The Truth as Republicans Create It

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Thomas Friedman thinks we’re moving into an era in which both side of the political divide can no longer agree on basic facts (“Where Did ‘We the People’ Go?” The New York Times, 6/21/2017):

[A] Canadian gentleman, trying to grasp what’s happening to America, asked me a simple question: “What do you fear most these days?”

I paused for a second, like a spectator waiting to see what would come out of my own mouth. Two things came out: “I fear we’re seeing the end of ‘truth’ — that we simply can’t agree any more on basic facts. And I fear that we’re becoming Sunnis and Shiites — we call them ‘Democrats’ and ‘Republicans.’

In set-ups such as these, the writer establishes the very old and very tired “both sides” argument, in which he or she acknowledges the indisputable fact that, yes, there are two major parties in the American political system, but it doesn’t follow that they’re both equally at fault for the current conflicts. And Friedman wastes no time making a wholly lopsided comparison:

When a liberal comedian poses with a mock severed head of Donald Trump, when the president’s own son, Eric Trump, says of his father’s Democratic opponents, “To me, they’re not even people,” you know that you are heading to a dark place.

So a comedian holding Trump’s severed head (I guess we’re not allowed to bring up “musician” Ted Nugent’s threats against Barack Obama) is comparable to the son of the President of the United States of America calling Democratic opponents non-people. Which of those two individuals do you think has access to nearly-unfettered amounts of power?

One reason Republicans are able to get away with anything and everything is that they are able to act to an extreme in any certain amount (take, for example, the Republican senate’s complete lockstep on blocking all hearings on Merrick Garland) if they can find even a minute example of Democrats doing it at any point in the history of the republic (take Biden’s suggestion in 1992 that the senate wait until after the election to appoint a new Supreme Court judge—spoiler alert, they didn’t).

That’s why hacks like Friedman can have the one example of Kathy Griffin being despicable and equate it with the president and the people he surrounds himself with (his idiot sons, Seb Gorka, Steve Bannon). It allows Republicans to continue to lie about how the ACA was drafted and passed as an excuse for their utter lack of transparency. If you’re worried about an inability to agree on the truth, Tom, then start asking that Republicans recognize it. There’s zero reason anyone should have to meet them between the truth and their warped sense of reality.

No, Ann Coulter Turning on Trump Won’t Fracture the Base

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Ken Meyer has a quick report about Ann Coulter’s frustration with Trump (“Coulter on Trump: ‘This Jackass is Really Ticking Me Off,'” Mediaite, 6/16/2017). Saith Coulter:

It was a whole series today! This jackass is really ticking me off. And today…Cuba? F*cking Cuba? If he’d run a campaign promising to do everything he’s done in the last 6 months, he’d never have been elected.

And Meyer makes this quick observation:

It’s safe to say that if Coulter ever officially dropped Trump, it would represent a seismic crack in the base which powered his victory.

It’s not that big a deal. Nobody actually likes Coulter. For all her media presence, she couldn’t even get her book on Trump to move. It currently is sitting at around #16,000 in books at Amazon. She’s just a useful, Trumpish voice that was Pissing Off Liberals™ long before Trump was, and any derivation from supporting the president won’t precipitate an exodus of supporters—they’ll just turn on Coulter.

Congressional Republicans Need Trump More Than He Needs Them, At Least for Now

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David Leonhardt has a bizarre idea of why Trump is now beholden to the Republican-controlled congress (“Weak Trump, Strong Paul Ryan,” The New York Times, 6/12/2017):

The biggest priority for today’s Congressional Republicans is shrinking the size of government so they can cut taxes for the wealthy.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, managed to win the presidency on an agenda that promised robust government programs in health care, retirement and other areas.

But as we know of Trump, his position on just about anything will change. He also won on a promise to put Hillary Clinton in jail, ban Muslims from entering the country, and courting the white nationalist underbelly of America.

Anyway, Leonhardt’s idea is that Trump’s noncommitment to any ideology other than the furtherance of himself made it questionable just how far ideologues like Paul Ryan could pull him to sign Republican legislation, especially because the proposed health care bill is the exact opposite of the lower premiums and universal coverage Trump pledged during his campaign. Leonhardt thinks the bubbling Russia scandal gives the Republican congress an edge. He quotes Paul Starr, a sociologist:

Donald Trump is now totally dependent on congressional Republicans to avoid impeachment and therefore has no choice but to be a cheerleader for their policies and to sign whatever legislation they send him.

But because, as Leondhardt admits, Trump is only interested in “winning” and has zero interest in assisting in crafting policy, there was never any reason to doubt Trump would sign whatever piece of garbage the Republican congress sent to him. As I wrote back in January:

Any legislation they (the Republican congress) want they can put in front of Trump, and chances are he’ll sign it.

And February:

And [McCain will] vote affirmatively for Trump’s other picks. And he, along with the Republican-controlled congress and soon-to-be conservative-controlled Supreme Court, will ram through their ultraconservative agenda, doing their best to dangle shiny objects in front of Trump long enough to get him to sign the bills he hasn’t read that are put in front of him.

We know Trump has signed executive orders without actually reading them, and that was before the majority of his scandals happened or started heating up. Trump was on board with the initial draft of the health care bill and lambasted the Freedom Caucus when they announced their opposition to it, causing Ryan to cancel a vote. He’s on board with this draft, too. That’s because Trump doesn’t care what’s in the bill; he only cares that it looks like he’s doing something. How any of the actual legislation he winds up signing actually affects people he doesn’t care about, and he would have wound up agreeing with whatever Paul Ryan put in front of him regardless of however many scandals he did or didn’t have. He’s that much of a simpleton.

Maybe that will change should the Russia scandal become completely unmanageable and evermore damning, but in that case Trump will be at the mercy of the Republican congress to not impeach him—Trump still would sign their legislation regardless, if they can ever manage to hand him some.

A Quick Word on Pete Buttigieg

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I’m still not officially “back,” at least not for a few more days. But in the interval I wanted to make a quick note. Several months back I started writing a piece about the election of the Chair of the Democratic National Committee. Ultimately I didn’t because I didn’t have anything useful to say; it was either going to be Tom Perez or Keith Ellison, neither of whom I found interesting or particularly capable of the job.

But something I wished I had said was that I wish the seat had gone to Pete Buttigieg, a 35-year-old mayor from Indiana who attended Harvard and served in Afghanistan. I learned about Buttigieg from an interview he did with Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo, and where I’d largely tuned out to the repetitive and typical “we’ve got to organize” BS from Ellison and Perez (without any real, substantive plan as to how that would happen), my ears perked up at certain things Buttigieg said. Listen for yourself:

Long story short, normal Democrats aren’t good at sloganeering and rhetoric, so it was unwise to choose Perez (and by extension, it probably would have been unwise to choose Ellison, too). Buttigieg actually had a strategy, and he was able to articulate many of the weaknesses of the Democratic party and provide actual solutions. This is the kind of person we need in the Democratic party.

If It Took You Until Trump to Realize the Republican Party Was Rotten, You Haven’t Been Paying Attention

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Here’s a hot take by John J. Pitney, Jr that I’m sure will only become more popular with time (“I was a Republican until Donald Trump hijacked my party,” USA Today, 5/23/2017).

Already there’s a problem with the title. Donald Trump didn’t “hijack” the party—unless winning the party’s nomination according to its own rules is considered “hijacking”—regular Republicans showed up and voted for him in the primaries, again and again and again. And once he got the nomination, Reince Preibus and Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell and other Republican stalwarts endorsed Trump and helped shepherd him to victory. A plane can’t get hijacked if the passengers encourage the hijacker to do it and the pilots willingly show him how to fly the plane. So enough of this “hijacking” nonsense.

Because Pitney isn’t able to admit this small but significant fact and instead wants to act as though Trump’s ascension was a hostile takeover, it’s not surprising that he never quite explains what it is about Trump that he doesn’t like:

From the start of the campaign, i knew I could never vote for such a person. Trump is a mashup of all the sorriest parts of Republican history: Herbert Hoover’s trade policy, Warren Harding’s incompetence, Charles Lindbergh’s dictator worship, and Joseph McCarthy’s dishonesty.

So Pitney opposes Trump because he’s the embodiment of standard Republican politician traits (and wouldn’t you know, Pitney doesn’t make a peep about Republicans and the Civil Rights Movement). He opposes Trump because of his stance on NAFTA and for firing James Comey. He opposes Trump because he doesn’t believe in American Exceptionalism:

During an interview, Bill O’Reilly pointed out that Vladimir Putin is a killer. “There are a lot of killers,” Trump replied. “You think our country’s so innocent?”

Which is something I actually agree with Trump about, though context is everything: I condemn Putin and his dictatorial moves and simultaneously acknowledge and condemn the military muscle the United States has flung around the world against innocent people. Trump, on the other hand, wanted to create a reason by which his admiration of Putin was justified; Putin kills people, but so do we, so where do we get off being moral arbiters? I know Trump’s thought process wasn’t that sophisticated, but the point remains.

All this, though, makes me wonder whether Pitney would have written this column had any other Republican won the election, even if that Republican expressed the same ideas as Trump, because with few exceptions Trump didn’t much deviate from the standard Republican party line—he was just brasher and louder and dumber and more open about it than any of those other stooges were willing to be. The only reason Trump was able to rise and take control of the party is because the politicians within that party and the right-wing media that accompanies them in blasting their base constituents with nonsense for decades created an atmosphere from which a swamp thing like Trump would inevitably emerge. I didn’t think it’d come this quickly, but here it is.

Infuriating, too, is how Pitney says he registered as an independent the day after the election. Instead of being even the least bit curious about how his party ended up where it is now and what role people like him and his enthusiastic support for the party for the better party of a century played in bringing the party to its current dire straits, he bails and says he’s going to vote Democratic. Which is fine, I guess; I’d rather have a reluctant Republican vote for Dems than hold their nose and vote Republican because they still believe they’re the better choice no matter how bad they get. But I’d also like to have Republicans who can acknowledge their complicity and demand that the party start acting sane again. His abandonment of Republicans does not absolve him for his small part in the party becoming what it is today. Worst of all, the way he writes in his editorial:

I started volunteering for the party nearly a half century ago, handing out Nixon pamphlets in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., at the age of 13. I went on to work for Republican politicians in the New York State Legislature and both houses of Congress. And for a couple of years, I served in the research department of the Republican National Committee.

But early in the morning of Nov. 9, shortly after Trump claimed victory in the presidential election, I took out my laptop and changed my registration to independent.

It’s as if he wouldn’t have noticed anything were wrong had Donald Trump not been the nominee.

In that very perverse way, Pitney should actually be thanking Trump, because Trump has exposed without the possibility of nuance or abstraction to Pitney something that liberals have known for a long time but that conservatives such as Pitney were somehow unable to see: that the GOP is comprised of unprincipled opportunists who will do almost anything to attain and retain power.

Roger Ailes and William F. Buckley: The Terrible Faces of Conservative Journalism

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Roger Ailes’s corporeal body has died, though it’s safe to assume his soul (if he ever had one) died long, long ago. There are two types of right-wingers: the abject morons and the wannabe intellectual. Here’s the reaction from the abject morons:

And here’s the reaction from the wannabe intellectuals:

Ross wants “conservative journalism” to be more like the Buckley era. Not surprising. Our friends at National Review still have a page regarding the legacy of Buckley.

But Buckley was a right-wing asshole in an intellectual’s clothing. Buckley supported apartheid in South Africa:

Buckley was actively courted by Chiang Kai-Shek’s Taiwan, Franco’s Spain, South Africa, Rhodesia and Portugal’s African colonies, and went on expenses-paid trips trips to some of these countries.

When he returned from Mozambique in 1962, Buckley wrote a column describing the backwardness of the African population over which Portugal ruled, “The more serene element in Africa tends to believe that rampant African nationalism is self-discrediting, and that therefore the time is bound to come when America, and the West … will depart from our dogmatic anti-Colonialism and realize what is the nature of the beast.”

In the fall of 1962, during a visit to South Africa, arranged by the Information Ministry, Buckley wrote that South African apartheid “has evolved into a serious program designed to cope with a melodramatic dilemma on whose solution hangs, quite literally, the question of life or death for the white man in South Africa.”

And:

President Botha of South Africa is incontestably right in saying in effect that he was not elected leader of his government in order to preside over the liquidation of the South Africa he was elected to govern. Critics are perfectly free to contend that his election does not suit our political criteria. But having admitted that his government does not do so, it hardly makes sense to criticize him for proceeding on the basis of his (misbegotten) criteria. If you criticize somebody for being mean to his mother, don’t be surprised if he goes on to be mean to his mother.

Meaning this:

Buckley’s logic here, while circular, is also completely airtight. You can’t blame a white South African president for continuing a policy of white supremacy. He was elected by whites! If the whites-only electorate wanted to dismantle white supremacy, it would have chosen somebody else. So there.

He also had a rather Nazi-esque idea for dealing with those who had AIDS:

Everyone detected with AIDS should be tatooed in the upper forearm, to protect common-needle users, and on the buttocks, to prevent the victimization of other homosexuals.

He had this exchange with Gore Vidal on television during the 1968 Democratic convention:

In case the audio quality is bad enough that you couldn’t hear, Vidal calls Buckley a “crypto-Nazi,” and Buckley responds: “Now listen, you queer; stop calling me a crypto-Nazi, or I’ll sock you in your goddamn face, and you’ll stay plastered.”

Yeah. I’m not nostalgic for the Buckley era of conservative journalism.

Impeachment and the 25th Amendment

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Ross Douthat makes the argument that Trump should be removed from office by using the 25th amendment. He’s not being sarcastic, and surprisingly enough, it’s not intentionally part of his ongoing series of “implausible proposals” (though it is implausible). He seems pretty serious (“The 25th Amendment Solution for Removing Trump,” The New York Times, 5/16/2017):

One does not need to be a Marvel superhero or Nietzschean Übermensch to rise to this responsibility. But one needs some basic attributes: a reasonable level of intellectual curiosity, a certain seriousness of purpose, a basic level of managerial competence, a decent attention span, a functional moral compass, a measure of restraint and self-control. And if a president is deficient in one or more of them, you can be sure it will be exposed.

Trump is seemingly deficient in them all. Some he perhaps never had, others have presumably atrophied with age. He certainly has political talent — charisma, a raw cunning, an instinct for the jugular, a form of the common touch, a certain creativity that normal politicians lack. He would not have been elected without these qualities. But they are not enough, they cannot fill the void where other, very normal human gifts should be.

And:

[Trump] is a child who blurts out classified information in order to impress distinguished visitors. It is a child who asks the head of the F.B.I. why the rules cannot be suspended for his friend and ally. It is a child who does not understand the obvious consequences of his more vindictive actions — like firing the very same man whom you had asked to potentially obstruct justice on your say-so.

And:

I do not believe [Trump] is really capable of the behind-the-scenes conspiring that the darker Russia theories envision. And it is hard to betray an oath of office whose obligations you evince no sign of really understanding or respecting.

Which is not an argument for allowing him to occupy that office. It is an argument, instead, for using a constitutional mechanism more appropriate to this strange situation than impeachment: the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, which allows for the removal of the president if the vice president and a majority of the cabinet informs the Congress that he is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office” and (should the president contest his own removal) a two-thirds vote by Congress confirms the cabinet’s judgment.

I’m not going to spend time on the plausibility of this proposal, but it is a serious proposal, so I’ll take it seriously. I’m going to blow past what exactly would need to realistically happen in order for Trump to be ousted from office and assume that it’s actually happening, because I think the country’s reaction to that is worth considering.

Anyone who puts forward either impeachment or execution of the 25th amendment needs to consider that there is a bloc of voters in this country who, no matter what, will see the removal of Trump from office as a coup. It is not the majority of the country; it’s not even close to the majority. But it is a significant sect, and they so distrust mainstream media (and “distrust” is a soft word to use; they believe the mainstream media is comprised of pure propaganda arms constantly churning out fabricated stories with the explicit purpose of undermining Trump, and they hate the media because of that) and so revile establishment politicians that it is impossible to predict how they would react.

In February of last year, I wrote a short piece replying to Micah Zenko’s tweeted question of where Trump supporters’ anger would go if he didn’t materially improve their lives in any tangible way. Here’s what I said:

The easy answer is that it will be directed at the same targets it already targets: government, immigrants, Muslims, media, etc. […] Because congress, whatever its makeup of Pubs and Dems, would be highly unlikely to entertain many of Emperor Trump’s proposals, Trump supporters wouldn’t blame their man—they’d blame the intransigent government that denied Trump the power to do what people elected him to do. And so they’d stay angry.

And in the unlikely event Trump did give them what they want?:

[T]hey’d still be enraged—enraged at a system that denied them what they’d wanted (or had been told to want) for decades. If Trump actually built a wall that deterred illegal immigration, or if he ordered forceful deportations of even a modest amount of illegal immigrants, their anger wouldn’t abate. They’d see it as proof positive that the government and immigrants and media were the ultimate sources of their grievances, and all it took was to elect an outside strongman to tear the system a new one—and they’d want more of it.

I finished by saying I didn’t think Trump supporters were brownshirts in the making—something I still believe to be true if Trump is allowed to finish his term(s) uninterrupted. But what I hadn’t calibrated for then was the possibility of Trump getting thrown out of office, especially in swift fashion. Again, I want to stress that I don’t know what people would do in reaction, especially his supporters.

Ultimately cynical as it is, Republicans are stuck between a rock and a hard place. For any normal human being, the moral quandary they find themselves in has an obvious answer, and any normal human being would never under the circumstances that were presented to Republicans last year let themselves get swallowed by the revulsion that is Trump. But that’s not who Republicans are. Instead, they must now decide whether they want to stick with Trump and thereby prove loyalty to his rabid base, or dump him and suffer not only the hatred of Democrats but of an extremely vocal and vile sect of their own voters. I suppose they’re hoping that the crisis rolls on past the midterms, so that in the event they lose the House and Senate they can blame any impeachment attempt on the Democrats (since they’re probably too chickenshit to do it themselves).

But should anything happen, I can imagine Pence being as unpopular if not more so than Trump. Democrats might feel better that a nominally sane person is president, but they would still fiercely object to his agenda. Trump still has high approval ratings among Republicans (something that will likely erode should the fallout from his scandals drag on for an extended period), and as I’ve said a million times, he has an extremely loyal base who will view everyone involved in removing Trump as a traitor to the republic executing a coup. Pence, assuming he doesn’t get caught up in the string of scandals, would have only the support of relatively mild conservatives—people like Ross Douthat, for example.

All of this is my roundabout way of saying that even if Trump winds up meriting being removed from office, we shouldn’t disillusion ourselves to the belief that enough Americans will understand that it was the right thing to do, the best thing for the country, our allies, and the world. I can see armed right-wing militias pulling Bundy-like stunts in pockets across the heartland, and I can see a few of those incidents turning violent.

It must be understood that these people have been trained by right-wing media and politicians for several decades that there is a grand, liberal conspiracy out to get them, that they and their friends and family and country are under siege. And now they believe they have overcome the nefarious forces that have kept them down for so long, and in a blink of an eye those same forces removed the man they legitimately elected.

I’m not saying we make decisions based on their paranoia and potential for violence. But it needs to be kept in mind. We now have a significant portion of the population that is lost to us. They have created and reside in a paranoid parallel universe rife with conspiracy, a universe only they have the power to remove themselves from. There is nothing the rest of us can do for them. They are lost to us.