Sunday, January 15, 2017
Odd that this week intellectuals promoting Trump had more interesting
things to say than intellectuals still defending Hillary Clinton. Not
necessary truer things, but less hackneyed and disturbing, even if the
overall trend is a race toward complete stupor.
Some scattered links this week:
Michelle Goldberg: Democrats Should Follow John Lewis' Lead: I have
considerable respect for Lewis, a long-time civil rights leader before
he became (thanks to gerrymandering) Georgia's token black Democrat in
the House, and it doesn't bother me in the least that he's decided not
to attend Trump's inaugural. I don't see why his presence is in any way
necessary, and I sure can't think of anything more stupefying a person
can do on that day than attend. But according to Goldberg, this all
turns on the Clinton Democrats' favorite scapegoat, Vladimir Putin:
Lewis was speaking for many of us who are aghast at the way Trump benefited
from Russian hacking and now appears to be returning the favor by taking
a fawning stance toward Putin. He spoke for those of us who are shocked by
the role of the FBI, which improperly publicized the reopening of its
investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails but refuses to say whether
it is investigating Trump's ties with Russia. Trump lost the popular vote;
he is president-elect only because the country values fidelity to the
democratic process over popular democracy itself. (The Constitution, it
turns out, may in fact be a suicide pact.) If the process itself was
crooked -- if Trump's campaign colluded in any way with Russia -- his
legitimacy disappears. If he scorns the Constitution by, say, violating
the Emoluments Clause, it disappears as well. A president who lost the
popular vote, who may have cheated to win the Electoral College, and who
will be contravening the Constitution the second he's sworn in is due
neither respect nor deference.
I suppose there's a focus group somewhere that says anti-Putin rants
are politically effective, but really, this has got to stop. The fact is
Hillary Clinton lost for dozens of reasons, and the fact that WikiLeaks
(with or without Russian help) exposed John Podesta and Donna Brazile
as political hacks didn't help but is surely way down the list. They
must realize as much because they never mention the substance of Russian
interference: they focus on Putin as an evil manipulator who will wind
up dominating a submissive US president because Trump owes his election
not to the millions of Americans who voted for him but to a foreign ogre
who orchestrated some dirty tricks -- a ruse they can only get away with
by replaying cold war stereotypes (e.g., Putin is a dictator, although
he's been elected several times by large margins in reasonably fair and
competitive elections, and his background in the KGB proves he's always
been anti-US); and secondly, they posit Trump as a dissenter from the
consensus views of the American "intelligence community" -- the secret
clan of spooks who have one of the world's worst track records for truth
Worse still, I think, are the practical consequences: they are demanding
that the US ramp up its hostility toward Russia, including sanctions that
were previously in place for other supposed affronts, threatening a war
that unlike America's recent attacks on marginal or failed states could
be genuinely disastrous. And why should we risk world peace? To revenge
Podesta's tarnished reputation? Because Clinton Democrats can bear to
take responsibility for blowing the election to Donald Trump? There's
plenty of blame to go around for the latter, and it's well nigh time for
Clinton and her career to admit that they should have done a better job
campaigning. And when they do so, they should realize that obsessing
over the Trump-Putin connection was one of the things they did wrong.
The first fact is that people don't care. The second is that it's not
healthy for Democrats to be seen as the war party (and bear in mind that
Hillary, given her past hawkishness, is already so tainted).
Still, if you have to blame someone else, there are real ogres much
closer to home. Look first at the Republican laws aimed at suppressing
the vote, and gerrymandering congress. Look especially at the billion
dollars or so that the Koch network and other GOP mega-financiers spent
on getting their vote out. I think it's quite clear that there was a
sustained, methodical effort to undermine democracy in 2016, but it
wasn't the Russians who were behind it. It was the Republicans. Maybe
if you hack some emails -- seems like fair play at this point -- you
might even find a smoking gun showing that the Russians were working
for the Republicans (a much more credible story than vice versa; it
would, in fact, be reminiscent of finding out that Nixon interfered
with the talks to end the Vietnam War, or that Reagan kiboshed Carter's
efforts to negotiate the release of hostages in Tehran).
And by all means, note that Trump lost the popular vote to Clinton
by nearly three million votes, yet through a 227-year-old quirk in the
constitution is being allowed to install the most extreme right-wing
oligarchy ever. Then, if you like, you can point out that Putin enjoys
a similar relationship to Russia's oligarchy -- I never said he was
beyond reproach, let alone a saint, but has to be respected as leader
of a major nation, and (unlike Trump) a democratically-elected one at
As for John Lewis, bless him: after spending his life working hard
to make this country a better place for all who live here, he's earned
the right to take a day off, especially when the alternative is having
to witness such tragedy.
Patrick Lawrence: Trump, Russia, and the Return of Scapegoating, a
Timeless American Tradition.
Tony Karon: The US media is not equipped to handle a Trump White
House: There's an old adage that generals always prepare to refight
the last war, and as such are always surprised when a new war happens.
Something similar has been happening in media coverage of politics, but
in many ways the media landscape has changed over the last 4-8-16 years,
yet veterans of past campaigns (and clearly HRC fits this mold) still
seem to believe that what worked in the past must still work today. Not
clear whether Trump was smart or lucky -- I'd say he was selected from
the large Republican field because he fit the evolving right-wing media
model remarkably well, and he merely lucked out over Clinton due to a
wide range of factors, including an electoral structure which allowed
him to squeak out a win despite losing the popular vote by nearly three
million votes. Still, his election was especially astonishing to those
of us who thought, based on long experience, we understood how the
system works. In the end, his biggest assets were a vast electorate
willing to believe anything and the opportunistic and unscrupulous
media that indulged them with all manner of fantastic innuendo.
Mr Trump emerged as a public figure by mastering this fractured landscape,
where distinctions between news and entertainment were increasingly blurred
and where the business model's reliance on "click-bait" favours provocation.
He connects instinctively with a public likely to judge the veracity of
information not on its own merits, but according to existing attitudes
towards the news outlets publishing it. Thus the logic behind his
off-the-cuff remark last summer that "I could stand in the middle of 5th
Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters."
But while painting him as a pawn of Moscow is certainly unlikely to
weaken Mr Trump's political base, his empty promises on health care and
job creation are a real weakness, because failure to deliver will increase
the pain of many people who voted for him.
It's critically important, therefore, for the media to focus on what
Mr Trump's government and their allies on Capitol Hill are actually doing --
not simply what they say about what they're doing.
The problem is that sort of journalism hardly exists anymore, anywhere,
and certainly not on the 24-hour news torrents. And while the election
seemed to set new qualitative lows practically every week, post-election
coverage has been even lamer: even for "reporters" who never delve any
deeper than sifting quotes for gotchas, the only Washington source sure
to get reported on is Trump's latest tweetstorm -- and that's more for
entertainment than insight. You'd think that as America goes to hell the
vested interests that own big media would realize that they actually need
to better know and understand what's happening, but recent experience
suggests that groupthink (the Bushies used to call it "message discipline")
Paul Krugman: There Will Be No Obamacare Replacement: Read past the
snark about Comey and Putin, and look at the policy analysis.
From the beginning, those of us who did think it through realized
that anything like universal coverage could only be achieved in one
of two ways: single payer, which was not going to be politically
possible, or a three-legged stool of regulation, mandates, and
subsidies. [ . . . ]
It's actually amazing how thoroughly the right turned a blind eye
to this logic, and some -- maybe even a majority -- are still in denial.
But this is as ironclad a policy argument as I've ever seen; and it
means that you can't tamper with the basic structure without throwing
tens of millions of people out of coverage. You can't even scale back
the spending very much -- Obamacare is somewhat underfunded as is.
Will they decide to go ahead anyway, and risk opening the eyes of
working-class voters to the way they've been scammed? I have no idea.
But if Republicans do end up paying a big political price for their
willful policy ignorance, it couldn't happen to more deserving people.
I have little faith that sanity will save the Republicans at this
late date, but to destroy Obamacare they're going to run afoul of some
powerful special interests, and while they may try to assuage them by
permitting them to operate even more fraudulently than before the ACA
was passed, the result will be millions of people screwed, and most
likely the health care industry itself will lurch into contraction.
David Dayen: Trump Just Stumbled Into a Canyon on Obamacare.
Kelefa Sanneh: Intellectuals for Trump: I must admit that I never
liked the idea of intellectuals -- I always thought that learning and
reasoning were things that everyone did, so dividing people between
a self-defining intellectual elite and the ignorant masses never set
well with my democratic instincts (not to mention that those same
self-identified intellectuals tended to exclude me, not because I
didn't know or think but because I often knew and thought the wrong
things -- elites, as ever, being jealous guardians of their ranks).
But I was also quick to realize that thinking doesn't always work
out right: indeed, that clever people could contort their command
of history, logic, and rhetoric to justify almost anything, most
often whatever their interests and upbringing (which is to say,
class identity) favored. So perhaps we're best off characterizing
intellectualism as a style with no intrinsic merit. Throughout
history, political leaders have had little trouble gaining the
rationalizing support of intellectuals, just as intellectuals
have struggled to raise their baser instincts to fine principles.
Donald Trump makes for a fine case in point. He has so little
cred and rapport with liberal intellectuals that some scurried off
to re-read Richard Hofstadter's Anti-Intellectualism in American
Life for a refresher course on how willfully stupid the people
can be. Even conservatives with intellectual pretensions were almost
unanimous in their dismay over Trump: his early vocal supporters were
almost exclusively limited to professional bigots like Ann Coulter
and Michael Savage. Still, what finally made Trump palatable to
Republican elites was the only thing they really cared about:
winning. So, as Sanneh chronicles, of late right-wing intellectuals
have started flocking to Trump. Two varieties have emerged. One,
including Heritage Foundation chief honcho Jim DeMint and his crew,
are ordinary conservatives continuing to spout their usual nostrums
while claiming validation by Trump's victory. The others, including
an anonymous group which evidently started "The Journal of American
Greatness" as "'an inside joke,' which in the course of a few months,
attracted a large following, and 'ceased to be a joke.'" The website
was subsequently deleted, but blogger Publius Decius Mus, the main
subject of Sanneh's piece, is still attempting to develop a coherent
Decius is a longtime conservative, though a heterodox one. He had grown
frustrated with the Republican Party's devotion to laissez-faire economics
(or, in his description, "the free market über alles"), which left
Republican politicians ill-prepared to address rising inequality. "The
conservative talking point on income inequality has always been, It's
the aggregate that matters -- don't worry, as long as everyone can afford
food, clothing, and shelter," he says. "I think that rising income
inequality actually has a negative effect on social cohesion." He
rejects what he calls "punitive taxation" -- like many conservatives,
he suspects that Democrats' complaints about inequality are calculated
to mask the Party's true identity as the political home of the cosmopolitan
élite. But he suggests that a government might justifiably hamper
international trade, or subsidize an ailing industry, in order to
sustain particular communities and particular jobs. A farm subsidy,
a tariff, a targeted tax incentive, a restrictive approach to immigration:
these may be defensible, he thought, not on narrowly economic grounds
but as expressions of a country's determination to preserve its own ways
of life, and as evidence of the fundamental principle that the citizenry
has the right to ignore economic experts, especially when their track
records are dubious. (In this respect, Trumpism resembles the ideologically
heterogeneous populist-nationalist movements that have lately been ascendant
in Europe.) Most important, he thinks that conservatives should pay more
attention to the shifting needs of the citizens whom government ought to
serve, instead of assuming that Reagan's solutions will always and
everywhere be applicable. "In 1980, after a decade of stagnation, we
needed an infusion of individualism," he wrote. "In 2016, we are too
fragmented and atomized -- united for the most part only by being
equally under the thumb of the administrative state -- and desperately
need more unity."
Decius takes perverse pride in having been late to come around to
Trump; as a populist, he likes the fact that everyday American voters
recognized Trump's potential before he did. When Decius started paying
serious attention, around January, he discerned the outlines of a simple
and, in his view, eminently sensible political program: "less foreign
intervention, less trade, and more immigration restrictions."
[ . . . ] In his "Flight 93" essay, Decius called
Trump "the most liberal Republican nominee since Thomas Dewey," and he
didn't mean it as an insult. Trump argues that the government should do
more to insure that workers have good jobs, speaks very little about
religious imperatives, and excoriates the war in Iraq and wars of
occupation in general. Decius says that he isn't concerned about Trump's
seeming fondness for Russia; in his view, thoughtless provocations would
be much more dangerous. In his telling, Trump is a political centrist
who is misconstrued as an extremist.
Emphasis added, the rare insight a conservative's focus on social
order is likely to latch onto that liberals, whether individualistic
or utilitarian, tend to miss. Of course, what pushes conservatives in
that direction is the belief that cohesion involves acceptance of the
traditional pecking order.
The "Flight 93" post, by the way, comes off as a sick joke: he's
arguing that folks should vote for Trump for the same reason that
Flight 93 passengers committed suicide by rushing their hijackers
rather than wait for the hijackers to kill them (and presumably
others). No rational person can claim that Obama or Hillary would
affect much change, much less destroy the country, and no Republican
(much less a Trump partisan) can plausibly claim to care about the
effects of America's self-destruction on the rest of the world. The
post tacitly admits that electing Trump would be suicidal, yet like
suicide bombers all around the world (indeed, like their old "better
dead than red" slogan) were so convinced of their righteousness they
no longer cared about the consequences.
The rest of Decius' argument is more interesting, but still deeply
confused. He's not the first Republican to recognize that inequality
is a serious problem, not just because it hurts the people who get
pushed aside and makes the so-called winners look callous and unjust,
but because it threatens to undermine the entire fabric of society.
Kevin Phillips, who back around 1970 plotted out The Emerging
Republican Majority, wrote three remarkable books in 2004-08 --
American Dynasty, American Theocracy, and Bad
Money -- which recognized the problem squarely. And there have
been others, but the only policies that would mitigate inequality
are ones that move the nation to the left, and the mindset of the
conservative movement is constructed like a valve which only permits
policy to flow ever further to the right.
I think the key to Trump's primary victory was in how he reinforced
the party base's prejudices, thus showing he was one with them, without
embracing the slashed earth destruction of the liberal state which has
become unchallenged gospel among conservatives -- therefore the base
didn't find him either alarming (like Ted Cruz) or callow (like Marco
Rubio). On the other hand, to win the election Trump had to keep the
support of dogmatic conservatives and moneyed elites, which he paid for
by basically delivering the administration to their hands (cf. Pence
and the cabinet of billionaires and their hired guns). The dream that
Trump might blaze a new path that breaks from conservative orthodoxy
while avoiding the taint of liberal-baiting, even assuming he had the
imagination and desire to do so, has thus been foreclosed. The only
question is the extent to which he can act as a brake on the damage
his administration might cause, not least to him. And he really doesn't
strike me as sharp enough to keep himself out of trouble, much less to
help anyone else out.
Yet "intellectuals" will keep constructing fantasies about what a
truly Trumpist Trump might do, and in the end will wind up blaming his
failures on him not being Trumpist enough. After all, nothing defines
an intellectual like one's commitment to pursue unfounded assumptions
to ridiculous ends.
Justin Talbot-Zorn: Will Donald Trump Be the Most Pro-Monopoly President
in History? Given the competition, it's going to be hard to tell.
I can't recall any big cases either for Bush or Obama. The Clinton DOJ
mounted (and won) a case against Microsoft, which Ashcroft settled as
soon as he took over, achieving virtually nothing. But it's becoming
more widely recognized that mergers and lack of competition not only
drive profits up, increasing inequality, but also kill jobs.
While Republicans have been skeptical of antitrust enforcement since
Robert Bork came on the scene in the late 1970s, Democrats have been
part of the problem too. Bill Clinton took antitrust out of the party
platform in 1992, and, only in 2016 -- with a push from Bernie Sanders --
was the plank restored.
This also ties into
Brian S Feldman: How to Really Save Jobs in the Heartland.
Also, a few links for further study (briefly noted:
Dean Baker: Weak Labor Market: President Obama Hides Behind Automation:
Actually, I think Obama is right at the big picture level -- the main
source of losses in most job categories is automation rather than trade
or finance, but Baker is right at a more detailed level: it's political
policies that shape how automation, trade, and finance wreak their havoc,
and for a half-century or so those policies have favored capital over
labor, to an extent that has gone beyond unjust to downright cruel.
Baker has some of his pet examples, and points to a new book he has
written, available as a free PDF or Ebook:
Rigged: How Globalization and the Rules of the Modern Economy Were
Structured to Make the Rich Richer.
Tom Cahill: Democrats Lock Hands with Republicans and Big Pharma to
Screw Over Americans: Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar offered
an amendment to allow imports of prescription drugs, which would
undercut the industry's monopoly pricing in the US. Twelve Republicans
voted for the amendment, so its loss can squarely be blamed on thirteen
Democrats -- notably Cory Booker, who's raised over $400K from drug
companies. Also see:
Zach Cartwright: Bernie Sanders Shreds Fellow Democrats Who Voted with
Big Pharma, and, what the hell, Martin Longman's defensive brief,
The Stupid War on Cory Booker..
Patrick Cockburn: The Dodgy Trump Dossier Reminds Me of the Row Over
Matthew Cole: The Crimes of SEAL Team 6: I've been reading Jeremy
Scahill's Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield, so I'm already
familiar with some of this.
Michelle Goldberg: "This Evil Is All Around Us": On Trump's future
CIA Director, Mike Pompeo ("amid the fire hose of lunacy that is the
Trump transition, however, Pompeo's extremism has been overlooked").
Personally, I've always found him much less of a religious fanatic than
Todd Tiahrt, the truly horrible man he replaced, but that's an awfully
low bar. Unrelated aside: The Eagle ran a piece on Pompeo's finances,
characterizing him as
"an average American" in contrast to Trump's billionaires, disclosing
that assets only add up to $345K -- not much for a guy who campaigns on
his record of building businesses, or even for a guy who draws $174K/year
as a member of Congress. Makes you wonder how good of a manager he really
Greg Grandin: Why Did the US Drop 26,171 Bombs on the World Last Year?
Moreover, I doubt that counts the ones "allies" like Israel and Saudi
Arabia dropped with our blessing.
John Judis: America's Failure -- and Russia and Iran's Success -- in
Syria's Cataclysmic Civil War: Interview with Joshua Landis, who
knows more than Judis does.
Allegra Kirkland: GOP Senator: 'Yeah,' Trump's Cabinet Picks Should Be
Treated Differently: James Inhofe (R-OK), but he only has the least
filter between what passes for his brain and the orifice he utters his
thoughts through. But Republicans have always supported double standards,
much like they always support the powerful beating down on those they
perceive as week. Only Democrats believe in fair play, equal treatment,
or underdogs. Don't you know that?
Dahlia Lithwick: Jason Chaffetz Doesn't Care About Ethics: Chafetz
is a Republican congressman, head of the House Oversight Committee, and
the one ethical issue he seems to be concerned about is Walter Shaub (of
"the nonpartisan Office of Government Ethics") being at all critical of
Trump's numerous conflicts of interest.
Nancy LeTourneau: Being Outnumbered Doesn't Have to Mean Losing:
Posted back in August, before the prime example of its thesis became
infamous. Book review of Zachary Roth's The Great Suppression:
Voting Rights, Corporate Cash, and the Conservative Assault on
Democracy. Recommended to all you Democrats out there who're
wondering whether you need to bone up on Putin to better understand
Melissa Murray/Kathleen Geier/Catherine Powell: What Happens to a
Feminist Dream Deferred?
Matt Taibbi: Trump Nominee Jay Clayton Will Be the Most Conflicted SEC
Chair Ever: Taibbi doesn't seem to consider FDR's SEC pick, Joseph
Kennedy Sr., who had some pretty huge conflicts of interest, but back
in the 1930s tigers were expected to change their stripes when they
became public servants -- an expectation that seems completely alien
to this hyperindividualistic revolving door era. Also helped that FDR
himself was devoted to the public interest, something that never seems
to have occurred to Trump.