Thursday, December 12, 2019

See Him In The Funny Papers

You would think that the Trump campaign would do a little research.  Nah, just kidding.

Via the Guardian:

Donald Trump is a genocidal warlord hell bent on destroying half of existence in the universe. That’s not a criticism from the unhinged leftwing media, it’s apparently how the president and his team see him.

Shortly after the House brought two articles of impeachment against the president for his efforts seeking foreign interference to bolster his own political interests, the official Trump War Room re-election campaign Twitter account posted a video to social media that superimposed his face over that of the villainous Marvel comic book character Thanos.

In the scene from the movie Avengers: Endgame, Thanos snaps his fingers, attempting to destroy the diverse array of heroes from throughout the universe who’ve teamed up to defeat him. I am inevitable Trump/Thanos says.

“House Democrats can push their sham impeachment all they want,” the team tweeted. “President Trump’s re-election is inevitable.”

The video then cuts to footage of Democratic leaders like Nancy Pelosi, Adam Schiff, and Jerry Nadler who magically vanish much like in the movie. Not the movie in question, mind you, the previous one, but these low-effort trolling operations from Trump’s social media team tend not to be heavy on consistency or logic.

Marvel Universe timeline discrepancies aside, the choice of this moment from the film was a strange one, as it’s seconds before Thanos realizes he’s about to be defeated.

[Spoiler alert] Thanos snaps his fingers and slowly dissolves like wind blowing a pile of charcoal ash.  End of story; he’s gone.  Poof.

The creator of Thanos responds to that Trump ad: “Seeing that pompous fool using my creation to stroke his infantile ego, it finally struck me that the leader of my country and the free world actually enjoys comparing himself to a mass murderer.”

I thought last week when they compared him to Rocky Balboa and unleashed a twitter-storm of mockery, they’d learned their lesson about hijacking cultural references, but obviously not.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Killer Act

They did a beta-test of Trump’s 2020 campaign rally here in Miami Saturday night.

Trump, speaking during a closed-door speech to Republican Party of Florida donors at the state party’s annual Statesman’s Dinner, was in “rare form” Saturday night.

The dinner, which raised $3.5 million for the state party, was met with unusual secrecy. The 1,000 attendees were required to check their cell phones into individual locked cases before they entered the unmarked ballroom at the south end of the resort. Reporters were not allowed to attend.

But the secrecy was key to Trump’s performance, which attendees called “hilarious.”

Riding the high of the successful event turnout — and without the pressure of press or cell phones — Trump transformed into a “total comedian,” according to six people who attended the event and spoke afterward to the Miami Herald.

He also pulled an unusual move, bringing on stage Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance and Maj. Mathew Golsteyn, who Trump pardoned last month for cases involving war crimes. Lorance was serving a 19-year sentence for ordering his soldiers shoot at unarmed men in Afghanistan, and Golsteyn was to stand trial for the 2010 extrajudicial killing of a suspected bomb maker.

He’s a regular Bob Hope.  The best part was trotting out the war criminals.  That’s a killer act.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

What Mayor Pete Said

Jonathan Capehart in the Washington Post:

When you’re black and gay, there are times when you feel that the two identities integral to your whole self are in conflict. Actually, let me rephrase that. There are times when other folks put your two identities in conflict and you feel compelled to respond.

When I thundered against the ugly lie that homophobia among African Americans was the reason Democratic presidential contender Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., wasn’t gaining their support, I had more than a few white gay men lecture me about black people as they hurled studies at me in the worst-ever display of apples meeting oranges. Those folks were blocked. Now, I have to push back against African Americans who are ripping Buttigieg for what they see as his equating his experience being gay with that of being black.

That’s not what happened. That’s not what he said.

We got here because of a question posed to Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) at the Democratic debate last month. She was asked to elaborate on her criticism of Buttigieg’s outreach to black voters. Harris used her response to widen the aperture to encompass the entire party and how it takes advantage of African Americans, black women in particular.

“You know, at some point, folks get tired of just saying, oh, you know, thank me for showing up and — and say, well, show up for me,” Harris said to applause. After a powerful riff on what black women face, Harris said, “The question has to be, where you been? And what are you going to do? And do you understand who the people are?”

Mayor Pete was asked to respond to Harris. Here is what he said in its entirety, with the relevant lines in bold.

My response is, I completely agree. And I welcome the challenge of connecting with black voters in America who don’t yet know me.
And before I share what’s in my plans, let me talk about what’s in my heart and why this is so important. As mayor of a city that is racially diverse and largely low income, for eight years, I have lived and breathed the successes and struggles of a community where far too many people live with the consequences of racial inequity that has built-up over centuries but been compounded by policies and decisions from within living memory.
I care about this because my faith teaches me that salvation has to do with how I make myself useful to those who have been excluded, marginalized and cast aside and oppressed in society.
And I care about this because, while I do not have the experience of ever having been discriminated against because of the color of my skin, I do have the experience of sometimes feeling like a stranger in my own country, turning on the news and seeing my own rights come up for debate, and seeing my rights expanded by a coalition of people like me and people not at all like me, working side by side, shoulder to shoulder, making it possible for me to be standing here. Wearing this wedding ring in a way that couldn’t have happened two elections ago lets me know just how deep my obligation is to help those whose rights are on the line every day, even if they are nothing like me in their experience.

Let me state at the outset that I do not for one minute disregard the anger over what folks thought Buttigieg said. I of all people know that when you’re black in America, you’re used to your feelings being discounted, your experience being devalued and your very presence being denied, if not outright ignored. I understand why hellfire is visited upon anyone who tries to draw direct parallels or attempts to equate our unrelenting battles against racism and white supremacy with their own struggles with discrimination. But what I will not do is drag someone for using their own experience to build a bridge of empathy, openness and awareness to try to help make the lives of others better.

Buttigieg could not have been more clear when he said, “While I do not have the experience of ever having been discriminated against because of the color of my skin, I do have the experience of sometimes feeling like a stranger in my own country, turning on the news and seeing my own rights come up for debate.” This is an open acknowledgment of his status as a white man immunizing him against racial prejudice. But he is also asking everyone to see that he is acquainted with bias as a married gay man under attack from his own government.

From Day One, the Trump administration has gone after the rights and legal protections of the LGBTQ community, including scrubbing our existence from federal government websites. And folks forget that while same-sex couples can be married on Sunday, they can still be fired on Monday for being — or being perceived as being — LGBTQ in 17 states. Only 22 of the remaining 33 states grant blanket protection from discrimination to LGBTQ people.

No, it’s not the same as the systemic racism and white supremacy that took root in 1619. But that supremacy and the cisgender straight white men who are its focus continue to hobble the efforts of the rest of us to fully claim the equality promised in our founding documents. That’s why I say there is a shared (not same) struggle for civil rights between blacks and the LGBTQ community. The late civil rights icon Julian Bond made it plain in a 2008 interview. “You are what you are, and you cannot be discriminated against in this country for what you are,” he replied when I asked him about the connection between the black civil rights movement and its gay counterpart.

Also lost in the anger was the “I see you” of Buttigieg’s response: the part where he says, “I have lived and breathed the successes and struggles of a community where far too many people live with the consequences of racial inequity that has built up over centuries but been compounded by policies and decisions from within living memory.” Recognizing the corrosive effects of structural racism past and present is not new for Buttigieg. And, remember, he said this before he was called “a lying MF” for not recognizing the impact of structural racism on education during a 2011 mayoral candidates’ forum in South Bend.

The last part of Buttigieg’s answer is key to understanding why he is so eager to show he’s empathic to, if not fully able to understand the fear and concerns of, folks who aren’t like him. The part where he talks about “how deep my obligation is to help those whose rights are on the line every day, even if they are nothing like me in their experience.” This reminded me of what Buttigieg told me during our sit-down at the 92nd Street Y in May:

… at a moment like this, when every possible reason for excluding somebody has been weaponized by this administration, it’s a reason we’ve all got to be ready to stand up for each other, not by pretending that we know what it’s like to be in somebody else’s shoes. I don’t know beans about what it’s like to be, even within the LGBT community, I don’t know what it’s like to be trans, I just know enough to know I gotta stand up for somebody who is ….
All of us have to figure out how to find what’s in our identity and use it as a source of solidarity for others, because anybody can be marginalized. And so many people right now are that if we don’t stick together, you never know who’s gonna be next.

If you’re still dragging Buttigieg after reading that, then you’re not really interested in having allies willing to join the fight with you. That’s not to say you have to support his run for president. That’s your business. But when someone like Mayor Pete says, “I see your struggle. How can I help? How can I be of service?” my inclination is to say “Welcome!” — especially when they promise to be on the national stage for decades to come.

It would be one of the most karmic events in the history of karma — not to mention every Frank Capra movie ever — if Pete Buttigieg became president.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Campaigning Is Murder

Really?

If Donald Trump gets his wish, he’ll soon take the three convicted or accused war criminals he spared from consequence on the road as special guests in his re-election campaign, according to two sources who have heard Trump discuss their potential roles for the 2020 effort.

Despite military and international backlash to Trump’s Nov. 15 clemency—fallout from which cost Navy Secretary Richard Spencer his job on Sunday—Trump believes he has rectified major injustices. Two people tell The Daily Beast they’ve heard Trump talk about how he’d like to have the now-cleared Clint Lorance, Matthew Golsteyn, or Edward Gallagher show up at his 2020 rallies, or even have a moment on stage at his renomination convention in Charlotte next year. Right-wing media have portrayed all three as martyrs brought down by “political correctness” within the military.

“He briefly discussed making it a big deal at the convention,” said one of these sources, who requested anonymity to talk about private conversations. “The president made a reference to the 2016 [convention] and where they brought on-stage heroes” like former Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell, who refused to execute detained civilians ahead of a devastating Taliban attack.

Former Army Lt. Lorance was sentenced to 19 years in prison in 2013 for murder after ordering his soldiers in 2010 to fire on three unarmed Afghan men riding a motorcycle, killing two of them. He walked out of military prison at Fort Leavenworth on Nov. 15. Next month, former Green Beret Maj. Golsteyn was supposed to stand trial for the murder of an unarmed Afghan man whom he told the CIA he killed in the belief the man was a Taliban bombmaker. Golsteyn, who allegedly burned the man’s corpse, pleaded not guilty to the murder; the Green Berets stripped Golsteyn of his Special Forces tab. Lorance and Golsteyn were both causes célèbres in certain military circles and among their right-wing supporters, as was Navy SEAL Chief Gallagher.

A military jury this summer acquitted Gallagher for the murder of a wounded teenage fighter for the so-called Islamic State. The case, which both featured Trump’s conspicuous intervention boosting Gallagher and serious prosecutorial misconduct, began, like Lorance’s, with Gallagher’s own platoon mates reporting his conduct. Against Gallagher’s denial, two SEALs testified seeing the senior SEAL chief stab the wounded teenager in the neck. Gallagher, along with lower-ranking SEALs, took a photo with the corpse and texted it with the caption “good story behind this, got him with my hunting knife.” But another SEAL reversed his testimony to say that he, not Gallagher, killed the wounded teenager by closing off an inserted breathing tube. Gallagher’s only conviction was for taking the photo and he was released for time served. Trump pardoned Lorance and Golsteyn and reversed Gallagher’s demotion in rank.

I wouldn’t put it past him to have pardoned them just so he could take them on tour.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Debate Wrap

I watched the first fifteen minutes and again it was a joint press conference, so I didn’t really see the need to hang around and wait for Chris Matthews to tell me who won, lost, or floated to the top.

For what it’s worth, here’s TPM’s four key takeaways from the debate.

On the heels of a day stuffed with explosive developments in the impeachment inquiry into President Trump, which produced positive returns for the Democratic party‘s impeachment effort, 2020 Democrats coalesced in Atlanta and highlighted the fractures in the party’s views on key issues.

The atmosphere of the fifth Democratic debate stage on Wednesday evening was remarkably more quaint and noticeably more jovial than previous debates. While candidates’ attacks on one another were direct and blunt, the 10 on stage voluntarily offered each other support on several occasions and even traded their fair share of lighthearted jabs.

But the moderators asked substantive questions, and a few key candidates were clearly more rehearsed than they’ve been in the past four parleys.

Make of it what you will.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Preview Of Coming Distractions

The Kentucky governor race was close, so of course the losers are raising a stink.

Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers threw another wrench into the state’s razor-thin gubernatorial outcome late Tuesday night, saying that the legislature could decide the race.

Stivers’ comments came shortly after Gov. Matt Bevin refused to concede to Attorney General Andy Beshear, who led by roughly 5,100 votes when all the precincts were counted.

“There’s less than one-half of 1%, as I understand, separating the governor and the attorney general,” Stivers said. “We will follow the letter of the law and what various processes determine.”

Stivers, R-Manchester, said based on his staff’s research, the decision could come before the Republican-controlled state legislature.

Under state law, Bevin has 30 days to formally contest the outcome once it is certified by the State Board of Elections. Candidates typically ask for a re-canvass of voting machines and a recount first.

The last contested governor’s race was the 1899 election of Democrat William Goebel.

I fully expect to see stories like this all across the country a year from now if Trump loses by anything but a landslide, and if you thought Bush v. Gore in 2000 was disruptive, disheartening, and basically third-world tin-pot-despot kind of result, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.  Plus it’s going to cost a ton of taxpayers’ money to prove that yes, the vote count was right and YOU LOST.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Good Morning, Schadenfreude

Kentucky, a state that went 30 points over Clinton for Trump, elects Democrat Andy Beshear as governor, and Virginia flips both state houses to the Democrats.

Washington Post:

Democrats’ claim of victory Tuesday in Kentucky’s gubernatorial race, as well as the Democratic takeover of the Virginia state legislature, left Republicans stumbling and increasingly uncertain about their own political fates next year tied to an embattled and unpopular president.

Many allies of President Trump rushed to explain away the poor performance of incumbent Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R) as an anomaly, while other GOP veterans expressed alarm about the party’s failure in a state where Trump won by nearly 30 percentage points in 2016 — and where he just campaigned this week.

Although Bevin was controversial and widely disliked, he was also a devotee of the president, embracing Trump’s agenda and his anti-establishment persona. And in the contest’s final days, Bevin sought to cast his candidacy as a bulwark against House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry of Trump.

And of course Trump made it all about him.  At a rally in Fayette County, which Beshear won by 2 to 1, he screamed, “You’re sending that big message to the rest of the country, it’s so important… Because if you lose it sends a really bad message. And they will build it up. You can’t let that happen to me.”  (Last night, among the rubble, Don Jr told Laura Ingraham that the election had nothing to do with Trump.)

Loser Bevin has yet to concede, claiming there were “irregularities.”  But according to Kentucky law, there are no automatic recounts; the loser has to petition a court, and the court has to grant it.

It’s going to be fun to watch Trump explain this one — as one commenter said, the result won’t be official until Trump tweets something bad about Bevin — and Mitch McConnell, who faces reelection in 2020, has got to be wondering if his carapace will protect him; he’s way behind in polls as of now.

In Virginia, both houses of the state legislature flipped from GOP to Democrat:

Several results were still close after polls closed on the most expensive and most watched Virginia legislative races in years, but Democrats flipped at least two seats in the state Senate and at least five in the House of Delegates to take majorities in both.

And to put a cherry on top:

A legion of reasons propel political neophytes to run for office, but none may be as unusual as what inspired Juli Briskman, the cyclist who gave President Trump the finger two years ago and found herself without a job and at the center of a national uproar.

On Tuesday, Briskman got a new job, winning a seat on the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors — ousting a Republican in the process.

“It’s feeling fantastic, it’s feeling surreal,” Briskman, 52, a Democrat, said by telephone as she celebrated her victory. “The last two years have been quite a ride. Now we’re helping to flip Loudoun blue.”

In 2017, Briskman was engaged in a different form of flipping, this one involving her middle finger, which she raised as she rode a bicycle alongside the presidential motorcade as Trump departed his golf club in Sterling.

In Mississippi, Democrat Jim Hood lost his race for governor, but it was comparatively close, and after all, it’s Mississippi.

All in all, it was a great night and hopefully, a harbinger of things to come.

Monday, November 4, 2019

One Year Out

A year from today, November 4, 2020, we’ll be waking up in a different world.  It will be the morning after the general election, and since we haven’t perfected time travel, I can’t say with any certainty whether it will be A) wonderful news or B) making plans to either make tracks (“Retire to the Caribbean” will get a lot of serious hits) or bracing ourselves for another term in the thrall of rank and venal narcissistic right-wing nutsery.

To make sure Plan A happens, we have to do everything we can to ensure that someone else is elected, someone who will oppose with every vote, every fiber of their being, the policies and hate of the current occupant and his sniveling minions.  I’m not talking about just into the presidency but into every other elected office, from county commissioner to Senate, and if they cannot say that they oppose what that alleged human being is doing, then find someone who does.

How?  There are a lot of ways, from donating money to donating time at the local office; to writing letters to the editor and making your voice heard through whatever means is at your disposal.  The How is important, but more importantly is the Why.

I’ve been through a lot of elections where we’ve heard “this is the most important election in history.”  Usually that means it’s the most important election to the person saying it because if they lose, they have to go back to doing whatever it was before they ran.  But this time I really believe it.  I believe that if we allow the current occupant to remain in power, the country and the world will be worse off in so many ways that we can only jolt awake from: climate change, wars, immigration, reproductive rights, gender equality, privacy, racial relations, healthcare, corporate corruption, taxes, the economy, child care, education, the rule of law; all of those plus a plethora of concerns that confront us now will be magnified exponentially if left unchecked.  Impeachment and conviction is one way, but it’s not a guarantee — there are too many people with too many selfish and fearful motives who can stop that process — leaving a resounding 50-state repudiation at every level of government the truest and most vocal way to bring it to a swift and merciless end.

I have my own plans for helping to make sure Plan A happens, including continuing to speak out here and using some of my semi-retirement to work locally in order to change globally.  As for you, you will find your way, too.  And find it we must.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Debate Rap

I made it through the first hour and a half of last night’s Democratic candidates’ debate, which was more like an antic version of the lightning round of “Wait… Wait… Don’t Tell Me” without the bell and the final gong.  Whoever dreamed up this format was counting on a high Red Bull consumption quotient on the part of the candidates.

As I noted on Facebook, Bernie Sanders killed it with his impersonation of Larry David of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” but I will give him credit for being back in full cranky mode two weeks after having a heart attack.  Mayor Pete Buttigieg was calm and on point, Sen. Elizabeth Warren withstood being attacked for being the current front runner as well as she could, and Joe Biden, after weeks of being hammered by Trump as the current target of misdirection for his own crimes, didn’t seem a whole lot different than the previous debates, which is to say, stumbling over his answers as he tried to be the adult in the room.

I went to bed before it was over so I missed the final question that asked the candidates how they felt about Ellen DeGeneres being friends with George W. Bush.  Good thing, because I would have thrown something at the TV and scared the cat.  At a time with a White House being turned into the headquarters of the most corrupt enterprise since the end of Prohibition, with sea levels lapping at the foundations of Miami Beach, with mass killings turning shopping malls and schools into armed camps, the finale on this debate was something out of a truth-or-dare session from summer camp?  Who needs SNL when you have inanities like that?

We still have another year of this.  Giant meteor, anyone?

Monday, October 14, 2019

Make ‘Em Laugh

Sen. Elizabeth Warren got off a good one last week at CNN’s LGBTQ forum.

[Rim shot]

Now that’s how you tell a joke.  And a lot of people got it and thought it killed.  And it did.

Then again, there are those among the Very Serious People who neither know a good joke when they hear one or get all freaked out by whom it might offend.

The glitterati gushed. “The single greatest response to this question, in or outside politics,” wrote actress Minnie Driver. “Made my day,” added actress Alyssa Milano. Javier Muñoz, who recently played the title role in the smash musical “Hamilton,” posted seven emoji of clapping hands.

But Republicans and some Democrats warned that the quip at the CNN-sponsored forum would play poorly among a big swath of voters.

“It’s about telling people who don’t agree with you that they are backward by definition,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic strategist who advised Bill Clinton’s presidential reelection campaign. The line was a “stab” to those who don’t agree with her, he said, and “it is a battle cry for men to turn out against Elizabeth Warren.”

The 44-second exchange captured the promise and peril of Warren’s candidacy. She is quick-witted and sharp-tongued in a way that has played well in the Democratic primary and could prove effective against President Trump. But conservatives warn that she can come off as condescending and dismissive.

Oh, conservatives are warning about coming off as condescending and dismissive?  As if their current example of how to tell a joke is the headliner at the Laugh Factory.

The problem — and I’ve said this many times but obviously it needs repeating — is that the conservatives and the Trumpers do not understand the basic essence of humor or how to tell a joke, including the most important rule: punch up, not down.  Making fun of the snooty, the elite, the pompous, and the self-important works, but making fun of the poor, the downtrodden, the ones hurting does not.  This has been axiomatic in comedy since the ancient Greeks right up through today.

This also proves one cosmic truth about humor: it is the ultimate weapon against Trump and the base who support him.  They literally cannot take a joke, and every time someone gets off a laugh at their expense, it makes them look like the fools and trolls that they are, especially when they get all huffy about being made the butt of jokes.  And it proves the point that Mel Brooks and many others have known for time out of mind: if you really want to defeat someone, laugh at them.

Friday, September 20, 2019

This Could Be The Big One

Via TPM, it’s looking like the whistleblower complaint to the DNI has to do with Trump’s attempt to pressure Ukraine by withholding military aid unless they helped him go after Joe Biden and assist in Trump’s reelection.

Fierce denials from the White House, but they’re doing everything to keep anyone from investigating it, including courting contempt of Congress, so it sounds like we’re skating really close to the truth.

And then Rudy Giuliani let the cat out of the bag.

“No, I didn’t!  Yes, I did!”

Wow.  Happy Friday.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Save Your Pixels

No, Justice Brett Kavanaugh is not going to be impeached despite the reporting in the New York Times that brings forward more evidence and corroboration that he was a drunken horn-dog in college.

Josh Marshall is pushing the idea that the Democrats could nail him on perjury when he testified last year before the Senate.

Removing someone from the Supreme Court is extremely difficult. You need the same 2/3rds majority as you do to remove a president. But it’s crystal clear that Kavanaugh repeatedly perjured himself to get on the court. The incidents may have happened decades ago but the perjury was only last year.

I know that several Democratic candidates are calling for his removal, but if they couldn’t get rid of him during the original hearings after the testimony of Christine Ford and others, then it’s not going to happen.

And please, Democrats, stop e-mailing me for money to support your campaign along with this quixotic goal, which seems to be the only reason you’re calling for it in the first place.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Sunday Reading

Trust Exercise — Amy Davidson Sorkin in The New Yorker on the Democrats’ debate.

Resilience in the face of a personal setback was the subject of the final question in last Thursday night’s Democratic debate, in Houston. When it was the turn of Mayor Pete Buttigieg, of South Bend, to answer, he spoke about the years in which he lived with the fear that, as a military officer and an elected official in a socially conservative community, revealing that he was gay would end his career. But he reached a point, he said, where he was “not interested in not knowing what it was like to be in love any longer,” and he came out during the final months of a campaign. “When I trusted voters to judge me based on the job that I did for them,” he said, “they decided to trust me, and reëlected me with eighty per cent of the vote. And what I learned was that trust can be reciprocated.”

Buttigieg’s story was moving on its own terms, but it also threw into relief a fundamental question of the Democratic primary race: What vision of themselves—and of voters—are the candidates willing to trust? At a basic level, that question has to do with being able to convince voters that they’re being spoken to without deceit. Former Representative Beto O’Rourke, of El Paso, has that ability, and it was on display in one of his stronger moments on Thursday. Asked whether he was serious when he said that he would require the owners of military-style weapons to sell them to the government, he replied, “Hell, yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47.” Politicians are often anxious to offer assurances that no one is coming for anyone’s guns, but O’Rourke said he believed that these gun owners, too, were sick of seeing children dying in mass shootings. When he visited a gun show recently, he added, some people told him that they would be willing to give up their guns, because “I don’t need this weapon to hunt, to defend myself.” Doing the right thing, O’Rourke said, was not a separate task from bringing all Americans, including conservative Republicans, “into the conversation.”

The health-care segment of the debate also hinged on questions of trust. The Medicare for All bill, which Senator Bernie Sanders, of Vermont, wrote, and Senator Elizabeth Warren, of Massachusetts, signed on to, includes a provision—“on page eight,” as Senator Amy Klobuchar, of Minnesota, helpfully pointed out—that would effectively ban most forms of private insurance. In this respect, the bill is far more restrictive than not only the “public option” but also the European universal-health-care systems that Sanders admires. Both Buttigieg, who favors “Medicare for All Who Want It,” and Senator Kamala Harris, of California, who introduced a plan in July that includes a longer transition and a larger role for private insurers, maintained that people should be trusted to choose their own option. (Harris has zigzagged on the issue—she originally signed on to Sanders’s bill—raising a different question of trust. Senator Cory Booker, of New Jersey, who co-sponsored the bill, has also backed away from elements of it.) When Sanders said that workers whose unions had agreed to wage cuts in return for private health-care coverage would be able to recover that money from their employers, Vice-President Joe Biden told him, “For a socialist, you’ve got a lot more confidence in corporate America than I do.”

That exchange, like several others on Thursday, was largely about how radical, or just how ambitious, the Party is prepared to be. Is sweeping, structural reform the best way to effect change, or is Obamacare worth building on? (Some factions in the Party have been busy rejecting parts of Barack Obama’s legacy—in the area of immigration, for example.) Pervasive doubt about existing institutions could make it easier to persuade people to commit to entirely new ways of doing things; it could also lead them to give up on a political system that they think is irredeemable, or just mean. Julián Castro, the former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, did not help matters when, during a discussion of public-option insurance enrollment, he seemed gleeful at a chance to portray Biden as doddery—“Are you forgetting already what you said just two minutes ago?” he asked. Castro later said that his approach was the way the primaries are supposed to play out. But his gibe seemed a crude bit of gaslighting, since Biden hadn’t quite said what Castro claimed he had. As Klobuchar put it in an interview following the debate, the remark was “not cool.”

Castro barely qualified for the debate; he is averaging about one per cent in the polls. Of the ten candidates on-stage, only three—Biden, Warren, and Sanders—are polling in the double digits. For some of the others, to continue competing seems to call for either an extraordinary amount of confidence in themselves or, especially in the case of Andrew Yang, in the resonance of their message. Yang, a businessman, presents a notable example of the twinned qualities of pessimism and hope. He believes that, in the face of automation, traditional responses to unemployment, such as retraining programs, are hopeless, but that, with a universal basic income of a thousand dollars a month and the “boot off of people’s throats,” Americans will not sink into inertia but remake their lives and their country. He undercut his own message on Thursday, however, by announcing, game-show style, that his campaign would give that money to ten American families so that they could try the plan. At its most developed, the strength of the case for basic income lies in how it would change the entire economic climate, not just the prospects of a few lucky winners.

There is also the reciprocal aspect of the trust equation: having faith in voters. The Democratic Party seems split on the question of how much of its resources should be directed toward certain voters, particularly white working-class men struggling with deindustrialization. The willingness of so many voters to cast their ballots for Donald Trump has been disorienting. But the case remains that some of those same people previously voted for Obama. The categories are rarely neat. As Buttigieg noted, “Where I come from, a lot of times that displaced autoworker is a single black mother of three.”

None of this is easy. Even Buttigieg’s decision to come out publicly, which he did in 2015, would likely have turned out very differently twenty years ago. But it is true that the victories surrounding L.G.B.T.Q. rights have been brought about by a combination of activism, litigation, and people telling their stories within their communities—through conversation, as O’Rourke put it, as well as confrontation. This is how primaries ought to play out. Every election is an exercise in trust.

Of Course It Is — John Nichols in The Nation on the House moving to open an impeachment inquiry.

Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Mark Pocan has been saying for months that “Congress must now do its job” and open a formal impeachment inquiry. It’s been a frustrating fight for the Wisconsin Democrat in the face of resistance from House Democratic Caucus leaders.

He’s not alone in his call. Most members of the caucus now support formal action that might lead to the impeachment in the House and a trial by the Senate. They know Mitch McConnell’s amen corner for this presidency might reject its duty to remove an errant executive whose presidency has turned into a daily assault on the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause.

But Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has it right: “I want to see every Republican go on the record and knowingly vote against impeachment of this president knowing his corruption, having it on the record.” Instead of worrying about holding the president to account, Democrats should be forcing the issue—if only to identify the Republican senators who are willing to “protect the amount of lawlessness.”

But even as the Democrats who matter—the members of the House Judiciary Committee—are acting on the issue, leaders of the party keep sending mixed signals. And the media, obsessed as it always is with the meanderings of the powerful rather than the actual news of the day, tends to go along with the charade. So there is still some confusion about whether the Judiciary Committee has launched an actual impeachment inquiry.

Let’s clear things up: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says that she’s “not answering any more questions about a possible inquiry, investigation, and the rest” because “there is nothing different from one day to the next.”

But something new did happen on Thursday. The Judiciary Committee’s Democratic majority voted to open an “investigation to determine whether to recommend articles of impeachment with regard to President Donald J. Trump.” In so doing, they established guidelines for pursuing an inquiry—with committee chair Jerry Nadler noting, correctly, that “Some call this process an impeachment inquiry. Some call it an impeachment investigation. There is no legal difference between these terms.”

The “resolution for investigative procedures” that was approved by the committee allows its members to accept sensitive evidence in closed executive sessions. It clears the way for subcommittees to schedule hearings and question witnesses on impeachment-related issues. And it permits legally and technically experienced staffers to join in the questioning of witnesses during committee hearings.

This is how an impeachment inquiry works—no matter what Speaker Pelosi says or refuses to say about it.

Doonesbury — In the future.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Debate Aftermath

I still listen to my record player, you young whippersnappers.

My take is that Julian Castro’s fifteen minutes are up, and Andrew Yang can now hang out with all his doctor friends or explore a career as the next host of “The Price is Right.” Mayor Pete got in some great points, and Bernie’s somewhat bug-eyed rants took on the stuff of caricature.  I thought Elizabeth Warren had a good night; so did Cory Booker, and I think Beto O’Rourke at least got the attention of the NRA.

Other than that, what did you think of Dems 3.0?

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Sunday Reading

Leonard Pitts, Jr. in the Miami Herald:

If you’re going to lie, make it a good one.

Meaning, put some effort into it. Make it convincing. Make sure the truth is not easily discoverable. Don’t just draw on a weather map with a Sharpie.

That’s apparently what Donald Trump or someone in his employ did last week to prove he was right all along in claiming the state of Alabama lay in the path of Hurricane Dorian. He made this claim via Twitter Sunday morning and it was so alarmingly wrong that the Birmingham office of the National Weather Service quickly tweeted an emphatic correction: “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian.”

A smart person would have let it go at that. A smart person would have said, “Oops, my bad” and moved on. Trump, not to put too fine a point on it, is not a smart person. Worse, he is saddled with a congenital inability to admit when he is wrong.

So what followed Wednesday in the Oval Office was both predictable and pathetic. Trump trotted out a forecast map on which someone had used a black marker to extend the storm’s possible track across the southeastern tip of Alabama. Reporters asked if someone had drawn on the map. “I don’t know,” said Trump.

Later, he tried to further justify himself by trotting out raw computer model data indicating a low likelihood of Dorian striking Alabama. “I accept the Fake News apologies!” he crowed. But the data were from August 28 – four days before Trump’s lie. By then, everyone in the country knew Alabama was in no danger – everyone but him.

Yes, you’re right. The fact that Trump lies is hardly breaking news. The Washington Post says he’s made over 12,000 “false or misleading claims” since taking office. He’s lied on nations, public officials and presidents. Why not lie on a hurricane?

But it’s not the fact of the lie that occasions these words. It is, rather, the laziness of it.

As noted once before in this space, the quality of a lie is in direct proportion to the respect the liar has for the person being lied to. You would not tell your boss that the reason you’re taking a day off is that you’re needed to do repairs on the International Space Station. No, you put work into a lie, you make it credible, when you respect the person you’re lying to, when his or her good opinion matters.

Otherwise, you draw on a map with a Sharpie and call it a weather forecast.

Point being, we’ve grown so used to the fact that this guy lies that we forget to marvel at how truly bad at it he is. Meantime, the coterie of suck-ups and sycophants he calls an administration insists with a straight face that he’s telling the absolute truth and we’re somehow missing it. We are living the fable of the emperor’s new clothes, only it’s not a fable and the emperor has nuclear weapons.

It gets worse. Roughly coincident with Trump’s whopper, there appeared on Medium an article by psychiatrists David M. Reiss and Seth D. Norrholm, renewing concern about the state of his mental health. “We definitely believe that based upon his observed behaviors, it is clinically indicated that Trump undergo a full and comprehensive neuropsychological evaluation,” they wrote.

So maybe he’s not just lazy. Maybe he’s also mentally impaired.

It’s an alternative that offers a sobering sign of the depths to which we’ve been brought by the bigotry of Republican voters who put him in office and the spinelessness of Republican (and Democratic) lawmakers who keep him there: We face two options, one of which is that the president of the United States simply does not respect the presidency or the people.

And incredibly, that’s the best case scenario.

“I’m Outta Here” — Frank Bruni in the New York Times on Republicans quitting the House.

There was no home for Representative Will Hurd in Donald Trump’s Republican Party.

For a while he tried to make one. For a while he succeeded, if success means preserving some of your dignity while steering clear of Trump’s wrath and surviving politically. Although Hurd’s Texas congressional district voted narrowly for Hillary Clinton in 2016, he held on to his seat that year and again in 2018, but by slim margins. It was anyone’s guess how he’d fare in 2020, and now no one will know. Hurd, 42, isn’t seeking re-election — he and a big, expanding bunch of his Republican colleagues in the House.

We talk and write all the time about the Never Trumpers: those previously stalwart Republicans who cringed at Trump’s entry into the presidential race; grew increasingly apoplectic as he raged on; began to live, courtesy of him, in an unwavering state of unalloyed outrage; and scaled new media and sometimes financial heights as party turncoats, their antipathy toward the president more titillating and telegenic by dint of their loyalty to Republicans before him.

But they’re not the best gauges of his and the party’s political fortunes. Their estrangement and emotional pitch have been changeless.

The more interesting and maybe predictive group are the Republicans who, to varying degrees, tried to make do with Trump, found ways to rationalize him and still won’t acknowledge how offensive he is but have fled or are fleeing government nonetheless. He made their participation in political life joyless. He so thoroughly befouled their party’s image that they reek by association. And, thanks largely if not entirely to him, many of them faced or face punishment at the polls.

What to call this crowd? Maybe the Toppled Trumpers. Maybe the Shotgun Trumpers.

Maybe bellwethers.

In the cause of figuring out whether, in November 2020, Trump will be rewarded with a second term, many numbers and dynamics get tossed around: the unemployment figures, the Dow Jones, the trade war, the advantages of incumbency, the peculiarities of the Electoral College and Trump’s approval ratings, consistently low but not entirely static.

Democratic stumbles are raptly chronicled, and there’s much concern — I share it — that the candidates vying for the party’s presidential nomination are at this point tugging it farther to the left than is prudent for the general election. The decriminalization of unauthorized border crossings? Free health care for undocumented immigrants? An end to private health insurance? This is uncertain terrain, and I for one worry that Democrats could be sabotaging themselves and increasing the chances that Trump again prevails.

But at least one constituency is unconvinced of that: Republicans in Congress, especially in the House. They’re making their predictions with their feet, and they’re heading for the exit.

To recap: Before the 2018 midterms, 46 Republicans but only 20 Democrats decided not to seek re-election to their offices in Congress, and among those, 32 Republicans and 11 Democrats weren’t doing that in order to run for some higher, different post. They were just bolting. The discrepancy between the Republican and Democratic numbers amounted to a weather forecast — and an accurate one at that. Although Democrats didn’t improve their standing in the Senate, they picked up a whopping 40 seats in the House.

Heading into the 2020 election, 19 Republicans in Congress have already announced that they won’t seek another term in their current office, a number higher than at the same point two years ago. Of the 19, 17 aren’t retiring from Congress to pursue some kind of political promotion. Meanwhile, only four Democrats in all are retiring from Congress. To analyze these numbers in the context of what happened in the midterms is to conclude that Republicans are limping toward a disastrous Election Day.

Maybe Trump’s fortunes are untethered from his party’s. Maybe, as has happened so often over the course of his charmed life, he will soar while all around him plummet, and they instead of he will suffer for his sins. His campaign associates go to jail; he goes to the Group of 7. The most principled Republicans are driven from the fold; he reigns without principle over a party that has largely bent to his wishes rather than stand up for what it purported to believe.

“Most often I’m asked why so many Republicans aren’t running for re-election,” Dave Wasserman, who analyzes House races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, told me. “But I ask why so many are. This isn’t the cruise they signed up for.” He noted that up until a few months before Trump effectively secured the Republican nomination in 2016, not a single Republican in Congress had endorsed him. The first two House members who took that icy plunge — Chris Collins of New York and Duncan Hunter of California — are now under criminal indictment (though not for anything having to do with Trump).

Both before the midterms and now, Republicans are leaving Congress for all sorts of reasons. But they outnumber Democrats on the way out because, generally speaking, they assume that Republicans will remain in the House minority and they’re exhausted by the tandem experiences of powerlessness and answering for Trump’s chaos and cruelties.

The departures this time around speak volumes about looming threats to the Republican Party. Five of the House Republicans who aren’t running again, including Hurd, are from Texas, a red state whose demographic composition fills Democrats with more and more hope. Two of only 13 Republican women in the House are stepping down. Hurd is the only black Republican in the House — a detail that he underlined in a sort of farewell note that he wrote and posted on his website.

That note, read carefully, is a warning to fellow Republicans and a kind of subtweet of Trump’s spectacularly divisive governing style. “I will stay involved in politics to grow a Republican Party that looks like America,” Hurd wrote, adding that he loves America because “we are neither Republican nor Democrat nor independent. We are better than the sum of our parts.”

Hurd announced his decision not to run again shortly after Trump attacked “the squad” of four congresswomen of color by tweeting that they should “go back” to where they came from. He was one of only four House Republicans who voted to condemn those remarks, which he told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour were “racist and xenophobic.”

But he’s in a much larger crowd of House Republicans who, for all their usual silence, privately bristle or gasp at Trump’s behavior. After Trump’s “go back” ugliness, Representative Paul Mitchell of Michigan publicly tweeted to the president that it was “beneath leaders” and that “we must be better than comments like these.” He had previously taken Trump to task for comments after the violence in Charlottesville, Va., that some white supremacists were very fine people.

Mitchell has at this point apparently had enough. He announced in late July that he’d leave the House at the end of this term, which is only his second. He cited the “rhetoric and vitriol” that dominate our politics now. Make no mistake: Those are synonyms for President Trump.

Doonesbury — Woo woo?

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Sunday Reading

The Urgency of the 2020 Senate — Amy Davidson Sorkin in The New Yorker.

This summer, a Dallas Morning News poll asked Texas Democrats to pick their favorite from a list of declared candidates for the 2020 U.S. Senate race. The winner was: “Someone else.” This shadowy figure, who garnered nineteen per cent of the vote—almost twice that of the next nearest contender—was easily recognizable: he has the tall, lanky profile of former congressman Beto O’Rourke, of El Paso. About half of those polled said that O’Rourke should drop his Presidential bid and take on the Republican senator John Cornyn, whose approval rating is in the thirties. (Even Ted Cruz, whom O’Rourke almost defeated last year, does better than that.) “Beto, if you’re listening: Come home,” the Houston Chronicle said in an editorial after the poll was released. “Texas needs you.” He heard, but said that he would not run for the Senate “in any scenario.”

For many Democrats, that was a disappointing reply. Even if Donald Trump is defeated, the Democrats will need to pick up three Senate seats in order to gain control of the chamber and have a reasonable chance of turning their ambitious plans into legislative reality. If Trump wins, the crucial net gain will be four. (The Vice-President gets to break any tie; there would be an added complication should either Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders beat Trump—the Republican governor of the winner’s state would name an interim senator until a special election could be held.)

The urgency cannot be overstated. Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer are both in their eighties; whether Trump has an unimpeded choice to replace one or both of them, potentially remaking the Court in his Constitution-defying image, could come down to a couple of seats. It’s not going to be so easy to get them. Republicans have to defend twenty-three of the thirty-five Senate seats on the ballot next year, but most of them are in deep-red states.

There are openings for the Democrats. One has already been taken: two weeks ago, in Colorado, the former governor John Hickenlooper abandoned his Presidential campaign, and he will now run against Senator Cory Gardner, instantly turning what had been a likely Republican win into a possible Democratic one. In Georgia, an increasingly purple state, there are now two Republican seats up for grabs. David Perdue, who is a cousin of Sonny Perdue, Trump’s Secretary of Agriculture, is running for reëlection, and Johnny Isakson announced last week that he would step down at the end of this year for health reasons. There is a Democrat who could be a formidable contender for either seat: Stacey Abrams, the former minority leader of the Georgia House of Representatives, who narrowly lost a highly contested governor’s race last year. Abrams has said that she is not interested, even though, as in Texas, no other candidate commands the field. She intends to stay focussed on her voting-rights work, but she did say that she would “be honored” to be considered as the Democrats’ Vice-Presidential candidate.

In Arizona, Mark Kelly, a former Navy combat pilot and astronaut, is running against Senator Martha McSally, who lost last year to the Democrat Kyrsten Sinema but was appointed by the Republican governor to fill John McCain’s seat after his death. Kelly is the husband of the former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was seriously wounded eight years ago in a mass shooting at an event with her constituents in Tucson, which left six people dead. Since then, Giffords and Kelly have become tireless advocates for gun control. He is a well-known figure with a strong message in a state that seems ready to hear it.

But the Democrats have their own vulnerabilities. Doug Jones won in a special election in Alabama last year against Judge Roy Moore, a far-right extremist who was accused of sexual misconduct with teen-age girls. (Moore has denied the allegations.) Jones must now defend that seat in a state where Trump’s approval rating is above sixty per cent. Unless Moore gets the Republican nomination again—and he’s trying—Jones may have a short Senate career. In Michigan, the junior Democratic senator, Gary Peters, is facing a strong challenger in John James, an Iraq War veteran and a businessman, who, if elected, would be one of only two African-American Republicans in the Senate. In these states—and in others that may be in play, such as Iowa, Maine, and North Carolina—the essential message is the same: the candidates matter.

There is no imperative, at this point, for every low-polling Presidential contender to drop out of the race. Andrew Yang, for example, is using his candidacy to spur a conversation about universal basic income. And he is from New York, which has no Senate race next year. But, if there’s a chance to take a seat, why not try? Governor Steve Bullock, of Montana, has been asked that question many times, because he could have a Hickenlooper-like effect on the Senate race in his home state. His answers boil down to this: the Senate is a miserable place, ill-suited for anyone who wants to “get things done.” The chamber has done much to earn that reputation, particularly under Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Yet the present morass only underscores how important it is to elect better senators. (The Senate is also a place where Montana, with a population of one million, has the same representation as California, with forty million—something that might at least inspire Bullock.)

Even O’Rourke, for whom, just last year, being a senator was something of a dream job, said that running for the same office now “would not be good enough for El Paso and it would not be good enough for this country.” He made that comment soon after a mass shooting in El Paso, in which the gunman targeted what he called a “Hispanic invasion.” On a human level, it’s understandable that O’Rourke would want to directly take on Trump and his bigotry; on a political level, though, the logic is less clear. When Senator Kirsten Gillibrand left the Presidential race, last week, she said, “It’s important to know when it’s not your time, and to know how you can best serve your community and country.”

There are many fronts on which the battle against Trumpism can be fought. More broadly, too much is lost if legislative politics, as practiced in Washington, is simply scorned. The Senate can be a safety net for our democracy, and, at the moment, it needs saving. Someone has to do it.

Hurricanes Unite Us — Cynthia Barnett in The Atlantic.

The Louisiana writer Walker Percy got a lift from approaching hurricanes. The need to jump into action is so exhilarating that people forget their malaise and despair.

Will Barrett, the passive, autobiographical southerner in Percy’s 1966 novel, The Last Gentleman, had the impression that “not just he but other people felt better in hurricanes.” Even amid the eye, “everything was yellow and still and charged up with value.” A hurricane, Barrett thought, blew away life’s “sad, noxious particles.”

Percy captured a truth that is all but taboo in the fearsome path of a major storm like Hurricane Dorian. The days leading up to a hurricane bring a physical and emotional buzz. Sense of purpose rises as barometric pressure falls. Hurricane preparations fill some of the cracks in our fractured world, awakening a sense of belonging to a ragged and reluctant tribe that is nevertheless galvanized to deal with an emergency.

We talk with the neighbors we haven’t seen since Christmas. We share grim jokes with strangers in the gas line. Relatives we haven’t heard from in a while call, email, and text to check in, and we actually answer. Passive personalities like Barrett feel they have to become decisive

People also pay relentless attention to things they usually ignore—say, public-service announcements and the science of the atmosphere. The Dorian models now transfixing millions of Americans are generated by many of the same research organizations, such as the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, that model climate change and the devastating track of warming.

Those climate models are in far closer agreement than the spaghetti strands that loop on weather maps a week out from a hurricane’s arrival. Here are just a few things they project in the latest worldwide analysis of hurricane and climate data published in the journal of the American Meteorological Society: Human-caused warming will likely worsen storm inundation because of sea-level rise. Human-caused warming will likely heighten the overall intensity of tropical storms around the world. Human-caused warming will likely increase the rainfall unleashed in such storms—on the order of 10 to 15 percent. Human-caused warming will likely increase the proportion of hurricanes that reach the most destructive levels, Category 4 and 5.

Public manipulation by the fossil-fuel industry has crippled action on those and other life-threatening projections. But we know we’d be fools to ignore the computer models urging us to prepare for the major hurricane on its way. I find hope in the extraordinary mobilization out front of Dorian, in the human charge that Percy felt from his home north of Louisiana’s Lake Pontchartrain. Our instinct to do what’s best for the human tribe, or at least for ourselves, will finally overcome the small cabal of special interests keeping us to the dangerous path of the status quo.

Desmond Meade, who spearheaded last year’s ballot initiative to restore voting rights to more than 1.4 million Floridians with past felony convictions, talked about hurricanes as he accepted the award for Florida Citizen of the Year from the University of Florida’s Bob Graham Center for Public Service in May. Amendment 4 was another extraordinary mobilization, crossing political and class boundaries. The effort reminded Meade of the communal energy sparked by storms. Counterintuitive though it may sound, he said that over a lifetime in Florida, some of the “brightest times” he remembered happened surrounding hurricanes.

“That’s when people just come together to engage with their neighbors,” Meade said.

Then he told the story of the heavyweight fighter Derrick Lewis of Houston, who drove around in his pickup truck following Hurricane Harvey, rescuing more than 100 stranded souls. One of them had nothing but the clothes on his back and a Confederate flag.

“That African American gentleman was able to look beyond that and just see another human being,” Meade said. “When you’re in an emergency situation, the first question is not going to be: ‘Did you vote for Donald Trump?’ It’s going to be: ‘Are you okay? How can I help?’”

Doonesbury — A detailed budget.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Even Then

Steve M argues that Trump is not — even now — losing his marbles despite Kevin Drum’s check list.

Understandably, there’s more “is Trump losing it?” talk today than usual. I’ve seen the speculation. I agree with some of the armchair diagnosticians. (Malignant narcissism? Yeah, he’s got that.) But I don’t believe we’re seeing manifestations of dementia, and I don’t think he’s lost “control of his faculties.”

First, dementia. Yeah, I’ve seen the comparison videos. Maybe, if you watch a long-ago Trump interview on Larry King’s show, he seems calmer and a touch more polysyllabic. But he can seem that way these days in an interview that takes place in what he considers a safe space.

But what persuades me that he’s not losing his grip is the way he performs at his campaign rallies. He’s still an effective insult comic. His jokes are terrible and obnoxious, but he lands them nearly every time. That riff about wind power, with the guy who’d like to watch television, but he can’t because there’s no breeze outside? It’s ignorant, but it kills. Trump delivers it with comedy timing every time out. He doesn’t forget where he is in the joke halfway through. The deplorables love it.

I’ll go even further than Steve M and say that even if Trump was to exhibit even more outward manifestations of mental disease or defect beyond what we see whenever he stops by to chat with the press on his way to Marine One, the base will stay with him.  The polling has had him within 40% of the popular vote since Day 1 and it’s not going anywhere.  The Republican leadership knows this, which is why their response to these piteous outrages has been [crickets].

There’s nothing to be gained by them raising red flags or primary challenges to Trump or even expressing concern about the soaring budget deficit, his invoking anti-Semitic tropes, even his claiming his divinity (“I am the chosen one”) because they know that he can easily turn his fire — and his base — against them.  Trump could win his second term by running not against Elizabeth Warren or Joe Biden or Pete Buttigieg but by running against the mainstream GOP.

Thanks, Jay

Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA) is dropping out of the presidential race.

Inslee, who made fighting climate change the central theme of his presidential campaign, announced Wednesday night that he was ending his campaign after nearly six months.

Inslee said that he was confident that Democrats would select a nominee who would champion climate change issues but that it had become clear that he wouldn’t be the person selected. Inslee said he was not endorsing anyone but would support whoever is the nominee.

“I believe we’re going to have a candidate to fight this battle,” he said on MSNBC. “I’m inspired by the people I’ve met across the country. I’m not going to carry the ball but we’re going to make sure somebody is.”

Yeah, a lot of people didn’t know he was in it in the first place.  That may have been his problem.

But I will give him credit for bringing up climate change at every opportunity, and I hope that in the next administration he can help bring the nation and the world closer to really grasping the immediate danger we’re in.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Sunday Reading

It’s Not Over Yet — Emma Green in The Atlantic on how LGBTQ rights are still up in the air.

Roughly half of Americans think federal law bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Despite four years of nationwide same-sex marriage, despite rapidly growing cultural acceptance for LGBTQ people, despite extensive annual Pride celebrations—these Americans are wrong. Now that all of this summer’s glitter floats have been dismantled and the rainbow confetti has been cleared, lawyers, legislators, and judges have turned back to the ongoing fight over whether federal law does, and should, specifically protect LGBTQ people from being fired, denied a rental lease, or refused service because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

This year will mark several important milestones in the battle over LGBTQ discrimination. In the spring, the House of Representatives passed the Equality Act, a sweeping bill that would prohibit anti-LGBTQ discrimination in all aspects of public and commercial life, without any religious exemptions. While the bill has basically no chance of gaining traction in this Senate, if Democrats sweep Congress in 2020, it will likely be high on the party’s priority list. In the fall, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case R. G. & G. R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC & Aimee Stephens, about a former funeral director who was fired after coming out to her employer as transgender. The justices will consider whether existing workplace protections in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 already cover discrimination on the basis of gender identity.

And yet, the legal status of LGBTQ rights remains murky. As the movement has gained cultural momentum, activists have largely moved away from a posture of compromise—they believe they can win full protections for LGBTQ people in any context, without exceptions. A small but significant group of conservative religious leaders has been working the middle ground, trying to build support for a bill that would protect LGBTQ people but leave space for institutions, such as Christian colleges and Catholic hospitals, to operate according to their religious teachings. But they’ve faced resistance from their right, with prominent pastors and conservative legal groups opposed to any kind of bill that would mark sexual orientation and gender identity as special legal categories.

As America has largely moved on from its gay-rights moment, with many Americans believing everything got taken care of with same-sex marriage, legal advocates on both sides have been left with bitter disagreements about where the country should go next—and the possibility that the status quo will perpetually remain in place.

Americans don’t agree on whether LGBTQ discrimination actually happens. Conservative advocates argue that LGBTQ people face little to no discrimination, and that their identities have been normalized—LGBTQ folks are featured on TV shows and in movies, and many businesses have voluntarily crafted their own nondiscrimination policies. Ask LGBTQ people themselves, however, and they consistently see discrimination in their daily lives: A recent study from the Williams Institute at UCLA found that lesbian, gay, and bisexual people reported much higher rates of being bullied, fired, or denied a job, promotion, or lease compared with heterosexual people. In a 2015 survey of transgender Americans, 30 percent of respondents with jobs reported experiencing workplace discrimination of some kind within the prior year; a quarter said they encountered some form of housing discrimination.

Still, these experiences can be subtle or hard to document. And the incentives for bringing a formal, legal complaint vary wildly, depending on where someone lives: 20 states fully prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, while 28 states don’t. (Two others—Wisconsin and Utah—bar some kinds of discrimination, but not others.) “Because it doesn’t look just like Jim Crow,” said Doug NeJaime, a law professor at Yale University who focuses on LGBTQ legal issues, conservatives argue that “it then doesn’t merit attention.” But, he said, “there’s lots of reasons why discrimination against LGBT people looks different than other forms of discrimination … [That] doesn’t mean it’s not discrimination that needs to be remedied.”

Early legislation proposing civil-rights protections for gays and lesbians was often hedged: Advocates focused on issues such as workplace discrimination, where they thought they had a greater chance of victory. Roughly five years ago, however, the strategy among advocates began to shift: Public perception had become much more favorable, and leaders believed they could set more ambitious political and legal goals. Activists began calling for a comprehensive bill without religious exemptions.

As all of this was happening on the legislative side, the courts were also working through what the law already says about LGBTQ rights. In the past 30 years, the Supreme Court has ruled sex stereotyping illegal; declared sodomy bans unconstitutional; struck down state measures blocking civil-rights protections for gays, lesbians, and bisexuals; and, of course, legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states. But even as the inevitability of legalized gay marriage was becoming clear in the early 2010s, “the narrative really began to take hold that you could be married on Sunday and fired on Monday and lose your housing on Tuesday,” Sarah McBride, the national press secretary at the Human Rights Campaign, a prominent LGBTQ-rights advocacy group, told me. “That really brought into starker contrast the absurdity of the lack of explicit protections.”

This question has been particularly fraught for transgender people, such as the plaintiff who will go before the Supreme Court this fall. LGBTQ legal advocates have argued with mixed success that sex stereotyping, or discriminating against people based on their failure to live out societal norms for men and women, necessarily includes discrimination against transgender people. They argue that those who discriminate against transgender people because of their gender identity are already breaking the law—a claim the Supreme Court will soon consider in the Harris Funeral Homes case.

Because advocates are arguing that trans protections already exist in the law, but still need to be written into the law via the Equality Act, some critics have accused them of hypocrisy. Activists “are talking out of both sides of their mouths,” wrote Greg Baylor, the senior counsel for government affairs at the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative legal firm that advocates for religious liberty, in an email. “While arguing in court that Title VII already includes sexual orientation and gender identity, they are simultaneously urging Congress to add these categories.”

Mara Keisling, the head of the National Center for Transgender Equality, told me she is “confident the courts will eventually come down on our side.” Until that happens, however, “we do need these laws to explicitly name us, if for no other reason than it is better public education,” she added. “And public education is one of the most important parts about ending discrimination.”

Ironically, as LGBTQ rights have expanded, it has become harder for advocates to make their case to the public. Before the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage, “people could see very clearly the fact that same-sex couples couldn’t get married,” McBride said. “People have a more difficult time understanding the way civil rights work in our country, the absence of protections.” The movement has also developed powerful allies from Wall Street to Hollywood, and those alliances have been used against advocates. “The way in which the business community has embraced LGBT rights has played into the narrative that some on the right want to put out, which is that the LGBT community is not some vulnerable minority,” NeJaime said. “The irony about antidiscrimination laws is: Vulnerable groups don’t get protected until they’re actually … [able to] muster the political power to gain momentum.”

Still, that momentum has redoubled the resolve of LGBTQ activists. Maybe they won’t win at the Supreme Court this time, or get nondiscrimination legislation passed through this Congress. But, they believe, theirs is a cause of progress. They will eventually win it all.

And that has left a number of their opponents very, very nervous.

When the Equality Act passed in the U.S. House of Representatives this spring, there were no amendments on the floor—it was just an up or down vote. “It’s what a lot of people would call a messaging bill,” said Tyler Deaton, a Republican strategist who works with GOP politicians to support LGBTQ rights. It was a powerful message indeed. The legislation won the vote of every Democrat in the House who participated in the roll call, along with eight Republicans—a clear sign of its broad support. The bill also sent another message: The days of compromise are over.

In recent years, claims of LGBTQ rights have been repeatedly brought into direct conflict with claims of religious conscience. Just this week, the Trump administration proposed a new rule that would allow federal contractors to make hiring and firing decisions based on their religious beliefs and practices; progressive advocates believe the rule will be used to target LGBTQ people. The most notable court cases have involved wedding vendors: conservative, religious cake bakers, photographers, and florists who don’t want to participate in same-sex wedding ceremonies. The outcomes of these conflicts have been mixed, but they’ve made progressive LGBTQ advocates even more determined to eliminate the “gaping religious exemption,” as McBride put it. The Equality Act specifically bars any group from using the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, known as RFRA, to try to opt out of the bill’s protections.

For religious groups and institutions that teach that homosexuality is a sin, and that men and women were created as such by God, the prospect of this kind of legislation is worrying. “It would be years of litigation—that’s what we would look forward to under the Equality Act as currently drafted,” Shirley Hoogstra, the president of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU), told me. For the nearly 140 Christian institutions that are members of her organization, she said, the bill “would put federal funding, it would put accreditation, it would put hiring rights, it would put campus student-life policies all at risk.” Fundamentally, these kinds of groups want to be able to preserve what they see as religious integrity in their own spaces—and they object when that is described as bigotry. “The Equality Act as currently drafted has caused Christian institutions to really wonder about whether their particular educational contribution is valued in America,” Hoogstra said.

Hoogstra has been part of a coalition pushing an alternative to the Equality Act called Fairness for All. Her organization, along with groups such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Seventh-day Adventists, believes federal LGBTQ discrimination protections are inevitable—the Equality Act’s passage “was a proof point,” Hoogstra said. They want the final law, whenever it passes, to reflect their needs. Broadly speaking, Fairness for All–style legislation would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, but provide exceptions for certain religious institutions, including schools—much like exceptions that were written into parts of the original Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

So far, this effort has not won any of the public Republican support necessary to make Fairness for All a plausible competitor to the Equality Act. Many Republicans may not see this as a worthwhile way to spend political capital, or remain opposed to establishing any LGBTQ rights in federal law. But the bill’s boosters still see the possibility of a strong coalition between religious-freedom advocates and LGBTQ-rights supporters. “If you canvass LGBT activists or professional LGBT organizations, some of the people that are the most favorable … are heads of equality organizations in red states,” said Tim Schultz, the president of the First Amendment Partnership, a group that has worked on crafting consensus between LGBTQ-rights advocates and religious conservatives.

LGBTQ people in these states generally have no legal recourse against discrimination outside of local and municipal ordinances, which provide only a patchwork of protection. Jeff Graham, the executive director of Georgia Equality, an advocacy group in the state, said he doesn’t necessarily support sweeping religious exemptions, but “I do support us being in dialogue and having a respectful conversation with people of faith … We need to make sure that small-business owners understand that there is not a big agenda out to … hurt them or their businesses.”

Before Fairness for All has truly even launched, however, those seeking an accord have faced major backlash from their backyard. When the evangelical World Magazine broke the news that the CCCU and the National Association of Evangelicals, which claims to represent roughly 45,000 churches, had voted to support the Fairness for All effort, a prominent group of conservative religious leaders signed a letter of condemnation. Laws that provide specific protections for sexual orientation and gender identity “empower the government to use the force of law to silence or punish Americans who seek to exercise their God-given liberty to peacefully live and work consistent with their convictions,” they wrote, and “treat reasonable religious and philosophical beliefs as discriminatory.” The signers included Franklin Graham, the evangelist Billy Graham’s son, who has been known to make inflammatory comments about homosexuality; but also Russell Moore, the head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s political arm, who is often seen as a moderating voice in the evangelical world. The NAE has since backed away from full support, citing its “desire to appropriately acknowledge and respect differences among evangelicals.”

All of this complicates the picture of what might come next. If the Democrats make a full electoral sweep in 2020, holding on to the House, taking back the Senate, and winning the White House, it seems likely that the Equality Act will be on their agenda—and it’s unlikely the party’s leadership will be open to finding a middle ground. Meanwhile, the groups totally opposed to this kind of legislation are preparing for legal war. The hard dichotomy between religion and LGBTQ rights is false—a majority of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are themselves religious, and many faith groups welcome and affirm them in their congregations. When it comes to the legal and legislative battlefield, however, that nuance all but disappears.

It’s as true in culture as it is in physics: For any action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, and America seems to be going through one such moment now. In the past five years, public support for people refusing to serve LGBTQ people when it violates their religious beliefs has crept up steadily: Almost a third of Americans, and nearly half of Republicans, say this should be legal, compared with 16 percent and 21 percent, respectively, in 2014. The story of the LGBTQ movement has lately been one of triumph, but it’s not clear whether that will continue. Graham, of Georgia Equality, told me he believes some kind of federal legislation will eventually protect LGBTQ people from discrimination, “but I’m not optimistic that it will happen quickly,” he added. In this political environment, the possibility of moderation and dialogue seems almost antiquated. “It really feels,” he said, “like everything is a battle for the soul of the nation.”

Elizabeth Warren’s Populism For Professionals — Benjamin Wallace-Wells in The New Yorker.

There is a distinct flavor to an Elizabeth Warren campaign event. The energy will be high. The candidate may take the stage at a run; at intervals during her speech, she will clench a fist, thrust it skyward, and cry out, “Yes!” The program will unfold so punctually that certain amused reporters will time its elements with stopwatches on their phones, the way old-timey football writers measured the hang time on punts. When it is time for audience questions, Warren will call out ticket numbers from a raffle-style blind draw (“Four-four-four-two? Who has four-four-four-two? Oh, there you are!”) with a little bit of tension in her voice: Who will ask the questions, and how long they will take to get to the microphone? They do not take long; Warren’s crowds want to impress her. At the end, the campaign’s well-documented selfie line will form, and everyone who wants a photo with Warren will get one. The country can’t really be slipping toward a sloppy authoritarianism if there are this many adults devoted to doing all the little things carefully, can it? Not every Warren event takes place in New England, but they all suggest a New England of the mind.

On Wednesday afternoon, Warren did happen to be in New England, on a Franconia, New Hampshire, farm with a majestic view of the White Mountains. Five hundred white folding chairs had been neatly laid out on the lawn, as if awaiting a wedding. The crowd was a bit bigger than that (“The count is seven hundred,” a press aide whispered to me), and, from walking through it, I would guess that the audience was more than ninety-five per cent white. There were retirees, students, schoolteachers, a few young families on vacation. A youngish man with a blond ponytail wore a T-shirt that read “Warren has a plan for that.” That was the slogan Warren settled on this past winter and spring, when she was introducing a new policy idea seemingly every week, and steadily climbing in the polls. This posture, the politician as expert, seemed to offer some reassurance to Democratic voters that there was an adult in charge. “A woman of substance,” a warmup speaker called Warren, a candidate with “reasonable plans.”

But Warren does not sound, as Hillary Clinton often did, like someone whose aim is to seem reasonable. She runs hotter than that. In her stump speech, she does not read out inequality statistics, as Bernie Sanders does, but instead turns them into an emotional drama, at first through the by-now-familiar story of her mother donning her lone formal dress to apply for her first job, at the age of fifty, to save the family house. Warren remembers her mother crying outside her bedroom door each night and being obviously “terrified.” In Franconia, when Warren addressed the threat of climate change, she did not talk about degrees of warming but about the parental experience of “vulnerability.” (It reminded me a little bit of the way that George W. Bush talked about the threat of terrorism, as part of a successful effort to persuade suburban so-called security moms, in 2004.)

She is running a famously single-minded campaign, with an emphasis on wealth and corruption. In Franconia, the word she kept returning to was “money”; her villain was not Donald Trump, whom she referred to only once, in a parenthetical, before taking questions, but the Koch brothers. (“Oh! You’ve heard of them,” she said, in a tone of mock surprise.) Democracy, she said, has been captured by politics, and politics by greed; big, structural change is required. Toward the end of her stump speech, Warren said, heavily, “Boy, we’re also running out of time on this democracy.” I glanced out at the crowd. Seven hundred people were sitting attentively, in neat rows of white chairs—men in late-model Birkenstocks and women in navy jumpsuits—ready to line up to ask precise and well-planned questions. It was the picture of a prosperous, working democracy with plenty of time.

At this summer’s debates, Warren seemed to make a point of insuring that there was as little space as possible between her and Bernie Sanders. When MSNBC’s hosts asked the candidates whether they supported abolishing the private health-insurance system—an article of faith for Sanders but controversial with the general public, and very unlikely to happen anyway—Warren raised her hand. The two progressives have so loyally stuck to a nonaggression pact between them that it is at once obvious and difficult to fully comprehend that they are not actually competing for the same voters. According to a national Morning Consult poll from last week, the second choice for Sanders voters is not Warren but Joe Biden; Warren is the second choice for those voters who support Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg, who are ideologically more moderate. (Among Warren’s voters, Sanders was the second choice of twenty-five per cent, only slightly more than the twenty-two per cent whose second choice was Harris and the improbable seventeen per cent whose second choice was Biden.) When the election analyst Nathaniel Rakich, of FiveThirtyEight, wrote last month that the Democratic field was finally sorting into some general lanes, they were not defined by ideology—Biden and Sanders seemed to be competing for each other’s voters. In another lane altogether, Harris, Warren, and Buttigieg were competing among themselves. Rakich wrote, “Perhaps what is happening here is that this is the ‘well-educated white liberal lane,’ as polls have generally shown these three candidates doing well with those demographic groups.” You might, more broadly, say that the primary race so far has somewhat less to do with ideology or race than with class.

Warren’s campaign rests on the theory that the past decade has transformed the way class is felt in America, so that instead of the uneducated against the educated, or the heartland against the coasts, it is now also possible to run a widely inclusive, populist campaign against the ultra-rich. If you keep your eye on what the capitalists get away with, you can run on economic populism with the support of doctors and lawyers and the P.T.A. “Your first fifty million, you get to keep. Good for you,” Warren said on Wednesday, explaining her signature wealth-tax proposal. From the ultra-rich—only “a tenth of a tenth of a per cent” of Americans—the government would take two per cent of every dollar after the first fifty million. By the way, she went on, most Americans already pay a wealth tax. “How many people here own their own homes?” Warren asked, and virtually the whole crowd put its fingers to the sky. Looking affirmed, Warren told them that their property taxes were effectively wealth taxes, just for a lesser level of wealth. She wanted to go after the guys “with the Rembrandts and the yachts.”

The Times ran a report from Warren’s campaign this week about the uniquely anxious place she occupies in the imagination of Democratic voters, under the headline “Many Democrats Love Elizabeth Warren. They Also Worry About Her.” The anxieties were that she would make a poor general-election candidate because she is too liberal, because she is a woman, because her disputed claims of Native American ancestry make her seem like a fraud. Most campaign reporters have heard these anxieties. But a different way to describe them would be to say that they are about the gap between the campaign and its cause—about voters’ uncertainty that a wealthy white Ivy League professor can lead a class-based crusade against wealth and its corruptions. Whether the law professor is the right person to pick a fight over the Rembrandts and the yachts.

But Warren is the only candidate in the race whose fortunes have materially improved over the past six months, which suggests that the vein she’s found has less to do with what is permanent within the Democratic electorate than with what is changing. When FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver analyzed polling data from Emerson College last month, he found that Warren, alone among the major contenders, drew support from 2016 Sanders and Clinton voters in equal measure. The signal story of the past decade—of the financial crisis, of Donald Trump, of the #MeToo movement—is about how wealth, power, and depravity have been concentrated in the hands of a very few. The Warren campaign is a test of how broadly that story has resonated, and how much the country has been transformed. As the selfie line formed in Franconia, I saw a new national poll on my phone, from the Economist and YouGov—Biden had fallen to twenty-one per cent, in their accounting, and Warren was up to twenty per cent. Not the front-runner—at least not yet—but the race’s central figure.

Doonesbury — Read much?