Monday, April 22, 2024


The New York Times has assigned young reporters to cover the protests around Columbia University right now, so this story is much more nuanced than it would be if the usual middle-aged Times hacks were involved:
Days after Columbia University’s president testified before Congress, the atmosphere on campus remained fraught on Sunday, shaken by pro-Palestinian protests that have drawn the attention of the police and the concern of some Jewish students.

Over the weekend, the student-led demonstrations on campus also attracted separate, more agitated protests by demonstrators who seemed to be unaffiliated with the university just outside Columbia’s gated campus in Upper Manhattan....

Some of those protests took a dark turn on Saturday evening, leading to the harassment of some Jewish students who were targeted with antisemitic vitriol. The verbal attacks left some of the 5,000 Jewish students at Columbia fearful for their safety....

But Jewish students who are supporting the pro-Palestinian demonstrations on campus said they felt solidarity, not a sense of danger, even as they denounced the acts of antisemitism.

“There’s so many young Jewish people who are like a vital part” of the protests, said Grant Miner, a Jewish graduate student at Columbia who is part of a student coalition calling on Columbia to divest from companies connected to Israel.

And in a statement, that group said, “We are frustrated by media distractions focusing on inflammatory individuals who do not represent us” and added that the group’s members “firmly reject any form of hate or bigotry.”
This has become a major story, so I imagine some older Times reporters will bigfoot their way onto the Columbia beat, and the coverage will become more one-sided in its denunciations of Israel's critics.

There does seem to be some nasty and violent rhetoric, especially (though not exclusively) on the periphery of campus, as this report from Columbia Spectator notes:
Pro-Israel counterprotesters stood on the Sundial on Saturday evening waving Israeli and U.S. flags and playing Israeli and Jewish music and the U.S. national anthem from a loudspeaker. In front of the Sundial, an individual held a sign reading “Al-Qasam’s Next Targets” with an arrow pointing at the protesters. Al-Qassam is the military wing of Hamas....

On Broadway near the 116th Street subway station, protesters chanted, “We say justice, you say how? Burn Tel Aviv to the ground,” according to a video posted by Students Supporting Israel President Eden Yadegar....

Parker De Dekér, CC ’27, told Spectator that on Wednesday night, when he was walking by Lerner Hall wearing a yarmulke, someone sitting at the tables outside of Lerner shouted, “You keep on testifying, you fucking Jew.” When he exited campus, he removed his yarmulke....

De Dekér continued that as he was helping a friend move his luggage through Lerner Hall on Thursday evening while wearing a yarmulke, one individual said, “We are so happy that you Zionists are finally leaving campus,” and another said, “You wouldn’t have to leave if you weren’t a supporter of genocide.”

On Friday afternoon, De Dekér said that while leaving campus and getting into an Uber, an individual on Amsterdam Avenue shouted an antisemitic slur at him, telling him to “Keep on walking.” De Dekér has since decided to leave campus for the time being and is staying with a friend outside of New York state.
The directly menacing language addressed to people like De Dekér is a clear threat. But some of the fantasy scenarios of violent retribution sound like the sort of thing Republicans get away with all the time in this culture. As Amanda Marcotte notes, here's Marjorie Taylor Greene wishing America would use antiaircraft weapons on unarmed migrants crossing America's Southern border:

And then there's Tom Cotton:
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., appeared to encourage people to murder anti-war protesters. If protesters stop traffic, he tweeted, "take matters into your own hands to get them out of the way." This echoes not just many years of far-right rhetoric applauding vehicular homicide, but the 2017 murder of anti-racism protester Heather Heyer at the hands of a white supremacist. Cotton tried to clean up his statement by later claiming he just meant dragging protesters out of the way, which is still assault.
And Kari Lake:
... failed gubernatorial candidate and current Republican candidate for the Arizona Senate seat Kari Lake recently told a crowd, "We are going to put on the armor of God. And maybe strap on a Glock on the side of us just in case." ...

This is hardly the first time Lake has made joking-but-not-really threats of violence. Last June, she told a crowd she had a "message tonight for Merrick Garland, and Jack Smith, and Joe Biden" and went on to warn: "Most of us are card-carrying members of the NRA. That's not a threat, that's a public service announcement."
The right has been like this for decades, with few consequences. Remember this from 1994?
Just days after [Senator Jesse] Helms, a Republican from North Carolina, created a furor by saying that President Clinton was not up to the job of Commander in Chief, he told The News and Observer, a newspaper in Raleigh: "Mr. Clinton better watch out if he comes down here. He'd better have a bodyguard."

Mr. Helms said soldiers disliked President Clinton because he had avoided service during the Vietnam War, supported homosexuals in the military and had reduced military spending.
And then there was Ann Coulter, who told an interviewer in 2002, “My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building.” And, of course, there was Ted Nugent:
In 2007, he said the following during a concert: "Obama, he's a piece of shit. I told him to suck on my machine gun. Hey Hillary [Clinton], you might want to ride one of these into the sunset, you worthless bitch."
The people in and around Columbia who are genuinely anti-Semitic and menacing just need to pick their targets better. If they'd learn to direct their threats at Democrats, and at institutions perceived as part of the Great Liberal Conspiracy, they could say whatever they want.

Sunday, April 21, 2024


For the thousandth time, we've begun to think we've really got Trump this time! David Frum writes:
For nine years, Trump has dominated the Republican Party.... Enough of the Republican base supported him. Everybody else either fell in line, retired from politics, or quit the party.

... Trump won almost every fight that mattered....

On aid to Ukraine, Trump got his way for 16 months. When Democrats held the majority in the House of Representatives in 2022, they approved four separate aid requests for Ukraine, totaling $74 billion. As soon as Trump’s party took control of the House, in January 2023, the aid stopped. Every Republican officeholder understood: Those who wished to show loyalty to Trump must side against Ukraine....

[But now] Trump’s party in Congress has rebelled against him—and not on a personal payoff to some oddball Trump loyalist, but on one of Trump’s most cherished issues, his siding with Russia against Ukraine....

He has deflated to the point where he could no longer thwart Ukraine aid in Congress. Ukraine won, Trump lost. That may be a repeating pattern in the year ahead.
Reading this, you might imagine that the entire House GOP delegation has been afraid to support Ukraine aid until this week, out of an unwillingness to risk Trump's wrath. But in July 2023, a majority of House Republicans voted to reject bills proposed by Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene that would have blocked military aid to Ukraine. Two months later, a majority of House Republicans voted to retain Ukraine aid in a Pentagon appropriations bill. For quite a while, Republicans linked Ukraine aid to the passage of an immigration bill, and so the aid never passed, but it was perfectly acceptable to be a Republican in Congress and express support for Ukraine aid -- it's not like believing that Trump should have been convicted in one of his impeachment trials, which is a red line Republicans have crossed only at their peril. It's a big deal that Speaker Mike Johnson allowed a vote on the Ukraine aid bill, but support was there. Not every Republican is a Putin bootlicker yet.

Trump opponents increasingly seem to believe that President Biden has this election won -- at the betting site PredictIt, Biden leads Trump 54%-44%, after a rapid improvement in his fortunes over the past few months:

And this Maggie Haberman piece in The New York Times conveys the impression that Trump simply can't be Trump anymore now that his New York criminal trial has begun:
For the next six weeks, a man who values control and tries to shape environments and outcomes to his will is in control of very little....

The mundanity of the courtroom has all but swallowed Mr. Trump, who for decades has sought to project an image of bigness, one he rode from a reality-television studio set to the White House.

...the shared sense among many of his advisers is that the process may damage him as much as a guilty verdict. The process, they believe, is its own punishment.
Trump's superfans, of course, think he's Jesus, so a process they regard as persecution will only confirm them in that belief. Will swing voters peel away as Trump is accused of wrongdoing every day, and is trapped in a courtroom rather than out attacking enemies? Maybe, but I'm not sure that's how this works when you're dealing with a criminal who has a big persona. Think of Trump as an organized crime figure -- a Mafia don or a Latin American druglord. Do guys like that really seem diminshed by the process of being on trial? They look diminished when they're convicted and jailed, but until then, they look like people who are important enough to be tried in a courtroom full of reporters. Trump in an orange jumpsuit would seem diminished. Right now, he seems like a dangerous animal in a cage -- restrained, but still a threat.

Sure, this might really be the beginning of the end for Trump. On the other hand, we've been promised the beginning of the end so many times over the past nine years that we ought to be skeptical. I'll start to believe the Trump era is ending when Biden leads in most polls by at least 5 points, enough to overcome the GOP's built-in Electoral College advantage. We're not there yet. We're not really close.

Saturday, April 20, 2024


Benjamin Netanyahu's war strategy is well on its way to achieving its primary goal: preserving the political career of Benjamin Netanyahu. The Jerusalem Post reports:
In two recent surveys, the Likud Party and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have received the highest levels of support since the Oct. 7 massacre. In the first [poll], conducted by Maariv, ... Likud now holds 21 seats, a peak since the [war] began on October 7....

The survey also highlights a tightening race for Prime Minister, with Benny Gantz receiving 42% of the support compared to Benjamin Netanyahu's 37%. The gap between the two has significantly narrowed, with Gantz's lead shrinking from 12% to just 5% over the past week.

According to the Maariv survey, the National Union Party leads with 31 seats....

In a separate but mandated survey by Direct Polls published on Channel 14 this week, a shift in public sentiment shows Gantz's National Union declining sharply, from over 40 seats to just 22. Meanwhile, Likud would garner 26 seats if elections were held today.... Additionally, the coalition parties would have 58 seats versus 52 for the opposition, including 10 seats shared between Ra'am and Hadash-Ta'al.
Let me be cynical: Electorally, it's good to be a leader in wartime, and, at least up to a point, it's better to be a leader in a prolonged war than a brief war that can be described as a success. George H.W. Bush drove the Iraqis from Kuwait, declared victory -- and lost his reelection bid. George W. Bush got mired in Afghanistan and Iraq, never captured or killed Osama bin Laden -- and became the only Republican presidential candidate to win the popular vote in the past 36 years.

Years-long quagmires are bad for politicians -- ask LBJ -- but Bibi is probably at or close to the sweet spot right now. He has two main goals -- saving his own ass and getting Donald Trump elected -- and there's a decent chance he'll achieve both. Everything else is secondary for him.

Friday, April 19, 2024


In The New York Times, Nate Cohn writes:
Was Trump Benefiting From Being Out of the News?

Donald J. Trump appears to be a stronger candidate than he was four years ago, polling suggests, and not just because a notable number of voters look back on his presidency as a time of relative peace and prosperity.

It’s also because his political liabilities, like his penchant to offend and his legal woes, don’t dominate the news the way they once did.

In the last New York Times/Siena College poll, only 38 percent of voters said they’d been offended by Mr. Trump “recently,” even as more than 70 percent said they had been offended by him at some point....

Similarly, many voters seem to be tuning out his myriad legal challenges. A majority of voters said they thought he had committed federal crimes, but only 27 percent of registered voters in the last Times/Siena poll said they were paying “a lot of attention” to the news about the legal cases against him....

It seems plausible that the lack of attention paid to Mr. Trump contributed to his early strength in the polling....

The Times/Siena poll offers some evidence to support this idea. Mr. Biden has a 95-3 lead among Biden 2020 voters who say they’ve been offended recently by Mr. Trump, while Mr. Trump wins 19 percent of those who say they’ve been offended by him before, but not recently.

Similarly, Mr. Biden leads, 93-5, among Biden ’20 voters paying attention to Mr. Trump’s legal problems, while he gets 78 percent among those who aren’t paying very close attention or less.
If Cohn is right, then Trump will inevitably be hurt by his first criminal trial, because it will lead to a great deal of media coverage portraying Trump in a bad light, regardless of the outcome. Right?

I'm not sure that's a safe assumption. Trump survived his civil trials with strong poll numbers, largely because those trials were rarely the top story in America, or even the top story locally here in New York. A past and possible future president of the United States was charged with rape, defamation, and financial chicanery, and the media mostly yawned.

The media might get bored with his criminal trial as well -- already I can see it slipping from its prominent spot on news organizations' front pages, in favor of Israel's attack on Iran and probably, soon, the new Taylor Swift album. But maybe Trump will keep our eyes focused on him, even if it's to his detriment. He's already showing signs of being an insolent defendant:

It's likely that insolence will hurt Trump's chances for an acquittal, but he can't not do this -- his father drilled into him the notion that the worst possible sin for a man is to be "weak," and he's still trying to please Dad, who's been dead for decades. There's a real possibility that Trump will be even more insolent and obnoxious than he was in his civil trials.

On some level, you can't blame him. This is what impresses his biggest fans. Apart from the fact that the system is clearly afraid to punish him, even when he's clearly violating direct orders from judges, there's the fact that Trump has probably rallied the entire GOP to himself by being a defiant asshole whining about persecution.

But if his antics are worse than before, he might alienate general-election voters who haven't thought about how much of an asshole he is in the past couple of years. Maybe, instead of being a quiet, polite defendant, he'll hurt his poll numbers with obnoxiousness, just because he's desperate to impress Dad.

On the other hand, the press might decide that Trump's behavior is just dog-bites-man and barely cover it. That's more or less what happened in the civil trials. Trump was quite obnoxious and did things that would have led to jail time for most other people, yet it was never as big a story as, say, university professors testifying in Congress about anti-Israel protests. But if we're lucky, his endless quest to be the toughest guy in the room will be his downfall.

Thursday, April 18, 2024


New York magazine's Ed Kilgore notes that Democrats will hold their convention in Chicago this year, at a time when left-wingers are angry at the party about its involvement in a war. So will 2024 be like 1968? Kilgore says no -- but I think there's somewhat more risk than he's willing to acknowledge. Here are some of the reasons he's not worried:
Gaza isn’t Vietnam.

... There were over a half-million American troops deployed in Vietnam in 1968, and nearly 300,000 young men were drafted into the Army and Marines that year....

Even from a purely humanitarian and altruistic point of view, Vietnamese military and civilian casualties ran into the millions during the period of U.S. involvement.
Yes, but when I watch how people in America talk about crime, or economic conditions, I question whether it's appropriate to use objective measures to compare the past and the present, given the fact that so many Americans base their response on vibes. Crime is down, inflation is cooling, jobs are plentiful, yet Americans talk as if we have murder rates comparable to the crack years and an economic struggles comparable to 1970s double-digit inflation.

Gaza protests clearly aren't as widespread as Vietnam protests in the 1960s. But I bet the issue will draw huge crowds to Chicago. (One way I'm certain that 2024 will be like 1968 is that there's likely to be much more anger at the Democratic convention than at the Republican convention, even though the Republican nominee in both years was more hawkish than the Democrat.)
Brandon Johnson isn’t Richard Daley.

Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley ... was the epitome of the old-school Irish American machine politician and from a different planet culturally than the protesters at the convention.

Current Chicago mayor Brandon Johnson ... is a Black progressive and labor activist.... While he is surely wary of the damage anti-Israel and anti-Biden protests can do to the city’s image if they turn violent, Johnson is not without ties to protesters. He broke a tie in the Chicago City Council to ensure passage of a Gaza cease-fire resolution earlier this year. His negotiating skills will be tested by the maneuvering already underway with protest groups and the Democratic Party, but he’s not going to be the sort of implacable foe the 1968 protesters encountered.
But in 2024, Johnson is more likely to be attacked for failing to be repressive than for being repressive. Footage of any violence or property damage will be endlessly looped on Fox News -- and probably on CNN and the legacy networks.

(On the other hand, the modern police tactic is to bottle up such demonstrations and keep them far from their targets. That's not great for free speech, but it might keep these demos from getting out of hand.)
The whole world (probably) won’t be watching.

The 1968 Democratic convention was from a bygone era of gavel-to-gavel coverage by the three broadcast-television networks.... Today’s media coverage of major-party political conventions is extremely limited and (like coverage of other events) fragmented. If violence breaks out this time in Chicago, it will get a lot of attention, albeit much of it bent to the optics of the various media outlets covering it. But the sense in 1968 that the whole nation was watching in horror as an unprecedented event rolled out in real time will likely never be recovered.
Yes, but what will "the optics of the various media outlets covering" the convention be like? Fox will be looking for chaos instigated by young pro-Palestinian protestors, many of them from elite colleges, whom it will characterize, accurately or not, as anti-Semititic -- but so will The New York Times, if its current news judgment is any indication:

I don't think there'll be as much chaos in the streets of Chicago this year as there were in 1968. I think modern crowd control tactics will limit the chaos. I think many people tune out politics altogether these days and won't notice any news from the convention. But while history probably won't repeat in Chicago, it might rhyme a little.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024


In a New York Times op-ed, Elizabeth Spiers gives us the conventional wisdom about Donald Trump's relationship with New York City, where -- fittingly, as Spiers sees it -- Trump's criminal trial is taking place:
It feels uniquely appropriate that Mr. Trump will have to endure the scrutiny on his old home turf.... He rose to fame here, but was never truly accepted by the old money elites he admired. The rich and powerful sometimes invited him to their parties, but behind his back they laughed at his coarse methods and his tacky aesthetic. His inability to succeed in New York in quite the way he wanted to drove much of the damage he did to the country as a whole, and arguably his entire political career.

... Mr. Trump couldn’t make it here — at least not the way he craved — despite being born here and being one of the few people who could afford it.

So it’s easy to understand why he bashes his hometown as a crime-ridden hellscape, and why the Oval Office appealed. Washington offered him political power but also something he may have wanted even more: the respect New York denied him.
Spiers doesn't have much respect for Trump, and doesn't suggest that Trump deserved more respect than he got from New Yorkers. But the obvious impliction of this argument is that if New York had somehow been nicer to Trump, if the real swells had invited him to more parties and if Spy magazine hadn't called him a "short-fingered vulgarian," he might not have sought the presidency as a fascist-wannabe.

I don't buy it, because I've watched the career of Trump's doppelganger, Rupert Murdoch.

Murdoch was also the son of a wealthy, successful man. Keith Murdoch was a major figure in Australian media, just as Fred Trump was a major figure in outer-borough real estate. Donald Trump pursued deals in Manhattan; Rupert Murdoch attended university in England, where, as this sympathetic piece argues, he was mistreated by British snobs:
As a brash Australian arriving in the 1950s at Oxford – the university that was then still the British political elite’s finishing school and a custodian of the English class system – Murdoch was always going to be seen as an arriviste or parvenu.

It must have rankled that despite his intellect, confidence and wealth, there would so often have been a side sneer at this upstart colonial – the “cataclysmic chauffeur from the Outback”, as the Oxford student newspaper called the car-owning undergraduate.

So when he took control of the News of the World, The Sun and later The Times, he turned them into battering rams against the self-satisfied smugness of the English establishment elite.

The day he walked into The Sun’s offices, the paper ran a leader column stating the mission that has defined him for decades: “We are not going to bow to the establishment in any of its privileged enclaves. Ever.”
Murdoch won, in a way that Trump didn't. Murdoch became the dominant figure in the British media, and then became the most politically influential media mogul in America. He had the power to tip elections on three continents. He owned a major movie studio, and on television he gave us The Simpsons and The X-Files. He became staggeringly wealthy.

But he never stopped feeling resentful. Last year, when he resigned as chairman of News Corporation, he wrote this in a memo to employees:
Elites have open contempt for those who are not members of their rarefied class. Most of the media is in cahoots with those elites, peddling political narratives rather than pursuing the truth.
Trump could win the presidency again, terminate all his legal cases, remake America in his own image, and become a Putin-level kleptocrat and he'd still be angry and resentful.

Spiers thinks the New York trial will diminish Trump in the eyes of his admirers:
There is some relief for New Yorkers who are witnessing the prospect of his comeuppance, though. The rest of the country is seeing a side of Mr. Trump that New York City residents have always been familiar with: the guy who’s angry that he hasn’t been accepted in the elite circles he admires and is outraged that others have.
But that's what his admirers like about him. They find his resentment of "elitists" relatable. They feel mistreated by the people he says are mistreating him. This trial may damage him in the eyes of middle-of-the-road voters who've been supporting him in this election without actually admiring him, but it won't hurt him in the eyes of his superfans. A guilty verdict will be proof of what they already believe: that elitists hate them and hate him, and being hated this way is a mark of virtue.

Tuesday, April 16, 2024


Many commentators and politicians -- mostly but not exclusively on the right -- tell us with great sorrow that the Republican Party has suffered a takeover by forces hostile to its true purpose. What once was the noble "party of Reagan" is now, alas, the "party of Trump," an entity that would repulse the Gipper and his allies.

A story in The Guardian reminds us that that's a lot of malarkey:
Two powerful conservative non-profits have donated millions of dollars to a number of pro-Trump groups led by key far-right allies Stephen Miller, Charlie Kirk and others that have promoted election denialism, extremist anti-immigrant policies and legal challenges to bolster the Maga movement.

Based in Wisconsin, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation and the Bradley Impact Fund in 2022 separately doled out six- and seven-figure checks to groups such as Miller’s America First Legal and Kirk’s Turning Point USA, and other Trump-friendly bastions such as the Heritage Foundation and Michael Flynn’s America’s Future....

The biggest checks in 2022 were written to Trump-allied groups by the dark-money Bradley Impact Fund: America First Legal received about $27.1m, Turning Point USA roped in close to $8m, and the Conservative Partnership Institute pulled in $712,310. America’s Future also received $500,000.

Meanwhile, the Bradley Foundation ponied up $425,000 to the Heritage Foundation, which has worked with many other pro-Trump groups to assemble a 1,000-page plan for a new Trump presidency with an authoritarian agenda to expand executive-branch powers and curb key agencies such as the US justice department.
The Bradley groups seem to combine the worst of both the old and new GOP:
The Bradley foundation’s board includes the well-known rightwinger Art Pope, a North Carolina multi-millionaire who used to chair its board and is also a director of the Bradley Impact Fund. Pope has deep ties to other conservative bastions such as the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity, where he has been a board member too.

The board of the Bradley Foundation also boasts the rightwing lawyer and Trump ally Cleta Mitchell, a senior legal fellow at the Conservative Partnership Institute.

Mitchell founded CPI’s self-styled “election integrity network” in 2021 after participating with Trump on his 2 January call to the Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensperger, who Trump beseeched to “find” 11,780 votes to help overturn Joe Biden’s win in the state.
The Bradley Foundation was once known for its ties to foreign-policy neoconservatives such as Irving and Bill Kristol. It has honored Reaganites such as Ed Meese and Ed Feulner. And it was deeply involved in the mainstream right in the post-Reagan era, funding The American Spectator's attacks on the Clintons during Bill Clinton's presidency, bankrolling Charles Murray's work on The Bell Curve, and underwriting union-buster Scott Walker's rise to power in Wisconsin. As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel noted in 2011,
The list of major recipients reads like an all-star roster of conservative think tanks: millions of dollars directed to well-known groups such as the Hudson Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace, and the Federalist Society - all trying to put their stamp on three branches of government.

Millions more have gone to just about every major conservative publication, including such magazines as Reason, Crisis, First Things, National Affairs and FrontPage Magazine.
And now Bradley is giving to the likes of Mike Flynn, an Alex Jones fan and Christian nationalist whose ReAwaken America group preaches Holocaust denialism and QAnon theories, as well as Charlie Kirk, Cleta Mitchell, and other right-wingers whose fringe ideas, we're told, would never have been tolerated in Reagan's day.

But one of the biggest money sources is the same. It's all the same party.