As my recent inactivity has indicated, I’m busy at the moment and won’t have much time to hate-read David Brooks and company every day, so my output here for the next couple weeks will be very little or nonexistent. I’ll be back sometime around mid-June, assuming the universe hasn’t imploded by then.
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’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.”
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.
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.
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.
[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.
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.
We are 118 days into the Trump presidency. In a little over a week, Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, and he revealed highly classified security intelligence to the Russians in the Oval Office. In that same time, we’ve learned that the intelligence Trump willingly gave up connects to Israeli assets, and the level of detail Trump gave is enough for savvy adversarial foreign intelligence officers to reverse engineer in order to stop whoever it is. We’ve also learned that there is strong reason to believe that James Comey kept a paper trail of every conversation he had with the president, and that he is in possession of a memo that has Trump asking Comey to stop his investigation into Michael Flynn, who was fired in the wake of revelations about his connections with Russia. Now, Democrats are crying out for impeachment, and so far congressional Republicans have largely stepped aside and not offered the usual spin and defense of Trump to which we’ve grown accustomed. As one Trump aide put it, it’s hard to see how the president isn’t “completely fucked.”
Anything else I’m missing?
I won’t try to predict whether Trump will be successfully impeached, though it is hard to imagine that congressional Republicans would touch Trump and sacrifice their careers in the midst of an ever-polarizing populace and a right-wing propaganda machine drilling it into the heads of its audience that Trump is doing a fantastic job. There’s the possibility of the 25th amendment coming into play, but it’s never been used, and since I’m not a constitutional scholar, I won’t pretend to have an honest grasp of when it should.
But one week is a short time to have so many scandals blow up at once, and it’s likely that this isn’t the end. Maybe they won’t come in such rapid succession has they have over the last nine days, but they’ll keep coming. And like I said, we’re only 118 days in. This is insane.
This is also increasingly looking like Trump won’t last his full term, something I thought was ridiculous to say before a week ago (and honestly still think was a decent assessment given what little info about the Trump-Russia connection we had). So what does that mean?
It means that Trump has so far only surpassed William Henry Harrison in number of days served in office. He has to stay in office another 1144 days in order to surpass all the presidents who died during their first term in office, and 1312 days to surpass all the president’s who were finishing another president’s term and were not elected president thereafter.
What happens next, of course, depends on what we learn from the FBI’s investigation into his campaign and the contents of the Comey memo (and others, surely). If it really does turn out to be as bad as it looks right now, I don’t know how Trump weathers the storm. That’s not to say I think he can’t—his base are loyal to him like dogs to a master, and that base is large enough to give him political power other Republicans are afraid to question. But it essentially comes down to whether or not the scandals are as bad or worse than they appear to be, and whether Republicans in congress choose to do anything about it.
Although even before the scandals broke I never took talk of impeachment or removal seriously, expecting Trump to be in office for at least four years, and although a part of me fears that even in the face of obvious wrongdoing Trump will be permitted to complete his term(s), I can also imagine Trump not making it beyond the threshold of days served of presidents who died in office or filled another’s term. That alone would speak volumes about the kind of president he was.
If it turns out to be true, these will be the stages of Republican denial in the media and among the wingnut base regarding the Comey memo:
- Ignore it.
- Deny it’s real.
- Admit it’s real but that Comey should have said something in February.
- Actually, scratch that, it’s hearsay.
- Hope that more memos are made available so they can look for references to pizza.
And you can liberally add “Comey is a cuck” to pretty much any of those stages.
David Brooks keeps writing about Trump as though he’s just discovering him for the first time. Every column in which Brooks condemns Trump in his very special way that, no matter what, always feels like an over-rehearsed retort the nerd delivers to the bully on the playground that falls completely flat. They always come off like a punch in a dream—no weight behind them. So while I welcome one of America’s leading Conservative Intellectuals© going for The Donald’s throat, he’s always at least a little bit off about something (“When the World is Led by a Child,” The New York Times, 5/16/2017):
At certain times Donald Trump has seemed like a budding authoritarian, a corrupt Nixon, a rabble-rousing populist or a big business corporatist.
But as Trump has settled into his White House role, he has given a series of long interviews, and when you study the transcripts it becomes clear that fundamentally he is none of these things.
This is the introduction, and the rest of the column is a take-down. But I have to quibble with the notion that Trump is not a budding authoritarian.
Brooks is right to say Trump isn’t a populist: his, or really Paul Ryan’s, proposed health care bill is a huge tax cut for the rich, and his, or really Paul Ryan’s, idea of tax reform is yet again huge tax cuts for the rich. But Trump does have authoritarian tendencies; he’s just too inept to find a way to implement them, because figuring out a way to do that would take work, and Trump hates work.
Like Brooks suggests, Trump is a mental infant, and it’s in that way that his authoritarianism expresses itself. For example, Trump gets two scoops of ice cream for dessert, but everyone else only gets one. He appears to have fired James Comey out of anger more than as a sinister power move. In his unwillingness to do the legwork to get major legislation moving, he issues poorly-worded executive orders that get hung up in the courts. These are all childish impulses and don’t include his fidgeting, his manic and unfocused responses to questions, and his low level of diction and disdain for reading.
But we saw last week how quickly those who were becoming mildly amused by Trump’s incompetence careened wildly toward panic mode when it appeared that Trump had fired Comey with the explicit purpose of obstructing the FBI’s investigation into his campaign (which still may be the case, but his careless reveal of highly classified information in the absence of any sort of pressure suggests he’s still just an impulsive idiot), which means that even if he’s not aware of it, Trump has at his disposal the tools to enact more authoritarian schemes, especially since Republicans in congress are continually uninterested in reacting to everything he does.
So yes, Trump is stupid. But don’t discount his ability to do something awful—on purpose.
The story that came out tonight, as reported, is false. The president and foreign minister reviewed a range of common threats to our two countries including threats to civil aviation. At no time … were intelligence sources or methods discussed. And the president did not disclose any military operations that were not publicly known … I was in the room, it didn’t happen.
This is one of those carefully worded non-denial denials, where phrases like “as reported” are left as little cracks through which the administration can criticize the report on details without denying wholesale the heart of the story. Same with “is false” and “it didn’t happen.” Not only are they meant to discredit the report, they’re denials of claims that the Post story never made.
But what’s really striking is that McMaster essentially laid his credibility on the line for Trump to crucify, as though Trump is some sort of elder god of lore to whom all Republicans must sacrifice some portion of their soul. Remember, this is a guy who is actually well-respected and thought to be intelligent:
But as Josh Marshall predicted, Trump woke up this morning and shot these gems out, essentially confirming the Washington Post story:
And now, just moments ago, McMaster had a press briefing in place of Sean Spicer’s (who I believe has now fully transformed into a shrub and has become a permanent fixture of the rose garden), and McMaster degraded himself:
The key take away is that McMaster is essentially conceding the accuracy of last night’s reporting (first from the Post and later confirmed by other outlets) but saying that in the context it was okay. It was appropriate. Notably, when it comes to specifics, he is hiding behind classification to refuse to give further answers.
To come out and perform the rhetorical trick of making it look as though you’re denying the story in a very vocal way (“I was in the room, it didn’t happen”) but using weasel wording in order to evade culpability destroys whatever credibility McMaster had. Honestly, anyone who decides to take a job from Trump ought to know what he or she is getting into, and anyone who somehow doesn’t know what they’re getting into shouldn’t take the job. What’s perplexing is that McMaster staked his reputation on this, for a chump like Trump, only to have it blow up in his face in less than 24 hours.