Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The Trump Cult Purges Another Apostate

When Ocasio-Cortez won her primary the news media reactions were predictable, ranging from "socialists have taken over the party" narratives on the right (and on the left) to a Democratic civil war narrative in the mainstream. A month later this all looked pretty foolish (as it did to a lot of us at the time). But the Dems in Disarray trope is deeply wired into the news media, so look forward to any disagreement within the party as evidence of flailing (among mainstream journalists) or Stalinist groupthink (on the right).

Meanwhile, in the real world:
Minnesota Republicans decisively rejected the comeback bid of former governor Tim Pawlenty, a onetime kingmaker in state politics who proved unable to overcome his 2016 description of Donald Trump as “unhinged and unfit” for once boasting of grabbing women....

“Tim Pawlenty stuck his finger in the wind,” Johnson said in his closing ad, which condemned Pawlenty’s criticism of Trump after the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape in October 2016. “I won’t panic when it matters most.” [emphasis added]
Yes, that's right: Pawlenty lost his primary because he made an ineffectual token gesture toward minimal human decency. That's today's GOP.

And Pawlenty's loss is almost a non-story because we've seen it happen so many times already. As Greg Sargent points out, absolute loyalty to Trump at his worst has become a litmus test in GOP primaries. No wonder they keep nominating candidates like Roy Moore and Corey Stewart.

But hey, Dems in Disarray. Always.

Hyperreality TV

Undertale: Jungle Cruisin' by Joyous Lemons/DeviantArt.

Hi, it's Stupid to say I'm going to be disappointed if Omarosa ends up being what drags Trump down in the end.

I mean, it's true that the writers who thought up this plot twist are trivializing the issues we're watching the show for, the apparent collapse of the Constitution in the face of flagrant illegality in the White House, the pervasive corruption throughout the executive, the treacherous dealing with foreign governments, in favor of what? The backstabbing intriguer motif, the person everybody always votes off the island, who might get brought back on to revive interest as an underwritten storyline starts to sputter and flag, but in this case the storyline wasn't flagging at all, if anything there was far too much going on already without her. Isn't there too much Sopranos-style personal stuff as it is, with the mental illness theme, and the endangered marital and family relationships, and Trump's fraught backstory with his retainers like Cohen and Manafort and Lewandowski and Scavino and the rest, and the bizarre intimacy and crudeness of his connections with his fellow sovereigns Trudeau and Merkel and Macron and Putin and Abe and Kim and Xi and Erdoğan and MBS and Sheikh Tamim, as detached from all the millions of people it affects as if it were taking place in a treehouse?

But then it's much bigger than a reality show, in a sense, anyway, in that what Omarosa threatens is the show itself, not one of the competitors. There's a nonzero possibility she could take this sucker right off the air, in the middle of the second season. This is metareality TV, where the drama itself is the character whose fate is centrally at stake. And not just a character, but a character with a tragic flaw.

Because here's the thing: it's great TV and terrible TV at the same time. It's unbearably compelling, but it's gone somewhere too transgressive, and it needs to die, it needs to be killed, and it needs to be killed by its own internal logic, and Omarosa makes a terrific murderer in that sense, let's face it.

Remember that the storyline of the normal reality show, the thing Trump understands, is really extremely simple—a contest with a more or less arbitrary content, feats of strength and agility, baking cupcakes, negotiating a "deal", and audience members pick somebody they'd like to win, and they do or they don't—but the presidency can't correspond to that (as the election campaign, which Trump really enjoyed, did). Trump would like to turn it into a contest, or a hierarchy of contests, among the cabinet members, among the approval ratings, among the sovereigns, among the trade balances, but none of it will come into proper focus, and nobody ever leaves, or if they leave they have to be replaced. He must wake up in the middle of the night wondering why Australia's still there. Didn't he fire them already?

In the presidency, storylines rise and subside all over the place, true ones and the fictional ones shoddily constructed by liars like Nunes and Sessions and the president himself, and they're in all different sorts of genres, and the Omarosa theme is one of the well-made ones, a Jacobean revenge tragedy. She's a great figure—talented, attractive, and evil, kind of like Iago, but unlike Iago with a clear motivation, her resentment at Trump for his racist exploitation and at herself for her slavish acceptance of it for all these years. I really enjoy her TV presence, her intelligence and confidentiality and the way you know she's bullshitting you but not all the time, which is pretty original. Why shouldn't she destroy him, why shouldn't she prove that she, not he, is the greatest reality villain of all?

The tragic flaw of the President Trump show is its excessive hyperreality, its nauseating tergiversation between the real and the illusory. It's like a Disney Jungle Cruise where tourists keep getting eaten by the crocodiles and the boat is taking on water. It raises all these real issues, like the inadequacy of the Constitution, the responsibilities of government, the meaning of party and nationality, and it's unable to address them. We're all too busy watching the show to consider what it means. What I want is for everybody to stand up and say no, if you won't show us your tax returns, you're not allowed to take the Oath, or you can't own a hotel if you're president, or there has to be some kind of defense against president's selling foreign policy for their personal profit or paying hush money—$15,000 a month is the going rate—to your departed goons, but it's not going to happen.

Which is not to say that the Democrats have no chance of taking control of Congress and mounting a decent impeachment, I still think it's possible, but it won't be any more satisfying than Omarosa revealing Trump audio with the N-word would be. It'll be a clown show, with Devin Nunes and dark and absurd stories of Peter Strzok and Nellie Ohr, even if it comes out right. We won't be able to talk about reality until it's over.

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

It's what's for breakfast

Sweatshirt via Beloved Wear LLC.

There could be a purpose to all those journalists reporting on breakfast in Trumpland if they'd only report on the economic realities in which the breakfasts take place, as in the case of this big AP story from last week, which explains that
a striking number of Trump counties are losing jobs. The AP found that 35.4 percent of Trump counties have shed jobs in the past year, compared with just 19.2 percent of Clinton counties.
The jobs data shows an economy that is as fractured as the political landscape ahead of the 2018 midterm elections. As more money pools in such corporate hubs as Houston, San Francisco or Seattle, prosperity spills over less and less to smaller towns and cities in America’s interior. That would seem to undercut what Trump sees as a central accomplishment of his administration — job creation for middle class and blue-collar workers in towns far removed from bustling urban centers.
Thus all of the job growth in Texas has been in Democratic-run cities, while in the Republican rural counties things keep getting worse.

And in Beaver County, PA, northwest of Pittsburgh, which has lost 191 jobs in the past 18 months even as the workforce shrank by 1000 from things like outmigration,
Chip Kohser, the county Republican chairman and the bristle-bearded founder of a farm share company, said his party members are rallying around their staunch opposition to gun control.
“Our No. 1 motivating factor,” he said, “is Second Amendment issues.”...
The tax cuts haven’t stopped the outflow of people. Chatting over eggs, bacon and home fries, Kohser estimated that the tax cuts have added perhaps $1,200 to his annual household income and roughly the same to many others in the area — not likely enough on its own to rejuvenate the local economy.
But sure, let's focus on fighting the threat of gun control. I love that "many others". (In addition to owning Fellowship Foods, which grosses $240,000 a year selling "veggies, fruits, beef, pork, lamb, chicken, eggs, butter, bread, coffee, cheese, and more" on a weekly or monthly subscription basis from 75 regional farms, Kohser's been sales director for 20 years of the pet food company founded by his grandfather, so I'm guessing his income is a little above average.)

Gun control and out-of-control immigration!
Sitting outside a cafe before the [Beaver County Chamber of Commerce] meeting, [Republican Representative Keith] Rothfus said there was a clear path for generating job growth: Immigrants.
“You look at areas of the country that are really thriving — there’s a significant immigrant population,” he said. “We need to do a better job of attracting immigrants here. This place was built on immigrants.”
But Rothfus has also been outspoken on the importance of tighter border security. A few weeks after the chamber meeting, he voted for a bill that, had it passed, would have imposed tougher border measures and likely curbed legal immigration.
The county is one of those places where Obama won with around 57% of the vote in 2008 and Trump with 54% in 2016; following the state supreme court's finding that the congressional district it lies in was hopelessly gerrymandered, it's been redrawn into a new 17th District where Rothfus will be up against the new Democratic star Conor Lamb in November, which makes the whole thing kind of iconically interesting, doesn't it?

If the New York Times would cover it with this kind of contextualization I wouldn't be so annoyed with them.

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

Symbols, things, fetishes, logic, idol worship, perverts, Hayakawa, Korzybsky, Kaepernick and Trump

Remember S.I. Hayakawa? 

I didn’t think so. 

Back in the 1960s, Hayakawa was acting president of an institution called, at the time, San Francisco State College. (It has since evolved into a research university.) 

A temper tantrum on
a sound truck

Hayakawa briefly made it into the national headlines, and onto network TV news, when he climbed to the top of a sound truck and ripped out the loudspeaker wires while the truck was amplifying black liberation messages on his campus. To be fair to Hayakawa, he was trying to keep the college open while the people responsible for the sound truck wanted it to shut down. But Hayakawa, of all people, should have understood the symbolic impact of his act.

I imagine that the handful of individuals who knew what Hayakawa had achieved in academia before the San Francisco State incident, and who also respected the ultimate aims of the black liberation movement, felt shocked and mortified. It was as if Dr. Jekyll had suddenly turned into Mr. Hyde. Almost equally bad, when he appeared on television to explain himself, he came off as a kind of well-meaning but wimpy putz. If you have the time to spare you can see it here:

Prior to that incident, Hayakawa was known as an academic who taught a form of thinking that should, if anything, have prevented his tantrum on a sound truck. So it was disappointing, to say the least, that Hayakawa had briefly morphed into an out-of-control bully — resorting to a kind of vandalism to show his displeasure with people who were advocating a point-of-view in a manner that he felt was inappropriate.

But let’s go way back to a little over a decade before that. And yes, yes, this ultimately has to do with with Colin Kaepernick and other athletes taking a knee during the Star Spangled Banner, and with Donald Trump harassing them for it. Just bear with me for a while. 

Logic, as you surely know if you took either the kind of college course for humanities majors that is generally nicknamed “Moron Math,” or perhaps a very elementary philosophy course, is kind of a mashup between philosophy and mathematics. It is designed so you can diagram and presumably straighten out screwed up reasoning like this:

Are all redheads plumbers?

“Joe is a redhead. Joe is a plumber. Therefore all redheads are plumbers.” Or, with equally erroneous thinking, some numbskull might conclude that all plumbers are redheads.

Various exercises, done with overlapping, partially overlapping, and completely separated circles helped students diagram both erroneous and logical thought processes. Their use is to help people avoid jumping to nonsensical conclusions from insufficient data. 

Early in the 20th Century a Polish-American scholar named Alfred Korzaybski, began expanding our understanding of how false conclusions get made. I don’t pretend to be a student of Korzybski or even to be able to follow him much of the time. However, he spawned an academic discipline called General Semantics. It was S.I. Hayakawa who explained Korzybski's theories in a book dumbed down enough so that even the incipiently cranky 17-years-old college student that I was in 1956 was could get it. 

The book was called Language In Thought And Action. It was required reading in my college freshman English course, in part, I suspect, because the head of my college’s English Department, a man named Basil Pillard, was one of Hayakawa’s collaborators.

Whoopee! Here comes
a sex fetish!

One of the principles that the book taught was how to differentiate between things and symbols, which are abstractions, of things. Take one of the ultimate abstractions — the sexual fetish. At the time, one could find, say in New York’s Times Square, book stores that sold pornography and sex fetishes under the counter.

Sex fetishes? They might have included a shiny patent leather woman’s shoe (just one) with a very high heel. You couldn’t have sex with it, at least not as most of us understand sex. It had no erogenous parts. It had no warmth. It had no voice. It had no brain. It had no tenderness. It had no passion. It had no moving parts.

And yet creepy little men would buy it and take it home to kiss, lick, suck and whatever else, all in the course of masturbation. For them, that shiny high heeled shoe wasn’t a shoe. It was sex itself. It may have begun as a symbol of a sexy woman in high heeled shoes, but somehow it had morphed, in the minds of the fetishists, from a symbol into the real thing.

The Bible backs me
up on this, if you care

Fetishising symbols is a practice that goes back at least to biblical times, and that gave rise to one of the Ten Commandments, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them…”

So idol worshipping is just another form of masturbating while sucking on the heel of a patent leather shoe. It is a demonstration of people confusing the symbol of God with the real thing, assuming you believe there is a God.

Hold all that for a moment and tell me — or tell yourself — what the American flag is.

Basically, it’s a piece of cloth consisting either of other pieces of red, white and blue cloth, sewn together in a certain manner, or it is a piece of cloth with a certain number of red white and blue stars and stripes printed on it. Most people would recognize either form as “the American flag.” But it’s still just a piece of cloth.

The American flag is also a legitimate symbol of the United States and of American liberty. But that is all it is, a symbol. Some people, Donald Trump among them, have confused the symbol with the thing, same as ancient idol worshippers, and same as creeps masturbating over a woman’s shoe.

You cannot burn up or burn down the United States of America by setting fire to a flag, because the flag is only a symbol, not the real thing. You cannot destroy freedom by failing to salute the flag in a prescribed way, for the same reason. 

Similarly, you cannot destroy the United States of America by refusing to stand with your hand on your heart when the Star Spangled Banner is played. Our national anthem is another symbol. Or rather, it is a song celebrating a symbol.

Maybe "taking a knee" 
is a form of respect

As for saluting the flag in a manner that Donald Trump favors, consider this. In a more authoritarian state than perhaps even Donald Trump has envisioned, we might all be ordered to get down on one or both knees as a symbol of respect, just as some people do while praying. It certainly seems to be more humble and respectful than standing while feeling for our own heartbeats.

By insisting on taking a knee Colin Kaepernick and other football players are not, as Trump insists, disrespecting the flag They are instead disrespecting the perverted fetishization of the flag by people whose behavior is opposite what the flag stands for — liberty and justice for all. The football players are saying that freedom and justice fail to exist when people are shot dead by a police officer for driving, walking, standing, or merely breathing while black.

It is Trump who disrespects America, and the American ideal, by insisting not only on flag worship, but also flag worship according to the specific ritual he fetishizes.

In doing so, he has committed almost precisely the same perversion as the biblical idol worshipper and the pervert who sits behind locked doors sucking on a stiletto-heeled shoe. Or, for that matter, a pervert who allegedly pays hookers to pee on him. He has gotten his own wires crossed, and confused the symbol of a thing with the thing itself.

If this is a free nation, anyone who so wishes may take a knee, most especially when the knee is taken in protest. The right to protest is precisely what the flag is all about.

Cross-posted at The New York Crank


I'm traveling again, so I'll be away from the blog from a few days. The usual gang will be here, however, so keep stopping by. I'll be back on Saturday.

Monday, August 13, 2018


I'm supposed to believe that Robert Mueller will eventually emerge with evidence of wrongdoing so incontrovertible that the Trump administration will fold like a house of cards. For the president, impeachment will be inevitable, and many in his inner circle are undoubtedly looking at serious prison time.

I'd love to believe that, but I don't.

More than 90% of Republican voters will never believe anyone in the Trump inner circle was guilty of wrongdoing -- and, of course, they believe that the real criminals are the accusers. The firing of Peter Strzok is more evidence to them that Trump is the victim of a witch hunt by evil people acting in bad faith, especially when it's framed this way by the president:

"The list of bad players in the FBI & DOJ gets longer & longer." The vast majority of Republicans believe that. All it will take is one Republican on any Russiagate jury and acquittal is guaranteed.

Especially when every Republican in America believes Bizarro World nonsense like this:

The linked story, by Lee Smith, appears at, a sister site of the relatively respectable RealClearPolitics, and also at the website of right-wing journalist Sara Carter. This is what your right-wing uncle believes is the real meaning of that notorious Trump Tower meeting:
A growing body of evidence ... indicates that the meeting may have been a setup -- part of a broad effort to tarnish the Trump campaign involving Hillary Clinton operatives employed by Kremlin-linked figures and Department of Justice officials.... the real collusion may have taken place among those who arranged the meeting rather than the Trump officials who agreed to attend it....

“[Glenn] Simpson [of Fusion GPS] approached the Clinton campaign through its law firm and said he could dig up dirt on Trump and Russia,” said one congressional investigator. “The difference between the Trump and Clinton campaigns’ willingness to take dirt on its opponent is that the Clintons went through with it and paid for it....”

According to the dossier, Trump himself as well as aides Paul Manafort and Carter Page were in clandestine contact with the Russian government. “If that was really the case,” former FBI agent Mark Wauck told RealClearInvestigtions, “it’s not clear why the Russian government needed a British music publicist [Rob Goldstone] to make an overture. And why would Moscow need to send a Russian lawyer who didn’t speak English [Natalia Veselnitskaya] to Trump Tower? That tends to confirm that the meeting was intended as a setup.”

On June 9, 2016, Goldstone brought Veselnitskaya to meet with Trump Jr., Manafort and Jared Kushner at Trump Tower....

Trump Jr. cut the appointment with Veselnitskaya short. But if this were a sting operation, engineered by Simpson, with likely assistance from Justice Department officials he is now known to have been in regular contact with, the damage had already been done.

“The purpose of the meeting,” one congressional investigator told RCI, “was to substantiate the Clinton-funded dossier alleging that Trump was taking dirt on his rivals from the Russians.”
Right-wing counternarratives have had months to take root in Red America. Meanwhile, as Lawfare's Quinta Jurecic notes in The New York Times today, we're going to have to wait a lot longer for a factually accurate narrative from Mueller:
As the midterm elections draw nearer, the odds that Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, will spearhead any major developments in the Russia investigation before Election Day grow steeper and steeper. The Justice Department generally does its best to avoid taking action in such a way that it might influence an election — even as the president tweets defiantly that there was “No Collusion!”
Yes, the FBI publicly declared Hillary Clinton a person under suspicion shortly before the 2016 election -- but I assume Mueller won't go public with what he's learned until after the midterms precisely because that intervention had such obvious consequences.

So I don't think the good guys are winning right now.


Politico reports:
Several times in the first year of his administration, President Donald Trump wanted to call Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the middle of the afternoon. But there was a problem. Midafternoon in Washington is the middle of the night in Tokyo — when Abe would be fast asleep.

Trump’s aides had to explain the issue, which one diplomatic source said came up on “a constant basis,” but it wasn’t easy.

“He wasn’t great with recognizing that the leader of a country might be 80 or 85 years old and isn’t going to be awake or in the right place at 10:30 or 11 p.m. their time,” said a former Trump NSC official. “When he wants to call someone, he wants to call someone. He’s more impulsive that way. He doesn’t think about what time it is or who it is,” added a person close to Trump.
In headlines elsewhere, this is being reported as "Trump Doesn't Understand Time Zones" and "Trump Foreign Policy Held Back by Struggle to Grasp Time Zones." But is that the problem -- or is it that he's an immature narcissist driven by the need for immediate gratification? “When he wants to call someone, he wants to call someone. He’s more impulsive that way. He doesn’t think about what time it is or who it is,” we're told by "a person close to Trump." I assume that the problem is Trump's spoiled-brat personality more than it's a failure to grasp that time zones exist (though, of course, it could easily be both).

Politico also tells us:
In one case, Trump, while studying a briefer’s map of South Asia ahead of a 2017 meeting with India’s prime minister, mispronounced Nepal as “nipple” and laughingly referred to Bhutan as “button,” according to two sources with knowledge of the meeting.
But this has to be given the bothsides treatment, of course:
Past presidents have also called foreign leaders at odd hours — in their own time zones. President Bill Clinton was notorious for that practice, according to James P. Rubin, a former assistant secretary of State in the Clinton administration. Before the signing of a key 1999 peace agreement in Northern Ireland, Clinton placed overseas calls until 2:30 a.m. Washington time — well after most of his aides were asleep.
So I guess it's okay that Trump calls foreign leaders when they're asleep because Bill Clinton called people in the British Isles when he should have been asleep but it was already morning for them.

President Barack Obama made his share of incorrect pronunciations, including by mangling the former longtime Singapore leader Lee Kuan Yew’s name in 2016.
Obama does mangle the name (at the end of the clip):

It's not smooth. But once he gets it right, it rolls off his tongue. Trump would have painstakingly picked his way through the name, as if memorizing each syllable was a separate day's labor.

And then there's this:
Trump’s love of talking on the phone has created special problems for his top national security officials, who say that he sometimes places calls that have no clear diplomatic purpose.

Trump has what one former Trump national security official calls a “bizarre” fascination with calling French President Emmanuel Macron. “He wanted to talk to him constantly ... Macron would be like: ‘Hey what are we talking about?’ These are very busy people. You don’t just call to check in,” the official said.
Trump's Macron mancrush is ... just weird. I think it's clear that while women are Trump's preferred bed partners, he finds men very sexy. He digs generals, dictators, bikers -- I just can't figure out why Macron floats his boat.

Sunday, August 12, 2018


Let's start with the headline of this Washington Post story:

"Despite" is the wrong word. What should it be instead? "Largely as a result of"?

Junior is obviously a star because being linked to pro-Russia is a badge of honor on the right:
[President Trump's] namesake son ... has emerged as the president’s political alter ego and an in-demand campaign celebrity ahead of November’s midterm elections.

... for many in Trump’s political base, seeing Trump Jr. in the crosshairs of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III may be more of a benefit than a drawback.

... Trump Jr. serves as a physical reminder to Trump voters that failure in November raises the specter of impeachment.

“He is fundamentally educating the American people that we must have a Republican House in November, because the alternatives are first and foremost the impeachment of his father,” said David Bossie, Trump’s former deputy campaign manager.
As we all know, Junior is an ignoramus:
He co-hosted a Washington screening earlier this month of “Death of a Nation,” a film by conservative firebrand Dinesh D’Souza (whom the president pardoned) alleging ties between the Democratic Party and Nazis. In an interview there, Trump Jr. compared the Nazi platform in the early 1930s to today’s Democratic National Committee platform.
But that doesn't matter in the GOP -- in fact, it's beneficial. Here we are in the Democratic Party, asking ourselves whether Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is really ready for prime time, and possibly might need a little more experience, or might benefit from a deeper grounding in the issues -- but Republicans don't care about any of that. Anyone who turns their voters into spittle-flecked rage monsters is declared to be a superstar -- and the Post's Ashley Parker and Philip Rucker seem to be eagerly accepting this assessment:
Trump Jr. — who, together with brother Eric, took over the family’s real estate and branding company when their father became president — is planning an aggressive fall schedule of appearances from Montana to Texas to New York to help Republicans maintain their Senate and House majorities.

“He can bridge anyplace,” said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). “It’s genuine. He’s not there because, ‘Oh, I’ve got to go make this trip.’ He wants to be there. . . . He connects with people.”

In many ways, Trump Jr. carries the spirit of his father’s “Make America Great Again” movement. Like the president, he uses social media to fan conspiracy theories, air grievances and troll adversaries. He busts through boundaries of political correctness and relishes public feuds, especially with those he deems liberal elites.

“Don is a chip off the old block,” said Cliff Sims, a former White House and Trump campaign staffer. “He’s a savage on Twitter and a force of nature on the stump.”
That's not reporting -- it's a GOP press release.

I know, I know -- you all think Junior will be reporting to the hoosegow shortly. My natural pessimism makes me suspect that he and most of the Trump inner circle will get away with what they've done, the way most corporate chieftains do. But even if Junior does time, I think he has a bright future in Republican politics -- maybe especially if he does time. If he does, he'll be a Trump and a martyr. He hates liberals in the most simple-minded way. He likes guns and hunting. He has no self-doubt. Therefore, he's a natural. I think he's the Republican presidential frontrunner in 2024, especially if he's on parole.


A lot of people think Elizabeth Warren will be the next president of the United States. I'd be happy to vote for her, but I've long felt that she has a number of hurdles to overcome.

You can argue that only racist yahoos who'd never vote for a Democrat will respond to President Trump's "Pocahontas" name-calling, but I assure you that if she's the nominee, Very Serious mainstream journalists and pundits will remind us that Questions Have Been Raised about whether Warren's career benefited from her claims of Native American ancestry. More than a few swing voters are likely to conclude that she's just another undeserving beneficiary of affirmative action. Not everyone who thinks this way is a rock-ribbed Republican.

Also, I worry that sexists in the anti-Trump electorate (especially its dudebro wing) will find Warren personally unappealing. I think she's feisty and regard her as the most articulate economic populist (in the good sense) that we have. But I fear some male voters will find her "shrill." It sucks, but we're going to have to acknowledge that potential hurdle in 2020 if Democrats nominate a woman.

And now Warren has committed an unforced error. She did it by telling the truth -- a truth you can't utter in American politics without paying a price.
US Senator Elizabeth Warren is facing tough criticism from local police chiefs over her recent remarks about racism and the criminal justice system....

While speaking Aug. 3 at Dillard University, a historically black college in New Orleans, Warren said the criminal justice system is “racist ... front to back.”

The remarks drew a rebuke from Yarmouth Police Chief Frank G. Frederickson, who wrote Friday on the department’s Facebook page that her comments were an “insult.”

He also questioned the sincerity of the condolences Warren offered after Yarmouth police Sergeant Sean Gannon and Weymouth police Sergeant Michael Chesna were shot and killed earlier this year.

“I now cannot trust her actions or words are real,” Frederickson wrote.

He also shared a letter to Warren from Dudley police Chief Steven J. Wojnar, who is president of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association.

“Labeling the entire criminal justice profession as “racist” spreads false and damaging information about our members,” wrote Wojnar....
This is mild compared to what she'll hear in the general election this year -- and that will be nothing compared to what she'll hear in 2020 if she's a presidential nominee. Trump won't let this go. Fox won't let this go. And the Very Serious crowd in the mainstream press will use it as an excuse to ask whether Democrats are dangerously far to the left -- a favorite mainstream media narrative.

Warren will still win her Senate race this year with little trouble -- she has overwhelming lead over her two most likely challengers. But this won't go away.

She's right, of course -- but she touched an American political third rail. There are truths you just can't utter, or must utter only in careful chosen, cautious words, if you want electoral success outside Blue America.

Saturday, August 11, 2018


Michael Avenatti says he wants to run for president, and Dave Weigel is taking his bid very seriously. Here's Weigel (writing with Felicia Sonmez) in The Washington Post:
Michael Avenatti, the attorney for adult-film actress Stormy Daniels, told Iowa Democrats on Friday that Democrats are seeking a “fighter” who will take on President Trump — and that they should look no further than him.

“What I fear for this Democratic Party that I love is that we have a tendency to bring nail clippers to gunfights,” Avenatti said at the Iowa Democratic Wing Ding, an annual party fundraiser. “When they go low, I say: We hit harder.”

... Iowa Democrats, who are optimistic about winning back the governor’s mansion and two seats in Congress, have been slow to focus on the 2020 race.... As the names of the Wing Ding’s speakers were read, the applause was mild — until the audience heard “Michael Avenatti.”
Here's Weigel on Twitter:

(Delaney is John Delaney, a little-known Maryland congressman who's considering a run.)

I don't think Avenatti will be the nominee. I think it's easy to misjudge his star status among Democratic voters. Sure, he's a hero to those who watch him on MSNBC and CNN, but not every Democrat is a cable news junkie. I keep thinking of a 2015 survey from Public Policy Polling, which revealed the big difference in news consumption between Republicans and Democrats:
"... Fewer than 25% of Republicans trust ABC, CBS, Comedy Central, MSNBC, CNN, and NBC. They’re closely divided on PBS with 37% trusting it and 39% distrusting it. But really they just trust Fox News and nothing else with 66% saying they put their faith in it to just 25% who don’t.”

“It’s almost the opposite story when it comes to Democrats. Majorities of them trust ABC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC, NBC News, and PBS. And more of them than not (44/30) trust Comedy Central as well. The only outlet they don’t trust is Fox News...”
Republicans gets their news from Fox. Democrats get their news from a wide variety of sources. Avenatti is a regular presence on a couple of the cited news outlets, but he's not a celebrity to those who get their news from the three original networks (or from newspapers or newspaper websites).

Also, the Democratic Party doesn't have an all-ideologue voter base, the way the Republican Party does. That's why socialists and Sanders/Ocasio-Cortez progressives aren't winning every primary. I cite Gallup's annual ideology survey all the time, but here it is again:

Self-described conservatives (in red above) greatly outnumber self-described liberals (blue) every year -- and yet Democrats win the popular vote in nearly every presidential election and routinely win (or come close to winning) the overall congressional popular vote. Obviously, the majority of self-styled moderates are Democrats -- and people who call themselves moderates (gray above) outnumber those who say they're liberals.

Avenatti got a great reception from that Iowa crowd, but, as the Post story notes, the big names from politics haven't made a lot of visits to Iowa recently:
... few of the party’s biggest names have made trips to Iowa. Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.), who narrowly lost the 2016 Democratic caucuses, has traveled to the state to sign books to support a congressional candidate who lost his primary. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), who is up for reelection this year, has given two speeches in the state. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), who are also on the ballot this year in their states, have not visited Iowa; former vice president Joe Biden’s recent long book tour did not come to the state.
But I'll give Avenatti credit -- the biographical information in the Weigel tweet above is the kind of thing I'm not hearing from many of the best-known Democratic aspirants. Policy positions are important, but voters in American presidential elections want to be swept along by a larger narrative. The narrative can be one of big changes to America (Obama, Sanders, Trump), but it usually includes an origin story. Obama had that. Bill Clinton was the Man from Hope. Trump's origin story was the media myth of his life built by his books and media appearances, and by The Apprentice.

By contrast, here's all you get about Kamala Harris's early life on a campaign site she still maintains:
Born in Oakland, Kamala Harris is a graduate of Howard University, America’s oldest historically Black university....

Kamala earned her law degree from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law.
Americans like to vote for a person, not a résumé. We'll need to hear more from her if she wants to win.

Is Avenatti right when he says that Democrats need to be Trump in order to defeat Trump? I've questioned that premise ever since Philippe Reines advanced it in a Washington Post op-ed a few months ago. I think they'll need someone with the force of personality to seem unfazed when Trump attacks. That might mean a brawler -- or it might mean a Barack Obama, someone who can counterpunch, and seem unbruised after going a few rounds with Trump, but who radiates as much positive energy as Trump radiates negativity. Regrettably, I don't know who fits that bill -- Biden? Sanders? Warren? -- and I worry that it's gendered, that men get more credit for this than women.

On the other hand, maybe the Democrat won't have to go head to head with Trump in 2020 -- maybe the public will just want someone who's very much unlike Trump. Obama didn't go head to head with Sarah Palin in 2008, hard as she tried to provoke him into a conflict. Maybe 2020 will be like that.

Friday, August 10, 2018


The lead story on the Washington Post website until about an hour ago was titled "Pelosi Is the Star of GOP Attack Ads, Worrying Democrats Upbeat About Midterms." In the story, reporter Mike DeBonis spends 1,440 words trying to prove that Pelosi is a fatal millstone around the Democrats' neck while quoting exactly one (1) actual Democrat, on or off the record, who believes that to be the case.
“People pretend that it isn’t a problem, but it’s a problem that exists,” said Rep. Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.), who said he heard from frustrated colleagues this week concerned that the anti-Pelosi messaging cost Democrats in Ohio.
Did Higgins name any of these frustrated colleagues? If so, DeBonis doesn't identify them. Nor does he appear to have spoken to any of them -- no other Democrat is quoted in the piece, either by name or anonymously.

Higgins is from Buffalo, and while he has liberal policy positions, he's called himself "the most independent and conservative Democrat" in New York State's congressional delegation. He said in June that he won't back Pelosi for Speaker, calling her "aloof, frenetic and misguided," and he's reportedly been urged to challenge her for the speakership. He's obviously positioning himself as a Democrat you can safely vote for if you're a Republican. If that works for him, fine. I don't think it demonstrates that, as one of DeBonis's (Republican) interviewees suggests, Democrats would win more seats in November if Pelosi weren't a factor:
Ken Spain, a Republican political consultant, said Democrats are “going to leave seats on the table” as long as Pelosi remains a viable face of their party.

“In a race that was decided by 1,000 or 1,500 votes, that was probably a difference-maker,” he said. Even if Democrats win the House in November, he added, “it could be the difference between having a razor-thin majority and a governing majority. It’s a lot easier to move legislation when you have a cushion of votes to work with.”
Excellent concern trolling, Mr. Spain.

Am I stating categorically that Republican attacks on Pelosi are ineffective? Am I saying that Republicans are crazy to make Pelosi an issue in virtually every contested race?

No. Attacking Pelosi probably works. But if she weren't a factor, Republicans would find someone else to demonize.

The prime candidate right now is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, even though she still hasn't won a general election, and even though many Democrats who've run successful races this year aren't in ideological sync with her. She's rapidly becoming Public Enemy #1 on the right.

Much has been made of Laura Ingraham's recent anti-immigrant diatribe, but what's been overlooked is that Ingraham spent the first two minutes of the monologue attacking Ocasio-Cortez. The monologue as a whole is meant to contrast patriotic Democrats of the past (yes, people Ingraham denounced as traitors in that now-romanticized past) with the socialist, "open borders" Democrats of the (scary) future:

And it's not just Ingraham. Ocasio-Cortez has been the subject of nine stories in the past three days at Ben Shapiro's Daily Wire, many of them having to do with Shapiro's offer of a $10,000 contribution to Ocasio-Cortez's campaign if she'll agree to debate the trollish Wire editor in chief. Her response to the Wire reporter who's written most of the recent stories about her is spot on:

But now I see at the Daily Caller that Candace Owens, Katie Pavlich, and other female wingnuts are offering to debate Ocasio-Cortez in Shapiro's place.

The right is clearly gunning for her. Do you think she won't instantly become the GOP's #1 Antichrist if Pelosi announces this afternoon that she won't seek the Speakership in the event of a Democratic House takeover?

Wait, I'll answer that: Ocasio-Cortez might not become the main target of the Republicans -- but only because there's always Maxine Waters. Or Hillary Clinton. Or ...


(The Donald Trump Jr. Instagram post cited below has been deleted. I've replaced it with a copy of the image Junior posted.)

Donald Trump Jr. got caught cooking the books a couple of days ago:
Donald Trump Jr. posted a fake graphic to Instagram on Wednesday to misrepresent his father’s approval rating.

It was unclear who made the fake graphic that the president’s eldest son shared in an Instagram post that has not yet been deleted, but in it his father’s 40 percent approval rating is clearly visible below a photoshopped 50%....

The fakery was called on out the Instagram post and on Twitter.
The Instagram post has since been removed, but here's the image:

Why did Junior want to post this at all? The answer is obvious: The rest of the Trump numbers are much better than Obama's numbers. They're so good that right-wingers are memifying the screenshot even without the edit:

So why are the numbers for Trump so much better? Well, as CNN's John King explained when this appeared on the air, he was comparing Trump's numbers now to Obama's at the same point in his presidency. On the air, King made clear several times that Obama had taken office at the depths of a recession, while Trump took office during a recovery.

From the transcript:
KING: ... President Trump says he deserves bragging rights for his record, especially if you compare it to his predecessor, sharing this one tweet that looks at him and President Obama.

Here's the tweet. "Presidential approval numbers, very good, strong economy, military and just about everything else, better numbers than Obama at this point by far. We are winning on just about every front, and for that reason, there will not be a blue wave, but there might be a red wave." [12:55:08] That's what the President says on Twitter.

Here's a side-by-side comparison of some of the numbers at the same point in their presidency and guess what? President Trump is right, especially on the economics.

Remember the times. President Trump took office at a time the economy was booming. President Obama took office in a recession, after a financial crisis when the economy was tanking. But look, job approval, if you look at the margin of error in the [Gallup poll] President Obama was a little above, but they're roughly the same. Roughly the same, President Trump a little below.

The unemployment rate, President Trump does deserve bragging rights. Again, consider the times though. Jobs added versus jobs lost, we were still deep in the recession when President Obama took over. The deficit, a lot of Republicans don't like the deficits under President Trump but again, higher under Obama at that point.

And the Obama administration in economic growth, certainly, again, we were just trying to crawl out of the recession there. President Trump has ever[y] right to be happy about 4.1% GDP in the last quarter.

That is why when the President is on the campaign trail, even though Republican are so pessimistic, he says look at the numbers.
What King said gave the full story, more or less. But it's 2018. King and CNN should have known that a graphic like this will inevitably be used by pro-Trump partisans, who, of course, won't provide the context. Broadcasting the chart without a visual explanation of the context was a mistake.

Thursday, August 09, 2018


At The Atlantic, Caitlin Flanagan has elevated Jordan Peterson to demigod status, portraying him as the man whose words will destroy "identity politics" and the left as a whole.

Flanagan isn't on the right-wing media circuit, but her piece reads like something you'd find at Townhall or the American Thinker. It portrays the left as all-powerful -- able to ban Peterson from all morning chat shows in the U.S. and to destroy the careers of editors engaged in wrongthink -- but also extremely fragile and destined to collapse any minute now, like the paper tigers they are. This is reminiscent of the way the right talks about Democratic politicians -- they're both impotent (Barack Obama can't utter a coherent sentence without a Teleprompter!) and all-powerful (Obama fundamentally transformed America into a socialist pro-Muslim hellhole!). Peterson is the man who's crushing the omnipotent but decaying left -- it's not much of an exaggeration to say he's Flanagan's Q, subverting the dominant paradigm with his sub rosa, samizdat utterances.

Flanagan describes the effect Peterson had on her teenage son and his friends after they discovered his YouTube videos:
The boys graduated from high school and went off to colleges where they were exposed to the kind of policed discourse that dominates American campuses. They did not make waves; they did not confront the students who were raging about cultural appropriation and violent speech; in fact, they forged close friendships with many of them. They studied and wrote essays and—in their dorm rooms, on the bus to away games, while they were working out—began listening to more and more podcasts and lectures by this man, Jordan Peterson.

The young men voted for Hillary, they called home in shock when Trump won, they talked about flipping the House, and they followed Peterson to other podcasts—to Sam Harris and Dave Rubin and Joe Rogan. What they were getting from these lectures and discussions, often lengthy and often on arcane subjects, was perhaps the only sustained argument against identity politics they had heard in their lives.

That might seem like a small thing, but it’s not. With identity politics off the table, it was possible to talk about all kinds of things—religion, philosophy, history, myth—in a different way. They could have a direct experience with ideas, not one mediated by ideology. All of these young people, without quite realizing it, were joining a huge group of American college students who were pursuing a parallel curriculum, right under the noses of the people who were delivering their official educations.
And this is big and hugely subversive because the left needs only a nudge before it collapses utterly, according to Flanagan:
... there is no coherent reason for the left’s obliterating and irrational hatred of Jordan Peterson. What, then, accounts for it?

It is because the left, while it currently seems ascendant in our houses of culture and art, has in fact entered its decadent late phase, and it is deeply vulnerable.... When the poetry editors of The Nation virtuously publish an amateurish but super-woke poem, only to discover that the poem stumbled across several trip wires of political correctness; when these editors (one of them a full professor in the Harvard English department) then jointly write a letter oozing bathos and career anxiety and begging forgiveness from their critics; when the poet himself publishes a statement of his own—a missive falling somewhere between an apology, a Hail Mary pass, and a suicide note; and when all of this is accepted in the houses of the holy as one of the regrettable but minor incidents that take place along the path toward greater justice, something is dying.

... When even Barack Obama, the poet laureate of identity politics, is moved to issue a message to the faithful, hinting that that they could be tipping their hand on all of this—saying during a speech he delivered in South Africa that a culture is at a dead end when it decides someone has no “standing to speak” if he is a white man—and when even this mayday is ignored, the doomsday clock ticks ever closer to the end.
Flanagan's a better and smarter writer than the folks at C-list right-wing sites, but I don't see how there's much difference between her fantasy of of the end of leftism and the "Imagine No Liberals" worldview at those sites.

Because of Peterson and his allies, Flanagan says, leftism is on the run -- a few YouTube videos here, a few Joe Rogan podcasts there, and the left has been overwhelmed.
Whatever was happening, it was happening on a scale and with a rapidity that was beyond the ability of the traditional culture keepers to grasp. When the left finally realized what was happening, all it could do was try to bail out the Pacific Ocean with a spoon.

As I said, Peterson is Flanagan's Q


In the past 24 hours, you may have come to the conclusion that Laura Ingraham hates America. Twitter suggests that's the case:

So does the lede of this story from The Hill:
Laura Ingraham: America as we know it doesn’t exist anymore due to ‘demographic changes’

Fox News host Laura Ingraham on Wednesday lamented that the “American we know and love doesn’t exist anymore” because of demographic changes in the country that she blamed on illegal and legal immigration....
The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf writes:
Laura Ingraham Doesn’t Love Her Country Anymore

... What I love about America is its animating idea: “That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

What Ingraham loved about America was apparently its former demographic profile. Now that Hispanic and Asian immigrants have triggered “massive demographic changes,” the America she loves “doesn’t exist anymore.” Sad!
But Ingraham still loves her America -- she just doesn't love ours. She may be a racist and a white nationalist, but she's also a Republican shill. Note the phrase at the beginning of this excerpt from her remarks, and note where she draws her lines (emphasis added):
“Because in some parts of the country, it does seem like the America that we know and love doesn’t exist anymore. Massive demographic changes have been foisted on the American people and they’re changes that none of us ever voted for and most of us don’t like. From Virginia to California, we see stark examples of how radically in some ways the country has changed. Now, much of this is related to both illegal and in some cases legal immigration that of course progressives love.”
Ingraham doesn't hate America -- she hates Democratic America. She names two Democratic states. She strongly implies that the rest of America -- presumably including the fine, patriotic exurbs and rural areas where her viewers live -- is just fine, at least for now, because Republican values prevail, although it's all under siege because of Democratic policies. If you watch the full version of her monologue (posted below), you'll see that she thinks the old centrist Democrats were okay -- they respected borders -- but now Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is singlehandedly taking over the Democratic Party (or so Ingraham implies, even though she also mocks Ocasio-Cortez for backing unsuccessful candidates in Tuesday's primaries), therefore we may soon need to bid farewell to our borders, and thus America as we know it.

Ingraham says:
Now, this is a sure way, over time, to remake and reshape America. This is exactly what socialists like Ocasio-Cortez want, eventually diluting and overwhelming your vote with the votes of others who aren't, let's face it, too big on Adam Smith and the Federalist Papers.
We members of the Ocasio-Cortezocrat Party haven't destroyed America yet. Ingraham insists that even minivan-driving suburban moms will surely vote Republican in response to horror stories about crimes reportedly committed by undocumented immigrants, including several she describes in the monologue in blood-curdling detail. (In Ingraham's telling, it seems that no native-born American has ever molested a child or killed someone in a motor vehicle crash.)

Ultimately, Ingraham suggests that America can be saved the same way Fox commentators always say it can be saved -- by means of more Republican votes.


Last night on her show, Rachel Maddow played tapes of Congressman Devin Nunes that were secretly recorded at a fundraiser for a House Republican colleague, Cathy McMorris Rodgers. I know the tapes were intended to make my pulse race, but I don't see what the big deal is.

The New Republic's Jeet Heer says it's because Nunes contradicted the president on the subject of collusion:
During private fundraiser, Devin Nunes admits collusion can be a crime. ... In the audio, Nunes makes some notable remarks about the ongoing Russia investigation. As NBC reports, “Nunes also appeared to say that if a campaign received and released stolen emails from a foreign government — he used a hypothetical example of McMorris Rodgers getting secret information from Portugal, where his ancestors are from — there would be a criminal element to that.” These comments go against the thrust of a frequent claim made by President Donald Trump, that “collusion is not a crime.” As Nunes concedes, collusion could rise to the level of being a conspiracy with a foreign power, which is criminal.
This is interesting, but it's not as if it can be used in a court of law -- Devin Nunes talking at a fundraiser isn't legal precedent. It could be brought up in impeachment hearings in the House or an impeachment trial in the Senate, but will any reluctant Republican say, "Well, I was planning to vote with the president, but Nunes's words convinced me Trump is guilty"? It's a nice gotcha, but it's nothing more.

The Washington Post's Aaron Blake seems agog at the partisanship:
First off, here’s [a] full quote, in context:
So therein lies what’s like your classic Catch-22 situation where we’re at a -- it puts us in such a tough spot. If Sessions won’t un-recuse and Mueller won’t clear the president, we’re the only ones, which is really the danger. That’s why I keep -- and thank you for saying it by the way -- I mean, we have to keep all these seats. We have to keep the majority. If we do not keep the majority, all of this goes away."
We don’t know quite what Nunes was responding to, regrettably. But what first strikes you is how quickly he pivots from talking about Trump’s fate in the Russia investigation to the GOP’s electoral fortunes -- as if the purpose of keeping Republicans in power is to shut the whole thing down.
Well, duh. The GOP myth right now -- it's almost QAnonish, even in respectable circles -- is that Trump will solve all of America's problems if he can only shake off the shackles placed on him by the Deep State, and that Republicans serve in Congress only in order to allow Trump to be unleashed.

Blake goes on to write:
... removing Trump from office would require a majority vote to impeach in the House and a two-thirds vote to remove in the Senate (which means plenty of Republicans going along). Nunes is leading the crowd to believe that this would happen. Perhaps that’s just overheated partisan rhetoric -- the kind of thing you say to fire up the base -- but the fact that the guy running the House intel committee’s Russia probe suggests it’s actually possible Trump could be removed from office based upon Mueller’s Russia probe seems significant.
It's not clear whether Nunes thinks the Deep State would get to more than a dozen of his GOP colleagues in the Senate or whether he just wants the donors to believe that. But the belief that their enemies are all-powerful is team-building for the GOP.

And there's this:
Hard-line conservative Republicans in the House recently hit a roadblock in their effort to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein when Speaker Paul Ryan opposed the move. But one of those conservatives, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., gave a different explanation to donors recently when asked why the impeachment effort had stalled.

He said it's because an impeachment would delay the Senate's confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court....

"So if we actually vote to impeach, OK, what that does is that triggers the Senate then has to take it up," he said on the recording. "Well, and you have to decide what you want right now because the Senate only has so much time.”

He continued: "Do you want them to drop everything and not confirm the Supreme Court justice, the new Supreme Court justice?"
Does this mean they'll try to impeach after the election, assuming Kavanaugh's confirmation process is over? Sure -- is that a surprise? I can easily imagine them trying again in the lame-duck session even if they lose the House, just the way an earlier generation of House Republican ultras impeached Bill Clinton right after midterms in which Republicans were punished for anti-Clinton zealotry. It's not clear that an impeachment vote against Rosenstein would ever happen, or that it would succeed. In a Senate trial, there'll never be 67 votes to convict Rosenstein. So it's just an attempt to throw up a big stumbling block.

Or maybe it's just phony toughness on Nunes's part. The donors are probably rich guys who watch a lot of Fox News and are angry that the "witch hunt" hasn't been shut down. Nunes is apologizing to them for not getting the job done. But is it surprising that he (and the donors) still want to do this? Hardly. So nothing on the tapes strikes me as particularly significant.