Sunday, December 20, 2020

Sunday Reading

History Walks with Deb Haaland — by Charlie Pierce.

In 1972, a group of Native American activists occupied the abandoned prison on Alcatraz Island off San Francisco. They based their claim on the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, which stated that, under certain circumstance, unused federal lands could revert to their original owners. A Native-American health center in San Francisco had burned down recently, so the occupiers decided that the Rock would serve as a fine replacement. The occupation lasted almost two years and, though it ended roughly, it marked a new era in the relationship of the federal government and the Native peoples to whom that government had done so much injury over the previous 300 years. One particular offender down through the decades had been the United States Department of the Interior—the Bureau of Indian Affairs is lodged in there. And the Interior Department was tasked with enforcing the Dawes Act, which did so much to demolish tribal unity and identity.

So, all of American history, good and bad, echoed on Wednesday when President-Elect Joe Biden named New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland to be his Secretary of the Interior. Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo people, is the first Native American to be named to a Cabinet position and, as we’ve seen, her appointment to run Interior has a significance far beyond the ordinary Cabinet appointment. From the New York Times:

Ms. Haaland, a citizen of Laguna Pueblo, one of the country’s 574 federally recognized tribes, would helm the federal agency most responsible for the well-being of the nation’s 1.9 million Indigenous people. Among other things, the Interior Department runs the Bureau of Indian Education and the Bureau of Trust Funds Administration, which manages the financial assets of American Indians held in trust. For generations, Native Americans have fought the department’s policies and demanded a greater voice in its operation. In one instance, in 1972, about 500 activists took over the department’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., protesting living standards and broken treaties.

I have been excessively neutral on most of Biden’s Cabinet picks so far. If he wants a Cabinet with whom he feels comfortable, then I’m all right with that. Having sat through most of the confirmation hearings for the previous passel of crooks and mountebanks—Mnuchin, who forget to list assets, and DeVos and her grizzlies, and Interior nominee Ryan Zinke, who left after two years under a hail of writs—I’m willing to accept almost anybody Biden appoints. I have qualms about Lloyd Austin at Defense because of the whole civilian-military thing. I’m OK with Pete Buttigieg at Transportation because, what the hell, Biden wasn’t going to appoint a subway motorman or an airline pilot to the gig.

But, to me, anyway, Haaland is the home run pick that bounces onto Lansdowne Street. Not only is her appointment of profound historical resonance, but she’s a brilliant political organizer, and that’s what it’s going to take to wrench Interior back to its original mission and away from being the auction house that the departing administration had made of it.

Over the past two years, Ms. Haaland has served on the House Natural Resources Committee, which oversees the Interior Department. Under the Trump administration, the current and former Interior secretaries, David Bernhardt and Ryan Zinke, have used the agency to make it easier to mine and drill on public lands, while also weakening protections on endangered species. Just this week, the Interior Department finalized two rules that limit protections to animals and plants under the Endangered Species Act. Ms. Haaland has not held back in her fierce criticism of policies that have opened millions of acres to oil and gas drilling.

“The sad fact is that we have a president who is intent on selling off our public lands to his friends for fracking and drilling,” she said in a speech earlier this year. She noted that under Mr. Bernhardt and Mr. Zinke, the Interior Department slashed the size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante, national monuments in Utah that are adjacent to Navajo nation territories and a Hopi reservation, opening up the land to mining and drilling.

The last time I saw Deb Haaland was at an pre-caucus event on the Meskwaki Settlement in Iowa. She was there as a campaign surrogate for Senator Professor Warren. This is part of what she said to her audience, most of whom were Meskwaki, a people that originally had lived on land in upstate New York only to get moved westward as the United States grew, often through the kind offices of the Department of the Interior.

“For a lot of my life,” she said, “I was the only Indian in the room. The only Indian in the classroom. The only one on the job site, or wherever. So it was nice to have someone else in Congress [Sharice Davids of Kansas, who was elected in 2018 just as Haaland was] who knows what it’s like to be me.”

History, good and bad, walks with this woman.

The Loser — Susan B. Glasser in The New Yorker.

In the six weeks since the Presidential election, various theories—many of them persuasive—have been advanced to explain President Trump’s refusal to accept Joe Biden’s victory. Trump’s decision to attack the legitimacy of the election has been seen, correctly, as an attack on democracy itself, and as a purposeful and brutally effective use of disinformation. And also as the behavior of a would-be dictator who is dragging an entire political party into a fever dream of denialism. Trump’s protracted post-election fit has been analyzed as preparation for a comeback bid in 2024 and as a fund-raising scam that has brought in hundreds of millions of dollars to support his post-White House political efforts. Very likely, Trump’s continued rejection of his defeat is some of all the above.

But in politics, and especially with this President, the simplest explanation for something is usually the best one. Whatever the other reasons are for his ongoing post-election temper tantrum, it couldn’t be more clear that Trump is also motivated by the simple psychological fact that he really, really hates being called a “loser.” It’s one of his favorite insults, and a label he would do anything to avoid having affixed to his own name. Just in the course of this election year, he has called Chuck Schumer, the Senate Minority Leader, “a totally overrated loser,” and George Conway, the conservative lawyer who became one of his sharpest critics, a “deranged loser of a husband” to his adviser Kellyanne Conway. He said that Cory Booker, Chris Cuomo, John Kasich, and John Kelly were losers, too. In September, The Atlantic reported that he had called American soldiers who died fighting overseas “suckers” and “losers.” When the Republican senator Mitt Romney has criticized Trump, the President has responded by reminding the former Republican Presidential nominee of his defeat in the 2012 election. “LOSER!” he tweeted, after one such episode, taunting Romney by attaching a video of his 2012 concession alongside Trump’s 2016 victory speech. Since November 3rd, however, the word has practically disappeared from his vocabulary.

“If I lost, I’d be a very gracious loser,” the President told a rally, in Georgia, on December 5th—more than a month after he did, in fact, lose. On Monday, the Electoral College met in all fifty state capitals to ratify that loss. Trump was not only not gracious; he continued to refuse to accept his defeat. A few weeks ago, in one of his few post-election comments to the media, a very testy Trump insisted that he would leave office if and when the Electoral College certified Biden’s victory. “Certainly, I will. Certainly, I will,” Trump said. “And you know that.” Now that the Electoral College has affirmed Biden’s win, however, Trump is no longer acknowledging that he will leave office. CNN even reported, the other day, that, in private, he has backed away from previous indications to his aides that he accepts his defeat.

Perhaps Trump believes that his continued rejection of the reality of his loss makes him appear to be a fighter. Perhaps he really has convinced himself that the outrageous claims he is making about an election conspiracy so vast that it involves millions of fraudulent votes, a dead Venezuelan dictator, and Republican officials in a half-dozen states are true. Many commentators—including me—have pointed with alarm to Trump’s success at convincing millions of Republican voters to doubt the legitimacy of Biden’s win, and the fact that two-thirds of the House Republican Conference last week signed onto the quickly dismissed Texas lawsuit to throw out the results in four key states—Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—where Biden prevailed. If Trump’s goal was proving that the Party remains loyal to him, he has succeeded extraordinarily. Who could have imagined four years ago that a large part of the national G.O.P. leadership would be so devoted to Donald Trump that it would follow him down the path of outright rejection when the election did not go his way?

But there is another way of looking at what Trump has been doing since November 3rd, and it does not suggest a strategy of political genius—or, really, much of a strategy at all. In pushing back so insistently and filing so many baseless lawsuits, Trump has forced dozens of conservatives at every level of American society to attest to the integrity of the vote—and highlight Trump’s loss. Republican governors in states such as Arizona and Georgia have affirmed that he lost—not only their states but the election over all. Republican-appointed judges have affirmed that he lost. So have many Republican officials who played a role in certifying the results in the states that handed the Presidency to Biden. “Voters, not lawyers, choose the President,” Stephanos Bibas, a federal appeals-court judge appointed by Trump, wrote, in throwing out one of the Pennsylvania cases. Trump, he noted, can’t just tweet his way to victory: “Charges require specific allegations and then proof. We have neither here. Calling an election unfair does not make it so.” The Wisconsin Supreme Court, in a ruling by a conservative Republican justice, warned that Trump, in seeking to “disenfranchise every Wisconsin voter,” was testing the “faith in our system of free and fair elections.” The two cases that Trump sought to bring to the U.S. Supreme Court were so weak that the nine Justices declined even to hear arguments on their merits.

The President’s extraordinary challenge to the electoral system has forced even some of Trump’s staunchest loyalists here in Washington to finally push back and defend the integrity of the vote. Attorney General William Barr stated publicly that there was no evidence of widespread fraud sufficient enough to overturn the election results, and, after Trump became furious about that comment, announced his resignation, earlier this week. On Tuesday, in the wake of the Electoral College’s decision, even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell belatedly affirmed that Trump had lost, congratulated Biden, and urged Republican senators not to go along with further efforts to contest the result, because they risked forcing the Senate into a political loser of a vote. A few hard-core Trump supporters in the House are now pushing for a last stand on January 6th, when Congress must meet to receive the Electoral College results. But that effort, too, is doomed to fail, and could only result in McConnell’s Republicans having to vote against it in the Senate—and showcasing, once again, that Trump was decisively and convincingly defeated. “I don’t think it’s a good decision right now,” John Thune, the Republican senator from South Dakota, who is McConnell’s deputy, told reporters, on Thursday. “And I don’t think it’s good for the country.”

Is any of this really serving Trump well? I know we’ve got used to thinking of Trump as a genius in turning bad news on its head, in creating grievance out of setbacks and then using those grievances to further cement his hold over his Party. I’ve watched him run this play over and over again. I get it. But the alternate way of looking at his post-election behavior is that he is cementing his reputation as the sorest of sore losers. Not only that, but he is crying so long and loudly about the unfairness of his loss that he is forcing officials at every level of government, across the country, to take sides—against him. His frenetic efforts to deny his defeat have simply underscored it. Trump really is leaving office on January 20th, and he really will go out as an impeached and defeated President, forevermore listed in the history books alongside Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Carter and all the other one-termers he disdains. He is now, and will always be, a loser.

Doonesbury — Who was that masked man?

One bark on “Sunday Reading

  1. I think another motivation for Trump’s post-election loss actions is being overlooked. This man is unoriginal. If something worked for him in the past he keeps doing it. Whenever he’s been challenged in the past he would throw slurs, lawyers, and lawsuits at it until it went away because he could better afford it.

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