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?

Friday, August 16, 2019

Good Move

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper is ending his presidential campaign and will challenge Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO).

Good call.  He had no chance at all in the presidential contest, but Gardner is very vulnerable and the Democrats need to take back the Senate if they hope to do anything.

(PS: I called it.  Way back when I said he’d be the first to go.  Yes, Rep. Eric Swalwell came and went, but I made the call before he got in.)

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Wishful Thinking

Via Digby, here’s the result of the election if it were held today and based on approval ratings.

Except the election isn’t being held today and the votes aren’t based on approval ratings.  So this is not really a good indicator of what’s going to happen in fifteen months.

What it does show is that the Republicans have a lot of windward to make up, and we know how they’ll do it: keep pushing the hate, xenophobia, and divisiveness.  And it’s not like we haven’t seen that coming.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

“Beat Them”

Former Rep. David Jolly of Florida, and formerly a Republican, lets fly on MSNBC:

I find myself today offering the same insight I did at the night of the Parkland shooting a few hours from our home in Florida, which is this: Republicans will NEVER do anything on gun control, nothing, EVER. They won’t. Think about Las Vegas. They did nothing when 500 people were injured. The Pulse nightclub, 50 killed. The question for the nation was, do we allow suspected terrorists to buy firearms? Republicans did nothing. Parkland, they did nothing. Emanuel AME in South Carolina, nothing. Go to Sandy Hook in Connecticut, nothing. Jewish temple in Pittsburgh, nothing. Jewish temple in San Diego, nothing. Sutherland Springs, evangelical church in Texas, nothing. Now you have Texas, now you have Ohio in the same weekend and all we get is silence. I say that because if this is the issue that forms your ideology as a voter the strength to draw in this moment is to commit to BEATING Republicans, BEAT them. Beat every single one of them. Even the safe ones in the House, BEAT them. Beat them in the SENATE. Take back the Senate.

Welcome to the club, David.  We’re having jackets made.

I think a few current GOP office holders are getting the hint: there are now upwards of twelve in Congress who have announced that they see the train heading towards them and are now planning to spend more time with their family.  And as the Democratic presidential field narrows, those who are pulling less than stellar ratings but still have a chance to win in a local race, e.g. Senate, should figure out a graceful way to turn their sights on doing that. That is where the true difference can be made.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Democrats Debate Round 2 Second Night

I saw snippets, but I’ll take a spin around the pundit’s playpen and see what I come up with.

So far it seems that Cory Booker redeemed himself, as did Julian Castro, and Joe Biden surprised some chin-strokers by actually showing some spryness.  I’ll dig in deeper and update as I get into the weeds (and worry about mixing metaphors later, when I’ve had some more coffee).

Okay, after consulting the tea-leaves and coffee grounds, the consensus seems to be that Joe Biden didn’t do any harm to himself but didn’t make a huge leap, which is about all you can hope for when the field is so crowded, and that it’s high time for the folks drawing 1% in the polls make other plans or suck up to the eventual nominee for a cabinet position or run for the Senate, especially in states where the GOP is facing a tough re-elect such as Colorado (hi, John Hickenlooper).

I did watch the first few minutes with the WWE-style introductions and the color guard parade complete with the Pledge of Allegiance.  (What, no jet flyover?)  That was to shore up any questions about Democrats being patriotic. To run that idea into the ground, Tulsi Gabbard ran an ad during the first commercial break where she recited the Pledge of Allegiance in her military uniform.  Okay, we get it.  The question is, why bother?  We know that Trump and the Republican minions will call them traitors anyway.

I get it that this is all a ritual that we’re going through and it’s fun to mock the crowd.  But this is a very strange way to select someone to take out an existential threat to our nation, and doing it like an event in Las Vegas only heightens the triteness.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Democrats Debate Round 2 First Night

Owing to the fact that I was asleep by 7:30 pm EDT, I missed it.  So I will have to catch up and rely on the punditocracy for their insight.

Did you watch?  Who won?  Who lost?  Who will become an answer on “Jeopardy” next year, and who will end up in the next Democratic president’s cabinet, assuming we still have a functioning democracy after 2020?

Here’s a sum-up by Josh Marshall:

On balance I thought this was a pretty productive, good debate for the simple reason that a series of central debates in the Democratic party and this campaign were joined clearly, in a generally well argued and illuminating way. Former Rep. John Delaney was clearly the odd man out on the stage (possibly with Gov. Bullock a runner up). He frequently seemed like he was in a time warp back to the 1990s. But he provided an effective foil to Warren and Sanders; he even leveled some reasonable critiques. In so doing he managed to garner wildly more time on air than his non-candidacy possibly merits. But I thought it was good because you had a series of set piece exchanges which really captured the broader debate in a clear and illuminating way.

On balance, I would say Warren was the big winner of the evening. I continue to think and worry that her embrace of Medicare for All, with a deep clarity about the prohibition of private insurance, could be a major electoral liability if she becomes the nominee. But to me she had a clarity and energy that owned the stage. She had directness, moments of memorable humor and compelling explanation. I didn’t think she did as well in the first debate as some others did. In this case I think she had a very strong night.

Mayor Pete made a good point:

“It is time to stop worrying about what the Republicans will say,” Buttigieg said at one point. “It’s true that if we embrace a far-left agenda, they’re going to say we’re a bunch of crazy socialists. If we embrace a conservative agenda, you know what they’re going to do? They’re going to say we’re a bunch of crazy socialists.”

Whoever it is, he/she/they/them will be running against the most dangerous and racist occupant of the office since Andrew Jackson.  All the policies and ideas are fine for discussion, but Job 1 is getting that stain on democracy and civilization out of office.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Now And Forever

November 2020 is a long way off but we’re already seeing the rumblings of punditry telling us that Trump has a lock on the Electoral College and the Democrats are in total disarray.  I’m not sure if there’s methodology to this, but it seems that like a summer heat wave — both predictable and unprepared for — the plotting and the hand-wringing comes along with it.

Right now you can pick and choose your poison and night sweats about about Trump in office for another term, or you can take a deep breath, exhale, and get to work coming up with candidates and policy ideas that are less a response to the spasms of this id-driven narcissist and more grounded in what the country actually needs.

I think Frank Bruni makes a couple of good points here.

The Democratic Party and the Democratic candidates for president need to be smarter, more realistic and more disciplined than they are now. Enough with internal feuding. Enough with taking the president’s bait and bumbling into his traps. If he sets the terms of the political discussion, he wins.

He wants to spend the 15 months between now and Election Day talking about “the squad”: Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley. Democrats mustn’t follow suit. Absolutely they should defend the four congresswomen, and make clear that they are every bit as American as Trump is. In taking issue with his leadership and finding fault with our country, they’re exercising and honoring our most dearly held rights, which the president is trampling on.

So say that once, loud and clear. Maybe say it twice. Then move on. Trump wants to define all Democrats in terms of the squad, when they’re but a part of a diverse party and hardly its ideological proxies. So don’t let him. Don’t let all the other issues get muscled off the stage. If everyone’s talking about Omar, no one’s talking about health care or jobs: the stuff that actually turns elections and will turn this one. If Trump has his way, this campaign will be a bogus referendum on a bastard definition of patriotism. It will be a race-obsessed and racist jubilee. Don’t play along.


…Reeling from the ugliness of his actions and words — which are meant to make them reel — Democrats want to repudiate him as forcefully as possible. But that can lead to a reaction that’s neither smart politics nor good policy.

Nancy Pelosi knows this. It’s why she hasn’t been talking up the Green New Deal, single-payer insurance or impeachment, and the suggestion that this makes her some squishy centrist pushover — some musty relic from a timid era — is bunk. She has her eyes on the most meaningful prize, one she pursued successfully in the midterms: Democratic victory. And she can see that in an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll published a little over a week ago, just 21 percent of registered voters said that there was enough evidence for Congress to begin impeachment hearings.


I wonder what would happen if the Democratic nominee simply refused to talk about Trump. No responding to whatever stupid nickname he comes up with. No sweeping denunciation of some deed of his that any sensible American already knows is wrong. Just the articulation of better solutions to America’s problems. Trump would go mad with the lack of attention. And maybe then, thank heaven, he’d go away.

I wouldn’t so blithely say he’d go away; even if he’s dragged kicking and screaming from the West Wing, we’ll have to endure his tweets and his plotting to come back like a bad repeat of Grover Cleveland’s second term, so far the only president to win again after losing re-election.  So this has to be a permanent win; not just the White House and the Senate in 2020, but for the next two to four election cycles.  Democrats have the numbers to be a permanent majority and they’re growing all the time.  They just have to use them.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Too Late To Turn Back Now

The New York Times:

Nervous Republicans, from senior members of Congress to his own daughter Ivanka, urged President Trump on Thursday to repudiate the “send her back” chant directed at a Somali-born congresswoman during his speech the night before at a rally in North Carolina, amid widespread fears that the rally had veered into territory that could hurt their party in 2020.

In response, Mr. Trump disavowed the behavior of his own supporters in comments to reporters at the White House and claimed that he had tried to contain it, an assertion clearly contradicted by video of the event.

Mr. Trump said he was “not happy” with the chant directed at Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, a freshman Democrat who is Muslim. At the rally Wednesday evening, he had been in the middle of denouncing her as an anti-American leftist who has spoken in “vicious, anti-Semitic screeds” when the chant was taken up by the crowd.

Pressed on why he did not stop it, Mr. Trump said, “I think I did — I started speaking very quickly.” In fact, as the crowd roared “send her back,” Mr. Trump paused and looked around silently for more than 10 seconds as the scene unfolded in front of him, doing nothing to halt the chorus. “I didn’t say that,” he added. “They did.”

Of course nothing he does is ever his fault and if someone takes it the wrong way, that’s their fault, not his.  Remember, he doesn’t have a racist bone in his body.  (Easy to say when you have an exoskeleton.)

And now the Republicans are getting nervous?  Oh, they think that this might somehow reflect on them and what they believe?  Gee, how could that happen?  None of them were tweeting about sending people back where they came from, so how could anyone think they agree with that?  “We saw nothing!  We know nothing!”


Mr. Trump’s cleanup attempt reflected the misgivings of political allies who have warned him privately that however much his hard-core supporters in the arena might have enjoyed the moment, the president was playing with political fire, according to people briefed on the conversations.

Among them were House Republican leaders, who pleaded with Vice President Mike Pence to distance the party from the message embraced by the crowd in Greenville, N.C. Mr. Pence conveyed that directly to Mr. Trump, according to people familiar with the exchange.

“That does not need to be our campaign call, like we did the ‘lock her up’ last time,” said Representative Mark Walker, Republican of North Carolina, a top official in the party’s messaging arm, referring to the chant that routinely broke out whenever Mr. Trump mentioned Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign. Midway through that race, Mr. Trump told reporters he did not approve of that chant, but he never intervened.

Mr. Walker, who attended the rally on Wednesday night, later posted on Twitter that he had “struggled” with the chant. “We cannot be defined by this,” he said.

Well, guess what, pal.  It’s too late to suddenly realize that every Republican now running for office is lashed to this particular mast.  Or tree.  Or cross.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Fast Start

Amy McGrath has gotten off to a rousing start in her Senate race in Kentucky against Mitch McConnell.

WASHINGTON — Kentucky Democratic Senate candidate Amy McGrath raised more than $2.5 million in the first 24 hours of her campaign against Mitch McConnell — over $1 million of it coming in just the first five and a half hours after she announced, according to her campaign.

McGrath campaign manager Mark Nickolas said it’s the most ever raised in the first 24 hours of a Senate campaign. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee says the next closest was former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, who raised $1 million in his first day of his campaign in Arizona.

The haul is a sign of just how deep Democratic antipathy toward McConnell, the Senate majority leader, runs in the Trump era.

All of the $2.5 million came in online donations with an average donation of $36.15, her campaign manager said. The $2.5 million total doesn’t include any additional traditional fundraising money that may have been raised in the form of checks or promised campaign contributions.

McGrath’s race against McConnell promises to be one of the most expensive Senate races of the 2020 election cycle. McConnell, as the Senate majority leader, has a formidable fundraising machine — in 2014, he raised and spent over $30 million in his race against Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes.

Add in all the usual caveats about early money not meaning a lot later on (e.g. President Phil Gram), but it does indicate that an attractive and strong candidate has a lot of potential.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Going After McConnell

It’s about damn time.

Democrats are increasingly focused on making Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell a political villain as they attempt to win back control of the Senate in next year’s election and galvanize the party’s liberal base.

That effort gained new momentum on Tuesday as Amy McGrath, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel and combat pilot, announced she would challenge McConnell (R-Ky.) and blamed him for turning Washington into “something we despise” in a campaign video that drew millions of views.

While McGrath faces a steep climb against McConnell in ruby-red Kentucky, which President Trump carried by 30 percentage points in 2016, she is expected to raise significant funds from national Democrats and provide the party with a relentless and high-profile opponent.

Yes, of course it’s going to be hard to beat McConnell; he’s got a lot of very rich right-wingers and coal interests, not to mention Fox News and their mighty Wurlitzer, but at least they’ve got a viable candidate in Amy McGrath.  And you know she’s scaring the crap out of him because his campaign jumped on her before the credits rolled.  If she wasn’t a threat, they’d ignore her.

The Democrats should have had McConnell in their sights long before this.  It wasn’t just the sandbagging of Merrick Garland; it goes back to the first days of the Obama administration when he let it be known that his goal in life was to make him a one-term president.  That may be a viable political aspiration, but if you run the Senate like that, what the hell is the difference between us and Zimbabwe?  He’s not just a “political villain.”  He’s a villain, pure and simple.

Winning back the Senate is the key to getting rid of Trumpism, or at the least shrinking it down to where, as Grover Norquist so pithily put it, drowning it in a bathtub.  And if we can’t beat McConnell, the next best thing would be to make him minority leader and wipe that lipless smirk off his face.  Which is why I implore all those nice folks running for president from states with senate races next year to politely direct their attention to a far more likely obtainable goal and doing the rest of us the favor of saving the country.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Let The Winnowing Begin

Eric Swalwell is out of the Democratic race.  Yeah… who?

Frankly, I thought John Hickenlooper would be the first to go, but he’s sticking it out.

As one of two dozen Democrats vying for the party nomination, Hickenlooper’s struggle to make a dent is emblematic of how difficult it is for a candidate — even a well-regarded former governor of a pivotal state — to break through in a historically large field in which being a mild-mannered 67-year-old white man hasn’t been the best selling point.

In 2016, the buzz around Hickenlooper was loud enough that Hillary Clinton vetted him to be her running mate. But three years later, Hickenlooper often finds himself talking to voters who have no idea who he is. A columnist for the New Hampshire Union-Leader recently likened the efforts of Hickenlooper — a former brewery owner — to “a fledgling IPA fighting for a tap in the neighborhood bar.”

That was evident during a recent visit to the Foundry, a beer hall and distillery in West Des Moines, where patrons eyed him with mild curiosity. “You are who?” a man said as Hickenlooper wandered near the bar. Upon learning Hickenlooper was running for president, he replied, “There are so many of you.”

In Cresco, Iowa, where Hickenlooper spoke at a local Democratic Party gathering, a woman mistook the former governor for Sen. Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.), who is also running for president. “Two Coloradans,” the woman declared, as Hickenlooper walked away. “I can’t keep them straight.”

And he’s having the problem most one-man-bands have: keeping a staff or paying for them.

Hickenlooper’s road became even lonelier last week. Several top aides, including campaign manager Brad Komar, left the campaign or announced they would do so soon. Hickenlooper played down the departures, but a Democrat close to the campaign said the aides had urged him to drop his presidential bid and instead run for the Senate, which Hickenlooper refused to do.

In an interview, Hickenlooper, who has a sunny, glass-half-full disposition, professed optimism, acknowledging “challenges” but arguing that he has as much a chance as anyone to break out in a nomination battle that is still fluid, even though he’s polling at 1 percent or lower.

“I am not fraught with anxiety, at least not yet,” Hickenlooper said. “People underestimate me. They have always underestimated me.”

All he needs is one little spark, he argued. One brief moment.

Well, that’s a great attitude if you’re an actor (or a playwright): waiting for that one part, that one job, that one opportunity that will get you noticed, and from there on, it’s roses and rainbows, baby.

You have to admire his optimism and his drive; he’s going to make a great Secretary of the Interior for the next Democratic president.  But his aides — or former aides — are right; he should be running for the Senate to beat Corey Gardner, the vulnerable Republican from Colorado.  The next Democrat in the White House could be the greatest in a generation, but it won’t mean squat if the Senate is still run by descended-from-slave-owners Mitch McConnell and his fellow terrapins.

I am hoping that by Labor Day — or at least by Canadian Thanksgiving (October) — the 1%’ers like Steve Bullock and Kirsten Gillibrand will get the hint and let nature take her course. I’m sure they’re very nice people and have something to offer, but like we say in show business, you just ain’t got it.  (Oh, and memo to Tom Steyer, who’s been clogging my in-box with pleas for money for Impeach Now: don’t run for president, I’m begging you.  You’re embarrassing yourself.)  The more people run for president, the more we’re going to see op-eds like this one from Henry Olsen in the WaPo about how Trump is going to win re-election.  If that’s supposed to inspire Democrats to get fired up, all it really does is make them want to gargle anti-freeze; you know how they are.

I don’t know who the Democratic nominee will be — and neither do you, I’ll bet — but whoever they are, they will need lungs of leather, nerves of steel, and something ineffable that will catch with the electorate the same way that Barack Obama did; we won’t know it until we see it.  And it hasn’t happened yet (although I’m sensing a glimmer of it from Mayor Pete, but that may be tribal).  But it will.  It has to.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Sunday Reading

“Inoffensive” — Masha Gessen in The New Yorker on Trump’s assault on reality.

Donald Trump’s Fourth of July address was most remarkable for the things it did not contain. Immediately afterward, commentators noted that Trump didn’t use the opportunity to attack the Democratic Party, to issue explicit campaign slogans, or, it would appear, make any impromptu additions (with the possible exception of the claim that American troops commandeered enemy airports during the Revolutionary War). The President was so disciplined on the occasion of the republic’s two hundred and forty-third birthday that Vox called his speech “inoffensive.” Slate gave the speech credit for being “not a complete authoritarian nightmare.” The Times noted that Trump called for unity, in a gesture uncharacteristic of his “divisive presidency.” The word “tame” popped up in different outlets, including Talking Points Memo, which concluded that, thanks to the President not going off script, “the whole thing was pretty standard.”

Campaign slogans and glaring Trumpisms were not the only things absent from the speech. Immigrants were missing. Trump’s most recent predecessors presided over Fourth of July naturalization ceremonies. A rhetorical link between the holiday and immigration has long seemed unbreakable. During his last Independence Day as President, Bill Clinton chose to speak in New York Harbor, against the backdrop of Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. “Perhaps more than any other nation in all history, we have drawn our strength and spirit from people from other lands,” he said. “On this Fourth of July, standing in the shadow of Lady Liberty, we must resolve never to close the golden door behind us, and always not only to welcome people to our borders, but to welcome people into our hearts.” In a much-criticized series of Independence Day events in 1986, President Reagan lit the torch of the Statue of Liberty and noted the swearing in of twenty-seven thousand new citizens across the country. He also referred to the “immigrant story” of his then new Supreme Court nominee, Antonin Scalia.

That immigrant story is, of course, the story the Trump Administration has demonstratively abandoned. Last year, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services dropped the phrase “nation of immigrants” from its mission statement. That phrase, like most foundational myths and more than some, obscures much of the country’s history: the first immigrants would more accurately be described as settler colonialists, who brought Africans here as slaves. But this was not why the Trump Administration deleted the phrase. Trump has retired the myth of America as a nation of immigrants because he staked his election campaign and his legitimacy as president on the demonization of immigrants—and on mobilizing Americans for a war against immigrants.

Trump’s American story is the story of struggle, “the epic tale of a great nation whose people have risked everything for what they know is right,” as he said in the address. Over the course of forty-seven minutes, Trump enumerated American military conquests and the branches of the U.S. armed forces. A quick listing of civilian achievement—medical discoveries, cultural accomplishments, civil-rights advancements, and space exploration—was thrown in at the beginning of the speech, but the master narrative Trump proposed was one of wars and victories, punctuated by the roar of airplane engines for flyovers and the songs of each armed-forces branch.

The narrative was also one of fear. Trump spoke like the leader of a country under siege. The President and the people who joined him onstage were in a fortress of their own, a clear protective enclosure that, streaked with rain, made for an incongruously melancholy sight, as though we were watching them through a veil of tears.

Trump extolled the strength and battle-readiness of American troops but named no current threat. He promised only to strike fear into the hearts of America’s enemies. But his audience knows who the enemy is. North Korea or China may go from enemy to partner to friend on a whim, but there is one enemy whom Trump has consistently, obsessively described as an existential threat: the immigrant.

Two days before the July 4th celebration, the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General issued an urgent report on the conditions in migrant detention facilities in the Rio Grande Valley. Photographs in the report showed children and adults in crowded cages. Other pictures showed people in extremely crowded holding rooms raising up signs in windows, apparently attempting to attract the attention of government inspectors. The document reported “serious overcrowding” and prolonged detention that violated federal guidelines. Children had no access to showers and hadn’t been provided with hot meals. At one facility, the report said, adults were held in standing-room-only conditions. “Most single adults had not had a shower . . . despite several being held for as long as a month,” the report said. A diet of bologna sandwiches had made some of the detainees sick. The report left no doubt that “concentration camps” was an accurate term for the facilities it described. On the eve of Independence Day, the media reported the story, which looked obscene among other stories. How could we read, write, or talk about anything else?

The President responded in a series of tweets in which he blamed the Democrats and the immigrants themselves. “If Illegal Immigrants are unhappy with the conditions in the quickly built or refitted detentions centers, just tell them not to come. All problems solved!” he tweeted. Most of Trump’s tweeting day, though, was spent on other issues: railing against the Supreme Court’s decision not to allow a citizenship question on the census, for example, and hyping expectations for his Fourth of July extravaganza. In the Trumpian universe, immigrants pose a superhuman threat but are themselves of subhuman significance. Through his tweets, his attacks on the media, and his lying, Trump has been waging a battle to define reality to the exclusion of documented facts. In Trump’s reality, it’s not just that the Administration refuses to be held accountable for running concentration camps—it’s that the camps, and the suffering in them, do not exist.

The July 4th celebration, inspired by Trump’s visit to France during Bastille Day festivities in 2017 and informed by his affinity for the sabre-rattling tyrants of the world, was a high point in the President’s battle to command reality. With the possible exception of rain streaks, the pictures from the rally are his image of himself and the country. Following his speech, Trump kept retweeting images of his own limo leaving the White House, of fighter jets flying, of the red stage and a strange cross-like formation of red elevated platforms, and of himself speaking. In these pictures, Trump is the supreme ruler of the mightiest military empire in the history of the world and his people are with him in the public square. Nothing else exists.

A common maxim of the Trump era has it that two Americas exist, each with its own media and consequently limited view of the world. In fact, though, in one America there is only Trump, his tanks and planes and ships. In the America that a majority of us inhabit, however, there are concentration camps—and Trump with his flyovers. In this America, it is increasingly clear that concentration camps and the public spectacle of mobilization are not in contradiction: one is, in fact, a consequence of the other. It is also clear that the omissions of Trump’s speech are not accidental. In addition to not mentioning immigrants, Trump didn’t mention the complexity of the American project. Until two and a half years ago, Republican and Democratic Presidents regularly reminded the American public that this country’s democracy is a work in progress, that its guiding principles are a set of abstract ideals that continue to be reinterpreted.

“This union of corrected wrongs and expanded rights has brought the blessings of liberty to the two hundred and fifteen million Americans, but the struggle for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is never truly won,” President Gerald Ford said on July 4, 1976. “Each generation of Americans, indeed of all humanity, must strive to achieve these aspirations anew. Liberty is a living flame to be fed, not dead ashes to be revered, even in a Bicentennial Year. It is fitting that we ask ourselves hard questions even on a glorious day like today. Are the institutions under which we live working the way they should? Are the foundations laid in 1776 and 1789 still strong enough and sound enough to resist the tremors of our times? Are our God-given rights secure, our hard-won liberties protected?”

Forty years later, in a much more casual celebration on the White House lawn, President Barack Obama said, “On a day like this, we celebrate, we have fun, we marvel at everything that’s been done before, but we also have to recommit ourselves to making sure that everybody in this country is free; that everybody has opportunity; that everybody gets a fair shot; that we look after all of our veterans when they come home; that we look after our military families and give them a fair shake; that every child has a good education.”

In less than three years, as our senses were dulled by the crudeness of the tweets, the speed of the news cycle, the blatant quality of the lies, and the brutality of official rhetoric, Trump has reframed America, stripping it of its ideals, dumbing it down, and reducing it to a nation at war against people who want to join it. These days, that is what passes for “inoffensive,” “tame,” and “standard.”

No Thanks, David — Jeet Heer in The Nation on dumping the never-Trumpers.

David Brooks wants your pity. As a New York Times columnist and best-selling author, Brooks has all the worldly success anyone could want, and yet he feels increasingly alienated from American politics, a self-described moderate rendered homeless by the polarization of the Trump era. The Republican Party has been captured by a belligerent oaf, while the Democrats, thanks to the leadership of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, are moving to the left.

“I could never in a million years vote for Donald Trump,” Brooks wrote in a recent New York Times column. “So my question to Democrats is: Will there be a candidate I can vote for?” Alas for Brooks, he’s not sure that the Democrats will give him the moderate candidate he wants, since so many of the contenders are aping Sanders and Warren by talking about the need for universal health care and making a broader critique of the power of big business.

“Democrats have caught the catastrophizing virus that inflicts the Trumpian right,” Brooks complains. “They take a good point—that capitalism needs to be reformed to reduce inequality—and they radicalize it so one gets the impression they want to undermine capitalism altogether.”

Instead of capitalism, Brooks believes Democrats should be talking about civility. “Trump is a disrupter,” Brooks states. “He rips to shreds the codes of politeness, decency, honesty and fidelity, and so renders society a savage world of dog eat dog. Democrats spend very little time making this case because defending tradition, manners and civility sometimes cuts against the modern progressive temper.”

One could object that Brooks is overdrawing the lesson. After all, there is only one Democratic candidate, Sanders, who calls himself a socialist; even Warren insists she’s a capitalist, albeit one that feels the system needs a serious overhaul.

The best thing about Brooks’s column is his frank use of the first person singular. Although he makes gestures to other hypothetical moderate voters, he is candid that the question is whether the Democrats will nominate someone “I can vote for.” This “I” is honest, since Brooks is speaking for a tiny faction, Never Trump conservatives, who twice demonstrated in 2016 that they were a powerless rump minority in the real world of politics. Never Trump conservatives failed to stop Donald Trump from getting the Republican nomination. They then failed to mobilize a sufficient number of voters to support Hillary Clinton and keep Trump from his Electoral College victory. Yet the humiliation of these defeats has done nothing to hamper their self-confidence in offering political advice.

Although minuscule in numbers, Never Trump conservatives have an enormously outsize voice in the American mainstream media. They beloved by mainstream outlets that want to present a balanced editorial voice, but are also horror stricken by Trump’s vulgarity and corruption. Besides Brooks, the New York Times op-ed page has two other conservatives who are mortified by Trump, if not always Trumpism: Bret Stephens and Ross Douthat.

Stephens himself wrote a very similar column, although unlike Brooks he pretended to be the voice of a hypothetical average voter who was turned off by the alleged extreme leftism of the Democrats.

The Democrats, Stephens claimed, are “a party that makes too many Americans feel like strangers in their own country. A party that puts more of its faith, and invests most of its efforts, in them instead of us.” He added, “They speak Spanish. We don’t.” This was an allusion to the admittedly faltering efforts of Beto O’Rourke and Cory Booker to say a few words en español (and the marginally better fluency of Julian Castro).

As often with faux populism, there’s an element of playacting in these pronouncements. Stephens himself was born in Mexico and speaks Spanish fluently. Moreover, he didn’t object in 2015 when Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio spoke Spanish during the Republican debates. Would the hypothetical nativist Republican who is so offended by the Spanish of Democratic candidates ever switch parties?

The Never Trump theory that they are the crucial swing voters who will decide presidential elections was already tried and tested in 2016. It failed miserably.

During that election, Hillary Clinton made an ardent effort to win Republican voters, especially foreign policy hawks worried about Trump’s alleged isolationism. She praised her friend Henry Kissinger; she used neoconservative dog whistles like “American exceptionalism”; and she even attacked Trump on occasion from the right, indicating he was a little too evenhanded on Israel-Palestine and not tough enough to confront Russian and Chinese leaders. Moreover, just as Brooks recommends in his column, Clinton highlighted Trump’s assault on civility, his personal crudeness.

Clinton’s pursuit of moderate suburban Republicans, what we might call the Brooks vote, paid some small dividends. She actually did better than Barack Obama with this class. But this victory came at an enormous price: It demobilized many traditional Democrats, especially working-class voters of all sorts (both white and African American).

As Princeton University history professor Matt Karp noted in a compelling post-mortem written right after the election, “In pursuit of professional-class Republicans, the Clinton campaign made a conscious decision to elevate questions of tone, temperament, and decorum at the expense of bread-and-butter issues like health care or the minimum wage. This wasn’t just a tactical move away from some culturally distinct group of ‘white working-class’ voters. It was a strategic retreat from the working class as a whole.”

Karp cites Clinton’s final ad: “Clinton’s final TV commercial exemplified the spirit of her campaign. Planted sedately behind a desk in a comfortable, well-furnished room, the Democrat condemned ‘darkness’ and ‘division’ as the camera slowly zoomed inward. Her gold necklace and bracelet twinkling in the softened light, she spoke for two full minutes about work ethic and core values without ever uttering the words ‘jobs,’ ‘wages,’ or ‘health care.’”

Clinton ran a David Brooks campaign in 2016 and tore apart the Obama coalition. She suffered the worst Democratic Electoral College results since 1988. Fortunately for the Democrats, Trump has governed as a far-right Republican, sidelining most of the economic populism he ran on, which allowed him to shave off some Obama voters. As a result, Democrats were able in 2018 to regain many of those lost voters (doing much better than Clinton in rural areas) while also holding on to the suburban voters Clinton had brought to the party. The 2018 victory was also fueled by the party’s decision to focus on a genuine economic issue, health care, rather than bemoan Trump’s personal grossness.

Never Trump conservatives like David Brooks are an interesting intellectual curiosity and often worth reading for their critiques of the Republican Party. But as political advisers they’ve had their day. Democrats don’t need their votes—and should work on motivating and energizing the base they already have.

Doonesbury — It is what it isn’t.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Blast From The Past

You’re on a road trip.  You stop for gas and pick up a burrito out of the counter-top warming oven.  Three hours later you come down with a volcanic case of the trots.  What do you do?  Do you turn around and go back to that gas station and rant against the kid who sold you the burrito, or do you pull into CVS, get a bottle of Kaopectate, and drive on?

That, however earthy, is a metaphor for the current debate in the Democratic primary.

I get it that a lot of elections are about the past and rarely about the future for the simple reason it’s a lot easier to re-litigate and obsess over history than speculate about the future.  At least with history you are on somewhat safe ground with what passes for facts and truth, whereas with the future, it’s all up for grabs.

But here we are talking about busing to achieve racial integration, something I remember that was in the news when I was in high school in 1970.  Is this really how we’re going to decide the presidential election when most of the people casting votes weren’t alive when this topic was on the front page for the first time?

And this isn’t the only election where the past comes back to haunt us.  In 2004 we had to go back to Vietnam and the Mekong Delta with John Kerry; again fighting a war that was lost fifty years before.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be aware of our history and where it has led us and what we can learn from it, nor should we not hold those who were in office all those years ago accountable for what they did then and how they see themselves now and their place in our future.

Paradoxically, we are still dealing with the aftereffects of busing; racial integration is still a concern in the public schools.  But it’s more important to consider and plan for what we must do now.  Any campaign for public office, be it city council or president of the United States, has to be about where we’re going and what we’ve learned, not what we should do about something that happened in 1970.

In other words, now you know to plan ahead, pack a lunch, and don’t buy a burrito at a gas station.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Language Barrier

Steve M reminds Republicans that speaking Spanish isn’t a deal-breaker.

Beto O’Rourke, Cory Booker, and Joaquin Castro spoke Spanish in the first Democratic presidential debate this week. The response from Bret Stephens: Speak English or die.

Amigos demócratas,

Si ustedes siguen así, van a perder las elecciones. Y lo merecerán.

Translation for the linguistically benighted: “Democratic friends, if you go on like this, you’re going to lose the elections. And you’ll deserve it.”

Channeling Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson, Stephens continues, decribing the Democrats as

a party that makes too many Americans feel like strangers in their own country. A party that puts more of its faith, and invests most of its efforts, in them instead of us.

And who exactly are “they” and “we”?

They speak Spanish. We don’t.

Yes, it’s horrible when candidates speak Spanish in debates. Regular Americans are morally offended by it, and it instantly seals a candidate’s electoral doom. No Republican would ever do such a thing, and any Republican who did would lose the party’s nomination instantly….

And then he points out that George W. Bush spoke Spanish on a regular basis, as did his brother Jeb.  So the only people who might be turned off by those quien hablan español are those who are already pre-disposed against anyone who doesn’t talk like a real ‘Murican.

Living and working in a place where Spanish is often heard is old hat to me.  I heard it when I lived here in Miami 45 years ago and in other places as well like Denver, and of course in Santa Fe and Albuquerque.  (In New Mexico, having Spanish as an official language was part of the deal when it became a state in 1912.)  And it doesn’t scare me or put me off at all.  In fact, I admire people who have come to a place where they have to learn a new language and still make it.  I work in an office where Spanish and English are used interchangeably and we not only get our work done, we do it well.  I’ve brought in my own Mexican-flavored Spanish and picked up some frases utiles.

Once upon a time, Republicans went after the Latinx vote.  But that was before they decided it was easier to go after the xenophobes.  A white hood doesn’t need a translator.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Sunday Reading

It Started With A Bookstore — Jim Downs in The Atlantic on the origins of gay liberation.

On July 4, 1965—four years before Stonewall—39 activists from D.C., New York, and Philadelphia marched on the place where the Declaration of Independence had been signed roughly two centuries earlier. They wanted to remind the nation that their rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” had been denied. Dressed in formal attire—the men in coats and ties, and many of the women in skirts and dresses—they carried signs that read Equal Treatment Before the Law and Homosexual Bill of Rights.

For the next four years, the organizer of that protest, Craig Rodwell, along with his comrades, Barbara Gittings and Kay Tobin Lahusen, marched in Philadelphia. Their demonstrations became became known as “the Annual Reminders.” But in the summer of 1967, Rodwell also decided to do something that was, in its own quiet way, more radical than marching. He wanted to open a bookstore.

Rodwell was the vice president of the Mattachine Society, a gay male political group. “I was trying to get the Society to be out dealing with the people instead of sitting in an office,” Rodwell had explained to Lahusen for an interview in her book, The Gay Crusaders. “We even looked at a few store-fronts. I wanted the Society to set up a combination bookstore, counseling service, fund-raising headquarters, and office. The main thing was to be out on the street.” When the Mattachine Society rejected Rodwell’s plans to open a bookstore, he resigned from the group and decided to do it alone.

The Stonewall protests two years later would draw broad attention to the struggle for gay liberation, but that struggle did not start in 1969. There were protests, and thriving gay communities, before that night in New York City—and Stonewall’s success was rooted in those earlier efforts.

Activists like Rodwell understood the value of visibility; he was among the architects of New York’s gay-pride parade. But some were struggling not just for rights or liberation, but for something still more revolutionary. They were fighting for what they called “gay power,” the authority to define their own identity. Their efforts produced the intellectual revolution that lent the Stonewall protests their power, and which helped ensure that long after the protests were over, the changes they wrought would endure.

The victories of Stonewall, then, had the unlikeliest of birthplaces: the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop.

In 1967, there were no gay community centers, save San Francisco’s Society for Individual Rights, that offered cultural programming and recreational activities. There were no gay bookstores that included shelves of gay books. In fact, there was no such thing as serious gay nonfiction. Libraries had systematically cataloged homosexuality as a deviance or a disorder. There were the occasional novels—notably, The Well of Loneliness, published by Radclyffe Hall in the United Kingdom in 1928—but mostly there was pulp fiction and porn, and novels that had queer subtexts.

Rodwell wanted a bookstore that would provide LGBTQ people with intellectual engagement. He also wanted the store to offer psychological-counseling services because, in 1967, the American Psychiatric Association still listed homosexuality as a mental illness in its diagnostic and statistical manual. For many queer people in the 1960s, the search for books, which offered some clues about homosexuality, was how they navigated their way out of the closet. “When I first wanted to find out what it meant to be gay, after I first put the label on myself, being a reasonably well-educated girl, I thought, ‘Oh well, I’ll go to the library,’” Gittings later recalled.

Those who went looking typically came up empty-handed. Gittings found little about being gay, and the sources she did uncover rang false to her. “There was nothing about love,” she said. That was the void Rodwell set out to fill.

He boarded a bus and headed to Fire Island, a Long Island beach town that had become a gay hub, with the hope that he could earn enough money working as a bartender to open the store. Three months later, he arrived back in New York City. “The cheapest storefront in the Village that I could find was $115 a month, and they insisted on the first month’s rent plus two month’s security,” he later recalled. “That was $345, or one third of the money I had saved. But I did it!”

Rodwell opened the first-ever gay bookstore in the world at 291 Mercer Street, between Waverly Place and East Eighth Street. “I wanted a name that would tell people what the shop is about,” Rodwell said. “So I tried to think of the most prominent person whose name I could use who is most readily identifiable as a homosexual by most people, someone who’s sort of a pseudo-martyr. And Oscar Wilde was the most obvious at the time, so I called it the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop.”

Rodwell planned the official opening for a few months later, on November 24, 1967. His mother arrived from Chicago the day before and they stayed up all night setting up the store. His plan to offer counseling services never came to fruition, but the store itself proved unexpectedly radical. The few identifiably queer books that could then be found in libraries—by Hall or Wilde or any other queer writers—were scattered by differences in genre, nationality, and date of publication. As Rodwell and his mother placed books by queer authors on the same shelf, they redefined the meaning of homosexuality. It was no longer simply a deviance or a disorder. It was, instead, a coherent category—with shelves of books to prove it.

The bookshop became an immediate hit within the gay community. The store was packed, especially on Saturday afternoons, when Rodwell served free coffee and pastries. News of the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop traveled around the country, and around the world. Gay readers wrote to Rodwell, asking for book suggestions and praising him for making LGBTQ novels, newspapers, and pamphlets available. Young men wrote, asking for advice on how to come out.

European tourists told their friends, who made it a point to visit the Oscar Wilde Bookshop on their trips to New York. American soldiers stationed in Vietnam ordered books and asked for magazine subscriptions to The New York Hymnal, a journal Rodwell founded and edited. A handful of Americans and Europeans wrote to Rodwell asking for help on how to establish their own stores, which led, for example, to the creation of Giovanni’s Room in Philadelphia. (The store title was taken from the title of James Baldwin’s 1956 homoerotic novel.) The bookshop had not only became a major touchstone for New Yorkers but also symbolized the promise of gay liberation to many others throughout the world.

On June 28, 1969, Rodwell was walking home from a bridge game with a friend when he heard noise coming from the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar that had been owned by the Mafia and frequently raided by the police. At first he ignored it, but then he noticed that a crowd had formed around the police wagon; people were resisting being handcuffed by the police. Rodwell climbed onto the steps of the highest stoop and yelled, “Gay power!” and “Christopher Street belongs to the queens!”

Rodwell was hardly alone. Take Barbara Gittings, who marched with him in Philadelphia. Gittings served as the editor of The Ladder from 1963 to 1966. She used the paper, which had originated as a means of increasing membership in the Daughters of Bilitis, to construct an intellectual community, connecting readers from San Francisco to Cleveland to Philadelphia. The paper ran stories on the psychological profession’s emphasis on men and the “blackout on female homosexuality,” featured forums where readers debated the merits of books by Betty Friedan and Mary McCarthy, and ran interviews with lesbian thinkers and activists.

Gittings featured a black woman, Ernestine Eckstein, the vice president of the New York City chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis, on the June 1966 cover of The Ladder, at a time when racism plagued the LGBTQ community. Gittings signaled her ambition for the paper by adding the subtitle, “A Lesbian Review.” Her successors advanced this mission, and in 1969, when Barbara Grier was editor, she proposed to make The Ladder into the “Atlantic Monthly of Lesbian thought.”

After stepping down from The Ladder, Gittings remained committed to the power of books to advance LGBTQ activism. By 1970, the excitement ignited by Stonewall led to an explosion of new groups, from political organizations to professional and academic associations to gay churches. While hosting a weekly 15-minute gay-news segment on the New York radio station WBAI in 1970, Gittings came across a reference to a gay group that had grown out of the American Library Association (ALA). Despite not being a librarian, she asked to join, and was welcomed. She was then tasked with organizing a bibliography of all the books that positively promoted homosexuality. Her list included 32 books. At the annual meeting of the ALA in Dallas in 1971, the gay group gave a book prize, set up a kissing booth to attract attention to their cause, and organized sessions such as, “Sex and the Single Cataloguer: New Thoughts on Some Unthinkable Subjects.”

Creating a bibliography and organizing panels at the ALA radically transformed the definition of homosexuality. Like Rodwell’s work at the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop, Gittings and others in the ALA challenged the clinical and criminal meaning of the term, and illustrated how homosexuality could also refer to books positively. More to the point, homosexuality, they asserted, was not just a term that medical, legal, or religious authorities assigned to gay people, but one that gay people could publicly, politically, and professionally define for themselves. It was an intellectual revolution, one that changed who got to use the term, how it was used, and what it meant.

In 1972, Gittings agreed to be on a panel at the American Psychiatric Association to discuss the medical profession’s insistence that homosexuality was a mental illness. The panel, “Psychiatry, Friend or Foe to Homosexuals, A Dialogue,” included Gittings, Frank Kameny, and two psychiatrists. The problem was that the gay activists scheduled to be on the panel weren’t psychiatrists, and the psychiatrists weren’t gay. Having Gittings and Kameny speak to an audience of medical professionals was, indeed, radical. Since the medical profession’s invention of homosexuality as a category at the end of the 19th century, queer people had not been able to formally participate in discussions about their identity.

Yet Gittings felt it would be more effective to have a panelist join the discussion who was both gay and a psychiatrist. The APA agreed with her suggestion and asked her to find someone. She eventually did. The doctor wanted to remain anonymous during the presentation. So he wore a wig and a mask, used a microphone that disguised his voice, and appeared on the program as “Dr. Henry Anonymous.”

The day of the session the room was packed. Gittings and Kameny disputed the standard theory that gay people were “sick” as a result of “the absent, distant father, and the all-encompassing mother.” That theory had no basis in evidence, Gittings argued, but was nonetheless “ballyhooed to the public” and the medical profession as scientific truth. Dr. Anonymous, who later revealed his identity as John Fryer, said, “As psychiatrists who are homosexual, we must know our place and what we must do to be successful. If our goal is high academic appointment, a level of earning capacity equal to our fellows, or admission to a psychoanalytic institute, we must make certain that no one in a position of power is aware of our sexual preference and/or gender identity. Much like the black man with light skin, who chooses to live as a white man, we cannot be seen with our real friends, our real homosexual family, lest our secret be known, and our dooms sealed. There are practicing psychoanalysts among us who completed a training [as] analysts without mentioning their homosexuality to their analyst.”

Gittings later recalled that the session “went off marvelously!” Two years later, in 1974, the APA voted to remove homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses.

While Gittings, Rodwell, and others continued to define homosexuality on their own terms, refusing to allow those in positions of authority to be the sole authors of their identity, the revolution was not over. Discrimination continued. Decades of activism lay ahead. But the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising offers an opportunity to remember the courageous work of Rodwell and Gittings, and other activists like them. There were thriving gay communities and public protests that preceded Stonewall, fighting for, in their words, “gay power.” The Stonewall uprising amplified the work that Rodwell and others had been doing before 1969. And it was those networks of activists, and the intellectual revolution they set in motion—reclaiming and defining their own identity—that transformed Stonewall from an isolated event into a turning point in the struggle for gay liberation. The protests themselves eventually ended, but the books and articles these activists published endure, and continue to inspire new generations.

Charles P. Pierce on those two nights in Miami.

MIAMI, Fla.—After two nights of DNC SummerSlam, here is my overriding opinion.

If you think Marianne Williamson is nutty bananas, please remember who got nominated to be president* by one of our two major parties, and subsequently elected to be president*, in 2016. Let us compare and contrast, as Sister Marie dePaul used to say.

He’s going to be beaten by somebody who has an idea what this man has done. This man has reached into the psyche of the American people and he has harnessed fear for political purposes. So, Mr. President, if you’re listening, I want you to hear me, please. You have harnessed fear for political purposes and only love can cast that out. So I, sir, I have a feeling you know what you’re doing. I’m going to harness love for political purposes. I will meet you on that field. And, sir, love will win. —Marianne Williamson, 2019

“They won’t even give him stairs, proper stairs to get out of the airplane. You see that? They have pictures of other leaders who are … coming down with a beautiful red carpet. And Obama is coming down a metal staircase. I’ve got to tell you, if that were me, I would say, ‘You know what, folks, I respect you a lot but close the doors, let’s get out of here.’ It’s a sign of such disrespect.” —Donald Trump, 2016.

So, as an informed electorate, we’ve lost the right to mock any candidate for anything they say.

The two-night exercise in Miami was not a waste of time. The field, at least at its upper levels, shook itself out into a fairly conventional primary campaign in a very unconventional time. In fact, there are several candidates—Jay Inslee being the most obvious example—who would have been serious contenders in any normal electoral context. Inslee is the governor of a very successful state. He’s all over the critical issue of the day—the climate crisis—that needs to be hammered into the national consciousness over and over again. He’s energetic and forceful. And he has approximately the same chance of becoming the nominee, let alone the president, than Williamson does. Because the context of this election exists in a place that American democracy never has been before—a kind of other-world, where facts are malleable, and truth is a labyrinth of dark corners and blind alleys.

Until that is broken down, none of the Democratic candidates can truly be called a front-runner. They must disenthrall themselves from the notion that there necessarily is a winning constituency out there that can be relied upon to vote in its own self-interest. They must unlearn what they have learned about what appeals to the voting public in this country, and develop a healthy respect for the political salience of unreason and weaponized ignorance. The idea that politics necessarily is the art of persuasion will not easily adapt to this context, and the fact that the idea goes back to Aristotle means little or nothing. Aristotle didn’t count on social media or hack-farms from across the sea. Realities are created with a click of a keystroke and abandoned just as easily.

So, when Kamala Harris put that shot below the waterline on Joe Biden Thursday night, and when she reopened busing as a way in to the compromises that the Democratic Party has made over the past 40 years in the largely vain attempt to chase the voters who represent Biden’s primary reason for running, she opened another new context for this election just as Elizabeth Warren has opened a new context with her attacks on the compromises the Democratic Party has made over the past 40 years to chase that Wall Street coin. The only way to campaign against Change And Die is to respond with Change or Die. To paraphrase a famous Republican of the past, the campaign is new and so must the candidates run anew. They must disenthrall themselves, and then they can save the country.

Doonesbury — This Rascal for Hire.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Debate 2 Rap

I managed to catch some of the second round of the Democrats’ marathon last night.  First impression was that Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) is the new flavor of the month with her take-down of Joe Biden and his cranky response.  Second, Mayor Pete came across as someone with a lot more smarts and experience than just about every other back-of-the-field candidate, including Sen. Michael Bennett (D-CO) and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Who the hell thought that adding Andrew Yang and Marianne Williamson belonged up there?  I have no idea what Mr. Yang stands for, and Ms. Williamson seemed to be pulled in from the bus shelter on Biscayne Boulevard by mistake.

So, what did you think?

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Candidates’ Debate

Tonight is Round 1 for the Democrats here in Miami. Round 2 is tomorrow night; same time, same venue.

I don’t have a favorite yet, but I’ll try to see if there’s anyone who really sparks my interest.  In this kind of setting — ten at a time spread across a stage and with everyone trying to stand out — I get the feeling it’s going to be about as substantial as that break on “Jeopardy!” where Alex Trebek asks the contestants about their quirky interests (“You’re a competitive mumbletypeg player?”).  But it will give America the chance to find out who’s what and what’s who.

The debate takes place in the Adrienne Arsht Performing Arts Center, which is across the street from my office, so I imagine traffic will be a nightmare.  Fortunately I take the train and I’ll leave work long before Chuck Todd and his beard-handler show up, so it shouldn’t be too disruptive.  Then again, a rainstorm can screw up Miami traffic, so who knows.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Back To Reality

It’s especially harsh to come back from nearly two weeks of not really paying attention to the news and land with a thud: Trump holding yet again a rally in Florida (although Karma sent in torrential rain to prove that his supporters are not smart enough to know when to come in out of it) and touting the various and sundry stupidities and cruelties foisted upon us by this cretinous vulgarian.  Living on the shore of a fjord in Alaska with no internet connection and eating reindeer pizza suddenly doesn’t sound so nutty.

Of course, I didn’t watch any of this kinderspiel in Orlando, and apparently those who did heard nothing new so they didn’t bother to broadcast it (except Fox News, which has announced that it will soon sell time to broadcast his potty-time).  But reports are that he spent most of the time re-running his 2016 campaign themes: attacking a retired grandmother from Chappaqua, New York, for imagined crimes that his own children have committed, and giving evidence out loud that will be used in some future hearing on mental competency (“I’m going to read you a series of numbers and I want you to repeat them back to me…”).  But as Dana Milbank pointed out, it’s all he’s got since he can’t run on his own record of incompetence, fraudulence, criminality, vulgarity, isolationism, greed, racism, and buffoonery.

On top of that, the regime is on the verge of announcing plans for immigration arrests and deportation.  You don’t need to be a historian to see that this reeks of another regime’s method of dealing with their political scapegoat; you can download “Schindler’s List” from Netflix.

It’s no wonder that two dozen Democrats want to run against him in 2020.  I’m surprised there aren’t more; this should be an easy target for them.  Yes, of course I know that Democrats could lose an ice-skating race to a snake, but if the polls are anywhere near accurate this far out and with this short-term memory-challenged electorate, Trump would lose to any one of the top ten Democrats.  And judging by Trump’s reaction to the reality of his falling numbers, he’s killing off the messengers who are delivering the news.  (Meanwhile, he’s got more people working in “acting” positions in his administration than the cattle-call audition for a revival of “Cats.”)

Today will be my first full day back at work, back to reading what’s going on, and wondering why I came back to this harsh dose of reality when there are otters to watch frolicking in Prince William Sound and reindeer pizza to be ordered in.

Monday, May 13, 2019

He’s Arrived

Trump compared Pete Buttigieg to the MAD magazine mascot Alfred E. Neumann, so I guess that means he’s showed up on his radar as a possible opponent.

Asked specifically about South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Trump was dismissive.

“Alfred E. Neuman cannot become president of the United States,” he said, comparing Buttigieg to the iconic boyish Mad Magazine cartoon character.

Asked by POLITICO in San Francisco on Friday night to respond to Trump’s new nickname, Buttigieg said: “I’ll be honest. I had to Google that. I guess it’s just a generational thing. I didn’t get the reference. It’s kind of funny, I guess. But he’s also the president of the United States and I’m surprised he’s not spending more time trying to salvage this China deal.”

That doesn’t mean that Mayor Pete has any better a chance of winning either the nomination or the presidency, but if Trump — or whoever is whispering in his ear — can come up with a schoolyard taunt for him, he’s at least getting traction.

To a degree, Mayor Pete is right.  Fifty years ago the Neumann comparison might have landed better with the voters, but today Trump is going to have to be a little more hip to cultural icons that resonate with the voters who matter, not just his old white guys.

And if Mayor Pete wanted to hit back, he could have said “Bye, Felicia” and let Trump Google that.