Sunday, January 20, 2019

WHAT YOU LEARN IN A CITY, IF YOU LET YOURSELF

When my friends and I were high school freshmen and sophomores -- in other words, probably a year or two younger than the kids we've all seen in those Covington Catholic videos -- we'd spend a lot of time just walking around the city of Boston. This was 1973 or so. I was from a neighborhood of the city that was monochrome and provincial; downtown was where we could have encounters with oddballs and unusual ideas.

We'd see half-crazed protestors, like the woman with an inexplicable animus against CBS ("Columbia Broadcast System sells the dope! And then the news. How you gonna lose?") There were proselytizers preaching hippie Christianity (the "Jesus freaks" of Elton John's "Tiny Dancer," a widespread phenomenon at the time), some of whom were more unsavory than we realized. (The Children of God, later known as the Family, were a pedophile cult; I still have some of their flyers.) There were the Scientologists, whom we knew even then not to get involved with. (Although a couple of friends, when I wasn't around, did take a Scientology personality test on a lark. They then found it extremely difficult to leave Scientology headquarters without surrendering an address, so one friend gave a fake address -- mine, except with a house number that didn't exist on my street. The ruse worked.)

I think back on us and I like us. I like our curiosity. We made value judgments -- we knew the CBS woman was not in her right mind -- but mostly we wanted to see the show.

Years later, after I'd move to New York for school, I'd see the Black Hebrews near Times Square, or just north of Macy's. This would have been around 1980. Obviously, none of the Black Hebrews who appeared on video with the Covington Catholic kids were the same ones I'd seen nearly forty years earlier, but the act was the exactly the same: bait the crowd with racial rhetoric and toss in some sexual innuendo for good measure. One man does the haranguing, but he occasionally calls on a subordinate to read a Bible verse as supporting evidence. There's a lot of pseudo-science, and a simultaneous use of and disdain for racial labels. (Caucasians are "so-called white people.")

The Black Hebrews were (and are) the insult comics of streetcorner prophecy. I recall briefly arguing with them (until I grasped how pointless it was), but I don't recall trying to bait them or silence them. I was generally a solo city walker at this point -- I wouldn't have been at all intimidating -- but I can't imagine wanting to do them harm. What was the point? They didn't seem to be getting through to anyone.

These were my thoughts as I watched the videos conservatives told me would compel me to rethink my view of the Covington Catholic incident. My initial reaction to the incident wasn't "Doxx them! Expel them! Never let them hold a job or appear in decent society again" -- they're teenagers, and they might become very different people one day. (On Twitter, Arlen Parsa makes this argument well.) On the other hand, I didn't think the kids were blameless, and I still don't. I think that smirk is exactly what it first appeared to be.



What we know now is that the kids were watching the Black Hebrews in the minutes before their encounter with Native drummer Nathan Phillips. The lead Hebrew preacher sees them and immediately insults them -- "A bunch of incest babies. A bunch of babies made out of incest." He expresses contempt for the MAGA slogan. An associate says, bizarrely, "If you're the best nation, get rid of that lice on your back."

The kids react by trying to make their own spectacle, alongside the Hebrews but at some distance. They seem to be doing school chants; one kid strips off several layers of clothes and stands shirtless in the cold, to his classmates' delight.



This goes on and Phillips enters. I don't know if the kids think he's associated with Hebrews, whom they're still keeping at some distance. But Phillips and another man walk right up to them, drumming and chanting. The kids' right-wing defenders think the Native drummers are the ones being hostile and aggressive.



But Phillips thinks he's bringing healing music to these kids (as one of the Black Hebrews says on their video); he's also, in a way, acting like a pop star who's decided to stage-dive into the crowd; and maybe he's imagining this as Tiananmen without the tanks. What he's not doing is taunting anyone.



The smirking kid seems to think he's the Tiananmen hero, refusing to give ground. But come on, kids -- this isn't a threat, it's a drummer. Register what you're seeing and respond accordingly. Either watch or walk away, but don't try to turn it into a confrontation. (Phillips, I think, tries to turn it into an encounter, which is not the same thing.) The man with the drum doesn't mean you any harm.

My friends and I would have watched. Maybe we'd get bored, or bewildered. Maybe we'd have been dismissive or contemptuous afterward. But it would be one more thing that happened to us because we were out in the city, where anything could happen, so why not experience it?

A STORY MAINSTREAM JOURNALISTS LIKE, IN WHICH THEY'RE IDIOTS

At the new anti-Trumpist right-wing site The Bulwark, Bill Kristol posts a message from Bruce Gyory, a longtime New York state political operative.
... The slippage we anticipated for Trump’s standing in terms of public opinion from the shutdown is coming to pass.

The slippage is the worst kind—the slow erosion of support from key blocs: swing voters (independents and suburbanites) and those who put Trump over the top (blue collar white men and Republicans over 60).

... Trump’s job approval rating is down to 31 percent among independents in Gallup.... The Marist data for PBS shows a drop of 10 percent in job approval among Republicans and a decline of 11 percent among white evangelicals and 17% among suburban men.

... Blue collar white men being turned off from Trump shouldn’t surprise anyone, for they know the difficulty of living paycheck to paycheck. This, plus the skew of the tax cut package, spells political trouble for Trump long term, especially if a slow down, much less a recession, looms in 2020.
Gyory adds:
As an aside, it’s fair to ask why hasn’t this decline in the polls registered more with pundits and pols. I wonder if it’s because Gallup is not doing daily tracking polls anymore?
No, that's not the reason, at least when it comes to pundits.

Mainstream media commentators don't want to believe that Trump is unpopular. They like the legend of 2016: that nobody saw Trump's victory coming because frou-frou elitist journalists (i.e., themselves) didn't spend enough time in Pensylvania diners absorbing the raw, elemental essence of Real Americans.

Even after the 2018 midterms, they want to believe Trump is still popular. They believe that the House election results (40 new Democrats) prove only that the Democrats are a niche party, competitive in cities and Whole Foods-y suburbs, especially when they're running female candidates. In 2020, they still expect Republicans to run the table in America, which is elsewhere.

This point of view would have some validity if commentators acknowledged the GOP's anti-democratic approach -- prevent portions of the Democratic-leaning majority from voting; take advantage of gerrymandering, the Electoral College, and the small-state skew of the Senate; use Trumpian rhetoric to sustain the loyalty of Republican niche voters. If pundits believed that this was a shrewd GOP strategy for maintaining minority rule of America, then you'd understand why they might not be willing to acknowledge Trump's poll decline -- he might still have the voters he needs to win this rigged game. (That's basically what I believe.)

But they seem persuaded that Trump's voters are the true Americans, while Democratic voters are rootless cosmopolitan interlopers. I think they want Trump to be five points down in the polls on Election Eve 2020, so they can beat themselves up again for missing the True American mood.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

FORCED TO CHOOSE BETWEEN COULTER AND TRUMP, MAGA NATION CHOOSES THE GOD EMPEROR

The Washington Post story about President Trump's new shutdown proposal suggests that what he's proposed has already been rejected by both sides:
President Trump on Saturday offered Democrats three years of deportation protections for some immigrants in exchange for $5.7 billion in border wall funding, a proposal immediately rejected by Democrats and derided by conservatives as amnesty....

Trump’s proposal was pilloried by some of his most fervent supporters, including conservative author and commentator Ann Coulter.

“Trump proposes amnesty. We voted for Trump and got Jeb!” Coulter tweeted.
But the Toronto Star's ace Washington reporter, Daniel Dale, warns us not to read too much into that:



A Free Republic thread in response to Coulter's comments confirms Dale's observation:
I like Ann but she is ALL wrong here..first of all, its NOT amnesty..a 3 year protection is NOT amnesty, its basically saying “You can live here for 3 years no worries” Trump KNEW Dems would reject it..he’s making THEM look like the fools they are..come on Ann don’t you realize that

****

Does anyone still give a rat’s @ss what Ann Coulter thinks?

****

I wish this attention whore would choke on a chicken bone. She was pushing us to vote for mitt mitt mitt!

****

Ann’s “best if used by date” expired a long time ago.

****

Ann, for God’s sakes trust POTUS!

****

Coulter? Who wanted Chris Christie and Romney to be prez? That didnt age too well. How dare this bitch criticize Trump’s clever political gambits. She is a moron.
The reaction to the proposal in Breitbart comments is also mostly positive:



So, to the MAGA base, the God Emperor is still the God Emperor, regardless of what Ann Coulter says.

My favorite game theorist on the right, Hot Air's Allahpundit, believes the proposal is dead in the Senate -- it won't get the need 60 votes and might not even get 50.
Virtually all of the red-state Dems who might have struggled with this offer were up for reelection this past November. The ones who survived, like Joe Manchin, won’t have to worry about facing voters again until 2024, an eternity in the Trump era when political developments move at light speed. The only Dem who *might* throw POTUS a bone here purely out of self-interest is Doug Jones, who’s facing a longshot reelection bid in Alabama next year. But Jones has been stubborn since joining Congress; he hasn’t joined Trump on many big votes despite the pressure on him to pander to conservatives back home. (He voted no on Kavanaugh, remember.) I think he’s come to the conclusion, correctly, that he’s a sure loser next year no matter how he votes, in which case he might as well vote his conscience and let the electoral chips fall where they may. So Trump might not even get him.

But let’s say he does. That’s one Democratic vote. McConnell would need seven to beat a filibuster. Who are the other six? And are we absolutely sure that all 53 Republicans will vote yes, if only as a vote of confidence in Trump’s approach? I don’t know that Tom Cotton, for instance, would sign off on even a temporary amnesty.... [For Senate Democrats] to lunge at Trump’s offer now would mean damaging Pelosi’s leverage and handing the media a gift-wrapped “DEMOCRATIC CIVIL WAR OVER TRUMP’S OFFER” headline. It would be a clear signal from Senate Dems that Trump is right, that he’s the sensible party in all this and Pelosi is the mindless obstructionist who doesn’t care about federal workers getting paid. The left would be irate at the betrayal. It’s unimaginable that Dems would break ranks in this climate and turn it into a “Senate Democrats versus House Democrats” storyline.
And here's the key point:
...Especially at a moment when POTUS is signaling that he’s tired of the shutdown himself.... He’s coming to the table and trying to jumpstart a deal to end the crisis, a hint that he’s desperate to end this before he suffers any more political damage. Why would Democrats throw him a lifeline? They’ll probably take this afternoon’s speech as a sign that it’s almost over and he’s ready to cave if they hold out just a bit longer.
But:
But maybe POTUS and Kushner believe that, if nothing else, this might invite a Democratic counteroffer that can move the two sides towards a more meaningful compromise. If Jones votes no on “BRIDGE for wall” but comes back with the idea of “DREAM for wall,” what happens then? This is one way to maybe shake that scenario loose.
I think that's what comes next: Democratic disdain will be followed by a counteroffer that might move this all to a resolution. I don't know if Stephen Miller will allow Trump to do what he'd need to do to get this resolved, but if he does, this may end conventionally -- with private discussions and compromise. Or maybe Trump and the hard-liners he listens to won't let that happen. If it does, though, MAGA Nation will be flexible, as long as it can be argued, however implausibly, that he won.

IS THIS THE GUY WHO CAN GET TRUMP REELECTED?

For years I've been warning you that former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz wants to run for president. He has a book coming out later this month that's obviously intended as a campaign manifesto (title: From the Ground Up: A Journey to Reimagine the Promise of America). He's a Democrat, so I assumed he'd be looking for an opening in the Democratic primaries along with a couple dozen other wannabes.

But no -- The Washington Post says today that he's probably running as an independent.
Advisers to former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz have been exploring the possibility of launching an independent bid for the White House in 2020, according to two people who have been informed of the discussions.
The Post story devotes many paragrpahs to the question of what happens if three candidates pick up electoral votes and nobody wins 270. You may know that the decision then goes to the House, and you may think that's fine -- Democrats control the House. But it's not that simple:
If no candidate wins 270 or more votes, the victor would be decided by the House in a “contingent election,” with each state delegation getting one ballot....

Although Democrats make up a majority of the House, Republicans still have an advantage in the number of state delegations they control, with more Republican members than Democrats in 26 of the 50 states. Democrats are a majority of 22 House delegations. Two states, Pennsylvania and Michigan, have an equal number of Republican and Democratic members.
(Yes, here's another constitutional provision that's anti-majoritarian. It's as if the whole damn document is stacked against more populous states!)

But I'm not worried that Schultz will win any electoral votes. No non-segregationist third-party candidate has won a state in a presidential election since 1924, when Fightin' Bob LaFollette won his home state of Wisconsin. (Strom Thurmond won four states in 1948 and George Wallace won five in 1968. John Anderson and Ross Perot never won any states, much less Ralph Nader, Jill Stein, or Gary Johnson.)

My concern is that Schultz might be too liberal (or liberal-seeming) to win over right or right-centrist voters -- all the votes he'll take will be from moderate Democrats. He'll effectively split the anti-Trump, anti-GOP vote and hand the election to Trump.

I'm less certain of this than I was when Mike Bloomberg was hinting at an independent run in 2016. Bloomberg is pro-gun control, anti-coal, and against large, sugary drinks. This makes him every right-wingers' caricature of a liberal elitist scold. How many GOP votes would he have been able to peel off?

Schultz may have slightly more appeal to the right-center. Back in 2015, when he was first discussing a presidential run, he talked about "servant leadership" -- a favorite notion among American Christians. On the other hand, he praised a Christian leader who's not exactly a favorite of the American right:
... nothing I’ve read or heard in the past few years has rivaled the power of the image I viewed on my cellphone a few years ago: Pope Francis, shortly after his election, kneeling and washing the feet of a dozen prisoners in Rome, one of them a young Muslim woman, in a pre-Easter ritual.
That and the fact that he responded to Trump's Muslim ban by pledging to hire 10,000 refugees won't enamor him to even moderately conservative Republicans.

But can he win any Democratic votes? Here was Schultz last June in a CNBC interview:
Without naming names, Schultz said in a "Squawk Box" interview: "It concerns me that so many voices within the Democratic Party are going so far to the left. I say to myself, 'How are we going to pay for these things,' in terms of things like single payer [and] people espousing the fact that the government is going to give everyone a job. I don't think that's realistic." ...

"I think the greatest threat domestically to the country is this $21 trillion debt hanging over the cloud of America and future generations," Schultz said. "The only way we're going to get out of that is we've got to grow the economy, in my view, 4 percent or greater. And then we have to go after entitlements."
Even Trump knew better than to talk about going after Medicare and Social Security.

What worries me is that this is the kind of talk that could help Schultz win the media primary -- he'll get great coverage, even as the Democratic aspirants are treated with increasing disdain. If that happens, and if he finds a foothold among a certain crop of moderate Democratic heartland voters, he could take just enough votes from the Democratic nominee in just enough states to throw the race to Trump.

But it's possible that he'll alienate voters on both sides. It's possible that no one in America wants a CEO president anymore except Trump voters.

Friday, January 18, 2019

TRUMP DIDN'T EXPECT TO WIN? WILL THAT BE HIS DEFENSE?

In response to BuzzFeed's Michael Cohen story, Frank Bruni argues that Donald Trump was heedless of norms and proprieties as a presidential candidate because he assumed he would lose.
There are several profoundly unsettling takeaways from a breathlessly discussed report by BuzzFeed News that Trump continued to push for a Trump Tower in Moscow deep into his 2016 campaign and later instructed his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress about that.

But I’m struck in particular by how this revelation, if true, underscores what many Trump observers have long believed, an insight that explains so much about his eccentric campaign and unethical governance: He never really expected to be president. More than that, he never really hoped to be.

That’s why he didn’t put business matters on hold or disentangle himself from glaring conflicts of interest. That’s why he refused to yoke himself to the sorts of rules that his predecessors had endeavored to follow.

... His campaign wasn’t a rehearsal for civic leadership. It was a brand-burnishing interregnum, a time-limited adventure in egomania.

“Donald Trump never thought he was going to be president,” the Trump biographer Timothy O’Brien, who wrote “TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald,” told me. “He began this thing as a marketing venture, and I don’t think the people around him thought he was going to win, either. They all jointly saw this thing as a big food fest.”

... Michael D’Antonio, the author of “The Truth About Trump,” told me: “His past is not a past someone brings into the presidency, and he’s not so stupid that he wouldn’t have understood that. And I think he naturally feared the kind of examination that he’s undergone since the election.”
I know a lot of you believe that Trump is in serious trouble if the BuzzFeed story is correct. Obviously we'll know that he's guilty of offenses that merit impeachment.

But the outcome of an impeachment trial in the Senate will be very much affected by public opinion -- and I've been dubious about this story's ability to move the needle from the moment I read it. If you already believe Trump is a crook and is guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors (like me), this is confirmation. But if you pay little attention to the Russia story, like many (most?) of our fellow citizens, this might just seem like a businessman doing what comes naturally to him, even though he's running for president. Unless he's directly tied to Russian efforts to subvert American democracy, I worry that the suborning of perjury or the obstruction of justice in order to conceal a business deal isn't going to shock the consciences of those who aren't already committed Trumpophobes.

And the Bruni narrative -- that Trump was sensibly keeping his options open, because he didn't expect to win -- feels like excuse-making for Trump, even though I don't believe Bruni really means it that way. Bruni writes:
But because he wasn’t going to win, it wouldn’t matter that he’d paid off women with whom he’d had affairs, that he’d dispatched Cohen on so many unsavory errands, that he’d surrounded himself with such shady characters, that he refused to release his tax returns, that he forged ahead with the Trump International Hotel in Washington, that he vulgarly insulted the very lawmakers a president would need to collaborate with and that he surrendered any claim to moral authority by trafficking in racism and xenophobia. There would be no consequences because there would be no crown.
Never mind the fact that Trump is president now, and is still violating many of these norms -- this suggests that his run was a big lark and he had no reason to do any of the things we previously expected presidents to do.

At a certain point, one can imagine his lawyer in a Senate trial offering this as an excuse for everything, including collusion with Russians intent on subverting American democracy -- Hey, it was all meant to advance his real estate business. You can't convict a guy for wanting to make a buck, can you?

If America allows Trump to skate this way, we'll be treating him as the spoiled child he is. It doesn't matter what he thought was going to happen. He was a major party nominee. He had a serious shot at the White House by definition. Therefore, he had a responsibility to conduct his life as if he might win -- and if he's as rich as he says he is, he should have just cashed out his holdings and prepared to live the aboveboard life of a well-scrutinized elected official, as so many other businesspeople-turned-politicians have done. He didn't because he's a sleazebag and a crook who regularly assumes he can get away with anything. That would have been true even if he'd had better polling in 2016.

TRUMP WILL NEVER BE NIXON

I wouldn't bother worrying about how this "political future" will unfold, because it's not coming:



America is so politically skewed that Republicans are at no risk in the near future of being punished worse than they were in 2006 and 2008 -- after which they didn't show remorse for backing Bush, they merely pretended he'd never been president, while rebranding the GOP as the party of Mitch McConnell obstructionism and Tea Party extremism.

That's the downside risk for Republicans if Trump leaves office with poll numbers as low as Bush's. I strongly doubt that will happen. Bush spent much of his final year in office with job approval numbers in the 20s. Trump has never dipped lower than the mid-30s, and I maintain my certainty that he won't go significantly lower than that -- maybe he'll suffer a dip if he can't get a wall funded, but I don't think his base will blame him even for that.

Matt Yglesias is right:



Trump will never be a figure of disgrace on the right. If Democrats give the GOP a thumping in 2020, Trump may become invisible -- but he'll soon be resurfaced. Expect to see some of these with Trump's face the minute the next Democratic president struggles at all in the job:





And I'm calling it now: There'll be schools and other public facilities named after Donald Trump in deep-red America -- even if he's impeached and removed from office. (It won't be very different from the South naming so many things after Confederate generals.)

Some Republicans would certainly express phony remorse after Trump's downfall if they felt they had to. But I think they'll conclude they don't have to. And given the persistent anti-Democrat hatred in much of America -- a hatred Trump has come to embody -- they'll be right.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

I THINK TRUMP'S BASE PREFERS CHECKERS

Trump retaliates:
In the increasingly personal standoff between President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the president on Thursday said he was postponing her use of a military plane for an official trip to Belgium, and Afghanistan in apparent retaliation for Pelosi asking Trump to delay his State of the Union Address until after the government shutdown ends.

"Due to the Shutdown, I am sorry to inform you that your trip to Brussels, Egypt, and Afghanistan has been postponed," Trump wrote in a sharply-worded letter released Thursday afternoon, the latest move in a memorable display of Washington political theater. "We will reschedule this seven-day excursion when the Shutdown is over."
The Christian Broadcast Network's David Brody tweets:



How is this "playing chess"? Trump isn't thinking several moves in advance -- it's exactly the opposite. He was deprived of something and now he's deprived her of something. If you're a Trump fan, you think he one-upped her; if not, you think this is childish tit-for-tat. Either way, it's a response to the Pelosi snub and no more -- there's no grand strategy behind it. The one thing it isn't is chess.

Trump's base doesn't want chess. This is what Trump's base wants: a simple, crude act of retaliation. Is it childish? No problem -- childish is good.

Breitbart posted multiple photos of the bus that was meant to take Pelosi and other House Democrats to the airport for this trip, and at Free Republic this led to the Photoshop reaction you'd expect:



And from Mike Huckabee, this kneeslapper:



This may not be the low-water mark for Republican shutdown pettiness. Recall Newt Gingrich in 1995, as portrayed by Lars-Erik Nelson of the New York Daily News.
Here was Newt Gingrich, leader of the Republican Revolution and defender of civilization on this planet, forced to sit for 25 hours in the back of Air Force One, waiting for President Clinton to stop by and negotiate a budget deal. But Clinton never came back. So Gingrich, in his rage, drafted two resolutions that forced Clinton to bring the federal government to a grinding halt.

The extraordinary behind-the-scenes tale Gingrich told yesterday morning at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast is either comedy or tragedy, or junior high school cafeteria intrigue, take your pick. It surely was not what you expect to hear from the stewards of your government.

Gingrich had been invited aboard Air Force One last week to fly to the funeral of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. With a budget crisis pending, he expected Clinton would take time out during the flight to talk about a possible solution.

But Clinton, who seemed to be genuinely grieving over Rabin's death, stayed up front in a cabin with former Presidents Jimmy Carter and George Bush on both the outward-bound and return trips.

Then, when the plane landed at Andrews Air Force base outside Washington, Gingrich and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole were asked to deplane by gasp! the rear door.

"This is petty," Gingrich confessed. "I'm going to say up front it's petty, but I think it's human. When you land at Andrews and you've been on the plane for 25 hours and nobody has talked to you and they ask you to get off by the back ramp . . . you just wonder, where is their sense of manners, where is their sense of courtesy?"

To Gingrich, the professor of history, this was one of the snubs of the century, ranking, he said, with the time Charles Evans Hughes stiffed Hiram Johnson of the California Progressive Party back in 1916, a slight that cost Hughes the California vote and the presidency. And it was this disrespect, Gingrich continued, that caused him to send the President two temporary financing and spending bills he knew that Clinton would have to veto thus shutting down the federal government.
Gingrich is widely admired on the right to this day. He came close to being the 2012 Republican candidate for president. The GOP base likes pettiness.

REPUBLICANS IN CONGRESS ARE REPRESENTING REPUBLICANS; DEMOCRATS ARE REPRESENTING AMERICANS

Axios tries to bothsides the shutdown:
A new poll by the Pew Research Center shows a big part of the reason why the standoff over funding President Trump's border wall has been so impossible to solve: Republican support for the wall is higher than at any time since Trump's election, while Democratic support has dwindled to almost nothing.

The big picture: When the divide has gotten this big, it's hard to see how the government shutdown ends.



Yes, that's a big partisan skew. But read on:
... a majority of the public still opposes the wall....

Overall, 58% of the public opposes expanding the wall along the border with Mexico, while 40% supports it.
So it's not just that Democrats are representing their base -- they're representing the general public. A 58%-40% split does not suggest an evenly divided America; 58%-40% is a resounding defeat for the wall.

We've known for years that Republicans don't believe Democrats are Americans. We know that only conservatives are portrayed as American in the right-wing media (and in the mainstream press every time a reporter makes an anthropological expedition to a rural Pennsylvania diner).

But America is not Republican. The point here is that Americans don't want the wall. Democrats are fighting for what America wants.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

THE STATE OF THE UNION REBUFF WILL PROBABLY BE A WIN FOR DEMOCRATS, THOUGH NOT RIGHT AWAY

Was this a genius move? I'm not sure:
Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday asked President Donald Trump to reschedule his State of the Union address — or deliver it in writing — as long as the government remains shut down.

The president was set to give his annual speech to Congress on Jan. 29. But Pelosi said the partial shutdown has hamstrung both the U.S. Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security, potentially harming the security planning that precedes the primetime address.

"Sadly, given the security concerns and unless government re-opens this week, I suggest that we work together to determine another suitable date after government has re-opened for this address or for you to consider delivering your State of the Union address in writing to the Congress on January 29th," Pelosi wrote in a letter to Trump.
We're being told that this hits Trump in a sensitive spot: his ego. Yes, but it also looks as if Democrats are afraid to let him argue his case (even though he did a terrible job of that in his recent Oval Office speech). CNN's Kaitlan Collins is reporting that the speech was intended as an attack on Democrats:



The partisan takes are as you'd expect, but I think Americans who aren't partisans might come to the conclusion that Democrats are shutting down a message they don't want the public to hear, and are attacking an American institution.

On the other hand, I don't expect that this will be a big deal for most Americans -- they'll forget it in a few weeks. Also, I think Trump will find an alternate way to deliver some sort of State of the Union -- and this is where he's likely to fail.

He might make it an Oval Office address -- which is fine, because he's terrible at reading speeches off a prompter into an empty room. The other possibility will be a speech before a live audience -- maybe one of his rally crowds.

But how is that supposed to work? Those crowds don't want to hear a Stephen Miller prepared speech. They want Trump Unplugged -- improvising, doing favorite bits from memory, doing the "Who's going to pay for it? "Mexico!" call-and-response.

If he has any sense, he'll do one of those and say, "Here's my State of the Union -- take it or leave it." But he probably won't. He'll want to do a real speech, however awkward that may be. And yes, it will be awkward. It will bore the audience. So I think that will be Nancy's revenge.


CORPORATE WOKENESS: APPARENTLY WE NEED ANOTHER HERO

Gillette's new #MeToo-themed ad has not been particularly well received.



New York magazine's Josh Barro thinks he knows why:
Gillette’s message — that something has too often gone wrong in masculinity, and that men ought to evaluate whether they are doing enough to combat bullying and mistreatment of women — is correct. But the viewer is likely to ask: Who is Gillette to tell me this? I just came here for razors. And razors barely even feature in Gillette’s new campaign.

YouTube likes are running four-to-one against Gillette’s new ad; for comparison, the YouTube response to Nike’s controversial ad with Colin Kaepernick runs seven-to-one in favor. What should worry Gillette is not so much the rebukes from the set of commentators you might expect (like Piers Morgan and Brian Kilmeade) but the lack of an apparent groundswell of positive reaction that Nike got for its campaign with Kaepernick....

Nike’s campaign appeals to customers — and drives Nike’s sales — to the extent it reflects customers’ existing values back at them....
But is that true? The Kaepernick campaign reflected the values of some Nike customers, but conservatives buy sneakers too, and many of them were outraged by the ad.
Nike’s message to customers is uplifting rather than accusatory. It doesn’t urge them to interrogate their roles in societal structures that may cause oppression, let alone the roles played by corporations like Nike. It skips past that, looking toward a solution rather than a problem. The Gillette campaign, by comparison, is a downer.



The Nike ad is uplifting, but outside the confines of the ad, Kaepernick is accusatory (for good reason). Kaepernick does urge white Americans to interrogate their roles in societal structures that may cause oppression. Much of America despises him for that.

And yet the Kaepernick ad worked for Nike, while the Gillette ad, so far, has been a flop.

Apart from the tone of the ads, I think it's because Kaepernick is a hero -- a hero to people of color who are directly affected by the issues he addresses, and a hero to some whites because they also care about these issues. Or we can be cynical and say he's the guy many whites imagine as their hip black friend.

But there isn't a similar figure who's been embraced as a hero/shero/heroine of #MeToo -- not in the ad and not, unfortunately, in the wider culture. And I'm sure there are many men who consider themselves woke enough to embrace Kaepernick's message while they resent the message of #MeToo.

Hip whites' embrace of Kaepernick means that the Nike ad has a larger base of support. I worry that we see a similar skew in electoral politics. Hip whites were far more ready to embrace Barack Obama in 2008 than they were to back Hillary Clinton in 2016, and if you say that's because of her particular flaws, you have to explain why that seems to be true for female candidates considering presidential runs in 2020.

The Nike ad, gratifyingly, had crossover appeal. The Gillette ad, alas, apparently doesn't. That's not just bad for Gillette. It's bad for Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, Amy Klobuchar, and Kamala Harris.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

USING FOOD AS CONTROL IS A TRUMP SPECIALTY

There's an awkward Donald Trump food anecdote in Chris Christie's forthcoming book, as reported by The Guardian:
At [Christie's] first meeting with Trump in 2002, at a dinner in the Trump International Hotel and Tower, in New York, Trump ordered his food for him. He chose scallops, to which Christie is allergic, and lamb which he has always detested. Christie recalls wondering whether Trump took him to be “one of his chicks”.
That's certainly how Trump's father treated women. Here's a story The New York Times ran in 2016:
The elder Mr. Trump exerted control no matter how big or small the decision, as Ivana Zelnickova learned over dinner one night in the late 1970s. Her boyfriend, Donald Trump, had invited her to join his siblings and parents at Tavern on the Green, the ornate restaurant in Central Park.

When the waiter came to take orders, Ivana made the mistake of asking for what she wanted. Fred Trump set her straight, she recalled in a previously unpublished interview with Michael D’Antonio, the author of “The Truth About Trump.”
Fred would order steak. Then Donald would order steak. ... Everybody order steak. I told the waiter, “I would like to have fish.” O.K., so I could have the fish. And Fred would say to the waiter: “No, Ivana is not going to have a fish. She is going to have a steak.” I said, “No, I’m going to have my fish.” And Donald would come home and say, “Ivana, why would you have a fish instead of a steak?” I say, “Because I’m not going to be told by somebody to have something which I don’t want.”

–Ivana Trump, ex-wife
Mr. Trump defended his father’s conduct. “He would’ve said that out of love,” he said. If his father had overruled her fish order, Mr. Trump said, “he would have said that only on the basis that he thought, ‘That would be better for her.’”
Trump continued to treat Christie this way after he became president. Here's Christie on the radio in 2017 recounting his first White House meal:
... during a guest hosting stint on WFAN's Boomer and Carton, the governor dished on what they serve at the White House.

"He says, 'There's the menu, you guys order whatever you want,' Christie said. "And then he says, 'Chris, you and I are going to have the meatloaf.'"
And, of course, there was this report, from The New Yorker in 2016:
Governor Chris Christie ... has transformed himself into a sort of manservant, who is constantly with Trump at events. (One Republican told me that a friend of his on the Trump campaign used Snapchat to send him a video of Christie fetching Trump’s McDonald’s order.)
It occurs to me that even a former opponent Trump wanted to humiliate, Mitt Romney, wasn't treated this poorly. At that famous post-election dinner arranged by Trump ostensibly to discuss the job of secretary of state (which Trump then gave to Rex Tillerson), Romney got to pick his own entrée:



And there's no way frogs' legs would have been ordered if Trump had done all the ordering. Trump may have ultimately owned Romney, but Mitt held his own at the table better than Christie ever did.

Which brings us to #BurgerGhazi -- Trump's decision to serve rapidly cooling fast food to the college football champions from Clemson at the White House last night. We know that Trump loves fast food, yet I suspect he has trouble imposing this preference on prominent people in his administration, many of whom, I'm sure, have strong egos. The shutdown gave Trump an excuse to treat the team members like "his chicks" by ordering them what he likes to eat. They're probably the most significant people he's been able to treat that way in a while.

STEVE KING: IT'S CLEAR THAT THE FIX WAS IN

The Republican Party wants us to believe that it suddenly discovered Steve King was a racist when he gave that New York Times interview., It's clear that something changed in the GOP recently, though the interview wasn't the precipitating factor.

Doesn't anyone find it odd that King got a high-profile, Republican-establishment primary challenger nearly two years before his next election, and just before the Times interview and his subsequent removal from his House committees by the party? Primary challengers in House races don't usually announce two years in advance -- hell, it's only in the past few decades that presidential candidates have announced that far in advance. I think people in the Republican Party looked at the 2018 midterm results, recognized that suburban white voters are attracted to the Democratic Party's opposition to racism, and decided to send the message now that we should pay no attention to President Trump (whom they're afraid to challenge because he's so popular with the base) or the immigrant-bashing of the shutdown -- the GOP is the party of Lincoln again! No, really!

I think the plan was to seize on King's next racist pronouncement whenever it happened, and to make a great show of being shocked, shocked at his words. Friendly pundits would second the outrage. (You'll recall how hard Ben Shapiro worked to persuade us that King's statements in the Times interview disgusted him.)

Why is this happening now? Maybe it's Kevin McCarthy doing what Paul Ryan, his predecessor, never would; the Times hints at why McCarthy might want to target King:
The push to condemn Mr. King illustrated how alarmed senior Republicans are about the party’s image just two months after they lost 40 House seats, most of them in suburban or diverse districts — including seven in Mr. McCarthy’s home state of California, where the G.O.P. is on the brink of extinction.
I guess McCarthy doesn't agree with many in his party's base that all those California seats were won as a result of Democratic cheating after Election Night.

In the past, Republicans have been inspired to reject racism by bad election results, but only momentarily -- they were going to rebrand the party in response to Barack Obama's election, but then they decided to go with Tea Party demonstators waving signs depicting Obama as an African tribesman with a bone in his nose. I'm guessing the party will revert to form once again -- with Donald Trump as president, what choice does it have?

Monday, January 14, 2019

JOURNALIST STRUGGLES TO CALL ELIZABETH WARREN AN UNLIKABLE BITCH IN A TOTALLY NON-SEXIST WAY

In a piece published by Vanity Fair today, Elizabeth Drew, the veteran political reporter, makes note of the fact that Elizabeth Warren can talk to voters in a way they find genuinely engaging and enlightening:
Warren’s talents as a campaigner were evident in her foray into Iowa during the first week of January. She’s quite skilled at drilling down to a simple, comprehensible point, usually having to do with economic justice. Her anecdotes go over well. For example, in Iowa she told the story of getting in touch with Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, and working with him to get a bill through Congress that lowered the cost of hearing aids. (Cheers and applause.)
But, you see, we rabble don't understand Warren the way she's understood by those who work with her -- or at least by one unnamed male Senate aide who, we're told, is representative. Warren, you see, is actually an unlikable bitch, according to Drew:
But there’s another aspect to Warren’s economic populism—one that makes her less than popular among her Senate colleagues. This friction has nothing to do with Warren being a woman in politics, or displaying political ambition.... For an explanation of what it is about Warren that perturbs her colleagues, I sought out an observant former Senate Democratic aide of many years’ standing. What he said echoed comments and stories I’d heard from senators and reporters who’ve dealt with Warren. “She projects a ‘holier than thou’ attitude that her colleagues find irritating. She’s very doctrinaire. She’s somewhat ‘My way or the highway’—not as much as Bernie Sanders, but up there,” he said. “She has a moralizing to her ... She rails against Wall Street, which may be appealing to some people, but it’s too simplistic to work as an analysis. But she’s very good at finding issues that resonate with middle Americans,” he added, citing the hearing-aid story. He went on: “She’s a little aloof; she’s strong in her convictions, unwilling to bend.”
Drew has been reporting from Washington for more than half a century. She started when women were a rarity in the D.C. press corps (a gender imbalance that's far from fully rectified). She says she understands that women and men are held to different standards:
It’s undeniable that, while women have been making headlong progress in politics, as well as in some other professional fields, they still carry an extra burden. The double standard still exists: A man who speaks out strongly or objects to something a male boss has done is “strong,” “tough.” A woman who does the same thing is likely to be termed “difficult.” That word, “difficult,” stated or insinuated, haunts women in the workplace.
Which doesn't prevent her from applying precisely that double standard to Warren, while insisting she isn't.

I'm not sure what good it would do Warren to pass the likability litmus test to which Drew subjects her. Here are the stories of a couple of women who apparently passed the test:
[The unnamed aide] then offered a comparison between Warren and [Hillary] Clinton as senators. Of Warren he said, “She’s never tried very hard to make friends there. Compare that to Hillary: She knew coming into the Senate that she was viewed by many there as the devil incarnate, and she kept her head down and worked to make friends on both sides of the aisle.”

... Another way to look at Warren’s situation in Congress is to compare it to that of Nancy Pelosi.... Pelosi’s colleagues don’t raise the issue of her likability.... Pelosi is admired by most of the men as well as the women in the Democratic caucus for her legislative smarts and her toughness wrapped in a certain grace. Several said that Pelosi was just who was needed to deal with Donald Trump. She met the argument of those who said she should make way for younger leadership by agreeing to step down from the Speakership after four more years. The contrasting cases of Warren and Pelosi show that people—both men and women—are capable of making distinctions among women in politics.
Yes, the insiders don't attack Clinton and Pelosi as hateful bitches among themselves -- they save that for public consumption, so we hate the two.

On the other hand, maybe there really is something else going on here besides sexism. We're told that Bernie Sanders also rubs senators and staffers the wrong way. And Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez -- who seems open, cheerful, engaging, and not "aloof" at all -- is reported to be upsetting House colleagues.

Maybe if you're seriously upset about economic equality -- a state of affairs that the system very much wants to preserve -- you're inevitably going to be impatient and pushy, because it's a big, serious problem that won't be solved unless people act in ways that clearly make them uncomfortable. So Sanders, Warren, and Ocasio-Cortez all annoy Washington. It appears, however, that they annoy D.C. a lot more than they annoy the population at large. (Yes, even Bernie, whom most Americans view favorably.) In that case, maybe it's fine if Washington considers them unlikable.

YOU THINK THE BEST CANDIDATE VERSUS PENCE WOULD BE WHO?

I don't believe Joe Biden is the Democrats' strongest 2020 candidate, but I also don't believe he should stay out of the race, as Frank Bruni does. In response to Bruni, his New York Times op-ed colleague David Leonhardt eagerly encourages Biden to run.
Run because you have strengths that no other Democratic candidate does, including your depth of experience and connection to the Obama presidency. Run because your populist image fits the Democrats’ most successful political strategy of the past generation.
Leonhardt is one of those pundits who believes that Democrats will win by picking off white Rust Belt votes. He thinks the best Democratic message is populism, as he defines it -- economic progressivism combined with centrism on social and cultural issues (guns, immigration, racism and sexism).

Setting aside the question of whether this is the right approach, I wonder why Leonhardt thinks a guy who used to be a loyal voter in the Senate for his home state's banking interests is in the strongest position to run as an economic populist. What Leonhardt won't say is that Biden seems like a populist because he performs old-school New Deal white-ethnic populism better than the rest of the field. By now he might have changed his positions enough to actually be a true champion of ordinary Americans. But he seems qualified for the role mostly because he looks the part.

Well, whatever -- let him run and let him make his case. Let the other candidates make theirs. The debate will be edifying.

But here's the weirdest thing Leonhardt says:
[Biden] also has strengths as a candidate that the others do not. Imagine that the Trump administration descends further into chaos, through some combination of investigations and incompetence. It could certainly happen. In that case, Americans may no longer be so enamored of an outsider. They may be looking for a more reassuring figure than, say, a recently defeated senatorial candidate. To put it another way: If Mike Pence is president by year’s end, shouldn’t Democrats want Biden to be an option?
First of all, the last time we had an election after a presidency descended this far into chaos, the candidate we elected was a little-known peanut farmer and one-term governor. We may want a return to normalcy after Trump, but normalcy doesn't necessarily mean electing somebody who's been in politics forever.

But beyond that, there's the fact that just two months ago a female-skewed electorate elected a bloc of new legislators who are women. Trump is a sexist pig and possible sex criminal. Pence is a God-bothering prig who'd be perfectly at ease living in Margaret Atwood's Gilead. With those two on the other side, does Leonhardt really think the best candidate for the Democrats would be an elderly guy from the pre-feminist era who, for all his sincere support for the Violence Against Women Act, still has the stain of the Anita Hill hearings on his record, not to mention a handsiness problem with women?

What's the argument here? That only an aging white daddy can calm our anxieties? After we just elected two old-white-guy archetypes -- the CEO and the Bible-thumping traditionalist hubby -- and they drove the country off a cliff?

Let's try another black person, or a woman, or a black woman, or a youngish white skate rat. Or individual old white dudes can make the case or themselves as individuals, not as archetypes of reassuring-old-white-dudeness. In any case, we shouldn't assume that old white dudes are the default choice -- not now.

HERE'S ONE REASON TO IMPEACH EVEN IF CONVICTION IS IMPOSSIBLE

Michael Tomasky believes that defeating Trump would be better than trying to impeach him, for an obvious reason:
For the moment, let’s presume that several months from now, Robert Mueller has given us evidence of obstruction, cooperation with Russians during the 2016 campaign and compelling evidence that Russian banks on some level “own” Mr. Trump. And that’s leaving aside everything investigators may be learning about the Trump Organization from Michael Cohen and Allen Weisselberg.

Let’s also assume that House Democrats will have done their work and, at a minimum, documented numerous and ghastly Trump family violations of the emoluments clause....

This is to say nothing of the instances of more banal forms of corruption Democrats may have unearthed through their own investigations this year that could rightly be called high crimes and misdemeanors....

There will then hang the question of whether 20 Senate Republicans — at least, assuming that all 47 Democrats would vote to convict — would actually agree to remove Mr. Trump from office. That seems exceedingly unlikely.
Tomasky addresses the question of principle:
But whether they would or would not, many would argue that Democrats would still have a constitutional responsibility to exercise. Impeachment is the only remedy the founders provided for removing from office someone who is clearly unfit to hold it.

If all of what I stipulated above happens and the Democrats don’t act, aren’t they saying the Constitution is meaningless? If you can’t impeach a president whose very election is found to have been illegitimate, then whom can you impeach? And how do you recover, as a country, from such a bitterly partisan episode?
His answer is that removing a president from office through electoral means is the other method provided by the Constitution for restoring proper order.

Charlie Pierce, among others, would disagree -- he believes that there's an obligation to impeach, regardless of the outcome.




I'll be the cynic here and say that that bus has left the depot. We didn't impeach over Iran-contra, and we didn't punish any decision-maker for the lies that led us into the Iraq War or the torture that took place during the Bush presidency, so we've already established that we'll frequently look the other way when impeachable offenses are committed by the Executive Branch.

I understand Tomasky's argument. I'm sympathetic to it -- why bother with impeachment if it won't rid us of the bum? But there's a circumstance under which I think impeachment could be both futile and strategically shrewd.

Once we have a fuller picture of Donald Trump's crimes, I hope it will be more obvious than it is now that Trump's continued presence in the Oval Office is abhorrent -- at least to non-Republicans.

Republican voters will probably still remain loyal no matter what we learn. Therefore, so will Republican officeholders. Few if any in the House will vote to impeach, and few if any in the Senate will be willing to convict.

You may think they'll come around, but remember the last two years of Bush -- everyone else in America knew that the Iraq War was a disaster, but Republicans stood firm, and only Ron Paul among the 2008 presidential candidates would deviate from the stay-in-Iraq-forever orthodoxy.

That could be what happens if there's an impeachment. By that time, America's centrist voters might have joined liberals in wanting to be rid of Trump -- but Republicans will almost certainly maintain their resistance.

That's when a failed conviction vote in the Senate would be useful. It would show America what the Republican Party is made of.

If we know that the public wants Trump removed and Republicans don't, we should dare Senate Republicans to reject the popular will. Then we'll remind America that the problem isn't just Trump -- it's a party that's rotten to the core.

If Trump's unfitness is obvious to everyone but Republicans, we should give Republicans the opportunity to show us they're on the wrong side of history. After that, if we're fortunate, it won't just be Trump who loses on the Republican line in 2020.