Sunday, April 30, 2017


It's perfectly reasonable to worry that the Trump administration could eviscerate the social safety net, deprive tens of millions of people of health insurance, give a legal green light to police brutality, and possibly start World War III; that's off the top of my head, and you probably have your own list of very plausible fears.

But sorry, Josh Marshall -- this isn't going to happen:
Priebus: Trump Considering Amending or Abolishing 1st Amendment

A number of press reports have picked up this exchange this morning between ABC’s Jonathan Karl and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.... [Priebus] specifically says that the White House has considered and continues to consider amending or even abolishing the 1st Amendment because of critical press coverage of President Trump.

Sound hyperbolic? Look at the actual exchange (emphasis added) ...
KARL: I want to ask you about two things the President has said on related issues. First of all, there was what he said about opening up the libel laws. Tweeting “the failing New York Times has disgraced the media world. Gotten me wrong for two solid years. Change the libel laws?” That would require, as I understand it, a constitutional amendment. Is he really going to pursue that? Is that something he wants to pursue?

PRIEBUS: I think it’s something that we’ve looked at. How that gets executed or whether that goes anywhere is a different story...

KARL: ... It’s about whether or not the President should have a right to sue them.

PRIEBUS: And I already answered the question. I said this is something that is being looked at. But it’s something that as far as how it gets executed, where we go with it, that’s another issue.
What do you think is going on here? I'd say it's basically what was going on when Trump tweeted that President Obama had wiretapped his phones. In both cases, Trump got angry about something and ordered his staff to validate his rage. In the case of the nonexistent wiretaps, the staff pored over documents looking for evidence that kinda-sorta proved that somebody connected to Obama did something vaguely resembling a wiretap. In this case, Trump has ordered the staff to find a way he can sue the press easily, and ... it's "being looked at," again only because the boss insists.

Even the idiots who've been hired to work in the Trump White House understand that what Trump wants can't be done without a constitutional amendment, and they know he can't possibly get such an amendment passed. Do you think Trump understands that? Do you think he knows how a constitutional amendment is passed? If you asked him to describe the process, do you think he'd get any part of it right?

Trump can't even get a health care bill through the House with a simple majority, even though his party runs Congress. How the hell is he going to get two-thirds majorities for this amendment? I suspect even some Republicans would vote no -- they'd be afraid that a future President Chelsea Clinton would use the amendment to drive everyone at Fox, Breitbart, and talk radio into bankruptcy (or prison).

It would be much easier for Trump to appoint federal judges who'll torture the law until it says that he has standing to sue the press for unfavorable stories (but future Democratic presidents won't). That seems within the realm of possibility. A constitutional amendment doesn't.


Donald Trump's presidency has been a miserable failure by any objective measure. Perversely, he seemed to be drawing attention to that fact in the past couple of weeks by obsessing over the first-hundred-days milestone, and by flailing desperately in an effort to get a few accomplishments up on the board before Day 100 arrived.

But even as he was failing as a president, he turned the passing of the hundred-days milestone into a major pseudo-event -- which brought out the worst in our media. In addition, he marked the milestone with another pseudo-event, an ersatz campaign rally in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, timed to coincide with the White House Correspondents Dinner. Again, the press rose to the bait.

Not all the coverage of Trump's rally was awful. But this, from The Washington Post's Marc Fisher, was bad:
On the 100th day, the president had fun. He zipped up to the nearest Rust Belt state full of the forgotten men and women who put him into office. He bashed the bad guys of the media and Hollywood and the swamp he’d just left behind. He promised jobs and greatness. It was like last year again, all lusty cheers and smiling faces, a refreshing tonic after three months of stubborn lawmakers, naysaying judges, carping protesters, frenetic days and lonely nights.
I think Fisher believes that he's successfully worked an undercurrent of snark into this paragraph. But look at the number of Trumpian premises he seems to accept at face value. "The forgotten men and women" -- you mean the voters who are now quoted literally every day in the press, the ones before whom we must all genuflect which flagellating ourselves for our elitist sins? And Trump's "lonely nights"? Did Trump even ask his wife whether she wanted to live in the White House if he won? If not, what the hell kind of marriage is that?
Donald Trump could have stayed home and had dinner with 2,700 card-carrying members of the Washington elite, many of whom make their living inspecting his every move for missteps, most of whom probably didn’t vote for him anyway. But he said no to the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, where the swells in tuxedos and gowns feasted on jokes at his expense.
It's true that the WHCA dinner represents everything awful about Beltway journalists -- their obsession with status, their excessive chumminess with the politicians they're supposed to cover. But we need the press. It needs to hold politicians' feet to the fire. Trump's phony campaign rally inspired journalists to sneer at their own profession. Mission accomplished for Trump.

The historian Daniel Boorstin, who coined the term "pseudo-event" in the early 1960s, offered an example that was strikingly similar to Trump's rally. Conor Friedersdorf writes:
To illustrate the term’s meaning [Boorstin] conjures a hotel. Its owners wish to increase its business. “In less sophisticated times, the answer might have been to hire a new chef, to improve the plumbing, to paint the rooms, or to install a crystal chandelier in the lobby,” he wrote. Instead, the hotel retains a PR counsel, who “proposes that the management stage a celebration of the hotel’s thirtieth anniversary.”

He continues:
... Once the celebration has been held, the celebration itself becomes evidence that the hotel really is a distinguished institution. The occasion actually gives the hotel the prestige to which it is pretending. It is obvious, too, that the value of such a celebration to the owners depends on its being photographed and reported in newspapers, magazines, newsreels, on radio, and over television. It is the report that gives the event its force.
Exactly what happened with Trump's rally.

But Trump also made the hundred-day anniversary more of a pseudo-event than it otherwise would have been. He challenged the self-evident fact that he'd accomplished little or nothing. He took the arbitrary milestone seriously, and the press dutifully accepted his valuation of it.

And so we get write-ups like this one from Peter Baker of The New York Times. It resembles the summation of an eight-year presidency, or one of the memorial tributes the Times publishes every year under the heading "The Lives They Led": It's solemn, sober-minded, and crafted not to give offense, which means that it grotesquely distorts the reality of the Trump presidency so far:
In his first 100 days in power, President Trump has transformed the nation’s highest office in ways both profound and mundane, pushing traditional boundaries, ignoring longstanding protocol and discarding historical precedents as he reshapes the White House in his own image.

But just as Mr. Trump has changed the presidency, advisers and analysts say it has also changed him. Still a mercurial and easily offended provocateur capable of head-spinning gyrations in policy and politics, Mr. Trump nonetheless at times has adapted his approach to both the job and the momentous challenges it entails....

He has assumed even more power for the presidency, expanding President Barack Obama’s use of executive orders to offset the inability to pass major legislation and making it more independent of the Washington establishment. He has been more aggressive than any other president in using his authority to undo his predecessor’s legacy, particularly on trade, business regulation and the environment. And he has dominated the national conversation perhaps more thoroughly than any president in a generation.
That was written with something approaching awe. It ignores his bigotry, his ignorance, his utter lack of respect for important governing norms, his obsession with score-settling, and his infantile capriciousness. (No, the word "mercurial" doesn't get Baker off the hook. That's a word you use for an emotionally volatile genius artist, not for a seventy-year-old lucky mediocrity who has the emotional maturity of a pre-schooler.)

This is not how Trump needs to be covered if this country is going to survive his presidency. But Trump created pseudo-events, and the press covered them the way he wanted them covered. He won the weekend -- or, rather, the press lost it.

Saturday, April 29, 2017


Bret Stephens is not wasting any time. His first column for The New York Times is about climate change, and it's predictably terrible, just as his earlier work on climate was -- but it's terrible in a different -- and sneakier -- way.

Stephens's Times column is about climate change, but its first four paragraphs focus on the failure of Hillary Clinton's data-driven campaign. Stephens argues that we should doubt all data:
There’s a lesson here. We live in a world in which data convey authority. But authority has a way of descending to certitude, and certitude begets hubris. From Robert McNamara to Lehman Brothers to Stronger Together, cautionary tales abound.
Like a good defense lawyer who knows his client is guilty, Stephens has planted the general idea of doubt in the reader's mind. But he knows he's writing for The New York Times, so he does something he preferred not to do when he was writing for The Wall Street Journal: He concedes that climate change exists, even as he denounces calls for a serious response.
Anyone who has read the 2014 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change knows that, while the modest (0.85 degrees Celsius, or about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit) warming of the Northern Hemisphere since 1880 is indisputable, as is the human influence on that warming, much else that passes as accepted fact is really a matter of probabilities. That’s especially true of the sophisticated but fallible models and simulations by which scientists attempt to peer into the climate future. To say this isn’t to deny science. It’s to acknowledge it honestly....

None of this is to deny climate change or the possible severity of its consequences. But ordinary citizens also have a right to be skeptical of an overweening scientism. They know — as all environmentalists should — that history is littered with the human wreckage of scientific errors married to political power.
He's still telling readers that they're wrong if they accept the scientific consensus on global warming. He's still arguing that advocates for a strong response are tyrants drunk with power. But he's trying to sell this argument to people who believe the science, so he's conceding some of their points.

He didn't do that when he was writing for Fox-watching captains of industry on the Wall Street Journal editorial page. When he was writing for them, he told them that climate change isn't science, it's religion:
Consider the case of global warming, another system of doomsaying prophecy and faith in things unseen.

As with religion, it is presided over by a caste of spectacularly unattractive people pretending to an obscure form of knowledge that promises to make the seas retreat and the winds abate. As with religion, it comes with an elaborate list of virtues, vices and indulgences. As with religion, its claims are often non-falsifiable, hence the convenience of the term "climate change" when thermometers don't oblige the expected trend lines. As with religion, it is harsh toward skeptics, heretics and other "deniers." And as with religion, it is susceptible to the earthly temptations of money, power, politics, arrogance and deceit.

... Great religions are wise enough to avoid marking down the exact date when the world comes to an end. Not so for the foolish religions. Expect Mayan cosmology to take a hit to its reputation when the world doesn't end on Dec. 21, 2012. Expect likewise when global warming turns out to be neither catastrophic nor irreversible come 2017.
(Stephens wrote that in 2011. It's 2017 now. Global warming still seems catastrophic and irreversible.)

Previously, in 2010, he'd mocked climate change believers for "panicking" about a "dead" crisis:
So global warming is dead, nailed into its coffin one devastating disclosure, defection and re-evaluation at a time. Which means that pretty soon we're going to need another apocalyptic scare to take its place....

The world is now several decades into the era of environmental panic. The subject of the panic changes every few years, but the basic ingredients tend to remain fairly constant. A trend, a hypothesis, an invention or a discovery disturbs the sense of global equilibrium. Often the agent of distress is undetectable to the senses, like a malign spirit. A villain—invariably corporate and right-wing—is identified.

Then money begins to flow toward grant-seeking institutions and bureaucracies, which have an interest in raising the level of alarm. Environmentalists counsel their version of virtue, typically some quasi-totalitarian demands on the pattern of human behavior. Politicians assemble expert panels and propose sweeping and expensive legislation. Eventually, the problem vanishes.

... I propose a readers' contest to invent the next panic. It must involve something ubiquitous, invisible to the naked eye, and preferably mass-produced. And the solution must require taxes, regulation, and other changes to civilization as we know it. The winner gets a beer and a burger, on me, at the 47th street Pig N' Whistle in New York City. (Nachos for vegetarians.) Happy panicking!
Why isn't Stephens writing like this anymore? Because he doesn't have the intellectual honesty -- or possibly because it's been made clear to him that he shouldn't. He's selling the same lies, but he's soft-selling them. That's sneaky and deceitful.

If the Times wants to publish Stephens, we should get him at full strength. His columns should be dripping with contempt for climate change believers, the way they were when he wrote for the high-end cigar bar that is the Journal's editorial page. As bad as the first column is, it's Stephens as Eddie Haskell, pretending to be civilized in Mrs. Cleaver's presence.

To hell with that, Bret. Tell Times readers what you really believe.

Friday, April 28, 2017


In a new interview, Donald Trump has conceded that the job of president is harder than he expected it to be:
“I loved my previous life. I had so many things going,” Trump told Reuters in an interview. “This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier.”
A response to this from The Washington Post's Philip Bump is headlined "Trump Now Agrees with the Majority of Americans: He Wasn’t Ready to Be President." Bump notes that Trump has said things like this before (“This is really a bigger job than I thought”) and cites a number of polls showing that Americans had serious doubts about Trump's qualifications:

Bump writes:
Put simply: The majority of Americans didn’t think Trump was ready to be president of the United States. Based on his comments about the job being bigger or harder than he thought, that it is more work, it seems safe to say that Trump has also now come to believe that he wasn’t prepared for the office.
No, I don't think so.

I think Trump believes that anyone would have been surprised by the nature of the job -- its difficulty was unknowable! I can't imagine any other way Trump can reconcile his sense of his own omnipotence (which he proclaims every time he steps before a crowd of supporters) and his surprise at the way the presidency works. He's very smart and extremely capable; therefore, if a person as smart as he is couldn't judge the difficulty of the job in advance, then it simply couldn't be done! And how difficult is the job? So difficult that even he, the Great Trump, finds it a challenge!

I could be wrong about this -- maybe he does now realize that he's in over his head -- but I promise you that he won't stop telling supporters that everything will be great again. He's a con man, and "con man" is short for "confidence man." Without confidence, he's nothing.


A headline in The New York Times reads, "State Department Wants to Clear Nikki Haley’s Remarks Before She Speaks."

The obvious response to that is relief: Donald Trump has been president for more than three months, during which time he's had to deal with a number of serious international issues, and all this time his UN ambassador has apparently been acting acting on her own, rather than coordinating her remarks with the rest of the administration. This is because the administration doesn't seem to know what it thinks on most issues until the president impulsively provides guidance -- which may change at any minute. Maybe someone has finally figured out that this is a bad way to run a presidency.

But the fact that it's impossible even for members of Trump's foreign policy team to know what his policies are isn't the subject of this story. The subject is administration infighting -- as if that's the only reason Haley's remarks are now going to be vetted:
The United States ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki R. Haley, has often been the first, most outspoken member of the Trump administration to weigh in on key foreign policy issues, on everything from military strikes on Syria to sanctions against Russia and how to approach human rights.

Much of that has come as a surprise to the State Department, and the Secretary of State, Rex W. Tillerson, has often been far from the limelight.

Now, in an apparent attempt to foster greater coherence in American foreign policy, State Department officials are urging her aides to ensure her public remarks are cleared by Washington first.
See? It's not about creating some sort of order out of chaos. It's a gossipy story about rivalries.
An email drafted by State Department diplomats urged Ms. Haley’s office to rely on “building blocks” written by the department to prepare her remarks....
But nowhere are we told that the administration doesn't seem to have had any policy "building blocks" until now.
The request underlines the vastly contrasting styles of the Trump administration’s two top diplomats, Ms. Haley and Mr. Tillerson, who will appear together for the first time on Friday at a United Nations Security Council meeting devoted to North Korea. It will be Mr. Tillerson’s first time inserting himself into Ms. Haley’s world since she so publicly entered his.

Ms. Haley is an outspoken former governor who has been on Sunday talk shows and given interviews to several television news outlets. Mr. Tillerson is a former oil company executive who has kept a noticeably low profile.

The contrast was on sharp display when Ms. Haley chaperoned the 14 members of the Security Council on a visit to the White House on Monday. Neither Mr. Tillerson nor any of his aides were present, with a spokesman explaining that his schedule “did not enable him to participate.”

Mr. Tillerson has skipped meetings with world leaders at the White House too, though he continues to spend considerable time with President Trump. His defenders say that Mr. Tillerson is confident of the president’s support and that Mr. Tillerson does not believe he needs to appear in front of reporters or TV cameras to confirm his place as the nation’s chief diplomat.

“Any notion that there’s some kind of competition between Haley and Tillerson is laughable,” said James J. Carafano, a Heritage Foundation fellow and a member of the Trump transition team. “She’s filling a role and is comfortable in that role, and I don’t think Tillerson feels threatened by that.”
All this is important -- why does Tillerson seem disengaged when, after all, he's the secretary of state? But you have to read between the lines to understand the bigger problem.

There's a fleeting reference to the administration's staffing failures:
While Ms. Haley is a cabinet-level official and within the State Department’s hierarchy, she would normally have four bosses, including an assistant secretary for international organizations who coordinates between New York and Washington. That role is currently filled in a temporary capacity by a career foreign service officer.
But this comes out of nowhere, and we're never told the reason for it -- that the administration is either too incompetent to get the jobs filled or it refuses to fill them, out of a Steve Bannon desire to "deconstruct the administrative state."

Eventually we're given a hint of what a normal administration would be like -- but even that is couched in Washington gossip:
Friction between the secretary of state and the United Nations ambassador is routine, particularly when the ambassador is a politician.

Thomas Pickering, a United Nations ambassador under President George H. W. Bush, said the relationship with Washington was always a challenge during his tenure. One constant problem for him, he said, was that Washington created the day’s talking points around 11 a.m. but Security Council meetings usually started around 9:45 a.m., an event that was often preceded by a press briefing.

“So I had to work off the guidance from the day before or get out in front of Washington,” he said.

In the end, Mr. Pickering learned that he had lost his job at the United Nations from a story in The Washington Post. “So clearly the relationship is not always easy,” he said with a laugh.
Stop -- let's go back to that bit about "the day's talking points." In the Trump White House, are there daily talking points? It certainly doesn't seem that way. There should be, but policy in the Trump administration seems to be "whatever the president said or tweeted five minutes ago, which might directly contradict what he said or tweeted 24 hours ago, and which might be based on nothing other than the last thing he saw on cable TV, or his last conversation with Jared Kushner" (whose name never appears in this story even though other reports suggest that he has a bigger foreign policy portfolio than either Haley or Tillerson).

If Haley has been making policy positions up as she goes along because there aren't any policy positions otherwise, say so. Don't treat this as just a "who's in, who's out" story.

Thursday, April 27, 2017


Politico has a story about Donald Trump's presidential learning curve, or lack thereof. It would be an alarming report, except we already that the president had no idea what he was getting into, didn't even know what he didn't know, and doesn't know very much now.

But I'm going to ignore all that and pick out a passage in the story that isn't directly about Trump's ignorance. Here it is:
“He is not a movement conservative. He is definitely not an establishment Republican,” said Ken Blackwell, who headed domestic policy during Trump’s transition. “He’s transactional and makes calls based on his gut. Those of us who are accustomed to an ideological framework — it takes getting used to.”

But Trump’s ideologically noncommittal approach has bumped up against the constraints of a hyperpartisan Washington where the letters on congressional vote cards — D or R — are paramount.

Some are whispering that Trump should work with Democrats on infrastructure. Others say he must forge ahead only with Republicans on health care. Maybe he should work with both on taxes. Trump, it seems, is just looking for success.

“I am flexible,” as Trump said recently in a Rose Garden appearance. “And I’m proud of that flexibility.”
But he isn't particularly flexible, and his problems haven't been because of "hyperpartisan" Washington, if by that you mean the battle between Democrats and Republicans.

Trump's party has majorities in both houses of Congress. His biggest failure -- the demise of Trumpcare (or at least Trumpcare 1.0) -- came about because not enough members of his own party would vote for it. Granted, the Democrats are refusing as a bloc even to consider any version of the bill -- but Trump has made no effort to reach out to them, and every feature of the bill reduces the number of people covered, the quality of the coverage, and the price of the coverage, so why would any Democrat sign on? A purely "flexible," "transactional" president, stymied in his attempt to get factions within his own party to agree on a bill, might offer some sweeteners to the opposition in an effort to entice some of them to join with some Republicans to form a voting majority. Trump doesn't even seem to have considered that option.

This is the pattern. He's offering nothing to Democrats on taxes. We keep being told that he'll offer something to Democrats on infrastructure, but if so, where's the offer? He could do that now, even without a bill -- he likes to announce plans even when they're sketchy and completely lacking in detail. Why doesn't he do that with infrastructure? Shouldn't he be trying to entice Democrats with that, if he's "just looking for success" and is so "flexible"?

Nahhh. Trump is a Republican. He's flexible within a limited range that's bounded by populist white nationalism at one end and country-club/pro-military-industrial-complex Republicanism at the other. If he's flexible enough to transcend party boundaries, he sure hasn't shown it.


Trump fans continue to give the president high ratings, and Greg Sargent thinks this is the result of a successful Trump con job:
Trump’s lies are working brilliantly. This new poll proves it.

... [Trump] has insisted that the press is misrepresenting his record, while also vastly inflating it himself — thus preparing his voters to dismiss everything they are being told about his historic lack of accomplishments.

A new Post-ABC News poll suggests that this may be working for Trump. It finds that enormous majorities of his voters believe the news media regularly publishes false stories. Even bigger majorities of them believe the news media’s falsehoods are a bigger problem than the Trump administration’s falsehoods are, while only small fractions think the administration tells falsehoods or that his lies are the greater problem. Just look at these findings, which I pulled from the crosstabs:

* 80 percent of Trump voters think it’s a bigger problem that news organizations produce false stories, while only 3 percent of them think it’s a bigger problem that the Trump administration makes false claims....

* Only 17 percent of Trump voters think the Trump administration regularly makes false claims, while 76 percent of Trump voters think it doesn’t....

* By contrast, 78 percent of Trump voters think that news organizations regularly produce false stories, while only 19 percent of them think otherwise....

* Meanwhile, 84 percent of Trump voters think he’s keeping most of his major campaign promises, while only 4 percent think he isn’t, and 89 percent of them think he’s honest and trustworthy.
Trump, a cable news addict, has certainly defined himself in opposition to the press more than most politicians. But Republican voters mistrusted the press even before he announced his presidential candidacy, as Pew noted in 2013:

Republicans have hated the media for a long time:

(This bumper sticker wasn't from 2004 -- it was from 1992.)

And while Trump's frequent references to the "lying media" echo the Nazis' use of the word l├╝genpresse, which means the same thing, you have to remember that the Fox News slogan "Fair and Balanced" has implied for a generation that all of Fox's competitors are the l├╝genpresse (and Fox on-air personalities have been more explicit about this than the slogan, as have the hosts of right-wing talk radio).

The right has long believed that the non-conservative media lies. The only difference now is that Trump made this discussion central to his presidency. And of course he would, because, as an eager consumer of the right-wing media, he's absorbed the message for years.


Larry Sabato's Center for Politics at the University of Virginia has just conducted a poll and focus group of swing-state Trump voters. As in many other recent polls, the Trump voters are, for the most part, still delighted with the president. Here are some of their statements of praise:

"He went to work right away"! He's praiseworthy for "not wasting any time dragging his feet"! Yes, he leapt in with both feet and ordered a Muslim ban -- which was blocked twice. And he insisted on a quick replacement for Obamacare -- which everyone hates and no one wanted to vote on. America "should be run by a businessman" -- even, I guess, if he's a businessman who's terrible at making deals.

I shouldn't mock these people. They're just ordinary citizens. We can't expect them to have a sophisticated grasp of how government works and whether Trump is an effective president.

So let's turn to a sophisticated political insider -- Mike Allen of Axios. Here he reports on some new insights from one of his fellow-insider colleagues:
In a whirlwind of White House leaks, prods and announcements leading up to Saturday's 100-day milestone, one unifying characteristic explains everything President Trump is doing. Aides say he is still the dealmaker — pragmatic and practical, rather than ideological.

Buzz: Axios' Jonathan Swan tells me after a visit to the West Wing yesterday that aides think Trump now understands the system better and how to work it, with the revival of health reform as a shining example of a classic Trump move.

His dealmaker roots have surfaced repeatedly this week:

* He announces a tax "plan" that's one page, so he has plenty of room to negotiate details with the Hill, and give lots of wins.

* Aides debate renouncing NAFTA but say it'll be a process, not something sudden....

* Rather than playing heavy-handed broker on health care, the White House pushes toward a House vote as soon as tomorrow by letting conservatives and moderates work out internal differences on terms that are partly self-initiated. Swan explains that instead of bullying holdouts, Trump let the air drain out of the initial attempt, then let the factions start again themselves.
The ordinary citizens in the Center for Politics focus group praised Trump for being a man of action and a skilled practitioner of the art of the deal. How naive of them! By contrast, here are Jonathan Swan and Mike Allen -- clever insiders, both of them -- telling us that Trump is ... a man of action and a skilled practitioner of the art of the deal!

Really, Mike and Jonathan, we know why the tax plan was one page: Trump was desperate to have something out there right now because of his obsession with the meaningless hundred-days milestone. The same is true for the empty bluster on NAFTA, and his insistence on a revival of Zombie Trumpcare.

All of these efforts are detail-free works in progress because Trump doesn't understand a damn thing about any issue he faces and hasn't hired enough people to do an adequate amount of thinking for him, not because he's cleverly left some blanks unfilled so "lots of wins" can be had by all.

The Trump believers in the focus group are easily gulled rubes -- and so are Mike Allen and Jonathan Swan at Axios.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017


The chair of the Republican National Committee says that the wall needs to be built or the GOP base will punish Republican candidates in 2018:
Republican National Committee chair Ronna Romney McDaniel said Wednesday that failing to fulfill Donald Trump's campaign promise to build a wall along the Mexican border will hurt the party in the 2018 midterm elections.

"They're gonna lose the trust of our base if we don't keep our promises, our base is gonna walk away," McDaniel said when asked by conservative radio host Laura Ingraham about the possibly of the wall not being built or funded. "They're gonna feel like, 'hey you said one thing on the campaign trail to get elected and you didn't act on it.'"
Except that Trump voters don't seem upset that it's delayed:
President Donald Trump’s promise to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border isn’t worth shutting down the federal government, according to a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll.

Sixty-one percent of registered voters say funding a wall along the nation’s southern border is "not important enough to prompt a shutdown."
Check the detailed numbers and you see that 51% of Republicans don't think it's important enough to justify a shutdown (40% do).

And if you go back to the summer, there was anecdotal evidence that Trump voters never really expected the wall to be built the way Trump promised. See, for instance, this Washington Post story from June:
“Trump says a lot of things right off the cuff. Does he mean it to the ‘T’? I don’t think so,” said Dennis Kerns, 55, a retired ­elementary-school teacher who lives near Albuquerque....

He added: “I think if he strengthens the borders . . . it will be the same as building the wall. So the wall’s still there, it’s just invisible. It might be 10 feet tall, it might be 20 feet tall, but it’s invisible. So the wall can be built even without having to be built.”

... Ian Carney, who works in construction and came to the Albuquerque rally with his girlfriend, described the wall as simply a “rhetorical device” that Trump uses.

“Personally, I think it’s symbolic. I mean, a physical wall?” said Carney, 26. “It’s just such a strong vision and idea, but I just care about the border being secure.”

... The next evening in Billings, Mont., Bret Weddle said he expected Trump to build a wall in some places but not across the entire 1,989-mile border....

“Virtual fences,” said Weddle, 40, a father of two who works as an IT consultant.
I've started to believe that a lot of Trump voters didn't care about building the wall as much as they cared about being given permission to hate the people the wall would supposedly exclude. That's why they felt so much joy chanting about the wall and doing "Who's going to pay?" "Mexico!" call-and-response. They'd love to have it, but they were delighted just to be able to say out loud that they wanted it. They were in a safe space where saying that was not permitted, but encouraged. Even if Trump never gets the wall built, they'll always be grateful to him for that.


Josh Marshall writes:
This is really quite astounding. In this morning’s edition of Mike Allen’s not-Playbook from Axios he introduces what seems to be Ivanka Trump setting up something that sounds a lot like the Clinton Foundation, only in this case run from within the White House by a top presidential aide who is also the President’s daughter, who also runs her own large international company and who also has two brothers who are currently running the President/Father’s company and trying to rake in as much money as possible on the fame and power of the presidency. Also, let’s be honest, the Trumps are a notoriously corrupt family, especially when it comes to running foundations.

No less astounding is that Allen never mentions that there’s anything problematic about this or that it doesn’t mimic in a wildly more corrupt way what President Trump nominally ran most of the 2016 campaign against....

What’s worth asking is this: Is this even envisioned as a foundation and non-profit? Or is Ivanka setting up something like a venture capital or private equity fund? i.e., one designed to make a profit?
The Mike Allen piece is here. A subsequent Axios piece, not by Mike Allen, does ask a few questions.

But Ivanka will get away with this, just the way the entire Trump family has been getting away with blatant violations of Constitution's emoluments clause. There won't be a clamor to stop this.

Why? To a large extent, it's the family's pure brazenness. Beyond that, Democrats don't have a Fox News equivalent that can turn this sort of thing a round-the-clock scandal for days, weeks, or months.

But the Trumps also get away with things like this because of what I'm beginning to see as their Gish Gallop-ization of politics. You know what a Gish Gallop is, right? It's the
debate tactic of drowning your opponent in a flood of individually-weak arguments in order to prevent rebuttal of the whole argument collection without great effort.... Although it takes a trivial amount of effort on the Galloper's part to make each individual point before skipping on to the next ... a refutation of the same Gallop may likely take much longer and require significantly more effort.
In other words, if you're debating, flood your opponent with a tsunami of bad arguments in a short space of time. You'll get away with some or even most of them, because refuting them all simply takes too long.

Donald Trump -- with good reason -- has been accused of using this tactic in his public utterances. But I think the principle of the Gish Gallop applies to more than just rhetoric (and tweets). If something you do is offensive, outrageous, or even illegal, it might be easier to get away with it if you do a lot of it. Your critics simply become frustrated trying to counter what you're doing.

For instance, the president seems to Gish-Gallop ignorance. We can refute him on point after point, but after a while, it's hard to keep up -- the fact-checks go on for pages and pages. That's why Trump's recent AP interview was so exhausting.

I think the Trumps are Gish-Galloping corruption. It's easy to focus on one corrupt practice -- but the Trumps are corrupt across the board. We just can't keep up, can we?

So Ivanka will slide by with this -- and the Trumps will slide by with the next thirty or forty corrupt, self-dealing acts.


The New York Post's Michael Goodwin is one many commentators assessing Donald Trump's first hundred days as president. Goodwin, a knee-jerk GOP booster and liberal-basher, gives Trump a positive grade -- but he does so by nailing the bar to the ground and offering Trump a thumbs-up for clearing it. According to Goodwin, Trump's awe-inspiring accomplishment as the hundred-day mark approaches is that he hasn't been forced out of office:
... let’s go back to the beginning — to the wee hours of November 9th.

When Trump and his family took a Manhattan hotel stage to claim victory, they looked as shell-shocked as the rest of the world. He was scoring a smashing upset....

... within hours, [Hillary Clinton's] supporters took their anger to the streets, denouncing Trump as “Not My President” in cities across America. They continued for days, and some were punctuated by violence.

Legal efforts to overturn the election also began. One, led by Green Party candidate Jill Stein, focused on demanding recounts in three states Trump narrowly won — Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Stein looked to be a stalking horse, and Clinton’s team quickly joined the effort.

A separate challenge to the results focused on persuading electoral college delegates in red states to switch from Trump to Clinton or even to abstain, in hopes of denying him the necessary majority of 270....

Clearly, Clinton’s camp held out hope it could steal the election. Her big margin in the popular vote became a rationale....

Then the Russians came, or rather the Obama administration unleashed a flood of leaks suggesting Trump’s team had colluded with Russia to tip the election.

... January ... brought the sensational Russian dossier on Trump, which looked like a bombshell until it was exposed as a dud.

No matter, the hothouse talk of impeachment grew, and social media carried numerous posts about assassination. Madonna talked of blowing up the White House and others spoke ominously of “stopping” Trump.

... shadowy stories about Trump’s teams contact with Russia appear[ed] on the eve of his inauguration. With violence rising in Washington’s streets even as the historic ceremony began, it seemed possible the handover of power might not be peaceful. The next day, massive women’s marches took place in major cities to prote[s]t the new president.

Yet, here we are, and Donald J. Trump is still America’s 45th President. His survival is the biggest story of his first 100 days.
Wow -- he's still president! Passing grade for the first hundred days! Break out the foam "We're #1" fingers!

This is all premised on dubious assumptions -- that Hillary Clinton's "camp" seriously believed in the possibility of overturning the Electoral College result; that impeachment and Senate conviction can happen in a little more than three months, or can happen at all when the president's party controls both houses of Congress; that, in 2017, Madonna is influential enough to inspire a popular overthrow of the government with an offhand remark.

But beyond that, this is the ultimate gentleman's C. But I imagine Trump is accustomed to those.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017


The Wall Street Journal's Gerald Seib has written an alternate history of Donald Trump's first hundred days, and it's no different from every other naive attempt to imagine Trump as a genuine middle-of-the-roader:
... let’s imagine a presidency that attempted from the outset to take advantage of the fact that Donald Trump isn’t an ideological conservative or a traditional Republican, but rather a radical centrist who should be able to create unconventional, bipartisan coalitions....

This presidency wouldn’t have started with polarizing issues guaranteed to back both parties further into their corners: aiming to repeal the Democrats’ signature health-care law and imposing a ban on travel from a set of Muslim-majority countries as the first step in fighting terrorism. Rather, it would have opened with two big initiatives in which at least a few Democrats would have been willing—maybe even eager in some cases—to cooperate: rebuilding American infrastructure and changing the nation’s inefficient tax code.

This alternative presidency would have set out from the beginning to build bridges to the 10 Democratic senators up for re-election in 2018 from states Mr. Trump carried, and the 12 House members who represent districts Mr. Trump carried in 2016. In this Trump presidency, the cabinet he chose would have been populated with fewer ideological conservatives and instead would have included some moderate Democrats.
This fantasy Trump bears no resemblance to the Fox-obsessed Republican who actually occupies the Oval Office, but go ahead Gerald, dream big dreams.

Now, if you've read enough centrist punditry, you know that the flip side of "Why can't Democrats and Republicans get along?" is always "Aren't Democrats and Republicans equally at fault, with Democrats probably more at fault?" Needless to say, Seib goes there, citing the new Wall Street Journal/NBC poll -- and then asking whether it's the Democrats who turned Trump into a reluctant ideologue. I'm not joking:
Only one in 10 Americans in the poll sees Mr. Trump as a typical Republican. The vast majority in both parties consider him a different kind of Republican, and they are more likely to say that’s a good thing rather than a bad thing.

This picture raises a couple of pertinent questions. The first is whether it really was possible to move down a nonpartisan path—or whether anti-Trump passions at the base of the Democratic Party would have made it impossible to do so. In other words, did Mr. Trump drive away Democrats, or did Democrats drive him further into the arms of fellow Republicans?

It’s impossible to know for sure, of course, and certainly both forces were at work to some extent.
The one thing that seems clear is that some of Mr. Trump’s more divisive early actions, decisions and priorities made it easier for Democratic activists to create pressure on their representatives to take a never-cooperate position.
(Emphasis added.)

Some of Trump's early actions were divisive? Name me one that wasn't. He picked a climate change denier to head the EPA. He picked a public school hater to run the Department of Education. He picked a bigot as attorney general. He picked an oilman pal of Putin as secretary of state. He picked the former head of Breitbart as his chief strategist. And on and on.

But Trump wasn't a blank slate the morning after Election Day. Long before he announced his presidential candidacy, he conducted a years-long effort to delegitimize the black Democrat who was president. During his campaign he made repulsive statements and gestures toward women, the disabled, blacks, Muslims, and undocumented immigrants. He made no effort to distance himself from racist and anti-Semitic supporters. He encouraged Russian saboteurs to interfere with the election. So it doesn't matter how reluctant Democrats were to work with him. They had every reason to be reluctant. It was all on him to dissipate "anti-Trump passions," assuming he had any interest in doing so. Those "passions" were entirely justified.

I feel as I'm making absurdly obvious points. But I guess they aren't obvious to much of the pundit class.


The House Oversight Committee is focusing its attention on Mike Flynn:
President Donald Trump's former national security adviser did not properly disclose payments from Russia and does not appear to have complied with the law, House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz and ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings said Tuesday after reviewing Michael Flynn's application for a security clearance.

Chaffetz and Cummings announced their findings to reporters on the Hill following a classified gathering of the committee in which they reviewed documents that Cummings described as "extremely troubling."

"I see no data to support the notion that Gen. Flynn complied with the law," Chaffetz said, referring to whether Flynn received permission from the Pentagon or the State Department or that he disclosed the more than $45,000 he was paid for a speech he gave to RT-TV in Russia.
Chaffetz has been a Trump toady, but now that he's leaving Congress, he seems to have changed his approach -- at least with regard to Flynn. And although he and Elijah Cummings appeared together today, he's getting more of the headlines, and not just at conservative sites like The Right Scoop ("Chaffetz: Flynn may have violated the LAW when he took money from Russia and Turkey"). The Twitter "Moment" for this story goes to Chaffetz ("Rep. Jason Chaffetz calls out Flynn over Russia payments").

The Trump administration is still stonewalling:
... the White House declined to provide documents related to Flynn that the panel investigating him had requested, according to a letter obtained by CNN.

White House Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short outlined in a letter to the House oversight committee how it would not complete the request from the panel, referring some requests to the Department of Defense, saying the office doesn't have custody of some of the other documents or simply stating "we are unable to accommodate" others.
However, at least one Trump-affiliated media organization has been selling the notion that, yes, there's something to Russiagate, but no, it's all the fault of Flynn and other former Trump aides.

That media organization is The National Enquirer, which is run by Trump pal David Pecker, and which ran many stories helpful to Trump during the campaign, including fake-news reports on Hillary Clinton's supposedly poor health and Ted Cruz's father alleged involvement in the JFK assassination. Back in March, John Aravosis noticed that the Enquirer was describing Flynn as a Russian spy "caught" by Trump:

Now the Enquirer's "dragnet" has expanded -- but only to people outside the Trump White House, with Trump still the innocent party in all this:

I know the Enquirer is just a tale-spinning tabloid friendly to Trump -- but I suspect that this will be the fallback message if a real investigation closes in on Trump: that he's an innocent man who regrettably fell in with some bad characters.

That's how most scandals end in this country, of course. The CEO never goes to jail. The underlings plead guilty as the politician they serve remains unindicted (hello, Governor Christie). I think it's possible that there'll be convictions in Russiagate. But I'm betting that none of the people convicted or forced out of office will be named Trump -- or Kushner.


The president seems to be backing away from a wall-driven impasse that could lead to a government shutdown:
President Donald Trump stepped back Monday from demanding a down payment for his border wall in must-past spending legislation, potentially removing a major obstacle to a bipartisan deal just days ahead of a government shutdown deadline.

Trump told a gathering of around 20 conservative media reporters Monday evening that he would be willing to return to the wall funding issue in September, according to two people who were in the room.
What happened here? I know that Trump is a terrible negotiator and that he often backs down when he's dealing with people who see through his BS and aren't afraid of him. But this is the wall, dammit! It's remarkable that he's compromising on that.

I can only assume that someone told him he'd have bad stories written about him if his first hundred days ended with a government shutdown. Even though he would have tweeted that the "lying" media was unfairly blaming the shutdown on him rather than the Democrats, we know that he's exquisitely sensitive to criticism from the reporters and pundits he calls liars. That must have been what persuaded him to back away from the confrontation -- I'm sure it wasn't an increasingly sophisticated understanding of the budgeting process or legislative gamesmanship. He just wanted CNN and Morning Joe and The New York Times not to be mean to him.

With another president, I'd assume that the unpopularity of the wall was a factor -- several recent polls have shown that 60% or more of the public opposes it. But Trump doesn't seem to care about the public at large. He disbelieves polls that are bad for him and cherry-picks good results. He does no outreach to liberals or moderates. He seems to look for any excuse to hold a campaign-style rally, like the one he'll be holding this weekend, in which he can commune with base voters exclusively.

But he can't stand bad news stories, and he's obsessed with the hundred days. So he caved.

Monday, April 24, 2017


There might be a government shutdown soon, and conventional wisdom says that this will be a disaster for the GOP, especially for Donald Trump, because America will realize it's all his fault. Here's Newsweek's Emily Cadei:
Republicans, Democrats and outside experts agree that there’s little political logic to the Trump White House’s threat to shut down the government this week because it insists that funding for a border wall be included in the budget. Yet that’s exactly the scenario the White House appears to be entertaining as it holds a hard line on funding negotiations. In the process, the president and his budget team may be setting up Republicans for a bigger defeat than if they’d just gone along with a slimmer than desired spending bill in the first place.

... As was the case with the two most recent government shutdowns—in 1995 and 2013—partisans are now playing a game of chicken, betting that the other side will cave and vote for a spending bill it doesn’t like, rather than be blamed for the dysfunction.

... Yet this time around, there’s an important difference. Unlike 1995 and 2013, when a Republican-led Congress and Democratic presidents were in the White House, Republicans now hold all levers of power. So it will be much more difficult to point the finger at the other side if the government does shut down.
Republican leaders in Congress don't want a shutdown, and are willing to compromise with Democrats to avoid one. But Trump wants to play hardball. The New Republic's Brian Beutler also thinks this is self-sabotage:
The White House has offered to pay out [Obamacare] subsidies only if the bill also funds the border wall. If Trump gets what he wants, everyone will be fine; if Trump doesn’t get what he wants, he will take insurance away from millions—and the government might shut down! Defeat me, he intones darkly, and I will pants myself.
But is that how the public is likely to apportion blame? First, let's not assume that most Americans know which party controls Congress. Recall that in 2014 Pew found that only 40% of Americans could correctly identify the majority party in both the House and the Senate. The fact that Democrats have any leverage at all (because of the filibuster in the Senate) confuses the issue for voters who know a little but not a lot.

It was obvious who the antagonists were in 2013 -- everyone knew that the president was a Democrat, and everyone knew that his enemies in Congress were Republicans. Well, Trump is known to be a Republican, even by low-information voters -- so if he doesn't get what he wants, and it's not because fellow Republicans are complaining (as with the original Obamacare replacement bill), then who gets the shutdown blame? It's likely to be Democrats, who'll very visibly be the Party of No.

Democrats feel they can risk this because Republicans had a great 2014 election cycle after shutting the government down in 2013. That could be the long-term result for Democrats -- but in the short term, they really could pay a price, and Trump might not. Recall the polling in 2013:
Perceptions of the way Republicans handled the budget negotiations grew steadily worse through the weeks of confrontation, rising from 63 percent disapproval on the eve of the 16-day shutdown, which began Oct. 1, to 77 percent disapproval by the time it ended. Nearly three in five Republicans disapprove of their party’s handling of the negotiations.
And even if Democrats don't get the majority of the blame, it's likely that both parties will suffer some short-term hit to their approval, as in 2013:
Congressional Democrats also sustained damage to their image. More than six in 10 respondents disapprove of how they handled budget negotiations, and unfavorable ratings of the party have risen to a record high of 49 percent.
In 2013, the president came out unscathed:
Still, President Obama’s overall ratings have held steady. Almost half of all Americans approve of the way he has handled his job, and an almost identical number disapprove.
I know, I know: Congressional Republicans were obviously the hotheads during the 2013 shutdown. Obama was the calm, even-tempered voice of reason. This time around, Trump is going to be angry and volatile and make it all about him.

But Americans might conclude that he's a legitimate president who deserves not to have his agenda blocked by the folks who lost. In which case, voters aren't going to think he pantsed himself.

Republican poll numbers recovered quickly after the 2013 shutdown because it was followed by the botched Obamacare rollout. Given Trump's ineptitude, Democrats might be similarly lucky.

If there's a shutdown, we have no idea how long it will last. We have no idea whether Trump will accept the compromises necessary to return the government to full functioning, especially if those compromises embarrass him, or block his precious wall. So predictions are hard. But if a shutdown happens, we shouldn't assume that Trump and the GOP will get all the blame.


Hot Air's Allahpundit flags one data point from a Washington Post/ABC poll released over the weekend:
Poll: Trump would beat Clinton in a rematch among 2016 voters

Good lord. It’s one thing to blow an election once, but to lose hypothetically to a guy with a 42 percent approval rating again? Is there no limit to the humiliation the Clintons will suffer at Trump’s hands?

... given the option of a do-over, virtually no Trump voters would switch their votes. Clinton voters, on the other hand...
While just 4 percent of Trump’s supporters say they would back someone else if there was a redo of the election, fully 15 percent of Clinton supporters say they would ditch her.

That 15 percent is split up between those who say they would vote for Trump (2 percent), Gary Johnson (4 percent), Jill Stein (2 percent), and either other candidates or not voting (7 percent).
Clinton loses, 43%-40%. But is this surprising? A lot of Trump's press coverage is critical, but there's still a large segment of the media, over on the right, that treats him as a conquering hero whose reign is glorious, and in the mainstream there's a lot of coverage that, despite some skepticism, is still awestruck. (Why is he so good at manipulating us? Who are his voters, and will we ever truly understand America if we don't interview all of them?)

But virtually no one in the media likes Hillary Clinton -- not on the right, not in the center, not on the left. Some of this is normal -- as a rule, failed presidential candidates don't get much respect. But most failed candidates are ignored. Clinton is being actively vilified. And even though her opponent is broadly unpopular, no one interviews her voters to plumb the depths of their souls. The negative coverage of Clinton implies that harboring good feelings for her is shameful. So to me it's remarkable that she lost in this poll by only 3.


Allahpundit notes one more weekend poll result, from a Wall Street Journal/NBC survey:
Not all the news is bad for liberals, though. Who’s winning the battle of ideas? NBC offers a clue:

The 57 percent who say government should do more is the highest number NBC has recorded in 20 years of polling, higher even than it was in 2007 at the height of Bush malaise following the Democratic takeover of Congress. And the trend towards more active government is found in all three partisan groups. Republicans are still strongly opposed to the idea at 28/69, but that’s up from 17/79 shortly before the GOP took back the House in 2010. The real sea change, though, has come among independents, who were net -22 in October 2010 on the idea of government doing more and are now ... net +22.
Why is this happening? Allahpundit has a couple of theories that can't both be true:
Is that mostly a reaction to the party in power, i.e. when a Democrat is president indies perceive government as being too big whereas when a Republican is president they perceive it as too static? Or is it part of the Trumpian drift towards making big government great again on the right?
I think Trump has made government action seem more acceptable to at least some on the right. I think white voters are seeing dysfunction in white communities and saying, "Now I believe in government assistance." (The media helps by covering drug addiction in white communities much more sympathetically than in non-white communities.) I think Bernie Sanders has made a strong case for government help aimed at the 99%. But I also think the Democratic Party deserves some credit -- Obamacare happened, and even though, yeah yeah yeah, it was a corporatist neoliberal pseudo-Republican fraud, it persuaded many Americans that health care should be available and affordable, and now even (some) Republican are forced to pay lip service to that idea. Score one for incrementalism.

Message to Democrats (and too-cool-for-the-Democratic-Party Sandersites): Stop fighting with one another and unite around an agenda of helping Americans. The agenda is likely to be Sandersite, but that shouldn't cause a conflict -- Hillary Clinton's platform was Sandersite. (Her problem with many Sanders voters was that they refused to believe she endorsed her own platform.) It won't happen, though -- some mainstream Democrats won't want to commit to every Sanders goal exactly the way he does, and so Democrats and Sandersites will, alas, keep fighting.

(Which leaves me wondering, after a French presidential election in which no establishment party made the final round: What happens in America if both parties are experiencing a crack-up, but the structure of our elections, unlike that of France, makes it next to impossible for any third party to win elections? Are we now going to alternate Republican presidents who can't get legislation passed even when their party controls Congress and Democratic presidents who have the same problem?)

Sunday, April 23, 2017


I Never Thought

I never thought I had
the ability
to not watch
what is unpleasant,

if it's about me. Or

But when I see it's
such false reporting
such bad reporting
false reporting

that I've developed
an ability
that I never
thought I had.

I don't watch things
that are unpleasant.
I just
don't watch them.

--Donald Trump, interview with AP's Julie Pace, full transcript published April 23, 2017


Liz Spayd, the public editor of The New York Times, is proud of the paper's outreach to Donald Trump's America, and she thinks you're a narrow-minded bubble-dweller if you have a problem with any aspect of it, regardless of the merits.
IN THE days following Donald Trump’s White House victory, The New York Times’s executive editor and its publisher signed an unusual joint letter to readers, promising in the wake of a startling election to report “without fear or favor, striving always to understand and reflect all political perspectives and life experiences in the stories that we bring to you.”

An admirable goal, considering the hermetic bubble that The Times and other news media are often accused of living in, one that blocked the sightline to a swelling despair in Middle America.

Now, as the 100-day mark of the Trump administration approaches, it’s time to ask: Is The Times following through on its promise to put an outstretched hand toward Red America? And, just as crucially, are readers ready for it?
She proudly cites a new podcast that "often features voices from the heartland," and a story about an Ohio farmer whose two children died after developing heroin habits.

Do Times readers have a problem with this? She says they do -- and as evidence she points to criticism of the paper's decision to hire Bret Stephens of The Wall Street Journal as an opinion writer:
At this particular moment in history, that doesn’t always go down easy. A day of reckoning along that path came earlier this month, when editorial page editor James Bennet did his part to broaden reader horizons by naming conservative Bret Stephens to the prestigious — and mostly liberal — roster of Times columnists.

Stephens’s coronation produced a fiery revolt among readers and left-leaning critics.
I'm not sure what the hiring of Stephens has to do with whether the Times audience appreciates stories about struggling heartlanders -- not only is Stephens a right-wing Trump critic, he has a biography that marks him as far more cosmopolitan and elitist than even many Times readers:
Stephens was born in New York City, ... the son of Xenia and Charles J. Stephens, a former vice president of General Products, a chemical company in Mexico.... He was raised in Mexico City.... In his adolescence, he attended boarding school at Middlesex School in Massachusetts. Stephens received an undergraduate degree in political philosophy from the University of Chicago before earning a master's degree in comparative politics ... at the London School of Economics.

Stephens began his career at The Wall Street Journal as an op-ed editor in New York. He later worked as an editorial writer for the Wall Street Journal Europe, in Brussels....

In 2006, he took over the "Global View" column after George Melloan's retirement. In 2009, he was named deputy editorial page editor....

From 2002 to 2004, he was editor in chief of the Jerusalem Post.... Stephens was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum.... He is also a frequent contributor to Commentary magazine.
Salt of the earth, this guy.

Spayd is appalled at the narrow-mindedness of Stephens's critics:
They rummaged through his columns for proof that he is a climate change denier, a bigot or maybe a misogynist.
They rummaged! How dare they! What an appallingly narrow-minded thing to do -- judging an opinion writer on the opinions he's expressed!

Spayd wags her finger at Stephens's critics for several paragraphs. Then she writes:
After reading many of his past columns I, too, am wary about some of his more inflammatory language on climate change, Muslims, even campus rape. Are we to consider his more intemperate phrases “rhetorical flourishes,” or does he really mean them?
I'm reminded of the Monty Python sketch about the gangster siblings known as the Pirahna Brothers:
Interviewer: I've been told Dinsdale Piranha nailed your head to the floor.

Stig: No. Never. He was a smashing bloke. He used to buy his mother flowers and that. He was like a brother to me.

Interviewer: But the police have film of Dinsdale actually nailing your head to the floor.

Stig: (pause) Oh yeah, he did that....

Interviewer: I understand he also nailed your wife's head to a coffee table....

Stig: Well he did do that, yeah. He was a hard man. Vicious but fair.


Spayd also scolds the Times audience for failing to appreciate an interview with a Harlan County coal miner featured in one of the paper's podcasts:
Another flash point in this debate came after a recent episode of The Daily, the highly popular podcast anchored by Michael Barbaro, a former Times political writer. The subject of the podcast was climate change and the guest was Mark Gray, who spent 38 years of his life working in the coal mines of southern Kentucky.

Gray has black lung, and you can hear him struggling to breathe as he defends the Appalachian coal industry against what he sees as efforts by environmentalists to shut it down. As the conversation continues, Gray asks Barbaro whether he has ever stepped foot in a coal plant. Thinking about that question, Barbaro chokes with emotion, and listeners hear several seconds of silence before the host speaks again.

It was a powerful 12 minutes of audio, sentimental and empathetic toward a Trump voter to a degree one might not expect from The Times. Too sentimental for some listeners, who took after Barbaro on social media, on blogs and in my inbox.

Here’s one complaint from Drew Magratten of New York City: “Barbaro lets a coal miner spout assertions about the economics of the industry and regulations unchallenged. I can almost hear the NYT’s East Coast liberal guilt guiding the kid-glove treatment of a white, blue collar man who proudly voted for Trump.”
To Spayd, this segment is beyond criticism, and any complaints are clearly efforts to silence non-liberal views. But listen to the segment, which begins at 8:46 of the podcast. Magratten is absolutely correct: Barbaro does let Mark Gray, who mined coal for 38 years in Harlan County, Kentucky, make "assertions about the economics of the industry and regulations unchallenged." Here's Gray explaining thew decline of coal in Harlan County:
BARBARO: What was the big turning point where it all started to seem to go down?

GRAY: The big turning point was when the Obama administration put out regulations on coal. They just put restrictions on coal so hard that the companies couldn't mine it, and it was either shut down or go broke, you know?
Here are the facts about coal mining in Harlan County:
Demand dropped after the railroads stopped using coal to drive locomotives, and factories switched to oil and natural gas for their needs.

Production in Harlan County fell throughout the 1950s, hitting a near 50-year low in 1960 of 1.3 million tons...

Employment in Kentucky's underground mines fell 70 percent from 1950 to 1965; in Harlan County, mining employment dropped from 13,619 to 2,433 in that time....

A Middle Eastern oil embargo caused a spike in coal demand during the 1970s and 80s, and mining employment rose to 4,419 in 1981, the most recent employment peak.

There were 1,780 people employed in mining in the county in 2009....
So employment in the industry was 13% of what it was in 1950 the year Obama took office. He didn't cause coal's decline in Harlan County.

Barbaro does object that Obama's regulations were never even put into effect. But Gray is adamant: It's all the fault of Obama's EPA. And there the matter rests.

Later, Gray insists that the government uniquely targeted coal for regulation:
GRAY: How many cars have you got out on the United States right now? How many cars have you got out here that you're throwing out carbon dioxide and throwing out the stuff that people are saying that's so dangerous? They picked on one thing, specific thing -- that was coal. They picked on coal. They didn't go ahead and pick on the oil companies, saying, "Oh, look, do this, do that" for oil. They didn't do that. Coal.
Well, they did do that, with fuel efficiency standards and restrictions on oil drilling and pipelines. But Gray just gets to say this. Later he gets to say that, yes, coal absolutely can make a comeback -- as if mining coal makes him an expert on energy economics. Is Barbaro, or Spayd for that matter, an expert on media economics? Do we all automatically develop this sort of expertise just by being grunts in our industries?

Of course he's proud of the work he did. Of course he defends his way of life. Of course he has hope for a renewal of what he recalls as a better past (even if the industry he praises is literally killing him). But none of this gives him insights into the bigger picture -- the science of climate change, the economics and politcs of energy. So why do I have to applaud the Times for this story?

Saturday, April 22, 2017


This, from The New York Times, is no surprise:
As Mr. Trump’s White House advisers jostle for position, the president has turned to another group of advisers — from family, real estate, media, finance and politics, and all outside the White House gates — many of whom he consults at least once a week.

The media mogul Rupert Murdoch is on the phone every week, encouraging Mr. Trump when he’s low and arguing that he focus on the economy rather than detouring to other issues.... Sean Hannity tells the president that keeping promises on core Republican issues is crucial.
This raises a question: Why does Fox News have press credentials in official Washington?

Remember this, from last month?
On Monday morning, the Standing Committee of the Senate Press Gallery denied Breitbart’s request for permanent press credentials for Capitol Hill, stating that they needed “more answers” before considering the right-wing website’s request again. The committee discussed a request letter sent to them by Breitbart’s Larry Solov late Thursday that was said to show White House chief strategist Steve Bannon had severed ties from Breitbart as of November. Beyond the letter ... a committee member pointed out that beyond “us trusting Larry” there was no other evidence that Bannon had in fact completely cut himself off from the site he previously ran.... Other details and clarification the committee will seek from Breitbart ... [include] clarification on news reports that [Trump funder and transition team member] Rebekah Mercer is involved in Breitbart editorial decisions....
There were a couple of other reasons that Breitbart's permanent press credentials were denied, and temporary credentials were issued. Still -- it's a problem that the former head of Breitbart and its top funder are affiliated with the White House? So what about he boss at Fox and one of its top on-air hosts being unpaid advisers to the president of the United States?

Fox's alleged independence from the Republican Party has been a myth the political world has agreed to live by for years, even though the notion is preposterous. And now top people at Fox give regular advice to the president.

Fox is not a news organization. It's part of the GOP, and it should be treated that way.


As we all should have predicted, Milo Yiannopoulos's disappearance was brief and temporary -- he's got a comeback in the works:
Milo Yiannopoulos is plotting his comeback, allegedly to take place at UC Berkeley, whether university administrators like it or not.

"In light of recent controversies, I am planning a huge multiday event called Milo's Free Speech Week in Berkeley later this year. We will hold talks and rallies and throw massive parties, all in the name of free expression," Yiannopoulos said on his Facebook page Friday.

Yiannopoulos wouldn't say who is backing the effort, financially or otherwise....
This story is from The Hollywood Reporter, and I'm struck by the fact that the key question is "Which wingnut billionaire is bankrolling your comeback, Milo?" Of course, "Who's your sugar daddy?" is a key question throughout conservative politics. Are you a pet project of the Koch brothers? Of Sheldon Adelson? Of Robert and Rebekah Mercer? (Breitbart and the current president of the United States answer yes to that last one.)

All Yiannopoulos needs to stage a comeback is the Internet and an infusion of cash. That's the advantage he has over Bill O'Reilly. The Murdoch family wasn't O'Reilly's patron -- the Murdochs needed O'Reilly to continue generating a pile of advertising revenue, and now O'Reilly is an embarrasment because the Murdochs need to look like reasonably well-behaved corporate citizens if they want the British government to let them buy the portion of Sky TV that they doesn't already own.

A Net-based O'Reilly would have been impossible to uproot -- we'd have never been rid of him. So we'll probably never be rid of Yiannopoulos.

Friday, April 21, 2017


Charlie Pierce advances the radical notion that maybe Donald Trump is a good politician:
... one of the more interesting sidelights of what certainly will be a deluge of post-mortems regarding the 2016 presidential campaign is the widely held notion that Hillary Rodham Clinton was gifted with a uniquely easy opponent. This idea is central to the narrative that holds that HRC's campaign was a uniquely bad one, and she a uniquely bad candidate.

... The fact is that the current spate of Clinton-bashing completely ignores one undeniable fact: Donald Trump was a helluva candidate. In fact, for the cultural and political context within which that election took place, he might have been a perfect candidate.

... Trump took on a Republican field composed of what was alleged to be the best that party had to offer, the deepest part of its allegedly deep bench, and he utterly destroyed it....

That Trump never paid a price in the eyes of his voters for ... meretricious goonery is the best evidence there is that, in 2016, anyway, he was in every sense a formidable political force. And, let it not be forgotten that he brought with him a Republican Senate, a Republican House, and massive gains out in the states as well.
We're talking about this because of a new book, Shattered by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes, which dissects the real and alleged failures of the Clinton campaign. From the left-center, Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times has given it a rave review; from further to the left, so has Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi. By contrast, Scott Lemieux puts it in the category of " 'random inside baseball campaign anecdotes that assume without argument that the degree of campaign infighting is the most important variable determining the outcome of elections' books," while The Washington Post's Steven Ginsburg questions the book's focus:
Does it really matter who was pissy at whom in Brooklyn when we still don’t know what role the Russians played in the election or why FBI Director James Comey publicly announced a reopening of the email investigation in late October? Those questions are largely left unexplored here, other than as targets of Clinton’s post-election ire.

Staying inside Clinton’s inner circle also keeps the story oddly away from Trump, who is absent from much of the book even though he was the dominant force throughout the election.
Clinton won the primaries despite competing against a much more natural politician with a compelling message, and she decisively won the general-election popular vote. But she's the failure, and maybe Trump is a genius.

Since we're judging Clinton, I want to post a brief insider-opinion clip from the past that was surfaced today as part of an unrelated argument. We all know what Attorney General Jeff Sessions said about the judge who blocked the Trump administration's second Muslim ban:
"I really am amazed that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific can issue an order that stops the president of the United States from what appears to be clearly his statutory and constitutional power."
In response to that, Jim Newell posts this:

I want you to watch it not for its relevance to what Sessions said, but for its relevance to the question of campaign competence. Notice the date: August 10, 2008. You may recall that as a moment when Barack Obama was on a glide path to electoral victory. But here's what Cokie Roberts said as Obama vacationed in Hawaii, the state of his birth, just prior to the Democratic convention:
COKIE ROBERTS: He has certainly come nowhere near closing the deal, as we've talked about before. In this year that should be such a Democratic year given all the other indices, he is tied in the polls and stays tied in the polls. And going off this week to vacation in Hawaii does not make any sense whatsoever. I know his grandmother lives in Hawaii, and I know Hawaii is a state. But it has the look of him going off to some sort of foreign, exotic place. He should be in Myrtle Beach, you know, if he's going to take a vacation at this time. I just think, you know, this is not the time to do that.
Sure, this is ridiculous ("I know Hawaii is a state") -- but this is the thinking of the pundit/insider journalist class, the class to which Allen and Parnes belong, a class whose conclusions even the self-styled rebel Taibbi endorses. And this is the kind of thing that would have been said about Obama if he actually had lost in 2008. It would have been noted that Clinton defeated him in primaries all over the country -- in New York, California, Texas, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio. The rejection of the PUMAs would have been regarded as decisive. Or the Jeremiah Wright controversy. Or the "cling to guns and religion" controversy.

Instead, the reviews after the election said that Obama ran a "near-perfect campaign," or even a "perfect campaign." We don't know how the Obama campaign would have looked if, for instance, the financial implosion hadn't happened, or if John McCain had chosen a better VP candidate (although maybe the Palin pick was eight years ahead of its time).

All campaigns are flawed. The Clinton campaign might have been more flawed than most, but circumstances always make winners look like geniuses.

If you want my pet theory, it's simply that we elect the more charismatic, mediagenic candidate every four years, and we've done that in every election since at least 1976, if not earlier. (Johnson-Goldwater might be the last obvious exception to the rule.) I don't really agree with Charlie Pierce that Trump was a great candidate, but he was the more compelling one. And maybe that was enough. Maybe campaign savvy doesn't matter as much as we think.