Sunday, February 9, 2020

Weekend Roundup

Skipped a week because I was working on music stuff, so this week's links go back further than usual, but much of the previous week was absorbed in speculation about Iowa and Trump's impeachment trial, which became obsolete the moment the votes were counted (or are finally counted; see Riley Beggin: Final Iowa caucuses results expected just before New Hampshire begins voting). Trump was, of course, not convicted, the vote 48-52, with Mitt Romney the only Senator to break party ranks. This, and his own holier-than-thou explanation, occasioned pieces heaping undeserved praise or wrath on Romney, none of which mentioned the most obvious point: Trump's following among Republicans is significantly weaker in Utah than in any other state, probably because Utah is uniquely insulated from the fears he preys upon.

The Iowa caucuses were a huge embarrassment for the Democratic Party's professional elites, who came up with novel ways to avoid reporting unpleasant news (that Sanders won the popular vote), and reminded us that Republicans aren't the only party willing to use tricks (in this case "State Delegate Equivalents") to steal an election (allowing Buttigieg to claim a Trumpian victory, although even there, with still incomplete results, the margin is a razor thin 564-562; Sanders led the first-found popular vote 24.75% to 21.29%, followed by Warren 18.44%, Biden 14.95%, Klobuchar 12.73%, Yang 5.00%, Steyer 1.75%, Gabbard 0.19%, Bloomberg 0.12%, Bennet 0.09%, Patrick 0.03%, Delaney 0.01% [10 votes]). Lots of articles this week dredging up old standy complaints about Iowa's premier spot in presidential campaigns, including generic complaints about caucuses, and even more about Iowa.

New Hampshire will vote on Tuesday. Recent polling: Anya van Wagtendonk: Sanders leads in New Hampshire, but half of voters remain uncommitted -- subhed amends that to 30%. Buttigieg seems to be in 2nd place now (21%, behind 28% for Sanders), followed by Biden (11%), Warren (9%), Gabbard (6%), Klobuchar (5%), Yang and Steyer (3%), with Bloomberg (not on ballot) at 2%. The Democrats had another debate last week, resulting in the usual winners-and-losers pieces, none of which caught my eye below. (If you really want one, try Vox, which had Klobuchar a winner and Biden a loser.)

Meanwhile, Trump gave his State of the Union address, on the even of his "acquittal." It read (link below) more like his campaign stump speech, at least the one he'd give if he didn't wander off script, and Republicans in the audience tried to turn the event into a campaign rally, even at one point chanting "four more years" (but at least I haven't seen any reports of "lock her up"), and the fact that half of the audience were Democrats kept the chemistry down (and added a few boos and a couple of walkouts). Of course, the content got lost in the dramatics, especially Trump's refusal to shake Nancy Pelosi's hand on entering, and her ripping up his speech afterwards. It all led pundits and partisans to offer sermons on civility, but Trump had been absolutely vicious toward Pelosi ever since she got behind impeachment. But what the exchange reminded me most of was a story about Casey Stengel, where he artfully dodged an interview after a loss by making obscene gestures the media couldn't broadcast. By ripping up Trump's speech, Pelosi signaled there was nothing but lies and contempt there, more succinctly than any of the official party responders could possibly do.

Some Republican flaks claim that last week was one of Trump's best ever, and they can point to a trivial uptick in Trump's approval rating (43.8% at 538). It's clear now that the Senate's non-trial didn't move anyone, but while it was tedious and overwrought as it happened, it will be remembered differently. Democrats will remember it as a valiant attempt to do something about a president has repeatedly abused his office and violated his oath to support the Constitution and the laws of the land, which was thwarted not by facts or reason but by cynical partisan solidarity, making clear that the Republican members of Congress are fully complicit in Trump's crimes. That's something they can campaign on this fall.

Trump celebrated his "acquittal" with a series of extremely boorish public appearances (some noted below). I've gotten to where it's hard for Trump to shock me, but his is the most disgusting performance I've ever seen by a public figure. I've long maintained that Trump himself isn't nearly as dangerous or despicable as the orthodox Republicans he surrounds himself with, but I may have to revise my view. I've long believed that the swing vote in the 2020 election will turn on those Americans who don't particularly object to Trump's policies but decide that his personal behavior is too embarrassing to tolerate further. This week has provided plenty for them to think about.

The only issue below I tried to group links under was the Kushner "deal of the century," partly because they separate out easily enough. Trump issues, Democrat issues, they're all over the place.

Some scattered links this week:

PS: I've never been much impressed by Amanda Marcotte, but her visceral rejection of Trump seems to be leading her to deeper truths. She has a recent book, Troll Nation: How the Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set on Ratf*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself, which is about as pointed a title as the subject deserves. From the blurb:

Trump was the inevitable result of American conservatism's degradation into an ideology of blind resentment. For years now, the purpose of right wing media, particularly Fox News, has not been to argue for traditional conservative ideals, such as small government or even family values, so much as to stoke bitterness and paranoia in its audience. . . . Conservative pundits, politicians, and activists have abandoned any hope of winning the argument through reasoned discourse, and instead have adopted a series of bad faith claims, conspiracy theories, and culture war hysterics. Decades of these antics created a conservative voting base that was ready to elect a mindless bully like Donald Trump.

I also want to quote an Amazon comment on the book by a Joseph Caferro, which gives us a peek into the Trump troll mindset:

Why [really] do Trump and his followers troll? And the answer is not hatred.

It's a tactic to destabilize the tenuous parasitic leftist coalitions that are built on a dizzying array of incompatible grievances against imagined enemy institutions. These enemies of leftists include most of the most stable, successful institutions that make civilization possible: religion, capitalism, meritocratic education and commerce, strong national defense, controlled borders, and solvent government spending. The incessant attacks on these institutions by the left are largely encouraged by the DC establishment and most state and local governments, and the result has been failure of safety, solvency, competence, and sanity. Leftism causes parasitic failure across the board. To defend leftist policies on merit is impossible, so the left decided the primary tactic for persuasion should be defamation, intimidation, and even criminal extortion, persecution, and assault. So the right has had enough, and has decided, symbolized by and led by Trump, to assail the leftist establishment with criticism, skepticism, insults, and challenges to their authority and power at all levels. Like in any street fight, you can't win if you aren't willing to use the tactics your enemy is willing to use. So the right trolls, because the left smears. As long as the left smears and commits crimes to further their agenda, the right will troll and be willing to stop those crimes with equal or greater force. That is why the right trolls. Not because of your imagined telepathic detection of deep seated Nazi hatred, but because your leadership are a bunch of parasitic communist thugs who aspire to totalitarian tyrannical rule, and deserve trolling.

I quote this because it's a lot more coherent than what you usually get from this quarter, but still, there's a lot wrong here, starting with a gross misapprehension of what the left is concerned with, and more fundamentally with failure to understand that the bedrock of "stable, successful institutions" is a widely shared sense of justice. It's true that our notions of justice used to be rooted in religion, but that splintered long ago. Some of us gave up the religion we were born into precisely because it no longer seemed to satisfy our sense of justice, and because we found it manipulated by charlatans for special interests. Caferro's list of "successful institutions" turns out to be less coherent than he imagines. Meritocracy sounds good, but more often than not is just a ruse for rationalizing inequality. The last three are arbitrarily grafted into the others: the rationale behind a strong police state is to protect its rulers from the effects of its misrule. "Leftism causes parasitic failure across the board" is a crude way of restating Hayek's Road to Serfdom thesis, which could be used to explain the economic failures of the Soviet Union, but Hayek and his followers have always expected the same doom to befall western social democracy, which has never happened. Where Caferro's argument goes off the rails is his bit about how "the left are largely encouraged by the DC establishment and most state and local governments" and his later reference to "the leftist establishment" -- there is no such thing, as should be clear from the shit fit old guard Democrats are having over the prospect of Sanders winning the Democratic Party nomination.

Then there's the question of tactics. Caferro argues that Trump supporters have to troll because that's the way leftists fight them, but that's neither supported by fact nor by logic. The left offers much more substantial arguments than the name-calling Caferro hates, but it's worth noting that the name-calling would hurt less if it didn't smack of truth. Trump is a racist, a sexist, a liar, a crook, and an all-around asshole. One can document those assertions with hundreds or possibly thousands of pages of examples, but sometimes the shorthand is all you need. Whether he's also a fascist depends on some extra historical knowledge that may not be widely agreed on, but most leftists define fascists as people who want to kill them, so that's a relevant (if not universal) framework.

But just because your opponent fights one way doesn't mean you have to fight the same. Strong occupying armies are most often countered not by equivalent armies but by guerrilla warfare. One might argue that they are morally equivalent, in that both seek to kill the other, and that is often the downfall of the guerrillas. So the other major example is non-violent resistance, such as the movements led by Gandhi in India and Martin Luther King in the US. I'd submit that Trump trolls have chosen their tactics not because the left has but because they're more suited to taste, needs, and morals (which approve of lies and distortions to sway people, and violence to suppress them, all in support of an authoritarian social and economic order which benefits people they identify with).