Thursday, November 30, 2017


Josh Marshall writes:
If the ‘Tillerson swapped out for Pompeo and then Pompeo replaced by Tom Cotton‘ shakeup actually happens, it will be amazing the degree to which Trump’s core campaign message – disengagement from aggressive, regime change-oriented policies in the Middle East – turned out to be unmitigated bullshit.

It’s not that it’s surprising of course. Trump campaigned as a champion of middle class ‘real Americans’ against Wall Street and coastal elite fat cats. He’s ended up presiding over an extreme Club for Growth handouts to Wall Street economic policy. But Trump’s anti-Middle East interventionism seemed a bit more core to his beliefs.

Don’t get me wrong. It was always 100% clear to me that Trump would have a highly militaristic foreign policy.... But if you had to pick one member of the current US Senate most in line with, most identified with the militarist, neoconservative foreign policy that drove Bush foreign policy in his first term, it’s Tom Cotton. Not even close. He carries the water for that crew and he is part of that crew.
Did you ever believe that Trump was serious about anti-interventionism? I didn't. I assumed he was serious about wanting America not to look like a loser (because not looking like a loser is one of the few fundamental precepts in what passes for Trump's moral code). And I assumed he hated the Bushes, for whatever reason. I assumed he picked up some skepticism about Republican wars from hanging out with Democratic politicians and rich Democratic donors in the days before he became a Fox News junkie and your crank wingnut uncle. And then Steve Bannon fed him a load of pseudointellectual semi-paleoconservatism that gave him a framework for attacking ex-president George W. Bush, expected GOP frontrunner Jeb Bush, and ultimate Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton. But Trump never really believed Bannon's ideas. He just thought they worked well as pot-stirrers, so he tossed them in a blender with his own hyperaggression, and the result was that he'd attack the Iraq War one day and promise to "bomb the shit out of" jihadists the next. If there's a core belief in there, it's "I can win any war, but everyone else is an idiot whose wars we shouldn't fight." And of course Trump would warm to Cotton -- Cotton is a Trump suck-up and, as an ex-soldier, the closest thing in Congress to the generals who regularly inspire mancrushes in Trump. So let's prepare for war with Iran -- and let's face it, there won't be a peep of protest from Bannon's Breitbart, because he was a phony war skeptic, too.


Axios's Mike Allen reports:
Exhausted by the Trump presidency? Brace yourself: White House officials expect Trump to be even more outrageous and cocksure in coming months.

What we're hearing: Officials tell us Trump seems more self-assured, more prone to confidently indulging wild conspiracies and fantasies, more quick-triggered to fight than he was during the Wild West of the first 100 days in office.

* Imagine Trump if he signs a huge tax cut into law, which seems likely, amid soaring stocks and rising economic growth.

* Imagine if Roy Moore wins in Alabama, which seems likely, too. It surely won't humble Trump — or hem him in.
Allen goes on to describe the last few days as "the most unthinkable 96 hours of Trump's reign." Really? They just seem like more of the same, although maybe cranked up to 11. How can Trump possibly become worse than he's been?

By openly embracing Nazism? By unleashing goon squads to beat up journalists and other critics? It could happen, but I remain skeptical. Trump still seems willing to push the envelope only so far. His administration is doing horrible things, but it's doing them using conventional levers of government -- pushing an unspeakably awful tax bill, putting up unqualified extremists for judgeships, politicizing the oversight of mergers. It's like a national version of the Scott Walker or Sam Brownback governorships. It's not Hitler, even though it's appalling.

Trump seems to have grasped his role in all this: He says and tweets outrageous things that mostly have nothing to do with the governing process, we all react, he gets ego gratification, heartland white voters get thrills up their legs and remain loyal to the GOP -- and Congress works with his White House team to radically transform America. It's taken a year, but the key players on the GOP side have found their niches.

Allen notes that congressional Republicans are acting happy now:
Elected Republicans, at least in public, seem fine with it all. They chuckle and say it's simply Trump being Trump. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and his staff seem fine with, or at least resigned to, this reality. No one who matters is doing anything but egging him on.

* Case in point: Amid all of this, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) calls Trump "one of the best presidents I've served under."

* Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) gushed that he's never seen Trump in finer form than digging into the tax bill this week.
I suppose Hatch and Graham know that he loves flattery, but I also think they know that it's working now -- the tax bill is likely to pass. It's an untraditional way of getting the sausage made, but they'll take it.

Over at Politico, Rich Lowry Is also content:
... Trump’s presidency operates on a largely separate track than his Twitter feed and his other off-script interjections and pronouncements. His domestic policy is so conventional that it could have been cooked up by Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell—and, in fact, it was. He’s pursued a largely status quo foreign policy....

It’s possible that Trump sees Twitter—and his other provocations—as a way to stir the pot, entertain himself, stoke his base, flog his enemies, and vent his frustrations separate and distinct from decisions of government, undertaken under the influence of, by and large, impressive, well-meaning advisers.

Trump’s presidency is much better than his Twitter feed.
I don't believe he's calculating about this -- I'd say he's more intuitive. But it's working now. He'll keep distracting us with shiny-object tweets, not because he truly grasps how they affect the process but because they please him, and the country will be handed over to plutocrats and other interest groups on a completely separate track. It's working now.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017


Famous men are being exposed as sexual predators, and Jonah Goldberg has a complaint:
The ongoing cascade of sexual-harassment violations is fascinating for all sorts of reasons. But one thing has been nagging at me for a while and Patrick Ruffini put his finger on it this morning:

When the allegations about Bill O’Reilly and Roger Ailes came out, the mainstream media had a field day. But there was no larger feeding frenzy. Last year it was a “Fox News” story, not a “societal problem” story. It took the Harvey Weinstein allegations to get the mainstream press to start asking uncomfortable questions about its own institutions. I can think of several reasons for this, but one that stands out is the tribalism of media itself.

The Fox stories confirmed, to one extent or another, what a lot of mainstream liberals think about Fox or about conservatives generally: They’re retrograde. They’re bad. That’s the kind of thing that goes on over there.
I'd say that the scandals at Fox News were covered as separate from the wider American culture because Fox News regards itself as separate from the wider American culture. It expresses nothing but contempt for other parts of the news media. It portrays popular culture (with a few exceptions, like country music and religious-themed movies) as sleazy and decadent. It claims to speak for all of America, but it portrays anyone who doesn't agree with its point of view as not really American.

Fox built a cordon around itself. We didn't build it.

Goldberg continues:
One of my longstanding gripes is how when conservatives do something bad, it’s proof of the inherent badness of conservatives and conservatism. But when liberals do something bad, it is immediately turned into an indictment of America itself. Joe McCarthy’s excesses were a window into the nature of conservatism, according to historians, intellectuals, and journalists. But when liberals — Attorney General Palmer, Woodrow Wilson, et al. — did far worse, the villain was America itself. When conservatives are racist, it is because they are conservatives. When liberals are racist it is because racism is an “American sin.”
I don't know where Goldberg sees this careful sorting. I don't see it. Witch hunts are witch hunts, and racism is racism; they're both stains on the individual perpetrators as well as on America as a whole.

... is it crazy to think that there’s a problem specific to liberalism at work here? I mean this all started with Harvey Weinstein, and he first thought he could survive the scandal by promising to go after the NRA. Where did he get that idea? Maybe because he had good reason to think it would work?
Well, it didn't work. It was clearly naked opportunism on the part of a desperate sociopath, and nobody fell for it.

And no, there isn't a problem specific to liberalism at work here. We're seeing stories of sexual misconduct in politics, entertainment, and the media itself because these three fields get a disproportionate share of media coverage. But harassment and assault happen everywhere. This week we learned that there have been 180 sexual assault claims connected to a chain of massage spas. A couple of weeks ago, HuffPost reported on widespread sexual misconduct aimed at hotel and casino workers. Is this a liberal problem? A conservative problem? I'm pretty sure it's a male problem.

Goldberg acknowledges that ("The problem lies not in ideology but in human nature"), but he's still ... peeved:
... it seems fairly obvious to me that the press enjoyed the [Roger] Ailes and [Bill] O’Reilly stories precisely because they involved toppling someone else’s icons. Where there was barely constrained glee in the voices of many pundits and reporters when it came to exposing the sins of Ailes and O’Reilly, there’s equally obvious remorse when it comes to Matt Lauer, Mark Halperin, NPR’s David Sweeney, and, obviously, Bill Clinton. It speaks well of the media that it’s reporting these things anyway. But it would be a good thing for the press to meditate on what that remorse (and glee) says about its own tribalism.
If there's more remorse in the media reaction to the downfall of the latter group, and more glee at the downfall of Ailes and O'Reilly, it's because Ailes and O'Reilly proudly proclaimed that they hated the non-conservative media, as well as the part of America that didn't like their work (which was the rest of the media's audience).

But I don't agree that the reaction to the more recent scandals has consisted largely of remorse. Ask some women how they feel about these guys getting their comeuppance. They don't sound very remorseful.


It's been a crazy news day, but I want to direct your attention to something that isn't front-page news: another poll in the Roy Moore-Doug Jones Senate race. Like the one I told you about yesterday, this one shows Moore bouncing back, though that's not what I want to focus on.
[An] Alabama Senate poll released this week has Republican Roy Moore leading Democrat Doug Jones as his base appears to be solidifying as the distance grows since the initial allegations against Moore.

Louisiana-based JMC Analytics and Polling released its latest Senate poll on Wednesday morning with Moore holding a 5-point edge on Jones. Moore got 49 percent support to Jones' 44 percent.

The same polling firm had Jones with a 4-point lead earlier this month in a poll conducted immediately after The Washington Post's Nov. 9 story that included allegations that Moore had improper sexual contact with a then 14-year-old girl in the 1970s.
I want to point out the results for two of the poll's questions:

If you can't read this, the questions are "Given the campaign that Doug Jones has run so far, do you think that he is qualified to serve as US Senator?" and "Given the campaign that Roy Moore has run so far, do you think that he is qualified to serve as US Senator?" Alabama is a red, Trump-loving state (he has 52% job approval in this poll), so I'm not surprised that Moore is seen as more qualified (49%) than unqualified (43%).

But look at the Jones numbers: 40% of respondents say he's unqualified. Why? I'm sure a lot of these red-state voters don't like Jones, don't agree with him on many issues, and don't approve of the national Democratic Party -- but does that make him unqualified?

I'm no fan of the Republicans, but I don't think most of their candidates are unqualified to serve -- sure, Trump is, and I'd have said the same thing about Ben Carson if he'd been the 2016 nominee. But Jeb Bush? Marco Rubio? John Kasich? I don't like their politics, but they're qualified. I'd even say Ted Cruz is qualified -- a loony extremist, yes, but a qualified one.

The numbers here might be inflated because Republican poll respondents want to play "I'm rubber, you're glue" in reaction to questions about their hero Roy Moore's fitness to serve. But still: Is this an indication of Republican voters' baseline belief regarding Democrats -- that any Democrat is unfit to serve, just by dint of being a Democrat?


In The New York Times, there's a new story from Maggie Haberman and Jonathan Martin about President Trump's delusions. Yesterday, after Haberman previewed the story on CNN, I gave you my thoughts about Trump's recent assertions that the Access Hollywood tape in which he boasts about groping women was fabricated or doctored -- Trump, I said, has trained himself not to process reality the way the rest of us do, and simply doesn't believe what he'd rather not believe, even when an unpleasant fact is incontrovertibly true.

Trump has to perform a lot of mental gymnastics to make himself believe that he didn't say the things he said on that tape -- but I don't think a couple of other Haberman/Martin revelations imply unhealthy thought processes on Trump's part:
Advisers say he continues to privately harbor a handful of conspiracy theories that have no grounding in fact.

In recent months, they say, Mr. Trump has used closed-door conversations to question the authenticity of President Barack Obama’s birth certificate. He has also repeatedly claimed that he lost the popular vote last year because of widespread voter fraud, according to advisers and lawmakers.
You don't have to be mentally ill to be a birther -- you just have to be a Republican. In a 2016 NBC/Survey Monkey poll, only about a quarter of Republicans said that Obama was born in the U.S.; the rest didn't believe it or weren't sure.

And voter fraud? The Republican Party has been telling us since the Bush years that voter fraud is rampant. One GOP-run state after another has enacted laws to make registering and voting more difficult for groups that are disproportionately Democratic, all in an effort to wipe out this scourge. If you're in the conservative media bubble, you're not insane to believe that voter fraud is widespread -- you just believe what you're told by people you trust.

If Trump doesn't think the Access Hollywood tape is genuine, he's lying to himself about himself. But if he believes in birtherism and thinks there's a voter fraud epidemic, that just means he's like millions of other Republicans. Falling for effective, relentless propaganda is not a sign of mental illness.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017


Bruce Bartlett, the former Reagan and Poppy Bush aide who now says that "the Republican Party needs to die," reminds us of the GOP's long game in this New York Daily News op-ed, which was published just after the appalling Senate tax bill was approved by the Budget Committee:
So why are Republicans so obsessed with slashing taxes?

... The main reason is that a huge tax cut cements Republican policy into place even if Democrats regain control of Congress and the White House.

In fact, I think many Republicans know and expect that they may lose control of Congress in 2018 and the White House in 2020. Their tax cut will ensure that the era of Democratic control will be brief and unpopular....

Republican deficit hawks, who are now AWOL, will suddenly reappear the moment Trump signs the tax cut. The media will be filled with reports from leading authorities about how the deficit endangers the country in a variety of ways, arguing that action must be taken immediately.

But taxes will be off the table because of the tax pledge. Therefore, all deficit reduction must come from spending cuts. And of course, defense cuts will be off the table. Therefore, the bulk of cuts will have to come from so-called entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare because that’s all that will be left.

After a Democrat wins in 2020, he or she will be browbeaten into supporting a tax increase just as Bill Clinton was. Once that happens, Republicans will be off to the races. They will retake control of Congress in 2022 just as they did in 1994. A Republican President will win in 2024 and make privatization of Social Security a prime goal.

... the long-term Republican plan to shrink government will continue.
It's a vicious cycle. But what if the cycle doesn't cycle, because of another Republican scheme -- the one that limits Democrats' political power by monkeying with the electoral process?

I think Democrats have a good shot at retaking the House in 2018 -- but even if voters choose Democrats over Republicans by a large margin, Republicans will still have a shot at retaining the House or limiting the Democrats' new majority to a tiny handful of seats. And it's unlikely that Democrats will take the Senate next year, because so many more Democratic than Republican seats are in play.

And how likely is it that Democrats will win the presidency in 2020? Trump's popularity is low, but it's still not close to Nixon-in-1974 or Bush-in-2008 levels. GOP vote suppression techniques are only likely to expand with Trump-picked judges rubber-stamping them in the courts. Combine that with Democratic infighting, and add in the mainstream media's habitual willingness to retransmit right-wing smears of prominent Democrats, and I think a Democratic victory in 2020 is far from assured -- yes, even if Trump is running for reelection, and yes, even if Trumponomics has made life miserable for ordinary Americans, and yes, even if Robert Mueller has demonstrated that Trump colluded with the Russians. Heartland tribalism will ensure that Trump wins the majority of the white vote even under those conditions. He really might win the Electoral College yet again.

On the one hand, Republicans are reducing Democratic electoral victories to the bare minimum. On the other hand, Republicans are assuming that Democrats will win every once in a while with a mandate to clean up Republican messes, after which the Dems will be blamed for the national malaise that Republicans engineered, with the result being results in a return to GOP control. I wonder whether these two Republican schemes are working at cross purposes.

If Republicans never lose power, eventually it's going to be impossible even for white heartland tribalists to blame anyone but the GOP for the godawful state of American life. The bad news is that that moment might not come until Year Six of a Trump presidency. The good news is that the backlash might be huge.

Then again, the anti-GOP backlash was huge in 2006 and 2008. Democrats got some things done, but not nearly enough. It's still the GOP's country, as it has been since the 1980s. I don't know when that will really change.


According to a poll from Change Research, Doug Jones used to have a lead over Roy Moore, but it's gone:
Alabama Republican Roy Moore has reopened a 49–44 lead over Democrat Doug Jones in the race for U.S. Senate. In Change Research’s third poll since the sexual misconduct allegations against Moore first surfaced on November 9, we found that he has completely erased the 3-point lead Jones had opened up in mid-November. Moore’s lead is now just as large as it was just after the story broke.

... Compared to ten days ago, fewer Republicans believe the allegations against Moore. While all voters believed the allegations by a 46–30 margin ten days ago, they now believe them by only 42–38. Among Trump voters, the split was 16–51 (believe-don’t believe) in the middle of the month, and it’s 9–63 now.

... Donald Trump also expressed his support for Moore this week, and it may have provided the Republican with a small bump. The vast majority of voters said it had no impact on their plans. However, about 3.5% of Trump’s voters, or just under 2% of the entire electorate, said that Trump’s support pushed them closer to supporting Moore.
I don't think it's Trump per se. I think it's GOP politicians and the conservative noise machine getting into lockstep (as usual) on a few potent messages: The liberal media lies! The timing of the allegations is just too convenient! We can't possibly elect an abortion-loving socialist!

The pull of conservative white tribalism is so strong that it's nearly impossible to overcome. Sometimes Democrats can outvote it (as in Virginia this year), and sometimes the GOP temporarily fails to inspire it (think of 1992, 2006, 2008, and the top of the ticket in 1996 and 2012), but if a Republican runs as an unabashed champion of the tribe, he or she is going to inspire the tribe no matter what scandals may emerge -- in fact, news reports of scandals will ensure the tribe's loyalty to the candidate, except perhaps just after the scandal breaks.

Maybe Hillary Clinton could have trounced Trump if the Access Hollywood tape had landed less than a week before Election Day; the same goes for the sex charges against Moore. In both cases, the time gap gave the candidates the opportunity to play the victim-of-the-all-powerful-liberals card.

Moore's going to win this, and it won't be close. Charlie Pierce is right:

If a new scandal erupts late next week, maybe Moore will lose. Otherwise, he's Alabama's next senator.


CNN's Brian Stelzer quotes Maggie Haberman of The New York Times on President Trump and the Access Hollywood tape:

A couple of days ago, Haberman and two Times colleagues reported on the first two sources for this:
... something deeper has been consuming Mr. Trump. He sees the calls for [Roy] Moore to step aside [in the Alabama Senate race] as a version of the response to the now-famous “Access Hollywood” tape, in which he boasted about grabbing women’s genitalia, and the flood of groping accusations against him that followed soon after. He suggested to a senator earlier this year that it was not authentic, and repeated that claim to an adviser more recently.
A year ago, of course, Trump not only acknowledged that the video was genuine but apologized for it.

Is he now forgetting things he once knew? Is this dementia?

I don't think it's dementia. I think it's just that Trump doesn't remember things the way you and I do. He doesn't believe that truth is what you and I think it is.

Trump is a one-man power-of-positive-thinking cult, with himself as both cult leader and eager follower. I think Trump has trained his mind to substitute "what's good for Trump" for "what's true." Last year, when he was persuaded that acknowledging the veracity of the video and apologizing was in his best interests, he conceded that it was genuine. It was Trump having a transactional relationship with the truth: Yes, truth, I need you momentarily to get through this bad patch. Let's make a deal. But the truth, in this case, interferes with Trump's exalted image of himself (not because he believes that being a genital-grabber is a bad thing, but because he got caught and was criticized). He needs to believe he's a uniquely excellent person, and that everyone agrees on that except idiots and losers. So I think he now believes what he wants to believe -- that the whole embarrassing incident was concocted out of whole cloth by resentful, jealous members of the loser class -- and believes it must be the truth because it's preferable to the real truth.

In other words, I think Trump gaslights himself. I think he tells himself that he's never done anything to embarrass himself, and that any setbacks in his life were just traps set sadistically for him by people who resent his success and his brilliance. This isn't dementia. It's a sort of Zen -- he's banished the notion of real truth from his mind in favor of the notion that a superior being can make truth whatever he wants it to be, not just for the suckers but for himself. I think he really believes what he tells himself. And that's terrifying.

Monday, November 27, 2017


You'll rarely read a story more satisfying than this one:
A woman who falsely claimed to The Washington Post that Roy Moore, the Republican U.S. Senate candidate in Alabama, impregnated her as a teenager appears to work with an organization that uses deceptive tactics to secretly record conversations in an effort to embarrass its targets....

The Post did not publish an article based on her unsubstantiated account. When Post reporters confronted her with inconsistencies in her story and an Internet posting that raised doubts about her motivations, she insisted that she was not working with any organization that targets journalists.

But on Monday morning, Post reporters saw her walking into the New York offices of Project Veritas....
It's a joy to watch one of James O'Keefe's saboteurs fail. You'll want to read every word. You'll want to watch the videos. Trust me.

But why did this happen? It happened because right-wingers have telling one another preposterous lies about the evils of the "lamestream media" for years, and now they fully believe them.

Here's how the failed sting was supposed to work:
In a series of interviews over two weeks, the woman shared a dramatic story about an alleged sexual relationship with Moore in 1992 that led to an abortion when she was 15. During the interviews, she repeatedly pressed Post reporters to give their opinions on the effects that her claims could have on Moore’s candidacy if she went public.
She tells a completely phony story about her past -- and assumes that one of the top newspapers in America won't even do a minimal amount of fact-checking to try to verify it. She also seems to assume that in the course of her conversations with Post reporters, one of them is going to blurt out something on the order of "Oh yeah, once we run this story, Roy Moore is going down. Woo-hoo! Win one for the resistance, baby!"

That's not just what O'Keefe et al. want -- it's what they think is reasonable to expect: that the Post will run any story that hurts a Republican, phony or not, because its reporters are nakedly biased, and that the reporters will openly display that bias in response to the slightest prodding.

The simplest explanation is that this is projection -- every right-wing media outlet regards itself as part of the Struggle, so conservatives assume that mainstream journalists are partisan lefties who feel the same way and flaunt their biases on the job. But even Fox News wouldn't be as cavalier about the facts as O'Keefe and company expect the Post to be.

These folks expect the mainstream press to be the cartoon villain everybody in their bubble says it is. They live in a fantasy world -- but they just got slapped in the face by reality.


OR IN OTHER WORDS: What these people believe is that the mainstream media actually operates the way "Bernie Bernstein" does in the fake robocall that was heard in Alabama shortly after the first Roy Moore sex stories broke:
“Hi, this is Bernie Bernstein. I’m a reporter for The Washington Post calling to find out if anyone at this address is a female between the ages of 54 to 57 years old willing to make damaging remarks about candidate Roy Moore for a reward of between $5,000 and $7,000,” it said. “We will not be fully investigating these claims. However, we will make a written report.”
They don't think that's far-fetched at all.


It's fifteen days before Alabama voters choose a new senator, and the race finally has a write-in candidate -- a little-known, underfunded write-in candidate.
A retired Marine colonel who once served as a top aide to White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly plans to launch a long-shot write-in campaign Monday afternoon to become Alabama’s next senator, with just 15 days left in the campaign.

Lee Busby, 60, of Tuscaloosa, Ala., said he thinks that the allegations of sexual impropriety against Republican nominee Roy Moore have created an opportunity for a centrist candidate to win more than a third of the state’s votes in the Dec. 12 special election....

Busby, who was lacking any formal campaign structure or even a working website as of Monday morning, said he is counting on social media to spread the word about his campaign. He said he plans to run as an independent on his record as an investment banker, military leader and defense contractor and entrepreneur. He spent the weekend working on a logo and said he is just starting to explore the legal requirements for raising money for a campaign.
In other words, Busby is going to do about as well in this election as Evan McMullin did in the presidential election. He's going to win a tiny percentage of the vote.

But could he peel off enough Republicans to deny Moore a victory? I don't think that's how the election is going to play out.

By Alabama standards, Busby is middle of the road:
Busby said he voted for Ohio Gov. John Kasich in the 2016 Republican presidential primary and Donald Trump in the general election. He said he supports Republican efforts to lower taxes, though he has not examined the House and Senate tax reform proposals. He said that he wants to repeal Obamacare and that life begins at conception, though there should be exceptions in antiabortion laws for cases of rape, incest or threats to the life of the mother.
It's likely that a certain number of voters who normally vote Republican have qualms about Moore, because they think his God-bothering goes too far or because they're disturbed by the sex allegations against him. Some might be thinking of voting for Democrat Doug Jones -- but if they find out about Busby's campaign, they can vote for him without voting for either Moore or (horrors!) a Democrat. So I think the candidate Busby could hurt is Jones.

Or, more likely, Moore's going to win by a comfortable margin. Polls are close, but I suspect that many GOP voters will come home at the last minute, or have already settled on Moore but aren't saying so out loud. If they need an excuse for their moral relativism, they can just say that John Conyers and Al Franken are still in office, so why not a perv who's their perv? However, I hope I'm wrong.


If Republicans pass a tax bill, the Johnson Amendment could be history.
For years, a coalition of well-funded groups on the religious right have waged an uphill battle to repeal a 1954 law that bans churches and other nonprofit groups from engaging in political activity.

Now, those groups are edging toward a once-improbable victory as Republican lawmakers, with the enthusiastic backing of President Trump, prepare to rewrite large swaths of the United States tax code as part of the $1.5 trillion tax package moving through Congress.

Among the changes in the tax bill that passed the House this month is a provision to roll back the 1954 ban....

The sudden movement toward their goal appears to trace back to a January 2016 meeting that Mr. Trump, then a presidential candidate, had convened at his Trump Tower office in Manhattan with evangelical leaders he was courting.

That meeting helped lead to a campaign pledge by Mr. Trump to repeal the ban, known as the Johnson Amendment, and set the stage for its inclusion in the tax code overhaul that passed the House.
The Senate might not pass a tax bill, and if it does, the House and Senate might not agree on a compromise between its version of the bill and the Senate's. The House version repeals the Johnson Amendment; so far, the Senate version doesn't.

But if repeal happens and preachers are free to endorse candidates from the pulpit without risking their churches' tax-exempt status, here's one thing I guarantee will happen: The mainstream media will be shocked at how political churches become, particularly white conservative heartland churches. We'll be told that churches are politicizing more rapidly than anyone expected and that the remarks from the pulpits are more partisan and vitriolic than anyone anticipated.

These will be the same reporters who are shocked that Donald Trump is fervently support by evangelicals, and who still can't quite believe that the religious right is sticking with Roy Moore.

Some churches will decide not to alienate non-conservative congregants, but others will just let their #MAGA flags fly. And mainstream journalists will get the vapors, even though they should know better.

Sunday, November 26, 2017


Marc Lacey of The New York Times has written a response to critics of Richard Fausset's profile of an Ohio Nazi named Tony Hovater. Lacey acknowledges reader criticism of Fausset's piece...
Whatever our goal, a lot of readers found the story offensive, with many seizing on the idea we were normalizing neo-Nazi views and behavior. “How to normalize Nazis 101!” one reader wrote on Twitter. “I’m both shocked and disgusted by this article,” wrote another. “Attempting to ‘normalize’ white supremacist groups – should Never have been printed!”
But Lacey's response can summed up in one sentence: You're wrong, and we were right to publish this.

Here are Lacey's arguments:

You have no right to criticize Fausset because he's really, really smart.
We assigned Richard Fausset, one of our smartest thinkers and best writers, to profile one of the far-right foot soldiers at the rally.
It's really not fair to criticize Fausset, given how hard he worked and how many assignments he was juggling when he wrote this piece.
Our reporter went to Ohio to spend time with Mr. Hovater and submitted several drafts and updates in between assignments that included Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and the Roy Moore campaign in Alabama. The story finally ran online Saturday.
We work really hard, and you have people have no gratitude.
Our reporter and his editors agonized over the tone and content of the article.
You're not even smart enough to understand what we were trying to do.
The point of the story was not to normalize anything but to describe the degree to which hate and extremism have become far more normal in American life than many of us want to think.
Ultimately, even if we made mistakes, our instincts were right.
We recognize that people can disagree on how best to tell a disagreeable story. What we think is indisputable, though, is the need to shed more light, not less, on the most extreme corners of American life and the people who inhabit them. That’s what the story, however imperfectly, tried to do.
I don't think it's "indisputable" that we "need to shed more light ... on the most extreme corners of American life and the people who inhabit them" if what that means is that we see extremists going to the grocery store and cooking pasta. If all you have to say as a reporter is that the Nazis next door are not cartoon villains, that's not "shedding light," because they are engaged in monstrous activity when they're not shopping for food and cooking and you're ignoring that. That's what we need to know about. Or we need to know what happens to people on the receiving end of what these Nazis do. Banality of evil? Stipulated. Don't waste our time on what we already know.


The New York Times is being criticized and mocked for a profile of Tony Hovater, an Ohio welder who makes pasta, likes Seinfeld -- and is a Nazi. The Times and the author of the profile, Richard Fausset, are being accused of normalizing Nazism, and of publishing this profile while the mainstream media continues to ignore liberals, Democrats, and non-whites when deciding which ordinary Americans illuminate the way we live now.

I agree wholeheartedly with the latter critique.

In a separate piece on the Times site, Fausset describes his story as a failure:
There is a hole at the heart of my story about Tony Hovater, the white nationalist and Nazi sympathizer.

Why did this man — intelligent, socially adroit and raised middle class amid the relatively well-integrated environments of United States military bases — gravitate toward the furthest extremes of American political discourse?

... what ... explained Mr. Hovater’s radical turn? What prompted him to take his ideas beyond his living room, beyond the chat rooms, and on to Charlottesville, where he marched in August alongside allies like the neo-Confederate League of the South and the Detroit-based National Socialist Movement, which bills itself as “America’s Premier White Civil Rights Organization”? Where was his Rosebud?
Fausset tells us:
He spoke of a number of moments that soured him on mainstream politics, none of them particularly exotic. One was the Republican National Committee’s rule changes, during the 2012 convention, that worked against Mr. Hovater’s preferred candidate at the time, the libertarian Ron Paul, and in favor of Mitt Romney, the eventual Republican nominee. Mr. Hovater called it “the first time I thought about how a system will protect itself, and its own interests, to protect what it is they really want.”
In the main story, Fausset writes:
[Hovater's] political evolution — from vaguely leftist rock musician to ardent libertarian to fascist activist — was largely fueled by the kinds of frustrations that would not seem exotic to most American conservatives. He believes the federal government is too big, the news media is biased, and that affirmative action programs for minorities are fundamentally unfair.
And maybe that's the reason Fausset couldn't find a Rosebud -- because within-the-pale conservative political thought is so close to Nazi thinking that moving from one to the other doesn't require a drastic change of perspective.

Ron Paul's libertarianism was a cesspool of bigotry and paranoia -- and yet he was portrayed as the kindly old purist in a couple of presidential contests, and his son was briefly described by the mainstream media as the most interesting man in politics. Believing that "the federal government is too big, the news media is biased, and ... affirmative action programs for minorities are fundamentally unfair" leads as easily to Nazism as it does to mainstream Republicanism.

Fausset wanted to discover why Hovater became a Nazi when the real mystery is why conservative avowals of full-fledged Nazism are relatively rare. The line has been blurred for years, as Jeremy Alford of the Times noted in 2014, when Louisiana congressman Steve Scalise was promoted to a leadership position in the House of Representatives and it was revealed that he'd once spoken before an organization connected to David Duke:
During the 1991 race for governor, Mr. Duke attempted to build a bridge between the Klansman he was and the polished politician he wanted to be.

... he focused on anti-big government and anti-tax mantras that preceded the Tea Party movement. His decision to run to the right of the field is now a common maneuver in Louisiana’s open primary system.

Mr. Duke supported forcing welfare recipients to take birth control. Now there are near-perennial attempts by members of the Louisiana Legislature to give welfare recipients drug tests.

After being elected to the state House of Representatives in 1989, Mr. Duke filed nine bills, including measures implementing stricter guidelines for residents of public housing, repealing affirmative action programs and eliminating minority set-asides.
At the time, Scalise had to disavow a reporter's recollection of his early days in politics:
Stephanie Grace, a Louisiana political reporter and columnist for the past 20 years, first with The Times-Picayune in New Orleans and now The Advocate of Baton Rouge, recalled her first meeting with Mr. Scalise.

“He was explaining his politics and we were in this getting-to-know-each-other stage,” Ms. Grace said. “He told me he was like David Duke without the baggage. I think he meant he supported the same policy ideas as David Duke, but he wasn’t David Duke, that he didn’t have the same feelings about certain people as David Duke did.”
Not much is known for certain about what Scalise said in his speech to Duke's organization:
... Corey Ortis, who was a Louisiana representative for the organization from 2000 to 2004, said he attended the 2002 conference to hear from leaders of their movement, not Mr. Scalise. Still, from what he recalls of the event, Mr. Scalise gave a 10-to-15-minute presentation that was “the typical mainstream Republican thing” and not “too far right.”

“He touched on how America was founded on Christian principles, Christian men who founded this country, and how it was believed it would go forward as a Christian nation and how we’re getting away from that,” Mr. Ortis said.
Scalise spoke to a racist organization and it doesn't matter -- he survived the story and now has a firm hold on his leadership position.

And now a man who's soft on Nazis is the president of the United States.

Becoming an out-and-out Nazi or racialist might make your life more difficult in America, but it doesn't require a massive ideological leap. You merely have to choose to live as a semi-outlaw. If you're like Hovater, you can easily blend in if you're reasonably well behaved most of the time and you're a quiet neighbor. And if you're lucky, a New York Times anthropologist-wannabe will come looking for you, to find out what makes you tick.

Saturday, November 25, 2017


Hi, I'm back. Thank you again, Yastreblyansky, Tom, and Crank, for smart posts while I was away.

Today I come back to a good New York Times story with a naive lede:
Of all the State Department employees who might have been vulnerable in the staff reductions that Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson has initiated as he reshapes the department, the one person who seemed least likely to be a target was the chief of security, Bill A. Miller.

Republicans pilloried Hillary Clinton for what they claimed was her inadequate attention to security as secretary of state in the months before the deadly 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya. Congress even passed legislation mandating that the department’s top security official have unrestricted access to the secretary of state.

But in his first nine months in office, Mr. Tillerson turned down repeated and sometimes urgent requests from the department’s security staff to brief him, according to several former top officials in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security. Finally, Mr. Miller, the acting assistant secretary for diplomatic security, was forced to cite the law’s requirement that he be allowed to speak to Mr. Tillerson.

Mr. Miller got just five minutes with the secretary of state, the former officials said. Afterward, Mr. Miller, a career Foreign Service officer, was pushed out, joining a parade of dismissals and early retirements that has decimated the State Department’s senior ranks.
If you believe that Miller "seemed least likely to be a target" of downsizing because his area of concern was one that Republicans saw as tragically neglected by Hillary Clinton, with the result being Benghazi, then you don't understand Republicans at all.

It isn't just that Republicans are hypocrites. We see that every time they propose a tax cut under a GOP president that will drastically increase the national debt after spending years whining about debt when a Democrat is in the White House. No, it's more than that.

Precisely because they've spent so much time talking about Benghazi, Miller was an easy cutback target. Benghazi gives them a whataboutist Get Out of Jail Free card if their calculated indifference to security at diplomatic outposts has tragic consequences. The Trump administration could lose hundreds of people in an attack on a diplomatic property, and all the Trumpists would have to say is "BUT BENGHAZI!!!" They've persuaded millions of Americans that Benghazi was a bloodbath of 9/11 proportions, so those Americans will automatically believe that whatever just happened, Benghazi was immeasurably worse.

It's possible that no calamity on Trump's watch will have negative consequences for him, because he's persuaded his voters that the last eight years were a nightmare hellscape that has no precedent in American history. Trump and his cabinet officers can pretty much do what they want.

In the future we'll remember Tillerson the way we remember Donald Rumsfeld -- as an arrogant narcissist CEO who wants us all to know he has Big Ideas, and who measures his success by how many career officials he pisses off. I don't understand the psychopathology of people like this, but they do rise to the top in Republican administrations, don't they?

TLDR: Pandering to Religious Wingnuts Is Always a Terrible Idea

Politico has a piece by Michael Wear, former "faith outreach coordinator" under President Obama (and author of a piece last year on the Democrats' "religion problem"), advising Doug Jones to pander to white evangelicals:
[T]here’s one potentially crippling problem for Jones: his extreme position on abortion. In a recent interview, NBC’s Chuck Todd asked Jones, “[W]hat are the limitations that you believe should be in the law when it comes to abortion?” Jones responded that he is a “firm believer that a woman should have the freedom to choose what happens to her body,” and affirmed his support for contraception and for a woman’s right to “the abortion that they might need”....

It would be difficult for Jones to nuance his personal position on abortion through rhetoric alone at this point, because his public statements have been so strident and well-circulated by conservative media and the Moore campaign. Instead, the stakes of this election might justify an extraordinary step: He could pledge to vote “present” on abortion-related legislation and amendments....

It is not just that Jones’ positions on abortion and religious freedom are out of step with Alabama voters—his answers suggest a lack of interest in understanding the legitimate concerns of many Alabamians. The Supreme Court has had to rule on religious freedom multiple times over just the past decade; clearly, concerns about religious freedom are not simply the result of evangelical fever dreams....

Being a better person than Roy Moore is not enough: He’s going to have to do everything he can, within the bounds of his own conscience, to reasssure Alabamians that he won’t be pushing an agenda on social issues that’s out of step with their values.
The first problem with this is the self-serving nature of arguments that My Policy Preferences Are Good Politics. Wear thinks abortion is icky, so he says it's politically advantageous to call abortion icky. He wants Democrats to pander to religious conservatives, so he says it's politically smart to do so. Nearly all of us are prone to that particular kind of dishonesty (see: Bernie Would've Won, among a million similar examples), but that doesn't make it any smarter or more useful.

The bigger problem, though, is the assumption of good faith on the part of white evangelical conservatives:
There is also a constituency of white evangelicals in Alabama who care deeply about civil rights and overcoming racism, and Jones could win some of them over by explicitly calling them in as partners, as opposed to allowing Moore to claim the evangelical voice on the subject....

It may not be enough in Alabama, a state that has up until now been virtually assured of electing a pro-lifer, but [Jones] could at the very least make solid commitments around supporting adoption and pursuing partnership with pro-life groups to find common ground ways to continue our national progress reducing the abortion rate....

The religious freedom of Christian employees to follow their faith, or of Christian institutions to organize around their beliefs, is inextricably tied to the right of Muslims, Sikhs, Jewish Americans and other faiths to do the same....Jones should tell Alabamians that he, unlike Moore, understands that religious freedom is either going to be protected for everyone or it will fail to exist for anyone, and he should commit to applying the same skill and passion to the issue he employed in prosecuting the KKK.
What a lovely notion. But of course, Democrats spent decades going down the rabbit hole of trying to find common ground on abortion, and their efforts were never met with good faith on the other side. There's zero evidence that it would buy us anything this time.

And if the 2016 election taught us anything, it's that the white evangelican identity is 100% fraudulent--that it has nothing to do with genuine religious belief, and everything to do with tribalism. So while there are presumably some white evangelical conservatives who "care deeply about civil rights", as a group they don't. And the white evangelical notion of "religious freedom" is the "freedom" to dominate, and it isn't extended to any other group. Talking about religious freedom for Muslims isn't going to do anything to appeal to people whose tribal identity is anti-Muslim. And there is no amount of pandering Democrats can do that will win over people whose tribal identity is anti-liberal.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Fundamental and astounding

Presidential nominee, 1860, via The History Place.
David Brooks has finally come up with an idea for that new national narrative he's been talking about, I think, and it's a doozy ("America: The Redeemer Nation"), custom made for Thanksgiving: just as he's suggested in the past that Jews ought to celebrate Shavuot on Passover instead of Passover, so on Thanksgiving he's celebrating Lincoln's Second Inaugural address.

The story of America, then, can be interpreted as a series of redemptions, of injury, suffering and healing fresh starts. Look at the mottos on our Great Seal: “A New Order for the Ages” and “Out of Many, One.” In the 18th century divisions between the colonists were partially healed. In the 19th century divisions between the free and enslaved were partially healed. In the 20th, America partially healed the divisions between democracy and totalitarianism. In the 21st, we have healing fresh starts still to come.
The great sermon of redemption and reconciliation is Lincoln’s Second Inaugural.
That's such a bizarre picture of the Revolution, in the first place, "divisions between the colonists", as if the British government had nothing to do with it. It's true that some 15%-20% of the Americans nominally supported the Crown, though they never came out to fight in anywhere near the numbers the British hoped they would.

Nor is it in any sense true that "After the revolution, we quickly became allies with Britain," as Brooks puts it in an earlier paragraph. "We" were on the point of going back to war with them when war broke out between Britain and France in 1793, and the John Jay treaty in 1794 set up a period of neutrality which began growing into more and more of a cold war after Jefferson's election in 1800 and ultimately hot war in 1812. Britain came close to siding with the Confederacy in 1861, and relations remained bad until 1895 and the beginning of the "Great Rapprochement". It was touch and go for a while whether the US would side with Britain or Germany in the Great War, and the "Special Relationship" we've had throughout the memory of most of us only dates back to 1940.

Even weirder to picture the 19th-century contest as a division between "the free and enslaved", as if the Union and Lincoln himself didn't exist. Without wishing to minimize the resistance of enslaved black people through the 18th and 19th centuries, they were, you know, enslaved, and couldn't do much to end it until the states of the South rebelled after the Republican victory of 1860, and the United States government and armed forces entered the struggle (with the help of many self-liberated African Americans), fighting not against enslaved people but their enslavers. And when Brooks suggests that the divisions of that era were "partly healed" I'm not sure what he's talking about, unless its's the decision on the part of Republicans 11 years after the war ended to throw their radical faction away and to ease up on the defeated whites of the Confederacy, taking out the occupying troops and permitting a little bit of enslavement to be restored, in the form of ignoring the hard-won 14th- and 15th-Amendment rights of the former slaves for the next 90 years.

I can see the point, at least in familiar cliché terms, of talking about a struggle between democracy and two different totalitarianisms engaged alternatively for most of the 20th century, that of the right most of the time during the Second World War in alliance with communistis, and that of the left otherwise in alliance with fascists, but pretty sure I never signed up for a "partial healing" where my side agreed with Hitler or with Stalin or one of their successors not to be so darn democratic all the time, if that's what he's saying, and if it isn't I'd like to know what it is.

Driftglass says

Sexual harassment: the true story of how it happened to me, and how that affects where I come out on Roy Moore, Donald Trump, Harvey Weinstein, and others

The author of this book had it wrong. Women, militantly and justifiably raising righteous hell with male harassers, are from Mars. Men are from…well, read the story and see.
Back in my “Madmen” days, somewhere in the 1970s when I was a thirty-something copywriter, I was sexually harassed by my female boss.

It happened at an office party. I can’t remember the occasion. It wasn’t a big party — just members of our creative group  and a handful of people we worked with standing around bowls of potato chips and popcorn, sipping inexpensive wine from plastic cups.

Suddenly my boss, on whom I depended for my job, raises, favorable evaluations, and some minor supervisory authority, walked up to me and stuck her tongue in my ear.

Just before she did it she said, “You’re going to enjoy this.” She kept her tongue in my ear for quite some time, wiggling it around and purring while she breathed.

Now you have to understand that my boss — let’s call her Josephine — was about 25 years older than I was. She would have been described back then the way the writer Nicholas Von Hoffman once described Margo St. James,  founder of a San Francisco sex workers’ rights organization called Coyote. Von Hoffman described St. James as “a good old broad.”

That was Josephine, too. Without knowing absolutely every detail of her life, I was confident that she had done everything — and ingested, inhaled and snorted everything — at least twice. In some cases a whole hell of a lot more than twice.

One of my colleagues at that ad agency, a television commercial producer — let’s call him Richard — told me that once, that when he and Josephine had been shooting a commercial on location in Los Angeles, Josephine revealed that her favorite cocaine dealer was in town. The dealer was an heir to a corporate fortune. His family name appears in the company’s logotype to this day. He had nothing much to do except live in big houses on his inherited wealth, so to pass the time he got involved in various hobbies. One of them was dealing cocaine, the drug a la mode back then. I swear to you, this is all true.

Josephine and Richard drove to Mr. Big Corporate Name’s West Coast digs, where she bought a glass phial of Bolivian Happy Dust for $500. Then they went to a very fancy restaurant, where they decided to get high before going to their table. But how?

They formulated a plan. It went like this. Josephine would take the phial to the ladies’ room, lock herself in a stall, and snort up a line or two while Richard stood guard outside, to warn her by coughing loudly if another women started heading inside. Then they would reverse the process, with Josephine standing outside the men’s room door while Richard took a few snorts.

Josephine went into the ladies’ room. Richard stood guard. Suddenly he heard a loud shriek from inside, followed by Josephine’s voice screaming, “Oh no, oh no, oh no!”

Alarmed, Richard charged into the Ladies Room, where he discovered that Josephine had accidentally dropped the phial on the tile floor of a stall. It had shattered. Cocaine dust was all over the floor. What to do?

“Well hell,” said Josephine, finally putting her emotions back in some secret hiding place, “there’s no point in letting all this stuff go to waste.” She lay down on the stall floor and began sniffing cocaine off the tiles. Richard followed suit. 

Suddenly, Richard told me, while he and Josephine were lying on the floor, their legs protruding from under the stall, the door to the ladies room opened. Richard, from his low vantage point, saw a pair of feet wearing high heeled velvet pumps clack-clack-clack toward the center of the room. Suddenly, the pumps froze in place. There was a pause of perhaps four seconds. Then the pumps turned around 180 degrees and rapidly clack-clack-clacked out of there, while Josephine and Richard resumed snorting.

Anyway, that was Josephine, my boss. Uninvited, she stuck her tongue in my ear and wiggled it around while purring and breathing heavily. A clear case of sexual harassment.

Except that I rather liked it. Nothing ever came of the incident. She was ten years too late. I had dreamed of that kind of stuff when I was a teen-ager and a twenty-something. But now I was married, with a touchy wife (now an ex-wife), a kid, a house, a mortgage, and too much at risk if I dared to play around. So I passed.

But, to repeat, I liked the harassment all the same.

What does this tell us? For one thing, it is an illustration of why the title of a best seller some years ago, “Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus” is wrong, dead wrong, most especially today.

Women, at least women today, militantly and justifiably raising righteous hell with male harassers, are from Mars. And men? We’re from Penis, an place in our bodies that intrudes on and influences what must be a formidable percentage of our decisions. Like it or not, men of a certain generation have grown up in a testosterone-influenced culture. And yes, you may call it the Penis culture.

We are wired to want sex, Worse, our upbringing, however wrongfully, encouraged our wants. Which explains many things about the Madmen epoch, although it excuses nothing. It most certainly does not excuse rape, consistently creepy behavior, pederasty, or constant annoyance of any woman. However, it does account for a sublimation of sex that from time to time expresses itself as a bit of sexually-tinged playfulness, and that should in some instances, when it does not rise to the level of consistent annoyance of an individual, be given a pass. Cases concerning each point?

Harvey Weinstein, who has been accused of rape and whose brother reportedly had a career on the side buying off women whom Harvey is said to have sexually abused, does not get a pass. Plus, the reports of lawyers and a brother paying numbers of women to shut up reinforces the probability that Weinstein is a sexual predator.

Donald Trump has admitted the same. From his position of power, he boasted during a so-called “locker room talk” on a bus that he was able to grab women by their private parts and get away with it. What he did does not quite rise to the level of rape. But it does rise to the level of at least a misdemeanor sex crime. Had any other male tried the same, whether in a performers’ dressing room or on the subway, he’d be deservedly sitting behind bars now.

But Al Franken, photographed playfully pretending to grab another performer’s breasts on an airplane, a mischievous look on his face, clearly aware that a camera is pointing at him? That seems hardly at all like predation. It seems much more like a mistake in judgement, the kind of tasteless bad joke that may have been influenced by testosterone culture, but is not even close to the level of a boss who stands nude in his home, in front of an assistant, who depends on the flasher for her salary.

Yes, the woman in the Franken photograph also accuses him of unwanted kissing. But film of her during the same tour shows her engaged in a bit of sexually tinged license of her own. Clearly, this playful license was part of the culture of this particular USO tour. Check out this video from the show, about two minutes past the beginning. In her case, as well as Franken’s, the license is merely playful rather than intrusive or creepy. 

Anthony Weiner, the former U.S. Congressmen, sent to prison for texting pictures of his penis to young girls, clearly has no further business being in public life. The sexting, particularly to minors, is beyond the bounds of playfulness or flirting.

But if Weiner deserved prison, how can Roy Moore, who is accused of committing actual physical acts of pederasty (as opposed to Weiner’s acts of photography) with a 14-year-old girl get away with what he has done? Certainly he does not belong in the United States Senate if the charges against him are true. And the snowballing of similar charges by formerly underaged women keeps adding credibility to those charges. As does defense by one of his friends which seems to indicate that the friend believes that the charges are true, but that the Bible says is okay, the insist.

To be sure, there is a danger in all of this, and that is the danger of witch hunt hysteria, which not only existed in Colonial America, but which swept across Europe from the Fifteenth through the Eighteenth Centuries, resulting in hundreds of deaths by torture and fire. All anybody who wanted to get rid of, or get even with somebody else had to do was level an accusation of witchcraft.

The same kind of guilt by accusation is possible in contemporary times. That is why we will need evidence-based legal investigations, and possibly criminal trials, to determine who is a sexual predator, and who is a hapless victim either of an overreaction or a lie. (It may be telling that Franken has called for a Congressional investigation of himself, whereas Roy Moore simply growls denials.) 

But investigations are long and slow. In the case of Senatorial elections there may not be enough time. People will have to vote their commonsense judgment. 

My own common sense is telling me that Franken is guilty of little except some tasteless horsing around. But that Roy Moore may be a pederast more deserving of prison than a U.S. Senate seat.

Cross-posted at The New York Crank

Trump: Just Another Tinkerbell Republican

If there's a literary genre more embarrassing than Trump fan fic, I hope to god I never live to read any of it. It's embarrassing to me as an English speaker, as an American, and as a member of the same species as the people who write that drivel. Seriously: read some Trump fan fic and then watch Independence Day, and tell me you aren't rooting for the aliens.

Yesterday brought us a particularly ripe example in the form of a Washington Times piece called Trump proves his warrior spirit by defending Moore. The piece itself is every bit as embarrassing as the title:
At some point, every warrior eventually runs out of arrows. His armor wears thin yet grows heavier still. He must lay down his weary helmeted head for rest.

Even Coriolanus was forced to retreat — at the behest of his mother.

Not so Donald Trump.

Not a weary drop of blood pumps through the man’s veins. He wears his thick armor light as skin. His bottomless quiver is never empty.
The most striking thing about this, besides the sheer awfulness of the writing, is the Onion-esque mismatch between rhetoric and subject. I mean, this slobbering paean to imaginary epic heroism is about a guy notable for his cowardice, whose epic battle is defending a guy who sexually assaulted a minor.

Except, part of his epic heroism is equivocating about it:
Note how Mr. Trump did not endorse Judge Moore. He simply refused to endorse Democrat Doug Jones.
Yeah, Trump's weasely attempt at plausible deniability is totally Sparta, man.

But that's how Republicans roll. We saw this kind of thing before, with Bush. This is a rule: when a Republican president is at his most hapless and incompetent and indefensible, that's when the wingnut prose about him is most ludicrously adulatory.

The Republican solution is always to clap louder.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thanksgiving Cheap Shots: And Farewell to Mark Halperin

Reconstruction Thanksgiving, Thomas Nast in Harper's Weekly, 1869. Uncle Sam carving the turkey, self-government and universal suffrage on the menu, and everybody, a Native with a feather in his hair, Germans, French, Spanish, African Americans, Chinese (the Chinese woman looks more Japanese, but the child she's admonishing is wearing a Qing-dynasty queue), even a disreputable but hopeful-faced Irishman at far right, among the guests. Identity politics used to be a thing Republicans approved of! Image via Millard Fillmore's Bathtub.
Happy Thanksgiving! I'm grateful Trump's too busy watching TV to do all the harm he might otherwise be doing, glad to have a voice and wonderful readers, happy to have a big extended family to go have dinner with, and schadenfreudig that the exodus of famous but bad men from social respectability includes Charlie Rose, Leon Wieseltier, and Mark Halperin.

Following Dylan Byers awful tweet (since deleted) about the catastrophic loss of talent in the media industry because all these sexual assault victims keep telling their stories, Jeet Heer:
and me:

More on Halperin from Lemieux, with a link to one of the loveliest parodies of postmodern times, by Alex Pareene, vintage 2013:
A day earlier, President Barack Obama had won reelection (Good, Obama thought), beating gaffe-prone former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (That's a real shame, thought Romney), and now the "Game Change" boys would have to write a book about it. But the campaign had been predictable. Both candidates were already known quantities and each had insisted on keeping the game the way it was. Even the voters had decided to stick with the existing game.
"Well," Heilemann asked Halperin, "what will we call the book?" Halperin was dumbfounded and blindsided. I thought we were going to call it "Game Change 2," he said. You mean we have to come up with another phrase? The fate of the book, and the fates of both men's careers, depended on this decision. The wrong title could sink the whole project. Bookstores might all go out of business. Literacy rates could plummet to zero. The two might literally die. Everything depended on getting the title of the book right, Halperin knew.
Etc. Read the whole thing. I'll try to get some more stuff out later.

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.