Later On

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Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Aaron Hernandez’s story is a morality tale about how a corporation put profits over all, regardless of damage to employees

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Just so long as the money came in. Read the 6-part series in the Boston Globe.

It does have more than a passing resemblance to the lives (and deaths) of gladiators. If you’re on Netflix, watch just the first episode of season one of Empire Games, and think about today.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 October 2018 at 4:43 pm

“I Listened to All Six Trump Rallies in October. You Should, Too”

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Susan B. Glasser writes in the New Yorker:

From the start of the Trump Presidency, many Beltway wise men, and more than a few of Donald Trump’s own advisers, said, Don’t pay attention to the tweets; forget the overheated language and the alarming one-liners coming out of Trump’s constant campaign-style rallies. Pay attention to the policy. They repeated this even after Trump fired his White House chief of staff and Secretary of State on Twitter, and started making policy announcements to his followers that his advisers didn’t know about. They are still, essentially, telling us to disregard what the President says. On Thursday, that was exactly the response offered by Trump’s chief economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, when he was asked about a series of attacks by the President on the “loco” Federal Reserve, which Trump said had “gone crazy” by raising interest rates and, in his view, causing the week’s precipitous stock-market decline. “The President says a lot of things,” Kudlow told reporters on the drive outside the White House, where Trump’s advisers are often found in the mornings, cleaning up this or that remark from the President. “He has a lot of fun.”

Trump does indeed say a lot of things, which causes another problem for those watching him. Not only do his advisers tell us to disregard his comments, but he makes so many of them. Almost two years after his election upset, we still haven’t quite figured out how to deal with the daily flood of bombastic rhetoric, instant punditry, and rambling soliloquies that Trump increasingly chooses to spend his time on in office.

So what would happen if the President of the United States threw a rally and the cameras didn’t show up? Since Trump entered politics to round-the-clock cable coverage, this has been the demand of some of Trump’s biggest opponents, those who believe that real-time televising of what Trump says when he says it has both created and enabled this serial fabulist by giving him an unchallenged platform.

Well, we’re starting to find out. On Wednesday, Trump flouted convention and flew to Erie, Pennsylvania, for a political rally as one of the most intense hurricanes to hit the United States in decades pounded Florida. The President attributed his decision not to cancel to the thousands of people already lined up to hear him. “It’s a very important rally,” he told reporters. When he got there, however, even the usually reliable Fox News refused to carry the show, sticking with weather reports on the storm and its prime-time lineup. Even as Trump was onstage, Politico reported that Fox’s ratings for coverage of his recent rallies had dropped below those of its regular shows. (At one point, when I switched over to check Fox, not only was Trump still shut out but the Fox host was joking with a guest about emotional-support animals.) The only national network to air the Pennsylvania rally live was C-span 2.

But I think it’s a mistake. The problem is that there are so many outrages, we are in danger of ignoring them, or dismissing them as mere spectacle. The torrent of Trump’s words is exhausting, contradictory, annoying, and more than occasionally amusing, and it’s fair to ask what some of it amounts to. I certainly don’t think all the networks need to air his remarks live and in full all the time. Still, tuning out the President is hardly the way to understand him. So I decided to watch all of Trump’s rallies in October, as he is stepping up his midterm campaigning.

The first thing to note is that there are a lot of them; the President has already done six so far, as the election draws near, spending, as the Washington Post put it, “sixty percent of the evenings in October so far” speaking to big crowds in Trump-friendly places like Johnson City, Tennessee; Southaven, Mississippi; Topeka, Kansas; Rochester, Minnesota; Council Bluffs, Iowa; and Erie. He has two more planned for this weekend. Trump is generally onstage for more than an hour, so that’s a lot of Trump. Six hours and fifty-one minutes of Trump, to be precise.

The headlines from these events are by now familiar: Trump’s celebration of his victimized but ultimately confirmed Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh; Trump’s mocking of Kavanaugh’s female accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, after he initially called her “very credible”; Trump’s  escalating rhetoric about “wacko” Democrats as an “angry mob” that would destroy due process, even as the angry mob listening to him chanted “lock her up” at the mere mention of Dianne Feinstein, a senator not accused of any crime.

That leaves a lot of what would be considered news in any other moment. Among the things I heard the President of the United States do: make fun of a female candidate in Iowa by giving her a derogatory nickname. Accuse a U.S. senator of being a “drunk.” Claim that Hillary Clinton engaged in a conspiracy with Russia to rig the election (which she lost). He called the European Union a “brutal” alliance “formed to take advantage of us.” He attacked American libel laws and the World Trade Organization.

Many of the statements are not only untrue but are repeated from event to event, despite the industry of real-time Trump fact-checking and truth-squadding that now exists. This summer, the Washington Post’s Fact Checker looked at all the statements in one rally and determined that seventy-six per cent of the ninety-eight factual assertions Trump made were untrue, misleading, or baseless. Since then, Trump seems not only undeterred but to be stepping up his pace. He claimed that Justice Kavanaugh was No. 1 in his class at Yale and Yale Law School in at least three of his events over the past week, despite Yale not even calculating class rankings. On Wednesday, Trump repeated several of his greatest-hits fallacies, such as asserting that fifty-two per cent of women supported him in 2016 (that number was forty-two per cent), and that numerous new steel-manufacturing plants are being opened (none are), and that “clean, beautiful coal” is coming back (it isn’t).

Still, fact-checking is far too narrow a lens through which to view the rallies. Certainly, Trump pours out untruths and whoppers at these events; the more defensive he is, the more he seems to unleash them. But I found myself reeling most at the end of my rally-watching marathon not from the lying but from the bleak and threatening world view offered by a President who is claiming credit for making America great, strong, and respected again, while terrifying his fans with the grim spectre of the scary enemies he is fending off. Even more than they did in 2016, these threats come accompanied by an increasingly grandiose rewriting of history. What’s happened since his election, Trump said in Pennsylvania, “has been the greatest revolution ever to take place in our country,” or maybe even anywhere in the world. His victory “superseded even Andrew Jackson.” “America,” he said, “is winning like never before.”

The biggest difference between Trump and any other American President, however, is not the bragging. It’s the cult of personality he has built around himself and which he insists upon at his rallies. Political leaders are called onstage to praise the President in terms that would make a feudal courtier blush, and they’re not empty words. These are the kinds of tributes I have heard in places like Uzbekistan, but never before in America. “Is he not the best President we have ever had?” the Mississippi senator Cindy Hyde-Smith enthused. (Trump then praised her for voting “with me one hundred per cent of the time.”) In Erie on Wednesday, a Republican congressman, Michael Kelly, gave the most sycophantic speech of the ones I listened to this month. Trump, he yelled to the crowd, is “the strongest President we have seen in our lifetime.” Addressing Trump, he said, “You are the best! You are the best!” Trump did not need to leave his “luxurious” life behind for the indignities of political combat, but he did. “I am so grateful,” Kelly concluded, “that an American citizen came out of nowhere to take the reins and reform and retake this nation.”

No wonder his followers think this way. In Trump’s telling at these rallies, he is the hero of every story. All ideas, big or small, flow through him now that he is President. He personally ordered the Ambassador in Israel to renovate a building for the new American Embassy there using “beautiful Jerusalem stone.” (Never mind that all buildings in the city are required to be faced with it.) He had “the greatest idea” to get veterans better medical care by allowing them to go to private doctors, confounding the experts who told him, “Sir, we’ve been working on this for forty-four years,” and couldn’t fix the problem. Same with an N.F.L. dispute with Canada. “Nobody could get it done,” Trump said. “I did it in two minutes.”

Then there are the stunners that we already know Trump thinks are true. But listen to them for almost seven hours in an election season, and remember, this is the President; maybe we shouldn’t just screen this out, or pretend it doesn’t matter. Every single rally included multiple attacks on the media and “fake news.” In Mississippi, the press bashing began seconds into the speech; in Pennsylvania, it took seven minutes; in Minnesota, ten. Deadbeat allies, rapacious foreigners ripping us off, and murderous gang members from MS-13 also figured in every one of the speeches.

Touting his record, surprisingly, is not necessarily at the heart of Trump’s speeches, as it might be for a more conventional politician. “The biggest tax cut in history,” which Republican leaders once wanted to make the centerpiece of their 2018 campaigns, is generally mentioned close to the one-hour mark by Trump. He brags of blowing up nafta and replacing it with the “brand-new” U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, though experts say the agreement represents more of an update to the free-trade pact than a destruction of it. He invariably mentions withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal. But other accomplishments are aspirational, as when he talks about proposing a new Space Force branch of the military or promises to start “building the wall” with Mexico. Given two full years of the Trump Administration and Republican control over all three branches of government, there is remarkably little policy wonkery here.

Some of Trump’s comments, while overheated, are standard-issue partisan rhetoric. There are ritual denunciations of socialist-leaning Democrats who want to raise taxes while Republicans crack down on crime and spend more money on defense. Every Republican President in my lifetime has uttered a version of those words during election season. Where Trump differs starkly is in his insistence—made at an increasingly high pitch as the week went on—thatDemocrats not only want to legislate their way to socialism but that they are an actual clear and present danger to Americans.

We already know that Trump is the most truth-challenged President ever, that he distorts, misrepresents, and makes things up; that he has something to hide on his taxes; that he loves to mock, bully, criticize, insult, and belittle rivals.

Besides, there were plenty of important issues to occupy Washington this week that did not involve the President’s rallies, from the fate of the missing Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi to the sudden plunge of the stock market to the damage from Hurricane Michael. Never mind the big news from the White House on Thursday, when Trump had lunch with the rapper Kanye West, who dropped the phrase “crazy motherfucker” in what was undoubtedly the most profane West Wing photo-op ever. Trump had plenty to say about all of it.

So why I am writing about this? Why spend nearly seven bleary-eyed hours over six rallies listening to the President? That’s six full renditions of Lee Greenwood’s “I’m Proud to Be an American,” six times hearing Trump rip off Churchill’s “never surrender” speech, six times listening to him insult “low I.Q.” Maxine Waters and “Crooked Hillary” and “Crazy Bernie” and, his new favorite, “Da Nang Dick” Blumenthal.

Watching hours of Trump at his rallies, it’s easy to sympathize with the desire to ignore them. John Dean tweeted a picture of the crowd waiting in line for the Erie rally and derided it as a “meaningless show.” For supporters, it’s hyperbole, just rhetoric, entertainment, part of the unvarnished appeal; for opponents, it’s old news painful to watch, maybe, but inconsequential, narrow-casting to his base. One of the reasons we tune out is because views of Trump are so fixed. Look at the Presidential approval ratings, and “you would think it’s been a pretty boring couple years,” as Amy Walter, the Cook Political Report editor, likes to put it. Trump’s ratings have barely budged, no matter the day’s outrage or the nutty things he tells his followers: the same range of thirty-eight to forty-three per cent of Americans approve of him, according to the Real Clear Politics polling average, and the same majority of fifty to fifty-three per cent disapprove of him, as has been the case since the early weeks of his Administration.

Much of the coverage of these events tends to be theatre criticism, or news stories about a single inflammatory line or two, rating Trump’s performance or puzzling over the appeal to his followers. But what the President of the United States is actually saying is extraordinary, regardless of whether the television cameras are carrying it live. It’s not just the whoppers or the particular outrage riffs that do get covered, either. It’s the hate, and the sense of actual menace that the President is trying to convey to his supporters. Democrats aren’t just wrong in the manner of traditional partisan differences; they are scary, bad, evil, radical, dangerous. Trump and Trump alone stands between his audiences and disaster. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 October 2018 at 8:27 pm

The Suffocation of Democracy

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Christopher R. Browning, an American historian, writes in the NY Review of Books:

As a historian specializing in the Holocaust, Nazi Germany, and Europe in the era of the world wars, I have been repeatedly asked about the degree to which the current situation in the United States resembles the interwar period and the rise of fascism in Europe. I would note several troubling similarities and one important but equally troubling difference.

In the 1920s, the US pursued isolationism in foreign policy and rejected participation in international organizations like the League of Nations. America First was America alone, except for financial agreements like the Dawes and Young Plans aimed at ensuring that our “free-loading” former allies could pay back their war loans. At the same time, high tariffs crippled international trade, making the repayment of those loans especially difficult. The country witnessed an increase in income disparity and a concentration of wealth at the top, and both Congress and the courts eschewed regulations to protect against the self-inflicted calamities of free enterprise run amok. The government also adopted a highly restrictionist immigration policy aimed at preserving the hegemony of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants against an influx of Catholic and Jewish immigrants. (Various measures barring Asian immigration had already been implemented between 1882 and 1917.) These policies left the country unable to respond constructively to either the Great Depression or the rise of fascism, the growing threat to peace, and the refugee crisis of the 1930s.

Today, President Trump seems intent on withdrawing the US from the entire post–World War II structure of interlocking diplomatic, military, and economic agreements and organizations that have preserved peace, stability, and prosperity since 1945. His preference for bilateral relations, conceived as zero-sum rivalries in which he is the dominant player and “wins,” overlaps with the ideological preference of Steve Bannon and the so-called alt-right for the unfettered self-assertion of autonomous, xenophobic nation-states—in short, the pre-1914 international system. That “international anarchy” produced World War I, the Bolshevik Revolution, the Great Depression, the fascist dictatorships, World War II, and the Holocaust, precisely the sort of disasters that the post–World War II international system has for seven decades remarkably avoided.

In threatening trade wars with allies and adversaries alike, Trump justifies increased tariffs on our allies on the specious pretext that countries like Canada are a threat to our national security. He combines his constant disparagement of our democratic allies with open admiration of authoritarians. His naive and narcissistic confidence in his own powers of personal diplomacy and his faith in a handshake with the likes of Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un recall the hapless Neville Chamberlain (a man in every other regard different from Trump). Fortunately the US is so embedded in the international order it created after 1945, and the Republican Party and its business supporters are sufficiently alarmed over the threat to free trade, that Trump has not yet completed his agenda of withdrawal, though he has made astounding progress in a very short time.

A second aspect of the interwar period with all too many similarities to our current situation is the waning of the Weimar Republic. Paul von Hindenburg, elected president of Germany in 1925, was endowed by the Weimar Constitution with various emergency powers to defend German democracy should it be in dire peril. Instead of defending it, Hindenburg became its gravedigger, using these powers first to destroy democratic norms and then to ally with the Nazis to replace parliamentary government with authoritarian rule. Hindenburg began using his emergency powers in 1930, appointing a sequence of chancellors who ruled by decree rather than through parliamentary majorities, which had become increasingly impossible to obtain as a result of the Great Depression and the hyperpolarization of German politics.

Because an ever-shrinking base of support for traditional conservatism made it impossible to carry out their authoritarian revision of the constitution, Hindenburg and the old right ultimately made their deal with Hitler and installed him as chancellor. Thinking that they could ultimately control Hitler while enjoying the benefits of his popular support, the conservatives were initially gratified by the fulfillment of their agenda: intensified rearmament, the outlawing of the Communist Party, the suspension first of freedom of speech, the press, and assembly and then of parliamentary government itself, a purge of the civil service, and the abolition of independent labor unions. Needless to say, the Nazis then proceeded far beyond the goals they shared with their conservative allies, who were powerless to hinder them in any significant way.

If the US has someone whom historians will look back on as the gravedigger of American democracy, it is Mitch McConnell. He stoked the hyperpolarization of American politics to make the Obama presidency as dysfunctional and paralyzed as he possibly could. As with parliamentary gridlock in Weimar, congressional gridlock in the US has diminished respect for democratic norms, allowing McConnell to trample them even more. Nowhere is this vicious circle clearer than in the obliteration of traditional precedents concerning judicial appointments. Systematic obstruction of nominations in Obama’s first term provoked Democrats to scrap the filibuster for all but Supreme Court nominations. Then McConnell’s unprecedented blocking of the Merrick Garland nomination required him in turn to scrap the filibuster for Supreme Court nominations in order to complete the “steal” of Antonin Scalia’s seat and confirm Neil Gorsuch. The extreme politicization of the judicial nomination process is once again on display in the current Kavanaugh hearings.

One can predict that henceforth no significant judicial appointments will be made when the presidency and the Senate are not controlled by the same party. McConnell and our dysfunctional and disrespected Congress have now ensured an increasingly dysfunctional and disrespected judiciary, and the constitutional balance of powers among the three branches of government is in peril.

Whatever secret reservations McConnell and other traditional Republican leaders have about Trump’s character, governing style, and possible criminality, they openly rejoice in the payoff they have received from their alliance with him and his base: huge tax cuts for the wealthy, financial and environmental deregulation, the nominations of two conservative Supreme Court justices (so far) and a host of other conservative judicial appointments, and a significant reduction in government-sponsored health care (though not yet the total abolition of Obamacare they hope for). Like Hitler’s conservative allies, McConnell and the Republicans have prided themselves on the early returns on their investment in Trump. The combination of Trump’s abasement before Putin in Helsinki, the shameful separation of families at the border in complete disregard of US asylum law (to say nothing of basic humanitarian principles and the GOP’s relentless claim to be the defender of “family values”), and most recently Michael Cohen’s implication of Trump in criminal violations of campaign finance laws has not shaken the fealty of the Republican old guard, so there is little indication that even an explosive and incriminating report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller will rupture the alliance.

But the potential impact of the Mueller report does suggest yet another eerie similarity to the interwar period—how the toxic divisions in domestic politics led to the complete inversion of previous political orientations. Both Mussolini and Hitler came to power in no small part because the fascist-conservative alliances on the right faced division and disarray on the left. The Catholic parties (Popolari in Italy, Zentrum in Germany), liberal moderates, Social Democrats, and Communists did not cooperate effectively in defense of democracy. In Germany this reached the absurd extreme of the Communists underestimating the Nazis as a transitory challenge while focusing on the Social Democrats—dubbed “red fascists”—as the true long-term threat to Communist triumph.

By 1936 the democratic forces of France and Spain had learned the painful lesson of not uniting against the fascist threat, and even Stalin reversed his ill-fated policy and instructed the Communists to join democrats in Popular Front electoral alliances. In France the prospect of a Popular Front victory and a new government headed by—horror of horrors—a Socialist and Jew, Léon Blum, led many on the right to proclaim, “Better Hitler than Blum.” Better the victory of Frenchmen emulating the Nazi dictator and traditional national enemy across the Rhine than preserving French democracy at home and French independence abroad under a Jewish Socialist. The victory of the Popular Front in 1936 temporarily saved French democracy but led to the defeat of a demoralized and divided France in 1940, followed by the Vichy regime’s collaboration with Nazi Germany while enthusiastically pursuing its own authoritarian counterrevolution.

Faced with the Mueller investigation into Russian meddling in the US election and collusion with members of his campaign, Trump and his supporters’ first line of defense has been twofold—there was “no collusion” and the claim of Russian meddling is a “hoax.” The second line of defense is again twofold: “collusion is not a crime” and the now-proven Russian meddling had no effect. I suspect that if the Mueller report finds that the Trump campaign’s “collusion” with Russians does indeed meet the legal definition of “criminal conspiracy” and that the enormous extent of Russian meddling makes the claim that it had no effect totally implausible, many Republicans will retreat, either implicitly or explicitly, to the third line of defense: “Better Putin than Hillary.” There seems to be nothing for which the demonization of Hillary Clinton does not serve as sufficient justification, and the notion that a Trump presidency indebted to Putin is far preferable to the nightmare of a Clinton victory will signal the final Republican reorientation to illiberalism at home and subservience to an authoritarian abroad.

Such similarities, both actual and foreseeable, must not obscure a significant difference between the interwar democratic decline and our current situation. In his 1935 novel It Can’t Happen Here, Sinclair Lewis portrayed a Nazi-style takeover in the US, in which paramilitary forces of the newly elected populist president seize power by arresting many members of Congress and setting up a dictatorship replete with all-powerful local commissars, concentration camps, summary courts, and strict censorship, as well as the incarceration of all political opponents who do not succeed in fleeing over the Canadian border. Invoking the Nazi example was understandable then, and several aspects of democratic decline in the interwar period seem eerily similar to current trends, as I have noted. But the Nazi dictatorship, war, and genocide following the collapse of Weimar democracy are not proving very useful for understanding the direction in which we are moving today. I would argue that current trends reflect a significant divergence from the dictatorships of the 1930s.

The fascist movements of that time prided themselves on being overtly antidemocratic, and those that came to power in Italy and Germany boasted that their regimes were totalitarian. The most original revelation of the current wave of authoritarians is that the construction of overtly antidemocratic dictatorships aspiring to totalitarianism is unnecessary for holding power. Perhaps the most apt designation of this new authoritarianism is the insidious term “illiberal democracy.” Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey, Putin in Russia, Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, and Viktor Orbán in Hungary have all discovered that opposition parties can be left in existence and elections can be held in order to provide a fig leaf of democratic legitimacy, while in reality elections pose scant challenge to their power. Truly dangerous opposition leaders are neutralized or eliminated one way or another.

Total control of the press and other media is likewise unnecessary, since a flood of managed and fake news so pollutes the flow of information that facts and truth become irrelevant as shapers of public opinion. Once-independent judiciaries are gradually dismantled through selective purging and the appointment of politically reliable loyalists. Crony capitalism opens the way to a symbiosis of corruption and self-enrichment between political and business leaders. Xenophobic nationalism (and in many cases explicitly anti-immigrant white nationalism) as well as the prioritization of “law and order” over individual rights are also crucial to these regimes in mobilizing the popular support of their bases and stigmatizing their enemies.

Trump has shown unabashed admiration for these authoritarian leaders and great affinity for the major tenets of illiberal democracy. But others have paved the way in important respects. Republicans begin with a systemic advantage in electing senators and representatives, because the Democratic Party’s constituency has become heavily concentrated in big states and big cities. By my calculation every currently serving Democratic senator represents roughly 3.65 million people; every Republican roughly 2.51 million. Put another way, the fifty senators from the twenty-five least populous states—twenty-nine of them Republicans—represent just over 16 percent of the American population, and thirty-four Republican senators—enough to block conviction on impeachment charges—represent states with a total of 21 percent of the American population. With gerrymandering and voter suppression enhancing even more the systemic Republican advantage, it is estimated that the Democrats will have to win by 7 to 11 points (a margin only obtainable in rare “wave” elections) in the 2018 elections to achieve even the narrowest of majorities in the House of Representatives. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more and it’s ominous.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 October 2018 at 3:54 pm

The anti-voter Supreme Court

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David Leonhardt, a columnist for the NY Times, had this in an email this morning:

After Heidi Heitkamp, a North Dakota Democrat, narrowly won a Senate seat in 2012, Republicans changed a voter-identification law in the state. They stopped allowing any voter identification that lists a post-office box as an address.

There was a specific reason for the change, as Pema Levy of Mother Jones reports. Many Native Americans use a P.O. box as their address because the U.S. Postal Service does not deliver to their communities. And Native Americans had provided Heitkamp with crucial support in her win. The law was another Republican attempt to win elections by keeping Democratic-leaning groups from voting.

Last night, the Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to the North Dakota law, effectively upholding it. Amy Howe of Scotusblog has a fuller explanation. “The risk of disenfranchisement is large,” Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in a dissent.

This case is yet another reminder that democracy protection needs to be the No. 1 item on the Democrats’ long-term political agenda. (Really, it should the top item on both parties’ agenda, but I realize that’s a naïve wish.) The next time Democrats control the federal government, they should pass a sweeping voter-rights bill, similar to the kind Paul Glastris has described in Washington Monthly.

History won’t look kindly on the political party that is trying to keep Americans — usually dark-skinned Americans — from voting.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 October 2018 at 12:12 pm

Republicans: Protesters Are an Unruly Mob — Unless They’re Heavily Armed and Support Us

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Eric Levitz writes in New York:

The Republican Party is the only thing standing between you and “the left’s angry mob” of ideological zealots (who are all, also, the hired hands of a foreign Jewish billionaire, and thus, aren’t genuinely angry, or ideological, or zealous).

This is the narrative that Republican lawmakers are pushing in the wake of Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court. A majority of Americans might think they just saw the Senate GOP install a temperamentally unfit perjurer — who probably committed sexual assault — onto the Supreme Court. But Republicans believe they can persuade the public that what they really saw was a Democratic mob’s lawless attempt to destroy an innocent man by any means necessary.

Democrats “have encouraged mob rule,” Judiciary committee chair Chuck Grassley lamented from the Senate floor Friday, before proceeding to tell Fox Business that he believed the protesters were mercenaries employed by George Soros, as “it fits in his attack mode and how he uses his billions and billions of resources.” Utah senator Orrin Hatch echoed this assessment, decrying the self-proclaimed sexual assault survivors who’d gathered in the capitol as “a paid mob trying to prevent senators from doing the will of their constituents.” Marco Rubio, meanwhile, criticized the media for treating these (entrepreneurial) anarchists with undue sympathy, tweeting, “Imagine the coverage on cable news if an angry mob of conservatives stormed the steps of the Supreme Court building.”

On one level, this is just bog-standard, bad-faith Republican messaging. The GOP long ago determined that it can’t compete on the strength of its (deeply unpopular) tax cuts and health-care agenda, or even, on a straightforward presentation of its positions on “culture war” issues — most Republican voters want more border enforcement, and a pathway to legalization for all undocumented immigrants (i.e., the Democratic Party’s official position on immigration). Rather, Republicans know that their best bet is to stoke the paranoid fears and cultural resentments of their base, through demagogic lies if necessary. So, the party that insisted on a thorough, nonpartisan investigation of Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations is trying to end “due process” in the United States; protesters who nonviolently made their voices heard in the halls of power are assaulting “democracy”; Dianne Feinstein is the lead sponsor of an “open borders bill”; and some Democratic House candidates are literal terrorists.

And yet, it wouldn’t be fair to call the GOP’s attacks on Kavanaugh purely cynical. Rather, what makes the party’s arguments truly concerning is that they are rooted in genuine principle — just not the one that Republicans are publicly endorsing.

The modern GOP has no principled opposition to angry, or even lawless, demonstrations. When the far-right rancher Cliven Bundy protested federal land policy by assembling a heavily armed militia — which then threatened to shoot Bureau of Land Management (BLM) workers who refused to obey their orders — many Republican lawmakers rallied to Bundy’s defense; Ted Cruz even suggested that this insurrection against federal law enforcement was an understandable response to the Obama administration’s “jackboot of authoritarianism.” Years later, Bundy’s son Ammon led an armed occupation of a national wildlife refuge — demanding, among other things, that the government release friends of his who’d been convicted of arson. Over the summer, Donald Trump rewarded this (ostensibly not moblike) form of protest by using his clemency powers to honor Ammon’s request. And, of course, Republicans celebrated tea party protesters for deploying the exact same “in-your-face” protest tactics that GOP lawmakers are currently clutching their pearls over — even as those same lawmakers continueto venerate pro-life activists who spend their free time verbally accosting pregnant teens at Planned Parenthoods.

But if the GOP’s arguments are hypocritical and ever-shifting, their actions are nonetheless consistent with an overriding principle: When conservatives exercise political power it is by definition legitimate, when their opponents do, it is not.

So, when a federal government headed by Barack Obama tried to collect grazing fees from conservative ranchers, it was an act of unconstitutional authoritarianism that could be justly met with threats of violence. When a sheriff’s office headed by Joe Arpaio tortured inmates at tent prisonsterrorized Latino constituentsarrested journalists who reported critically on their activitiesblackmailed a man into staging an assassination attempt against Arpaio, and openly defied court orders, it was acting as a “tireless champion” of “the rule of law.” When reactionary senior citizens scream at Democratic lawmakers to get government’s hands off their Medicare — or a heavily-armed militia challenges the state’s monopoly on violence for a cause the conservative movement supports — then they are civic-minded Americans who know that dissent is the highest form of patriotism. When sexual assault survivors, liberals, and labor unions protest the Senate’s decision to confirm a Supreme Court justice — over majoritarian opposition — they are an unruly mob doing the bidding of their sinister paymasters.

For the moment, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 October 2018 at 2:27 pm

“Why I’m Leaving the Republican Party”

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Tom Nichols, professor at the US Naval War College, writes in the Atlantic:

Unlike Senator Susan Collins, who took pages upon pages of text on national television to tell us something we already knew, I will cut right to the chase: I am out of the Republican Party.

I will also acknowledge right away what I assume will be the reaction of most of the remaining members of the GOP, ranging from “Good riddance” to “You were never a real Republican,” along with a smattering of “Who are you, anyway?”

Those Republicans will have a point. I am not a prominent Republican nor do I play a major role in Republican politics. What I write here are my views alone. I joined the party in the twilight of Jimmy Carter’s administration, cut my teeth in politics as an aide to a working-class Catholic Democrat in the Massachusetts House, and later served for a year on the personal staff of a senior Republican U.S. senator. Not exactly the profile of a conservative warrior.

I even quit the party once before, briefly, during what I thought was the bottom for the GOP: the 2012 primaries. I didn’t want to be associated with a party that took Newt Gingrich seriously as presidential timber, or with people whose callousness managed to shock even Ron Paul. It was an estrangement, not a break, and I came back when the danger of a Trump victory loomed. I was too late, but as a moderate conservative (among the few left), the pre-2016 GOP was the only party I could call home.

Small things sometimes matter, and Collins is among the smallest of things in the political world. And yet, she helped me finally accept what I had been denying. Her speech on the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh convinced me that the Republican Party now exists for one reason, and one reason only: for the exercise of raw political power, and not for ends I would otherwise applaud or even support.

I have written on social media and elsewhere how I feel about Kavanaugh’s nomination. I initially viewed his nomination positively, as a standard GOP judicial appointment; then grew concerned about whether he should continue on as a nominee with the accusations against him; and finally, was appalled by his behavior in front of the Senate.

It was Collins, however, who made me realize that there would be no moderates to lead conservatives out of the rubble of the Trump era. Senator Jeff Flake is retiring and took a pass, and with all due respect to Senator Lisa Murkowski—who at least admitted that her “no” vote on cloture meant “no” rather than drag out the drama—she will not be the focus of a rejuvenated party.

When Collins spoke, she took the floor of the Senate to calm an anxious and divided nation by giving us all an extended soliloquy on …  the severability of a clause.

The severability of a clause? Seriously?

It took almost half an hour before Collins got to the accusations against Kavanaugh, but the rest of what she said was irrelevant. She had clearly made up her mind weeks earlier, and she completely ignored Kavanaugh’s volcanic and bizarre performance in front of the Senate.

As an aside, let me say that I have no love for the Democratic Party, which is torn between totalitarian instincts on one side and complete political malpractice on the other. As a newly minted independent, I will vote for Democrats and Republicans whom I think are decent and well-meaning people; if I move back home to Massachusetts, I could cast a ballot for Republican Governor Charlie Baker and Democratic Representative Joe Kennedy and not think twice about it.

But during the Kavanaugh dumpster fire, the performance of the Democratic Party—with some honorable exceptions such as Senators Chris Coons, Sheldon Whitehouse, and Amy Klobuchar—was execrable. . .

Continue reading.

Later:

The Republicans, however, have now eclipsed the Democrats as a threat to the rule of law and to the constitutional norms of American society. They have become all about winning. Winning means not losing, and so instead of acting like a co-equal branch of government responsible for advice and consent, congressional Republicans now act like a parliamentary party facing the constant threat of a vote of no confidence.

That it is necessary to place limitations, including self-limitations, on the exercise of power is—or was—a core belief among conservatives. No longer. Raw power, wielded so deftly by Senator Mitch McConnell, is exercised for its own sake, and by that I mean for the sake of fleecing gullible voters on hot-button social issues so that Republicans can stay in power. Of course, the institutional GOP will say that it countenances all of Trump’s many sins, and its own straying from principle, for good reason (including, of course, the holy grail of ending legal abortion).

Politics is about the exercise of power. But the new Trumpist GOP is not exercising power in the pursuit of anything resembling principles, and certainly not for conservative or Republican principles.

I want to point out that the “constant threat” is a means to the (profit-oriented) end of “fleecing gullible voters.” See “Kent Sorenson Was a Tea Party Hero. Then He Lost Everything.” for a clear and explicit description of how the GOP runs elections to make money.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 October 2018 at 2:34 pm

Where Americans are shaped by propaganda efficiently delivered

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It could not be this slick and efficient were it not planned [Argument from Design]. Kevid Drum posts in Mother Jones:

I was talking to a friend yesterday and the subject turned to politics. He thought the Republican tax cut was a great idea because America had the highest tax rate in the world and we couldn’t compete with other countries. I laughed and told him that was totally wrong. Then he said that Trump might not be the greatest president ever, but at least he’s kept all his promises. I laughed again and told him Trump hadn’t even come close. Then the conversation turned to Brett Kavanaugh, and he complained that Sen. Dianne Feinstein had deliberately held onto Christine Blasey Ford’s letter until the very last second before releasing it. I laughed again and said that was exactly the opposite of what happened. Feinstein did her best never to release it, but it got leaked by someone outside her office.

There were a couple of other things he was wrong about, and eventually he said, “Well, look, if this stuff is wrong then how come Democrats aren’t correcting it?” I mumbled some stuff about Fox News and Rush Limbaugh and asked him where he was getting his information. The answer, it turned out, was mostly the Sunday chat shows.

So if this anecdotal conversation is to be believed, conservatives are highly successful at pushing their talking points on the Sunday morning shows—which are mostly watched by moderate political types—but liberals either don’t push back or don’t do it in a way that’s very memorable. Or else liberals just don’t bother showing up. Since I never watch the Sunday shows, I don’t really know which it is. Comments?

Naturally Democrts and progressives don’t appear so much: they not invited so much. They would introduce turbulence into the information flow, and TPTB want that information to flow smoothly into the meme-set of the majority. Democrats and progressives are not creating effective memes.

Update: And in the intercept: “Facebook Quietly Hid Webpages Bragging of Ability to Influence Elections.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 October 2018 at 1:40 pm

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