Tuesday, June 19, 2018


The Atlantic's McKay Coppins tells us that Trump aide Stephen Miller thinks the administration's brutal family separation policy is excellent politics:
... it should be understood that Miller’s hardline approach to immigration predates his work for Trump. In 2013, as an aide to then-Senator Jeff Sessions, Miller made his name on Capitol Hill fighting ferociously against a bipartisan immigration-reform bill....

But when we talked, Miller also made it clear to me that he sees immigration as a winning political issue for his boss.

“The American people were warned—let me [be] sarcastic when I remark on that—[they] were quote-unquote warned by Hillary Clinton that if they elected Donald Trump, he would enforce an extremely tough immigration policy, crack down on illegal immigration, deport people who were here illegally, improve our vetting and screening, and all these other things,” Miller told me. “And many people replied to that by voting for Donald Trump.”

... Speaking to The New York Times, Miller framed his theory this way: “You have one party that’s in favor of open borders, and you have one party that wants to secure the border. And all day long the American people are going to side with the party that wants to secure the border. And not by a little bit. Not 55–45. 60–40. 70–30. 80–20. I’m talking 90–10 on that.”
The New Republic's Jeet Heer believes that Trump and Miller are motivated much more by racism than by political considerations:
Trump and Miller might think this is smart politics but The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board strongly disagrees. In a Tuesday editorial they warn that the GOP’s “internal feuding over immigration that is fast becoming an election-year nightmare over separating immigrant children from their parents.” FiveThirtyEight shares this assessment, noting that the family separation policy “is generating widespread opposition, even from people who have traditionally been allies of the president. It has forced the administration to defend an approach that polls terribly....”

... It’s a mistake, though, to look at the Trump White House’s actions through the narrow prism of electoral politics. Figures like Trump Miller have genuine ideological convictions, which also shape what they think a winning political strategy should be.

Vox writer Matt Yglesias offers a clear cut way to think about this issue....

Obviously Miller is a racist, and Trump has been a racist since before Miller was born. But I think they also believe that 2016 proves they're the greatest electoral geniuses in America. Beating the experts that year means to them that every time the experts say they're making a mistake they must be doing something right. Bad polling means that they're winning, because the polls said they were going to lose two years ago.

Of course, the polls actually weren't far off in 2016 -- the final Real Clear Politics average showed Clinton beating Trump by 3.2%, and she beat him in the popular vote by 2.1%. Just before the election, Nate Silver warned that Trump might win the Electoral College even as Clinton won the popular vote.

Trump beat a candidate who wasn't a natural campaigner (or, like him, an experienced media performer) and who was hammered by the mainstream media as well as the right throughout the campaign, particularly on the subject of emails. Trump got favors from James Comey and Vladimir Putin. Trump got billions of dollars of free airtime from cable news outlets. Trump benefited from vote suppression in Republican states. And still he barely won.

Trump doesn't think 2016 was a fluke. Trump thinks it was a formula: Whenever you're polling badly, you're going to win. Whenever the media coverage is bad, it's good.

And Miller lives in an epistemically closed right-wing world where, yes, it probably does seem as if wailing Latin American children in cages poll at 90% approval, because it's probably been years since he had a conversation with anyone who doesn't approve of that sort of thing.

And Trump just watches Fox News, where he's told he can do no wrong. So, yes, they're stone-cold racists, but I think they really believe this is brilliant politics.


In today's column, David Brooks makes a "no true Scotsman" argument about conservatives and immigration.
... this administration ... is not populated by conservatives. It is populated by anti-liberal trolls. There’s a difference.

People like Stephen Miller are not steeped in conservative thinking and do not operate with a conservative disposition. They were formed by their rebellion against the stifling conformity they found at liberal universities. Their primary orientation is not to conservative governance but to owning the libs. In power they take the worst excesses of statism and flip them for anti-liberal ends.
Brooks says we can identify the fake conservatives by their use of language:
Here’s how you can detect the anti-liberal trolls in the immigration debate: Watch how they use the word “amnesty.” Immigration is a complex issue. Any serious reform has to grapple with tangled realities, and any real conservative has an appreciation for that complexity. But if you try to account for that complexity before an anti-immigration troll, he or she will shout one word: Amnesty!

Maybe we should find some arrangement for the Dreamers? Amnesty! The so-called moderate House immigration bill? Amnesty! Keeping families together? Amnesty!

This is what George Orwell noticed about the authoritarian brutalists: They don’t use words to illuminate the complexity of reality; they use words to eradicate the complexity of reality.
The implication is that conservatives have always favored some sort of immigration reform, and people who denounce any reform effort as "amnesty" are fake conservatives, a new breed who've come to dominate conservatism only in the Trump era.

If that's the case, I'm not sure why, when the Bush administration's immigration bill died in the Senate in 2007, 37 Republicans voted against it and only 12 voted in favor. Surely those 37 couldn't all have been fake conservatives, right?

And shouts of "Amnesty"? They're not new. Here was then-congressman Mike Pence in 2006, trying to get to the right of President Bush, as described by Time magazine:
Pence, a rising star in the House, is suggesting a temporary worker program based on a database run by private industry. And unlike the leading plan in the Senate and the blueprint sketched by Bush, his "Border Integrity and Immigration Reform Act" would require all applicants to leave the country first.... Even though Bush has said his preferred solution "ain't amnesty," Pence appeals to hard-liners by calling the compromise a "no-amnesty solution."
Here was the reaction at Free Republic:
This is 100% amnesty. The main difference between Bush amnesty and Pence amnesty is that with Pence amnesty, the taxpayer gets to pay for a bus ride to a Mexican Border town.
Here was North Carolina congressman Patrick McHenry's take on the issue:
Amnesty is not the answer. To grant amnesty to these trespassers is to say "You crossed our borders illegally, you broke our laws and now we are rewarding you with U.S. citizenship – congratulations!" This is unacceptable; it undermines our legal system and calls into question the very rules and regulations that bind together a civil society.

A guest worker program is nothing more than amnesty wearing make-up – it's easier to look at, but just as ugly underneath.
Here was Human Events blogger Larry Kelley as immigration reform was being considered in 2006:
Congress now piously debates an amnesty bill, U.S. cities brace for more marches promoted by Spanish-language radio stations, and Marxists and anarchists wish to see more and more illegals have a claim on your family assets.

It’s chilling to remember that it was our ancestors’ embrace of amnesty that served to bring down the Western Roman Empire. On August 24, 410 A.D., the Roman general, Alaric, and his collection of German tribesman, Herulians, Rugians, and Gepidae, sacked Rome for the first time in 800 years. The event shocked the civilized world. These very same Goths had previously destroyed a whole legion, killing the Emperor Valens at Adrianople but were given amnesty, were hired and armed as Roman mercenaries, their families given lands inside the empire, and their general/king awarded Rome’s highest citizen status, patrician.

... While our obsequious Nero-like Congress openly debates the merits of amnesty programs, they dramatically amplify the invasion, undermine the prevailing American culture, and threaten American security and sovereignty.
As the bill was about to fail in 2007, National Review -- which I think we can all agree is a conservative publication -- gave column inches to anti-immigrant activist Mark Krikorian, who denounced existing immigration law as "amnesty," and warned that immigration reform is dangerous "amnesty":
It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that our “legal” immigration system is a permanent rolling amnesty for illegal aliens.

... when you amnesty an uneducated illegal alien with a large family, all you do is turn him into an uneducated legal alien with a large family — his earnings, and thus his tax payments, do indeed go up somewhat, but his use of government services increases much, much more because now he’s legal, but he’s still uneducated.
And a couple of months after the Bush bill failed, there was Kris Kobach -- yes, that Kris Kobach -- publishing a report for the Heritage Society titled "A Sleeper Amnesty: Time to Wake Up from the DREAM Act." Remember, this was at a time when Heritage was considered a respectable conservative organization, years before Jim DeMint took it further to the right.

It can't be true that all of these people were fake conservatives, can it, David?


UPDATE: Driftglass has much more.

Monday, June 18, 2018


Two-thirds of Americans disapprove of the Trump administration's practice of taking undocumented immigrant children from their families and putting them in government facilities on US borders, according to a CNN poll conducted by SSRS. Only 28% approve.

But among Republicans, there is majority support for the policy....
American voters oppose 66 - 27 percent the policy of separating children and parents when families illegally cross the border into America, according to a Quinnipiac University National Poll released today.

Republican voters support the separation policy 55 - 35 percent, the only listed party, gender, education, age or racial group to support it....
I say this all the time: America is not primarily a conservative heartland that's besieged by a left-leaning minority living on the coasts and using elite status to tyrannize the majority. The major fault line in this country is between Republicans and everyone else in America. I'm not saying that this is a liberal country (although it is on a number of issues), but it is not a conservative country. Republican dominance of our government at the federal and state levels is largely an artifact of electoral gamesmanship and a highly effective conservative propaganda machine that successfully demonizes Democrats; it doesn't reflect majority support for Republican policies. The GOP takes advantage of splits among the rest of us -- conservative/moderate, Democrat/independent, voter/non-voter -- to maintain control of America. The GOP also guilt-trips the media into believing that heartland whites are the only true Americans. But Republicans are the outliers.


Salena Zito has made a nice life for herself purporting to be the person who can explain Trump voters to so-called out-of-touch elitists. We learn from a New York Post column she published over the weekend that she's guilt-tripped Harvard into letting her run a program along these lines:
We were only a few days into a new course I had developed with Harvard’s Institute of Politics, called the Main Street Project, where students are immersed in small-town America. Even though these kids had almost all been raised in the United States, our journey sometimes felt like an anthropology course, as though they were seeing the rest of the country for the first time.
The first stop on this "journey" for Zito and her kids was Chicopee, Massachusetts, where she played tour guide:
On a blustery afternoon in April, I filed into a van along with 10 students from Harvard. We had just spent the last two days in Chicopee, Mass., where we had chatted with the police chief and his force, the mayor and his staff, small-business owners, waitresses and firemen about their struggles living in small-town America.

The undergrads were buzzing with their impressions. Chicopee is about 90 miles west of their prestigious university in Cambridge, but when it comes to shared experience, it might as well have been 1,000 light years away.

As they settled in, I looked at them.

“So,” I said, “who do you think most of the people you just got to know voted for president?”

None of the students had an answer. It hadn’t come up in their conversations and they didn’t know I had privately asked each person whom they’d voted for.

So I let a minute pass and told them.

“Nearly every one of them voted for Trump.”

My students at first looked stunned. But then recognition crossed their faces.
Do you know how Chicopee actually voted in 2016? Here are the numbers:
Hillary Clinton 12,332 (52.1%)
Donald Trump 9,837 (41.5%)
Gary Johnson 1,046 (4.4%)
Jill Stein 472 (2%)
Clinton beat Trump by double digits in Chicopee, and 58.5% of its voters voted against Trump. So either Zito is lying about the people she introduced to her students or she chose an unrepresentative sample of Chicopee's population. (The latter is probably correct. Cops? Firefighters? Small business owners? The Republican mayor? That's not a real cross-section of the town -- it's a cross-section of the town's authority figures, but not of the town as a whole.)

Zito lives by some peculiar rules:
I have been a national political journalist for nearly 15 years. Whenever and wherever I travel in this country, I abide by a few simple rules: No planes, no interstates and no hotels.

And definitely no chain restaurants.

The reason is simple: Planes fly over and interstates swiftly pass by what’s really happening in the suburbs, towns and exurbs of this nation. Staying in a hotel doesn’t give me the same connection I can get staying in a bed and breakfast where the first person I meet is a small-businessperson who runs the place and knows all the neighborhood secrets. The same is true of going to locally owned restaurants versus chains.
I get the rule about planes and interstates -- but no hotels? I can understand wanting to avoid luxury lodgings, but what's Zito afraid she'll miss if she stays in a small hotel or motel?

Is she afraid she'll talk to people who aren't native-born whites? After all...
Indian immigrants and their children make up about 1 percent of the U.S. population, but they own roughly half of the motels in the country.
These immigrants are part of "flyover country," too, but they don't fit Zito's narrative, even though they're Americans now, just like whichever ancestors of Zito's first landed here. Their grandkids and great-grandkids will be the equivalent of Zito (and of me) -- fully American, yet only a few generations removed from the Old Country.

And Tom Scocca is right: Does Zito not know that most fast food franchisees are local small business owners, too? Does she not want to talk to these people because they're the wrong kind of small business owners, or because we might ask why she's not talking to their mostly young, minimum-wage employees?

Motel chains and fast food franchises are much more representative of modern American capitalism than B&Bs and small-town restaurants. Zito, I think, would rather report on Trump voters' ideal America than on America as it actually is.


I'm so old I remember the Trump-Kim summit in Singapore -- oh, wait, that was a week ago. It was one of the rare moments in the Trump presidency that seemed at all unifying. Here are some results from a Monmouth University poll released last Thursday:
Opinion of the president’s job performance may have been helped by the talks with the North Korean leader. Trump’s overall rating currently stands at 43% approve and 46% disapprove. The last time Trump’s disapproval rating was less than 50% in Monmouth’s polling was last September....

Most Americans (71%) say that the recent meeting between Trump and Kim was a good idea, including 93% of Republicans, 74% of independents, and 49% of Democrats. Only 20% say it was a bad idea....

Just under half of the public (46%) says the meeting made Trump look stronger on the world stage compared with only 13% who say it made him look weaker....

Half of the public (51%) say it is likely that this meeting will help reduce the nuclear threat posed by North Korea....
These numbers aren't spectacular, but if you're a president who's struggling in the polls, why wouldn't you want to build on an event that not only thrilled your base but was overwhelmingly popular among independents and viewed favorably by nearly half of Democrats?

Within days, however, Trump was obsessing over the report by the Justice Department's inspector general, claiming it exonerated him in the Russia investigation even though that wasn't the report's subject. He attacked the FBI. His loudest surrogate called for an FBI agent to be sent to prison.

And now, when the separation of migrant families at the border is the biggest story in America, the president seems determined not to alter the policy, retaining it as a bargaining chip so he can have his border wall. This is standard-issue Trump heartlessness, and of course it plays well with the base, although not as well as you'd expect -- 46% of Republicans approve of the policy while 33% disapprove, according to an Ipsos/Daily Beast poll -- but it's divisive (overall approval is 27%, as opposed to 56% disapproval).

The policy is bad politics. Republican lawmakers recognize that, according to some reports.

But this is Trump's style. If you think he'll ever abandon divisiveness and make an effort to emphasize broadly popular policies like infrastructure, forget it. Trump likes to brawl, and years of binge-watching Fox News have taught him how to brawl politically all the time. He might allow himself to be momentarily diverted by a widely popular policy, but he's incapable of making that a habit. Fighting with people is what he does. He'll never stop.

The base wants permanent combat, so he'll probably never go below 35% in the polls. But barring an extraordinary 9/11-style event, he'll never go above 50%. He's just not interested in doing the kinds of things that would make him a popular president.

Sunday, June 17, 2018


The New York Times has come in for a lot of criticism in the Trump era, much of it deserved. The Times is often compared unfavorably to the Trump-era Washington Post.

But the Post's Karen Tumulty gets this absolutely wrong:
Melania Trump, the most reticent first lady since Pat Nixon, has done an admirable thing. She has lent her voice to those who oppose the Trump administration’s heinous policy of separating migrant children from their parents.

The statement issued through her spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham, cautious as it is, bears careful reading:
“Mrs. Trump hates to see children separated from their families and hopes both sides of the aisle can finally come together to achieve successful immigration reform. She believes we need to be a country that follows all laws, but also a country that governs with heart.”
... the last sentence in particular is a stark — and, yes, I’ll say it, brave — rejection of her husband’s repeated efforts to shift the blame for this to anyone else.
Um, if Melania is calling on "both sides" to solve a problem entirely created by President Trump and his administration, how is that a "rejection of her husband’s repeated efforts to shift the blame for this to anyone else"?

The Times gets it right, starting with the headline:
Melania Trump Calls on ‘Both Sides’ to End Family Separation, Echoing President’s False Claim
That's how you do it.

(UPDATE: The headline has changed now.)

The story, by Peter Baker, tells us this:
In a statement issued by her office, the first lady expressed empathy for affected families, saying the country should be governed “with a heart,” but did not directly take issue with President Trump’s policy. Instead, by saying that “both sides” needed to agree, she adopted his argument that the situation was caused by political stalemate rather than a policy he initiated.

... The president has falsely blamed Democrats for the situation, saying that he was simply enforcing a law that they had written. But no law requires families to necessarily be separated at the border. Children have been taken away from their parents because of a Trump administration “zero tolerance” policy enacted this year to prosecute all unlawful immigrants as criminals.
Melania isn't challenging her husband -- this is part of the administration's bamboozlement process. Stephen Miller embraces the family separation policy, Kirsjen Nielsen says family separation isn't administration policy, the president blames it on Democrats -- it's all one big "sorry not sorry," with Miller speaking to the immigrant-haters, the president speaking to the Democrat-haters, and Nielsen and Melania attempting to confuse everyone else. The Post's Tumulty got fooled; at the Times, Baker wasn't. Score one for the Times.


The Trump administration is separating parents from children at the border, and Kathleen Parker doesn't know what's happening to America:
As a mother, my heart breaks at the thought of a frightened and confused child being taken away from his or her parents and stashed like an orphaned animal in what amounts to a holding pen.

To be blunt, I don’t recognize this country anymore.

... Most troubling is the inherent lack of empathy — as policy — and what that not only reveals but also possibly foreshadows. The only way to rationalize these events is to view these immigrants as less than human.
Parker says that an America where such cruelties take place is unrecognizable to her. But Donald Trump's America is one that Parker helped build.

Here's Parker writing about immigration in 2006:
... the concrete reality is that many of those seeking to stay in the U.S. are not seeking also to become Americans of the U.S. variety. Indeed, the clear message from some of those protesting ... is that Mexican immigrants are taking back what they consider to be theirs.

At least a segment of those protesting consider themselves to be neither immigrant nor illegal. Signs at one recent rally, for example, read "This is our country, not yours!" and "All Europeans are illegal." "Reconquista" is the word they choose to define their mission, meaning "reconquest."

... the sight of so many who feel entitled to a piece of the U.S., combined with a sense of encroaching bilingualism, contribute to a spirit of diminishing empathies among even the likeliest of sympathizers.

... The country's riches and benefits are not free for the picking - nor are they all necessarily indigenous to the physical territory - but are part of a national package that demands citizenship of its citizenry.
And here's what she wrote in 2008:
Who "gets" America? And who doesn't?

... It's about blood equity, heritage and commitment to hard-won American values. And roots.

Some run deeper than others.... In a country that is rapidly changing demographically — and where new neighbors may have arrived last year, not last century — there is a very real sense that once-upon-a-time America is getting lost in the dash to diversity.

We love to boast that we are a nation of immigrants — and we are. But there's a different sense of America among those who trace their bloodlines back through generations of sacrifice.

... so-called "ordinary Americans" ... know ... that their forefathers fought and died for an America that has worked pretty well for more than 200 years. What they sense is that their heritage is being swept under the carpet while multiculturalism becomes the new national narrative. And they fear what else might get lost in the remodeling of America....

Some Americans do feel antipathy toward "people who aren't like them," but that antipathy isn't about racial or ethnic differences. It is not necessary to repair antipathy appropriately directed toward people who disregard the laws of the land and who dismiss the struggles that resulted in their creation.

Full-blooded Americans get this. Those who hope to lead the nation better get it soon.
That 2008 column was directed at Barack Obama. Parker has never been a birther, just as she's never really been an immigration hard-liner. But she's very willing to take seriously the views of blood-and-soil rightists who think America is becoming less American because too many people in this country don't have deep roots in (mostly rural) soil. Hell, she wasn't sure Elena Kagan was sufficiently American when Kagan was up for confirmation to the Supreme Court in 2010, and Kagan is from Manhattan.
What is Kagan's geography? What is her anchorage, her port of call?

Coincidentally, she shares the same home town as the other two women on the court. Assuming Kagan is confirmed, all three women will hail from New York....

More than half the country also happens to be Protestant, yet with Kagan, the court will feature three Jews, six Catholics and nary a Protestant. Fewer than one-fourth of Americans are Catholic, and 1.7 percent are Jewish.

One does not have to be from a rural Georgia backwater (Clarence Thomas), or the child of recently arrived immigrants (Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito), to qualify as a justice, though it might help in claiming identity with ordinary people....
This isn't the undiluted rhetoric of the haters, including the haters in the White House. It's a nicer, cleaned-up version of that rhetoric. If much of America tolerates family separation of immigrants, and a significant percent of America cheers it on, it's because this rhetoric is persuasive to many citizens, who believe their nation is under siege from "the other." Parker doesn't understand how America has become so callous. She should read through her own archives and ask herself how much she contributed to the heartlessness.

Saturday, June 16, 2018


Why? For the love of God, why?

Why? Because he's a provocateur, therefore he's "good television." Also, because he's right-wing. (When Democrats are in power, Sunday talk shows need to be disproportionately right-wing for "balance"; when Republicans are in power, the shows need to be disproportionately right-wing because only right-wingers can provide true insight into what's taking place at the highest levels of power. Obviously!)

Also because it would be unfair not to help a guy out when he's making a comeback, right?

And, more recently:
Steve Bannon plans to unleash an advertising campaign touting President Donald Trump's achievements to help the GOP ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.

It could also be seen as a bid by the former White House chief strategist to revive his own political fortunes.

Since May, Bannon has been paying his surrogates to produce political ads in cities across the United States....

The campaign will tout the Trump administration's accomplishments that dovetail with Bannon's own America First views....
Sure, I suppose Bannon might be asked one or two toughish questions on Sunday about the cruelties of the president's immigration policies -- but he'll just ramble and filibuster and throw out a lot of abstruse references to obscure thinkers he in all likelihood hasn't actually read, and the bamboozlement will continue.

Think of this post as a follow-up to my last post, in which I rejected Steve Schmidt's assertion that "The stench of cowardice and corruption of this generation of elected GOP officials will linger for decades." It won't, because the insider establishment will declare the slate wiped clean as soon as Trump is gone. This post is also a response to Joe Scarborough's tweet:

Are you kidding, Joe? It's a club, a clique, one that's "wired for Republicans," as Josh Marshall put it, and everyone who hasn't gone to prison at the end of the Trump era will still be in it. The aides and the lawyers and the spokespeople will all be gainfully employed again and be welcome in the nicest circles. If even Bannon can get a helping hand this way, who's going to be beyond the pale even after Trump is gone?

Friday, June 15, 2018


Republican strategist Steve Schmidt:


Let's assume the best-case scenario: President Trump is called to account for his crimes and/or his incompetence and leaves office in disgrace. Every enabler except a few who were directly entangled with Trump will get do-overs. They'll still be invited on Sunday talk shows. They'll be offered cushy jobs at universities and lobbying firms. They'll be welcome to run for office again or serve in future Cabinets. Their cocktail-party invitations won't trail off. The world of insider politics will just turn the page, just the way the page was turned after George W. Bush, Newt Gingrich, and even, only a few years later, after Richard Nixon. We'll never be rid of these bastards. That's the way it works.


In the midst of all the craziness going on today, there's this:
President Donald Trump told reporters on Friday “it’s possible” he will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin this summer.

A meeting between Trump and Putin was raised when the two leaders spoke by phone in April. Earlier this week, a senior director for Europe and Russia on the National Security Council, Richard Hooker, told a Russian news agency that the White House is exploring the idea.
I don't know whether this will happen, but the fact that Trump is considering it says to me that he thinks it will help Republicans in the midterms.

He's undoubtedly aware of polling that suggests that his summit with Kim Jong Un was well received by the American public. But that's because it's assumed that the summit could decrease the likelihood of a nuclear war. Meeting with Putin accomplishes ... what exactly? Apart from giving Trump an.opportunity to kiss up to his patron?

Despite softening among GOP voters, public opinion of Putin isn't very good: In a CNN poll last month, 77% of Americans had an unfavorable opinion of the Russian, while 11% had a favorable one. In a March CBS poll, the numbers were 5% favorable, 56% unfavorable.

But I think Trump believes that his meetings with tyrants make him look statesmanlike and Nobel-worthy, and therefore help his party. Either that or, in a Manafortian way, he has a compulsion to consort with the bad guys even as the legal noose tightens around him.


They don't call him the Giant Toddler for nothing:
After arriving in Singapore on Sunday, an antsy and bored Trump urged his aides to demand that the meeting with Kim be pushed up by a day — to Monday — and had to be talked out of altering the long-planned and carefully negotiated summit date on the fly, according to two people familiar with preparations for the event.

“We’re here now,” the president said, according to the people. “Why can’t we just do it?”

Trump’s impatience, coupled with a tense staff-level meeting between the two sides on Sunday, left some aides fearful that the entire summit might be in peril.
That's from The Washington Post, and we're given an explanation of how trouble was averted. I don't believe this part:
Ultimately, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders persuaded Trump to stick with the original plan, arguing that the president and his team could use the time to prepare, people familiar with the talks said.
Let me clarify: I believe they said that. I don't believe the president found it persuasive. What additional preparation would Trump think he needed? Preparation for his gut, for his "feel"? I'm sure he thought his "feel" had preparing for this moment all its life.
They also warned him that he might sacrifice wall-to-wall television coverage of his summit if he abruptly moved the long-planned date to Monday in Singapore, which would be Sunday night in the United States.
Okay, that I believe was persuasive. It doesn't even make sense -- President Obama announced the death of Osama bin Laden on a Sunday night, and he got wall-to-wall coverage. If someone had told Trump the bin Laden announcement was on a Sunday, not only would he have been determined to rush the summit, he would have demanded to know Obama's Nielsen ratings that night, and he would have spent the rest of his time in Singapore obsessing over whether his ratings would be higher. (And he probably would have discussed that at length with Kim Jong Un.)

The Post story also tells us this:
At one point, after watching North Korean television, which is entirely state-run, the president talked about how positive the female North Korean news anchor was toward Kim, according to two people familiar with his remarks. He joked that even the administration-friendly Fox News was not as lavish in its praise as the state TV anchor, one of the people added, and that maybe she should get a job on U.S. television, instead.
The obvious takeaway from this is that Trump is a would-be totalitarian dictator who'd doesn't understand why America should have a free press. But I think this is childishness, too. Trump tolerates, if barely, the press we have. He's said and done some disturbing things with regard to the press, but no journalists have been jailed or assassinated and no news organizations have been shut down. Mostly Trump just threatens and complains. It's fair to say that he admires state-run North Korean news because he has dictatorial instincts, but it can also be argued that he'd like our media to be that way because he's lazy. He wants uniformly positive press, but he doesn't want to earn it. He just wants it handed to him on a platter, the way Mom serves dinner every night when you're a little child.

Or you could put the two ideas together and say that Trump wants totalitarian powers but doesn't want to work to acquire them. I believe Trump has no loyalty to our system of government and would have no qualms about ruling by force, but he isn't willing to make the effort required to seize power. Even Kim Jong Un has done the work, and he was once believed to be too immature and feckless to hold on to power. He's a brutal SOB, but he'd never have gotten this far if he shared Trump's belief that it shouldn't be necessary to work for what you want.

... And as I write this, here's Trump on the front lawn of the White House, talking with a guy who's nearly as deferential as that North Korean newsreader:
President Trump on Friday morning observed that Fox & Friends was filming on the White House lawn and announced that he would make an “unannounced visit” down to speak with his favorite morning cable show.

During the resulting chat with host Steve Doocy, the president repeatedly and lavishly praised North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, with whom he met earlier this week, remarking: “He’s the head of a country—and I mean he’s the strong head. He speaks and his people sit up in attention. I want my people to do the same.”
See? "I want my people to do the same." Trump likes the idea of absolute control over the population he rules. But he wishes it would just happen.

Thursday, June 14, 2018


The inspector's general's report on the FBI's Clinton email investigation was released today, and here's the headline of the main New York Times story:
Comey Cited as ‘Insubordinate,’ but Report Finds No Bias in F.B.I. Decision to Clear Clinton
From the story:
The former F.B.I. director James B. Comey was “insubordinate” in his handling of the investigation of Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential election, a critical Justice Department report concluded on Thursday.

But the report, by the department’s inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz, does not challenge the decision not to prosecute Mrs. Clinton. Nor does it conclude that political bias at the F.B.I. influenced that decision, the officials said.

“We found no evidence that the conclusions by department prosecutors were affected by bias or other improper considerations,” the report said. “Rather, we concluded that they were based on the prosecutor’s assessment of facts, the law, and past department practice.”
That's what the inspector general concluded after sifting all the evidence. Some liberals would now like to believe that the right has no more justification for conspiracy-mongering. The front-page headline at HuffPost floats this rosy scenario:
But that's silly. There are just too many anecdotes for the right to seize on, the most obvious one being this:
Perhaps the most damaging revelation in the report is a previously unreported text message in which Strzok, a key investigator on both the Clinton email case and the investigation of Russia and the Trump campaign, assured an FBI lawyer in August 2016 that “we’ll stop” Trump from making it to the White House.

“[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Right?!” the lawyer, Lisa Page, wrote to Strzok.

“No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it,” Strzok responded.
"We" in this context could mean "voters," but the less charitable explanation is hard to dismiss. On the other hand...

He cites this passage from the executive summary of the report:
As we describe Chapter Five of our report, we found that Strzok was not the sole decisionmaker for any of the specific Midyear [Clinton] investigative decisions we examined in that chapter. We further found evidence that in some instances Strzok and Page advocated for more aggressive investigative measures in the Midyear investigation, such as the use of grand jury subpoenas and search warrants to obtain evidence.
Nevertheless, the exchange is a powerful weapon for the right. There's also this:
The Department of Justice inspector general identified a number of instances where FBI employees regularly spoke with members of the media and received a number of free perks from journalists including meals and tickets to various events.

On page XII in the report, the IG says the department “identified numerous FBI employees, at all levels of the organization and with no official reason to be in contact with the media, who were nevertheless in frequent contact with reporters.”

... The contact between FBI agents and the media extended to receiving “improperly receiving benefits from reporters, including tickets to sporting events, golfing outings, drinks and meals, and admittance to nonpublic social events.”
And this:
An FBI attorney who worked on the special counsel’s Russia investigation until earlier this year sent anti-Trump text messages to a colleague, including one exclaiming: “Viva le Resistance.”

... The attorney’s messages show that he was distressed at the FBI’s decision in October 2016 to re-open the investigation into Clinton’s emails....

The FBI lawyer also suggested that he would work to resist the Trump administration.

“Is it making you rethink your commitment to the Trump administration?” one FBI lawyer wrote on Nov. 22, 2016.

“Hell no. Viva le resistance,” the future Mueller attorney responded.
The report's conclusion lacks the emotional punch of the anecdotes -- and we know how much the right likes to weaponize anecdotes. (Anecdotes are the primary way they've persuaded themselves that immigrants are a criminal class.) So this is not going to be a public relations win for the forces of reason -- far from it.


I agree with Charlie Pierce: The "cult" behavior on the right that so many people are suddenly denouncing is not really new.
... on MSNBC, this is what Joe Scarborough had to say on the subject.

“It has devolved into a cult. Primary voters in the Republican Party have devolved into a Trumpist cult.”

That’s a word that’s getting tossed around a lot these days. Retiring Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, opined that his party is in the thrall of “cult-like behavior,” while longtime Republican activist and cable TV megastar Rick Wilson says that the word cult “isn’t strong enough” to describe what’s going on....

... We are seeing politics on one side of the aisle turning into a cult, but, alas, that cult is modern Republicanism. Trumpism is merely one breakaway sect of it, and, truth be told, it hasn’t broken away all that far. After all, Corey Stewart got nominated for the U.S. Senate from Virginia not because of his loyalty to the president*, but as an adherent to a far older cult with which the GOP was quite content to be a part of over the previous four decades: the cult of the Confederate States of America.

Another example: as the results were rolling in Tuesday night, Congressman Steve King, the Republican crackpot who represents the Fourth Congressional District of Iowa, took it upon himself to retweet a famous British neo-Nazi named Mark Collett.
And so on. If Republican behavior seems different now, it's for a simple reason: Party loyalty has long been driven by rabble-rousers stirring up rage, but the Trump era is the first time in this century that the most effective rabble-rouser is the head of the party.

Until Trump ran for president, the formula was this: Talk radio hosts, Fox News pundits, Internet crazies, and GOP back-benchers were responsible for the bulk of the demagoguery and demonization that kept the voter base loyal. Other bunco artists -- "journalist" James O'Keefe, "documentarian" Dinesh D'Souza, the "grassroots" Tea Party -- fanned the flames.

But at least in the post-Newt Gingrich era, the party heads were always "respectable." Certainly all of the presidential candidates were. They may have tossed out a goodly amount of red meat on the campaign trail, but they were house-trained. They could appear dignified on television or, if the party got lucky, taking the oath of office. They tried to conduct themselves with a certain amount of decorum. They paid lip service to the notion that political opponents aren't enemies of the state.

The party faithful campaigned and voted for these candidates, but responded better to the scorched-earth Republicans who weren't party leaders. That changed with Trump. Now the man at the top is a man who shares (and fuels) the voters' rage. He's the Rabble-Rouser in Chief.

The Republican Party has been a rage cult for years. Now it's a rage personality cult.


President Trump on the way back from Singapore:
Donald Trump has dismissed concerns about the widely condemned human rights record of the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un, praising him as a “tough guy”, a “smart guy” and a “great negotiator”....

Speaking in a wood-paneled office aboard Air Force One, [Bret] Baier [of Fox News] put it to the US president that Kim was “a killer. He’s executing people.”

Trump replied by praising Kim as a “tough guy. Hey, when you take over a country, tough country, with tough people, and you take it over from your father, I don’t care who you are, what you are, how much of an advantage you have – if you can do that at 27 years old, that’s one in 10,000 could do that.”
Donald Trump admires many dictators, but look at the specifics in his praise of Kim Jong Un. It's not just that Kim is an effective tyrant -- it's that he attained his position after taking over the family business from his father, at the age of 27.

When Trump was 27, in 1973, he was president of the company his father started; Dad was chairman of the board. That was the year Donald first got his name into The New York Times, in a front-page story about the Justice Department's anti-bias suit against the family business.

Kim Jong Un is 34 now. In 1980, the year Trump turned 34, he opened the renovated Grand Hyatt hotel, his first Manhattan property, and was working on Trump Tower. He was becoming nationally famous -- it was in 1980 that he first discussed running for president with an interviewer. (He said he wouldn't.)

I suspect Trump doesn't compare his own career arc to Kim's in quite that much detail -- he's not really a detail guy. But a young guy taking over from his father and becoming a disruptive force in the world? There's no question that Trump looks at Kim and sees himself. "I don’t care who you are, what you are, how much of an advantage you have – if you can do that at 27 years old, that’s one in 10,000 could do that" -- Trump's talking about Trump.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018


So why is President Trump getting away with this? Why does none of it seem to be a political liability for him? Why aren't North Korean state media claims that Trump agreed to lift sanctions a political liability? Republicans have long claimed that Barack Obama's presidency was an eight-year "apology tour" that left America "less respected in the world." Millions of Americans believe that. Why aren't those same Americans appalled at Trump's giveaway to Kim?

The reason is obvious. Let's look at the latest Politico/Morning Consult poll:

Or this CNN poll from March:
Though Republicans control Congress, voters say they believe Democrats would do a better job of dealing with a host of key issues....

The GOP is favored on just one issue: National security, at 48% to 40% Democrats.
Or this 2017 Gallup poll, in which respondents were asked about the two major parties' "core strengths":
Republicans' largest margin on any issue tested in the survey is 22 points on the military and national defense: 57% of Americans say the Republicans would better handle the issue, as opposed to 35% who say the Democrats would.
For much of America, the notion that Republicans are tougher than Democrats on national security is simply a given. It's been a given since at least 1972. It's a belief system that's reinforced every time there's a tough-talkin' Republican president, from Ronald Reagan (never mind Iran-contra or the withdrawal from Lebanon) to George W. Bush (never mind the fact that he slept through the advance warnings of the 9/11 threat, failed to get bin Laden, and turned Iraq into a quagmire), and now Trump.

It doesn't matter that Trump and George W. Bush avoided service in Vietnam (as did Dick Cheney, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Dan Quayle, Rudy Giuliani, and Ted Nugent) -- Republicans talk tough, so they are tough, by definition. They're considered tough because Democrats (though by no means all of them) expressed skepticism about the most controversial recent wars of the past sixty years, Iraq and Vietnam -- an oppositional stance that taints Democrats even though the Vietnam and Iraq wars are now widely unpopular.

Foreign policy toughness is part of the GOP's brand, for no good reason.


Steve King is being Steve King again.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) retweeted a British neo-Nazi on Tuesday, the latest in a series of incidents in which the congressman has parroted or promoted the views of unabashed white supremacists and other bigots.

“Europe is waking up... Will America... in time?” King tweeted, linking to an anti-immigrant tweet from political activist Mark Collett.

Collett is one of Britain’s most high-profile white supremacists. He has expressed admiration for Adolf Hitler and has called himself a “Nazi sympathizer.”

Collett was the subject of a 2002 Channel 4 documentary in the United Kingdom called “Young, Nazi and Proud” ...

“The Jews have been thrown out of every country, including England,” he says in the documentary. “Let’s face it, when it happens that many times it’s not just persecution: there’s no smoke without fire.”

... in December, [King] tweeted “Diversity is not our strength,” a phrase used for years by prominent racists and anti-Semites like David Duke....

King has said America should not apologize for slavery, has suggested that the country’s first black president was born in Kenya and has argued that most undocumented immigrants are “drug mules.”
If the media favored by liberals and centrists in America worked the way the right-wing media works, King would be a household name by now, notorious across America for his racism. If we had media with the reach of talk radio and Fox News that made every King outburst the subject of round-the-clock stories for days, his extremism would be widely recognized in America. He'd be famous (or infamous). As it is, he's known to Iowans and to politically engaged lefties. The rest of the country is barely aware that he exists.

The rest of the country also doesn't know about the extremism of Corey Stewart, who just won the GOP Senate nomination in Virginia. This is not to say that he isn't reported on -- here's a CNN story:
[Stewart] made Charlottesville's push to remove its statue of Robert E. Lee the centerpiece of his campaign for governor, holding rallies for the monument and displaying Confederate flags while defending "heritage" at his events....

He attended a news conference with the leader of the white supremacist protest that later resulted in the death of a counter-protester in Charlottesville. And after that counter-protester, Heather Heyer, was killed in a hit-and-run, Stewart blamed the violence on "both sides."
And here's Politico last year, when he unsuccessfully ran for governor:
He has relentlessly criticized the city of Charlottesville for its plan to tear down a statue of General Robert E. Lee in one of the city’s major parks, and rename parks named after Lee and Stonewall Jackson.

“No Robert E. Lee monument should come down. That man is a hero & an honorable man. It is shameful what they are doing with these monuments,” he wrote in one Twitter missive, following up a few hours later: “After they tear down Lee & Beauregard, they are coming for Washington & Jefferson.” He added the hashtag #HistoricalVandalism.

When he hasn’t lamented the shoddy treatment of Southern heritage, he has compared the politicians who support removing statues to ISIS, the murderous Islamic extremists who have destroyed historic artifacts and religious sites throughout Syria. Or suggested that George Soros “needs to be tried for sedition, stripped of his citizenship or deported.”
But there isn't saturation coverage of Stewart, and there won't be. He'll never be subjected to days and days of negative stories and commentary in the non-conservative press. There'll be isolated items, and then attention will move on -- and some coverage will be disturbingly "measured," like this New York Times tweet, which merely calls Stewart a "firebrand" (although the linked story and the sub-headline in the tweet get into some specifics):

The unabashedly partisan right-wing press names and shames its Antichrists -- and remember, it's effectively the mainstream media for much of America. The actually mainstream media does no such thing. That imbalance has real consequences.