Tuesday, October 31, 2023


Jamelle Bouie writes:
For many Americans, the right to own a gun is liberty itself — the very definition of what it means to live in a free country. But the question raised by the Maine shooting, and especially the lockdown that followed, is just how free that freedom is.

How free are you really when you know that a trip to the grocery store or a morning in prayer or a day at school or a night at the movies can end in your death at the hands of a gun? How free are you really when you protest on behalf of a cause you believe in and are met on the street by armed counter-demonstrators? How free are you really when state authorities have to lock down a city so that they can stop a mass shooter from striking again?

I have written before about the fiction that an “armed society is a polite society,” an aphorism taken from the science-fiction writer Robert Heinlein’s novel “Beyond This Horizon,” where men carry weapons and duel with each other over perceived slights and insults. An armed society, I argued, is a society in which fear and suspicion replace trust and equal regard. And in that society, democracy cannot work.
But to the members of the gun community, the danger to democracy is a feature, not a bug. Gun absolutists don't want to live in a society where people who disagree with them -- on guns or on most other issues -- wield enough power to enact laws they don't like. Outside of blue states and big cities, gun absolutists have democracy right where they want it: Large majorities of Americans support tighter restrictions on gun ownership, but the vast majority of white people always vote Republican, so it's next to impossible to tighten gun laws.

Gun absolutists want some citizens to be intimidated. They say they just want criminals to be fearful (as well as the government), but they know that many of the people they detest are unlikely to own guns, and the power inequality is precisely what they're after. They want liberals and LGBTQ people and feminists to feel like second-class citizens. They want the option of intimidating protesters they disagree with, in a potentially deadly version of the hecklers' veto. And, obviously, they want to scare off anyone who might support laws making it harder to obtain and brandish weapons. Hey, what do you think "Try That in a Small Town" was all about? It sure as hell wasn't about democracy or upholding the First Amendment right to protest.

It's possible to imagine a society in which everyone lives the way gunners say they want everyone to live -- every law-abiding citizen across the political spectrum might accept our gun culture as unchangeable and might decide that it's necessary to own weapons, and to wear them in public at all times wherever that's legal. Liberals might reluctantly do this. Feminists and queers might do this. In theory, even gun control advocates might do this, telling themselves that while an extremely armed society is bad, it's clear that we already live in one, and until that changes, it's suicidal to go unarmed.

But the gunners wouldn't like that. They like the advantage they have over the rest of us. They enjoy our fear.

Monday, October 30, 2023


Are we really doing this again? Sorry, but a new New York Times story by Michael Bender and Michael Gold is pure wishcasting:
How Trump’s Verbal Slips Could Weaken His Attacks on Biden’s Age

Donald Trump, 77, has relentlessly attacked President Biden, 80, as too old for office. But the former president himself has had a series of gaffes that go beyond his usual freewheeling style.

... Mr. Trump has had a string of unforced gaffes, garble and general disjointedness that go beyond his usual discursive nature, and that his Republican rivals are pointing to as signs of his declining performance.
You mean like the time he said that the U.S. Army "took over the airports" at Fort McHenry during the War of 1812? Oh, wait -- Trump said that in 2019. This is the problem with the "Now Trump's really losing it!" discourse -- you can find clips from a year ago, four years ago, eight years ago, that led hopeful Trump-haters to the conclusion that he's this close to full-blown dementia. And it never arrives. (Yastreblyansky did a fine analysis of that Fort McHenry gaffe at the time -- Trump's problem seems to have been a combination of historical ignorance and inability to read his own teleprompter.)

So what's different now, according to Bender and Gold?
On Sunday in Sioux City, Iowa, Mr. Trump wrongly thanked supporters of Sioux Falls, a South Dakota town about 75 miles away, correcting himself only after being pulled aside onstage and informed of the error.
Is that incipient dementia? If so, then I wonder why a presidential candidate who made the same mistake in reverse fifteen years ago in South Dakota isn't on a memory-care ward right now:
As the large, enthusiastic crowd of some 7,000 supporters roared and waved ‘We can do it’ signs and Bruce Springsteen’s ‘The Rising’ blared, Obama bounded onto stage, grabbed the microphone and said, ‘Thank you, Sioux City!’

Trouble is, Obama was in Sioux Falls....

‘I’m sorry,’ Obama quickly caught himself. ‘Sioux Falls. I’ve been in Iowa too long.’
This was shortly after Obama said that he'd campagned in 57 states. Did Obama have dementia? No. He had a couple of brain farts. He's fine.

I know -- after mixing up Sioux City and Sioux Falls, Obama corrected himself quickly and Trump needed to be told that he'd made a mistake. But that doesn't necessarily mean that Trump is suffering a mental impairment. It may just mean that he's ignorant (which is obviously the case), or that he's so cocksure about his front-runner status that he doesn't believe he needs to work hard to avoid offending Iowans.

And this doesn't impress me either:
During a Sept. 15 speech in Washington, a moment after declaring Mr. Biden “cognitively impaired, in no condition to lead,” the former president warned that America was on the verge of World War II, which ended in 1945.
Trump is so pathetically vain that he won't publicly wear the eyeglasses he desperately needs -- he won't even wear them in the office in the presence of aides. I assume his staff stupidly put "World War III" rather than "World War Three" on the prompter and he read it as "World War II."

Reading difficulties might also explain this:
Last week, while speaking to supporters at a rally in New Hampshire, Mr. Trump praised Viktor Orban, the strongman prime minister of Hungary, but referred to him as “the leader of Turkey,” a country hundreds of miles away. He quickly corrected himself.
Even though Trump wants to be the president of the United States again, he really has no interest in the details of geopolitics, so he doesn't care where Orban is from. Plus, if you're half-blind and you won't wear glasses, "Hungary" and "Turkey" probably look alike on a prompter. (And if you know bugger-all about the Middle East, then of course you might say "Hamas" in a way that makes it sound like "hummus." That's not cognitive impairment -- Trump simply hasn't ever thought about Hamas enough to commit the pronunciation of the group's name to memory. And it doesn't matter, because his voters haven't, either.)

I don't know why Trump has recently said his 2016 opponent was Obama rather than Hillary Clinton (though I'm sure Obama was the candidate he wanted to beat, especially after that White House Correspondents Dinner speech). I think some of this might fall under the category of "mild cognitive impairment," but that's a long way from dementia.

I'll keep saying what I've been saying for years: Trump is a Vegas insult comic wannabe, and he still has moderately good comedy timing.

When he loses that, I'll believe he's sliding into severe impairment. And as long as he can do that, the public will see him as sharper and more articulate than President Biden. I know none of us want to accept that, but it's true.

Sunday, October 29, 2023


Paul Kane of The Washington Post believes that the American system of government is facing a tremendous danger: the possibility that a compulsive liar and (alleged!) serial fraudster might be expelled from Congress. To Kane, a successful vote to expel George Santos would bring America that much closer to ruin:
During the more than 230 years of congressional history, just five members have been expelled by the House: three for disloyalty to the Union during the Civil War and two in the last 45 years after they had been convicted in federal court in felony corruption cases.

Santos has not been charged with treason, nor has he been convicted of a crime — not yet anyway. In addition, an ongoing Ethics Committee investigation is just that: ongoing....

This expulsion vote, which requires a two-thirds majority to oust Santos ... [is] part of a growing effort to bypass anything resembling a legitimate investigative process. Instead, it moves straight to empaneling the entire House to serve as instant prosecutors, judges and juries for misdeeds that would probably be better served with a somber and, yes, slow-moving investigation from the ethics panel.
Here's what Kane doesn't grasp: Santos's unfitness to serve isn't embodied only in the crimes he's charged with in a 13-count federal indictment and the matters that are being investigated by the House ethics panel. Santos also lied shamelessly to the voters who elected him -- and not just about one or two matters, but about virtually every aspect of his biography. His jobs. His schooling. The mother who allegedly died as a result of 9/11. And on and on. Santos is unfit is so many different ways that the legal system and House ethics rules can't encompass all of it.

Kane writes:
“He should absolutely resign,” former congressman Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) said in an interview Friday.

However, having served eight years on the House Ethics Committee, including two as chair, Dent will say out loud what many lawmakers are afraid to say in public: Santos should not be voted out of office....

Not long ago — even though it sometimes feels like decades ago — misbehaving Republicans and Democrats alike used to feel political heat under the speakerships of Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.).

Former congressman Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) resigned in 2011 after a social media sex scandal. Former House member Chris Lee (R-N.Y.) resigned earlier that year when he was caught soliciting extramarital partners online. And former lawmaker Mark Souder (R-Ind.) resigned in 2010 after having an affair with an aide.

Onetime congressman Vito Fossella (R-N.Y.) was arrested while driving drunk in the Virginia suburbs, telling police he was on his way to see his family — which turned out to be true, just not his family in Staten Island. His mistress and child lived out there. He resigned once it was all exposed.

“Members used to be able to feel shame,” Dent lamented.

Now, outlandish behavior gets attention, and party leaders have less ability to force lawmakers to resign.
So it's okay to pressure a "misbehaving" member of Congress to resign before a full ethics investigation can be completed, but it's not okay to vote to expel someone under the same circumstances? That makes no sense. It's nostalgia, a wish for a time when members of Congress were all gentlemen and ladies who did the decent thing when their misdeeds were exposed. That system of shaming wrongdoers in order to sidestep slow-moving ethics investigations was far from perfect in the past, but even if it worked some of the time, should we replace it with nothing?

A vote to expel Santos would need to be by a supermajority (a two-thirds vote), so a great deal of GOP buy-in would be required. Expulsion would reflect a broad consensus in the House. Why would that be a bad thing?

Saturday, October 28, 2023


I spotted this paragraph in a Jonathan Chait post about the newly elected House speaker:
New Speaker Mike Johnson is a hero of the far right — not only for his leadership role in pushing Trump’s coup attempt, but also in his comprehensive commitment to right-wing policy across the board. He has endorsed the Paul Ryan style and spending rollbacks, expressed militant hostility to gay marriage and abortion, and voted against aid to Ukraine.
But wait -- haven't we been told for years that there's a "mainstream" Republican Party, which rejects abortion and LGBT people and wants to slash taxes and entitlements, but that party is rapidly being replaced by a Donald Trump Republican Party that's isolationist (no aid to Ukraine!), populist (protect Social Security and Medicare!), and skeptical of democracy (Trump won!)?

In the pundit class, it's widely believed that Trump won the 2016 presidential race because he promised not to cut Medicare and Social Security. (I'm sure that helped a little, but the anger, the racism, and the mythologized business career helped more, as did the widespread contempt for his opponent.) Many pundits think the GOP is becoming a "working-class party" -- they point to a handful of Republicans (usually Marco Rubio, Josh Hawley, and J.D. Vance) who advocate policies meant to transfer more wealth or benefits to the non-rich and say that this is the party's future, even though these policies are firmly rejected by the vast majority of Republicans.

I think the post-Trump GOP will be a party that combines the worst aspects of the pre-Trump GOP with the worst aspects of Trumpism. Trumpist isolationism when the enemy is Russia? Check. Cheneyesque interventionism when the enemy is Iran, China, or the Mexican drug cartels? Check. An embrace of Andrew Tate-style toxic masculinity? Check. A simultaneous embrace of Mike Pence-style policies on abortion and LGBT rights? Check. Efforts to game democracy by legal if unethical means (gerrymandering, crackdowns on ballot dropoff boxes)? Check. Efforts to game democracy through brute force? Check.

It's possible that Trump, if he's elected again, will succeed in preventing cuts to Social Security and Medicare (it's a big idea that's so simple even a guy as stupid as Trump can grasp it easily, and it involves borrowed money, so of course Trump is in favor of it). However, he might flip, and even if he doesn't, the policy won't survive him. The future of GOP economics will look exactly like the Reagan/Ryan past, unless it's even meaner to the non-rich.

You could argue that the war on "critical race theory" is just Republicans who know how to use their inside voice dressing up Trumpist racism in pseudo-intellectual garb. I think much of the GOP's future will look like that: the visceral hatreds Trump unleashes channeled into policies that can pass for policy wonkery if you don't look too closely.

Speaker Johnson is pointing the way to the GOP's future: one that's almost indistinguishable from the party's past, but, like Trump, is stupider and nastier.

Friday, October 27, 2023


It doesn't surprise me that this happened on X (Twitter):
... shortly after the deadly mass shootings in Lewiston, Maine ... Media Matters found numerous heavily followed verified accounts claiming that the tragedy was actually a “false flag” attack that was staged or orchestrated by the government....

Ron Watkins, a QAnon conspiracy theorist and former Republican congressional candidate with over 412,000 followers on his formerly banned account, wrote: “Why is there a shooting every time they want to distract us? Do you know what a false flag is?”

Shadow of Ezra, which has over 134,000 followers, wrote: “FBI just staged another shooting. All major shooters end up having connections to the FBI.” The account also referenced a tweet by Vice President Kamala Harris about Congress passing an assault weapons ban and wrote: “One day before the false flag shooting in Maine, Kamala Harris' X account Tweeted this out. Must be just a coincidence right?”
Ron DeSantis said the shooting happened because the mental health system was ineffective:

Others on the right said the mental health system was too effective:

The new Speaker of the House, Mike Johnson, blamed the shooting on the nature of "the human heart," but back in 2015, when he was a lawyer for anti-choice groups and Irin Carmon interviewed him, abortion was his go-to culprit for gun massacres:
... he said, “Many women use abortion as a form of birth control, you know, in certain segments of society, and it’s just shocking and sad, but this is where we are. When you break up the nuclear family, when you tell a generation of people that life has no value, no meaning, that it’s expendable, then you do wind up with school shooters.”
Even if you believe some of these theories, you can't believe all of them simultaneously. But if you think that's a flaw in the right's propaganda messaging, you don't understand how the messaging is supposed to work. The right puts out multiple theories to make sure every persuadable person has been exposed to several possible reasons why liberals and Democrats are lying and are thoroughly evil. (The mental health system, in this case, is part of the vast liberal conspiracy, as is the FBI.) The people who respond to this propaganda can select whichever theory or theories resonate with them, or just let all the theories wash over them, which conveys the impression that the enemy (us) is evil in countless ways.

Right-wing propaganda works like a drug cocktail that's used to fight a serious disease. If the disease agent gets past one of the drugs in the cocktail, it can still be killed by one of the other drugs. One drug might work on one part of the disease process and another drug might work on another part.

In this case, the disease that the multiple drugs work on is the truth -- namely that we have regular gun massacres because we have too many extremely deadly weapons in the hands of too many angry and unstable people. Anger at our gun culture can't be allowed to take root. So multiple drugs are deployed to fight it.

The same thing is true about the belief that Donald Trump won the 2020 presidential election. Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani made a number of crazy arguments -- they said, for instance, that some voting-machine software had been crafted in Venezuela by Hugo Chavez (who'd died seven years earlier). Even Trump himself reportedly found that absurd. But Trump has argued that dead people voted and that fake Biden ballots were slipped into a ballot-counting room in Georgia.

And if you don't like those conspiracy theories, Republicans have others. The new House speaker, Mike Johnson, led the effort to get House Republicans to sign on to an amicus brief in a Texas lawsuit that said other states had illegally changed their voting rules in response to the COVID pandemic in ways that cost Trump the election (even though Trump voters were eligible to take advantage of the new voting procedures). Other right-wingers argue that efforts to make voting easier that were financed by a Mark Zuckerberg organization rigged the election.

You might not buy all of these excuses for Trump's loss, but if you believe some, the drug cocktail is working. And that's how right-wing propaganda works. You can choose your favorite conspiracy -- and you'll get a lot of choices.

Thursday, October 26, 2023


Even D.C. journalists knew little about the new speaker of the House, Mike Johnson, before his election yesterday. We're all learning more now. CNN's Andrew Kaczynski and Allison Gordon report that he argued in favor of the criminalization of gay sex in opinion pieces published in the mid-2000s. And Judd Legum and his colleagues at Popular Information tell us about Johnson key role in the effort to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, as well as his support for Evangelical-tinged Bible courses in public schools, covenant marriage, and legalized discrimination against people in same-sex marriages, and also his belief in fetal personhood.

On that last subject, Legum and his co-authors write:
Today, [Johnson] is an original co-sponsor of the "Life at Conception" bill, which would effectively ban all abortions. The bill would grant every "preborn human person" equal rights under the 14th Amendment from "the moment of fertilization."
In addition to the obvious horrors of this, I wonder what it would do to the U.S. census. The Constitution mandates a census, and also says that each person in the nation must be counted. Here's the wording, from Article I, Section 2, Clause 3:
Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons. The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.
Ignore the references to the enslaved and indentured, and to Native Americans. Wouldn't a personhood law make every fetus, zygote, and fertilized egg (even a pre-implantation fertilized egg) a "free person," or at least a "person"?

Would the United States be constitutionally required to ascertain the existence of every fetus, zygote, and fertilized egg in the country? How would that be done? I assume that those who are happily pregnant would be expected to report their pregnancies to the Census Bureau, but how would every other instance of pregnancy and fertilization be discovered? Would government employees go house to house and conduct tests? This nightmare future government might content itself with self-reporting -- but would there be penalties for a deliberately false report, and would the penalties be harsh? Would everyone who could conceivably be pregnant be expected to self-test and report the results, because the Constitution requires it?

I'm just asking questions. Fortunately, it's all hypothetical, at least for now.

Wednesday, October 25, 2023


As I imagine you've already guessed, I find ABC's "bombshell" Trump story underwhelming:
Former President Donald Trump's final chief of staff in the White House, Mark Meadows, has spoken with special counsel Jack Smith's team at least three times this year, including once before a federal grand jury, which came only after Smith granted Meadows immunity to testify under oath, according to sources familiar with the matter.

The sources said Meadows informed Smith's team that he repeatedly told Trump in the weeks after the 2020 presidential election that the allegations of significant voting fraud coming to them were baseless, a striking break from Trump's prolific rhetoric regarding the election.
Really? That's it? That's the bombshell?

I know that demonstrating Trump's awareness of the fact that he lost the 2020 election is key to Jack Smith's case. David French writes:
As I’ve explained in various pieces, and as the former federal prosecutor Ken White explained to me when I guest-hosted Ezra Klein’s podcast, proof of criminal intent is indispensable to the criminal cases against Trump, both in Georgia and in the federal election case. While the specific intent varies depending on the charge, each key claim requires proof of conscious wrongdoing — such as an intent to lie or the “intent to have false votes cast.”
I'm just a schmuck blogger, not a semi-famous D.C. lawyer. I don't want to argue with Popehat, or even David French, about the importance of demonstrating that Trump knew he'd lost.

But I question whether it's possible to demonstrate that merely by demonstrating that important advisers told Trump he'd lost. When we talk about Trump, we're talking about a guy who monomaniacally proclaims that he was cheated out of a second term. He brings this up even at unrelated and inappropriate moments. It's been his principal subject in virtually every public utterance since November 2020. I think attempting to prove that he knew he was lying will be like attempting to prove that a prominent evangelical preacher doesn't believe in God. There may be famous preachers who actually are secret atheists. But if a famous preacher talks about God every time he speaks, and if he has a large following precisely because of the compelling, emotional way they talk about God, and if he continues to invoke God (and rail against those who don't believe in God) while facing a court challenge that turns on questions of faith, will the entire jury believe the charismatic preacher's characterization of his own state of mind, or a few uncharismatic aides who say the preacher is a phony?

It's possible that most jurors will accept the government's case, but I strongly suspect that some won't. In a country where a third of the population thinks the 2020 election was rigged, I find it hard to imagine that a jury will unanimously believe Trump's protestations were mere theater.

Even I suspect that Trump, in his bizarre way, believes he won the election. He judges assertions based on whether they're beneficial to him, not on whether they're truthful. I don't think he believes in truth.

I wish the Trump election cases turned on procedure, not mental state. Trump was a major-party presidential candidate and America's highest government official. As such, he should have understood how we resolve disputes in this society: We go to court. The disputing parties present their cases before judges. Once all avenues of appeal are exhausted, that's it -- our system provides no more recourse. That should be what prosecutors are endeavoring to demonstrate: not that Trump believed he'd been cheated, but that he knew he'd argued his case before court after court and had lost repeatedly. A person in his position should have known that that was our system's final judgment. That should be what we talk about when we talk about his state of mind.

Tuesday, October 24, 2023


In the comments to my last post, Jordan Orlando challenges my assertion that Donald Trump is the leader of the Republican Party:
The GOP doesn't have a leader. They have something else, something new: this fucking useless asshole who has somehow magically and permanently been affixed to the rudimentary foundational symbolism of their "movement."

He's not even a politician. He's a mascot; an avatar; a Mardi Gras "king;" a spokesmodel; a figurehead without an agenda or even the merest commitment to their priorities and agendae. He couldn't care less. He stands for, believes in, and understands nothing but himself and his appetites, which are somehow grotesque, petty and monstrous at the same time....

To be clear: yes, the GOP is forced to conduct themselves in ways that avoid crossing Trump or his gang of idiot voters will destroy them. But that's not "leadership" — it's (as I'm saying) not even politics. It's show business; it's wrestling and casinos and all the systematized commercial swill Trump embodies. There is, in fact, no leader, in terms of policy or commitment to voters' wills or budgets or anything real. There's just (as Steve points out in, I think, his one accurate conclusion) the manufactured loathing of Democrats that's the glue that ties GOP power structures to this idiot charlatan, this criminal con man, this rock-thrower.
But every day the GOP makes clear that it doesn't care about "policy ... or budgets or anything real." It's an entire party of "rock-throwers," and it's been heading in the direction since long before Trump took that escalator ride.

In The New York Times today, Rich Lowry, of all people, demonstrates an understanding of what the Republican Party is now:
Even before [Trump's] rise, Republicans were much more susceptible than Democrats to nonserious presidential candidates running to increase their profile for media gigs, book sales and the like. Mr. Trump was this type of candidate on a much larger scale, and ... happened to actually win.

One way to look at it is that the very successful model that the commentator Ann Coulter forged in the world of conservative media — generate controversy and never, ever apologize — came to be replicated by candidates and officeholders.

Both Vivek Ramaswamy and Matt Gaetz are creatures of politics for the sake of notoriety. It creates entirely different incentives from the traditional approach: Stoking outrage is good, blowing things up is useful, and it never pays to get caught doing the responsible thing.

At the congressional level, there was a related, although distinct phenomenon. With the rise of the Tea Party, the tendency of the right flank of the House Republican caucus to make the life of the party leadership miserable became more pronounced. This was especially true in spending fights. The pattern was that the right, associated with the House Freedom Caucus after its founding in 2015, would hold out a standard of impossible purity, and then when leaders inevitability failed to meet it, denounce them as weak and traitorous.

... some of these members consider the legislative process in and of itself corrupt, and refuse to participate even if they can increase the negotiating leverage of their own side or move spending deals marginally in their direction.

... There’s no dealing with the likes of [Matt] Gaetz because he’s operating on a different dimension from someone like [Kevin] McCarthy, a pragmatist and coalition-builder who is trying to move the ball incrementally. It’s the difference between politics as theater and politics as the art of the possible; politics as individual brand-building and politics as team sport.
Trump is an unserious entertainer, but, yes, he's the leader of a political party -- a party dominated by unserious entertainers. Oh, they'd enact policy in Washington if they had the supermajorities they have in many states, but it would be purely revanchist policy: punishing LGBT people and immigrants and educational institutions that teach the truth about America's racial history and cities that want to make their criminal justice systems more humane. None of it is meant to solve important problems; all of it is meant to demonstrate that Republicans hate the people their voters hate and are eager to kick them in the teeth. In Washington, where Republicans can't do any of this (yet), can't impeach and convict the president and other Democrats, and can't zero out the budgets of the FBI, the CIA, and other allegedly "woke" or "globalist" government agencies, they just talk about it endlessly, so it's clear that they hate whomever the voters hate.

There is one serious policy idea at the core of all this: the notion that rich people and large corporations, especially in the fossil fuels industry, should be lightly taxed and allowed to operate exactly as they please for the rest of recorded time. This is an agenda that very few voters actually support, so the Republican Party has historically distracted the electorate with hot-button issues such as guns and abortion. In the past, Republican politicians just needed to say was that they wouldn't let anyone take your guns and they believed in "life" -- they'd win the votes of suburban and exurban whites, and then they'd get to work making the rich richer. But massacres have changed gun politics and the Dobbs ruling has changed the politics of abortion -- so Republicans focus on demonizing the handful of interscholastic athletes in America who are trans, when they're not shipping immigrants to blue states on buses or conducting some other kind of Two Minutes' Hate. It gets them reelected, which is the point, but it's primarily theater. If that's the Republican Party now, it's no surprise that a showman is its leader.

Monday, October 23, 2023


Who's the leader of the Republican Party? According to Lisa Lerer and Michael Bender of The New York Times, there doesn't seem to be one.
In the House, Republicans are casting about for a new leader, mired in an internecine battle marked by screaming, cursing and a fresh flood of candidates. In the Senate, their party is led by Senator Mitch McConnell, who spent weeks arguing that he remained physically and mentally fit enough for the position after freezing midsentence in two public appearances. And on the 2024 campaign trail, the dominant front-runner, Donald J. Trump, faces 91 felony charges across four cases, creating a drumbeat of legal news that often overwhelms any of his party’s political messages.

As national Democrats largely stand behind President Biden and his agenda — more united than in years — Republicans are divided, directionless and effectively leaderless.
The Republican Party is "effectively leaderless"? Seriously?

Sorry -- you can't say that the Republican Party doesn't have a leader just because you don't like the leader. But that's what Lerer and Bender are doing here. Trump is the party's leader, whether they like it or not.

And is the party really "divided" and "directionless"? As I wrote recently on social media:

Republicans may not agree on much, but they agree on one thing: the Republican nominee should be elected president, even if he's up on 91 felony counts -- hell, even if he's convicted on many of those counts.

(Actually, Republicans do agree on much: Joe Biden is evil. Nancy Pelosi is evil. The Squad is evil. Chuck Schumer is evil. Trans athletes are evil. Critical race theory is evil. Bud Light is evil. Gun control is evil. Abortion is evil. Liberal celebrities are evil. Left-wingers at elite universities are evil. Should I go on? This list continues for several pages.)

Lerer and Bender write:
For years, Mr. Trump has domineered Republican politics, with a reach that could end careers, create new political stars and upend the party’s long-held ideology on issues like trade, China and federal spending.
Funny, that sounds like a leader to me, if not a very good one. But Lerer and Bender say that's not really the case:
He remains the party’s nominal leader, capturing a majority of G.O.P. voters in national polling and holding a double-digit lead in early voting states.

And yet his commanding position has turned Republicans into a party of one, demanding absolute loyalty to Mr. Trump and his personal feuds and pet causes, such as his false claims that the 2020 election was stolen. The result is an endless loop of chaos that even some Republicans say once again threatens to define the party’s brand heading into an election in which Republicans — after struggling to meet the basic responsibilities of governing the House of Representatives — will ask voters to also put them in charge of the Senate and the White House.
I lived through the 2013 government shutdown, which had no impact on the results of the 2014 midterms, in which Republicans cleaned the Democrats' clock. So I don't accept this narrative. But even if you accept it, it's clear that chaos and dysfunction are just fine with Republican voters. They think government is evil (that should have been on the list above), so who cares if it ceases to function (at least as long as the Social Security checks keep going out)? Better that than compromise with evil Democrats and RINOs.

The fact that Trump is a chaos agent means he is the leader of a party that would rather burn everything down than work across the aisle. But Lerer and Bender don't see that.

On the Times op-ed page, Alexander Narazyan also struggles to accept Trump's leadership of the Republican Party. Today he looks at the case of Chris Christie, who said that the way to defeat Trump was to insult him until Trump-loving GOP voters were magically deprogrammed. This has been a spectacular failure, but Nazaryan insists that the plan was brilliant:
It’s a bold premise, but more sound than it might seem. Almost any pollster will tell you that Mr. Trump’s support is soft once you look beyond the MAGA base. A CNN poll conducted in late August found that 44 percent of Republican or Republican-leaning independents seriously worried that Mr. Trump’s legal issues could impair his ability to win the general election. Mr. Christie is the only candidate speaking directly, specifically, to this fear. A separate poll found that almost a third of Republican voters who intend to support Mr. Trump may still change their mind based on what happens in the months leading up to the first votes being cast.
But they won't. After nearly a year of campaigning -- and indictments -- Trump's lead over the rest of the GOP field has only increased.

Nazaryan believes that Trump is beatable in the primaries and Christie's methods are sound -- he's just not the right person to execute the hit on Trump. Why, look at all of Christie's flawed behavior throughout his career! Nazaryan seriously implies that issues like these are front of mind for GOP voters as they listen to Christie:
His selection for the post of U.S. attorney for New Jersey in 2001 by the George W. Bush administration was mystifying. He had never tried a federal case or overseen a major criminal prosecution; his sole evident qualification was having helped to raise $350,000 for the Bush campaign.
Yes, I'm sure that voters who are about to cast their third straight presidential ballot for Donald Trump are deeply concerned about Christie's thin résumé in 2001.
And while he prosecuted members of both parties, it became clear that he had a particular knack for targeting prominent Democrats — particularly when it served his own political ambitions.
Nazaryan genuinely believes it's a red flag for GOP voters that Christie targeted Democrats.
Near the end of the second Bush term, Mr. Christie seemed to have concluded that he was exempt from the ethical standards he once held others to. He lavishly overspent on hotel rooms, handed out dubious legal oversight contracts (as much as $52 million to a former U.S. attorney general, John Ashcroft) and made questionable loans ($46,000 to Michele Brown, a subordinate who doubled as a political adviser). He hired a friend’s son “over objections,” reported The Star-Ledger, “from nearly every assistant U.S. attorney who interviewed him.”
Apart from a handful of political professionals, is there a single Iowa voter who knows any of this? I'm sure most New Jersey residents don't know or have forgotten. Christie easily won two elections in New Jersey despite all this.

Nazaryan goes on to cite Bridgegate and Christie's (non-literal) embrace of President Obama after Hurricane Sandy. I'm sure these are key reasons Christie is struggling with GOP voters. But does Liz Cheney have any of this baggage? Yet she went from a position in the House Republican leadership to pariah status as soon as she started talking the way Christie is talking. She won her primary in 2020 by 47 points, then lost the 2022 primary by 37 points.

Alex, please understand: It's not the messenger, it's the message. Republicans don't want to hear it. Trump is their leader. I think you (and Lerer and Bender) question this obvious fact because you can't bear to accept the truth about the GOP.

Sunday, October 22, 2023


I almost feel sorry for Tom Fitton of Judicial Watch. Like everyone else who's part of the right-wing defamation-industrial complex, he needs to generate a great deal of content every week portraying Democrats, liberals, and non-conservative government officials as extraordinarily evil and bent on destroying American civilization as we know it. Sometimes the magic works, but sometimes it doesn't.

It sure wasn't working a couple of weeks ago, when Fitton told us about this courageous effort to hold powerful government officials accountable:
Judicial Watch announced today that it filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the U.S. Secret Service for records regarding incidents of aggression and bites involving President Joe Biden’s Dog, Commander (Judicial Watch Inc, v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security (No. 1:23-cv-02960)).

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia after the Secret Service (a component of the Department of Homeland Security) failed to respond to a July 31, 2023, request for all records involving the “Biden family dog, ‘Commander,’ including but not limited to communications sent to and from [Secret Service] officials in the Uniformed and Non-Uniformed Divisions involved in White House operations and the Presidential Protection Division.”
You probably think you know all you need to know about Biden's dog Commander, whose biting problem has been widely reported. But Fitton insists that there are things about Commandergate that "they" don't want you know. On October 6, he wrote:
Biden Abuses His Dogs?!

... According to our source, President Biden has mistreated his dogs. We have learned that he has punched and kicked his dogs.
Also on October 6, Voz Media, an ideological ally of Judicial Watch, reported this:
... Commander's behavior may be a result of abuse. Sources close to Judicial Watch published a video in which President Biden is seen mistreating his German shepherd, even punching and kicking him:

What do you see in that video? Do you see any abuse? I see a guy unsuccessfully attempting to herd his dog, and then nearly tripping over the dog's leash. No matter how many times that last bit is repeated in the clip, it still doesn't look like a kick.

As poor Tom Fitton was working this story, a somewhat more important news event took place: the Hamas attack on Israel, on October 7. Tom hasn't been able to get traction for the story as a result.

So he's moved on. Here's his latest. It concerns the drowning death of Barack Obama's personal chef, which authorities have ruled an accident:
We received 40 pages of records from the Massachusetts State Police that indicate the presence of Barack Obama for a witness interview in the death investigation of the Obamas’ personal chef Tafari Campbell.
And what are the shocking revelations Judicial Watch has unearthed?
The records, which are heavily redacted, indicate Barack Obama arrived at the emergency response scene via motorcade. A short time later, a cold, wet woman, who was a witness, arrived. The next morning, the eyewitness was interviewed in the Obama residence, again with Barack Obama present.

It is concerning that we had to push for several months to find out that Barack Obama was personally involved in the death investigation of his personal chef Tafari Campbell.
By "personally involved in the investigation," do you mean "interviewed"? Because, yes, he was interviewed. He employed the deceased man (and probably the witness) and the death took place near his home. There's nothing earth-shattering about any of this.

And yes, the report says the female witness "was visibly emotional and was visibly shaking from being cold and wet." It's Massachusetts. The ocean water doesn't get very warm even in midsummer. And yet people go into the water because that's what people who live and work near the ocean do. And if they see someone drown, yes, they're likely to get emotional and might start to shake visibly.

Fitton posts long, boring excerpts from the report and then points out shocking revelations such as this:
The homicide/death report lists as seized evidence under “Property #1” an “Under Armour Baseball Hat (Black)” and in the description notes: “West Tisbury Firefighter Stephen Serusa recovers a black, Under Armour baseball hat in Edgartown Great Pond, floating in the marsh area of Turkeyland Cove … during search for Tafari CAMPBELL. Hat matches the description of CAMPBELLS hat he was last seen wearing. Hat later confirmed by witnesses to be CAMPBELLS.”
Wow -- a hat they found matches the description of a hat the deceased man owned. Rip up the front page! We have a new lead story!

I know how easy it is to develop a craving for the constant dopamine hits you can get from posting new items on the Internet as often as possible. But sometimes no content is better than fresh content. On these two subjects, just give it up, Tom. They're probably not even inspiring the rubes to send you money.

Saturday, October 21, 2023


You folks think I'm a knee-jerk pessimist about Democrats, but I think there are reasons to be optimistic about the Virginia legislative elections that will take place next month:
Abortion has surged as a key issue for women and Democrats for the Nov. 7 legislative elections in Virginia ... according to a Washington Post-Schar School poll.

The election will decide whether Virginia remains a relatively liberal outlier among Southern states in areas such as guns, LGBTQ+ rights and criminal justice, or whether Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) can enact a conservative agenda that includes a ban on abortion after 15 weeks, with exceptions.

... registered voters are roughly divided when asked whether they favor a generic Democrat on the House of Delegates ballot over a Republican — at 47 percent to 43 percent, respectively — with an even tighter two-point gap among likely voters. Separately, 48 percent of all voters say they view united Republican control as a “bad thing” and 43 percent view it as a “good thing.”

... 70 percent of women rate abortion as a very important issue, up from 47 percent in 2019. Men who emphasize the issue have increased slightly to 50 percent from 45 percent in 2019.

The issue’s elevation is also driven by a 30-point increase among Democrats who say it is very important (from 47 percent in 2019 to 77 percent this year) and a 12-point rise among independents (from 40 percent to 52 percent). Republican voters have not moved, with 53 percent saying abortion is a very important issue now compared with 52 percent in 2019.
We're told that the results of this election "could signal the national political mood heading into the 2024 presidential election," but I don't believe that. The 2024 election will be a referendum on Joe Biden and/or Donald Trump. I fear it will be a referendum on Biden, who's not very popular; if it's a referendum on Trump, I hope it's a referendum on his unfitness to serve and not on misty and inaccurate recollections of a time when the economy was ideal and America had no crime. The Biden campaign desperately needs to do some image repair for the president and his vice president, and needs to remind voters how radically right-wing a second Trump term could be.

But I don't think the Virginia elections will be a referendum on the current president. Republicans could still do well if the election is about the economy and crime, areas in which Republicans are trusted more (see below). But note the issues apart from abortion on which Democrats are trusted more:

The conventional wisdom is that in 2021 fleece-wearing suburban dad Glenn Youngkin found the formula that allowed him to run on the culture war, particularly critical race theory and the trans panic, without alienating suburban moderates. That may be true for him personally -- he has a 54% approval rating -- but he's not on the ballot, and Virginia voters not only trust Democrats more than Republicans on abortion, they trust Democrats more on education and trans issues.

Youngkin's people have been selling the narrative that if Republicans sweep next month, he can enter the presidential race and be the Trump killer. The mainstream media is ready for this narrative, so we see headlines like "‘Virginia Is the Test Case’: Youngkin Pushes for G.O.P. Takeover This Fall" (New York Times) and "Glenn Youngkin Thinks He Has a Republican Response to Democrats’ Abortion Attacks" (Politico). The latter is accompanied by this photo, in case you're wondering whether the media has a rooting interest:

I hope this is true:
... Youngkin’s push to convince Republicans to embrace early voting through his “Secure Your Vote” campaign, after years of GOP lawmakers working against the effort to expand absentee voting in Virginia, does not seem to have had a significant effect. Among voters who identify as Republican, 65 percent say they intend to cast their ballot on Election Day while 32 percent say they have voted early or plan to.

... Half of Democrats plan to vote in person on Election Day, while roughly the same share say they’ll vote early or have already voted.
Early voting is good. Early voting means the party needs to devote fewer resources on Election Day to turnout efforts. If Republicans are still opposed to early voting, that's good for Democrats.

Democratic strategists Simon Rosenberg and Tom Bonier, who were optimistic last year when many people were predicting a "red wave," are warning that Democrats don't have a clear lead in early voting. I hope that's not a sign that Democrats will underperform after overperforming in other off-year contests since the Dobbs decision. We'll see.

If Republicans manage to win and Youngkin enters the presidential race, I think he'll have his head handed to him by Donald Trump. No one can beat Trump, but it's particularly unlikely that Trump could be beaten by someone with a nice-guy persona who's trying to impress mainstream journalists. It will be hilarious to watch Youngkin take incoming from Trump and have no response because firing back would be bad for his image. It could be Jeb Bush 2.0. But I hope Democrats triumph and we don't get to that point.

Friday, October 20, 2023


Some finance billionaires have been trying to cancel the University of Pennsylvania, and this Fox News story makes clear that Fox is totally cool with that:
A prominent University of Pennsylvania donor sent his alma mater a $1 check with an annual pledge for the same amount as long as UPenn President Liz Magill remains at the school, joining a handful of other mega-donors who continue to withhold donations over the school's response to the Israel-Hamas conflict and accusations of excusing antisemitism....

On Sunday, Magill released a statement saying the school didn't move fast enough to address criticism of the "Palestine Writes" event and strongly condemned the Hamas "terrorist assault" on Israel; her initial statement to the school didn't refer to Hamas a terrorist group, although it called its attack "abhorrent" and "horrific."
(I love that last detail. It's so ... snowflake-y. You condemned the attack, but you didn't condemn using the exact words we wanted to hear, so your condemnation doesn't count. We saw a lot of this in the War on Terror era.)
Jonathon Jacobson, a 1983 Wharton graduate and founding member of private investment firm HighSage Ventures LLC, announced his reduced donation in a letter obtained by Fox News, in which he scolded his alma mater for its lack of "moral courage" and inability to distinguish between "what is clearly right and clearly wrong."

Jacobson ... has previously given "multi-seven figure donations," to the university in addition to student scholarships and financial support for the school’s sports program....

Jacobson was likely inspired by Apollo CEO Marc Rowan, who earlier this week called on prominent UPenn donors to send $1 checks with the hopes of forcing a change in leadership at the university. The outrage began after the school hosted a Palestinian literary festival on campus which included speakers with a history of antisemitic comments....
I've tried to learn what was appalling about the Palestine Writes festival, and the most comprehensive roundup I can find is from the American Jewish Committee:
The festival’s inaugural event includes a screening of the film Farha, which includes a number of toxic antisemitic tropes, including a modern retelling of the blood libel trope that casts Jews as vicious, bloodthirsty, and cruel.
I'm struggling to reconcile this characterization of the film with what I'm reading about it elsewhere. It's a fictional film about a 14-year-old girl's experiences during the 1948 expulsion of Palestinians. The film has appearead at major film festivals, was picked up by Netflix, and was Jordan's submission to the Academy Awards in the International Film category. Reviews don't discuss it as a bigoted piece of agitprop.
Other problematic discourse at the event includes references to Israel as a “settler colonialist” state. The term “settler colonialism” refers to a system of oppression in which a colonizing nation engages in ethnic cleansing by displacing and dispossessing a native or pre-existing population.
Or the two words could be taken at face value, in which case they're accurate.
Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters, who is scheduled to speak remotely to the festival on Friday night, was recently described by the U.S. State Department as an artist who "has a long track record of using antisemitic tropes to denigrate Jewish people" after he desecrated the memory of Holocaust victim Anne Frank, compared Israel to the Third Reich, and paraded around a stage wearing an SS Nazi uniform during a recent concert in Berlin.
Waters is problematic, but note that he was banned from entering the campus and participated in the event via Zoom.
Meanwhile, Marc Lamont Hill, who called for Israel’s eradication on CNN (he repeated the slogan “From the River to the Sea”) and has referred to mainstream media companies as “Zionist outlets,” is scheduled to speak in person....
But this is the level of offense and outrage that is supposed to be endured by other racial and ethnic groups, sexual minorities, and women, according to the critics of "cancel culture." In fact, the people who've expressed outrage at the words of Penn's most notorious bigot, law professor Amy Wax, are invariably described as engaging in unacceptable and fascistic levels of censorship ("cancel culture").

You remember Amy Wax:
In a September 2017 podcast interview with Professor Glenn Loury, Wax said: "Take Penn Law School, or some top 10 law school... Here's a very inconvenient fact... I don't think I've ever seen a black student graduate in the top quarter of the class, and rarely, rarely in the top half ... I can think of one or two students who scored in the top half in my required first-year course"...

In July 2019, at the Edmund Burke Foundation's inaugural National Conservatism conference, Wax said, "Embracing... cultural distance nationalism, means in effect taking the position that our country will be better off with more whites and fewer non-whites."
Wax also has thoughts about Asian-Americans (and Democrats):
I have great respect for George Lee and his efforts to preserve the admissions requirements for exam high schools in New York City, and I have joined him in this cause. But I think he is too optimistic about the influence of Asians and Asian immigrants on our polity and culture. Although Lee is right that Asians vary in their political views, as do all groups, the important and often overlooked question is “how many?” Enoch Powell asked that question about third-world immigration to Britain decades ago and was excoriated and ostracized for it, but the importance and wisdom of the question prove themselves over and over.

Numbers matter, a lot! In the case of Asians in the U.S., the overwhelming majority vote Democratic. In my opinion, the Democratic Party is a pernicious influence and force in our country today. It advocates for “wokeness,” demands equal outcomes despite clear individual and group differences in talent, ability, and drive, mindlessly valorizes blacks (the group most responsible for anti-Asian violence) regardless of behavior or self-inflicted wounds, sneers at traditional family forms, undermines and disparages the advantages of personal responsibility, hard work, and accountability, and attacks the meritocracy.

I confess I find Asian support for these policies mystifying, as I fail to see how they are in Asians’ interest. We can speculate (and, yes, generalize) about Asians’ desire to please the elite, single-minded focus on self-advancement, conformity and obsequiousness, lack of deep post-Enlightenment conviction, timidity toward centralized authority (however unreasoned), indifference to liberty, lack of thoughtful and audacious individualism, and excessive tolerance for bossy, mindless social engineering, etc.

Maybe it’s just that Democrats love open borders, and Asians want more Asians here. Perhaps they (and especially their distaff element) are just mesmerized by the feel-good cult of “diversity.” I don’t know the answer. But as long as most Asians support Democrats and help to advance their positions, I think the United States is better off with fewer Asians and less Asian immigration.

She's twice handed over one of her classes to guest lecturer Jared Taylor, a eugenicist and white nationalist. (“Blacks and whites are different. When blacks are left entirely to their own devices, Western civilization — any kind of civilization — disappears,” Taylor has written.)

Wax might lose her job for this -- her case is still pending at the university -- but as of this moment she still has it.

Even though Fox and finance billionaires now tell us that cancel culture is okay in response to bigotry, I don't believe any big donor has begun sending $1 checks to the university in response to Wax's ongoing presence there. I guess cancel culture is only okay sometimes.

Thursday, October 19, 2023


President Biden has had some decent polling this week, including a PBS/NPR/Marist survey that gives him a 7-point lead over Donald Trump in a three-way race with Robert Kennedy Jr. But the numbers in a new Bloomberg/Morning Consult swing-state poll aren't good for the president:

Bloomberg says the economy is hurting Biden:
Underlying Biden’s swing-state woes is a trust deficit on economic issues. Voters in those states favor Trump over Biden on the economy by a 14-point margin. Inflation was the most important economic issue for voters, especially women, blue-collar workers and retirees.

Biden’s attempt to brand his economic platform as “Bidenomics” isn’t working. Almost twice as many voters say Bidenomics is bad for the economy compared to those who say it’s good. Independents are even more likely to view it negatively.
What's also undermining Biden is the way he's aging.
Swing-state voters are thinking about Biden’s age much more than Trump’s. About 30% of Biden voters in the seven key states said the vice presidential candidate is much more important than it has been in prior elections, compared to 24% of those who plan to vote for Trump....

Biden’s age also came up in hundreds of responses to open-ended questions in the survey. Only two respondents mentioned Trump’s age....
We're told that "many" survey respondents "referenced [Trump's] multiple indictments and legal entanglements," but it appears that more respondents mentioned Biden's age.

And why not? I think Biden is still sharp enough to do the job, but he doesn't seem to be, and that, in addition to the economy, appears to be what people are planning to vote on.

The sitting president of the United States should be, as the kids say, "the main character" in American politics. But there seems to be an impression among Democrats that the upcoming election will be a referendum on Trump. Maybe, after a few trials and possibly some convictions, it will be. But for most Americans, Trump isn't the main character now. Biden is. Trump is the main character primarily in the eyes of pundits and politics obsessives.

Biden himself sometimes appears to treat Trump as the main character in politics. Biden is working hard as president, but as a candidate he sells himself as the guy who beat Trump once, and who therefore is uniquely qualified to beat Trump again. We're told that Biden is running again precisely because he doesn't think anyone else can beat Trump.

But if the public is talking about inflation and Biden's age, that means he's largely being judged without reference to Trump. I know that Biden is also trying to sell the public on his record. But he's campaigning as a Trump-slayer, and we don't have evidence yet that a majority of voters care.

Wednesday, October 18, 2023


Recently I had a conversation with a woman about her 1970s college days. She told me that a very unpleasant aspect of that time was dealing with men who felt they were absolutely entitled to go out with her or sleep with her, simply because they wanted to. Over the years I've had my consciousness raised about sexual assault, domestic violence, and stalking by ex-partners, but I hadn't really thought about this and how common it is. It may not rise to the level of criminal behavior, but it's annoying and exhausting even when it's not intimidating and frightening.

I'm thinking about that conversation as Jim Jordan persists in his campaign to be Speaker of the House. Today he subjected the House to a second vote, even though he was no more likely to win today than yesterday. (He just lost again, getting fewer votes than on his first try.)

Last week, when Republicans chose Steve Scalise over Jordan in an initial caucus vote on the speakership, Jordan rejected the outcome, telling his fellow Republicans, "America wants me." I don't know what delusion persuades men to pester women who are clearly uninterested, but I know why angry right-wingers delude themselves this way: They live in a bubble. They associate only with like-minded ideologues, their media diet is Fox News and other outlets that constitute an extremist echo chamber, and they don't regard anyone who disagrees with them as a genuine American. They disdain Democrats, swing voters, and even supporters of "establishment" Republicans.

So they believe everyone thinks like them -- and when they're rejected, they believe the natural order of the universe is being rejected. Obviously what they want should happen!

It's hard to know whether Donald Trump really believes he won the 2020 election, but his followers clearly believe it, and when they tell us this, they really don't think we have the right to say no to them. Hence the insurrection.

And now Jordan and his allies are responding to "no" in an unhealthy and toxic way:
Politico reporter Olivia Beavers shared several screenshots of the text messages sent to [Reprensentative Don] Bacon’s wife from anonymous senders who refused to identify themselves.

“Why is your husband causing chaos by not supporting Jim Jordan? I thought he was a team player,” read one text, to which Bacon’s wife responded, “Who is this???”

The anonymous sender then warned, “Your husband will not hold any political office ever again. What a disappoint [sic] and failure he is.”
No means no. But the angry right will never accept that.

Tuesday, October 17, 2023


As I write this, Jim Jordan is in the process of being voted down as Speaker of the House. In the short term, it's a good thing that this bomb-throwing attention addict won't have that kind of power, but it's just postponing the inevitable.

The political world will never fully acknowledge what's happened to Republicans until bomb throwers hold every key role in the party. A bomb thrower (Donald Trump) is the party leader and inevitable presidential nominee for the third time in a row, a bomb thrower (Ronna Romney McDaniel) chairs the Republican National Committee, bomb throwers serve as governors (Ron DeSantis) and run state legislatures (Tennessee, North Carolina, Texas, and so on), and, of course, bomb throwers run right-wing media. But as long as "institutionalists" act as GOP leaders in the House and Senate, the media can pretend that the party is redeemable -- which gives the so-called institutionalists licensed to throw their own bombs (see: Mitch McConnell and Merrick Garland), as long as they act like reasonable leaders occasionally.

McConnell can't hang on forever, and sooner or later a bomb thrower will hold his job. A bomb thrower will assume the leadership of the House Republicans eventually -- if not Jordan, then maybe somebody else.

But until that happens, until the most powerful people in the GOP completely grind our political system to a halt, the commentariat will persist in believing that Nikki Haley or Chris Sununu can save the GOP from itself and that much of the party's current leadership is ultimately focused on the country's best interests. And moderate voters will continue to insist that the real extremist party in America is the Democratic Party, as they wait for that nice Nancy Mace or Glenn Youngkin to rise to national prominence, while completely ignoring Matt Gaetz and Chip Roy.

Everyone needs to see the truth. Handing the speakership to a political terrorist like Jim Jordan would be a step in that direction.

Monday, October 16, 2023


In a New York Times op-ed, Katherine Miller writes about recent Donald Trump campaign speeches:
He brings ... emotion to tracing everything going wrong in the world back to: What if they hadn’t rigged the election? Then, in the dream sequences that pepper Mr. Trump’s speeches, there would be no inflation, no war in Ukraine, no bad Afghanistan withdrawal. Forget what we’ll do now or what we should have done then.

The broad themes Mr. Trump is working with right now are that Mr. Biden picked economic policies that are crazy and because the Afghanistan withdrawal was so bad, the world has fallen apart — but with 2020 always lurking nearby. “All these things wouldn’t have happened if the election weren’t rigged,” he said in Cedar Rapids. “If the election weren’t rigged, you wouldn’t have Ukraine, you wouldn’t have had any of it. It’s so sad what they’ve done. There’s plenty of evidence. It’s all there. You know it.” In Florida last week, he added one to the mix: Hamas would never have attacked Israel. “You’re in a different world,” he said in West Palm Beach, “and it’s getting worse.”
Trump imagines a Utopia in the second term he wasn't granted, but he has no idea how it would have happened. As Miller writes, "Forget what we’ll do now or what we should have done then" -- Trump has no idea. Nevertheless, he's certain that he would have done an amazing job, and his base, which is not particularly well educated, agrees.

I don't think everyone in Trump's base is stupid exactly, but they're mostly people who have expertise in certain areas -- maybe they run marinas or are retired union factory workers -- but don't respect expertise in general. I'm an elite-college-educated son of working-class parents, so I've been on both sides of this. My education, and probably yours, taught me to believe that while not every credentialed expert is right about everything, there is such a thing as expertise, and if you want to understand a subject you don't know much about, you should start by learning what's being said by people who know the subject well.

You should do this with some skepticism, of course, but the kinds of people who follow Trump bring nothing but skepticism to the statements of mainstream experts. They believe in a kind of anti-expertise: The real expert is someone without credentials who says credentialed people are full of shit (and the truth is whatever these listeners want to hear).

Trump is their perfect anti-expert. He has no military experience but claims to know more than the generals; he had no foreign policy experience prior to his presidency, yet he (in his telling) handled Putin and Xi and Kim Jong-un masterfully; and so on.

Trump says he's more of an expert than actual experts, but one of his favorite formulations -- don't tell the enemy in a conflict or the other person in a negotiation what you plan to do, to preserve the element of surprise -- is a cover for the fact that Trump can't tell you his own plans, the reason being that he has no plans (and he has no plans because he doesn't know anything about anything). He just thinks he'll slide by on vibes and his own intuitive brilliance. Hs expertise-skeptical base thinks that's a brilliant approach to leadership, an approach that's much better than what ordinary leaders do.

Trump and his fans think this approach actually worked during his four years in office. The economy was good (at least until the pandemic) because Trump served at the perfect point in the post-recovery business cycle; Xi and Putin and the combatants in the Middle East caused fewer problems for Trump than for Biden for reasons unrelated to who was the American president. Trump lucked out, and now he and his people think dumb luck is a plan for the next presidential term. If he wins, it won't work a second time. The Trumpers don't know that, but we'll all find out. And it's going to be ugly.

Sunday, October 15, 2023


I think this is a huge misreading of the national mood:
Joe Biden’s reelection strategy relies on painting Republicans as chaotic, disorganized, and unserious.

And the recent bedlam in the Republican-controlled House is making that job a lot easier....

Biden’s advisers, according to people close to the campaign, see significant political potential in the infighting currently gripping Capitol Hill, even if it has ground the legislative body to a halt....

“Right now, the President is unifying the country and addressing a deadly terrorist attack head on with experience and empathy, while House Republicans show more interest in fighting each other...,” said a Democratic source close to the Biden campaign. “It's an unfortunate reality of the modern day Republican Party, and it absolutely highlights the choice Americans will face next November."
The country does see Republican chaos in the House, and that chaos doesn't reflect well on the GOP, but the country doesn't believe that the Biden administration is exuding competence. Biden's job approval/disapproval numbers are 40.5%/54.8%, according to Real Clear Politics. The direction-of-the-country numbers are 22.6% right track/67.1% wrong track.

Because there hasn't been a default or government shutdown, the GOP infighting in the House has no discernible impact on Americans' lives, at least so far. By contrast, Republicans have been effective in blaming Biden for inflation, crime, homelessness, and even global unrest. This is a right-wing cartoon that reflects an argument regularly made by Donald Trump and his apologists, but Biden needs to consider the possibility that people outside the Trump cult might find it persuasive:

Mainstream coverage of Biden conveys the sense that he thinks his accomplishments and overall competence as a president are self-evident. The public doesn't agree.

This doesn't mean that Biden can't win in 2024. But in order to win, he needs to tell voters that he understands their ongoing anxieties and knows that they don't think it's morning in America. He needs to run the kind of campaign that says, I've told you what my administration has accomplished, but I know we need to do more. We're still working hard to right the ship. Inflation has leveled off, but I know the price increases we've had still sting. I know you're still worried about crime and immigration and fentanyl. I know the world looks like a scary place right now. But I'm on it. I have a plan. The other guy doesn't have a plan except to tell you how great he is.

Infrastructure jobs are good, but they're not a panacea. Ten Medicare drugs that are now subject to price negotations aren't the be-all and end-all, they're just a good start. Biden needs to take the country's concerns seriously -- yes, even if they're being exaggerated by the right-wing media (and, often, the mainstream media). He shouldn't spike the football. The voters he needs to win don't think he's anywhere near the end zone.

Saturday, October 14, 2023


Jesse Wegman has written an opinion piece titled "The Real Danger in Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s Independent Run." It's valuable for reminding us how terrible it would be to have a presidential election thrown into the House of Representatives, which is what happens if no candidate wins a majority of the electoral vote. Wegman writes:
In that case, the American people no longer have a say in the biggest election in the land. Instead, under the 12th Amendment, the top three electoral vote getters advance to a second round, in which the House of Representatives “shall choose immediately, by ballot, the president. But” — and rarely in the history of democracy has a “but” been asked to do so much — “in choosing the president, the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote.”

... The point is, it doesn’t matter which party has more members in the House as a whole; all that matters is the happenstance of which party controls more state delegations. And right now Republicans control 26 state delegations and Democrats 22.

One vote per state, with the presidency in the balance. Stop for a moment and consider the absurdity of this. North Dakota, whose single representative in Congress represents about 779,000 people, would have as much say in choosing the nation’s leader as California’s 52 House members, who together represent almost 40 million people. The two Dakotas combined (fewer than 1.7 million people, about the population of Phoenix) would wield twice as much power as Texas, with 30 million people. This is about as far from the principle of majority rule as you can get.
This almost happened in 2020. Joe Biden won the popular vote by just over 7 million votes, but if approximately 43,000 votes in Georgia, Arizona, and Wisconsin hadn't been cast for Biden, we would have had a 269-269 Electoral College tie -- and the House undoubtedly would have voted to return Donald Trump to office.

Wegman doesn't mention 2020, however. He's worried about 2024, because high-profile third-party candidates are running for president:
Most of the concern over the independent presidential campaigns of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Cornel West and the No Labels party has focused on the risk that they could draw votes away from President Biden and throw the 2024 election to Donald Trump. That’s understandable, given what happened in 2000 and 2016.

But there is another reason to fear these candidacies, and it’s right there in the Constitution: a contingent election decided by the House of Representatives....

... imagine that in 2024, a No Labels candidate or even Mr. Kennedy or Mr. West is able to peel off a few electors in, say, Maine or Alaska, states that pride themselves on their independent streaks. (Maine awards its electors by congressional district, making it even easier to pick one off.)

... Bottom line: It’s easy to assemble an electoral map in which no candidate reaches 270 electoral votes, sending the election to the House.
But it won't happen because of Kennedy, West, or the No Labels candidate. None of them will win electoral votes.

First, remember that no third-party candidate has won even a single electoral vote in the past 99 years, with the exception of three segregationists. Strom Thurmond won 4 states and 39 electoral votes in 1948. George Wallace won 5 states and 46 electoral votes in 1968. And while Harry Byrd wasn't on the ballot in 1960, Mississippi's 8 electors voted for him, as did 6 of Alabama's electors and 1 of Oklahoma's. John Anderson, Ross Perot, Ralph Nader, and Jill Stein never won a state.

If you think Kennedy, West, or (in all likelihood) Joe Manchin running as a No Labels candidate can win an electoral vote or two, you have to ask yourself: Where in America would one of them be popular enough to beat every other candidate? The segregationist candidates triumphed in race-obsessed Southern states. Where could Kennedy win in 2024? He's too much of a crackpot to win Massachusetts. There's nothing about Maine's northern congressional district that's ideally suited to him. So where?

You might imagine that Manchin could win West Virginia, the way Bob La Follette won his home state of Wisconsin in 1924, but remember that West Virginia loves Donald Trump (he won the state 69%-30% in 2020), while Manchin is trailing Republican governor Jim Justice by double digits in Senate polls. An incumbent who's on track to lose a Senate reelection bid is not going to win the presidential race in his state.

And remember, the third-party candidates won't just be competing with Trump and President Biden -- they'll be competing with one another. Liberals and leftists who want to vote third party will split their votes among Kennedy, West, and possibly other candidates from the Green Party and People's Party. Right-wingers, centrists, and people of no particular ideology will have Kennedy and Manchin to choose from, as well as a Libertarian (if Kennedy doesn't run on the Libertarian line).

So every electoral vote in 2024 will be won by either Biden or Trump -- although that still could leave us with a 269-269 tie and an election decided in the House. And that would be appalling.

Friday, October 13, 2023


Amanda Marcotte writes:
... there's one historical claim made by fascists that gets accepted at face value by people who ought to know better: The idea that authoritarian regimes are models of order and discipline. Videos of goose-stepping soldiers and myths about full employment and the trains running on time have persisted in the cultural imagination. The belief that the far right is ruthlessly efficient and well organized terrifies its opponents and emboldens its supporters, then and now.

If you still buy any of that, consider the Republicans in Congress, who are behaving like a sackful of trapped weasels over what should be a simple task: Picking which one of the indistinguishable MAGA-monsters gets to be speaker of the House.
The problem with comparing the contemporary Republican Party to other fascist or fascist-leaning parties is that the Republican Party -- like much of the American public -- doesn't want the government to function efficiently. Remember Ronald Reagan's dictum: Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem. If you believe that, as nearly all Republicans do (as well as many non-Republicans), you might not believe that it's imperative to throw sand in the gears of government, but you certainly don't believe it's a bad thing when the gears become inoperably sandy.

Americans who believe Reagan's simple-minded pronouncements about government are rarely consistent -- they want the government to punish street criminals and immigrants, as well as women seeking abortions and sexual minorities -- but apart from that, they assume we'd all be better off if government weren't fuctioning at all ... or at least that's what they believe until they have problem getting VA healthcare or going to a national park. But even then they cling to the principle that government is bad (and government under a Democratic president is worse), so the current leadership struggles of the House GOP won't turn them against Republicans. The fact that Republicans can't run the government is a feature, not a bug, for much of the country.