Sunday, August 30, 2020


Weekend Roundup

Before we waddle in the dirt, here's an election song from Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby. It will make you feel better. And to top it off, how about People Have the Power (e.g., "the power to wrestle the earth from fools")?

Big event of the week was the Republican National Convention. Once again, I didn't watch any of it live, but caught some high- or low-lights on Stephen Colbert's "live" recaps, plus I read a lot. I started collecting links on Tuesday, and I haven't made the effort to group them, so the following list may seem to run around in circles. I did try to list them chronologically under each writer. (Past practice generally listed the latest pieces first, but the opposite made more sense for day-by-day pieces, and when I decided that I tried to reorder the others.)

There were other serious stories this week. A Category 4 hurricane hit Louisiana, inflicting a lot of damage. Police in Kenosha, WS shot an unarmed black man eight times in the back -- he survived, but is paralyzed -- and that kicked off another round of Black Lives Matter protests. Then an armed Trump supporter shot three protesters, killing two. There was also a shooting in Portland, OR, where the victim was a Trump-aligned counter-protester (presently unclear who pulled that trigger).

Barely mentioned below is a well-attended March on Washington, on the 57th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous speech there. One story I've shortchanged is Israel's continuing offensive against Gaza, extended last week with bombing raids on Lebanon (as opposed to the more covert destruction of the port of Beirut).


Links on the Republican National Convention:

  • Vox [Zack Beauchamp/Jane Coaston/German Lopez/Ian Millhiser/Nicole Narea/Andrew Prokop/Aaron Rupar/Dylan Scott/Emily Stewart/Matthew Yglesias/Li Zhou]:

  • Tim Alberta: Grand old meltdown: "Trump's Republican Party is the very definition of a cult of personality."

    The spectacle is unceasing. One day, it's a former top administration official going public with Trump's stated unwillingness to extend humanitarian aid to California because it's politically blue and Puerto Rico because it's "poor" and "dirty." The next day, it's Trump launching a boycott of Goodyear, a storied American company that employs 65,000 people, for one store's uneven ban on political apparel in the workplace. A day later, it's Steve Bannon, the president's former chief strategist, getting rung up on charges of swindling donors out of money for the private construction of a border wall, money he allegedly spent on yachts and luxury living. It was just the latest in a string of arrests that leave Trump looking eerily similar to the head of a criminal enterprise. What all of these incidents and so many more have in common is that not a single American's life has been improved; not a single little guy has been helped. Just as with the forceful dispersing of peaceful protesters in Lafayette Park -- done so he could hold up a prop Bible for flashing cameras -- Trump and his allies continue to wage symbolic battles whose principal casualties are ordinary people.

  • Eric Alterman: The 'abomination' of a convention makes clear the GOP threat.

  • David Atkins:

  • Zack Beauchamp:

    • Nick Sandmann, RNC speaker and Covington Catholic video star, explained: Why is an 18-year-old nobody speaking at the RNC?

      Sandmann is the perfect victim: a young conservative man who came to Washington to protest abortion and was "smeared" by the left as being an awful racist because he had the temerity to wear one of President Trump's hats. The fact that he's been fighting the media, and forcing them to settle lawsuits, is icing on the cake.

      In reality, though, Sandmann's appearance is a testament to the emptiness of this narrative. There's no policy argument connected to this story; revisiting it does nothing to convince voters that the Trump administration can make their lives better in any kind of material way. The RNC to date has been empty in this exact way, an attempt to gin up anger and fear at the base's enemies rather than sell a positive vision of America.

    • The RNC and the subtle rot of Trump's reality TV presidency: "Why the RNC's broadcasted naturalizations and pardon ceremony felt so wrong."

    • The RNC weaponized exhaustion: "The sheer volume of lies and illegal behavior from Trump and the Republicans is what allowed them to get away with it."

      The first night of the RNC featured more false and misleading claims than all four nights of the DNC put together, according to a CNN fact-check. The second night starred an anti-abortion activist whose tale about the horrors of Planned Parenthood had been exposed as a fraud more than 10 years ago. On the third night, Vice President Mike Pence suggested that the murder of a police officer by a far-right extremist was a crime committed by left-wing rioters. It was all capped off by President Trump's Thursday night speech, a farrago of falsehoods that even veteran Trump fact-checkers found stunning.

  • Katelyn Burns:

    • Kimberly Guilfoyle's speech encapsulated the Fox News feel of the RNC's first night: "Loudly." How can a person find any logic in gibberish such as this:

      "They want to control what you see and think and believe so that they can control how you live," she said. "They want to enslave you to the weak dependent liberal victim. They want to destroy this country and everything that we have fought for and hold dear. They want to steal your liberty, your freedom."

      The only way to stop it, according to Guilfoyle, would be by reelecting President Donald Trump. She listed several of Trump's accomplishments since taking office, mentioning tax cuts, taking on ISIS, and renegotiating trade deals.

      "Don't let the Democrats take you for granted," she said. "Don't let them step on you. Don't let them destroy your families, your lives, and your future. Don't let them kill future generations because they told you and brainwashed you and fed you lies that you weren't good enough."

    • Eric Trump's RNC speech had something rare: Policy substance. Just because he mentioned (in deceptive spin) a few things -- "tax cuts for the wealthy, cut regulations, an improved economy and reduced unemployment (before the pandemic triggered a collapse), and increased military funding, and the move of the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem" -- that the Trump administration had done doesn't make him a policy wonk, let alone explain the thinking behind de facto policies. Moreover, the thrust of his speech was wholly in line with the Trump campaign spiel:

      Using imagery of the Hoover Dam and Mount Rushmore, Trump's speech painted a picture of an industrious heartland, ignored by the coastal elites. "Every day my father fights for the American people," he said. "The forgotten men and women of this country. The ones who embody the American spirit." . . .

      "In the view of the radical Democrats, America is the source of the world's problems. As a result, they believe the only path forward is to erase history and forget the past. They want to destroy the monuments of our forefathers," he said. "They want to disrespect our national anthem by taking a knee, while our armed forces lay down their lives every day to protect our freedom. They do not want the Pledge of Allegiance in our schools. Many do not want one nation under God. The Democrats want to defund, destroy, and disrespect our law enforcement."

      Trump went on to contrast this depiction of Democrats with his father, who he claimed is a champion for law enforcement, religious people, the "canceled," coal miners, and farmers. "To every proud American who bleeds red, white, and blue -- my father will continue to fight for you," Trump said.

      This featured notion that Trump fights for the little guy is possibly the most grotesque lie in a campaign that is chock full of them.

  • John Cassidy: Mike Pence's big lie about Trump and the coronavirus at the Republican National Convention.

    Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Pence's bowing and scraping to Trump is that he seems to revel in it. In an interview with the Times, his chief of staff, Marc Short, said Pence has studied previous Vice-Presidencies, and he "exemplifies servant leadership." Even in these twisted days, when Trump's takeover of the G.O.P. seems virtually complete, it isn't every elected Republican who would like to go in the history books as the forty-fifth President's most loyal and obsequious servant. As he demonstrated on Wednesday night, when he once again acted as Trump's lickspittle, Pence seems to fill the role naturally.

  • Jonathan Chait:

  • Jane Coaston: Trump was supposed to change the GOP. But the GOP changed him. "How the Republican Party turned Donald Trump into one of their own." This formulation flips a common argument about Trump refashioning the Party in his own image. He has done some of that in terms of look and feel, but Trump's style is something that has been honed for years by Fox pundits: he's basically a receptacle and incubator for their rants. But he's stocked his administration with standard issue Republicans, many straight from lobby shops, and they've limited his policy options to what they would have any Republican doing.

  • Aaron Ross Coleman: Republicans claim Democrats want to defund the police. Biden's plan calls for more police.

  • Chas Danner: NYC tenants in RNC video say they were tricked.

  • Josh Dawsey: Trump escalates rhetoric on unrest in cities, looking for a campaign advantage.

  • David Dayen: A guide to the GOP Convention's pretend agenda.

  • Dan Diamond/Adam Cancryn: How Mike Pence slowed down the coronavirus response.

  • Thomas B Edsall: 'I fear that we are witnessing the end of American democracy': "The Frank racism of the contemporary Republican agenda is on display at the RNC."

  • Matt Ford: Donald Trump declares total war on the civil service: "The Republican National Convention is a testament to the president's effort to permanently recast the executive branch in his own warped image."

  • David Frum: The platform the GOP is too scared to publish: "The question is not why Republicans lack a coherent platform; it's why they're so reluctant to publish the one on which they're running."

    Once you read the list, I think you'll agree that these are authentic ideas with meaningful policy consequences, and that they are broadly shared. The question is not why Republicans lack a coherent platform; it's why they're so reluctant to publish the one on which they're running.

    1. The most important mechanism of economic policy -- not the only tool, but the most important -- is adjusting the burden of taxation on society's richest citizens. . . .
    2. The coronavirus is a much-overhyped problem. It's not that dangerous and will soon burn itself out. . . .
    3. Climate change is a much-overhyped problem. It's probably not happening. If it is happening, it's not worth worrying about. . . . Regulations to protect the environment unnecessarily impede economic growth.
    4. China has become an economic and geopolitical adversary of the United States. . . . When China wins, the U.S. loses, and vice versa.
    5. The trade and alliance structures built after World War II are outdated. . . . If America acts decisively, allies will have to follow whether they like it or not -- as they will have to follow U.S. policy on Iran.
    6. Health care is a purchase like any other. Individuals should make their ow best deals in the insurance market with minimal government supervision. . . .
    7. Voting is a privilege. States should have wide latitude to regulate that privilege . . .
    8. Anti-Black racism has ceased to be an important problem in American life. At this point, the people most likely to be targets of adverse discrimination are whites, Christians, and Asian university applicants. Federal civil-rights-enforcement resources should concentrate on protecting them.
    9. The courts should move gradually and carefully toward eliminating the mistake made in 1965, when women's sexual privacy was elevated into a constitutional right.
    10. The post-Watergate ethics reforms overreached. We should welcome the trend toward unrestricted and secret campaign donations. . . .
    11. Trump's border wall is the right policy to slow illegal immigration; the task of enforcing immigration rules should not fall on business operators. . . .
    12. The country is gripped by a surge of crime and lawlessness as a result of the Black Lives Matter movement and its criticism of police. . . .
    13. Civility and respect are cherished ideals. But in the face of the overwhelming and unfair onslaught against President Donald Trump by the media and the "deep state," his occasional excesses on Twitter and at his rallies should be understood as pardonable reactions to much more severe misconduct by others.

    So there's the platform, why not publish it? . . . This is a platform for a party that talks to itself, not to the rest of the country. And for those purposes, the platform will succeed most to the extent that it is communicated only implicitly, to those receptive to its message.

  • Masha Gessen: Trump's Republican National Convention was a spectacle fit for a would-be king.

    To call things what they are, the Republicans adopted a fascist aesthetic for this year's Convention. It was in the pillars and the flags; the military-style outfit that Melania Trump wore to deliver her speech, on the second night; the screaming fervor with which many of the speeches were delivered; the repeated references to "law and order"; and phrases like "weakness is provocative," which the Republican senator Tom Cotton offered on the final evening. The aesthetic -- and the rhetoric -- held out the carrot of greatness, of what Hannah Arendt, explaining the appeal of totalitarian movements, called "victory and success as such," the prize of being on the winning side, whatever that side is. The seduction of greatness may grow proportionately to anxiety: the more scared one is -- of losing one's job or health insurance, or of the coronavirus, of the world never going back to normal, among other worries -- the more reassuring it is to say (better yet, to scream) that one lives in the greatest country on earth. One looks at people shouting triumphantly -- none of them social distancing, only a few wearing masks -- and one feels somehow uplifted by the fantasy of being one of them.

  • Susan B Glasser: The malign fantasy of Donald Trump's convention.

    The problem, of course, is that America as we know it is currently in the midst of a mess not of Biden's making but of Trump's. Suffice it to say that, by the time Trump's speech was over and the red, white, and blue fireworks spelling out "2020" had been set off over the National Mall, late Thursday night, more than three thousand seven hundred Americans had died of the coronavirus since the start of the Convention -- more than perished on 9/11 -- and a hundred and eighty thousand Americans total had succumbed to the disease, a disease that Trump repeatedly denied was even a threat. His botched handling of the pandemic was the very reason that his Convention was taking place on the White House lawn in the first place.

  • Melissa Gira Grant: The real, paranoid housewives of the Republican Convention: "Patricia McCloskey and Kimberly Guilfoyle are a new twist on a dangerous lineage of conservative women."

  • Elliot Hannon: New citizens in Trump's naturalization stunt were unaware it would be used at RNC.

  • Monica Hesse: Trying to disgust you is the only move the Republican convention's antiabortion speakers have left.

  • Dan Hopkins: Why Trump's racist appeals might be less effective in 2020 than they were in 2016.

  • Sarah Jones: The GOP thinks Marxists are taking over. If only that were true: All this insane paranoia about radical Democrats and the march of socialism is helping to produce a backlash as more and more people wonder if that wouldn't be a good idea after all.

  • Fred Kaplan:

  • Ed Kilgore:

  • Ezra Klein:

    • A loyalty test for the GOP, a reality test for the country: "The Republican Party has become a personality cult."

      In the era of President Donald Trump, the news develops the quality "of being shocking without being surprising," wrote Masha Gessen in Surviving Autocracy. Each week's events are "an assault on the senses and the mental faculties," and yet, somehow, "just more of the same."

      That's how I felt watching the first night of the Republican National Convention. It was a night that I couldn't quite believe. It was a night I could not have imagined going any other way. It was bizarre, unnerving, and unprecedented. It was banal, predictable, and expected.

      "If you really want to drive them crazy, you say '12 more years,'" Trump said as he opened the convention. The crowd happily chanted "12 more years." It drove me a little crazy, but mostly left me tired. It's a performance of provocation hiding a convention that had nothing to say, only enemies to fight, social changes to fear.

      What is there to say upon hearing Trump described as "the bodyguard of Western civilization?" It's not an argument so much as a loyalty oath, an offering cut from the speaker's dignity and burnt for the pleasure of the Dear Leader himself. But the outrageousness is the point. Protest and you're triggered -- just another oversensitive lib who can't take a joke. Ignore it and you're complicit. To care is to lose. . . .

      Fact-checkers will have a field day with all this, but it's a bit beside the point. The sort of lie Trump and his supporters tell, writes Gessen, "is the power lie, or the bully lie. It is the lie of the bigger kid who took your hat and is wearing it -- while denying that he took it." That is the sort of lie that suffused Monday night's proceedings. The point isn't that it's true; it's that they can say it and no one can stop them.

      The core of Trump's agenda has always been untethering American politics from factual reality, and among Republicans, at least, he's been startlingly successful. The convention is a loyalty test for Republicans, and a reality check for the rest of us.

    • The 3 charts that disprove Donald Trump's convention speech: "Trump wants to take credit for something he didn't do [pre-pandemic economic growth], and dodge blame for something he did do [coronavirus response]."

  • Michael Kruse: How Trump mastered the art of telling history his way. Grim conclusion, quoting Doug Brinkley: "And if he gets reelected with us knowing all of this, then he is a reflection of what America has become."

  • Nancy LeTourneau: How Trump inoculates his supporters against reality.

  • Eric Levitz:

  • German Lopez:

  • Andrew Marantz: The manic denialism of the Republican National Convention.

    The problems in your life aren't real; the real problems are the ones that nobody, except for everybody on this stage, has the courage to talk about. The media wants to brainwash you; the Marxists are massing outside your idyllic suburban lawn; if the enemy gets its way, small businesses will be decimated, Thomas Jefferson will be cancelled, and 911 will go straight to voice mail. The speakers at the Republican National Convention keep ringing the same notes: fabricated panic followed by hoarse, manic Panglossianism. Jobs were lost under past Democrats, and they would be lost under future Democrats, but with President Trump there is only milk and honey. Joe Biden is a stultifying agent of the status quo, too boring to mention by name; he is also an unprecedented break with tradition, a threat to all that we hold dear. Climate change, of course, is waved away as mass hysteria; even the coronavirus pandemic is mentioned rarely and almost always in the past tense, as if the decision to deliver speeches in a cavernous, empty auditorium were merely the whim of a quirky location scout. Anyone watching from quarantine, during a once-in-a-century unemployment crisis, would not need a fact check to know that this is all a stretch, to say the least.

    Marantz goes on for a few paragraphs like this, then he quotes Ronald Reagan from the RNC in 1980: "Never before in our history have Americans been called upon to face three grave threats to our very existence, any one of which could destroy us. We face a disintegrating economy, a weakened defense, and an energy policy based on the sharing of scarcity." As best I recall, one of those was bogus, and the other two were trivial compared to what we got after Reagan was elected. Marantz then segues into a review of Rick Perlstein's new book, Reaganland. One factoid he pulled out of there is that "84 percent of Reagan voters gave 'time for a change' as their major reason for choosing him -- not any ideological reason at all." I can imagine a high percentage of Trump voters saying that in 2016, but now? Depends on how effectively the R's can portray Biden as the incumbent, responsible for all the mess Trump rails about.

  • Nick Martin: The Republican National Convention's carnival of white grievance.

  • Ben Mathis-Lilley:

  • Harold Meyerson:

  • Ian Millhiser:

    • The Hatch Act, the law Trump flouted at the RNC, explained.

    • The RNC's big Covid-19 lie, refused in one chart. Chart plots 7-day rolling average of new confirmed Covid-19 cases per million people, comparing US, EU, and six other well-to-do countries. "There are, in other words, world leader who did take decisive action to save lives. Donald Trump isn't one of them."

    • The RNC yanked a speaker who promoted an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory: Mary Ann Mendoza. "Cancel culture" lives on.

    • The most shocking line in Vice President Pence's 2020 RNC speech: "Pence blames right-wing violence on a vague leftist enemy."

      Pence's speech highlighted a single law enforcement officer, strongly implying that this officer was the victim of left-wing radicals opposed to police officers and to President Trump: "Dave Patrick Underwood was an officer of the Department of Homeland Security's Federal Protective Service, who was shot and killed during the riots in Oakland, California," said Pence, before acknowledging Underwood's sister, who was in the audience.

      Underwood's death is tragic, but it has nothing to do with left-wing radicals.

      Underwood was killed just blocks away from anti-police violence protests in Oakland, but federal authorities say he was killed by Steven Carrillo, an Air Force staff sergeant and a follower of the "boogaloo boys," a right-wing extremist movement that, according to the Washington Post's Katie Shepherd, "has sought to use peaceful protests against police brutality to spread fringe views and ignite a race war." . . .

      And yet, to Mike Pence, Underwood's death was just an opportunity to pin violence on his political opponents -- regardless of whether the attack has any real basis in fact.

  • Elie Mystal: We need to talk about the GOP's 'black friends': Several pieces here mention the relatively large number of black speakers at the RNC, but this article explains it: "The Republican National Convention has been all about using black people to convince white people it's OK to vote for a bigot." On the other hand, the ploy implies that the battle lines have shifted. George Wallace and Ronald Reagan never needed this sort of cover, but Trump's pollsters obviously felt he did. On the other hand, if Republicans believed that Trump had any appeal to black voters, they wouldn't be scrambling to help get Kanye West's name on battleground state ballots.

  • John Nichols:

  • Timothy Noah:

  • Anna North: Trump's pitch to evangelical voters, explained in one RNC speech: "He's 'the most pro-life president we have ever had,' according to anti-abortion activist Abby Johnson."

  • Rebecca Onion: American history has never seen anything to rival the Trumps' RNC family act: Alternate title, "The Trump children hogged the spotlight like nothing else in history."

  • JC Pan: The Republicans' love letter to rich culture warriors.

  • Cameron Peters: The difference between the DNC and RNC, in one tweet: It's mostly visual, so you'll have to follow the link to get it. Of course, that's not the only difference, or even the most important one.

  • Paul R Pillar: The costs of Mike Pompeo's partisanship.

  • Andrew Prokop: Why Republicans didn't write a platform for their convention this year: "The party's true priority is supporting Donald Trump."

  • Frank Rich: Trump thinks racism is his best chance: "Trailing in the polls, he used the Republican National Convention to ratchet his violence-encouraging rhetoric to an even more dangerous level."

  • Alyssa Rosenberg:

  • David Roth: Trump's cloud of gossip has poisoned America: "The president's insatiable need to traffic in rumor and conspiracy blows larger holes in our shared reality with each passing day."

  • Aaron Rupar:

  • Greg Sargent: The GOP convention just ripped the mask off Trump's corruption and lies: On Pam Bondi's speech.

  • Dylan Scott: The contradictory Republican case to Black voters -- and why it matters.

  • Doreen St Félix: The special hypocrisy of Melania Trump's speech at the Republican National Covention.

  • Joshua Shanes: This was the week American fascism reached a tipping point.

  • Walter Shapiro:

    • The surprising boredom of Trump's circus show.

    • Mike Pence is a parody of a politician.

      Wednesday night, the gravely serious Mike Pence ended his workmanlike speech at Fort McHenry with a similar frenzy of repetition: "With President Donald Trump in the White House for four more years and with God's help, we will make America great again, again."

      As presidential campaign slogans go, it isn't "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too," which helped elect William Henry Harrison in 1840.

      Pence's oratory is revealing since he is a disciplined politician who obediently follows the script and scrupulously avoids crazed Trumpian improvisations. In short, every line in a Pence speech is there because White House political strategists thought it represented shrewd politics -- even Pence rhetorically sticking another scarlet "A" for "Again" on every MAGA hat. What the vice president is saying is that, despite Trump's supposed Mount Rushmore greatness, America needs saving yet again. In Pence's telling, the nation is akin to an innocent maiden in the silent movies who keeps getting tied to the railroad tracks.

      Donald Trump, of course, has no responsibility for anything. Not the pandemic, not the economy, not White House incompetence, not a white vigilante killing protesters in Kenosha, and not Hurricane Laura devastating the Gulf Coast. Trump is simply the unluckiest president since William Henry Harrison died in office just a month after he was inaugurated in 1841.

      Still unclear to me why, if God let Trump down in his first term, She's going to come to his rescue in a second term.

    • The Republicans still don't know how to run against Biden.

  • Alex Shephard:

  • Roger Sollenberger: Registered foreign agent Pam Bondi accuses Joe Biden of self-dealing in Republican convention speech.

  • Emily Stewart: Trump's spent years touting the stock market. At the RNC, he just . . . didn't. "Somewhere along the way, did someone decide it might not be a moment to tout stocks?" As long as Trump stays on script, which he mostly did at the RNC, everything he says has been pre-cleared and calculated for effect. What he says is what his handlers think will do him the most good. They may not be right, but it's not for lack of polling and testing.

  • Emily VanDerWerff: The bland, boring visuals of the Republican National Convention: "The aesthetics of the 2020 RNC are a disaster."

  • Paul Waldman: The RNC will be a strange mix of denial and terror.

  • Joan Walsh:

  • Alex Ward:

  • Robin Wright: A dubious Pompeo speech for an empty Trump foreign policy.

  • Li Zhou:

  • Jonathan Zimmerman: Trumpism is the real cancel culture.

This doesn't seem to be organized as a formal series, but I've noticed that Vox is running a number of pieces about what a second term with Donald Trump as president might mean. The articles are all speculative about the future, but they are also effective indictments about what the first Trump term did. I thought I'd try to collect them here:

  • Katelyn Burns: What a second Trump term could mean for LGBTQ people.

  • Nicole Narea: A nation of immigrants no more.

  • Andrew Prokop: Lock them up: The danger of political prosecutions in a second Trump term.

  • David Roberts: A second Trump term would mean severe and irreversible changes in the climate. Isn't that already the meaning of the first Trump term? Or at least part of the meaning. Roberts argues: "Trump's damage to the climate is not like his damage to the immigration system or the health care system. It can't be undone. It can't be repaired. Changes to the climate are, for all intents and purposes, irreversible." He's exaggerating on both ends. Trump's damage to government won't be so easy to reverse (especially with his packed courts). On the other hand, zero carbon emissions would eventually result in a lowering of the carbon dioxide content in the atmosphere. Not soon, but, you know, eventually.

  • Dylan Scott: What would Trump actually want to do on health care in a second term?

  • Alex Ward: "America First, but on steroids": What Trump's second-term foreign policy might look like: "Little could stop President Trump from remaking the world in his image." It's tempting to wax dystopian when contemplating second terms for presidents who did extraordinary damage in their first terms -- invariably, they imagine even greater feats, especially with the popular ratification of their first term -- but the track records are more benign. GW Bush's second term was an utter disaster for America, but more past-due bills from his first term than new ambitions. His big push to privatize Social Security was beaten back, and he never managed to mop you the remainder of his Axis of Evil (having gotten totally bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan). Then his fraudulent housing bubble burst, and the Great Recession ensued. Reagan's second term was mostly tied up with scandals. Nixon didn't even manage to finish his second term. Even Eisenhower did little in his second term. Of course, one thing that helped in all of these cases is that Democrats won big in the 6th year mid-terms, so Republicans had no chance of doing much legislatively. Of course, foreign policy could be different, given how much power Congress has surrendered to the president over the years (and how much various presidents have snatched). Most of the topics in Ward's article are alarming, in large part because Trump is so unprincipled and erratic, but the last ("Trump may just start withdrawing from everything") might be for the better. A more sensible approach would be to draw back military forces based on multilateral treaties that build up international institutions, and that's clearly over his head. I don't want to cast doubt on the likelihood of disaster that a second Trump term would pose. First of all, after seeing what Trump has done, it would reflect very poorly on the judgment of the voters. Second, we'd have to bear with four more years of extreme bullshit, while real crises continue to multiply. Third, although popular opinion (through Congress) can frustrate his legislative agenda, his administration mostly works through executive orders and appointments to pack the courts. Fourth, he is just staggeringly bad at crisis management, and you should expect a lot of them. Finally, nobody has any idea how much damage he's caused in the last four years, or how much effort it's going to take to restore any semblance of normalcy. The Republican war on government (formerly conceived as "of the people, by the people, and for the people") sometimse includes bold proposals like privatizing the Post Office and the TVA, which can be opposed politically, but it mostly proceeds by entropy: by thousands of little cuts, not least to the incentive to public service. Much of what government does is manage risk (cf. Michael Lewis's book, The Fifth Risk). The thing is, you rarely notice that you've shortchanged risk management until it breaks, and disaster ensues.

    Trump has mostly worked to change the rules under which business and government operate, but it takes time before people adapt to exploit the new rules. For example, the Republicans won Congress in 1946 and combined with Southern Democrats to override Truman vetoes on labor and banking legislation. The effects of those laws didn't really become evident until the 1980s, when Reagan signaled open war on labor unions, and the savings & loan industry blew up. Things happen faster now because the brain rot of the Reagan era has progressed to Trump's zombiedom, because an era of relatively equal collective affluence has turned into an orgy of individualist greed. Trump's one claim to greatness is how thoroughly he personifies America's decline.


Some more scattered links this week:

Dan Alexander: Trump has now oved $2.3 million of campaign-donor money into his private business.

Edward Burmila: What populism is and is not. Review of Thomas Frank's book, The People, NO! The War on Populism and the Fight for Democracy.

Katelyn Burns:

Marcia Chatelain: How federal housing programs failed black America: Review of Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's book, Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership.

Fabiola Cineas: The police shooting of Jacob Blake, explained: Black man, unarmed, shot 7 times in the back, in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Protests ensued, and more shooting: Kyle Rittenhouse, age 17, armed with an AR-15, shot three protesters, killing two.

Eric Cordellessa: The Republicans newest plan to derail voting rights.

Vinson Cunningham: The exhilarating jolt of the Milwaukee Bucks' wildcat strike.

David Enrich: The incestuous relationship between Donald Trump and Fox News: Review of Brian Stelter's book, Hoax: Donald Trump, Fox News and the Dangerous Distortion of Truth.

David A Farenthold/Jonathan O'Connell/Joshua Partlow:

Jessica Flack/Melanie Mitchell: Uncertain times: "The pandemic is an unprecedented opportunity -- seeing human society as a complex system opens a better future for us all." Not sure this piece ever gets to where it's going, but I do believe that increasing social complexity is forcing us to rethink basic assumptions about how people work.

Chris Gelardi: US law enforcement's warrior complex is on full display in the streets -- and in leaked documents: "Hacked documents from the early weeks of the ongoing protest movement illustrate one of Black Lives Matter's central observations: Policing in the United States functions as a military occupation."

Sean Illing:

Umair Irfan: What makes California's current major wildfires so unusual: Updated from last week. After all, the state is still on fire.

Ezra Klein:

  • Isabel Wilkerson wants to change how we understand race in America: Wilkerson's book is Caste: The Origin of Our Discontents. Makes me wonder why she can't just say "class."

  • Those who like government least govern worst: "From the Iraq War to the coronavirus: why Republicans fail at governance." Mostly about Robert Draper's book, To Start a War: How the Bush Administration Took America Into Iraq, although the article title could have brought up any number of examples. Toward the end, Klein tries to draw a link between the coronavirus response fiasco and Iraq, and there are some (like magical thinking), but there are also differences. Republicans are generally pretty deferential to the military, so it's hard to pin the failure in Iraq on lack of funding or message discipline or even resolve -- all of which had an adverse effect on coronavirus response, and are characteristic of Republicans' general contempt for government. Yet Iraq was a disaster anyway. Faith in power and disregard for other people have something to do with it. With both, really.

  • How to decarbonize America -- and create 25 million jobs: Interview with Saul Griffith, who runs an organization called Rewiring America, and has an ebook on how to do it.

Markos Kounalakis: Vladimir Putin is on the ballot in November: This is really stupid. I don't doubt that Putin prefers Trump to Biden, and that he has little reason not to throw some of his cyber resources into tainting the 2020 election, but the net effect in terms of US-Russian relations will be negligible. The assertion that if Trump wins a second term, "Russia will be able to wantonly throw its weight around globally" is ridiculous. It hasn't happened in Trump's first term, and nothing changes for a second. The main limit on Russian "expansion" is Russia's own weakness and lack of popularity. Sure, they can on rare occasions play on external schisms as they have in Georgia and Ukraine, but most of the former Russian sphere thoroughly hates them, and their only "allies" elsewhere are countries the US has driven into their arms (like Syria, Venezuela, and Iran). If Biden decides to "get tough" on them, he'll only alienate and destabilize the world situation further. I don't doubt that Trump and Putin are sympatico because of their shared links to oligarchs, their reliance on jingoistic nationalism, and their general contempt for democracy, but interests are something else. Where Trump might help Putin most is in promoting the arms trade -- that being one of Russia's few competitive exports. He also might blow up the Middle East, which would be good for Russian oil and gas prices. (He's already taken most Iranian and Venezuelan oil off the market.) I don't doubt that if Putin were on the ballot, hardly anyone would vote for him. Except maybe in a Republican primary, where a cunning oligarch and despot might be preferred over a really stupid one.

Akela Lacy: Protesters in multiple states are facing felony charges, including terrorism.

Nicholas Lemann: Why Hurricane Katrina was not a natural disaster: "Fifteen years ago, New Orleans was nearly destroyed. A new book suggests that the cause was decades of bad policy -- and that nothing has changed." The book is Katrina: A History, 1915-2015, by Andy Horowitz. As I note under Alex Ward (above), bad policy may take many years to reveal itself as a disaster, which is the argument here. Louisiana is getting hit by another big hurricane this week:

German Lopez:

  • Trump asked for fewer Covid-19 tests. Now the CDC is recommending less testing.

  • How violent protests against police brutality in the '60s and '90s changed public opinion. It's not unreasonable to worry that acts associated with protests might lead to a backlash and even a setback. But lots of things are different now. Police brutality often triggered riots in the 1960s, but it wasn't seen as such, partly because the riots weren't preceded by protest marches, and partly because there weren't cameras everywhere back then to document the brutality. Civil rights marches in the 1960s were much more analogous to the current BLM marches, not only because they were organized protests but also because they were met with public police brutality not unlike we see today. Whereas the riots produced a backlash against "criminality," the marches made the case for civil rights, and were generally successful (ultimately). I worry that repeating protests too often will create an escalating dynamic that could turn counterproductive (which may have happened in Portland, although I'm not close enough to be sure). I also don't have any problem with arresting people who destroy property and/or act violently -- nor would I exempt the police when they do so. But secondary violence never excuses the violence that triggered the protests in the first place, nor does it justify further violence by police, let alone their self-appointed "allies." Police have as much responsibility to protect protesters as anyone else -- something they can all too easily forget when they dress up like stormtroopers.

Sarah Lyall: In Trumpworld, the grown-ups in the room all left, and got book deals: Gang-reviews books by Sean Spicer, James Comey, Omarosa Manigault Newman, Andrew G McCabe, Anonymous, John Bolton, and Mary L Trump.

Jonathan Martin: Over 100 ex-staff members for John McCain endorse Joe Biden. As someone who's long regarded McCain as one of the most reprehensible characters in American politics, I don't find this very gratifying. Especially give the other large Republican cluster to come over to Biden: Top Republican national security officials say they will vote for Biden. McCain was long the most reckless hawk in the GOP, and that's bread and butter to the security officialdom, so the bet is that Biden will follow militarist orthodoxy more faithfully than Trump will. Biden has given them little reason to think otherwise, so they may be onto something. Those camps loom large in All the Republicans who have decided not to support Trump.

Bill McKibben: On climate change, we've run out of presidential terms to waste. He probably said that about Bush too -- if not the first, certainly the second. After all, he founded 350.org when 350 was just a fearsome future number. The latest carbon dioxide number (from 2019) is 409.8 ppm.

Ian Millhiser: What happens to the Supreme Court (and the Constitution) if Trump wins: "The Supreme Court has rejected some of the GOP's sloppiest and most presumptuous arguments. It won't anymore if Republicans grow their majority."

Anna North: Elizabeth Warren calls for investigation into Trump's politicization of Covid-19.

Evan Osnos: Can Biden's center hold? Long piece, good background including some things I didn't know, recounting the campaign to date, not much forward projection, even on the title question. Of course, all you can really say is that what holds Biden's center together is fear and loathing of Donald Trump. Take that away and you can pick Biden apart from every angle. But for now, Biden is managing to straddle two theories that are normally in opposition: one is the centrist belief that if you can stop right-wing destruction and restore functioning institutions (not just government, although that's the big one), America will rebound largely on its own, and all will be well; the other is the leftist belief that unless equality and justice are restored, nothing can work right, and our problems will continue to multiply. Biden is more associated with the former, but not so dogmatically as to exclude inputs from the left. Moreover, as long as he's running against Trump, the left-center split isn't (or shouldn't be) an issue.

JC Pan: Private equity is cannibalizing the post-pandemic economy: "These vulture firms helped create the conditions for economic collapse. Now they're cleaning up."

All of this is to say that private equity had a heavy (if largely unseen) hand in weakening a number of crucial industries right before a national disaster. Not only will it likely face no consequences for indirectly facilitating a portion of the suffering, but it also now stands to profit from the wreckage of the economic recession it helped flame. . . .

That very disconnect illuminates the failure of an economy that encourages disaster profiteering. Though private equity may seem uniquely villainous, in the end, those firms are only doing what they were created to do and always explicitly promised to do: generate profit for their investors above all else. Their predations are made possible by a government that condones them or is content to simply turn away, as it has so many times before. That calls not just for a general condemnation of financial greed -- which most politicians are happy to offer -- but real measures to end it. As Warren and Fife put it, "Wall Street has already shown us what it will do if left unchecked."

Alex Pareene:

Vijay Prashad: Why Cuban doctors deserve the Nobel Peace Prize.

Since the start of Cuban medical internationalism in 1960, over 400,000 medical workers have worked in more than 40 countries. . . . Cuban medical workers are risking their health to break the chain of the COVID-19 infection. Cuban scientists developed drugs -- such as interferon alpha-2b -- to help fight the disease. Now Cuban scientists have announced that their vaccine is in trials; this vaccine will not be treated as private property but will be shared with the peoples of the world. This is the fidelity of Cuban medical internationalism.

Andrew Prokop: The Jerry Falwell Jr scandal, explained: "It's not just about sex -- it's a tale of financial, institutional, and political corruption. And there's a Trump angle." More on Falwell:

Robert Reich: Trump's 40 biggest broken promises.

Aja Romano: Why we can't stop fighting about cancel culture: Is cancel culture a mob mentality, or a long overdue way of speaking truth to power?" No, neither, and not just because it isn't even a thing. Think about it. Cancel is something that only those in power can do. It's something they do all the time, usually without fanfare or even notice. They don't need a "culture" to get them to do it. All they need is the power. I made a joke above about "cancel culture" causing the cancellation of an RNC speaker who had suddenly become an embarrassment (although her usual racist shtick was probably why she got the invite in the first place). On the other hand, people without the power to actually cancel an appearance can still ask or demand that it happen, but they have no direct power to make it happen. It's really just a challenge to power, and those in power don't like those out of power butting into their business, so they imagine a "culture" which drives this dynamic on.

Siguel Samuel: Germany is launching a new experiment in basic income.

Luke Savage: Joe Biden's strategy of appealing to Republicans is courting disaster. See 2016. I don't mind the messaging going that way, but the mistake that Biden cannot afford is slighting the "ground game" to make sure the base votes, and understands what's at stake. That's something Obama did well, and Hillary barely did at all.

John Schwartz: Climate is taking on a growing role for voters, research suggests. Related: Lisa Friedman: Climate could be an electoral time bomb, Republican strategists fear.

Dylan Scott: How Obamacare helped millions who lost their jobs during Covid-19, in 3 charts.

Avi Shlaim: UAE-Israel deal: Breakthrough or betrayal?

Emily Stewart: Americans are falling through the safety net. The government is helping predatory lenders instead.

Libby Watson: The real pandemic gap is between the comfortable and the afflicted: "Beneath society's plutocratic layer, America is not as united in the face of crisis as we like to pretend." Who's pretending? The idea that this is a war, with its now-ancient implication that we're all in it together, didn't take root. Once the stock market rebounded, Trump and the Republicans lost interest in bipartisan deals that might help the non-rich. Still, there is another gap, between Watson's "comfortable" and those who struggle from paycheck to paycheck. Watson puts that gap somewhere between $30,000 and $130,000, noting that "Pew reports 18 percent of 'upper income' (above $112,600 in annual income) people have been laid off or lost their jobs since the pandemic started (compared with 39 percent of 'lower income' people, who earn less than $37,500)." I'd define it a bit differently: the "comfortable" are those who simply added their $1,200 stimulus checks to their savings, in contrast to the "uncomfortable" many who spent it on debts and necessities and soon wound up with nothing less. The big difference there is having an uninterrupted income stream larger than routine expenses, which has a lot more to do with who saves than thriftiness ever did.

George Will: Biden needs a Sister Souljah moment: I read this op-ed in the Wichita Eagle this morning, and was appalled and disgusted. Will is a conservative pundit who doesn't love Trump but also doesn't like anything his opponents stand for, so he should be irrelevant at the moment. I might have skipped this, but then I found Robert Tracinski: Biden needs a Sister Souljah month, which elicited a response from Martin Longman: We don't need another Sister Souljah moment. I didn't recall what the rapper said to provoke Bill Clinton's wrath, but still recalled the incident for its gratuitous racism. It was Clinton's way of reminding white people that he's one of them, and that he can be counted on to defend them against raging blacks. Biden doesn't need such a moment, and shouldn't want one, and anyone who prods him in that direction is aiming to make the racial divide worse. Take Donald Trump: he has a Sister Souljah moment almost every day, and each one begets the next. Tracinski's real point is that Biden needs to make sure he's viewed as anti-riot. I'm against riots too, and I don't care how draconian he gets in prosecuting rioters -- as long as the same justice applies to police and to Trump's agitator-thugs. Or I would be, but shouldn't police be held to a higher standard? As it is, much of what they do seems designed to provoke riots, not to prevent or pacify them. PS: Biden did issue a strong statement, included here. As Steve M notes, "The New York Times covers it by burying it in the 13th paragraph of a story about President Trump's overnight Twitter barrage." He also notes:

Why did Hillary Clinton lose in 2016? She lost for many reasons, but one was the media's willingness to let her opponent Bigfoot his way to a disproportionate share of press coverage. Trump was seen as great copy and great television, so the media yielded the floor to him every time he beat his chest and demanded attention, dismissing most efforts by Clinton to Change the subject to serious issues. And here we are.

Matthew Yglesias: