Friday, November 16, 2018


Let's see: After a midterm election in which the Democratic Party got a lot of women and non-whites elected, who got a front-page profile in The New York Times yesterday? This white guy:
One after another, the Democratic candidates in Ohio fell.

But there was Senator Sherrod Brown celebrating his re-election last Tuesday night at a hotel ballroom before a crowd of anxious revelers.

... his gravelly voice rasping out a crescendo, he made it clear where he thought his party could forge its path to success: his triumphant campaign, he said, was the “blueprint for America for 2020.” The revelers roared.

If his victory speech seemed to double as a calling card for a possible presidential run, there was good reason. Not only had Mr. Brown won his third term in this crucial battleground that President Trump claimed by eight points, he was the only major Democrat to win a statewide seat in Ohio....

Rumpled and unvarnished — with a fondness for sweatshirts, less so for ties — Mr. Brown would in some ways seem uniquely positioned in a party hoping to win back the Midwestern states that flipped to Mr. Trump. Throughout his political career, he has championed populist platitudes like the “dignity of work” that have resonated with working-class voters in all corners of Ohio....
And who gets profiled today, in a Sunday Magazine piece posted a couple of days early? This discredited Republican who's been with us forever:
“I mean, it’s not fun,” Susan Collins said, sitting in her Senate office on Tuesday. It was her first day back at work following last week’s midterm elections, and the Maine Republican was not quite radiating fresh-start and renewal vibes. “Death threats are not fun. Protests are not fun. Being mobbed — sorry, I know the media hates that word — being mobbed when I go to vote. I do not enjoy that at all. I find that exhausting.”

Returning senators of either party could echo Collins’s despair over the ruptured, strident and increasingly bellicose state of Trump’s Washington; they would also share her foreboding over what’s in store as subpoenas start flying, Mueller Time nears and the president swings into re-election rally mode, probably in the next week or so. But Collins, who is 65 and coming off two of the most punishing years of her Senate career, seems to be entering a particularly grim existential zone.
We're supposed to thrill to the prospect that the Democratic Party, now apparently a gynocracy (which, by the way, is fine by me), will be saved by this white dude in late middle age. We're also supposed to feel sorry for Collins because people right now are just so mean:
Collins has been maddening people across the political spectrum for years, of course; the main difference, maybe, is that people are just generally madder now.
I think the main difference is that the stakes are higher. Take away health insurance from tens of millions of people, or nahhh? Cement a 5-4 Kochist/theocrat majority on the Supreme Court for the next 35 years, and allow an accused rapist to be the fifth vote to effectively overthrow Roe v.Wade, or maybe hope (in vain) that a so-called pro-choice moderate might want to prevent that from happening?

The Collins profile is by Mark Leibovich, who can be incisive and smart. In this case, his clever writing trick is to mock Collins for her highly public pondering of weighty issues while also mocking the people who mock her for that:
She represents an almost quaint archetype of the solemn centrist who was always deliberating very carefully over something or other. Her close friend and former colleague Joseph Lieberman was a vintage exemplar of the breed, as was her fellow Maine Republican Olympia Snowe. But these kindred spirits are gone now, Trump has raised the stakes and patience for quaintness has long since expired. People mock Collins for being serially “troubled” or “saddened” by the latest Trump outrage but never sufficiently so to actually do something about it. They accuse her of fashioning a shtick as a free-agent vote because she loves the attention (as opposed to those other senators who hate attention).
See what Leibovich does there? He says that those who criticize Collins claim she does all this public brooding for the attention -- but doesn't every other politician like attention? But no one is angry at Collins because she likes attention -- what offends her critics is the moralizing followed by entirely predictable capitulation.

“It saddens me,” Collins, sure enough, told me. She was talking about last week’s election results, the fact that “the Democrats have moved further left and the Republicans have moved further right and the moderates are diminishing.” The election had brought the retirements or defeats of fellow members of the Senate Republicans’ Troubled and Saddened Caucus, like Jeff Flake of Arizona and Bob Corker of Tennessee. Collins will soon say goodbye to two of her closest friends, the defeated Democrats Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota. Heitkamp once described Collins as her “role model” — and lost her re-election bid by 11 percentage points.
The reference to the "Troubled and Saddened Caucus" suggests that Leibovich knows this is a phony posture -- but no, he's clearly saddened by the departure of the senators Collins considered her allies and soul mates. It's all your fault, you partisan bastards! Leibovich seems to be saying.

At The New York Times, these are the first heroes of the era following Trump's first midterms. And I know -- Sherrod Brown's not a bad guy. He's progressive on a number of issues. He might be a good presidential candidate -- if he were the nominee, I'd happily vote for him. But are these really the heroes for the moment?


Chris Richards,a pop music critic at The Washington Post, thinks one of the White House's Medal of Freedom picks is a dog whistle:
Yes, the late Elvis Presley will receive the Medal of Freedom from President Trump on Friday.

Yes, Trump is sending a message here.

Yes, Presley is among the most pivotal and controversial musicians of the previous century, so yes, this is another needling MAGA maneuver — a little nod to the good old days, back when black visionaries could invent rock-and-roll, but only a white man could become the king.

Yes, this overture looks ugly to anyone who feels antagonism and regression radiating from Trump’s promise to “make America great again.” And yes, it all feels especially absurd to members of the hip-hop generation — its eldest citizens now past middle-age — who learned how to feel about the legacy of Presley the moment they first heard Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” blasting a hole through our national mood in the summer of 1989. Yeah, you know the Chuck D line I’m talking about: “Elvis was a hero to most, but he never meant s--- to me.”
Maybe -- except that it's very difficult to imagine Trump even being aware of that Public Enemy song, which was released the year he turned 43. Some middle-aged and older people keep up with contemporary music, but it's clear from the playlist at Trump rallies that the president never was one of those people. (These days he does seem to like Adele.) In 1989, Trump was probably listening exclusively to rock and pop radio stations that carefully excluded rap from their playlists. It's true that Trump has made efforts to be seen hanging out with hip-hop stars, just the way he likes to be seen hanging out with black athletes -- I'm sure he regards them as black people who are staying in their lane -- but there's no hip-hop at Trump rallies, not even during the brief period when Kanye West was trying to be Trump's best friend.

It's possible that someone on Trump's staff remembers the P.E. song and picked Presley for that reason. But it's also possible that the White House just wanted someone to appeal to the rural white base, and whoever was in charge of the selection was too lazy to look past the most obvious choice.

The P.E. lyric is legendary, but there's been sonme reconsideration of Chuck D's premise. As Stereo Williams, an African-American music critic, noted a couple of years ago, a notorious Elvis quote that's been seen as proof of his bigotry -- “The only thing Negroes can do for me is buy my records and shine my shoes” -- is apocryphal:
The “shine my shoes” quote came from a 1957 article called “How Negroes Feel About Elvis,” published in a periodical called Sepia....

“Some Negroes are unable to forget that Elvis was born in Tupelo, Mississippi, hometown of the foremost Dixie race baiter, former Congressman Jon Rankin,” read the article. “Others believe a rumored crack by Elvis during a Boston appearance in which he is alleged to have said: ‘The only thing Negroes can do for me is shine my shoes and buy my records.’”

At the time of the article’s publication, Elvis Presley had never been to Boston. It was also alleged that he’d said it on Edward R. Murrow‘s Person to Person TV show—but he hadn’t appeared there either. Louie Robinson, Jet magazine’s associate editor, tried tracing the actual origins of the quote and came up empty. So he tracked down Elvis himself, interviewing the singer in his Jailhouse Rock dressing room in the summer of 1957.

“I never said anything like that,” Elvis said at the time. “And people who know me know I wouldn’t have said it.”

“A lot of people seem to think I started this business,” Elvis continued, regarding his “King of Rock ‘N’ Roll” status and reputation. “But rock ‘n’ roll was here a long time before I came along. Nobody can sing that kind of music like colored people. Let’s face it; I can’t sing it like Fats Domino can. I know that. But I always liked that kind of music.”

“I always wanted to sing like Billy Kenny of the Ink Spots,” Elvis was further quoted as saying in the Jet interview. “I like that high, smooth style.” But Presley acknowledged that his own voice was more in line with the originator of the song that he would cover for his first single. “I never sang like this in my life until I made that first record—‘That’s Alright, Mama.’ I remembered that song because I heard Arthur (Big Boy) Crudup sing it and I thought I would like to try it.”
Williams concludes:
Presley had grown up on the “black side” of Tupelo, he’d run with the likes of Ike Turner in his early days as a musician and became close friends with B.B. King and eventually James Brown, Cissy Houston and Muhammad Ali. The racism that he’s been branded with because of a phantom quote seems to be a fabrication.
The business made Elvis a bigger star than his black contemporaries, but he admired the originators. Maybe a Medal of Freedom for him isn't the insult it may have been intended to be.



Maybe it's his dog whistle.

Thursday, November 15, 2018


Sean Hannity worships the ground Donald Trump walks on. In response, according to the Daily Beast, Trump regards Hannity with withering contempt:
Donald Trump’s close relationship—on air and off—with Sean Hannity hasn’t stopped the president from mocking the Fox News star behind his back for being such a suck-up, according to three sources who have independently heard this mockery....

Trump has repeatedly—and sometimes for a sustained period of time—made fun of Hannity’s interviewing skills, usually zeroing in on the low-quality laziness of the host’s questions, the three people with direct knowledge tell The Daily Beast.

“It’s like he’s not even trying,” Trump has said, one source recalled, right before the president launched into a rough imitation of Hannity’s voice and mannerisms to complain that the questions about how “great I am” give him nothing to work or have fun with.
I'm thinking back to early 2016, when Chris Christie dropped out of the presidential race and threw his support to Trump in a very fawning way. Trump went on to publicly mock Christie, then turned him into a literal errand boy, dumped him as head of his transition team, and failed to name him to a Cabinet position.

Trump obviously thought of Christie as a beta male, and apparently feels the same way about Hannity. It's definitely a male thing -- Fox's Jeanine Pirro is as obsequious toward Trump as Hannity is, and Trump has no problem with that. (Trump is, however, an aggressive bully toward any women who challenge him.)

This is why Trump is miserable: He spends all his waking hours obsessing over the score in what he regards as a never-ending competition with every male on the planet, as well as every institution with which he interacts (all of which, in his mind, are essentially male, as most institutions have been throughout his life). He believes that if you aggressively assert your own alpha-male status at all times you'll never lose, and he has contempt for men like Hannity and Christie who don't or can't do that. And yet he's losing -- to Democrats in the midterms, to Robert Mueller, and to "the fake news," which won't run exclusively positive stories about him.

He can't even grasp the notion that America's last three two-term presidents, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama, all had egos and alpha-male swagger and yet were perfectly capable of acknowledging a diminution of power after midterm losses. They also didn't regard themselves as competing with subordinates or journalists for alpha-male status. They were all presidents of the United States -- once you've got that gig, you ought to be fairly sure of your position atop the pecking order. But Trump never will be.


Democrats did well in the 2018 midterms, but as The New York Times reports, one Democratic idea didn't:
After a wave of teacher walkouts fired up people on both sides of the party line, the time seemed ripe for big investments in public schools.

In reality, the results for school funding after the midterm elections last week were mixed, and illustrate a paradox in how Americans view education.

Polls showed that the public supported the picketing teachers across the country who protested low pay and classroom funding.... But many voters ... were unwilling to open their wallets to send state tax dollars to educators and classrooms.
Coloradans, after seeing teachers walk out in April over school funding, rejected a ballot initiative last week to pay for schools by raising corporate taxes and personal income taxes on those earning over $150,000 a year....

Overall funding in the state is below the national average by more than $2,000 per student. Colorado has a teacher shortage and the nation’s largest gap between the salaries of teachers and those of other professionals with similar qualifications and hours, according to a report by the Education Law Center. But the state’s economy is booming, with an influx of jobs in the tech and marijuana industries.

... In Arizona, another state where teachers walked out, voters ... overwhelmingly approved a ballot initiative that prohibits new state or local taxes on personal services, such as real estate sales and beauty treatments.

The initiative torpedoed a potential source of school funding in a state with some of the lowest corporate and income taxes in the nation.

... North Carolina, another walkout state, approved a ballot measure to lower the income tax cap allowed by the State Constitution. Voters in Florida passed a measure to require a two-thirds majority of the State Legislature to pass new taxes and fees or raise existing ones. Similar laws in other states have made it difficult to direct money to schools.
Conservatives believe a lot of things that aren't true, and develop new untrue beliefs every week, but one of the core conservative untruths -- one that spread to moderates and even some self-styled liberals decades ago -- is the belief that all tax money is poured down a rat hole, squandered by evil politicians, while needed government services are provided by the elves and fairies for free. (That's a slight exaggeration.) Because of this belief, while much of America wants nice things -- universal health coverage, good schools with well-paid teachers, good infrastructure -- most Americans don't seem to believe we need to raise taxes (on anyone, even rich people) to pay for those nice things. Americans largely believe the only impediment to having nice things is that tax money is frittered away by "waste, fraud, and abuse." In fact, we ought to be able to lower taxes and still have nice things.

This is why I have difficulty believing that America will ever manage the transition to single-payer health care. We like the idea, but it would signifcantly raise taxes (even though no one would be paying money to private insurance companies anymore, except for optional supplemental coverage). Tax increases simply aren't supposed to be necessary.

Republicans, of course, take advantage of this belief system by cutting taxes (mostly on the rich) every chance they get. Polls show that Americans are no longer impressed by these tax cuts, which don't amount to much for the average person, but the cutd still reduce government revenue signifcantly. As a result, any major new program, or expansion of an existing one, inevitably requires a tax increase. Can't have that!

As the Times story notes, some Americans don't think this way:
Voters did open their pocketbooks for local classrooms, if not for those statewide. In Miami; Toledo, Ohio; Charleston, W.Va.; and other cities, they raised or renewed municipal taxes to finance their own districts, demonstrating that the most popular school spending, unsurprisingly, happens closest to home.
No, that's not what these votes demonstrate. They demonstrate that people who live in cities get it -- if you want something from government, it needs to be paid for.

Waste, fraud, and abuse exist, and ordinary people are overtaxed relative to the rich when all taxes are taken into account. But good things cost money, and generally require tax adjustments. Most Americans simply don't understand that.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018


At PJ Media, Robert Spencer writes:
The brazenness of the theft is astounding....

The theft of elections ... is a new low in American politics, and testifies to the Left’s overriding lust for power. The Democrats have never recovered their equilibrium after losing to Donald Trump in 2016, and now appear to be willing to stop at nothing -- absolutely nothing -- to neutralize Trump and regain their hegemony.
It's now conventional wisdom on the right that any post-Election Day adjustment in a vote count is vote fraud if it's favorable to Democrats, even if the late counting is a perfectly understandable consequence of the locality's voting rules. So when the historically slow vote counting in Arizona reversed a lead for Republican Senate candidate Martha McSally and led to a victory for Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, many in the wingnuttosphere cried "Fraud!," even though the outgoing Republican senator, Jeff Flake, said no fraud was taking place, and even though McSally conceded.

Late votes changed the count in the Arizona race in Democrats' favor, and also in a handful of House races. But Republicans aren't just upset about those races -- they're particularly upset about close races in Florida and Georgia. They're convinced that Democrats are stealing those races.

But if Democrats are such expert election thieves, why haven't they have stolen these races already?

The governor's race and Senate race in Florida are both very close. So is the governor's race in Georgia. The Senate race in Texas was fairly close. And hey, you know what other races were close? The presidential races in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan in 2016.

The right-wing theory of Democratic voter fraud is this: Democrats cheat in such a sophisticated way that they almost win many key races on Election Night, and then they manipulate the vote count so they seize the lead some of the time. What a skilled set of crooks Democrats are! Dems could simply cook the books on Election Day or earlier, but I guess they'd rather do part of the work then and then manipulate the vote almost successfully afterward, when everyone's paying attention. Because that's how professional election thieves roll.

This is the dumbest conspiracy theory about Democrats since the Brett Kavanaugh hearings. You remember that conspiracy: Democrats had a sexual assault accusation against Kavanaugh all teed up, but deliberately held it until after the hearings were over, presumably because they wanted it to look suspicious and desperate. Holding back on the allegation for months was all part of Democrats' sinister plan, the fiendish brilliance of which became clear when Kavanaugh was confirmed anyway.

It didn't seem possible that Democrats could top that, but letting Stacey Abrams, Andrew Gillum, and Bill Nelson fall behind and then scrounging up probably not enough fake votes for them is even cleverer, isn't it?


I used cocaine only a few times in my youth, and what I remember about it most is the comedown -- the all-over toxic feeling, and especially the crankiness. That was more than three decades ago for me, but it comes to mind as I read about the pouty, self-pitying president of the United States:
As he jetted to Paris last Friday, President Trump received a congratulatory phone call aboard Air Force One. British Prime Minister Theresa May was calling to celebrate the Republican Party’s wins in the midterm elections — never mind that Democrats seized control of the House — but her appeal to the American president’s vanity was met with an ornery outburst.

Trump berated May for Britain not doing enough, in his assessment, to contain Iran. He questioned her over Brexit and complained about the trade deals he sees as unfair with European countries. May has endured Trump’s churlish temper before, but still her aides were shaken by his especially foul mood, according to U.S. and European officials briefed on the conversation.

For Trump, that testy call set the tone for five days of fury....

During his 43-hour stay in Paris, Trump brooded over the Florida recounts and sulked over key races being called for Democrats in the midterm elections that he had claimed as a “big victory.” He erupted at his staff over media coverage of his decision to skip a ceremony honoring the military sacrifice of World War I.
And when he returned, "the White House called a 'lid' at 10:03 a.m. EST" on Veterans Day, "informing reporters that the president would not have any scheduled activities or public appearances for the rest of the day." He didn't go to Arlington. He's been blowing off public appearances.

Is it just a mood swing? Trump really seemed to be enjoying himself at all those campaign rallies. Under those circumstances, a normal person might have an emotional crash, although most adults would make an effort to do what's expected of them and to avoid lashing out at others.

Trump, of course, isn't a normal person. He's an overgrown adolescent -- pre-adolescent? -- who indulges his emotional whims. But is there more going on than that?

I know that Trump says he's never had a drink (I believe him) and has never done recreational drugs. But it's clear that he's taken mood-altering prescription drugs, at least in the past.

In May of this year, NBC News reported that a year earlier Trump aides raided the offices of the president's longtime personal physician, Harold Bornstein; they took all of Trump's medical records.

At the time, I questioned whether that was related to reports that Trump was prescribed mood-altering drugs for an alleged "metabolic imbalance" in the 1980s.

More recently, I've wondered why Trump took Senator Jon Tester's criticism of Dr. Ronny Jackson, the White House physician, so personally. Information unearthed by Tester and others revealed, among other things, that Jackson had quite freely distributed uppers and downers to top government officials, especially those traveling on long flights on Air Force One. The revelations compelled Jackson to withdraw from consideration for the post of secretary of veterans affairs.

Two of the biggest stars in pop music, Michael Jackson and Prince, very publicly rejected the use of drugs, then died from overdoeses of prescription painkillers. Is it possible that Trump is another self-proclaimed teetotaler who thinks that if it comes off a prescription pad it doesn't count as drugs? Was he pharmacologically juiced for all those rallies, and now he's crashing?

It's quite possible that Trump is just experiencing mood swings. Or he might have been hitting the Diet Coke really hard during all those campaign trips. But I wonder if that's all it is.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018


During the last few days of the midterm campaign, it was conventional wisdom that everyone on the right would instantly stop talking about the caravan as soon as the polls closed. I never believed that -- right-wingers are always talking about how evil immigration is -- and here's the lead story at Breitbart right now:

I'm sure you'll be shocked to learn that that's not what Gallup's survey actually says.

From the Breitbart story:
Five million poor Central Americans want to migrate into the United States’ communities and workplaces, according to a report by Gallup.

The caravans of economic migrants moving northwards to the U.S. border “actually represent a relatively small fragment of a much larger group of people in their own region — and around the world — who say they would like to move to the U.S. if they could,” said Gallup.
Notice that the linked item from Gallup doesn't say that the people surveyed want to come here in a migrant caravan. Or want to come here illegally in any other way. And only a small percentage seem to be really serious about moving.

From the Gallup post:
In Gallup's most recent global estimate, between 2015 and 2017, 15% of the world's adults -- more than 750 million people -- said they would like to move to another country permanently if they could. In Central America, this percentage is one in three (33%), or about 10 million adults.

Three percent of the world's adults -- or nearly 160 million people -- say they would like to move to the U.S. This includes 16% of adults from Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Panama and Costa Rica, which translates into nearly 5 million people.
But unlike the caravan of Central American migrants who are currently on the move, most people who desire to migrate will never try to make their way to the U.S. Desire remains only that. Gallup typically finds that the percentage of those who have plans to move is substantially lower than the percentage who would like to move, and even fewer are actively making preparations to do so.

Central America is no different in this regard. For example, in Honduras, whose residents make up a large percentage of the migrant caravan, about half of adults (47%) say they would like to move to another country permanently if they could, but about 9% are planning to move in the next year -- and 2% are actively preparing to do so.
That's 2% who intend to move to any other country. And we have no idea how many of those 2% will actually follow through, or how they intend to attain residency.

The Breitbart story quotes some of this -- but then insists that the problem is more horrifying than they want you to believe:
However, these Gallup numbers may be far too low.

People stuck in their poor homelands may not want to admit their frustrated wish to migrate.

Also, rising migration spurs runaway migration once successful migrants use their cell phones to video and broadcast their glamorous success in Europe and the United States to their homeland peers in their towns, villages, and families.
"Their glamorous success"!

The five million number is one-in-three adults in Central America, the survey firm said. But average birth rate and family size in Central America are roughly twice as large as in the United States, so the migration of 5 million could lead to the birth of at least 5 million additional people after the migrants get jobs in the United States.
Don't let them in! Those people breed like rabbits!

The story ends with a laundry list or awful things that happen as a result of immigration ("The policy also drives up real estate prices, widens wealth-gaps, reduces high-tech investment..."). And then we're told:
Immigration also pulls investment and wealth away from heartland states because coastal investors can more easily hire and supervise the large immigrant populations living in the coastal states.
But ... but ... but I thought the immigrants were all parasites bleeding us dry! This says that "investment and wealth" gravitate to states where the immigrants are hired! I'm confused!

In any case, they're coming, they're bad, and they'll be under all your beds soon.


I appreciate Ed Kilgore's warning: Democrats did very well in the 1982 midterms only to lose the presidential election in a landslide two years later, and something like that could happen again.
... 1982 [was] the first midterm after the election of Ronald Reagan, whose ascension to the presidency in 1980 terrified liberals every bit as much as Trump’s did in 2016. After an upbeat battle to rein in the so-called “Reagan Revolution,” Democrats won the national House popular vote by nearly 12 percent (when it’s all said and done, Democrats will have won it this year by less than 8 percent).... the future looked quite good for the Donkey Party; in mid-1982, a horse-race poll for 1984 showed Ted Kennedy (then considered the Democratic front-runner) leading Reagan by six points.

In what should be a clear warning from history for today’s Democrats, Reagan rebounded from his midterm drubbing and carried 49 states in his landslide reelection.
Kilgore knows that America is far too polarized now for any candidate to win 49 states, or any number close to 49. However, he has a point: A good 2018 doesn't mean Democrats will necessarily finish Trump off in 2020.

But there are big differences between Reagan's first term and Trump's. In 1982, Kilgore notes, "Rising unemployment rates gave [Democrats] an opening," while throughout the rest of Reagan's first term "The economy steadily improved, with the 'stagflation' of the late 1970s giving way to lower interest rates and a rising stock market." I think this is putting it mildly. The unemployment rate was 7.4% when Reagan took office in January 1981, but by October 1982, just before the midterm elections, it had risen to 10.4%. (It would rise further, to 10.8% over the next two months.) No wonder voters wanted change.

But by October 1984 the unemployment rate was back down to 7.4%. Also, inflation, which had been in double digits for most of 1981 and was above 8.5% well into 1982, was down to 4.9% by October 1984.

For Trump, the economy simply can't improve that dramatically -- unemployment is 3.7% now -- unless companies suddenly start giving workers serious wage increases, and that isn't going to happen. Trump had terrible midterms with, in all likelihood, the best economy he'll ever have.

I'm not saying that Trump can't win in 2020. He absolutely can. I still fear that the media will subject the Democratic candidate to the same withering scorn Hillary Clinton experienced in 2012, while Trump gets billions of dollars in free media coverage, just the way he did that year. I fear that Trump, like Harry Truman in 1948, might successfully run against a "do-nothing Congress," or at least a "do-nothing" House. I fear that a terrorist attack might unite Americans around Trump. And, of course, I'm sure Republicans will explore new vistas in vote suppression wherever they can, and that some brown menace -- a successor to Al Qaeda, ISIS, the "Ground Zero mosque," Ebola, the caravan, ACORN, and the New Black Panthers -- will stir Republican voters' blood and get them to the polls.

But Trump won't be able to sell 2020 as "morning in America." The things that are going well in America won't get much better by then. Also, Trump has an unquenchable psychological need to claim that carnage and chaos are abroad in the land.

I worry about 2020, but I don't worry that Trump will win because the majority of Americans will believe that America is in great shape. He'll win if he can successfully leverage the opposite message -- and that's possible.


Florida is counting and re-counting ballots in several midterm races, including the races for governor and a Senate seat. Republicans lead in those two contests, but as the vote count changes, the GOP victory margins have been narrowing. President Trump and other Republicans say this is electoral fraud, and some have focused on Broward County elections supervisor Brenda Snipes, who is accused even by non-partisan critics of not being very good at her job.

But twice in her tenure Snipes seems to have made misjudgments that cost Democrats votes. That seems to be what's happening now -- and the problem, by coincidence, involves on another black Democratic woman who's been a target of the president's wrath:
... on about 26,000 ballots, voters registered their choice in the governor's race ... but not for Senate. That adds up to about 3.7 percent of all ballots cast in Broward. To put it mildly, that number is radically higher than anything found in any of Florida's 66 other counties, where votes cast in the Senate and gubernatorial races have tracked about evenly.

... Did the design of Broward's ballot cause a small but critical chunk of voters to miss the Senate race?

... A look at the Broward ballot shows that the Senate race occupies a lonely corner, buried in the left column under a lengthy set of instructions. The governor's race, meanwhile, is perched prominently atop the middle column, with wide spacing between the names of all six candidates who qualified to run. There's no question where the eye is more easily drawn.

Then there is this: On the Broward ballot, the Senate race is paired in that lower left column with one other contest, for the House. Broward contains parts of four congressional districts — all of them safely Democratic — so voters in different parts of the county had different House races on their ballots. But in one of those districts, Rep. Frederica Wilson's 24th Congressional District, there was apparently no House race listed at all. That's because Wilson was running unopposed and Florida law mandates that the race simply not appear on the ballot in such a case, with the sole candidate simply being deemed the winner.

And, as political cartographer Matthew Isbell discovered, in the small portion of Broward County that is part of the 24th District, the number of ballots that contained no vote in the Senate race exploded. Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, also examined results from precincts around the county and found that the number of non-votes in the Senate race was significantly higher than the statewide average everywhere — and particularly in the 24th District.
So a badly designed ballot probably deprived Democrat Bill Nelson of needed votes, especially in a part of the county where there was no House race tucked under the instructions along with the Senate race.

But that isn't the first time the Broward elections department has hurt a Democrat during Snipes's tenure. There was also this:
As The Washington Post reported going into the 2004 presidential election, Florida was once again expected to be a decisive swing state. As Election Day approached, Snipes blamed the U.S. Postal Service for losing 58,000 absentee ballots, then later announced that only 6,000 ballots had disappeared. Postal officials claimed they had done nothing wrong. Then, Snipes’s office dropped 2,400 absentee ballots off at the post office on a Saturday before the election, after mail carriers were already gone for the day.

“There’s no way in hell those people are going to get their ballots in a timely fashion,” a Postal Service spokesman told The Post, laying blame on Broward. “They should get their act together over there.”

The disorganization meant potential absentee Broward voters — a critical constituency for Democratic candidate John F. Kerry — were out of luck.
If Brenda Snipes is a cheating partisan, she's not very good at it.

Monday, November 12, 2018


When I woke up this morning, this Wall Street Journal op-ed co-authored by Mark Penn seemed to be the talk of the political Internet:
Hillary Will Run Again

Get ready for Hillary Clinton 4.0. More than 30 years in the making, this new version of Mrs. Clinton, when she runs for president in 2020, will come full circle—back to the universal-health-care-promoting progressive firebrand of 1994. True to her name, Mrs. Clinton will fight this out until the last dog dies. She won’t let a little thing like two stunning defeats stand in the way of her claim to the White House.
According to Penn (writing with Andrew Stein), Hillary 1.0 was a centrist who ran for Senate and won in 2000 and 2006, "arguably the most successful version of Hillary Clinton." Version 2.0 was also a centrist, but that sneaky liberal Barack Obama beat her in caucus states in 2008 and went on to victory. Hillary 3.0 "catered to the coastal elites who had eluded her in 2008," running as a progressive, but lost to Donald Trump as a result. But now... it's vengeance time.
Claims of a Russian conspiracy and the unfairness of the Electoral College shielded Mrs. Clinton from ever truly conceding she had lost. She was robbed, she told herself, yet again. But after two years of brooding—including at book length—Mrs. Clinton has come unbound. She will not allow this humiliating loss at the hands of an amateur to end the story of her career. You can expect her to run for president once again.
Um, I think if she were determined to run, she'd have an organization in place now, the way several other serious aspirants do. Don't you think?
Expect Hillary 4.0 to come out swinging. She has decisively to win those Iowa caucus-goers who have never warmed up to her. They will see her now as strong, partisan, left-leaning and all-Democrat—the one with the guts, experience and steely-eyed determination to defeat Mr. Trump. She has had two years to go over what she did wrong and how to take him on again.
But nearly every pundit I've encountered said that firebrand progressives didn't do all that well in this year's midterms, especially in Middle America. Why is this an approach tailor-made for Iowa?
Mrs. Clinton won’t travel the country in a van with Huma Abedin this time, doing small events and retail politics. Instead she will enter through the front door, mobilizing the army of professional women behind her, leveraging her social networks, and raking in donations. She will hope to emerge as an unstoppable force to undo Mr. Trump, running on the #MeToo movement, universal health care and gun control. Proud and independent, this time she will sideline Bill and Mr. Obama, limiting their role to fundraising.
Aren't there several dozen other candidates who might have a word or two to say about this?
The generation of Democrats who have been waiting to take over the party from the Clintons will be fuming that she is back and stealing their show. But they revealed themselves to be bungling amateurs in the Brett Kavanaugh nomination fight, with their laughable Spartacus moments. She will trounce them. Just as Mr. Trump cleared the field, Mrs. Clinton will take down rising Democratic stars like bowling pins. Mike Bloomberg will support her rather than run, and Joe Biden will never be able to take her on.
Penn, of course, hasn't run a Democratic campaign in a decade, and spends more time hanging out with Republicans on Fox News than with Democrats. In fact, even though this reads at first like an effort to troll Democrats with the notion that we won't be able to move on from 2016's humiliating loss, I don't think this is aimed at us at all. It's aimed at the core market for Penn's punditry -- Republicans.

And why? Does Penn actually believe all this? It's hard to tell -- but he and his editor's at the Journal op-ed page know that Hillary Clinton is a villain right-wingers love to hate. I think this isn't trolling -- it's a Republican in all but name gulling the rubes on his own side, because he knows that this nonsense is just the sort of thing they eat up.

Notice that Clinton is portrayed in a way that's intended to exquisitely stroke right-wingers' rage centers (which are actually their pleasure centers). In 1994, Clinton was a "universal-health-care-promoting progressive firebrand" -- the evil socialist so many older conservatives loathed. After the 2016 election, she "shielded" herself from the knowledge of her own awfulness by believing "claims of a Russian conspiracy." (In Wingnuttia, they're still "claims," and everyone "knows" they're "fake news.") Like the supervillain she is, she's been "brooding" ever since. Defeat? She won't have it! "She will not allow this humiliating loss at the hands of an amateur to end the story of her career"! (Picture her entertaining these thoughts in the comic-book version of this narrative. She and her lair are drawn in sinister chiaroscuro. She shakes her fist at the cosmos as she thinks all this.)

Now she will be "strong, partisan, left-leaning" and full of "steely-eyed determination." She'll "enter through the front door" and "emerge as an unstoppable force." The prose gets purpler and she becomes more and more menacing: "Mrs. Clinton will take down rising Democratic stars like bowling pins. Mike Bloomberg will support her rather than run, and Joe Biden will never be able to take her on."


This is what right-leaning pundits do: They routinely lie to their core audiences. Usually the lies are in the service of fat cats' policy goals (climate change is a myth); sometimes the point is just electing more Republicans (Democrats will let MS-13 members with Ebola slither under your bed while their fellow caravaners build a Ground Zero mosque and turn the U.S. into a second Venezuela!). But this is just lying because the liar knows the lies are catnip to the GOP audience.

Not surprisingly, the people who ran with this story were overwhelmingly on the right:

Guys, you're supposed to be making us chase our own tails, not your own people.


The president wants the vote counting in Florida to be stopped:
The president tweeted [this morning] that the results from Election Night should be accepted and both Republican candidates, Gov. Rick Scott, who's running for U.S. Senate against Sen. Bill Nelson, and former Rep. Ron DeSantis, who's running for governor against Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, should be declared the winners of their respective races.

But the president's desire to use results from Election Night, which he tweeted on Veterans Day, would disenfranchise many voters whose ballots are counted after Election Day, including voters serving overseas in the military....

Additionally, there is no evidence that ballots "showed up out of nowhere," but rather ballots continued to be counted days after the election -- largely mail-in, absentee and provisional ballots in slow counties like Broward and Palm Beach, which lean Democrat. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement, or FDLE, has no open investigations into any claims of potential fraud, ABC News confirmed Sunday afternoon.
Tom Pepinsky, a Cornell political science professor, believes that this is a terrible change for the worse in America:
It is now the official White House position that constitutionally-mandated recounts are illegitimate.

... this development is ... almost incalculably bad for American democracy. I now assume that a substantial minority of Americans believe that the results of the elections in Florida, Georgia, Arizona, and California are democratically illegitimate unless the Republican candidate wins....

When electoral procedures lose popular legitimacy, it is nearly impossible to get that legitimacy back. Elections are one great way of building popular legitimacy, and if by assumption they no longer do, what will?

... The downstream consequences from the loss of electoral legitimacy are nearly impossible to predict. I suspect that one consequence will be an ever-greater tolerance for executive malfeasance, on the logic that Congressional representatives and state governments lack democratic legitimacy.
But we're already there. We've been there for years -- long before the polls closed in Florida last week, and, in fact, long before Donald Trump ran for office.

I'm not saying that Trump didn't make things worse -- he absolutely did. Here are the numbers from a March 2017 Quinnipiac poll in response to the question "Do you believe that 3-5 million people voted illegally in the 2016 presidential election through widespread voter fraud, or not?" (a claim Trump made after it was clear he'd lost the 2016 popular vote):

Among Republicans, 50% believed Trump's claim that 3 to 5 million people voted illegally in the 2016 presidential election; only 38% didn't believe it. Among Democrats and independents, the numbers were much lower.

Just before the election, a CBS poll found that 85% of respondents who planned to vote for Trump believed that voter fraud happens "a lot" (42%) or "sometimes" (43%), while only 27% Clinton voters agreed (7% "a lot," 20% "sometimes").

But these concerns precede Trump. Back in 2012, according to a Fox News poll, majorities of Republicans, independents, and Democrats backed voter ID laws to guard against fraud, although Republicans were much more supportive.
Overall, 70 percent of Americans say voter ID laws are needed to stop illegal voting. That’s far more than the 26 percent who see the laws as a hindrance to legal voting.

An overwhelming 87-percent majority of Republicans say voter ID laws are necessary to ensure only eligible voters participate in elections. Some 74 percent of independents and 52 percent of Democrats agree.
Democrats (44 percent) are four times as likely as Republicans (10 percent) to consider these laws an unnecessary deterrent to law-abiding citizens casting their ballot.
Presumably after hearing a lot of propaganda from GOP politicians and the right-wing media in favor of voter ID laws, Republicans in a 2014 Marquette Law School poll of Wisconsin expressed significant fear of fraud by voter impersonation:
Voters were asked if they believe vote fraud affects “a few thousand votes,” “a few hundred,” “a few dozen” or “less than a dozen” votes each election in Wisconsin....

Among partisans, 54 percent of Republicans believe fraud affects a few thousand votes or more for at least one type of fraud, while 41 percent of independents and 25 percent of Democrats say so. Partisans are somewhat different in the type of fraud they perceive. Thirty-six percent of Republicans think voter impersonation, the type of fraud photo ID requirements are supposed to prevent, affects a few thousand or more votes, while just 7 percent of Democrats and 20 percent of independents agree.
The numbers vary, but it's clear that Republicans fear illegal voting, and voter impersonation in particular. I'm not terribly concerned that President Trump is delegitimizing American elections now because he and other Republicans and right-wing media propagandists have been hard at work delegitimizing our elections for years.

Pepinsky is probably right to say that the delegitimization of elections leads to "ever-greater tolerance for executive malfeasance, on the logic that Congressional representatives and state governments lack democratic legitimacy." I think that explains why right-wingers will tolerate just about anything Donald Trump does: They don't believe any Democrats, or at least any Democrats outside coastal California, New York, Chicago, Massachusetts, and the District of Columbia, are legitimately elected. They believe all the others reached office via fraud. Under those circumstances, of course they don't worry about the norm-shattering things are done by Trump or Mitch McConnell. It's all necessary, you see, because any government with more than a handful of Democrats is by definition illegitimate.


Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi believes she's being misunderstood:
A newly published video shows a white Republican U.S. senator in Mississippi praising someone by saying: "If he invited me to a public hanging, I'd be on the front row."

... The video ... shows a small group of white people clapping politely for Hyde-Smith after a cattle rancher introduced her.

"I referred to accepting an invitation to a speaking engagement," said Hyde-Smith ... in a statement Sunday. "In referencing the one who invited me, I used an exaggerated expression of regard, and any attempt to turn this into a negative connotation is ridiculous."

Mike Espy, Hyde-Smith's opponent in the runoff, was the first black person since Reconstruction to win a House seat from Mississippi.

I'll give Hyde-Smith this much: She's saying she'd do even unpleasant things for the man who invited her. You can tell from the first part of the clip. Her words are hard to hear, but what she seems to say about the man who invited her is this:
I would fight a circle saw for him.
I'm a Yankee and Id never encountered that expression before, but it's real. Here are a few places where it shows up.

Fighting a circle saw doesn't sound like very much fun, so if you say you'd do it for another person, and you'd also attend a hanging if that person invited you, you're not saying you'd enjoy a hanging -- you're saying you'd attend one because that person asked you to.

But to state the obvious, Hyde-Smith is making a joke out of the real pain of other people, most of them black in her state, who were publicly hanged by lynch mobs and, occasionally, by legally constituted authorities in recent history. Imagine if she'd said, "I'd restock the showers with Zyklon-B if he asked me to." Those would not be considered lighthearted words of praise.

But here we are again. An oblivious Republican has said something truly offensive and Red America will come to her defense, saying we're just being hypersensitive or "politcally correct." We'll never persuade the other side that Hyde-Smith crossed a line, and it doesn't matter that she was saying she'd find it unpleasant to watch a brutal death.

Sunday, November 11, 2018


Karl Rove is concerned.
Republican guru Karl Rove is sounding the alarm after steep losses in suburbs across America cost his party control of the House of Representatives....

“We’ve got to be worried about what’s happening in the suburbs. We get wiped out in the Dallas suburbs, Houston suburbs, Chicago suburbs, Denver suburbs — you know there’s a pattern — Detroit suburbs, Minneapolis suburbs, Orange County, Calif., suburbs,” Rove said Saturday during a panel discussion for the Washington Examiner’s Sea Island Summit.

“When we start to lose in the suburbs, it says something to us,” Rove continued. “We can’t replace all of those people by simply picking up [Minnesota’s First Congressional District] — farm country and the Iron range of Minnesota — because, frankly, there’s more growth in suburban areas than there is in rural areas.”
But what can Republicans do? Republicans in Congress will pay with their political lives if they try to cross President Trump, so he won't be convicted if there's an impeachment and therefore he's almost certain to be the 2020 nominee. He'll continue to be despised by suburban women like the ones Michelle Goldberg writes about:
In April 2017, progressives across America turned toward Georgia’s Sixth District for the race to fill the House seat vacated by Tom Price, who’d become President Trump’s (short-lived) secretary of health and human services....

A great many local women ... threw themselves into [this] campaign.

[The Democratic candidate, Jon Ossoff,] lost.... But last week, some of that investment finally paid off.

On Thursday we learned that a year and a half after Ossoff’s loss, Lucy McBath, an African-American gun control advocate, had flipped the seat.

... During the Ossoff campaign, “we built an army of volunteers,” said Stacy Efrat, a mother of three with a full-time job who’d organized voter registration drives most weekends this year. “We built the Resistance in the Sixth District, and we already had our infrastructure in place to work on the Lucy election.”
What will the GOP do in response to the 2018 results? I think it will try to suppress the votes of suburban white women, just the way it's tried for more than a decade to suppress the votes of young people and, especially, non-whites. (Rove, of course, was a key vote suppressor a decade ago.)

How will that be done? I'm not as clever as a Republican trying to subvert democracy, but I can make a few guesses. I know that the use of "exact match" was limited by a federal judge in the last few days of the campaign in Georgia, but I think Republicans might try it elsewhere -- it could catch women whose surnames after marriage are hyphenated (or sometimes unhyphenated) combinations of their maiden names and their husbands' names. There could also be restrictions on voter registration -- maybe other states won't want to go as far as Texas, which requires those who want to register voters to be deputized after one of the sporadically conducted government training sessions, but impediments could be added to the process. Also, it's easy to close down polling places in suburbs that are becoming bluer, or to adjust early voting so that it's less convenient for mothers.

This will happen, probably in states such as Ohio, Iowa, Florida, Texas, and especially Georgia, where the vote is increasingly Democratic even as control of the state government is Republican. Vote suppression -- it's what Republicans will do because it's what Republicans always do.

Saturday, November 10, 2018


After the midterms, Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi interviewed Senator Bernie Sanders. Among other things, Sanders said this to Taibbi:
And here’s what I think, Matt, that maybe nobody else in the world believes. As you know, Trump is a 100-percent political opportunist, who has no political views other than how he can win elections.

Well, that’s true.

Today, if he is a racist and a sexist, tomorrow he may be a great civil rights champion — if he thinks it gets him five more votes. He has no core values. I would not be shocked that if the Democrats passed popular, good legislation, that Trump would look around him and say, “Hey, why not? What do I give a damn?” And he may come on board, because ultimately he doesn’t believe in anything except winning. So I believe it’s terribly important that the Democrats come out of the gate full-steam ahead and start passing really good legislation that puts Trump and the Republicans on the defensive.
I agree with these folks that Sanders is completely off base:

But in answer to the question "Who believes that?!" I'll just point to the piece Robert Costa wrote for The Washington Post on election night. I quoted it the next day:
Conservatives who have learned to love President Trump, a relative newcomer to their movement, could emerge from Tuesday’s election anxious that he might now leave them in the cold to cut deals with newly empowered congressional Democrats.

On the horizon are an array of hot-button issues that are top priorities for conservatives but could prove tempting areas of compromise for the famously transactional Trump as he seeks to repair his presidency ahead of the 2020 election....

“He has carried the ball as effectively as anybody for the right, but the reality is, there is not a deep philosophical bent there,” said Ed Rollins, co-chairman of the pro-Trump Great America super PAC. “He’s always been about getting what you can get.”
Costa imagines Trump working with Democrats on infrastructure funding or reducing prescription drug costs -- but if Trump is as malleable and "transactional" as Costa and many others believe he is, then why wouldn't he also consider single payer or a $15 minimum wage?

The answer, as I said earlier this week, is that he hasn't been "transactional" at all as president, and he never will be. He's a Fox News ideologue for the most part, but with even more racism and with a lifelong distrust of foreigners and free trade (which Fox has now adopted). Even when he seems on the verge of compromise, aides or Fox itself will nudge him back to the True Path. His base hates Democrats, so he'd be at serious risk of losing his voters' love if he decided to compromise, and he knows that. It's fine -- he likes to fight, and his base is fine with few legislative accomplishments as long as there's fighting.

It's true that Sanders doesn't understand this -- but if he doesn't, it's probably because he's read too many mainstream-media articles likes Costa's.