Sunday, December 22, 2019
I didn't feel like doing a Roundup this weekend, but found a piece
I wanted to quote at length, and figured that might suffice:
What we know about Trump going into 2020. I haven't been a fan of
Sullivan's lately (well, ever), and don't endorse his asides on the
moral superiority of conservatives, but his assessment of Trump hits
a lot of key points, and is well worth reading at length (I am going
to add some numbered footnotes where I have something I want to add):
So reflect for a second on the campaign of 2016. One Republican
candidate channeled the actual grievances and anxieties of many
Americans, while the others kept up their zombie politics and
economics. One candidate was prepared to say that the Iraq War
was a catastrophe, that mass immigration needed to be controlled,
that globalized free trade was devastating communities and
industries, that we needed serious investment in infrastructure,
that Reaganomics was way out of date, and that half the country
was stagnating and in crisis.
That was Trump. In many ways, he deserves credit for this wake-up
call. And if he had built on this platform and crafted a presidential
agenda that might have expanded its appeal and broadened its base, he
would be basking in high popularity and be a shoo-in for reelection.
If, in a resilient period of growth, his first agenda item had been
a major infrastructure bill and he'd combined it with tax relief for
the middle and working classes, he could have crafted a new conservative
coalition that might have endured. If he could have conceded for a
millisecond that he was a newbie and that he would make mistakes, he
would have been forgiven for much. A touch of magnanimity would have
worked wonders. For that matter, if Trump were to concede, even now,
that his phone call with President Zelensky of Ukraine went over the
line and he now understands this, we would be in a different world.
The two core lessons of the past few years are therefore: (1)
Trumpism has a real base of support in the country with needs that
must be addressed, and (2) Donald Trump is incapable of doing it
and is such an unstable, malignant, destructive narcissist that he
threatens our entire system of government. The reason this impeachment
feels so awful is that it requires removing a figure to whom so many
are so deeply bonded because he was the first politician to hear them
in decades. It feels to them like impeachment is another insult from
the political elite, added to the injury of the 21st century. They
take it personally, which is why their emotions have flooded their
brains. And this is understandable.
But when you think of what might have been and reflect on what has
happened, it is crystal clear that this impeachment is not about the
Trump agenda or a more coherent version of it. It is about the character
of one man: his decision to forgo any outreach, poison domestic politics,
marinate it in deranged invective, betray his followers by enriching
the plutocracy, destroy the dignity of the office of president, and
turn his position into a means of self-enrichment. It's about the
personal abuse of public office: using the presidency's powers to
blackmail a foreign entity into interfering in a domestic election
on his behalf, turning the Department of Justice into an instrument
of personal vengeance and political defense, openly obstructing
investigations into his own campaign, and treating the grave matter
of impeachment as a "hoax" while barring any testimony from his own
Character matters. This has always been a conservative principle
but one that, like so many others, has been tossed aside in the
convulsions of a cult. And it is Trump's character alone that has
brought us to this point. . . .
The impeachment was inevitable because this president is so
profoundly and uniquely unfit for the office he holds, so contemptuous
of the constitutional democracy he took an oath to defend, and so
corrupt in his core character that a crisis in the conflict between
him and the rule of law was simply a matter of time. When you add to
this a clear psychological deformation that can produce the astonishing,
deluded letter he released this week in his own defense or the manic
performance at his Michigan rally Wednesday night, it is staggering
that it has taken this long. The man is clinically unwell, preternaturally
corrupt, and instinctively hostile to the rule of law. In any other
position, in any other field of life, he would have been fired years
ago and urged to seek medical attention with respect to his mental
- Restricing immigration is a favorite talking point of other
"never Trump conservatives" (e.g., David Frum), one thing that
helps them keep their identity distinct from liberals. There is
a case to be made that low-wage immigrants undermine American
workers, but Trump and anti-immigrant Republicans only frame
the issue in racial and cultural terms.
- Of course, this is sheer fantasy: the "conservative" mindset
allowed Trump no room to maneuver toward giving even his white
middle class supporters a break from the government, let alone
more leverage against their employers and the predators who have
been stripping wealth at every turn. They couldn't even imagine a
government that helped balance the scales (although that's exactly
what the New Deal did, with a bias for white people that Trump
might admire). Thus, for instance, the infrastructure bill offered
nothing but privatization measures.
Sullivan also has an appreciative piece on his old chum's win in
the UK elections:
Boris's blundering brilliance, including this bit:
The parallels with Donald Trump are at first hard to resist: two
well-off jokers with bad hair playing populist. But Trump sees
himself, and is seen by his voters, as an outsider, locked out of
the circles he wants to be in, the heir to a real-estate fortune
with no political experience and a crude sense of humor, bristling
with resentment, and with a background in reality television. He
despises constitutional norms, displays no understanding of history
or culture, and has a cold streak of cruelty deep in his soul.
Boris is almost the opposite of this, his career a near-classic
example of British Establishment insiderism with his deep learning,
reverence for tradition, and a capacity to laugh at himself that is
rare in most egos as big as his. In 2015, after Trump described parts
of London as no-go areas because of Islamist influence, Johnson
accused him of "a quite stupefying ignorance that makes him, frankly,
unfit to hold the office of president." Even as president, Trump is
driven primarily by resentment. Boris, as always, is animated by
entitlement. (The vibe of his pitch is almost that people like him
should be in charge.)
Some scattered links this week:
Sarah Almukhtar/Rod Nordland:
What did the US get for $2 trillion in Afghanistan? Nordland also
The death toll for Afghan forces is secret. Here's why.
Robert P Baird:
The art of the Democratic deal: "How Nancy Pelosi and her party
navigated a historic week in the House of Representatives."
The shamelessness of Bill Barr.
Senate Republicans have already made up their minds on impeachment.
Julia Belluz/Nina Martin:
The extraordinary danger of being pregnant and uninsured in Texas.
Christianity Today called for Trump's removal. Here's why that doesn't
How new voting machines could hack our democracy.
Juliet Eilperin/Steven Mufson:
The Trump administration just overturned a ban on old-fashioned
The field guide to tyranny: Review of Frank Dikötter: How to Be
a Dictator: The Cult of Personality in the Twentieth Century, and
Daniel Kalder: The Infernal Library: On Dictators, the Books They
Wrote, and Other Catastrophes of Literacy.
Why so many people who need the government hate it: Interview with
Suzanne Mettler author of The Government-Citizen Disconnect.
Pull quote: "If we become more and more anti-government, we're against
ourselves. We're against out own collective capacity to do anything."
No, evangelicals aren't turning on Trump.
The right and wrong lessons from Corbyn and Labour's defeat.
Roge Karma/Ezra Klein:
In 2020, Joe Biden and the "moderates" are well to Obama's left.
Examples group Sanders/Warren and Biden/Buttigieg and compare both to
Obama in 2008. Had they picked Klobuchar for their "moderate" sample,
the waters might have been a good deal muddier. (Same for Bloomberg.)
Lots of reasons for the shift left, not least that even in the rare
cases Obama managed to fulfill a promise, his solutions were no way
near adequate to address the problems. I'm actually surprised that no
one has tried to claim the "moderate lane" by conceding that Sanders
is right on where we want to go but wrong on tactics, offering instead
shorter steps that point us in the right direction, ones that one can
build momentum on. One obvious thing is to promote schemes to expand
on Medicare for more and more people. Every time Buttigieg attacks
Medicare-for-All he exposes the loss of a couple points from his IQ.
Before long, he'll sink below Beto O'Rourke, maybe even John Delaney.
By then he'll be finished.
What's Russian for 'I told you so'? How American exceptionalism
suppressed the Soviet experience in Afghanistan. I have a few
quibbles here, but the main point (referencing "the
Afghan war's equivalent of the Pentagon Papers) is valid, and
one could build even more on the similar US/USSR experiences there:
both shared a list of stages, for much the same reasons:
- A rash decision to invade for purely internal political reasons,
using excessive force, producing an illusion of instant success.
- The hubris of imposing a centralized political structure, defined
by nothing more than elevating local cronies, who would be kept in
line by tolerating corruption.
- The gradual development of a rural-based resistance, initially
underestimated because the invaders and their cronies were so full
- A massive military escalation to suppress the insurgency, because
US/USSR political leaders (no matter how skeptical) couldn't say no
to their military leaders.
- A gradual drawdown of occupying forces as escalation failed and
the costs grew excessive.
- A final withdrawal combined with promises of material support,
ultimately leading to collapse of the crony government (in the USSR
case; the US is still fighting to forestall the inevitable).
Karon is right that Americans failed to recognized these parallels
because Americans think they're different and special, even when
they're doing the exact same things. Of course, they rarely even
realized they were doing the same things. For one, they took credit
for the Soviet failures in the 1980s, and knew that they wouldn't
have to face comparable subversion by a foreign power. They knew
they had more force at their disposal, and much deeper pockets --
which kept them in the war for a decade longer than the Russians,
not that it's done they any good.
This is the first piece I've noticed from the Koch-funded Quincy
Institute for Responsible Statecraft. Some other pieces from their
The USMCA trade deal passes the House in a rare bipartisan vote:
385-41, "after Democrats secured changes to labor and pharmaceutical
provisions." For background, Kirby also wrote:
USMCA, Trump's new NAFTA deal, explained in 600 words. Also:
Democrats -- and Trump -- declare victory on USMCA.
"We're looking for undecideds": Pete Buttigieg's campaign is pitting
its public option against Medicare-for-all.
The Nobel went to economists who changed how we help the poor. But some
critics oppose their big idea. Esther Duflo, Abhijit Banerjee,
Michael Kremer, and randomized control trials (RCTs).
Pete Buttigieg is raising money from Silicon Valley's billionaires --
even as Elizabeth Warren attacks him for it.
The strange death of social-democratic England.
Boris Johnson's 'radical' Brexit agenda.
How Mike Bloomberg made his billions: a computer system you've probably
Reis Thebault/Hannah Knowles:
Georgia purged 309,000 voters from its rolls. It's the second state to make
cuts in less than a week. The other is Wisconsin: see Marisa Iati:
A judge ordered up to 234,000 people to be tossed from the registered
voter list in a swing state.
Emily Todd VanDerWerff:
The 18 best TV shows of 2019: I probably watched more TV this year
than any since the 1960s. Took this as a checklist. Listed shows I
- True Detective (HBO) [B]
- Chernobly (HBO) [A-]
- Barry (HBO) [B+]
- Succession (HBO) [B+]
I watched previous seasons of (9) Mr. Robot (USA), but it
got pretty disconnected from reality last time, so I haven't given
it much thought this round. I watched one show each of (6) Lodge
49 (AMC) and (1) Watchmen (HBO). Commercial breaks killed
the former, and I didn't see any point to the latter. No idea what
I'd recommend in place of this list -- I'd have to rumage through
a bunch of lists, as they're not coming readily to mind. I suppose
watching 21 seasons of Silent Witness kept us away from lots
of other series.
The 21 TV shows that explained the 2010s. Never even heard of
the top pick here -- Nathan for You (Comedy Central) -- but
more series I've watched substantial chunks of:
- The Leftovers (HBO) [B+]
- The Americans (FX) [A-] -- skipped part of first season,
but got back into it later.
- Orange Is the New Black (Netflix) [A-]
- Hannibal (NBC) [B+]
- Girls (HBO) [B+]
- Mr. Robot (USA) [B] -- haven't watched latest
season (but probably will; at least it's on DVR)
- American Crime Story (FX) [B+] -- only watched the
first (O.J. Simpson) season)
- The Handmaid's Tale (Hulu) [B] -- only watched the
- Game of Thrones (HBO) [A-]
- Barry (HBO) [B+]
- Better Call Saul (AMC) [B+]
- Homeland (Showtime) [B+]
- Justified (FX) [A]
- Manhattan (WGN America) [A-] -- despite some of the
fictions really bothering me.
- Rectify (Sundance) [A-]
- Silicon Valley (HBO) [B+]
- Succession (HBO) [B+]
Watched small bits of (5) Halt and Catch Fire (AMC), (9)
Atlanta (FX), (10) Bob's Burgers (Fox), Black-ish.
There's also a list of "10 shows I loved that started in the 2000s
and ended in the 2010s":
- Big Love (HBO) [A-]
- Breaking Bad (AMC) [B] -- missed a couple seasons in middle,
when it was unbearably horrible.
- The Good Wife (CBS) [B+] -- on average, sometimes better.
- Mad Men (AMC) [A]
- Parks & Recreation (NBC) [A]
Pentagon halts operational training for Saudi military students after
At war with the truth: "US officials constantly said they were making
progress. They were not, and they knew it, an exclusive Post investigation
found." An introduction to "The Afghanistan Papers," with links to "more
than 2,000 pages of interviews and memos" -- a collection widely compared
to "The Pentagon Papers" (from the Vietnam War). Whitlock also wrote
Part 2: Stranded without a strategy.
From disbelief to dread: the dismal new routine of life in Sydney's
smoke haze. Related: Naaman Zhou/Josh Taylor:
The big smoke: how bushfires cast a pall over the Australian summer.
Democrats' 2020 economy dilemma, explained.
Amy Klobuchar deserves a closer look from electability-minded Democrats.
A lot of reporters thought Klobuchar got a boost from her performance at
the December debate (e.g., see
Amy Klobuchar made the biggest gains with voters at the debate),
but from the bits I overheard -- I was working in a neighboring room --
I found her singularly annoying, and not just because her political
stance has moved so sharply to the far right end of the Democratic
Party spectrum. Yglesias cites her winning margins in Minnesota
compared to other Democrats (that is, more liberal ones), although
in my experience lopsided statewide margins most often reflect weak
opposition campaigns -- something that doesn't happen in presidential
contests. The more relevant "electability" question is how does she
stack up directly against Trump? If the world neatly balanced on a
left-right scale, being close to the right might be an advantage.
But her centrism is a mix of "see no problems, broach no solutions" --
and who really cares about that? Trump at least sees problems, even
if his answers are half-hearted and ill-reasoned. For another argument
on electability, see Carl Beijer:
Joe Biden will lose a general election to Donald Trump: but "there
is one safe bet -- it's Bernie Sanders."
American democracy's Senate problem, explained.
To win reelection, Trump should try to deliver on his economic populist
promises: But he won't, because the Republicans won't let him do
anything significant on Yglesias's list (even as the Democrats give
him minor victories on USMCA and drug prices). Still, every Democrat
should memorize the section on "Trump's litany of broken promises" --
only problem there is that they never expected him to deliver on such
promises, because they saw immediately how much of a fraud he is.
Air pollution is much more harmful than you know.