Thursday, August 31, 2023

Public Options


After I was taken from the subway station where I'd fallen down a flight of steps and broken my left femur to a well-known East Side hospital a couple of weeks ago (saga herehere, and here, I stayed in the intensive care unit while they were readying me for surgery and then got moved to an ordinary unit after the surgery was done, and was dismissed a couple of days after that, in what felt like a rush job. I had to coordinate my exit myself, via text, with various family members, and negotiate the wheelchair ride to outside with nurses who had mostly disappeared, get dressed (another nurse brought me a pair of sweat pants, my leg being much too swollen to fit in the jeans my son brought from home), and nobody seemed available to answer any questions about what the rest of my life was going to be like, or even the next few days. Then, as the kids and I waited for their mother to show up, the wheelchair-wallah got antsy—it was taking too long, and he was afraid of getting in trouble for keeping the wheelchair—with me sitting in it—too long. He suggested I should get out and stand there with my new walker, or maybe if I got too tired I could sit down on one of the 18-inch round stone objects with which the pavement was dotted, which I obviously couldn't.

So I ended up surrendering, and standing to wait for my ride to show up, which was maybe not so bad (not as bad as the horror of getting into and out of the car with the kids trying to swing the leg into position). I'll never know if the guy was reprimanded for bringing the chair back late, maybe even fired, for all I know, or if his anxiety was merely irrational, as it seemed.

It's a week since then, and the whole experience is taking on a different complexion in my memory, starting from that spot and working backwards (so that the apparently harmless events of the early part are seen to foreshadow the abandonment at the end), than it had at first, in a way that's maybe relevant to some ideas that have been floating around the Tubes in the last few days. 

Everybody I interacted most with—the nurses and physical therapists—was kind, competent, and respectful, but these relationships weren't very stable; few lasted longer than a shift, day or night. The others were still more fleeting, especially in the upper orders, social workers and doctors, of whom I never met one twice, never got a name or an offer to call, never got an effort to connect (except one of the anethesiologists, they always have a sense of humor), and at the top of the hierarchy groups of four or five from which no individuals emerged at all, except a chairman charged with the job of speaking for them, a "team", and where they mostly gave me the neurological test (name, birthdate, and "where are you?" "what year is it?"). I finally lost my temper with one of them: "What are you, tourists?" That chairman took it courteously, explained that they were the "Trauma Team", monitoring my case, and that they thought I was ready to leave. I apologized and thanked him, but I feel funny about it now.

Afterwards, I found that there was a lot of stuff I didn't know that I should have been told (almost certainly was told in many of the cases, I'm sure, but by teams rather than people). What was the prognosis? How long would it take? When would I hear from my home PT? When I talked to a firm, why didn't they call back? This was coming out actually worse than Frank had warned: instead of worrying about the contractual terms I was worried about whether I'd ever see one at all, getting no convincing clues on who to call. Finally, on a visit to the hospital's occupational therapy department last Friday (two-way trip in an accessible taxi, but the finger treatment is going really well), I dropped in on a "patient advocate" who made a couple of calls and hooked me up with a social worker called "Christian" who claimed to have spoken to me and explained that I had rejected a service offered to me, which I obviously hadn't meant to do—this was from a confusion between long-term Medicaid-paid home health aide, which I didn't want, and insurance-paid physical therapy, which I do. I'm still in the dark about what happened there, but Christian acknowledged that he isn't a social worker but a marketing agent, and asked me to sign up for Medicaid, and I'm getting the impression that he doesn't have anything corresponding to what I need and doesn't want to tell me. I'm really on my own, hoping to get some help from my own PCP, but I won't be able to see them until Tuesday.

Also, I got a request to fill out a questionnaire on my visit to "Dr. John Muller", who I'd never heard of. It turned out to be the finger clinic, but I'm still pretty sure I didn't meet that doctor there (the place was being run, excellently, by people with less exalted degrees). My old lady, using her Singapore-trained hostile interrogation technique after pinning down somebody who admitted to being an orthopedist and acquainted with my case, elicited two vital things: that it was fine for me to take the bandages off my leg, which was a joy to learn; and that the hospital, having discharged me, in particular the orthopedists who worked on the leg, had no further responsibility. At all.

This is an example of something you might call "cryptoprivatization". Bellevue Hospital, the first public hospital in the United States (an outgrowth of New York's first almshouse, founded in 1736, and developed into a medical institution during the yellow fever outbreaks of the 1790s), is also among the first safety-net hospitals, or places from which a patient is never turned away on financial or other grounds, and a place of extraordinary distinction in the history of medicine—old New Yorkers remember it chiefly for the dreadful lunatic asylum of the days of Nellie Bly (though the asylum the intrepid reporter checked herself into was on what's now Roosevelt Island), but it was also the site of the first maternity ward (1799), the creation of the world's first municipal sanitary code, in 1867, and a pioneer in the treatment of diseases from tuberculosis through AIDS to ebola. It's really not a public institution any more, though it's managed by a public benefit corporation, the NYC Health + Hospitals (founded 1970), but it's a 501(c)(3) charity

  • Defined as: Organizations for any of the following purposes: religious, educational, charitable, scientific, literary, testing for public safety, fostering national or international amateur sports competition (as long as it doesn’t provide athletic facilities or equipment), or the prevention of cruelty to children or animals.

that gets less than 1% of its revenues from government entities, and 88.3% (about $52 million) from the services it sells. (And spends 3% of its income on executive salaries


if you wanted to know.) 

But what interests me is how it's been privatized in style, in revising the mission of the modern hospital from that of caring for patients to that of processing them through the limited phase they are willing to handle in the broad project of healthcare consumption, before they farm you out to the next phase, at the hands of some other institution with which they may or may not maintain friendly ties. In a way it's the patients, rather than the care, that are the product. From the depersonalization the patient undergoes through all these alienation techniques (self-control for the higher orders and depersonalized scheduling for the lower ones, as if to make sure no nurse starts thinking of you as "my patient"—you're the team's patient) to the final abdication of responsibility when you become some other institution's burden or a freelance patient looking for another institution to take you on. I'm not complaining on my own behalf, even, as much as those, especially the uninsured, who have fewer resources.

The other day we were talking, in the Substack comments, about this compelling little essay from Josh Marshall on the concept of oligarchs, international non-state or quasi-state actors working out international agendas from their strange positions, in times of relatively weak state formation, from the private condottieri armies of the Italian Renaissance to the swarm of interested parties gathering around the Trump political movement. 

I first became interested in this topic years and years ago tied to the rise of private military contractors. But the issue came to the fore again for me during the Trump years in a different way. Behind the sprawling Russia investigation and Trump’s various other scandals and sub-scandals there seemed to me to be something more general happening. Between post-Soviet oligarchs, gulf princelings, American plutocrats and Israeli technologists, there was a trade in power and secrets that seemed to operate beyond and outside the formal relations between the various countries in question.

Marshall is writing mostly about Elon Musk in the US and Yevgeny Prigozhin in Russia, and their strange and nerve-wracking ways of pursuing what they suppose (often wrongly) are their interests, but I'm also interested in this concept of state weakness, the weakness of Russia, which Putin was able to keep concealed for a long time, and the weakness of the US in the Trump administration, which was extreme in spite of Trump's personal fascist predilections, just an open sore like Istanbul in the "Sick Man of Europe" stage of the late 19th century, at which these oligarchs came to feed like a crowd of carrion birds. Which is plainly not the way the Biden administration is going, though chaos agents like Musk and Zuckerberg are still an awful problem. The difference is that the Trump patriciate was openly for oligarchy and against governmental institutions other than police—Trump and his minions are oligarchs and chaos agents themselves.

I'm struck by the sense of an analogy between our healthcare system, especially as represented in the big hospitals and the pharmaceuticals industry, and all those private armies and unaccountable oligarchs, as another kind of non-state or quasi-state force creating its own institutionality. 

And then by a note from Robert Kuttner at American Prospect bringing these things (Musk and healthcare) together with the obvious solution, that government needs to be stronger, though necessarily from a democratic strength, with more "public options", as we used to call them in 2009, exercising institutional power.

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

Tuesday, August 29, 2023


I'm heading out of town again for a few days. I'll be back on Saturday. I think there'll be guest posts here while I'm away, so stop by. See you soon.

Monday, August 28, 2023


I learn from Gateway Pundit that Tucker Carlson has made another trip to Hungary, where he's not just being a Viktor Orbán fanboy -- he also expressed anger at America because the current president chose an ambassador he doesn't like:
US Ambassador to Hungary David Pressman, who is gay, has attacked his host country for “anti-LGBTQ” policies. Speaking in Budapest on Aug. 26, Tucker Carlson said that “the behavior of the American Ambassador to Hungary makes me want to apologize. It’s disgusting and inexcusable.”

... The behavior of the Biden lackey Pressman is “so far from the norms of diplomacy in my country that it’s hard for me to believe that David Pressman is doing what he’s doing,” Carlson said....

“The point of diplomacy is not to hector other nations”, Carlson said. “To show up in someone else’s country and scream at them because they’re different from you... That is the opposite of diplomacy.”

“And so, for a creep like David Pressman – who is not a diplomat, he was a political activist and Biden donor – to show up in your country and lecture you about your culture and threaten you because you do things differently... hurts the United States, is a grave embarrassment to me as an American and an outrage as someone who pays his salary. It’s disgusting.”

“David Pressman is doing this, not on behalf of the American people, who do not share his views, he’s doing it on behalf of a tiny percentage of the American population, on behalf of an interest group, the Human Rights Campaign, paid by US taxpayers to attack you because you have views he doesn’t like”, Tucker said....
In fact, Americans broadly support LGBTQ rights.

Carlson thinks he can hammer home this point by using a word that derives from French, which every Real American knows is an effeminate language:
“My advice is, just wait it out”, Tucker said. “The United States is in a place right now where this is not sustainable. You can’t run a global empire based on the imposition of boutique sexual politics on countries that don’t want them.”
Boutique. Carlson likes this word so much he uses it again:
“The Soviet Union told you, you had to worship Lenin. The State Department tells you, you have to worship transvestites. It’s not so different. It’s a foreign power pushing its weird boutique religion on you. It’s wrong. You worship whatever you want. It’s your country.”
If this use of the word boutique makes you long for the days of the polite, genteel pre-Donald Trump GOP, let me remind you that George W. Bush said in 1988 that Michael Dukakis's foreign policy ideas were "born in Harvard Yard's boutique," which made absolutely no sense but sounded effete and unmanly. Poppy Bush, Tucker Carlson: Preppy wannabe tough guys think alike.

Carlson does videos about UFOs and testicle tanning. Ambassador David Pressman, by contrast, is a serious person:
He ... clerked for the Supreme Court of Rwanda, where he evaluated post-genocide transitional justice initiatives. Returning to the US he worked at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama....

In early 2006, Pressman accompanied actor George Clooney and his father on a trip to Darfur to make a documentary. He joined Clooney on several missions to Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa to lobby for peace in Darfur.... Pressman joined Clooney in founding Not On Our Watch Project, an advocacy and grant-making organization focused on raising awareness about mass-atrocities.... Working as an attorney in private practice, he represented the Indian activist Leonard Peltier in seeking a pardon and had a conviction overturned in the case of a man who spent 10 years in prison for a crime he did not commit....

Under President Barack Obama, Pressman served as an assistant secretary in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and was responsible for policy development on global criminal justice issues there.... He also served as the Director for War Crimes and Atrocities on the National Security Council, where he coordinated the government's efforts to prevent and respond to mass atrocities, genocide, and war crimes....

In early 2015, he successfully lobbied against a Russia-led attempt to deny benefits to the same-sex partners of U.N. employees....

The day after a mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Florida in June 2016, Pressman told the UN General Assembly that denouncing terrorism was an insufficient response: "If we are united in our outrage by the killing of so many — and we are — let us be equally united around the basic premise of upholding the universal dignity of all persons regardless of who they love, not just around condemning the terrorists who kill them." He was influential in winning UN Security Council approval of a resolution that condemned "targeting persons as a result of their sexual orientation". It was the first time that body addressed sexual orientation and required what diplomats called "intense consultations" to overcome the reservations of countries that provide no civil protections for sexual orientation or criminalize homosexuality.
You get the picture. So what got Carlson all worked up? This speech:
U.S. Ambassador to Hungary David Pressman on June 16 criticized the crackdown on LGBTQ and intersex rights in the European country.

“It is impossible not to see echoes of this in your Parliament’s vote earlier this year to encourage neighbors to report to the authorities their gay neighbors raising children,” he added. “Turning neighbor on neighbor conjures a dark past of covert agents and informants, of fear and betrayal, in this country and this region that I do not need to recount. You have a museum for that. While this legislation did not become law, the fact it was ever considered, let alone supported by this government and passed by the legislature is chilling.”

Pressman noted “this proposal is not unique; others became and remain law.”

“Laws prohibiting ‘propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships’ were adopted by Russia in 2013,” he said. “These Russian laws found a new home here in Hungary eight years later — like a virus spreading — when the government adopted laws to forbid ‘educational programs aimed at the promotion of … homosexuality.’ And this law remains in force today. And — in both Russia and in Hungary — the crackdowns on discourse related to gayness were preceded and accompanied by a closing of space for independent institutions and civil society.”

“History teaches us that when governments start discriminating against one group — whether for who they love or what they believe, their politics or their race, or the color of their skin — others are usually not far behind,” added Pressman. “It teaches us clearly what can happen when we fail to speak out and stand up to these laws and policies as soon as they infect our democracies.”
To Carlson, these are un-American, "boutique" ideas. He's wrong, at least for now. Maybe he's describing a future America dominated by hatemongers. But that's not where we live now.

Sunday, August 27, 2023


This MSNBC opinion piece by Jen Psaki was the last straw for me:
Trump’s mug shot will backfire in 2024

... This Georgia indictment is different for a whole host of reasons. Donald Trump has 18 co-defendants, he can’t pardon himself, the trial will likely be televised, and now, for the first time, we have a mug shot.

Trump and his allies are already leaning in to it. We should expect T-shirts, posters, mugs galore.

He thinks this is a political winner for him. But as New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu told me in an interview that airs Sunday, “independents hate it.”

The fact remains that Trump is going to need to expand his voting base to win a general election.... it’s very unlikely independents and moderates in the suburbs of Milwaukee, Phoenix or Detroit are going to become more likely to vote for Trump because he has was booked in the Fulton County Jail....

This photo will be shared on every text thread in America. Sometimes, images are more persuasive than anything. And it is hard to imagine that this image, of Trump scowling into the police camera, will make him more appealing to anyone who is not already a hardcore supporter.
Psaki might be right about all of this -- I continue to worry that many middle-of-the-road voters are tuning out the Trump legal news and in 2024 will simply choose the candidate who prevailed over lower gas prices, but I agree that one or more convictions could make these voters take Trump's unfitness to be president seriously. Joe Biden might beat Trump handily after juries have called Trump a felon. (The polls aren't hinting at that yet, however -- the most recent poll I've seen, from Reuters, has Trump up 38%-32% after the latest indictment, with 30% saying they're undecided, unlikely to vote, or likely to vote third party.)

But even if Trump's electoral downfall is imminent, why are liberals fixated on the mugshot?

The mugshot has become a media obsession. It was the subject of multiple think pieces: AP's Jonathan Cooper: "One Image, One Face, One American Moment: The Donald Trump Mug Shot." Amanda Hoover of Wired: "In a World of Fakes, Trump’s Real Mug Shot Matters."

The Atlantic's Mark Leibovich lamented that "Trump’s Mug Shot Gives His Haters Nothing." ("Trump’s photo offers a rough visage, formidable and extremely serious—which is what I assume he was going for. He made an effort here. It paid off. He gave his haters nothing in the ballpark of vulnerability.")

Entertainers reacted to it (The Independent: "‘Slouchy and Hateful’: John Cusack, Rosie O’Donnell and Kathy Griffin React to Trump Mugshot"). New York magazine published a piece by its senior art critic titled "The Art of the Mug Shot." The New York Times turned to its chief fashion critic ("A Trump Mug Shot for History: The Former President’s Booking Photo Is Unprecedented. And That’s Just the Beginning of Its Significance").

Who cares? We're acting as if the mugshot will be the main thing we remember about Trump's legal journey when he has four trials scheduled. Some people undoubtedly thought O.J. Simpson's mugshot would matter, but that was before "If the glove doesn't fit, you must acquit," and then the verdict. And even if prosecutors can't bring any of Trump's cases to trial before November 2024, he has more than a year of presidential campaigning to go. He's going to say and do many things that will matter more to us in the future than this damn photo.

It was inevitable that Trump and other right-wingers would turn the photo into a badge of honor (and into merchandise) -- but we made it so much easier for them by obsessing over it. All they care about is owning the libs, and we made it abundantly clear to them that they'd really own us if they turned the mugshot into a holy object.

One prominent person handled this correctly. He didn't treat the release of the mugshot as a profound and solemn moment in American history. He was appropriately flippant:
President Joe Biden on Friday weighed in on former President Donald Trump's mug shot.

Biden, who is vacationing in Lake Tahoe, chuckled when asked by reporters whether he'd seen the image yet.

"I did see it on television," Biden responded.

When asked what he thought, Biden replied, "Handsome guy. Wonderful guy."
Just that, then on to the next subject. Perfect.

Saturday, August 26, 2023


I know, I know: Donald Trump led an insurrection. The Fourteenth Amendment says that makes him ineligible to hold office.
[The] disqualification argument boils down to Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution's 14th Amendment, which says that a public official is not eligible to assume public office if they "engaged in insurrection or rebellion against" the United States, or had "given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof," unless they are granted amnesty by a two-thirds vote of Congress.

Advocacy groups have long argued that Trump's behavior after the 2020 election fits those criteria. The argument gained new life earlier this month when two members of the conservative Federalist Society, William Baude and Michael Stokes Paulsen, endorsed it in the pages of the Pennsylvania Law Review.
Jennifer Rubin writes:
In practice, that means that secretaries of state and local officials could refuse to list Trump on their ballots, or state legislators, governors and congressional representatives could refuse to certify any electors of him — just as would be the case if Trump had not been born in the United States or had not met the age qualification. Even if Trump is disqualified in only a couple of swing states (say, Michigan and Nevada), any realistic hope of victory would evaporate.
How can we possibly think this is a politcally viable idea, even if it's constitutionally appropriate? We're (justifiably) angry at Trump for wanting his own electors to usurp the appropriately appointed electors for Joe Biden -- but we think it's a good idea to prevent the certification of Trump electors? Seriously, imagine you're a Republican voter (and not necessarily a Trump superfan). You're told every day that Trump's enemies are engaging in "election interference." Then you see our side proposing this. Of course you're going to believe that we're the democracy-haters, the people from whom America must be saved.

And what good will it do? Any challenge to Trump's eligibility will eventually make it to the Supreme Court. How do you think the 6-3 Republican Court will rule on efforts to keep him off ballots or decertify his electors?

It's possible that a challenge to Trump's eligibility could survive Supreme Court scrutiny if he and a conventionally Kochite running mate (Tim Scott, for instance) are already in office -- the Court might decide that Scott would be a more biddable president (and more appealing to swing voters) and might dump Trump then. But the Court won't allow Trump to be removed from ballots now, thus making it impossible for the GOP to win the presidential election. So why bother?

Trust me on this: Every time a state effort to ban Trump from the ballot makes the news, right-wing voters will become more and more motivated to cast a ballot for him. You think he's fund-raising off the Fulton County mugshot? Wait till you see how much money he raises if Michigan or Nevada tries to ban him from the ballot.

Of course he shouldn't be able to run. But if we think there's any chance we'll someday have a nationwide consensus that our elections are legitimate, we shouldn't put it at risk by blatantly denying the crazed GOP electorate the opportunity to vote for the candidate of their choice.

Friday, August 25, 2023


Sorry -- I know the Trump arrest is all anyone wants to talk about, but I really don't want to give it (and him) any more oxygen. I let myself get sucked into watching the O.J.-style coverage last night (Here's Trump's motorcade on the way to the courthouse!) and I feel dirty for having watched it. And now Fox News is grumbling because Joe Biden subtly alluded to the arrest in a fund-raising pitch ("Apropos of nothing, I think today's a great day to give to my campaign") -- which is apparently beyond the pale, even as Trump's campaign sells T-shirts of his mugshot. Enough. This was allowed to become a campaign event from Trump, and the day-after coverage seems to be a second event. I don't want to participate.

Instead, I want to talk about Margaret Sullivan's response to Vivek Ramaswamy's debate performance:
If Ramaswamy’s real aim – other than to bask in his own glorious reflection – is to get Trump to choose him as his running mate, he made progress toward that end.
This comes a day after Bill Scher published a Washington Monthly piece titled "Ramaswamy Aces the VP Interview."

Would Trump really pick Ramaswamy as his running mate? Nahhh.

Amanda Marcotte thinks Trump simply won't pick anyone other than a white guy:
There's a prevailing assumption in the mainstream media that Nikki Haley and fellow South Carolinian Sen. Tim Scott are both angling for a running mate spot on the Trump ticket. It's doubtful either of them is dim enough to believe Trump would deign to reach outside the white male community for that role.
I think Trump felt that way in 2016, but I think he might be willing to broaden his pool of potential running mates now, especially because he'll be looking for someone to match up against Kamala Harris. Haley might have burned her bridges to Trump by calling him "the most disliked politician in all of America," although Trump likes watching former critics crawl back to him and beg to be his friend (e.g., Lindsey Graham). But if Trump picks someone who's not of European descent, it will probably be the uncharismatic, unthreatening Tim Scott.

There are many women who'd love to run with him: Elise Stefanik, Kristi Noem, Kari Lake, Marjorie Taylor Greene, possibly Tulsi Gabbard. I think he'll reject Lake, Greene, and Ramaswamy (as well as Ron DeSantis) for the same reason: They're too ambitious. He's not going to pick someone who clearly wants his job. He'll want someone as servile and beta as Mike Pence, which might mean Stefanik or Scott. He'll joke that the others might poison his food (poisoning is a real fear of his, according to Michael Wolff).

Ramaswamy won't be the running mate, but I agree with Margaret Sullivan that he looks like the future of the GOP:
“If you have wondered what Trumpism after Trump looks like, ask no further,” suggested the magazine writer David Freedlander on the social media site formerly known as Twitter....

Certainly, he has the essentials covered. No, not foreign policy chops or a background in public service, but a mocking aversion to social justice and equality....

In case there was any doubt, now we know: [Republican voters] will always fall for the attention-seeking, the policy-unencumbered, the candidate quickest with a demeaning insult. That’s a “winner”, apparently....

“Ramaswamy is like Trump in the larva stage, molting toward the full Maga wingspan but not quite there yet,” wrote Frank Bruni in his New York Times newsletter. “His narcissism, though, is fully evolved.”
As the 2028 campaign approaches, there'll be a lot of chatter (yes, again) on the subject of reviving the pre-Trump Republican Party. Some of the same Establishment dullards who are running this time might run again, along with other dullards. Some may even be called the early favorites for the nomination.

But the race will actually be dominated by Trump wannabes -- Ramaswamy as well as (potentially) Greene, Matt Gaetz, Donald Trump Jr., Mike Flynn, Candace Owens, and (who knows?) possibly even Tucker Carlson. Whether or not we've had another four years of Trump, the rubes will feel persecuted and want more MAGA, more lib-bashing, more extremism. And the pundits who are dying to declare the crisis of the GOP over will be shocked yet again.

Thursday, August 24, 2023


The New York Times asked some of its opinion columnists to rate the candidates' performances in last night's Republican debate. Nikki Haley made some Never Trump right-wingers swoon:
David French: Here at last was a conservative who called out Trump’s profligate spending, a pro-life politician who gave an appropriately pragmatic answer to the challenge of national legislation, and a foreign policy hawk who dismantled [Vivek] Ramaswamy’s isolationism on live television. All of it warmed my old-school Reagan conservative heart. If there’s any life left in the old G.O.P., Haley gave it hope....

Bret Stephens: The star of the evening. Confident, prepared, sane and projecting the aura of someone who can win a general election.
And now David Brooks is besotted:
Wednesday’s debate persuaded me that the best Trump alternative is ... Nikki Haley....

Haley dismantled Ramaswamy on foreign policy. It was not only her contemptuous put-down: “You have no foreign policy experience and it shows.” She took on the whole America First ethos that sounds good as a one-liner but that doesn’t work when you’re governing a superpower. Gesturing to Ramaswamy, she said, “He wants to hand Ukraine to Russia, he wants to let China eat Taiwan, he wants to go and stop funding Israel. You don’t do that to friends.”

Similarly on abortion, many of her opponents took the issue as a chance to perform self-righteous bluster — to make the issue about themselves. She was the only one who acknowledged the complexity of the issue, who tried to humanize people caught in horrible situations, who acknowledged that the absolutist position is politically unsustainable.
This talk warms right-centrist pundits' hearts, but Nikki Haley has to survive Iowa and New Hampshire. Supporting the war in Ukraine? The recent NBC/Des Moines Register poll of likely Iowa Republican caucus voters says that 43% of them would be less likely to vote for a candidate who supports continued aide to Ukraine, and only 35% would be more likely. On abortion, 54% would be more likely to vote for someone who supports a national fifteen-week ban, while only 24% would be less likely.

Pundits who are desperate for an end to Trumpism have been watching Ron DeSantis's campaign implode, have seen Tim Scott's failure to launch, have noted that most GOP voters despise Chris Christie. They should be gradually emerging from the grip of denial. They should understand that it's Trump's party and there's nothing anyone can do to change that until defeat, the law, or a fatal blood clot removes him from electoral politics.

Some of them, I think, were slowly beginning to accept reality. Then they watched Haley debate and ingested the hopium again.

So now she'll get massive amounts of mainstream media coverage. And I'm calling it now: While this is taking place, her poll numbers (at least in Iowa) will go down. Maybe she'll see an uptick in New Hampshire and nationally -- or maybe not, because how many Republican voters want to be told that Donald Trump is, as Haley said last night, “the most disliked politician in all of America”?

One Never Trumper at the Times wasn't buying the Haley hype:
Ross Douthat: A perfectly competent and therefore insufficient performance for a polished candidate without a clear rationale or lane.


The first Republican presidential debate was last night, and Tucker Carlson's interview of Donald Trump was released minutes before the debate as counterprogramming. Surprisingly, the most deranged pronouncement in either event wasn't from one of the debaters (although Vivek Ramaswamy's assertion that "the climate agenda is a hoax" was extreme), nor was it anything Trump said. The most deranged pronouncement of the night was Carlson's assertion that an attempt on Trump's life is inevitable, because "they" need him dead -- which, according to Carlson, makes Trump like Jeffrey Epstein.

Slate's Molly Olmstead has the details:
In the interview ... former President Donald Trump was boasting about his poll numbers when Tucker Carlson suddenly cut him off. “Can I ask you—that gets back to my original question,” he said. “If the protests didn’t work, and you got elected anyway; the impeachment didn’t work, twice; indictment is not working ... If you chart it out, it’s an escalation, is what I’m saying. So what’s next, after trying to put you in prison for the rest of your life? That’s not working. Don’t they have to kill you now?”

Trump didn’t respond directly. “I think the people of our country don’t get enough credit for how smart they are,” he said. “They get it. I got indicted four times. All trivial. Nonsense. Bullshit. It’s all bullshit.”

It was the second time Carlson had brought up the strong likelihood, from his perspective, that they were going to try to kill Trump.
The first time came after Carlson asked Trump whether he believes Jeffrey Epstein was murdered. Trump said he's not sure, but he thinks the death was a suicide; Carlson flatly asserted that Epstein was killed.
If it seemed odd that Carlson was grilling Trump about Jeffrey Epstein, the host finally made his point clear. “The reason I’m asking you is I’m looking at the trajectory since 2015,” he said. “It started with protests against you, massive protests, organized protests by the left, and then it moved to impeachment next, and then indictment. I mean the next stage is violence. Are you worried that they’re trying to kill you? Why wouldn’t they try to kill you, honestly?”
Even if you believe everything Carlson said -- I'm sure most of his audience does -- it was odd for him to make this comparison directly to Trump, in front of an audience full of Trump supporters. Epstein was a pedophile with many wealthy and well-connected friends, many of whom engaged in pedophilic sexual activity with Epstein's assistance -- and here was Carlson seemingly saying, to Trump's face, They killed that pervert, and you're like him. I know that Carlson has a love/hate relationship with Trump, but is that really the message he was trying to send? (Trump is a sex criminal, of course, but he seems to prefer assaults on adult women, and his fans think women throw themselves at him, so he'd never bother to assault one.)

But I don't think Carlson intended his audience to think of Trump as another sex criminal. His point was that they -- the Deep State, the Regime, whatever term you want to use -- kill whoever stands in the way of implementing their evil agenda (though somehow they never killed Trump while he was president), so of course they'll try to off him the way they offed Epstein.

This is one of the top techniques right-wing propagandists have for keeping the base angry. Attacking political enemies for things they've actually done isn't enough, so the hated libs get attacked for things right-wingers think we'll do, or claim we're planning to do.

We're going to take away everyone's guns. We're going to eliminate free enterprise and convert America to pure socialism. We're going to abolish the dollar and replace it with the "amero," a coin of the "North American Union" (old version) or with a "central bank digital currency and surveillance system" (new version). We're going to uproot everyone who lives in suburban and rural communities and forcibly confine them in "fifteen-minute cities." We're going to respond to a slight uptick in COVID cases by reinstating every heath protocol from 2020.

The way this technique works is that some people, on hearing that the evil libs are scheming to do something we're not actually scheming to do, will believe it's already happening with no additional evidence. Others will imagine a slippery slope: If a state passes a red flag law, mass gun confiscation is the obvious next step. If one college reinstates mask mandates, then nationwide lockdowns are surely coming any day now.

And, presumably, if there's an act of violence or threat of violence against any MAGA Republican, then the Deep State/Soros hit squad targeting Trump is surely locked and loaded.

In the reptile brains of right-wingers, anticipated evil deeds feel as if they're actually happening, and arouse as much anger as they would if they'd actually taken place. Tucker Carlson knows that. It's why he talked about an assassination plan that doesn't exist.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023


In an effort to seem like a legitimate news outlet, Breitbart submitted a questionnaire on immigration to the Republican candidates for president. I'm sure it won't surprise you that the questions lean far to the right ("What are the specifics of your plan to handle the astounding number of asylum seekers while their cases are decided?"), as do most of the answers from the candidates who completed the questionnaire (Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Nikki Haley, Tim Scott, and Ron DeSantis).

Vivek Ramaswamy didn't answer Breitbart's questions, but he did submit a response laying out his immigration policy. It begins:
The sole purpose of immigration policy should be to protect the homeland. The interests of American citizens who live on American soil. That’s it. Not humanitarian.
Well, so much for anyone who looks back on America's rejection of Jewish refugees during the Nazi era and believes that the nation's post-war asylum policy has been an appropriate response to that moral failure.

(This is clearly a mainstream position in the GOP -- Tim Scott says, "All our policies should first and foremost benefit American citizens.")

Later in his response, Ramaswamy says:
Merit-based immigration has to include an element of national identity. Which is to say even if you’re getting a visa, you have to pass the same civics test that is required on the backend of citizenship.
He's really into the idea of the civics test -- he doesn't think you should be able to vote if you're under the age of 25 unless you pass one (with exceptions made for members of the military and first responders) -- which unsurprisingly appeals to many GOP voters because they know young people lean Democratic, even though the idea also feels like a version of the icky elitist-liberal credentialism that David Brooks and Thomas Edsall insist is the reason we got Trump. Get sufficiently high test scores and you can get into Harvard -- and if you pass a different kind of test you can vote! Apparently this idea is okay if you're a Republican, even a Republican with degrees from Harvard and Yale.

(Also, if you're an American and you get a job offer in Canada or England or Dubai, would it be fair to require you to pass a full citizenship test in order to work? That's what Ramaswamy is proposing for America.)

Which brings us to his final proposal:
We need to weed out ingrates like Illan Omar and Rashida Tlaib who come to this country and complain about it. No. It is a privilege to be allowed to live in the United States of America.
Hey, smart guy -- you know that Rashida Tlaib was born in Detroit, right?

Omar, of course, is a naturalized citizen (though as Essence once noted, Omar has been a citizen longer than Melania Trump). It's true that Omar has said some critical things about America. But do you know who else "complains about" the U.S.? Every Republican. Republicans hate the president. They hate most of the laws passed during liberal administrations, and most of the laws passed in liberal cities and states. Republicans hate millions of their fellow citizens. They hate most of the nation's cities. And they have an inalienable right as Americans to feel all this hate and complain that America isn't exactly the way they want it to be. But Ramaswamy doesn't want extend this right -- a right Republicans exercise every single day -- to Omar and Tlaib.

And speaking of Melania Trump: Ramaswamy is both the greatest admirer of Trump in the field of Trump challengers and a fervent opponent of the policies that allowed Trump's wife's family to come to America. He says:
We need to eliminate chain-based migration which is anti-meritocratic because the people who come as family members are not the meritocratic immigrants who can make skills-based contributions to this country.
It would be nice if someone would ask him tonight, or at one of the subsequent debates: You're an admirer of Donald Trump and an advocate for extreme tightening of our immigration laws. Do you think the immigration system should have prevented Melania Trump and her family from settling in America?

Tuesday, August 22, 2023


I wasn't planning to write about New Hampshire governor Chris Sununu's New York Times op-ed "If Republicans Narrow the Field, We Will Beat Trump," but I see that both NBC and Fox News are giving it respectful coverage. So I'd just like to make the point that Sununu is completely delusional, and is encouraging others to be delusional as well.

Sununu writes:
This week, Republican primary candidates for president will have a chance to make their case before a national audience — with or without Donald Trump on the debate stage. To win, they must break free of Mr. Trump’s drama, step out of his shadow, go on offense, attack, and present their case....

Candidates on the debate stage should not be afraid to attack Donald Trump.... Tim Scott, Ron DeSantis, and Vivek Ramaswamy — candidates with compelling stories, records and polling — must show voters they are willing to take on Mr. Trump, show a spark, and not just defend him in absentia.
Sununu seems to believe it's just a coincidence that DeSantis, Ramaswamy, and Scott have had some polling success while not attacking Trump very hard (or, in Ramaswamy's case, at all). It appears not to occur to Sununu that attacking Trump would cause these candidates' poll numbers to crater.
Donald Trump is beatable, and it starts in Iowa and New Hampshire. Ignore the national polls that show he is leading — they are meaningless....

The best indicator of Mr. Trump’s strength is looking to where the voters are paying attention: in states where candidates are campaigning, television ads are running, and there is a wide range of media attention on every candidate.

In Iowa and New Hampshire, the first two states that will vote in the 2024 Republican primaries, Mr. Trump is struggling. In both Iowa and New Hampshire, he is consistently polling in the low 40 percent range. The floor of his support may be high, but his ceiling is low.
Is that true? It sure doesn't seem true in Iowa. Yes, Trump can't quite get to 50% in Iowa polling in a multi-candidate field, but why does he need to when he has a 26-point lead? And when pollsters have surveyed hypothetical Iowa head-to-head matchups involving Trump, he generally crushes his opponents. In a Daily Mail poll conducted early this month, Trump beat DeSantis 48% to 35%, beat Scott 54% to 34%, beat Ramaswamy 54% to 28%, and beat Mike Pence 67% to 20%. In a New York Times poll conducted a few days earlier, Trump beat DeSantis head to head 55% to 39%.

But Sununu isn't proposing a mass culling of the field before Iowa. He says:
At a minimum, any candidate who does not make the stage for the first two debates must drop out.

Anyone who is polling in the low single digits by Christmas must acknowledge that their efforts have fallen short.
I agree that Perry Johnson, Will Hurd, Asa Hutchinson, Larry Elder, Francis Suarez, and Ryan Binkley should all drop out. But in the recent NBC/Des Moines Register poll of Iowa, they're all at 0%, except for Hurd, who's at 1%. How does redistributing 1% of the vote diminish Trump's double-digit lead? And even if you get rid of Doug Burgum (2%) and Ramaswamy (4%), that's 7% of the total vote to redistribute, and Trump leads DeSantis in this poll by 23. Besides, Ramaswamy won't drop out because (a) he's doing much better in New Hampshire and in national polling and (b) he's in the race to build his brand, not to win.

Here's Sununu's key proposal:
After the results from Iowa come in, it is paramount that the field must shrink, before the New Hampshire primary, to the top three or four.
So ... presumably Trump, DeSantis, Ramaswamy, and Scott? Not Chris Christie, even though he's polling better in New Hampshire, and is the media's favorite anti-Trump candidate? And whoever the survivors are, if they're each at 10% to 15%, they'll still be dividing up the anti-Trump vote. So how does that solve the problem?

If you think Trump can be beaten -- I don't -- you need to pick one opponent. And since the GOP isn't capable of that kind of collective action, and certain candidates won't drop out because they're in the race for reasons other than the belief that they can win, this will never happen, no matter what Chris Sununu says.

Monday, August 21, 2023


There's been an uptick in COVID cases and we're learning about new variants, so Alex Jones and Infowars are telling the gullible that new restrictions are imminent -- government officials say so!
Whistleblowers from the TSA and Border Patrol have raised the alarm to Infowars that the Biden administration is setting the stage for full Covid lockdowns that will begin with incremental restrictions like masking TSA employees in mid-September.

The first source, a high-level TSA official confirmed and known to Infowars, reached out to Infowars and cited a Tuesday meeting in which TSA managers were told new memorandums & policies were being completed that would reimplement masking, starting with TSA & airport employees as early as mid-September.

The TSA official also said next week they will receive new guidelines on how the policy will escalate: by mid-October, mask-wearing will be required by pilots, flight staff, passengers, and airport patrons.

After hearing from the TSA manager, Infowars reached out to our trusted Border Patrol source who is also a manager. This source confirmed the same directives were being given to Border Patrol.

They were told it was not a matter of “if” but “when” official Covid numbers will go back up and they expect by mid-October a return to forced-masking policies that the Biden administration previously only reluctantly ended after massive pressure.
This is all about the election, of course:
Infowars’ analysis is clear: this new rollout’s timing is perfect for the embattled Biden administration to put the country back in a state of civil emergency and even martial law to further divide and confuse the public and move forward with the greatest election meddling in history.

Many times, Alex Jones has warned that the system will bring back biomedical tyranny. And the launch of this new crisis in September will allow a build-up of control that would allow the use of mail-in ballots for the next presidential election.

Remember, mail-in ballots were decisive for Biden’s victory last election.
This is absurd. There'll be mail-in ballots in the 2024 election no matter what's going on with public health. And in the actual United States, no one's wearing masks, even in New York City.

But I'm sure the crazies think this is the distant sound of jackboots (Reuters link):
The Biden administration plans to urge all Americans to get a booster shot for the coronavirus this autumn to counter a new wave of infections, a White House official said on Sunday....

"We will be encouraging all Americans to get those boosters in addition to flu shots and RSV shots," the official said, referring to the Respiratory Syncytial Virus.
Which clearly isn't a mandate or a lockdown at all.

I think it's been actively frustrating for the right that the "Regime" isn't requiring anyone in America to do anything about COVID these days. Right-wing propagandists are usually adept at distracting the rubes with the next new thing when an established narrative hasn't quite lived up to the hype. But the right has been equating COVID health measures with creeping fascism for three and a half years now. The hated libs/globalists/Deep Staters are supposed to just keep taking more and more freedom away from Real Americans, but on COVID, the authorities stopped pushing restrictions and requirements quite a while back. Rightists crave the old restrictions. Without them, they can't feel truly persecuted.

Gateway Pundit is retransmitting this story, and I strongly suspect that Robert Kennedy Jr. will be next. Meanwhile, Naomi Wolf is certain that They're Lying To Us because the numbers don't actually reveal a significant COVID surge.

Except that scientists and mainstream news sources aren't claiming that there's a big surge. They're just saying there's an uptick and there are some new variants.

But COVID oppositionalism was good for Wolf's career (at least as an attention-seeker), and it was good for the careers of many other people -- including Ron DeDSantis. So you can't blame them if they wish the bad old days were back.

Sunday, August 20, 2023


It may seem as if Donald Trump's increasingly successful campaign for the Republican nomination consists solely of Trump saying, over and over again, "Vote for me -- I've been indicted again!" However, a number of Very Smart People want you to know that that's totally wrong -- in fact, being indicted has been really bad for Trump's political career. Here's Russell Berman in The Atlantic:
In the months since Donald Trump’s indictments started piling up, pollsters have noticed something remarkable: The dozens of criminal charges brought against the former president have seemed to boost his standing in the Republican presidential primary. Trump has widened his already commanding lead over his rivals, and in poll after poll, GOP voters have said that the charges make them more—not less—likely to vote for him again.
Berman says that this is an illusion:
A new, broader survey of Republican voters suggests that the indictments have, in fact, dented Trump’s advantage in the primary. The study was designed by a group of university researchers who argue that pollsters have been asking the wrong questions to assess how the indictments have affected Republican voters.
One of the researchers behind the study explains how you can really tell what Republican voters are thinking:
Most traditional polls have asked respondents directly whether the indictments have changed their attitude about Trump or their likelihood to vote for him. According to Matt Graham, one of the authors of the new survey and an assistant professor at Temple University, this type of query leads to biased answers. And it devolves into a proxy question for whether voters—and Republicans in particular—like the former president in the first place....

Graham and his colleagues believed that they could elicit more accurate answers about Trump by asking respondents to assess their view of him—and their likelihood of voting for him—as if they did not know he had been indicted. To test their theory, they commissioned a SurveyMonkey poll of more than 5,000 Americans in which half were asked questions in this counterfactual format....
Are you ready for the researchers' key question? I hope you're sitting down for this:
“Suppose you did not know about the indictment. How would you have answered the following question: How likely are you to vote for Donald Trump?”
Um ... really? This is basically "Don't think of an elephant -- and now that you're not thinking of an elephant, tell me how you feel about the safari you're planning to go on where you expect to see elephants."

Even if you believe that this is a more effective way of measuring the effect of the indictments on Trump's popularity among Republicans than, say, looking at pre- and post-indictment polls of Republicans, the results are rather underwhelming:
... the poll based on the counterfactual framing found that the indictments slightly hurt his standing in the party, reducing by 1.6 percent the likelihood that Republicans would vote for him.
Meanwhile, in the real world, where voters are allowing themselves to think of elephants, or rather indictments, Trump has been brought up on charges four times since March 30. On March 30, Trump led Ron DeSantis 45.9% to 30.12% in the Real Clear Politics polling average. He now leads 55.5% to 14.5%. Some of this, obviously, is a consequence of the DeSantis faceplant. But Trump has gained nearly 20 points in that time. And in the most recent poll of the race, from CBS, Trump leads DeSantis 62% to 16%.

Berman writes:
To his critics, the emerging conventional wisdom that the indictments have benefited Trump politically is a dispiriting and even dangerous notion, one that could embolden politicians of any ideological stripe to disregard the law.
Well, of course it's dispiriting. I don't know how dangerous it is -- it won't "embolden politicians of any ideological stripe" to be lawless because it wouldn't apply to a Democrat. But yes, it's dispiriting to be reminded that the majority of Republican voters will choose a nominee -- and possibly elect a president -- next year based on their desire to engage vicariously in a years-long act of oppositional defiant disorder.

Saturday, August 19, 2023


Donald Trump is an overweight man in his late seventies who eats like a teenager and never exercises. All that should have put his health at serious risk even before his four indictments this year.

But the evil sonofabitch seems vigorous and purposeful. He might collapse on the golf course someday soon, clutching his chest for the last time. But it's amazing that it hasn't happened in all the time he's been a major political figure. Why?

Maybe it's genes. Maybe it's dumb luck. And maybe it's the strong sense of fulfillment he gets from doing his work -- and by work I mean cucking other men who are seen by the world as alphas. Rupert Murdoch, for instance:
On a cool August night on the crowded patio of his private club in New Jersey, former President Donald J. Trump ... was having dinner with a Fox News contributor and columnist, Charlie Hurt, when a call came in from another member of the Fox team. The man on the other end of the line, Mr. Trump was delighted to show his guests, was Bret Baier, one of the two moderators of the first Republican debate on Wednesday....

It was Mr. Trump’s second Fox dinner that week. The night before, he had hosted the Fox News president, Jay Wallace, and the network’s chief executive, Suzanne Scott, who had gone to Bedminster, N.J., hoping to persuade Mr. Trump to attend the debate. Mr. Baier was calling to get a feel for the former president’s latest thinking.

For months, Fox had been working Mr. Trump privately and publicly.... But even as he behaved as if he was listening to entreaties, Mr. Trump was proceeding with a plan for his own counterprogramming to the debate.

The former president has told aides that he has made up his mind not to participate in the debate and has decided to post an online interview with Tucker Carlson that night instead....
Rupert Murdoch is Logan Roy! He's supposed to be the undisputed master of the media universe! Yet here he is asking multiple subordinates to prostrate themselves before Trump and beg him to participate in the upcoming debate. Oh, and one of the dispatched grovelers will be a debate moderator. (Mommy, what were journalistic ethics?) If I were Donald Trump, a man whose principal source of life satisfaction (besides golf, sex, and early badly cooked meat) is humiliating people, I'd consider this a job well done.

Murdoch, The Washington Post tells us, now recognizes that Ron DeSantis won't beat Trump, so he's hoping Glenn Youngkin will enter the presidential race soon.
Media mogul Rupert Murdoch has repeatedly encouraged Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) to run for president in 2024, according to two people familiar with entreaties made in at least two face-to-face meeting
That won't end well either. Youngkin is, as the Post notes, a "former Carlyle Group executive" with a large personal fortune and strong "ties to the donor class." Now remember that Trump and his allies were able to persuade at least a portion of the GOP electorate that DeSantis is an agent of the Deep State, on flimsier evidence:
To some, he is “Ron DeSoros,” a puppet of the Democratic megadonor George Soros. To others ... he is “Ron DePLANTis,” a “plant” of the so-called Deep State....

The demeaning nicknames for Mr. DeSantis have spread widely on conservative social media, growing this year as Mr. Trump’s attacks increased. There were more than 12,000 mentions of “DeSoros” on social media and news sites since January, according to Zignal Labs, a media insights company....

Mike Lindell, the MyPillow executive ... said, falsely, that Florida was spared from widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election because Mr. DeSantis had a close relationship with Dominion Voting Systems, an election software company targeted by election deniers. “Ron DeSantis is a Trojan horse,” Mr. Lindell said in a recent interview with The New York Times....

Kari Lake ... shared a story claiming Mr. DeSantis was endorsed by Mr. Soros, calling it “the kiss of death.” (Mr. Soros had only said that Mr. DeSantis was likely to become the nominee.)
Early this year, many of us thought Trump's attacks on DeSantis were weak and likely to be ineffective. ("Ron DeSanctimonious"?) But they coincided with Trump's indictments, which made Trump a hero again to the base. Trump must be energized by the success of the smear campaign against DeSantis, who was once seen as a likely Trump killer.

And I'm sure Trump also draws spiritual nourishment from how easy it is now to swindle Rudy Giuliani, a guy who used to be the racist, angry alpha dog of New York:
Rudolph W. Giuliani is running out of money and looking to collect from a longtime client who has yet to pay: former President Donald J. Trump.

... for the better part of a year, as Mr. Giuliani has racked up the bills battling an array of criminal investigations, private lawsuits and legal disciplinary proceedings stemming from his bid to keep Mr. Trump in office after the 2020 election, his team has repeatedly sought a lifeline from the former president, according to several people close to him. And even as the bills have pushed Mr. Giuliani close to a financial breaking point, the former president has largely demurred, the people said, despite making a vague promise during their dinner at Mar-a-Lago to pay up.

Mr. Giuliani, 79 ... is currently sitting on what one person familiar with his financial situation says is nearly $3 million in legal expenses. And that is before accounting for any money that Mr. Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City, might be owed for his work conducted after Election Day on Mr. Trump’s behalf.

Mr. Trump’s political action committee ... has so far covered only $340,000 for Mr. Giuliani, a payment made in late May.
And the $340K wasn't even paid to Giuliani -- it went to a vendor Giuliani hired to do record searches.

It still pains Trump that he was never accepted as a great man in Manhattan society during his youth. But he compensates by screwing other people over, especially the powerful or formerly powerful.

I think that's what's keeping him alive.

Friday, August 18, 2023


Jonathan Chait reminds us that Ben Shapiro, who recently wrote this ...

... once called for the use of RICO laws against Barack Obama and his administration:
In 2014, Shapiro wrote a book titled The People Vs. Barack Obama: The Criminal Case Against the Obama Administration. Shapiro even explained to Larry King why the RICO Act was the precise tool he wished to employ against Obama:
Shapiro: “I make the case that the RICO Act, Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act from 1970, which allows for civil charges — people can file civil suits — that that be broadened to allow people to sue members of the executive branch. So, the people themselves, essentially, become the guardians of the criminal law. Because, sorry, but I just don’t trust the executive branch to prosecute its own guys.”

King: “What did he do, hands on, that was criminal?”

Shapiro: “Well, you see, this is the problem, this is why you have to use the RICO Act,” Shapiro answered. “So, no president is actually going to do things — unless you’re Richard Nixon, presumably, and there are tapes — is going to have to do things that are particularly hands on. The government is run more like a mafiaesque organization, which is, you have somebody at the top who makes, you know, a basic demand that certain things be done, and somebody at the low level says, ‘OK, well, you know, I want to up my career.’ This is Henry II with Thomas Beckett, ‘Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?’ And someone goes and rids him of the meddlesome priest.”
Over the years, Republicans have often tried to criminalize the behavior of Democrats. Newt Gingrich attacked the ethics of Democratic House Speaker Jim Wright in 1989, and the subsequent investigation led to Wright's resignation. There were multiple investigations of Bill Clinton during his time in the White House, and Republicans made it clear that they also thought Vice President Al Gore was criminally corrupt. Republicans frequently talked about impeaching Barack Obama when he was president, though after a while they concentrated on portraying Hillary Clinton as a criminal.

And now they're upset that the career criminal they sent to the White House in 2016 is up on charges. Chait writes:
Trump’s campaign and presidency followed directly from a mentality that detached the notion of criminality from any actual behavior and turned it into a partisan identity. Trump’s mantra — “The crimes are being committed by the other side” — has become a partywide doctrine.

But this idea, which has tightened its grip on conservative minds over the last generation, is now the dominant theme of the campaign. Trump’s indictments have intensified their humiliation and created an insatiable demand for revenge. The party is no longer running on policy or even culture war. It is now consumed above all with turning the criminal-justice system into an instrument of revenge.
I think the real reason they're humiliated and crave revenge is that they believe they should be the party of smashmouth politics, and they're embarrassed that they've never been able to send a president or presidential candidate or House speaker to prison, while Trump's antagonists might. I think they believe they have a monopoly on political toughness, and Democrats are wusses (which, let's face it, they are much of the time), so a legal assault on one of their own seems to violate the fundamental laws of the universe. They know Trump is a crook, but they think think he ought to be able to get away with being a crook because he's a Republican. Trump is guilty of many crimes, but I'm sure they think they should be able to "create their own reality," one in which he's a selfless patriot who's under attack despite his obvious innocence. They've certainly created that reality within their own bubble, and it's killing them that the rest of us live in the real world, where he's guilty as hell and nearly everyone knows it.

So they think we stole their smashmouth act, and they think we're doing it better. And they can't stand it.

Thursday, August 17, 2023


In The New York Times today, Nate Cohn divides Republicans into six categories, based on Times polling:

Cohn's thesis is that Donald Trump dominates the Republican Party because he has very strong support from two of these groups -- the Right Wing (mostly older Republicans who watch a lot of Fox News) and Blue Collar Populists (mostly Northern white ethnics who have "conservative-populist views on trade and economics and, perhaps most important, on race.... A full 35 percent of this group’s members were willing to explicitly say the declining white share of the population was bad for America, compared with 13 percent of the rest of the party").

You can roll your eyes at this taxonomy -- I'm having a hard time telling these two groups apart, or distinguishing them from Traditional Conservatives -- but Cohn does offer some useful data, although I'm not sure it makes the points he's trying to make. Cohn notes that Trump leads the GOP primary field in all of these groups -- including the Moderate Establishment. He says this group "does not like Mr. Trump" and is "often outright Never Trump" -- yet Trump leads Ron DeSantis in this group 28% to 12% and, sadly, leads Joe Biden in the general election. Cohn says that lead is "a mere 46 percent to 27 percent," but that still seems like a reasonably solid lead for a group of voters who, Cohn says, support abortion rights, immigration reform, and foreign engagement rather than isolationism, and also find Trump distasteful.

On the subject of abortion, it appears that quite a few Republicans oppose the party's extremism:

This is why I'm skeptical when pundits like Simon Rosenberg argue that the lopsided results in last week's Ohio referendum or last year's Kansas referendum mean that Joe Biden and the Democrats are likely to have an excellent 2024. Regrettably, there are millions of voters who support Democratic policies -- on abortion, guns, infrastructure, and many other issues -- but despise Democrats. If Biden and other Democrats were as popular as most of their policies are, they could win landslides.

I've been saying for years that Democrats desperately need to improve the image of their party. Obviously they won't win over the hardcore Republicans in Nate Cohn's taxonomy -- the racists, the immigration obsessives, the Fox News addicts -- but you'd think they could do a better job of picking off voters who are less rooted in the GOP or right-wing politics, and who disagree with many Republican policies. But Democrats allow themselves to be defined in the media by policies most of them have abandoned (defunding the police) or policies that aren't important to the overwhelming majority of Democrats (the use of the word "Latinx"). Or they allow themselves to be defined as the party of the elites (hi, Thomas Edsall and David Brooks!), even though, as Slate's Christina Cauterucci recently reminded us, "In 2020 Trump won voters with an income over $100,000 by a margin of 12 points," while "Biden won those who make less than $50,000 and those who make between $50,000 and $99,000 by similar margins."

Democrats need to put more effort into changing the image of the Republican Party. They need to find a way to get a second look from voters who've rejected the party but aren't happy with the modern GOP. And while it's true that Trump continues to push voters into the Democratic camp, as does GOP extremism on many issues, Democrats can't just wait for voters to drop into the party's lap. They need to work harder to take these voters away from the GOP.

Wednesday, August 16, 2023


Mark Levin is a right-wing media hack who used to be a practicing lawyer. On the right he's seen as one of the great Doctors of Legal Thinkology, so I expect Republicans to advance this argument about Donald Trump's Georgia case in all seriousness -- I assume it will become official government policy -- if Trump wins the 2024 election:

I'm not a lawyer, but I don't see what relevance the Constitution's Supremacy Clause has:
This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.
Sure, but the Justice Department's opinion that a president can't be indicted or prosecuted while in office is a legal opinion, not a law or treaty. It's not in the Constitution.

However, the wording of it doesn't really distinguish between federal and state cases:
In 1973, in the midst of the Watergate scandal engulfing President Richard Nixon, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel adopted in an internal memo the position that a sitting president cannot be indicted. Nixon resigned in 1974, with the House of Representatives moving toward impeaching him.

“The spectacle of an indicted president still trying to serve as Chief Executive boggles the imagination,” the memo stated.

The department reaffirmed the policy in a 2000 memo, saying court decisions in the intervening years had not changed its conclusion that a sitting president is “constitutionally immune” from indictment and criminal prosecution. It concluded that criminal charges against a president would “violate the constitutional separation of powers” delineating the authority of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the U.S. government.

“The indictment or criminal prosecution of a sitting President would unconstitutionally undermine the capacity of the executive branch to perform its constitutionally assigned functions,” the memo stated.
The memo doesn't say "The federal indictment or criminal prosecution of a sitting President," so I assume a newly reelected Trump (and his party) would argue that any prosecution of Trump has to stop immediately. And I can imagine Very Serious People -- you know, the same people who argue now that President Biden should pardon Trump, for the good of country -- making the argument that state charges filed during Trump's years as a private citizen shouldn't be prosecuted at all if he's on his way to the White House again.

America will be on shaky ground if Mark Levin and people like him are determining government policy, but that's what's likely to happen. So we really need to beat Trump at the ballot box.

Tuesday, August 15, 2023


Before Donald Trump's most recent indictment, he engaged in some witness intimidation -- this, for instance:

In response to Trump's message, Paul Campos wrote this:
A lot of people are saying that Trump’s constant violation of court orders in regard to his current and pending indictments is some sort of grand strategy.

That’s foolish, as Anton Chig[ur]h might put it. Trump is behaving this way because

(a) He has no impulse control

(b) He’s pathologically narcissistic, and these prosecutions constitute narcissistic injury

(c) He’s faced very few consequences in his life for breaking legal and social rules; and

(d) He’s really stupid.
I don't think this shows that Trump is stupid. I acknowledge that, in nearly every way, Trump is stupid -- but he's not stupid about how dominance and deference work in our depraved world. He knows that he can get away things other people can't because he's a white guy in an expensive suit, and he knows that blatantly taking advantage of this two-tiered system of justice makes him look strong and legal authorities look weak, which, in this and other cases he's facing, might impress at least one or two potential jurors more than the actual evidence against him. In other words, in this case, (d) is wrong because (c) is correct.

Or maybe this is when Trump's ability to defy authority and get away with it will come to an end. It would be awesome if at least one prosecutor were to hold him to the same standard as every other citizen, which would mean jailing his ass because he won't stop trying to intimidate witnesses, prosecutors, and judges. An unintended consequence of jailing Trump would be that he would go to 80% or 90% in the Republican primary polls, though I'm not sure it would have any impact on the general election. But in the meantime, Trump is just doing what's always worked for him -- acting as if he's above the law because, in New York for decades, he was. That may be low cunning rather than intelligence, but it's not stupidity.


Fulton County DA Fani Willis has given us an impressive indictment charging Donald Trump and eighteen other people with crimes related to the 2020 election, but -- you knew I'd find a reason not to be cheerful this morning -- the case almost certainly won't go to trial before the 2024 election, despite Willis's call for a trial within the next six months. Here's NBC News legal analyst Danny Cevallos explaining this to anchor Hallie Jackson:

It seems impossible that this case could go to trial sometime next year, in 2024. It actually seems impossible that it could go to trial in 2026. [I think he means 2025.] I'm not being glib here. When you look at the fact that the other current high-profile racketeering case that is pending in the same county has been in jury selection for eight months -- and if the name of the trial isn't at the tip of your tongue, then that's evidence that as high-profile as that trial is and they can't seat a jury, this trial is a hundred times as high-profile. And keep in mind also that there are many co-defendants. Each one of those co-defendants is charged with different crimes, and each one of those defendants is going to be filing motions to sever, motions to continue, motions to dismiss. All of these need to be decided. There's simply no way that this case could go to trial in the next two years, Hallie. I don't see it happening. And that again is part of life practicing in state courts. Things just take longer there. Usually inures to the benefit of the defense as well.
So while it's exciting that Trump can't self-pardon his way out of any convictions on these state charges, and it's also exciting that Trump faces mandatory minimum sentences on some of the charges, which means he won't be able to evade jail time if convicted, we still have to beat him at the ballot box.

If Trump wins the White House before this case goes to trial, the thoroughly corrupt Justice Department he'll put together (with the rubber-stamp endorsement of alleged institutionalists like Mitch McConnell) will jury-rig a lawless excuse for why Trump can't go to trial on these charges. So enjoy this moment, but remember that it's probably irrelevant to the future of democracy in America, at least in the near term. Trials that take place next year might influence the election outcome, but this case won't.