Even With Comey’s Dismissal, Republicans Will Continue to Back Trump

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There is nothing good about the Trump presidency. With last night’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, the balance of power that stabilizes our democracy is in danger of shifting disproportionately to the executive branch. But if we had the luxury of being able to detach ourselves from the present situation and look upon what’s currently unfolding like sports spectators, we’d have to appreciate history setting up what had previously only been a thought experiment: we finally have proof that the Republican party would willingly enable the rise of a dictator if it meant they got to stay in power.

And accordingly, Republican media hacks have already done their duty of spinning Comey’s firing as 100% normal, business-as-usual politics. But the facts of the matter are that Comey was investigating collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians, subpoenas had just been issued to gather information, and the request to terminate Comey (supposedly) came from Jeff Sessions—the Attorney General who had to recuse himself from the FBI’s investigation because he lied under oath about his interactions with the Russians.

Whether the insistence to fire Comey came from Sessions or not is immaterial; what matters is that this is a blatant attempt to stymie and possibly erase the investigation. It would be one thing if conservatives duly noted the alarm bells this dismissal is sounding off but urged calm until more was known, but no—conservative media goons are insisting that any concern about it is just crazy conspiracy theory. So leave it to the vacuous Hugh Hewitt to rise to the occasion and spin, spin, spin (“Comey’s firing isn’t like the ‘Saturday Night Massacre.’ It’s pretty straightforward,” The Washington Post, 5/10/2017):

Anyone who thinks [Comey’s firing] is connected to a coverup of “Russian collusion” has to believe that both Rosenstein and Sessions would participate in such a corrupt scheme. I don’t.

I do. As I said, Sessions lied under oath about his contact with the Russians, so there’s something wrong with Hugh if he can’t figure out why someone who would lie about the subject that’s being investigated might want to hinder that investigation. Even more, Rosenstein has only been deputy Attorney General for two weeks, which leaves me in the very uncomfortable position of actually agreeing with Bill Kristol:

And there’s the bizarre letter Trump wrote to order Comey’s termination, which was dropped off at FBI headquarters by Trump’s personal bodyguard even though Comey wasn’t in Washington; he was in Los Angeles speaking when the news came on a television behind him and caught him so flat-footed he thought it was a joke. Pay attention to the underlined sentence:

comey letter

Here Trump does something clever, unwittingly or not. By lying about not being under investigation (it’s his campaign that’s being investigated, of course he’s part of what’s being investigated), Trump performs a rhetorical trick that allows him to deny interfering with an ongoing investigation without actually having to explicitly say that he’s not interfering with an ongoing investigation. Ie, in Trump’s mind, if he’s not under investigation, then it’s literally impossible for him to interfere with that investigation because it doesn’t exist. None of that is true, of course, but it allows shills like Kellyanne Conway to go on Anderson Cooper and repeatedly claim that Trump is somehow exempt from the investigation looking into his campaign.

It’s not surprising to me that Hewitt would automatically take the dismissive stance—for someone who writes opinion pieces, he doesn’t seem to write his ‘opinions’ so much as regurgitated spin to make Republicans look blameless in any situation. And I’m not surprised that low-level radio hosts who are the equivalent of sleazy used car salesmen like Bill Mitchell back Trump up. But I’m disappointed (but again, not all that surprised) when the supposed intellectual wing of conservatism also can’t seem to focus on what’s really at stake here:

The thing to remember going forward is that Republicans by and large will continue to defend Trump or insist that any idea put forth by Democrats is an insane Chicken Little episode. And they will continue to back him until it’s too late—until that moment, should it ever arrive, that Trump becomes too toxic to defend. Before his campaign started, virtually everything he’s said and done would have been too toxic for any other candidate, regardless of party, to defend. But not now. Republicans have power, and they will cravenly defend it no matter what. Like I said, it’s not much of a silver lining, but Trump being president and having nearly everything that could go wrong with the presidency of a narcissistic moron actually go wrong exposes Republicans for having no values.

Jonah Goldberg: Actually, It’s Stephen Colbert’s Fault That Trump Is Such an Asshole

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Jonah Goldberg, Principled Conservative© and proud member of the Party of Personal Responsibility©, wants you to know who’s really to blame for Trump’s pure awfulness (“The courts, and Stephen Colbert, are enabling Trump’s violations of the norms,” LA Times, 5/9/2017):

[T]he big problem with violating democratic norms — the unwritten customs and practices even political opponents traditionally abide by — is that once you’ve done it, everybody wants to do it too. When the people most offended by Trump’s violations indulge in similar behavior, they not only contribute to the problem, they create incentives for Trump and his biggest supporters to keep doing it.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say the loudest of Trump’s supporters—the morons at Fox News, Breitbart “writers,” Twitter trolls and white supremacists and every other brand of deplorable that wears the epithet as a badge of honor—would still be huge assholes regardless of how polite liberals were to them. Know how I know that? Because that’s how they were before Trump even came on the scene.

You see, it’s Republicans and right-wing media that created and enabled an environment in which a Trump could grow, ripen, and rot—figures like him don’t just appear out of thin air. If Republican voters hated so much of what he said and who he was, he wouldn’t be our fucking president right now, Jonah. But go ahead; tell me why Colbert’s blowjob joke gives Trump license as leader of the free world to tweet like a ten-year-old boy who just discovered 4chan:

Colbert’s animus toward Trump’s crudeness got the better of him. Suffice it to say that if you want to condemn a president for his incivility, you squander some credibility when you describe the president of the United State in a lewd act with a foreign dictator.

Goldberg would have a point if, say, Barack Obama made the comment in a public space. Obama has in part banked his reputation on being calm, cool, and collected, even under pressure, lest the media get a chance to run another “Obama’s an angry black man!” piece of sensationalism. But Colbert isn’t a politician. He’s a comedian. And he took a shot at a quality Trump values in himself: his manliness. His cultivation of the image as the ultimate alpha male. Colbert attempted to deflate that by saying he’s so enthralled with Putin that he submissively sucks his dick.

Regardless of how lewd or offensive you find Colbert’s joke, Goldberg isn’t really the person best qualified to critique Colbert as an “enabler” of Trump. That’s because Goldberg had some very odd things to say about Jimmy Kimmel’s speech on health care (“The Dangers of Empathy,” National Review, 5/5/2017):

[B]ecause I am a father, I could empathize with late-night host Jimmy Kimmel’s story about his son’s birth. His story is almost surely more harrowing than my story, but that doesn’t matter. Empathy is the ability to feel what someone else is feeling.

Empathy is different than sympathy or compassion. Sympathy is when you feel sorry for someone. Compassion is when you do something about it.

But empathy is something else…

Adolf Hitler was a master of empathy — for ethnic Germans in the Sudetenland, Austria, and elsewhere. The cause of nationalist empathy for the German tribe triggered profound moral blindness for the plight, and even the humanity, of Jews, Gypsies, and Slavs.

From 0 to Godwin in less than 60 seconds. Impressive, Jonah, impressive. It must take nerves of steel to watch Jimmy Kimmel recall the frightening story of his son’s birth, and how Kimmel is gravely concerned about what the potential repeal of Obamacare could do to hundreds of thousands if not millions of children whose parents are not as financially fortunate as Kimmel is, and come to the conclusion that he’s being emotionally manipulative in a similar fashion to Hitler.

If you want to criticize people who condemn the president for his incivility for being uncivil, Jonah, you lose some street cred when you compare a late night show host’s emotional story to Hitler’s Final Solution.

Trump Isn’t Affecting Rightwingers’ Popularity Abroad—They’re Just Better at Dealing With It

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Talking Points Memo editor John Judis had a few thoughts on the what the results of the French election mean in a wider context (“Macron’s rout of Le Pen shows how Trump is hurting Rightwing Populists,” Talking Points Memo, 5/7/2017):

After Trump’s upset victory in November, the European parties and politicians that were politically close to him expected to get a boost, but exactly the opposite has happened.

Judis gives a few examples to make his case. In Austria:

[L]ast May, Green Party candidate Alexander Van den Bellen edged populist right candidate Norbert Hofer of the Freedom Party by .4 percent. A court heeded a Freedom Party protest and threw out the results and called for a new election. In December, in the wake of both Brexit and Trump’s victory, Van den Bellen easily defeated Hofer by 53.3 to 46.7 percent.

In Germany:

[T]he Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) party, which targeted immigrants and asylum-seekers, had seen its popularity grow in the wake of the Cologne New Year’s Eve riot… But in subsequent elections, it has fallen flat, while the Christian Democrats, identified with German Chancellor’s Angela Merkel’s refusal to heed Trump’s bullying, has seen its vote rise. In March regional elections in Saarland in southwest Germany, Merkel’s party won 40.2 percent (up from 35.2 percent in 2012), while the AfD, which had previously been running as high as 16 percent in national polls, won only 6.2 percent.

In Holland:

But perhaps the most telling result was in the Dutch elections March 15. For 18 months, Geert Wilders of the Party of Freedom had led all the parties in the polls. Wilders had expected to benefit from Trump’s victory, which he had celebrated as a “Patriotic Spring…” But Wilders got only 13.1 percent of the vote, well behind center-right Mark Rutte’s People’s Party, which got 21.3 percent.

And here’s Judis’s theory:

Why didn’t Trump and Brexit provide a bounce for these politicians? One factor is that Trump, with his strident dismissal of NATO and the European Union, his jibes against Merkel and Germany, his near-endorsement of Le Pen, united West Europeans the same way that George W. Bush did in 2003. Another factor, important in France, was that Trump’s blustering know-nothingness seems to have frightened and offended voters. In her debate with Macron on election eve, Le Pen’s own harsh rhetoric, combined with her refusal to get into details about her program, probably reinforced the impression that she was a French version of Trump, leading to a sharp drop in her polling numbers prior to the election.

Undoubtedly there is some truth to this. By associating Le Pen with Trump’s slovenliness, a certain faction of French voters was sure to be turned off. But I think there are a few problems with Judis’s theory that Trump himself has been a kind of inoculating force against the rightwing populism around the world that he’s supposed to represent.

One is that Trump doesn’t represent rightwing populism in the sense that it’s usually talked about—or at least he’s only interested in full-throatedly adopting the more extreme of traditional Republican positions while disregarding the rest. He has no plan to undertake a grand infrastructure project that would benefit everyday Americans, and his and Paul Ryan’s AHCA bill demonstrates his complete disregard of the working middle class and poor. That’s not the kind of working-class-hero mawishness that Steve Bannon supposedly endorses as an evil Bruce Springsteen. Not only that, but Europe’s relationship to fascism and rightwing nationalism is a lot stronger than it is in America. All of the countries Judis mentions either had fascist regimes rise from within them at one point or were occupied by them. As a result, Europeans are keener to recognize it than regular Americans, many of whom wouldn’t be able to recognize a fascist so long as he was wrapped in the American flag. Besides, the referendum in Turkey (however fair or not) is ample evidence that slow-moving rightwing coups still exist in powerful ways.

Another is that all those countries have something fundamentally different from America: a true multiparty parliamentary system. In the French election, especially, the candidates and their parties that were eliminated after the first round of voting largely backed and endorsed Emmanuel Macron, leaving Le Pen and her party isolated. Even the traditional conservative party in France urged its supporters to vote for Macron. This is also true in Austria, where Norbert Hofer soundly won the first round of voting over Alexander Van den Bellen. But again, the disparate parties united behind Van den Bellen (however enthusiastically or begrudgingly, I don’t know) to defeat the far-right.

This is not true in America, where we have a two-party system with other, smaller parties designed to siphon votes from either major party as protest votes. Unlike in France and Austria and elsewhere, where the political establishments recognized and acted against a severe rightwing threat, in America we saw one of the major two parties give the nomination to Donald Trump after he won the primaries and nearly all of its major members endorse him. Also, the smaller parties (the Libertarian and Green parties) did not encourage their voters to rally behind Clinton in order to defeat Trump—instead, they gleefully tried to recruit as many voters as they could, seeing the general unpopularity of each major candidate as a boon to their own “cause.” Jill Stein, for example, was always more than happy to either equate Trump and Clinton or straight-up say that Clinton was far more dangerous than Trump. (The one exception was Bill Weld, the vice presidential candidate for the Libertarian party, who more or less endorsed Clinton before the election.

The point being that in Europe, there were coalitions ready to rebuke a popular rightwing rising. In America, one half of American political power got behind that rightwing tide and haven’t looked back. Republicans looked fascism in the eye and decided they’d rather try to get as much power as possible than attempt to forestall a nationalist movement that will swallow them whole before they can sufficiently harness control of it.

They Bet Your Life

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House Republicans passed the AHCA today. In its current form before it reaches the senate, here’s what it would do:

The legislation would end the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid to poor adults and drastically cut federal funding for Medicaid overall, jeopardizing coverage for children, people with disabilities and elderly people in nursing homes. The bill also would allow states to permit health insurers to go back to turning away customers because of their health status and medical histories, or charging them higher rates.

The American Health Care Act is also a vehicle for almost $600 billion in tax cuts for wealthy people and health care corporations.

And:

It would roll back state-by-state expansions of Medicaid, which covered millions of low-income Americans.

In place of government-subsidized insurance policies offered exclusively on the Affordable Care Act’s marketplaces, the bill would offer tax credits of $2,000 to $4,000 a year, depending mainly on age. A family could receive up to $14,000 a year in credits…

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said the first version of the bill would trim the federal budget deficit considerably but would also leave 24 million more Americans without health insurance after a decade. Insurance premiums would spike next year before settling lower after a decade.

When asked whether Republican congressmen had actually read the bill, this was their response:

And it looks like House Republicans are hoping that it gets rewritten in the senate—as far as they’re concerned, they did their job. If the senate scraps the bill and starts over, they can claim they were sabotaged by their own party—or, more realistically, shift the blame to Democrats. In fact, that the bill we be completely rewritten looks likely:

The Republican plan to overhaul the US healthcare system might be about to look very different.

Republican senators signaled they plan to almost completely gut the American Health Care Act and rewrite their own version of the bill after the AHCA passed the House on Thursday, a sign the fight over repealing and replacing Obamacare is far from over…

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn told the Examiner it didn’t matter if the House passed their own bill or not.

“It was kind of a moot issue if the House wasn’t going to be able to pass a bill and now they have, and I’m proud of them for doing it,” Cornyn said. “Now it’s up to us to pass a bill 51 senators can agree to.”

Meaning House Republicans voted to pass a bill that by all indications would have devastating effects on the American health care and health insurance systems without even knowing what was in it, and put their money on the senate doing the dirty work.

Make no mistake. They bet your life. And you lost.

Climate of Derp

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Our pal Bret Stephens is at it again with another “Hey, I like science, but it’s kinda stupid and wrong” column (“Climate of Unintended Consequences,” The New York Times, 5/4/2017). It’s linked above, but if you’d like me to save you some time, here’s shorter Bret Stephens:

Climate change is real, and its consequences will be terrible. But at one point those most concerned about climate change were advocating for biofuels. and even George W. Bush pushed for increases in ethanol, because Bush was obviously concerned about the climate. Well, it didn’t work out so well, and those most concerned about climate change abandoned the idea of biofuels. Pretty embarrassing, huh? They probably don’t want me to even mention it. I mean, I guess forming a hypothesis, testing it, reporting the results accurately, and making an assessment once the results are confirmed are pretty much the scientific method in action. But still, science is kinda dumb.

Even shorter Bret Stephens:

this is fine

Fascism Inaction

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Paul Krugman makes an obvious but important point about Trump supporters’ unwavering loyalty despite the less-than-stellar reports after Trump’s first 100 days in office (“On the Power of Being Awful,” The New York Times, 5/1/2017):

One basic principle I’ve learned in my years at The Times is that almost nobody ever admits being wrong about anything — and the wronger they were, the less willing they are to concede error…

Now think about what it means to have voted for Trump. The news media spent much of the campaign indulging in an orgy of false equivalence; nonetheless, most voters probably got the message that the political/media establishment considered Trump ignorant and temperamentally unqualified to be president. So the Trump vote had a strong element of: “Ha! You elites think you’re so smart? We’ll show you!”

Now, sure enough, it turns out that Trump is ignorant and temperamentally unqualified to be president. But if you think his supporters will accept this reality any time soon, you must not know much about human nature. In a perverse way, Trump’s sheer awfulness offers him some political protection: His supporters aren’t ready, at least so far, to admit that they made that big a mistake.

I’ve voiced my doubts about the way Krugman believes Trump’s “death spiral” will work. I don’t think there are any Trump supporters—supporters in the sense of how we think about them, ie, dyed-in-the-wool, MAGA-cap-wearing supporters—who are ever going to admit to making a mistake, and even his more tepid supporters whom the Democrats hope to swoon in 2018 are unlikely to do so. Switch a vote? Maybe. Own up to the idea of Trump being a brazenly unqualified nincompoop whose biggest success was dividing the country even further? Nah.

One reason is that a lot of the Republican base shares two important qualities with Trump: they never apologize, and they never take responsibility for anything. So it doesn’t matter what they say or do; if they get called out on a particular issue, they’ll either double down for the rest of their lives or claim persecution at the hands of the spectral left.

Nevertheless, Krugman believes Trump will have, as George W. Bush did, a “Katrina moment,” a catalyzing event so disastrous that even fervent supporters abandon him:

I’m old enough to remember when George W. Bush was wildly popular — and while his numbers gradually deflated from their post 9/11 high, it was a slow process. What really pushed his former supporters to reconsider, as I perceived it — and this perception is borne out by polling — was the Katrina debacle, in which everyone could see the Bush administration’s callousness and incompetence playing out live on TV.

My issue here is that the poll Krugman cites doesn’t really substantiate the point he’s trying to make. It shows a long, steady decline in Bush’s popularity. Hurricane Katrina is only mentioned once in a question asking what the most important problem the country was facing at the moment, with 10% answering Hurricane Katrina in December of ’05 and 1% answering the same in January of ’06 before it ceases to register. Concomitantly, Bush’s decline in popularity doesn’t appear to be especially hyperaccentuated in the wake of Katrina—and even if it were, it’s not as though there weren’t other major events happening in American political life that couldn’t also be the attributing factor.

But I’ll take Krugman’s point “seriously but not literally” and imagine what a “Katrina moment” might be for Trump. He has a few ideas himself:

What will Trump’s Katrina moment look like? Will it be the collapse of health insurance due to administration sabotage? A recession this White House has no idea how to handle? A natural disaster or public health crisis?

All of which are too easily attributable to someone else, namely Obama. And if supporters are too honest to blame Obama, they can blame congress, which many of them do for the failure of the health care bill to even reach the floor for a vote. The best I can do is this, and even this doesn’t seem likely to me (“Historian Timothy Snyder: “It’s pretty much inevitable” that Trump will try to stage a coup and overthrow democracy,” Salon, 5/1/2017):

In your book you discuss the idea that Donald Trump will have his own version of Hitler’s Reichstag fire to expand his power and take full control of the government by declaring a state of emergency. How do you think that would play out?

Let me make just two points. The first is that I think it’s pretty much inevitable that they will try. The reason I think that is that the conventional ways of being popular are not working out for them. The conventional way to be popular or to be legitimate in this country is to have some policies, to grow your popularity ratings and to win some elections. I don’t think 2018 is looking very good for the Republicans along those conventional lines — not just because the president is historically unpopular. It’s also because neither the White House nor Congress have any policies which the majority of the public like.

This means they could be seduced by the notion of getting into a new rhythm of politics, one that does not depend upon popular policies and electoral cycles.

I find this highly dubious. No, outrageous. Not because I think it offensive that he’d suggest that our sitting president would willingly carry out an attack on his own people, but because it’s clear that Trump does not have the mental capacity required to pull something like that off. Snyder’s not wrong when he says the Trump administration would likely exploit something like a terrorist attack (a real one, not a staged one like Snyder suggests) nearing a 9/11 scale to consolidate as much power as possible in ways even Bush didn’t attempt (and all power centers exploit those kinds of events, it’s just that a right-wing, power-hungry dork like Trump would go well beyond what another president would), but to suggest that Trump and his associates could concoct and execute such an event is ludicrous.

Trump’s White House leaks like a sieve, so unless he somehow manages to keep the warring factions right under his nose from continuing to fight one another, any plan that even smelled like a false flag (Ugh, do I hate that term. Thanks, Alex Jones.) would leak almost immediately. Perhaps that’s built into the point Snyder is trying to make that they likely wouldn’t get away with it. Regardless, Trump and associates like Bannon and Priebus or family like Kushner have proved so incompetent that there’s no way they’d be able to realistically plan and orchestrate anything like it. Trump doesn’t have the slightest clue what’s in the health insurance plan he keeps hawking, and his grand tax overhaul is a single-page Word document that might as well have been written in comic sans. He couldn’t do it even if he wanted to.

But a “Katrina moment” for Trump, if there should ever be one, might come in the form of overreach by the Trump administration in attempting to exploit the aftermath of a terrorist attack. Beyond that, it’s hard to imagine any single event being a catalyst that could lead to a steep decline in Trump’s already-low popularity, and he’s too incompetent to be a proactive fascist. In the meantime, though, he’s slowly degrading the legitimacy of our democratic institutions every time he tweets an insult or attacks the media at a rally.

Regardless of how it pans out, Snyder thinks Trump will fail:

My gut feeling is that Trump and his administration will try and that it won’t work. Not so much because we are so great but because we have a little bit of time to prepare. I also think that there are enough people and enough agencies of the government who have also thought about this and would not necessarily go along.

The key difference between the Trump era and the 9/11 attacks under Bush is that Trump can’t count on a nation united behind him should anything happen. Bush could because the attacks were unexpected, and it came after a relatively peaceful decade in the post-Cold War world. Now we know what to look for when something bad happens, and while I would expect Trump’s poll numbers to rise in that event, I don’t foresee the spike to 80%+, and that makes it a lot harder for an inactive fascist to enact an agenda.

Of course, this all depends on how much support Republican politicians are willing to lend and how much right-wing media will go to justify everything Trump does. Both are powerful forces, and both have allowed Trump more leeway than anyone should ever be given.

The Party of Lincoln

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Which means Abraham Lincoln, a Republican president whom the Republican party constantly invokes to assert their moral credentials, was at fault for “letting” the Civil War happen.

Q: How many Republican politicians and conservative pundits are willing to follow Trump on this logic?

A: None of them.

Q: How many will either willingly ignore the implication of that tweet or, more likely for those who feel the need to desperately try and save face, try to qualify his statement?

A: All of them.

It’s Obama’s Money, Not Yours

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To add to an increasing series of stupid decisions on behalf of The New York Times, the editorial board got together and figured, “Hey, why the hell not? Let’s see how pissed we can make everyone who reads us,” when they put together this gem (“The Cost of Barack Obama’s Speech,” The New York Times, 5/1/2017):

Is it a betrayal of that sentiment for the former president to have accepted a reported $400,000 to speak to a Wall Street firm? Perhaps not, but it is disheartening that a man whose historic candidacy was premised on a moral examination of politics now joins almost every modern president in cashing in.

There’s been a lot of moaning about Obama’s speaking fee, which is double the typical $200,000 that Hillary Clinton charges. But there’s something very strange about this piece in particular, and that’s the insistence that Obama was some sort of saint to the 99%:

It shows surprising tone deafness, more likely to be expected from the billionaires the Obamas have vacationed with these past months than from a president keenly attuned to the worries and resentments of the 99 percent…

Indeed, it’s the example he set that makes it jarring to see him conform to a lamentable post-presidential model…

But why not elevate a new generation of political leaders and stay true to his values by giving his speech fees to his foundation and other charities focused on those goals?

First. Obama is again being held to a standard that other (white) presidents apparently don’t have to be held to. Despite being one of the most popular contemporary presidents, not to mention one of more historical significance because, yes, he’s the first black president, he should give money earned from speaking fees away in order to set an example. Is the Times editorial board going to ask that of George W. Bush? Bill Clinton? Will they even bother to ask it about Donald Trump?

Second. While people get pissed over whatever “optics” they think Obama’s acceptance of Wall Street money creates, we have a man in the White House right now who is using the prestige of the office in order to benefit himself financially, and he’s not even being discrete about it.

Third. Obama is a private citizen. I myself might find his willingness to take money from Wall Street sleazy, but it’s not a conflict of interest—right-wing cranks will continue to insist that this is Obama being paid for his “services,” because yeah, $400k is totally worth tarnishing his reputation, especially when that amount is a drop in the bucket next to his multimillion-dollar book deal (which, as the Times reports, stands at $65 million when combined with Michelle’s book deal).

Fourth. The idea that Barack Obama was “astutely attuned” to the wants and needs of the 99% is insane. Sure, I’m willing to believe he actually cares about people, particularly people in need, more than Donald Trump, but he is hardly the working-class hero this weird vignette paints him to be. Admire Obama all you want, but don’t idolize him by attributing qualities to him that he did not exhibit on a regular basis. Denying reality is for the right.

There are plenty of things to criticize Obama about. This is incredibly low on that list.

The New York Times is Sean Spicering Its Response to Angry Readers

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In case you haven’t heard, The New York Times recently hired ex-Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens, a well-known climate change-denier and all-around right-wing crank. I’m not here to rebuke the ridiculous standards he proposed in his first column (“Climate of Complete Certainty,” The New York Times, 4/28/2017), in which Stephens basically says that nothing should be done about climate change until there’s 100% certainty within the scientific community of what exactly will happen—which he either knows is impossible and is being disingenuous about, or is really just that stupid about climate change. I think it’s the former.

But the more interesting story is how The New York Times is bungling its response to reader outrage (and apparently waves of cancellations) so horribly that it’s approaching a Sean Spicer-caliber event horizon. Jonathan Weisman, for example, thought it a good idea to spend time condescending to readers:

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And here’s part of James Bennett’s statement regarding the matter:

I’m not going to cancel my subscription to The New York Times—it’s too valuable a journalistic resource to let go because of yet another dumbass on the editorial page. (I mean, really. Between Brooks, Douthat, and Dowd—and not forgetting that Bill “We’ll be greeted as liberators” Kristol used to write there, too—I found it hard to imagine the opinion pages getting any worse. At this point they might as well give David Icke a column.)

But what should be made clear is that people deciding to cancel their subscription over this aren’t doing so to avoid “spirited debate.” Like I said, they’ve put up with the likes of Brooks and Douthat and Dowd for years. They object, and I object, to the notion that climate change is a subject that the newspaper of record should attempt to refute its own reporting on in their editorial page by someone who has zero qualification to write about it.

There’s this idea that conservatives and centrists-at-all-costs keep passing around: that any idea is worth elevating to national conversation, regardless of how thoroughly debunked it has been. Stephens’s column, which has a tone far softer than when he used to regularly berate those who acknowledge climate change, isn’t explicitly denying climate change—but his concessions that it’s real and man-made are just window dressing for his agenda of denying the reliability of the science in order to advocate inaction.

I doubt The New York Times will have the foresight to let Stephens go anytime soon—that would make him a martyr on the right, it would give him a badge of honor, being fired from the liberal, elitist, DNC-mouthpiece propaganda arm that is NYT. It would also add to right-wingers’ belief that the left hates free speech, because apparently all ideas, no matter how stupid, are obligated by our strongest and most-reliable media outlets to be given a seat at the table of reasonable discussion. It’s the only way stupid conservative ideas are able to have the sway they do over so many in this country—they’re given the air of intellectualism without ever having to earn it.

Ross Douthat: Advocate for Strange

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Ever since Trump’s election, Ross Douthat has let his inner authoritarian run amok with column after column of radically bad ideas tagged as “implausible proposals”—which are really just actual proposals disguised as what I can only assume is a conservative’s attempt at satire.

It’s kind of sad. In this new country of America in which supposedly principled conservatives routinely commit ideological suicide by defending Trump in any manner, Douthat has now gone out of his way to “make a case” for Marine Le Pen, but decides to be intellectually honest for a moment before diving head-first into nonsense (“Is There a Case for Le Pen?” The New York Times, 4/29/2017):

To elevate [Le Pen] to the presidency is to empower the National Front, an organization that despite years of renovation and attempted purges — extending to Le Pen’s own father, Jean-Marie — still includes figures like her successor (briefly; he just resigned) as its leader, who appears to have done the “I’m just asking questions” thing about the gas chambers.

Which means Douthat is doing the “I’m just asking questions” thing about the legitimacy of a party whose members are routinely engaged in the “I’m just asking questions” thing about the Holocaust. Imagine being unwilling to disavow a political party over Holocaust denialism—an act you understand to be horrific—because you think maybe the party leader’s extreme ideas about immigrants might somehow work. Really. Imagine being that.

There are a litany of reasons French people shouldn’t vote for Le Pen—and the polls indicate that most French voters understand this—and though I probably shouldn’t find what is essentially Douthat’s endorsement, I still do: how someone whom I’m sure believes he has a responsibility as an intellectual can be this irresponsible week after week is insane to the point where I’ve become convinced Douthat believes he is living in the Matrix: the world around him is ripe for manipulating, all its actors potential enemies, and even though it may appear at first that actions within that virtual world have no consequences because it is all a sham, he’s still ultimately fucking with people’s lives.