Friday, July 2, 2021


Speaking of Which

Belatedly looked around, and found a few pieces. No doubt there are many more of interest. One thing I didn't get around to is Steve M.'s piece on election strategy: Rachel Bitecofer's approach might not be good for winning elections, but it would be good for America. This references a Salon interview with Bitecofer, who wants to move from forecasting elections to influencing them. To that end, she's launched Strike PAC, which is creating advertisements that go after the whole Republican Party (not just the Trump crazies). As M puts it, "Democrats need to do more messaging that says simply: We're good. The other party is bad -- and, in this moment especially, One reason to vote for us is that out opponents are crazy and dangerous. (They are, and yet for years they've gotten away with saying that Democrats are crazy and dangerous.)"

I think it's fair to say that I've been pushing this line for a long time -- well before Trump jumped to the head of the line. I don't wish to understate how awful conservatives like Bush/Cheney, Gingrich, Reagan, and for that matter Nixon and Goldwater have been, but something fundamental changed in 2009. Bush/Rove at least had enough self-consciousness to know that they'd have to sugar-coat the right-wing agenda they were implementing to make it more palatable. However, the Bush years were a total disaster, leading to a complete repudiation in the 2006-2008 elections.

Sensible Republican politicians might have learned something from the debacle, but they lost control of the party to, for lack of a better term, the mob (or Tea Party, as they billed themselves, and were soon promoted by donors like the Kochs). The mob was defined and driven by right-wing celebrity media, especially on Fox. They had been cynically manipulated, their fears stoked, for years, and Obama -- who anyone with the slightest grasp on reality could see was a fairly toothless reformer -- was all it took to trigger them into full-blown paranoia. Donald Trump was every bit as credulous, giving him an unshakable (if incomprehensible) bond with his base. As he won, the Party fell into line. After all, he stood for everything they claimed to believe, and won despite doing nothing to sanitize his views or his persona. He never backed down in public, never apologized, never pretended to go along with the hated "elites."

But what did he do with all his power, his charisma, his strength and stamina? Only what mainstream Republican operatives wanted him to do. He cut taxes on the rich, he slashed regulations on business, he appointed judges from the approved list, he weakened workers, he made government more corrupt, he made the world a more cruel and distressing place. And he totally wasted four years that could have been used to address numerous pressing problems. Any other Republican would have done the same, because the same greed, short-sightedness, bigotry, and viciousness have been baked into the GOP agenda for decades -- as was the same careless incompetence at running government and making it and the economy work for all Americans. They even saw that as a feature, not a bug. In their view, there is no public interest, only private ones, so they see government as useful only inasmuch as they can sell the spoils. And they reject equality, even as an unattainable ideal. The core principle of conservatism is support for hierarchy that privileges some people over others.

Take Trump out of that equation, and nothing changes. Indeed, they would happily dispense with him if they could find someone else they can win with. Winning is what really matters to them, and they'll win any way they can. They don't necessarily prefer that people be stupid, but if it helps them win -- and let's face it, so few people benefit from their program that their biggest political obstacle is getting large numbers to vote against their own interest -- they'll push it for all they can.

Fact is, Republicans have done a pretty amazing job at getting people to fear Democrats for purely imaginary reasons, while Democrats have struggled with making people see that it's the Republicans who are set on stealing away what's left of their way of life. Democrats need to do better, especially as the Republicans are working so diligently to rig elections against them. In this context, it is essential that people see the Republicans for what they are.

I will say, though, that in contrast to what these articles suggest, there is at least one positive argument Democrats can run on: ask voters to "give Joe a chance," which given Republican obstructionism can only happen if we elect more Democrats to Congress and in the States.


Gillian Brockell: Historians just ranked the presidents. Trump wasn't last. Well, not by much, and probably because his legacy will take some time to settle out, especially among those accustomed to peering deep into the past. This poll has been run a number of times, and the one thing that the historians are most clear about is that they view the end of slavery as the most important achievement in US history, and the Civil War as its greatest tragedy. The worst presidents in the poll are Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, and Andrew Johnson: the first two supported slavery against rising opposition, setting the table for secession and Civil War, while the third was a vile racist who did much to cripple Reconstruction, allowing the Slave Power to rise again and trample on the new rights of the formerly enslaved. On the other hand, Abraham Lincoln, the president between Buchanan and Johnson who reunited the nation and ended slavery, is ranked first (ahead of George Washington and the Roosevelts). Trump's legacy has yet to turn into a bloodbath and 100 years of further oppression, but that's not for want of trying. I'm tempted to argue that Trump, within the context of his times, is more racist than the trio that trailed him. Some support for that comes from a factor analysis of the rating system. Historians are asked to evaluate presidents on 10 criteria, and Trump did come out dead last in two: moral authority and administrative skills. That's certainly right, even with Richard Nixon and G.W. Bush in the mix.

Peter S Canelos: Why the 'Trump Court' Won't Be Like Trump: Author wrote a book about the Supreme Court justice esteemed by both Neil Gorsuch and Ruth Bader Ginsberg: The Great Dissenter: The Story of John Marshall Harlan, America's Judicial Hero. Reminds one that despite the political expediency Antonin Scalia often evinced, the judges approved by the Federalist Society and rubber-stamped by Trump and Bush prefer to find their roots in legal texts, whereas Trump never looked beyond Fox for his kneejerk jingoism.

Zak Cheney-Rice: The Right's New Reason to Panic About 'Critical Race Theory' Is Centuries Old: Psychologists call this "projection": the belief that other people, if given the chance, would behave as badly as one's own people have done in the past. Or perhaps it signifies tacit guilt, the understanding that past crimes have gone unpunished, that some reckoning is due. You might recall the panic exhibited in the late 1960s by the White Power Structure (which probably doesn't include you but certainly did J Edgar Hoover) when Stokely Carmichael started talking about "Black Power" and the Black Panthers started carrying guns in public -- neither illegal, nor unprecedented if you substituted "White" for "Black." Right-wing panic over "Critical Race Theory" draws on such old fears: that Blacks (and "woke" Whites who were easily suckered by their complaints) will rise up and do unto innocent Whites what their ancestors had done to Blacks for hundreds of years. The picture here shows a couple children holding signs which read "I Am Not an Oppressor." That's clearly true, but what about the white men standing behind them, including the cop? Probably not them either, but in this picture at least, it isn't "CRT" that's "Creating Race Tension": it's those who are still trying to deny that systematic racism has hurt many people not just in the past but still today.

Matt Ford: The Empire State Strikes Back: Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. has been investigating the Trump Organization for some time now, and came out with the first indictment, not of Trump or his family but of CFO Allan Weisselberg, who is charged with grand larceny for a tax fraud scheme. This strikes me as small potatoes, but much will depend on whether there will be further charges. Trump has been plagued by underlings who think they should be able to live large like the boss, but never come close to having the means. (At least three Cabinet Secretaries had to resign due to expenses scandals.) All this is traceable to the culture of corruption around Trump, but he's somehow been immune to the criminal behavior of his little helpers (and not just those he was able to pardon). Also see Andrew Prokop: The indictment of the Trump Organization and its CFO Allen Weisselberg, explained. Meanwhile: Trump seeks to use indictments as a political rallying cry as he tries to survive latest legal threat.

Constance Grady: It's incredibly hard to get a rape conviction. Bill Cosby's release makes it feel pointless. I wasn't planning on even mentioning the Cosby case this week, but this title caught my eye. I don't know the specifics, and don't know the applicable law. (If you care for that level of detail, see Ian Millhiser: The court decision freeing Bill Cosby, explained as best we can.) Just personally, I don't believe that the failure to punish bad people for their actions is a social and political disaster, even though it doesn't help with the important perception that we need a fundamental sense of justice. Take, for instance, two other names also prominent in this post: Donald Rumsfeld and Donald Trump. By the way, note that the Pennsylvania District Attorney who poisoned the well in the Cosby case later was a defense attorney for Trump in his second impeachment trial.

Benjamin Hart: It Is Mind-Bogglingly Hot in the Pacific Northwest Right Now. Last week I reported record high temperatures in and around Russia. This week it's Washington and Oregon, extending well into British Columbia, all of which set all-time heat records this week (Portland hit 116, with at least 63 deaths; Lytton, BC, set an all-time high for Canada when it hit 121, then burned to the ground). For a bigger picture, see David Wallace-Wells: How to Live in a Climate 'Permanent Emergency'.

Daniel Hill: Inside Gun-Surrendering Criminal Mark McCloskey's Very Sad St. Louis Rally: Rebecca Solnit suggested this deserves a Pulitzer Prize for best lead-line in an article: "Noted local criminal Mark McCloskey played host to a barbecue/political rally on Sunday afternoon, drawing tens of admirers to the sweltering parking lot of a closed outlet mall in St. Louis County to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the time he pulled a gun on a crowd of people who otherwise would never have noticed or cared he existed." Hill hardly misses a beat for the rest of the article. E.g.: "Initially, fellow criminal and proponent of armed coups Michael Flynn was scheduled to speak, but he was subbed out for North Carolina Congressman and notably dumb guy Madison Cawthorn, who also did not show up. But the show must go on, as they say, and so we were instead primarily treated to the emcee abilities of former radio host Jamie Allman, who lost his longtime job back in 2018 after taking to Twitter to pontificate about ramming a hot poker up a teenager's ass." I generally think it's unwise to treat your enemies as blithering idiots, but sometimes they are.

Carla K Johnson/Mike Strobbe: Nearly all COVID deaths in US are now among unvaccinated. Just saying. Numbers cited are 150 of 18,000 deaths in May, or 0.8%; 1,200 of 107,000 hospitalizations, or 1.1%. New cases are still declining nationally, but are rising in Nevada, Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi, Utah, Arizona, and Wyoming.

Sarah Jones: The Hell Donald Rumsfeld Built: "Iraq will be Rumsfeld's legacy, with all the lies, all of the torture, all of the killing. While many hands bear responsibility for such loss, two belonged to Rumsfeld, who had Saddam Hussein in his sights for years before 9/11 gave him the excuse he wanted to attack Iraq. Rumsfeld lived out the rest of his days with impunity. His victims weren't so lucky." One can't deny that Rumsfeld was lucky: he stumbled from one disaster to the next, always falling upward. Iraq was so bad you forget how his deliberate incompetence helped wreck the "war on poverty" under Nixon (as Nixon himself was losing his own war in Southeast Asia). Rumsfeld managed to keep enough distance from Nixon to stay out of jail, which led to a key job in Ford's White House (as Dick Cheney's man-servant) and his first stint as Secretary of Defense, and his longer term in the Defense Department's shadow cabinet. Before he was called back to mis-manage his own wars, his main project was the so-called Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA), which had something to do with hardware but was mostly a cult belief system: the one that led security mandarins like himself to think they could win wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The only things they ever "won" were budget battles. Without the think tank hubris of the "vulcans" (see James Mann's The Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush's War Cabinet, and Fred Kaplan's Daydream Believers: How a Few Grand Ideas Wrecked American Power), the Global War on Terror and the ambition to obliterate the "Axis of Evil" wouldn't have been thought, much less acted on. The only saving grace for Rumsfeld is that he seems to have wanted to leave Iraq as soon as it was "liberated," leaving the Iraqis to sort out the disaster, under the threat that the US could resume bombing any time they did anything that offended us. But with all that oil, Bush couldn't resist the temptation to occupy Iraq and rebuild it in the familiar image of Texas. Still, Rumsfeld hardly protested. He starred in daily press conferences, peppering us with pseudo-profundities like "known unknowns" and "bodyguard of lies," and how "stuff happens" when you "go with the army you got," while admirers like Midge Dichter swooned. His starmaking turn soon faded in the shadows of the ruins, but he blundered on, until Bush finally fired him, picking a replacement who was better at containing disasters than creating them. Also see Phyllis Bennis: War Criminal Found Dead at 88; also Ben Burgis: Donald Rumsfeld, Rot in Hell; also Charles P Pierce: You Go to Hell With the Alibis You Have.

Ed Kilgore: Bipartisan Voting-Rights Legislation May Simply Be Impossible: Sen. Joe Manchin clings to the hope, but no Republican supports him, and every voting rule change at the state level has been strictly partisan. If you want proof of the Republican shift on voting, look at the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was extended unanimously in 2006, but gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013. A fix would be simple -- extend federal review of state voting law changes to all states, not just those named in 1965 -- but only one Senate Republican (Alaska's Lisa Murkowski, who was last elected as a write-in candidate after losing the Republican primary) is interested in doing so. What's made voting rules such a partisan matter is the growing realization that the Republican Party benefits from the undemocratic skew built into the Constitution (e.g., the Senate and the Electoral College -- the latter has voted 4 times for presidents who failed to get a plurality of the vote, and all 4 were Republicans), gerrymandering, and voter suppression laws. Since the 2020 election, most Republican-controlled states have passed laws to further restrict the vote, and every one of those laws have been passed on party-line votes. (There are no Republican versions of Joe Manchin, who think the rules should be agreed to by both sides.) By the way, the Trump-packed Supreme Court just reminded us it's solidly on the Republican team. See: Matt Ford: The Supreme Court Gives a Green Light to Voter Suppression.

Mike Konczal/JW Mason: How to Have a Roaring 2020s (Without Wild Inflation): Reminds us of the sustained economic boom during and after WWII, when massive public spending (initially on the war, then on the GI Act, then on more war) pumped up an economy that worked for everyone. Infrastructure overhaul, improved social services, and rising wages could do the same thing in the coming decade, provided we can shake the malaise of bankers and their economists, like Arthur Burns in the 1970s threatening to "take the punch bowl away when the party gets going," and the even harsher scolds that followed. Of course, by the time Alan Greenspan came around, he had to keep spiking drinks to keep the rich going, but that's just evidence of how successful the attack on wages and equality had become. Related here: Daniel Alpert: Americans Don't Want to Return to Low Wage Jobs. But Republicans are willing to starve them into submission.

Mark Mazzetti/Adam Goldman: They Seemed Like Democratic Activists. They Were Secretly Conservative Spies. The FBI has a lot of experience with infiltrating agents into political groups it deemed subversive. That might not have been so bad if all they did was to observe and report, but they were most often recognized for being provocateurs, attempting to provoke crimes. Indeed, I suspect that most of the domestic "terror plots" the FBI has "prevented" were ones they proposed in the first place. Politics is following suit, especially as the right becomes more desperate -- and while almost all of the current examples are from the right (in history these go back to Nixon's "dirty tricks" with Roger Stone, who Trump pardoned), it's possible the left could respond in kind. The result will likely be that no one on either side believes reports of misbehavior by their side. That won't "make us more divided," but it will make it harder to reconcile those divisions, as the "common ground" of facts becomes ever more tenuous.

Ian Millhiser: 3 winners and 3 losers from the just-completed Supreme Court term: "The biggest loser was democracy." Other "losers": Samuel Alito ("the Court's most reliable partisan," as evinced by his 8-1 loss on Obama), and unions. Winners: student-athletes, the "shadow docket," and the Republican Party (underscoring that first point about democracy). I thought it was too early before the 2020 election to talk about remedies for the right-wing takeover of the courts, as the only way to really explain the need is to point to actual cases where Republican jurists are making up partisan law on the fly. This term has given us some of those cases, even if for now they're mostly obscured in legal jargon. (Read the article for an explanation of "shadow docket." My takeaway is that it makes it easier for right-wing jurists to make arbitrary political decisions without having to fully consider the consequences.) What will really bring these decisions into the light is if Democrats start to win landslides, only to have the courts try to thwart the will of the people -- something Republicans are already well positioned to do.

To illustrate further, Millhiser also wrote SCOTUS just made Citizens United even worse, and The Supreme Court leaves the Voting Rights Act alive -- but only barely.

Joshua Partlow/Darryl Fears/Jim Morrison/Jon Swaine/Caroline Anders: Before condo collapse, rising seas long pressured Miami coastal properties. Not to say that this particular disaster was caused by anything but greed and incompetence, but with rising seas the entire coast is at risk. I always thought that politicians who claim to represent the interests of the rich should worry more about climate change, since the rich own most of that precious oceanfront property, and have the most to lose. Of course, as with any disaster, the not-so-rich suffered first and worst here.

Adam Serwer: The Cruel Logic of the Republican Party, Before and After Trump. Serwer has been the most reliable columnist at The Atlantic covering the Trump years, and he's written a new book about them: The Cruelty Is the Point: The Past, Present, and Future of Trump's America. (I ordered a copy, just arrived.) Why is clear from the first sentence here: "Donald Trump has claimed credit for any number of things he benefited from but did not create, and the Republican Party's reigning ideology is one of them: a politics of cruelty and exclusion that strategically exploits vulnerable Americans by portraying them as an existential threat, against whom acts of barbarism and disenfranchisement become not only justified but worthy of celebration." That's all you really need to know to understand why Trump became the party's leader: no one else has ever exemplified this commitment to cruelty so authentically and shamelessly. Trump, like his followers, was formed in the paranoid frenzy of Fox News, but unlike them he was a billionaire, and we assume that billionaires are the only people free enough to pursue their true beliefs. But if Trump's beliefs were the same as his followers, so he promised to empower them in a way no other American politician had ever done. There's been much talk about whether Trumpism will survive Trump, but Trump was just the reflection of a fundamental rot in the Republican Party. It's been there for a while, so the question isn't whether it will continue in the future. The only question is whether some other politician can pick up the mantle and convince the base to be its leader.

Timothy Snyder: The War on History Is a War on Democracy: A little bit about the recent spate of laws trying to outlaw the teaching of Critical Race Theory, set within the context of the anti-democratic history Snyder knows most about: Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, although even he can't ignore that it's really about whether we recognize and admit the long history of racism in the United States. Of course, those who seek to ban CRT claim they are the real anti-racists. "The fight against racism becomes the search for a language that makes white people feel good."

Michael Wolff: Donald Trump's January 6: Excerpt from Wolff's third "insider" book on the Trump presidency, Landslide: The Final Days of the Trump Presidency (out July 27). Not much surprising here, which I suppose is a tribute to how consistent Trump has been in his outrageousness. A couple of related articles help put the insurrection into historical context: Rick Perlstein: The Long Authoritarian History of the Capitol Riot ("What Democrats have been slow to understand is that this is an insurgency with parliamentary and paramilitary wings"), and Mychal Denzel Smith: How January 6 Will Be Remembered by Trump's Supporters ("They will forge on with a new Lost Cause").