Sunday, January 27, 2019
Trump's lockout ended on Friday, for three weeks, anyway. I wouldn't
make a big deal about Trump blinking or caving. He's a born bully, and
still dangerous, so you'd just be taunting him. On the other hand, I'm
pretty much convinced that the purpose of the lockout was to try to
intimidate the new Democratic House, so we might as well acknowledge
that in that regard he failed. Perry Bacon Jr. explains
Why Trump Blinked, although the info graphic on "Trump Approval
Ratings" is probably all you need to know: approve, 39.4%; disapprove,
56.0%. Those are his worst numbers since the 2016 election, and those
numbers have never been above water.
Another big story was the much anticipated indictment and arrest
of Roger Stone. My right-wing cousin on Facebook: "Gestapo tactics
used against Roger Stone! A old man, his wife and a dog. A SWAT team
in full gear for arresting! For shame F.B.I." Of course, Stone's not
the first guy who's been Gestapoed by the FBI. That's pretty much
their standard operating procedure. I can't even especially blame them
here, given that the NRA has pretty much guaranteed that every criminal
in America will be armed. The risk, of course, is that a half-cocked
SWAT team member will freak out and kill someone for no good reason.
We had a prime example of that here in Wichita, about a year ago.
Still, the bigger story is the coup that Trump & Co. tried to
pull off in Venezuela. This one was a bit unorthodox. Normally, one
tries to secure power first, then quickly recognize the plotters to
help them consolidate power. This time Trump recognized the coup
before there were any "facts on the ground," thereby alerting Maduro
to the plot. As I recall, GW Bush recognized a coup in Venezuela [in
2002] that ultimately failed, but even he wasn't as premature as
This coup has been preceded by decades of vitriolic propaganda
aimed at delegitimizing the democratically elected Chavez and Maduro
governments. This has made it very difficult to know what reports
are fair and accurate. On the other hand, the historical record is
clear that the US has long exploited Venezuela (and virtually every
other country in Latin America), leading to chronic poverty, extreme
inequality, and harsh repression nearly everywhere -- and this has
long made me sympathetic to political movements, like Chavez's, that
have sought to halt and undo neo-liberal predation (even in cases
where I don't particularly approve of the tactics). Whatever the
facts here, Trump's actions are fully consistent with US policy of
more than a century, and as such should be opposed.
Some links on Venezuela:
Venezuela: Call it what it is -- a coup.
Susan B Glasser:
We interrupt this crisis: Trump, Venezuela, and the crazy politics of
In typical Trump fashion, the decision about Venezuela happened quickly,
at the last minute, and apparently without the normal process that would
have accompanied such a significant move in any other Administration. . . .
[Senator Marco Rubio] demanded that the Trump Administration recognize
Guaidó as the country's interim leader. Rubio's prodding, along with that
of exile groups, sent the Administration "scrambling," McClatchy News
reported. . . . Just a few hours later, Trump went ahead and did it,
joined by a strong lineup of other countries, including many of
Venezuela's neighbors, as well as Canada and France. . . . In fact,
Trump, who governs by personal instinct, has had an odd obsession with
Venezuela from early on in his Administration, when Rubio brought the
wife of the jailed opposition leader Leopoldo López to make an in-person
appeal to Trump in the Oval Office. Trump professed his willingness to
take military action against Venezuela in the summer of 2017, at the
same golf-course photo opportunity where he threatened to rain down
"fire and fury" on North Korea. . . . In the absence of long-standing
views on many foreign-policy issues, the President has chosen, as he
so often does, to personalize things with Venezuela. Rubio has figured
that out, and adroitly played off it, especially since the Trump
personnel shuffle last spring, which brought two like-minded hard-liners
into the Administration's key foreign-policy jobs: John Bolton, as the
national-security adviser, and Mike Pompeo, as Secretary of State. Both
had advocated tough measures against the leftist regime of Maduro's
mentor and predecessor, Hugo Chávez. Now, with Venezuela descending
into political and economic crisis, members of both parties, including
those, like Rubio, who have been wary of Trump's America First and
damn-the-allies approach to much of the rest of the world, are
supportive of Trump's decision.
How the right is using Venezuela to reorder politics.
While criticizing Maduro, Sanders says US should 'not be in the business
of regime change' in Venezuela: Sanders points out, "The United States
has a long history of inappropriately intervening in Latin American countries.
We must not go down that road again."
Venezuela crisis: Former UN rapporteur says US sanctions are killing
Elliott Abrams, prominent DC neocon, named special envoy for Venezuela.
Leave it to Trump to pick an envoy with a 100% track record of putting
his personal ideological concerns over practical national interests, and
a 0% track record of negotiating the end of any conflicts.
Some more scattered links this week:
2 winners and 3 losers in the deal to end the government shutdown:
Winners: Nancy Pelosi, air traffic controllers. Losers: Donald Trump,
DREAMers, basic rationality and people who like to plan.
Elizabeth Warren's proposed tax on enormous fortunes, explained.
Pete Buttigieg announces his 2020 presidential campaign: Democrat,
mayor of South Bend, IN, and seems to be pretty impressive in that role,
but doesn't have a lot of good opportunities for advancement.
Elizabeth Warren's book, The Two-Income Trap, explained: She
wrote a number of books before getting into politics, and this one from
2004, so-authored by Amelia Warren Tyagi (her daughter), was her first
to attempt a non-academic audience: The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class
Parents Are Going Broke.
Kamala Harris Was Not a 'Progressive Prosecutor'.
Daniel Snyder's new $100 million purchase is the first superyacht with a
certified Imax movie theater. Still, this pales next to Jerry Jones'
"$250 million, 357-foot superyacht." One thing that especially struck me
in Paul Krugman's discussion of "the great compression" was the virtual
disappearance of yachts among the rich c. 1960 (you know, back when the
top-bracket marginal income tax was 90%).
Julian Borger: and others:
How Trump has changed America in two years.
Robert L Borosage:
Watch how progressives respond when Trump isn't wrong: "Occasionally
the president finds himself on the right side of an issue, and Democrats
can't reflexively act." But, of course, many do.
I'm from Atlantic City. I've seen how Donald Trump's false promises
devastate a community.
Robert A Caro:
The secrets of Lyndon Johnson's archives.
Congress is pushing sanctions against supporters of Syria's Bashar
Al-Assad. Two obvious problems here: one is that the US has no
business unilaterally imposing sanctions on foreigners; the second is
that this guarantees that the US will continue to be hostile to Syria,
making it harder for Assad to restore order and rebuild the country,
and making sure the US will be unable to do anything constructive.
The fact is that Assad won. Reasonable people should try to work with
him: withdraw foreign support for opposition groups, and try to work
out amnesty/exile agreements rather than risk harsh repression (which
will lead to more resistance, and more terrorism).
Robert Mueller got Roger Stone: One of the week's big stories, but
it's been obvious that Stone was going down almost from the start of
Trump's CFPB fines a man $1 for swindling veterans, orders him not to
do it again.
Gaby Del Valle:
Amazon is asking companies to create new, Prime-exclusive brands.
This is basically a tactic aimed at consolidating and reaping rents
from monopoly power. If/when Washington gets serious about antitrust
enforcement, prohibiting this is a good place to start.
The government is going to reopen. But what's next is going to be
Darth Trump: Pushing to turnspace into a war zone.
If you want to understand the age of Trump, read the Frankfurt School:
Interview with Stuart Jeffries, author of Grant Hotel Abyss: The Lives
of the Frankfurt School. I read a lot of Frankfurt School 35-40 years
ago, but have hardly cracked open a book since. I did pick up Dialectic
of Enlightenment a few months back, and noticed that I had underlined
close to half of the book, which provides inadvertent testimony to how deep
I once found it. I quit mostly because I got to where I wasn't learning
new things -- I had internalized their critical stance to such a point I
could anticipate how they would handle any new problem. Still, I'm not
sure they very useful insights into Trump. On the other hand, the history
is bound to be interesting. They're a generation of left intellectuals
who fled Fascism and found something nearly as ominous in America. Trump
easily reminds people of the former, but understanding the latter is more
important, and harder.
The plot against George Soros didn't start in Hungary. It started on Fox
Fault Lines is an excellent history of US political dysfunction:
Short review of book by Kevin M Kruse and Julian E Zelizer, Fault
Lines: A History of the United States Since 1974.
24 years ago today, the world came disturbingly close to ending.
Trump is entering the terrible twos -- the tantrums are going to get
Gringos without a car -- an ecological decision pays off in cultural
Roger Stone made his name as a dirty trickster, but the Trump-Russia coverup
may finally bring him down.
How to escape pseudo-events in America: The lessons of Covington.
Gabriel M Schivone:
Why are Guatemalans seeking asylum? US policy is to blame. Headline
could be clearer. US policy is why they flee Guatemala. Why they come
here is harder to say. Perhaps because Americans are so insulated from
the effects of their government abroad?
The dirty trickster: "Campaign tips from the man who has done it all."
Long profile on Roger Stone. The length attests to how long this story has
Antitrust's most wanted: "The 10 cases the government should be
investigating -- but isn't." Only keeps it down to ten by including
four whole industry segments.
Why the government shutdown finally ended: "Floundering government
services, sagging approval ratings, and a failed Senate vote all became
too much for even Trump to take."
Roger Stone and 'Ratf--ing': A Short History.
PS: I asked for comments
on a possible book outline, and got essentially zilch back. To save
you the trouble of a click, I'll just paste them in here:
One thing I feel I need to decide this week (or, let's say, by the end
of January, at latest) is whether I'm going to try to write my unsolicited
advice book for Democrats in 2020. Say it takes three months to write, two
to get edited and published, that gets us to July, by which time we'll
probably have a dozen Democrats running for President. (I'm counting four
right now: Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, Julian Castro, and Tulsi
Wikipedia lists more I wasn't aware of, plus an announcement pending
from Kamala Harris tomorrow.)
lists eight "notable" declared/exploratory Democratic candidates.]
But that's just a measure of how soon what
Matt Taibbi likes to call "the stupid season" will be upon us. I have no
interest in handicapping the race, or even mentioning candidates by name.
I'm more interested in historical context, positioning, and what I suppose
we could call campaign ethics: how candidates should treat each other, the
issues, the media, the voters, and Republicans. And note that the book is
only directed toward Democrats who are actually concerned enough to get
involved in actual campaigns. Even there, it won't be a "how to" book. I
don't really know anything about running a campaign. It's more why we need
candidates in the first place, and what those candidates should say.
Some rough ideas for the book:
I'm thinking about starting off with a compare/contrast between Donald
Trump and George Washington. They are, by far, the richest Americans ever
to have won office, and otherwise couldn't be more unalike (unless I have
to deal with GW's ownership of slaves, which suggests some similar views on
race). The clearest difference is how we relate to money, and how we expect
politicians with money to serve.
I'd probably follow this up with brief compare/contrasts between Trump
and selected other presidents. I might find various presidents that offer
useful contrasts on things like integrity, diligence, intelligence, care,
a sense of responsibility, a command of details, tolerance of corruption.
I doubt I'd find any president Trump might compare favorably to, but it
might be helpful to make the effort.
Then I want to talk about political eras. Aside from Washington/Adams,
there are four major ones, each dominated by a party, each with only two
exceptions as president:
- From 1800-1860, Jefferson through Buchanan, interrupted only by two Whig
generals (and their VPs, since both died in office, Harrison especially
- From 1860-1932, Lincoln through Hoover, interrupted only by two two-term
Democrats (Cleveland and Wilson).
- From 1932-1980, Roosevelt through Carter, interrupted only by two two-term
Republicans (Eisenhower and Nixon/Ford).
- From 1980-2020, Reagan through Trump, interrupted only by two two-term
Democrats (Clinton and Obama).
There's quite a bit of interesting material I can draw from those periods.
Each starts with a legendary figure, and ends with a one-term disaster. (I
suppose you could say that about Washington/Adams as well, but that's a
rather short descent for an era.) In each, the exceptions substantially
resemble the dominant party. But the Reagan-to-Trump era does reflect an
anomaly: each of the first three eras started with a shift to a broader
and more egalitarian democracy, whereas Reagan was opposite. Each era had
a mid-period nudge in the same direction (Jackson/Van Buren, Roosevelt,
Kennedy/Johnson, but also GW Bush). Of course, the anti-democratic tilt
of Reagan-to-Trump needs some extra analysis, both to show how it could
run against the long arc of American history and why after 1988 it was
never able to post commanding majorities (as occurred in previous
I then posit that in 2020 the goal is not just to defeat Trump
but to win big enough to launch a new (and overdue) era. This will be
the big jump, but I think if Democrats aim big, they can win big --
and it will take nothing less to make the necessary changes. This is
possible because Republicans, both with and without Trump, have boxed
themselves into a corner where all of their beliefs and commitments
only serve to further hurt the vast majority of Americans. It will be
tough because Republicans still have a stranglehold on a large segment
of the public. But this spell can be broken if Democrats look beyond
the conciliatory tactics and marginal goals that marked the campaigns
of Obama and the Clintons.
At some point this segues into a lesson on the need for unity
and tolerance of diversity within the Democratic Party. I'll probably
bring up Reagan's "11th commandment," which served Reagan well but
has since been lost on recent Tea Partiers and RINO-bashers (although
the post-election fawning over Trump suggests that Republicans will
come around to backing anything that wins for them).
I'll probably wind up with a brief survey of issues, which
will stress flexibility and feedback within a broad set of principles.
I can imagine later doing a whole book on this, but this would just
offer a taste.
Book doesn't need to be more than 300 pages, and could be as short
as half that. It is important to get it out quickly to have any real
impact. I would consider working with a co-author, especially someone
who could carry on to do much of the promotion -- something I'm very
unlikely to be much good at.
While I can imagine that this could be worth doing, I can also think
of various reasons not to bother. The obvious one is that I haven't been
feeling well, having a good deal of back pain, and having a trouble with
my eyes -- things that have taken a toll from my normal workload over
the last few months. I also seem to be having more difficulties coming
up with satisfactory writing. I spent a lot of time yesterday trying
to write up a response to a particularly annoying Facebook rant, and
never did come up with anything I felt like sharing. I am especially
bothered by self-destructive arguments I see both on the left and the
right of the Democratic Party spectrum, and this sometimes tempts me
to throw up my hands and leave you all to your fates. On the other
hand, sometimes this tempts me to think that all the help you need
is a little clarity that I fancy I can provide.
Just knocked this much off the top of my head, in two sets of a
couple hours each, so this is very rough. Next step will be to try
to flesh out a bit more outline, maybe 3-5 times the length, with a
lot of bullet points. That would be the goal for the next 7-10 days.
If I manage that, I'll circulate it to a few friends, then make a
decision whether to proceed. The alternative project at this point
is probably a memoir, which is something that can take however much
time it takes (or however much I have left).
Comments welcome, and much appreciated.
I haven't made any notable progress in the intervening week, which
is probably not a good sign. I have started reading Ben Fountain's
book, Beautiful Country Burn Again: Democracy, Rebellion, and
Revolution, which is mostly reportage of the 2016 campaign, but
a cut above, partly the writing -- Fountain is best known for his
novel (Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk) -- and partly because
he pays as much attention to the public as to the politicians. (The
paperback subtitle is Trump's Rise to Power and the State of the
Country That Voted for Him. I can't say it's helped me a lot in
thinking about my book, but does keep my head somewhat in the game.
Other books I've read on the 2016 election and/or Trump (latest to
- Katy Tur: Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign
in American History
- Allen Frances: Twilight of American Sanity: A Psychiatrist Analyzes
the Age of Trump
- David Frum: Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American
- Mark Lilla: The Once and Future Liberal
- Mark Singer: Trump and Me
- Jonathan Allen/Amie Parnes: Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton's
- Bernie Sanders: Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In
- Matt Taibbi: Insane Clown President: Dispatches From the 2016