throughout the demonstrations this weekend: whether, in today’s GOP, racism has been relegated to gaffe-like status—a political pitfall to navigate against, rather than a moral failing to wholly condemn.

I happened to be with an administration official this time last year, interviewing him for a story unrelated to Charlottesville. But the violent march naturally crept into our discussion, as both of our phones trilled with news of Trump’s press conference. I remember the official sighing deeply, shaking his head as he scanned the reports. Yet I’d learn moments later that this was not in opposition to the president’s comments themselves; rather, it was anxiety about how to contain the fallout. “Great, yet another distraction,” the official said. “The media will never let this one go.”

It was as though Trump had mistakenly defined his proposed corporate tax rate—not equivocated on the actions of white nationalists.

Republican leaders were careful to denounce the demonstrations in no uncertain terms. But they were also careful to avoid any mention of Trump, or avoid criticizing him directly. “We must be clear. White supremacy is repulsive,” House Speaker Paul Ryan tweeted. “This bigotry is counter to all this country stands for. There can be no moral ambiguity.” Echoed House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy: “Saturday’s violence and tragic loss of life was a direct consequence of the hateful rhetoric & action from white supremacists demonstrating.”

“We have to unequivocally say that the KKK and the white supremacists were wrong,” Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel told ABC’s David Muir at the time. She tried to spin Trump’s words: “The president was saying that people brought violence from both sides.”

My conversation with the administration official, and the response from GOP leaders, brought Trump’s immunity from reproach into sharp relief. There’s been a lot of talk about “red lines” in the last two years, which is to say musings about what, if anything, could cause the GOP to turn on Trump. This weekend’s Unite the Right rally offers occasion to consider many things, about where this country is and where it is going. But crucially, it offers a potent reminder of Trump’s seeming infallibility in all corners of his party.

Depending on Trump’s reaction to the rally this weekend, should he have one at all, Republican leaders may have a chance to rewrite the script. At the very least, perhaps they will take issue with the group’s namesake, and make clear that white supremacy does not, in fact, fit into their definition of “the Right.” Or perhaps they will stay silent, and take comfort in the fact that, in the Trump era, political consequences seem to only last for so long.

What Really Happened — Larry David (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”) has the straight poop on the meeting at Trump Tower.

Everybody wants to know what was said in that Trump Tower meeting with the Russians in June 2016. Well, other than the people in the room, I, Steven Yablonsky, alone know exactly what was said because I worked as a janitor in the building and was hiding in the closet recording all of it on my phone. As it happens, I was fired yesterday for not putting up the “wet floor” sign in the lobby, and a few people took a tumble, including Tiffany, so now I can finally reveal all.

Transcription:

Through a crack in the closet door, four Russians enter. They are Natalia Veselnitskaya, Rinat Akhmetshin, Irakly Kaveladze and Anatoli Samochornov. Already present are Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner and Rob Goldstone. They all say hello and introductions are made.

Rinat: Where shall we sit?

Don Jr.: Anywhere you’d like.

Rinat: You want big chair?

Don Jr.: You can have the big chair.

Rinat: Ah, I feel a little funny.

Natalia: Take big chair. Don Jr. say O.K.

Rinat: (sits) I like this. It sinks in. Might fall asleep.

Irakly: (pointing) Look at nice spread.

Jared: Help yourself to anything on the table.

Irakly: Is that tuna fish or chicken salad? Very hard to tell difference.

Rob: And they taste the same. That I don’t get.

(They all mutter in agreement. Why is that? One’s chicken, one’s fish.)

Manafort: O.K., shall we begin?

Natalia: We have very good dirt, as you say, on Clinton. You win election with this.

Manafort: Hold it, hold it. Wait a second. First off, that would be illegal. That would be conspiring with an enemy to commit election fraud.

Rinat: I thought that was what meeting about.

Natalia: Me too.

Don Jr.: What? Who told you that?

Rinat: What did you think it was about?

Don Jr.: I thought it was about adoption!

Rinat: Adoption?!

Manafort: Yes, adoption. We want you to rescind the ban. It’s taking a tremendous toll.

The Russians: (in unison) Ohh … well, this is big misunderstanding …

Jared: I’ll say.

Don Jr.: Can I have a word with my colleagues?

(The four Americans huddle up right in front of the closet door.)

Don Jr.: I think we should call the F.B.I.

Goldstone: Right now?

Don Jr.: Right now!

Jared: No, that’s crazy.

Don Jr.: We’re breaking the law, Jared!

Jared: No, we’re not. … What’s that word that starts with a “c”?

Goldstone: Constitution?

Manafort: Coffers?

Don Jr.: Conspiracy?

Jared: No … collusion! That’s legal! Is that a beauty? We’re not calling the F.B.I.!

Don Jr.: O.K., but my dad still might get in a lot of trouble for this.

Goldstone: I’m getting an Arnold Palmer.

Don Jr.: I don’t think there’s any lemonade.

Goldstone: Seriously?

(They return to their seats.)

Manafort: Sorry about the misunderstanding, but you see, there are thousands of families in America who are suffering because they’re unable to have children of their own. One of my dearest friends has no children. It’s been heartbreaking to watch them trying to adopt and come up empty.

Don Jr.: Do you have kids, Anatoli?

Anatoli: Yes, two beautiful daughters. The government take them for gymnastics.

Don Jr.: So you know how empty life is without them. I know relations between our great countries have been frayed. But that shouldn’t be what this is about. This should be about hardworking families who want to experience the joys of parenthood. Can’t you put yourself in their shoes? Can’t you … (begins to break down)

Manafort: Does anyone have a tissue?

Anatoli: Natalia, you have tissue in purse?

Natalia: Here, yes, of course. Don’t cry, Don Jr. Don’t cry.

Don Jr.: (bawling) Thank you. … I wanted to adopt a child from Cambodia, but Vanessa said no. It broke us up. … I’m sorry.

Natalia: I see how much this means to you. I will call President Putin to discuss. I am on your side.

Rinat: Me too.

Don Jr.: Thank you. This means the world to me. And you know who will be really happy about this? Dad. In fact, this whole meeting was his idea.

Natalia: Nice.

Rinat: And you’re sure you don’t want our information on Clinton? Election in bag.

Manafort: Oh, God, no. Please don’t bring that up again. You see, Rinat, this is America. We’re a democracy. Our elections are sacred. And when it comes right down to it, I’d rather lose than win by cheating.

Natalia: Understood. Our apologies. We will be in touch.

(They say their goodbyes and head out. As the door closes …)

Don Jr: I still think we should call the F.B.I.

Doonesbury — Show some backbone.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Sunday Reading

Suckers — Rick Wilson in The Daily Beast.

Conspiracies are hard. They’re even harder when you’re stupid.

They are, however, deeply compelling. Some people need a single, grand unifying theory of why the world refuses to line up with their expectations. When difficult realities confront people without the intellectual horsepower to understand and accept the truth, some turn to conspiracy theories to paper over the holes in their worldview. No matter how absurd, baroque, and improbable, conspiracies grow on their own like mental kudzu where inconsistencies aren’t signs of illogical conclusions, but of another, deeper layer of some hidden truth, some skein of powerful forces holding the world in its grip.

After Donald Trump’s rally in Tampa this week, the notorious QAnon scam became America’s conspiracy of the moment. And why not? In the face of Trump’s daily meltdowns, mood swings, and unmedicated rage episodes in which he lashes out at every target in reach, his base is desperately looking for a version of reality that gives them some comfort and stability.

This Q conspiracy is filling the political bloodstream of the Trumpentariat and has been bubbling up inside the right for the last few months, and while Will Sommer and others have covered the story, there seemed to be a media shock moment after the Qbots showed up at Trump’s Tampa rally.

Conspiracies—this one in particular—give their devotees a sense of coherence that is lacking in everything Trump does. QAnon presents Trump as the character he plays on TV; bold, commanding, strategic, and brilliant…as opposed to the real Donald Trump, who displays the dignity, intelligence, and honesty of a strip-club tout with tertiary syphilis.

In Q’s world, Donald Trump is courageously leading an effort to round up and punish—I’m not exaggerating—tens of thousands of child predators who occupy the highest reaches of government.  Q and Don, side by side, doling out the secret knowledge to the new elite. Instead of getting a clearance, all you need to do is check out 4chan, Reddit, or YouTube.

Some even believe Q composes these messages for their eager consumption and interpretation at Trump’s direction, the amanuensis to an orange Nostradamus whose quatrains appear on the same image boards that feature bronie porn, hentai spank-bank material, and tween Neo-Nazi shitposter incels, instead of penned on parchment.

They’re desperate to believe “Q” is a senior official cleared at the highest levels (as one former NSA official jokingly called it, “TS/SCI NOSEBLEED”) who is busily leaking cryptic messages to them. Set aside that the Q clearance is a Department of Energy designation, and is for access to particular nuclear weapons matters, not the Bondian highest-reaches-of-government shenanigans to which Q claims access; this entire thing reeks of enough bullshit to fertilize Mars.

The claims of Q-Anon make Nostradamus look like Hemingway. Naturally, they’re elliptical, variable, and impossible to cross-check. Hundreds of YouTube videos, blog posts tweets, Facebook items, and speculation follow each post, a Confederacy of Dunces that ramifies this idiocy out into dumber and dumber dead ends. QAnon asks its believers to “follow the breadcrumbs” and fill in the blanks. Those blanks get filled with epic idiocy.

The glee with which the followers of this absurdity latch on to imaginary deportations of Hillary Clinton, John Podesta, and others to Gitmo is notable. Several times, Q has promised them that any moment now the rest of the Deep State will occupy the darkest holes of the American prison system. QAnon tells them that retribution is at hand, and they’re ravenous for more. Lurid and exciting for the rubes, but as of yet, Hillary Clinton walks free. If that even is Hillary Clinton, and not a shapeshifting reptilian overlord.

Those of us with the unfortunate awareness of the clownishly risible QAnon conspiracy cult have been reveling in the comedy gold, lavishly overwrought, dangerously stupid proclamations of Q for months. We’ve alternated between laughter and wide-eyed shock at how credulous Trump’s Army of Cletuses must be to fall for such an obvious, ludicrous con. Then again, Donald Trump put the “con” in “conspiracy” as far back as his embrace of birtherism.  If the puzzle surrounding QAnon is a fever dream wrapped in an enigma, coated with nougat, rolled in nuts and filled with a creamy center of delusional paranoia, Trump’s own role in fostering it is right out of the Lil Tots’ First Book of Authoritarian Strategy.

For actual authoritarians and the merely dictator-curious, building a separate, hermetic truth defined only by the Dear Leader is 101 stuff, and goes hand in hand with the relentless attacks on the free press an enemy of the people.

Of course, it’s just trolling. It’s just a prank by some chan-autists. It makes me shake my head to explain to people that the idea of a conspiracy this grand and elaborate has as much chance of working as Skeeter’s plan to cook meth in the WalMart bathroom.

Why has Q eaten the Trump-right’s minds? Why does it work on them when it’s so obviously, evidently a gigantic pyramid of digital horseshit?

It works because stupid people are stupid and because Donald Trump’s Administration loves what QAnon does to stoke the fires of paranoia, resentment, and division. QAnon works for Trump because people who are not knowledgeable about the world, politics, government, the intelligence community and reality more broadly are desperately looking for confirmation that they’re on the winning team. Q tells them that they’re on the right side of history and that for once in their dreary little lives they and only they possess the secret, hermetic knowledge from inside the esoteric cult.

Q represents where the former GOP has gone in the era of Trump; possessed the desire to have a private space that makes even Fox News look mild in comparison, grasping desperately for a different reality.

When even aggressive conspiracy-pusher faux-journalist loons and alt-lite thought leaders Mike Cernovich and Jack Posobiec find QAnon too crazy to promote, it should make you pause. Both men were aggressive promoters of the Pizzagate theory, in which a Washington D.C. restaurant was falsely alleged to be the center of a global child sex-trafficking, cannibalism and prostitution ring. Both were all-in on the cruel and false Seth Rich story, and a raft of other pro-Trump efforts to mainline fantasy conspiracies into the American body politics.

If it’s too crazy for those edge cases, it’s too crazy.

No, Trump fans, the storm isn’t coming. There is no Great Awakening. “Where we go one we go all” is a path to disappointment and madness, not to some brave new future where Donald Trump’s genius and his army of secret soldiers purge America of a vast, secret deep state of hostile insiders and pedophiles.

Q is a meta-hoax, a recursive scam in service of a scam called the Trump Presidency. The “drops” are meaningless claptrap, noise without real signal, and most certainly not the signs of the new reality its eager marks desire.

Doonesbury — Mission: Impossible.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Enemy Of The People

Until Trump came along, the only time most people had heard the term “enemy of the people” was in old newsreels about Stalin or in theatre history class discussing the play of the same name by Henrik Ibsen.  (By the way, it’s a really good play and a cautionary tale for our times.)  But now Trump is slandering the media with that tag, and it’s being thrown around by his minions, including Sarah Huckabee Sanders.  Yesterday she got into an exchange with CNN’s Jim Acosta.

Notice that her complaints are all how the press has treated her. That’s all it really is; she’s the victim here and it’s SO unfair.  That seems to be why she is incapable of agreeing with Ivanka Trump that the press is not the enemy of the people.

First, if you’re going to be the White House press secretary, you’re going to get a lot of scrutiny and be held accountable for what you and the people you represent do and say.  (Oh, and if you’ve got a list of grievances about how those meanies in the media go after you, sit down with Hillary Clinton and hear what it’s like to have the press go after you for real.)

Second, and more importantly, the press’s job is not to be just an echo chamber for your balderdash and bullshit.  Their job is to ask the questions and get the answers and call out the bullshit when they see it.  (Ironically, not a lot of the press is actually doing that; most of the time they sit and watch.)  That’s what Sarah Huckabee Sanders objects to; that there are those in the press who call her and her boss out and wow does it hurt her fee-fees.

Hey, Ms. Sanders, you want to see the real enemy of the people?  Look in the mirror.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Sunday Reading

Get Out and Vote — George Packer in The New Yorker.

In the haze of summer, with books still to be read, weeds pulled, kids retrieved from camp, it’s a little hard to fathom that, three months from now, American democracy will be on the line. The midterm elections in November are the last remaining obstacle to President Trump’s consolidation of power. None of the other forces that might have checked the rise of a corrupt homegrown oligarchy can stop or even slow it. The institutional clout that ended the Presidency of Richard Nixon no longer exists. The honest press, for all its success in exposing daily scandals, won’t persuade the unpersuadable or shame the shameless, while the dishonest press is Trump’s personal amplifier. The federal courts, including the Supreme Court, are rapidly becoming instruments of partisan advocacy, as reliably conservative as elected legislatures. It’s impossible to imagine the Roberts Court voting unanimously against the President, as the Burger Court, including five Republican appointees, did in forcing Nixon to turn over his tapes. (Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s nominee to succeed Anthony Kennedy, has even suggested that the decision was wrong.) Congress has readily submitted to the President’s will, as if legislation and oversight were burdens to be relinquished. And, when the independent counsel finally releases his report, it will have only the potency that the guardians of the law and the Constitution give it.

Behind these institutions lies public opinion, and we are quickly learning that it matters more than laws, more than the Constitution, more than the country’s supposedly inviolable founding principles. “If large numbers of people are interested in freedom of speech, there will be freedom of speech, even if the law forbids it,” George Orwell wrote, in “Freedom of the Park.” “If public opinion is sluggish, inconvenient minorities will be persecuted, even if laws exist to protect them.” During 1973, the year Watergate became a national scandal, facts changed the political views of millions of Americans, Nixon’s approval rating fell from sixty-seven per cent to less than thirty per cent, and his fate was sealed. In our time, large blocs of public opinion are barely movable: Trump’s performance in Helsinki—declaring himself on the side of Russia, against his own intelligence agencies and the integrity of American elections—received favorable reviews from eighty per cent of Republicans. Yet public opinion still plays a central role in safeguarding democracy, and it becomes decisive through voting. Demonstrations can capture attention and build solidarity, books can provide arguments, social media can organize resistance. But if the Republicans don’t suffer a serious defeat in November, Trump will go into 2020 with every structural advantage.

Democrats have a habit of forgetting to vote between Presidential elections. Republican turnout has exceeded or equalled Democratic turnout in every midterm since 1978, no matter which party held the Presidency, with an average margin of three per cent—more than enough to decide control of Congress in a closely divided election. The demographic groups that are least likely to vote—young people, Latinos, and those with a high-school education or less—tend to be Democratic constituencies. This tendency has been especially stark in the past two midterm cycles: in 2014, the turnout among eligible voters aged eighteen to twenty-nine was seventeen per cent—one in six. The disappearing Democratic voter also had an effect on the latest Presidential election, when, for example, African-American turnout dropped almost five per cent from 2012—a crucial difference in the three key states that gave Trump the Electoral College.

Republicans, for their part, don’t always entrust their hold on power to democratic methods. Since 2010, nearly half of the states have passed laws that make it harder to vote—from restrictions on early voting to I.D. requirements, mandatory proof of citizenship, and purges of voting rolls. The purpose of these laws is not to fight a mythical epidemic of fraud but to depress turnout of normally Democratic constituencies. They show incremental signs of success: a government study found that new laws reduced turnout in 2012 in Kansas and Tennessee by two or three per cent, notably among young and black voters. Other states have expanded the franchise, particularly to former felons, but Republican control of two-thirds of state legislatures and the shift of courts to the right give the momentum to efforts to curtail voting.

Gerrymandering is another effective tool for staying in power. The Brennan Center for Justice recently released a report on the effects of redistricting in states like Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, and Texas. Algorithmic mapping has grown so precise that Republican legislatures have created a sixteen-seat advantage in the House of Representatives that remains impervious to standard electoral pressures. In November, just to achieve a bare majority, Democrats will have to win the national congressional vote by nearly eleven per cent. (Other studies put the number at around seven per cent.) And legislatures elected this year will redraw state and federal districts after the 2020 census. There’s a thick seawall standing in the way of a blue wave.

But it’s self-defeating to exaggerate the external obstacles: in 2016, Democratic turnout declined in states with and without new voter restrictions. Gerrymandering is a time-honored practice of both parties—look at Maryland’s House delegation. Unfettered money in politics doesn’t always favor Republicans, let alone guarantee victory—Hillary Clinton raised twice as much as Trump did. The greatest obstacle to voting is the feeling that it won’t matter, and that feeling seems to be more prevalent among Democrats.

In some cases, that sense may be based on overconfidence and insularity—a presumption that the other party’s outrages will automatically disqualify it in voters’ eyes. More often, it comes from a belief that politics doesn’t change anything in people’s lives. For two generations, the Republican Party has been an expression of grassroots conservatism, most recently the fever that’s ceded the Party to Trump. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party has grown less connected to its voters. It’s like a neglected building, perennially on the edge of collapse, which left-leaning Americans occasionally use for some purpose and then abandon.

This year, something seems to be changing. The new faces among Democratic candidates, the new energy behind them, suggest a party of members, not squatters. But, come November, they will have to vote. It’s the only thing left.

Pence Is Worse — Frank Bruni in the New York Times.

There are problems with impeaching Donald Trump. A big one is the holy terror waiting in the wings.

That would be Mike Pence, who mirrors the boss more than you realize. He’s also self-infatuated. Also a bigot. Also a liar. Also cruel.

To that brimming potpourri he adds two ingredients that Trump doesn’t genuinely possess: the conviction that he’s on a mission from God and a determination to mold the entire nation in the shape of his own faith, a regressive, repressive version of Christianity. Trade Trump for Pence and you go from kleptocracy to theocracy.

That’s the takeaway from a forthcoming book by the journalists Michael D’Antonio, who previously wrote “The Truth About Trump,” and Peter Eisner. It’s titled “The Shadow President: The Truth About Mike Pence,” it will be published on Aug. 28 and it’s the most thorough examination of the vice president’s background to date.

I got an advance look at it, along with a first interview about it with D’Antonio, and while it has a mostly measured tone, it presents an entirely damning portrait of Pence. You’ve seen his colors before, but not so vividly and in this detail.

The book persuasively illustrates what an ineffectual congressman he was, apart from cozying up to the Koch brothers, Betsy DeVos and other rich Republican donors; the clumsiness and vanity of his one term as governor of Indiana, for which he did something that predecessors hadn’t and “ordered up a collection of custom-embroidered clothes — dress shirts, polo shirts, and vests and jackets — decorated with his name and the words Governor of Indiana”; the strong possibility that he wouldn’t have won re-election; his luck in being spared that humiliation by the summons from Trump, who needed an outwardly bland, intensely religious character witness to muffle his madness and launder his sins; and the alacrity with which he says whatever Trump needs him to regardless of the truth.

In Pence’s view, any bite marks in his tongue are divinely ordained. Trump wouldn’t be president if God didn’t want that; Pence wouldn’t be vice president if he weren’t supposed to sanctify Trump. And his obsequiousness is his own best route to the Oval Office, which may very well be God’s grand plan.

“People don’t understand what Pence is,” D’Antonio told me. Which is? “A religious zealot.”

And D’Antonio said that Pence could end up in the White House sooner than you think. In addition to the prospect of Trump’s impeachment, there’s the chance that Trump just decides that he has had enough.

“I don’t think he’s as resilient, politically, as Bill Clinton was,” D’Antonio said. “He doesn’t relish a partisan fight in the same way. He loves to go to rallies where people adore him.”

There’s no deeply felt policy vision or sense of duty to sustain him through the investigations and accusations. “If the pain is great enough,” D’Antonio said, “I think he’d be disposed not to run again.”

So it’s time to look harder at Pence. “The Shadow President” does. It lays out his disregard for science, evident in his onetime insistence that smoking doesn’t cause cancer and a belief that alarms about climate change were “a secret effort to increase government control over people’s lives for some unstated diabolical purpose,” according to the book.

It suggests callousness at best toward African-Americans. As governor, Pence refused to pardon a black man who had spent almost a decade in prison for a crime that he clearly hadn’t committed. He also ignored a crisis — similar to the one in Flint, Mich. — in which people in a poor, largely black Indiana city were exposed to dangerously high levels of lead. D’Antonio told me: “I think he’s just as driven by prejudice as Trump is.”

During the vice-presidential debate with Tim Kaine, Pence repeated the laughable, ludicrous assertion that Trump would release his tax returns “when the audit is over” and falsely insisted that Trump hadn’t lavished praise on Vladimir Putin’s leadership — though the record proved otherwise.

The book says that in a high-level briefing about Russian interference in the 2016 election, Pence was told that intelligence officials hadn’t determined whether that interference had swayed the results. He then publicly claimed a finding of no effect.

At Trump’s urging and with taxpayer money, he and his wife, Karen, flew to a football game in Indianapolis just so he could make a big public gesture of leaving in protest when, predictably, some of the players took a knee during the national anthem.

And, following Trump’s lead, he rallied behind the unhinged former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio. In a speech he called Arpaio a “tireless champion” of the “rule of law.” This was after Arpaio’s contempt-of-court conviction for ignoring a federal judge’s order to stop using illegal tactics to torment immigrants. The conservative columnist George Will seized on Pence’s speech to write that Pence had dethroned Trump as “America’s most repulsive public figure.”

You can thank Pence for DeVos. They are longtime allies, going back decades, who bonded over such shared passions as making it O.K. for students to use government money, in the form of vouchers, at religious schools. Pence cast the tiebreaking vote in the Senate to confirm her as education secretary. It was the first time in history that a vice president had done that for a cabinet nominee.

Fiercely opposed to abortion, Pence once spoke positively on the House floor about historical figures who “actually placed it beyond doubt that the offense of abortion was a capital offense, punishable even by death.” He seemed to back federal funds for anti-gay conversion therapy. He promoted a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.

“He is absolutely certain that his moral view should govern public policy,” D’Antonio told me.

D’Antonio then recounted two stories that he heard from college classmates of Pence’s after the book had gone to bed, so they’re not in there. One involved a woman in Pence’s weekly college prayer group. When she couldn’t describe a discrete “born again” experience, “he lectured her on her deficiencies as a Christian and said that she really wasn’t the sort of Christian that needed to be in this group,” D’Antonio said.

Another involved a college friend of Pence’s who later sought his counsel about coming out as gay. D’Antonio said that Pence told the friend: “You have to stay closeted, you have to get help, you’re sick and you’re not my friend anymore.”

According to D’Antonio’s book, Pence sees himself and fellow Christian warriors as a blessed but oppressed group, and his “hope for the future resided in his faith that, as chosen people, conservative evangelicals would eventually be served by a leader whom God would enable to defeat their enemies and create a Christian nation.”

I asked D’Antonio the nagging, obvious question: Is America worse off with Trump or Pence?

“I have to say that I prefer Donald Trump, because I think that Trump is more obvious in his intent,” he said, while Pence tends to “disguise his agenda.” D’Antonio then pointed out that if Pence assumed the presidency in the second half of Trump’s first term, he’d be eligible to run in 2020 and 2024 and potentially occupy the White House for up to 10 years.

Heaven help us.

Doonesbury — Get up and go.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Fever Pitch

David Brooks is convinced that by 2020 we’ll be so over Trump and MAGA and angry white supremacists so that we can go back to whatever it is passes for normal here in the good ol’ US of A.  So he, like James Comey and other “thoughtful Republicans” is giving Democrats advice on how to win so the fever breaks.

Maybe this year is different, but for 100 years, Democrats have tended to win with youthful optimism and not anger and indignation. The Democrats who have won nationally almost all ran on generational change — on tired old America versus the possibilities of new America: F.D.R.’s New Deal, J.F.K.’s New Frontier, Bill Clinton’s bridge to the 21st century and Obama’s hope and change.

If I had to advise on a Democratic narrative I’d start with three premises: First, by 2020 everybody will be exhausted by the climate of negativism and hostility. Second, the core long-term fear is American decline; are we losing our mojo? Third, communities and nations don’t come together when they talk about their problems; they come together when they do something on behalf of their children.

Well, that would be nice, wouldn’t it?  And I suppose there’s a part of me that wants to believe it.  But if the past is any predictor, it will not happen even if the Democrats do come up with a well-crafted and meaningful message and candidate that breaks through to the people who need to hear it.

When the change comes, and it could start as early as November, they’re not going down without a fight.  If Trump loses in 2020 and the Democrats regain control of both Congress and the White House, there will still be backlash, most certainly from Trump himself who will claim that the whole system was rigged and the election of anyone but him is illegitimate.  He’s already started to feed that line to his base.  (He even tried it out in 2016 when even he didn’t believe he could win.)

So whomever the Democrats come up with — a supermix of FDR, JFK, and Obama — and no matter what message they craft to unify the country for ourselves and each other, the resentment and push-back will still be there.  After all, FDR, JFK and certainly Obama all faced it, and all Trump did was exploit it.

I truly would like to live in David Brooks’ world of rainbows and unicorns, but for the foreseeable future, we’re going to have to live with thunderstorms and jackasses.

Friday, July 13, 2018

A Confederacy Of Dunces

If you turned on MSNBC yesterday, you probably saw the live testimony of Peter Strzok before the congressional committee made up of a majority of Trump lickspittles and GOP weirdos.  I saw some of it, but I leave it to Charles P. Pierce to wrap it up and deliver the verdict.

There’s no real point in recapping the highlights. The videos are going to be in regular rotation for quite a while now. It was, as it was called at various points in the hearing, a kangaroo court, a show trial, and a travesty of a sham of a mockery of a sham of two mockeries. But it was designed to be that. It was a performance piece. It was not a very well-cast one, and several of the lead actors fell into the orchestra pit, but it managed to run from curtain-up to curtain-down.

Have you ever seen those videos of fist-fights breaking out in parliaments of third-world countries where they really go at it with furniture and farm implements?  I wish we had that kind of decorum.

(HT to the memory of John Kennedy Toole.)

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Shoring Up His Base

The only reason I can think of for Trump to give clemency to the gang that occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon in 2016 (the gang that tried to send out for snacks in the middle of their rebellion) is because he’s got some idea that they still support him even after it dawns on them that the Trumpistas are using them and stealing their Doritos.

Either that or he’s counting on the fact that they’ll never wise up.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Too Late Now

I knew the moment I got up this morning to check my e-mail that I would be getting “BREAKING” and URGENT messages about the nomination of the next white Christian guy nominated to the Supreme Court, along with appeals to send money to defeat the nomination.

Not that I’m in favor of putting Brett Kavanaugh on the bench or that I don’t think that he won’t be the one to find a way to overturn Roe vs. Wade or uphold the corporation-as-person or find new ways to extend “religious liberty” into outright bigotry in terms of marriage equality or let the 2nd Amendment be the absolute law of the land, the time to have worked to keep him or any other like-minded 19th century-precedented jurist off the bench was in 2010, 2012, and 2016 when people who should care about those issues and keeping them safe from Mike Pence decided not to vote.

Thanks a lot, you lazy jerks or you purists who thought Jill Stein could make a “statement.”  Well, here’s a statement for you: my great-nephew George will be well into his forties before the seat becomes available again, and time and the actuarial tables don’t make it look good for those who stand against the onslaught of Jesus-shouters and corporate greed.  So you owe him and his generation and those to follow something more than, “Sorry, but I didn’t think it mattered.”

Seriously, Mitch?

A quote of Mitch McConnell:

We should evaluate this president’s nominee fairly based on his or her qualifications. and we should treat the process with the respect and dignity that it deserves.

This from the man who basically subverted the Constitution until Trump was in office is demanding that the Democrats play nice.  Seriously?

I have a suggestion for Mr. McConnell, but it would require an adaptation of his anatomy that isn’t covered by his insurance.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Sunday Reading

Miami Underwater — Carolyn Kormann in The New Yorker.

In Miami, the rising sea is already an ineluctable part of daily life. Everyone is affected—whether storm flooding forces a small-business owner to shut down for a few days (at tremendous cost), or daily tides hinder students commuting to school, or the retreating coastline forces people to abandon their homes. There are other, less obvious, but equally troubling impacts. People’s increased contact with overflow water from urban canals and sewers is a significant health issue. Low-income communities of color—like Liberty City and Little Haiti—also face rising housing costs as residents seek higher ground. Some have started referring to this as climate gentrification, “a trend of underserved communities being taken over by investors and developers due to rising sea levels,” Valencia Gunder, a community organizer, explained. Historically, “low-income communities of color were forced to live in the center of the city, high above sea level. Now that the sea level is rising, that puts us in prime real estate.” Gunder is one of the many Miami residents who appear in this video series, which focusses on the high-stakes questions that arise as people begin to adapt, and the factors that help create and strengthen resiliency for what’s ahead. “Every adaptation project is an opportunity to improve our environmental quality,” Tiffany Troxler, a wetlands biologist, said. “And to improve social equity.”

As the average global temperature increases, sea level is projected to rise more than one foot by 2045, which would put a fifth of Miami underwater at high tide. While the entire East Coast of the United States is at tremendous risk, Miami is particularly vulnerable. Its underlying bedrock is limestone, which makes the effects of sea-level rise particularly insidious. “Limestone is very porous, so salt water can seep up,” Ben Wilson, an environmental scientist, said in an episode that examines the intersection of ecology and development. “We can’t just build a wall to keep salt water out.” Along the shoreline, freshwater marshes, which act as natural coastal buffers against storm surge, are collapsing because of increased salt-water intrusion. Once those grasses are gone, storm waters will flood Miami much more quickly.

The economic effects will be staggering. Tourism and property taxes—derived from real-estate development—are the region’s two main sources of income. “There are many in the business community, and even government officials, who feel we shouldn’t talk about it,” Wayne Pathman, a real-estate lawyer, said. “But it’s too late for that.” The median family income in Miami-Dade County is roughly forty-five thousand dollars—not high for a metropolitan area. The hardest-hit communities will be, and have already been, those with the fewest resources to adapt and rebuild.

“With climate change there already are winners and losers,” Jesse Keenan, a Harvard professor who teaches courses on climate adaptation, said. “The idea, as a matter of public policy, is how do we subsidize and and support the most vulnerable populations, who are very often the economic losers.” There is no easy answer. But the people featured in these videos are, at least, trying. “I love this place,” one activist told the filmmakers. “I love the people, I love the diversity and the colors and the richness. I love that cross-cultural mix we have going on here. The question is, ‘Can we live here much longer, and safely? And if so, how much longer, and how safely?’ ”

Party of Fear — Leonard Pitts, Jr. in the Miami Herald.

“I didn’t leave the Democratic Party. The party left me.’’

Ronald Reagan

Now I know how the Gipper felt.

Once upon a time, you see, I thought I was a little bit conservative. Mind you, I could never side with the right on social justice matters like the treatment of LGBTQ Americans, African Americans and women, where they have always been irredeemably wrong. But I did agree with them on the importance of fathers and on the need for self reliance, a strong military and foreign-policy realism. While I support government regulation of business, consumer standards and the environment, I was even willing to listen to conservative complaints about excessive red tape.

Thing is, I still hold more or less the same views, but I’m nobody’s idea of a conservative. I didn’t change, but the definition of conservative did. And that forces a realization:

With apologies to John F. Kennedy, Ich bin ein liberal.

That will, I know, bring howls of derision from conservatives. They’ll see it as a portentous announcement of a self-evident truth — like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar announcing that he is tall.

I get the joke, but the joke makes my point.

We live in a starkly bipolar political world. One is red or one is blue, one is right or one is left. But I’ve always resisted the idea that I had to choose a team and line up behind its talking points. I’ve always said no political philosophy has a monopoly on good ideas.

So I was never willing to call myself liberal. Or conservative. I liked the idea of weighing the facts and thinking a thing through for myself.

I was naïve, though. While I was holding out on a lonely island of principle, the middle space between the extremes shrank to nothing. Political identity became actual identity, and one was required to choose sides, like a kid in the slums forced to choose between rival street gangs, with conscientious objection not an option.

And the choice isn’t really a choice at all, because what used to be conservatism no longer is. When’s the last time you heard the right talk about the kinds of things — fatherhood, clear-eyed foreign policy — that once helped define it?

No, these days, being “conservative” means being angry and fearful at the loss of white prerogative. It means to embrace — or at the very least, tolerate, which is functionally the same thing — a new and brazen strain of white supremacy. It means to be dismissive and destructive of the norms of democratic governance. It means to willingly accept nonstop lies, intellectual vacuity and naked incompetence and pretend they are signs of stable genius. It means to be wholly in thrall to the Cult of Trump.

Small wonder GOP heavyweights like columnists George F. Will and Max Boot and campaign strategist Steve Schmidt have disavowed their party out of devotion to what conservatism used to be. Their moral courage makes neon obvious most Republicans’ lack thereof.

That said, one wonders if it will not turn out that these worthies are simply holding out on their own lonely island of principle, if conservatism’s headlong march toward fascism will not make them the ones who seem naïve 20 years down the line. But that’s their problem.

This column is about my problem, which I guess I’ve solved, though not without some regret for the days when I felt free to walk between political extremes and not declare myself. But in 2018, that’s an unaffordable luxury. In 2018, one of those extremes represents a danger as clear and present as any foreign adversary.

So yes, I am a liberal. Because I have, literally, no alternative.

Compare and Contrast — Musings on public speaking.

1863:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

1961:

And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.

2018:

I have broken more Elton John records, he seems to have a lot of records. And I, by the way, I don’t have a musical instrument. I don’t have a guitar or an organ. No organ. Elton has an organ. And lots of other people helping. No we’ve broken a lot of records. We’ve broken virtually every record. Because you know, look I only need this space. They need much more room. For basketball, for hockey and all of the sports, they need a lot of room. We don’t need it. We have people in that space. So we break all of these records. Really we do it without like, the musical instruments. This is the only musical: the mouth. And hopefully the brain attached to the mouth. Right? The brain, more important than the mouth, is the brain. The brain is much more important.

Doonesbury — Wasting time.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Monday, July 2, 2018

This Time We Really Mean It

I know it sounds alarmist to say that the Supreme Court pick by Trump could change the world, but this time it could.  Giving the right wing a solid majority on the court for the next thirty years could mean the end of reproductive choice, which effects more than just women; LGBTQ rights, including marriage equality; voting rights, workers rights, immigration, and even the various amendments to the Constitution, including the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth.

All of them have been under assault by the right wing since the 1960’s, held in check by an evenly-balanced court that even Ronald Reagan couldn’t tip his way completely.  He got very close with Robert Bork, but we stopped it then, and got Anthony Kennedy.  Now he’s going, and unless we do something to stop Trump’s pick, we’re going to get someone just as doctrinaire and antediluvian as Bork, but without the charm.

But wait, someone says, how do we know that Trump will pick a far-right jurist?  Simple; because he will do whatever he can to piss off people, and he knows that picking a wingnut will outrage the progressives.  He doesn’t really care about policy or judicial background; he just likes to watch the fireworks.  He doesn’t have a clue that whomever he picks will outlive him and change the fundamental laws of this nation; he just wants to see Rachel Maddow’s head explode.  Knowing that, it’s safe to conclude that his choice will be not be because he cares a popcorn fart about the Constitution — we’ve known that all along — but what kind of meltdown he can cause on Twitter.

So it comes to the Senate, where a far more wily foe lies in wait: Mitch McConnell.  He’s already stolen the Supreme Court pick from the Democrats the last time there was a vacancy with his daring daylight robbery of Barack Obama and Merrick Garland.  Now he’s planning to whoop through Trump’s pick before the mid-terms, knowing that the sentiment is building against the Republican majority in the Senate, and the only thing that’s keeping him in the majority is the health of John McCain, who is the 51st Republican in a 51-49 chamber.  It only takes two to win for the Democrats.

As Martin Longman notes, it’s a lot easier to work for change than it is to fight to keep the status quo.  This time the change is coming from the left, but the battle is going to be that much more brutal when you have a mercurial and frankly bonkers leader on the other side, held in check only by the fingernails and hawksbill of Mitch McConnell and the ticking clock leading up to November.

This will be a two-front battle.  We have to defeat the nomination of Trump’s pick and we need to win back the Senate to guarantee that no matter who else he picks for however long he remains in office won’t get passed through so your grandchild can marry whomever he or she wants or gets to decide who controls her body or if they get to enjoy a safe work place or even vote in the first place.

I know I’ve said that every election and therefor the future of this nation hangs on three little words — The Supreme Court — but this time we really mean it.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

What’s To Stop Them Now?

There are times when you just have to say…  Well, I don’t know what I can come up with cogently, so here again is Charlie Pierce with thoughts on the retirement of Anthony Kennedy and the handing over of the reins to the far-right nutsery for the next thirty years.

There is not much that the Democrats can do about this now. The Republican majority in the Senate killed the filibuster in order to install Neil Gorsuch in the seat they hijacked from Merrick Garland. So any complaining about how Chuck Schumer didn’t hip-check Mitch McConnell into the aisle should be pre-emptively dismissed now. This result was inevitable from the moment that Antonin Scalia’s heart stopped. This is the beginning of the end of the long game that began with the Powell memo in 1972. All that’s left for them now is to solidify the gains they have made, an option that no longer may be available to minority voters, and gay citizens, and everybody else who thought their enhanced ability to participate in American self-government was permanent.

They have everything in place to do that very thing. Some of it was serendipity; they didn’t plan on two Republican presidents in 18 years both installed without winning the popular vote. But the rest of it was a grand strategy against everything they have despised about American politics since the end of World War II. They have pushed every built-in chokepoint present in our political institutions in order to put in place political choke-points guaranteed to operate to their advantage, and they’ve done everything to reinforce these dark creations until they look as permanent as the composition of the U.S. Senate or the Electoral College. When the Senate confirms the nomination of Louie Gohmert later this summer, it will mean that four of the nine justices of the Supreme Court will have been nominated by presidents who lost the popular vote. I’m beginning to doubt the wisdom of the Founders.

Anyway, everything’s up for grabs now, if Justice Samuel Alito’s casual detonation of 40 years of precedent in Wednesday’s majority opinion in Janus is any indication. Roe, and then Griswold, are in range. The very idea of a national healthcare system is running scared. Reform of our cash-drunk campaign finance system now looks as distant as the mountains of the moon. Obergefell carries a bullseye—the next court is odds-on to find religious liberty exceptions to every law, including gravity and certain parking regulations—and so do Miranda and, what the hell, Brown v. Board.

Why not? What’s out there to stop them now? Just this week, they’ve written religious bigotry and legislative ratfcking into the Constitution and converted the United States into a right-to-work country. Millions of people are going to have their lives made harder by the events of the past week. In that context, musings on political strategery seem viciously beside the point.

The only way to stop this is to stall the hearings on the nomination until after the mid-terms in November and work like hell until then to take back the Senate.  Both are breathtakingly monumental tasks given the odds against the Democrats and their maddening ability to try to get along.

And don’t think that waiting for Robert Mueller and his report, no matter how damaging it is to Trump and the Republicans, to save us.  Even if Trump is somehow miraculously forced out of office or is incapacitated, waiting in the wings is Mike Pence, who will appoint Judge Roy Moore to the court.

So, yeah; there doesn’t seem to be a lot to be gained by wondering what Chuck Schumer will do.  It’s up to us now.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

What Other Recourse Have We?

I’ve been trying to break free of the blogging pattern of blockquoting a long article and then inserting “What he/she said.”  But in the case of publications like the New York Times where there’s a paywall to be breached or the writing is just too good to summarize, I’ll still avail myself of it and justify it by saying “What he/she said.”

This is from Michelle Goldberg in the New York Times on the topic of whether or not liberals should publicly shame Trump supporters and enablers.

I’m somewhat agnostic on the question of whether publicly rebuking Trump collaborators is tactically smart. It stokes their own sense of victimization, which they feed on. It may alienate some persuadable voters, though this is just a guess. (As we saw in the indignant media reaction to Michelle Wolf’s White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner routine, some pundits project their own concern with Beltway decorum onto swing voters, who generally pay less attention to the news than partisans.)

On the other hand, there’s a moral and psychic cost to participating in the fiction that people who work for Trump are in any sense public servants. I don’t blame staff members at the Virginia restaurant, the Red Hen, for not wanting to help Sanders unwind after a hard week of lying to the public about mass child abuse. Particularly when Sanders’s own administration is fighting to let private businesses discriminate against gay people, who, unlike mendacious press secretaries, are a protected class under many civil rights laws.

Whether or not you think public shaming should be happening, it’s important to understand why it’s happening. It’s less a result of a breakdown in civility than a breakdown of democracy. Though it’s tiresome to repeat it, Donald Trump eked out his minority victory with help from a hostile foreign power. He has ruled exclusively for his vengeful supporters, who love the way he terrifies, outrages and humiliates their fellow citizens. Trump installed the right-wing Neil Gorsuch in the Supreme Court seat that Republicans stole from Barack Obama. Gorsuch, in turn, has been the fifth vote in decisions on voter roll purges and, on Monday, racial gerrymandering that will further entrench minority rule.

All over the country, Republican members of Congress have consistently refused to so much as meet with many of the scared, furious citizens they ostensibly represent. A great many of these citizens are working tirelessly to take at least one house of Congress in the midterms — which will require substantially more than 50 percent of total votes, given structural Republican advantages — so that the country’s anti-Trump majority will have some voice in the federal government.

But unless and until that happens, millions and millions of Americans watch helplessly as the president cages children, dehumanizes immigrants, spurns other democracies, guts health care protections, uses his office to enrich himself and turns public life into a deranged phantasmagoria with his incontinent flood of lies. The civility police might point out that many conservatives hated Obama just as much, but that only demonstrates the limits of content-neutral analysis. The right’s revulsion against a black president targeted by birther conspiracy theories is not the same as the left’s revulsion against a racist president who spread birther conspiracy theories.

Faced with the unceasing cruelty and degradation of the Trump presidency, liberals have not taken to marching around in public with assault weapons and threatening civil war. I know of no left-wing publication that has followed the example of the right-wing Federalist and run quasi-pornographic fantasies about murdering political enemies. (“Close your eyes and imagine holding someone’s scalp in your hands,” began a recent Federalist article.) Unlike Trump, no Democratic politician I’m aware of has urged his or her followers to beat up opposing demonstrators.

Instead, some progressive celebrities have said some bad words, and some people have treated administration officials with the sort of public opprobrium due members of any other white nationalist organization. Liberals are using their cultural power against the right because it’s the only power they have left, and people have a desperate need to say, and to hear others say, that what is happening in this country is intolerable.

Sometimes, their strategies may be poorly conceived. But there’s an abusive sort of victim-blaming in demanding that progressives single-handedly uphold civility, lest the right become even more uncivil in response. As long as our rulers wage war on cosmopolitan culture, they shouldn’t feel entitled to its fruits. If they don’t want to hear from the angry citizens they’re supposed to serve, let them eat at Trump Grill.

Trump and his supporters are very good at exploiting the culture of victimhood.  It’s what got them into power: by convincing the people who have wielded power in this country since long before its founding that they are powerless against the Others.  They are very good at it, too, because a lot of otherwise smart people are buying what they’re saying.

Charles P. Pierce not behind a paywall.

By all accounts, the most civil action taken in L’affaire Poule Rouge was the way Stephanie Wilkinson handled her refusal to serve Sarah Huckabee Sanders at the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Virginia. She first consulted with her staff, several members of which were gay and were angry at the administration*’s policies in that regard, and everyone was outraged by what was going on at the border. Wilkinson then took a vote on whether or not to serve Sanders. When the staff voted not to do so, she politely informed Sanders and her party that they would not be eating at the Red Hen that night. She even comped them the cheese plates they’d already ordered.

She did not use an official government Twitter account to discuss the episode, as Sanders did later. She did not use the power of the Oval Office to try and destroy someone’s business, as the president* found time to do later. She asked the staff what they wanted to do. She took a vote. She abided by their wishes. If there’s a more civil way of saying “no” to someone, I don’t know what it would be.

It would have remained a shiny object unworthy of pursuit had it not roiled up a good portion of official Washington, which seemed grateful to be discussing anything except hijacked migrant children. Suddenly, just as the issue of the hijacked children was beginning to bite the administration* severely in the ass, here was an event over which the elite political media could do one of its favorite traditional fan dances: the Question of Civility.

Right on cue, Fred Hiatt’s Washington Post editorial page, which has no compunction about publishing the words of torture-enthusiast Marc Thiessen, blurted out the most embarrassing single paragraph written about the events at the Red Hen. To wit:

We nonetheless would argue that Ms. Huckabee, and Ms. Nielsen and Mr. Miller, too, should be allowed to eat dinner in peace. Those who are insisting that we are in a special moment justifying incivility should think for a moment how many Americans might find their own special moment. How hard is it to imagine, for example, people who strongly believe that abortion is murder deciding that judges or other officials who protect abortion rights should not be able to live peaceably with their families?

How did any higher primate write this paragraph without coughing up a lung? How did any sentient mammal not red-pencil this paragraph into oblivion? How did Post truck drivers not save their employers severe embarrassment by tossing that entire day’s print run into the Potomac?

For the benefit of those people also living in Fred Hiatt’s Land Without History: abortion providers have been stalked. Their children have been stalked. Their places of business have been vandalized. And, lest we forget, doctors who perform abortions have been fucking killed! They’ve been gunned down in their clinics, in their kitchens, and in their churches. They have not been allowed to live peaceably with their families, Fred, you addlepated Beltway thooleramawn. They haven’t been allowed to live at all. I’m no expert, but I’m fairly sure that a bullet in the head is far more uncivil than a complementary fucking cheese plate. What is wrong with these people?

I’m old enough to remember the raucous town halls of 2010, when the AstroTurfed forces of the Tea Party shouted down members of Congress while men with automatic weapons strolled around the perimeter of arenas in which the President of the United States was speaking. I’m old enough to remember when N. Leroy Gingrich, Definer of Civilization’s Rules and Leader (Perhaps) of The Civilizing Forces, was working out his Universal Lexicography of Insult for the benefit of a party that ate it up with an entrenching tool. Newt also emerged on the electric Twitter machine over the weekend, leaping to SarahHuck’s defense, and that was nearly enough to make me give up English as a hobby.

You know who would’ve been baffled by this sudden debate over “civility”? Samuel Adams and John Hancock, that’s who. They were a helluva lot less civil to the crew of the Dartmouth than Stephanie Wilkinson was to the Sanders party, and the citizens of Boston did not comp Thomas Hutchinson to a cheese plate when they ran his sorry ass across the pond. And, who knows, maybe if Elliott Abrams had been chased out of a few DC bistros in the 1980s, Archbishop Oscar Romero and four American nuns would still be alive.

This debate is stupid. It’s also dangerously beside the point. SarahHuck is the lying mouthpiece of a lying regime that is one step away from simply hauling people off in trucks. That she was politely told to take her business elsewhere is a small step towards assigning public responsibility to public officials that enable a perilous brand of politics. There are bigger steps to be taken, but everyone in official Washington is too damn timid to do what really needs to be done about this band of pirates.

So, Sarah, since I know it is hard for you to understand even short sentences, I’ll put it as briefly as I can: Take a hike.

What he said.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Follow The Leader

Based on the returns from the various primaries around the country on Tuesday, the Republicans seem to be lining up behind Trumpism and setting themselves up for reckoning in November.

“It’s becoming a cultish thing, isn’t it?” Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee told reporters Wednesday morning. “It’s not a good place for any party to end up with a cultlike situation as it relates to a president that happens to be of — purportedly — of the same party.”

Mr. Corker — who is leaving the Senate when his term is up next January — is one of the few Republicans who have stood up to Trump; easy to do when you don’t have to run for re-election.  But the rest of them are all heading for Jonestown.

Not that I’m in the habit of giving advice to people I’d like to see removed from both office and polite society, but when a party re-forms itself to comply with the vagaries and vulgarities of one man — and in doing do blithely abandons its core principles such as fiscal responsibility, family values, freedom (not that they having been breathtakingly hypocritical about all of them before) — they’re setting themselves up for a real turkey shoot.  History — both here and abroad — is littered with the bleached bones of parties and movements that have aligned themselves behind a personality, and there have always been body counts of the innocent to go along with them.  Political parties may unite behind the nominee or a candidate, but they don’t make their platform all about him.  And there has always been a core of loyal, even cordial, opposition within the party to keep a balance and provide a home for the voters who may not have gotten their candidate of choice but still believe in the values that made them join in the first place.  What seems to be the motivating factor behind this cult isn’t a unity of ideas but fear of a tweetstorm from the Dear Leader.

I’m not a great prognosticator of election outcomes, but if the last couple of midterms are any indication, the Republicans are in for a bit of a shock.  Kellyanne Conway, the Wormtongue of this administration, noted the other night that Trump’s approval level rivals that of Barack Obama’s in 2010.  And remember how well the Democrats did in the midterms then?

Friday, June 1, 2018

Words Have Consequences, Part 2

I’m not going to defend Samantha Bee for the word she used, but I knew the moment I heard about it that there would be a backlash, particularly an “AHA!” from the Trumpers who defended Roseanne Barr for her racism.  Of course there would be demands that TBS fire Ms. Bee because one bad word is exactly the same as a long history of loopy racism and conspiracy theories, which it is most assuredly not.

Ms. Bee immediately apologized without blaming prescription drugs, as did the network.  But she handed the Trumpers an excuse to indulge in their favorite game of Both Sides Do It.  Forget the fact that the “c” word was emblazoned on t-shirts at Trump rallies; forget the fact that it’s been bandied about by Trump supporters like Ted Nugent and Trump’s inner circle and Trump himself.  None of that matters to the Fox News viewers who will carry on about how mean the liberals are to poor Ivanka and what flaming hypocrites they are too.  And they should know about hypocrisy because they live it night and day.

Plus there’s the added bonus of getting all amped up about language, which distracts us from the fact that more people died in Puerto Rico from a hurricane than were killed on 9/11 and they’re still waiting for complete power restoration.  It’s so much easier to talk about your personal outrage than do something about nearly 5,000 American citizens dead on an island.

As Steve M notes, “I’m not saying, ‘Liberals, censor yourselves.’ I’m saying, ‘Liberals, don’t give the bastards an opening.'”

Thursday, May 31, 2018

It’s Not About You

Via the Washington Post:

Trump, who has personally congratulated Barr on the initial success of “Roseanne,” finally weighed in on the rapidly unfolding controversy Wednesday. Trump questioned why the head of ABC parent company Disney had called Valerie Jarrett — the target of Barr’s racist comments — to apologize, when he hadn’t received similar treatment.

“Bob Iger of ABC called Valerie Jarrett to let her know that ‘ABC does not tolerate comments like those’ made by Roseanne Barr,” Trump tweeted. “Gee, he never called President Donald J. Trump to apologize for the HORRIBLE statements made and said about me on ABC. Maybe I just didn’t get the call?”

The sign of a truly immature and undeveloped personality is that no matter what the situation — in this case a racist getting her due comeuppance — it always comes down to “Hey, but what about ME?”  He was even able to take a solemn occasion such as Memorial Day and make it all about him.  (By the way, saying “Happy Memorial Day!” is like saying “Happy Good Friday!” or “Happy Yom Kippur!”  It’s supposed to be a day of reflection, not celebration.)

But if Trump really wants to bring up how being president makes you a target of HORRIBLE statements, perhaps he ought to look in the mirror at the things he’s said or tweeted over the years about his predecessor, starting with the whole birtherism number and going on to the “spying” on him during the campaign.  Or perhaps he’s forgotten the entire chorus of banshee calls from the right-wing nutsery about the Clintons and the Obamas.

Roseanne can blame it on the Ambien (which is a bullshit excuse), but in the case of Trump, it’s just the fact he’s never gotten past the level of kindergarten schoolyard behavior.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Sit Anywhere You Like

One of the upshots of Starbucks’ consciousness-raising over who gets to sit in their coffee houses without drawing the attention of the constabulary is that they will make it their official policy that you don’t actually have to buy something to earn a place to sit there.

That’s good to know; I’ve been doing it for years (although I usually do buy something; after all, those blueberry scones are pretty good), and the local Starbucks was my go-to place for WiFi last September after Hurricane Irma, free or otherwise.  Now I won’t have that tickling feeling of guilt when I stop in and boot up without buying a scone or a tall plain cuppajoe.

But that’s upsetting to some conservatives.  Megyn Kelly, for instance.

“They’re allowing anyone to stay and use the bathroom even if they don’t buy anything, which has a lot of Starbucks’ customers saying, ‘Really?’” Kelly remarked on her Today Show program. “Because now the Starbucks are going to get overwhelmed with people and is it really just a public space or is it not?”

“For the paying customers who go in with their kids, do you really want to deal with a mass of homeless people or whoever is in there — could be drug addicted, you don’t know when you’re there with your kids paying for the services of the place.”

For those of you who are numb to dog whistles, what she’s really saying is that Starbucks is now the equivalent of the Port Authority bus terminal and their bathrooms are open to just anyone, not just rich white people paying five bucks for a latte.  Oh, how we’ve all caved to political correctness and now she has to sit next to someone who is undeserving of being in her presence.

Or maybe she’d rather see what I saw yesterday morning when I got to the office before dawn.  It’s located in downtown Miami and there are a number of homeless people who spend the night in sheltered areas until the building opens.  As I approached the entrance, I saw a man standing outside on the wheelchair ramp where he’d spent the night.  From his stance and the fact that I’m a man who knows what a certain stance means, I knew he was taking a leak against the side of our building.  As I got near the door, he tried to mop it up with the newspapers he’d just used as his bed.  I didn’t say anything to him, but I did inform the security guard who was arriving of what I’d seen so they could get someone to hose the ramp down.  I didn’t call the cops, and if the man had asked, I’m pretty sure the guard would have let him in to use the rest room on the first floor instead of peeing on the ramp.

I’ve often said it would be nice if there was a Starbucks in the neighborhood, and there’s another reason now; to show a little bit of kindness and accommodation to people who don’t have multi-million dollar contracts to sneer at others on TV.