Thursday, November 30, 2023


Henry Kissinger died yesterday at the age of 100. If you want to know why Kissinger was hated by so many people, read Spencer Ackerman's comprehensive and merciless Rolling Stone obituary, "Henry Kissinger, War Criminal Beloved by America’s Ruling Class, Finally Dies" (paywalled, but you should be able to read it if you open it in a private or incognito window).

I can't add much to that piece. Kissinger was a monster, and the world is a better place without him. What I can tell you is that he could be a bad person in small as well as large ways. You should focus on the outsize acts of evil for which he was responsible, but in addition to those, the bastard once publicly lied about me and my work colleagues, inventing a work error on our part to avoid taking responsibility for a scholarly error of his own.

In the early 1990s I was working at Simon & Schuster, and I oversaw the copyediting and proofreading of a Kissinger book titled Diplomacy. Ernest R. May, a Harvard historian, wrote about the book in The New York Times Book Review. May noted some sloppy scholarship on Kissinger's part:
"Diplomacy" makes the types of mistakes for which students fail to get pass degrees in history.... it describes the Hossbach memorandum of November 1937 as recording Hitler's avowal of plans for wars of conquest before "an assemblage of almost all of Germany's general officers."
In fact,
... the Hossbach memorandum ... recorded a meeting involving only seven people: Hitler himself, Col. Friedrich Hossbach (who took the notes), the foreign minister, the war minister and the commanders in chief of the army, air force and navy. Not even the chief of staff of the army was officially informed. These facts are doubly significant because many German generals later denied knowing Hitler's intentions. Their protestations smoothed Germany's cold-war rearmament. While scholarly research has since established that many generals actually knew more than they admitted, Mr. Kissinger's mistaken description of the Hossbach memorandum blurs understanding not only of the Third Reich but also of the German Federal Republic.
Kissinger fired off a long letter to the Book Review taking issue with this and other aspects of May's piece; it was published three weeks later. On the subject of the Hossbach memorandum, Kissinger threw low-level Simon & Schuster workers -- my colleagues and me -- under the bus:
Professor May correctly points out that the phrase that Hitler revealed his plans to "almost all of Germany's general officers" is inaccurate. In fact -- as my own research showed -- only top general officers representing the German High Command were present. In the final stages of copy-editing, the word "top" was inadvertently dropped from before "general officers."
That was a lie.

Kissinger's original manuscript didn't include the word "top" in this sentence, and he never added it, despite having more than one opportunity to do so. I made photocopies of these documents -- the work at the time was all done on paper -- and I still have them. Here's that sentence in Kissinger's manuscript, with the copy editor's handwritten changes:

Here's the sentence in the first round of proofs, in which Kissinger's changes were entered by hand. He didn't add the word "top."

Nor did he add "top" in the second round of page proofs, which he also reviewed:

Kissinger's lie about this is a tiny immorality compared to the monstrous deeds he's known for. But it's the pure pettiness that offends me three decades later. Diplomacy was a 912-page book. Kissinger could have acknowledged his own mistake -- errors are inevitable in a work of that length. But his ego wouldn't allow him to do that, so he blamed the help.

Wednesday, November 29, 2023


First, this happened:
An influential super PAC backed by the Koch brothers announced it is endorsing Nikki Haley in the 2024 presidential primary....

In a memo released on Tuesday morning, Americans for Prosperity Action said it planned to commit its extensive grassroots organization to helping Haley, and it will launch mail and television advertising campaigns to boost their on-the-ground efforts. Over the summer, the group announced it would plug up to $70 million into political races this year. It is the first time the group has weighed in during a presidential primary.
And now we have this:
Former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said in an interview Wednesday that he would advise former President Trump pick 2024 presidential candidate Nikki Haley as his running mate.

During the New York Times’s DealBook Summit, Andrew Ross Sorkin asked McCarthy who the “right person” would be for Trump to pick as his vice president among Haley, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), and 2024 GOP presidential candidates Vivek Ramaswamy and Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.)....

“Now if I was picking for purely political decisions, what it looks like today is the anti-Trump vote is going to Nikki Haley,” [McCarthy said]....

McCarthy said that is why he would select the person who could convince those voters to support the Trump ticket, saying, “if that person is with you, maybe they’d be with you too.”
I don't think the Koch endorsement will do any good -- Haley is far behind Trump in the polls, even in Iowa, New Hampshire, and her home state of South Carolina. Ron DeSantis won't drop out before Iowa. Chris Christie won't drop out before New Hampshire. The anti-Trump vote will continue to be split, and it's not that large to begin with. So Haley can't win the nomination. I know that Koch and his allies are rich businessmen who find it inconceivable that the world might not give them exactly they want every time they want something, but if they want Trump to lose this nomination, they've probably blown it.

Yet perhaps the Koch endorsement is just part of the plan. McCarthy might be sending a GOP establishment signal to Haley that she really should consider accepting the #2 slot from the man who now calls her "Birdbrain" -- and to Trump that he can improve his chances of winning if he picks her. (Sad to say, that's probably true. Haley is becoming a new Liz Cheney -- a bog-standard Republican who's respected and even admired by some Democratic voters.)

I'm sure the Kochites sincerely believe that their candidate might upset Trump in the primaries. But as a Plan B, they may be hoping to elect a safe, biddable GOP vice president, in the hope that she'll take over if Trump's felony cases lead to a conviction.

We assume that a reelected Trump will quickly put together a Justice Department that will dismiss all the federal charges he faces, and maybe even declare that he can't be tried or convicted on state charges as long as he's president. But what if this is taken to court and the Republicans on the federal bench -- all the way up to the Supreme Court -- rule that he can't clear his name that way, precisely because they and their billionaire patrons would vastly prefer a President Haley to a President Trump? In other words, what if the plan is to put her in place and let the Supreme Court depose him in favor of her?

Trump is a stupid man, but I think he's an idiot savant in matters like this. I think he'll pick someone like Kristi Noem as his running mate because she doesn't seem as ambitious as Haley (or Ron DeSantis, or Vivek Ramaswamy) -- and also because he might actually recognize that the GOP establishment trusts Haley and would be happy to see him go if she's the VP. Maybe he'd even run with Marjorie Taylor Greene, recognizing that no Kochite wants her as president.

I don't know how this will play out. We'll see.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023


Matt Gertz of Media Matters reports:
Major news outlets devoted dramatically less coverage to former President Donald Trump describing his political enemies as “vermin” earlier this month than they provided then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s 2016 “basket of deplorables” remark in the week following those respective comments.

According to a Media Matters review:
* The Big Three broadcast TV networks provided 18 times more coverage of Clinton’s 2016 “deplorables” comment than Trump’s “vermin” remark on their combined nationally syndicated morning news, evening news, and Sunday morning political talk shows.

* CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC mentioned Clinton’s “deplorables” comment nearly 9 times more than Trump’s “vermin” comment.

* Print reports that mentioned Trump’s statement outnumbered those that mentioned Clinton’s 29-to-1 across the five highest-circulating U.S. newspapers.
There are obvious explanations for this: The "liberal media" isn't liberal. After years of insults, Trump is considered "colorful," not malicious or dangerous. Coverage of politics, in the words of Jay Rosen, focuses on the odds (of a particular candidate winning), not the stakes (for America).

But there's another reason Trump's words -- his promise to “root out the communist, Marxist, fascist and the radical left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country” -- went underreported: In our political culture, we expect liberals and Democrats to be attacked, demonized, and subjected to group slander. It's commonplace, and it's been commonplace since long before Trump entered politics. But it's considered shocking when one of us attacks right-wingers or Republicans as a group.

We can trace this back to Richard Nixon's vice president, Spiro Agnew, who called the administration's opponents an "effete corps of impudent snobs" and "nattering nabobs of negativity." But the modern era of attack politics began with Ronald Reagan, whose innovation was to deliver anti-liberal and anti-Democratic insults in a gee-whizzy, folksy manner, which made them seem benign and all-American. In 1984, The New York Times told us,
The President's humor is usually directed at the Democrats, but it's gentle. He mocks but never wounds....
Here's a beloved Reagan joke:
But I remember the story about a fella who was running for office as a Republican. And he was in a rural area that wasn’t known to be a Republican area and he stopped by a farm to do some campaigning.

And when the farmer heard he was a Republican his jaw dropped and he said wait right here while I go get Ma. She’s never seen a Republican before. So he got her. And the candidate looked around for a podium from which to give his speech.

And the only thing he could find was a pile of that stuff that Bess Truman took 35 years trying to get Harry to call fertilizer. So, he got up on the mound and when they came back he gave his speech.

And at the end of it the farmer said that is the first time I’ve ever heard a Republican speech. And the candidate said that’s the first time I’ve ever given a Republican speech from a Democratic platform.
Get it? Get it? It's funny because the Democratic platform is literally shit.

After Reagan left office, others on the right refined his methods, in angrier and cruder ways: Reagan's vice president, George H.W. Bush, ran a successful scorched-earth campaign against Michael Dukakis. Rush Limbaugh attacked "feminazis" and other supposed enemies of common decency and good sense. Campaign consultant Arthur Finkelstein crafted ads for Republican candidates that attacked Democrats as, in the words of one political scientist, "ultraliberal, superliberal, embarrassingly liberal, foolishly liberal and unbelievably liberal.” Newt Gingrich's political action committee recommended insulting Democrats and liberals with words such as "anti-child," "anti-flag," "bizarre," "pathetic," "radical," and "traitors." And then there was Fox News, and there was the Drudge Report, and Breitbart and Newsmax and World Net Daily and Infowars. There was the Tea Party. And then there was Trump.

For years, Democrats have taken abuse and the political culture hasn't reacted with disgust. It's normal now. It's not considered normal when Democrats return fire. That's the state of play in 2023, and we shouldn't be surprised when Trump and his speechwriters take full advantage of it.

Monday, November 27, 2023


Rolling Stone reporters Tessa Stuart and Asawin Suebsaeng think this is self-evidently absurd:
The man who essentially ended the federal right to abortion thinks that he can now run for president in 2024 as a “moderate” on the issue....

According to ... two sources and other Trump allies and aides familiar with the situation, Trump and his team are looking past the primary towards a general-election fight against President Joe Biden — and they think they can somehow run the former president as a supposed “moderate” (as three sources put it) on abortion....
Democratic operatives, of course, assume that most Americans know Trump's position on reproductive rights in granular detail (because all the people the operatives know presumably do). I think many Americans, including some who don't pay a lot of attention to politics, know that Trump appointed the justices who make up the Supreme Court's anti-abortion supermajority and have strong opinions about that. But I wouldn't assume that everyone knows it.
“It’s a complete joke,” says Pat Dennis, president of the Democratic super PAC American Bridge 21st Century....

“It defies reality that Donald Trump and his advisers are greenlighting ads touting Trump’s role in killing Roe v Wade while millions of women in 21 states live every single day under laws severely restricting abortion access — and somehow simultaneously they have a strategy to moderate his position on the same issue?” Biden campaign spokesperson Seth Schuster said in a statement to Rolling Stone. “No one is buying that, and it obviously won’t work. Donald Trump spent his first term laser focused on ripping away a fundamental freedom from millions of women and he did it — and now he will live with the consequences next November.”
We live in a country where Republicans like Liz Cheney (who voted with then-President Trump 92.9% of the time) and Adam Kinzinger (who voted with Trump 90.2% of the time) can be called "moderates" for a few key moments of anti-GOP apostasy, even while they cling to very Republican policy positions. So Trump doesn't support a national abortion ban. People who spend a lot of time thinking about reproductive rights -- including many people who aren't otherwise very political -- know that this doesn't make up for Trump's judicial appointments. But the rest of the public needs to be reminded of Trump's abortion policies repeatedly -- especially in his own words:

We can trust the Biden camapign to run ads in which he boasts about getting Roe overturned -- can't we? We can, right? And we'll hear this relentlessly throughout the general election campaign. Won't we?

I think it'll happen -- spreading that message is such an obvious thing for the Biden campaign to do. But in addition, I hope the press asks Trump whether he'd sign a national abortion ban if a bill reached his desk. I want him to say no and lose some anti-abortion absolutist voters, or say yes and lose some of the voters he wants to impress with his "moderation." And I want him asked whether he'd ever appoint a pro-choice judge to the federal bench. Again, either way he answers could lose him votes.

But Trump isn't crazy to think he can get away with calling himself a moderate on this issue. We have such a low bar for Republicans who want to be called moderates.

Sunday, November 26, 2023


Now that it's finally dawning on the mainstream political world that Joe Biden could actually lose to Donald Trump next November, many in the media are imagining that a miracle intervention might save the president.

Hey, maybe Mitt Romney will save the Democrats! That's what The Hill seems to be imagining, to judge from this headline:
Romney says any Democrat would be ‘an upgrade’ over Trump in 2024
The problem is, Romney didn't actually say that. Here's what he said:
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) signaled that nearly any candidate in the 2024 field, of either party, would be an “upgrade” over another term for former President Trump.

“I’d be happy to support virtually any one of the Republicans — maybe not Vivek [Ramaswamy] — but the others that are running would be acceptable to me, and I’d be happy to vote for them,” the retiring senator said Friday in an interview with CBS’s Norah O’Donnell.

“I’d be happy to vote for a number of the Democrats too,” he continued. “It would be an upgrade, in my opinion, from Donald Trump and perhaps also from Joe Biden.”
He said he'd vote for "a number of the Democrats," not any Democrat.

So let's imagine something that won't happen: we wake up tomorrow morning and Joe Biden announces that he's withdrawing from the race. Would Romney back Kamala Harris if she went on to win the nomination? I bet he'd say she's too liberal and not competent. Would he back Gavin Newsom, Bernie Sanders, or Elizabeth Warren? I'm sure they're way too far to the left for him. He might go for Gretchen Whitmer or Dean Phillips. But he's not telling us that any Democrat would have his vote. He's not about to become a de facto Democrat (though I agree with The Atlantic's McKay Coppins that he might endorse Biden next year).

Then we have this thoroughly implausible scenario:
Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie on Sunday sought to play down the potential consequences if rival Donald Trump loses the 2024 primary race but refuses to concede -- or even keeps running as a third-party candidate.

"No one will expect him to concede. He hasn't conceded the 2020 election. Who cares," Christie, a former governor of New Jersey and a Trump supporter-turned-critic, told ABC "This Week" co-anchor Jonathan Karl.

While Trump maintains a huge lead in national polling of Republican primary voters, he is in a slightly weaker front-runner position according to surveys in Iowa and New Hampshire, the first two states to vote, where Christie and other challengers are hoping for an upset.
According to the FiveThirtyEight polling averages linked above, Trump has a 27-point lead in Iowa and nearly a 25-point lead in New Hampshire. He's backed by more voters in each state than he was three months ago. He's going to win both states unless he dies between now and early next year.

... And that's another magical-thinking scenario that's showing up in the press. Here's Business Insider:
Former President Donald Trump is far and away the Republican frontrunner heading into the 2024 election.

He is 77 years old and will be 78 in June.

If Trump dies while seeking reelection, a few different things could happen, depending on when he dies and how close it is to Election Day....

If Trump died during primary season — which ends in mid-June — some states may postpone their scheduled primaries....

If Trump died after the last primary contest but before the Republican National Convention, the other GOP presidential candidates would have to make a case to every state delegation at the convention for why they should be the party's nominee.

And if Trump secured the GOP nomination but died between the convention and Election Day 2024, the RNC would convene to select another presidential candidate.
In The New York Times, Michelle Cottle seems to echo this, with a side order of "I swear this time Trump really is losing his marbles":
He is up to his wattle in criminal indictments, and even if none land him in prison, the grinding stress and his advanced age look to be taking a toll on his mental acuity. Watching his increasingly disjointed rants, one cannot help but think, “Something ain’t right.” He seems as likely as President Biden to suffer a serious health event — maybe more if you factor in all those burgers.
Trump is fine. Trump draws nourishment from fighting everyone who hates him. I'm not saying he absolutely won't suffer a health problem in the next year, but the quest to defeat his enemies clearly gives his life meaning and purpose, so my strong hunch is that he won't.

Just accept the fact that Trump is a formidable enemy and will need to be faced down. Insinuating that he's lost his mojo has never worked and won't work now. Joe Biden and the Democratic Party need to fight him harder. Suggestions that Trump is weak have never worked before and won't work now.

Saturday, November 25, 2023


Ed Kilgore asks: "Do Young Voters Actually Prefer Trump to Biden?"
... it’s increasingly clear that “the kids” may be swing voters, not unenthusiastic Democratic base voters who can be frightened into turning out by the prospect of Trump’s return.

NBC News reports it’s a polling trend that cannot be ignored or dismissed:
The latest national NBC News poll finds President Joe Biden trailing former President Donald Trump among young voters ages 18 to 34 — with Trump getting support from 46% of these young voters and Biden getting 42%. ...

CNN’s recent national poll had Trump ahead of Biden by 1 point among voters ages 18 to 34....

And the recent New York Times/Siena College battleground state polling had Biden ahead by just 1 point among voters ages 18 to 34.
Kilgore lists the obvious reasons young people might be dissatisfied with President Biden:
Young voters share the national unhappiness with the performance of the economy; many are particularly afflicted by high basic-living costs and higher interest rates that make buying a home or even a car unusually difficult. Some of them are angry at Biden for his inability (mostly thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court) to cancel student-loan debts. And ... young voters are least likely to share Biden’s strong identification with Israel in its ongoing war with Hamas (a new NBC poll shows 70 percent of 18-to-34-year-old voters disapprove of Biden’s handling of the war).
Kilgore notes that Trump opposes student debt relief and is very much in sync with Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud, though young voters may not know any of this.

But in addition to all this, what if there's a greater portion of the youth vote that embraces right-wing ideas than there has been over the past few decades? What if increasing numbers of young people believe it's hip to be reactionary -- and believe that Trump is an appealing iconoclast?

Many observers say that young supporters helped propel the Trump-like Javier Milei to victory in Argentina last month. The Washington Post reports:
Most of the thousands who packed the Movistar Arena for Milei’s campaign-closing rally ... were men, many of them young and all of them seemingly angry.

Angry with a leftist establishment that has failed to control spiraling inflation and economic stagnation. Angry with a government that has allowed their currency to plummet and their earnings to vanish.
Milei sometimes wields a chainsaw in public appearances. He has dressed up as a libertarian superhero named General Ancap, a reference to his politcal philosophy, which he calls "anarcho-capitalism." He's sometimes compared to a killer anime character.

All that might help explain his popularity among young people in Argentina. By contrast, most young Americans don't admire Trump.

But I wonder if Trump is making some inroads among the young in part because he's seen as a taboo-ignoring anti-establishment figure -- and also a sexual-conquest-obsessed older version of the disturbingly popular Andrew Tate.

If you share Tate's view that the dominant figures in the world are (or should be) men who subordinate women, if you believe that mainstream culture is spreading lies that keep men (in particular) down -- that meat is problematic, that good men should be feminists, that climate change is bad and therefore it's bad to drive a stylish car -- then Trump might seem like your guy (and Joe Biden might seem like a pathetic "beta male").

I don't have data to back any of this up. It's just a sense that there more young people now than there have been in recent decades who think repellently regressive ideas are countercultural. If that's happening to any extent, it might help explain some of the current counterintuitive polling.

Friday, November 24, 2023


The party of anti-Islam hatemonger Geert Wilders won the most parliamentary seats in Dutch elections this week, and the response from the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal is very hard to distinguish from the response of Paul Serran at the racist conspiracy site Gateway Pundit. Can you tell which excerpt is from the Journal and which one is from the Pundit?

Excerpt #1:
Voters are fed up with a stale consensus on issues such as immigration.... Some 400,000 immigrants arrived last year in a country with a total population of nearly 18 million....

This creates a substantial fiscal burden under the generous Dutch welfare state and strains the housing market. It’s also becoming a culture-war issue as voters worry the country isn’t properly assimilating Muslim migrants from the Middle East and North Africa....

Centrist politicians heap scorn on Mr. Wilders’s proposed solution, which is to ban the Quran, new mosques and Islamic schools.... But if any other Dutch politician has better ideas for achieving assimilation, voters would be all ears.

Europe is set to descend into another round of name-calling, and expect to hear the word “fascist” a lot....

But voters clearly are growing less anxious about the “fascism” label the more they see it used against politicians they think speak to their concerns.
Excerpt #2:
The globalist elites continue to adjust to the fact that rightwing populist Geert Wilders won a HUGE general election victory in the Netherlands.

The Liberal MSM is reeling with what AP called ‘stunning lurch to the far right for a nation once famed as a beacon of tolerance’ – which is a disingenuous way of completely overlooking the absolute tragedy that mass migration has brought upon European populations, wreaking havoc on their standards of living and endangering the very survival of their cultures.

None of this matters to the Globalist vehicles that will shout ‘far-right’ from the rooftops....

But it does seem that at this juncture, the European voters are beyond the reach of this repetitive propaganda.
The only significant difference between these two excerpts is the copyediting -- Excerpt #2, from Gateway Pundit, isn't as carefully tidied up as the excerpt from the Journal. And while the Journal's ed board mildly scolds Wilders for some of his ideas, I'm sure the folks at the Pundit eagerly embrace them. But apart from that, these passages are awfully hard to tell apart.

Thursday, November 23, 2023


We know that right-wingers feel miserable rightv now because a deadly car cash at the U.S.-Canada border yesterday was the result of bad driving by a middle-aged American who was hoping to see Kiss in concert, not an evil terrorist who slipped over our northern border. Compounding the right's rush to judgment was the poor command of basic geographic facts displayed by some A-list wingnuts. Here, for instance, was Charlie Kirk on Twitter:

Actually, Charlie, the driver and his wife were trying to cross a bridge that's six and a half hours from Manhattan -- and they were leaving the U.S. and heading toward Canada, not the other way around, so if their destination was Manhattan, they were headed the wrong way. Also, when the explosion took place, they weren't in Buffalo -- the Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls is a half hour away.

So while I can't prove this and I could be wrong, I'm going to venture a guess that it was a similarly geography-challenged right-winger who subsequently phoned in this false alarm:
Buffalo Police were today called to a false report of a mass shooting at the Hyatt Regency hotel that later turned out to be fake.

The incident sparked panic among EMS and police officers who rushed to the scene shortly before 8am. A SWAT team was also called to the hotel.

It's unclear where it originated, or whether police intend to investigate the caller.
An earlier version of this story, posted at 7:30 this morning, reported that a truly horrifying incident had apparently taken place:

I assume that a mentally unstable right-wing rage junkie, someone whose desire for an emotionally satisfying wallow in hate was thwarted when the "terror attack" in "Buffalo" proved not to be terror at all, decided to create his own terror attack -- in Buffalo. He Googled Buffalo hotels, picked the first one on the list, then made his call.

It's also quite possible that the person was apolitical, or that the false report resulted from some other scenario. But this is my hunch. Happy Thanksgiving! Let's be thankful that this didn't really happen.

Wednesday, November 22, 2023


I've made it clear that I don't believe Donald Trump is any crazier right now than he was in 2016 or during his presidential term, and I don't believe he's significantly close to dementia. He confused Sioux City and Sioux Falls? So did Barack Obama in 2008. He flubs historical facts? He did that years ago, too.

But his rhetoric is becoming angrier and more eliminationist -- is that a sign of increasing mental illness on Trump's part? One of the experts quoted today by Thomas Edsall in The New York Times thinks so:
Leonard L. Glass, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, emailed me:
[Trump] acts like he’s impervious, “a very stable genius,” but we know he is rageful, grandiose, vengeful, impulsive, devoid of empathy, boastful, inciting of violence and thin-skinned. At times it seems as if he cannot control himself or his hateful speech. We need to wonder if these are the precursors of a major deterioration in his character defenses.
Glass continued:
If Trump — in adopting language that he cannot help knowing replicates that of Hitler (especially the references to opponents as “vermin” and “poisoning the blood of our country”), we have to wonder if he has crossed into “new terrain.” That terrain, driven by grandiosity and dread of exposure (e.g., at the trials) could signal the emergence of an even less constrained, more overtly vicious and remorseless Trump who, should he regain the presidency, would, indeed act like the authoritarians he praises.
I might believe that Trump's "grandiosity and dread of exposure" inspired this dehumanizing language if I thought Trump these words were Trump's own. It seems far more likely that a speechwriter -- almost certainly Stephen Miller -- added “vermin” and “the blood of our country” to Trump's speeches. (The phrase "poisoning the blood of our country" came from an interview, but in a speech last month, Trump said of immigrants, “It’s the blood of our country; what they’re doing is destroying our country.”) Maybe Miller told Trump that he was trying to make him sound like Hitler, maybe he didn't. (The idea that the historically illiterate ex-president "cannot help knowing" these are Hitleresque words is preposterous.)

So perhaps the person who's crossed into "new terrain" is Miller, not Trump. Miller would almost certainly be a top adviser in a second Trump administration -- possibly the top adviser. He could be "Trump's brain," the way Karl Rove was George W. Bush's. If Leonard Glass and other credentialed folks want to analyze some political psyches from a distance, maybe they should consider the possibility that Miller is the one who's lost all restraints on his cruelty. Trump might be a Hitlerian monster in a second term not because he has fewer inner restraints (did he ever have any, apart from a sense of self-preservation?), but because his advisers feel nothing constrains them anymore. I think Trump is too old to change, but Miller may just be coming into his own -- a monster in full.

Tuesday, November 21, 2023


This New York Times story by Reid Epstein is light on the specifics, but if it's at all accurate, then Democrats may be setting aside what's worked for them in 2022 and 2023 in favor of a strategy that failed in 2016:
When Donald J. Trump left the White House, Democrats didn’t want to hear another word from him. President Biden dismissed him as “the former guy.” A party-wide consensus held that he was best left ignored.

Three years later, Mr. Biden’s re-election campaign and Democratic officials across the party’s spectrum have landed on a new solution to his political slump:

More Trump.

Criticizing the news media for giving Mr. Trump a platform is out. Quietly pining for major networks to again broadcast live coverage of Trump campaign rallies is in.

Behind the improbable longing for the former president to gobble up political oxygen again is Democrats’ yearslong dependence on the Trump outrage machine. Since his ascent, Mr. Trump has been a one-man Democratic turnout operation, uniting an otherwise fractured opposition and fueling victories in three straight election cycles.
Is "the Trump outrage machine" really what drove Democratic turnout last year and this year? I'd say the main driver was the Alito outrage machine. The key issue seems to have been the Dobbs decision, along with (perhaps) gerrymandering in the Wisconsin judicial election, and possibly book-banning, guns, homophobia, climate change, and other issues elsewhere. Trump was barely a factor.

Outrage at Trump motivated Democratic voters when he was in office, in 2018 and then in 2020. But it's possible that 2024 will be a repeat of 2016 rather than 2020, for a simple reason: the damage Trump might do in office seems theoretical to many voters. One of Epstein's interviewees explains:
Cynthia Wallace, a co-founder of the New Rural Project, a progressive group in North Carolina, said she didn’t hear much about Mr. Trump these days from the rural Black and Hispanic voters her organization focuses on.

“I think it’s like a relationship,” she said. “There were a lot of bad things that happened, but the longer distance you get away from the bad things, you’re like, maybe the bad things weren’t that bad.”
Another Democratic activist says something similar:
“Not having the day-to-day chaos of Donald Trump in people’s faces certainly has an impact on how people are measuring the urgency of the danger of another Trump administration,” said Adrianne Shropshire, the executive director of BlackPAC, an African American political organizing group. “It is important to remind people of what a total and absolute disaster Trump was.”
Maybe it would be better to tie Trump to the policies we know voters hate, like abortion bans. President Biden and his surrogates should say that if a bill banning abortion came to Trump's desk, he'd sign it. (And if he denies this, there go some of his anti-abortion voters.) Voters need to be reminded that as president he'll get to appoint hundreds more judicial extremists, who are likely to be especially extreme on the subject of abortion. Whatever he may say about favoring rape and incense exceptions, these judges are likely to be far more absolutist.

Trump opposes any and all efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change. Tell voters that. Trump allies himself with book banners and trans bashers like Moms for Liberty. Tell voters that. Trump will eagerly sign another tax cut for the rich. Tell voters that. Trump always sides with labor against the union movement. Tell voters that.

Trump will be the GOP nominee soon enough. Everyone will see him acting like Trump again. That should help Biden, but it probably won't be enough. Democrats can talk about the the threat to democracy Trump poses, but it would be better if they talk about issues that are of more immediate concern to voters, because Trump is on the wrong side of every issue.

Monday, November 20, 2023


In the opinion section of The New York Times on Saturday, Never Trumper Ross Douthat imagined a fantasy world in which Nikki Haley rescues the Republican Party (and America) from Donald Trump:
For Haley, the stampede scenario requires winning outright in New Hampshire. The difficulty is that even on the upswing, she still trails Trump 46-19 in the current RealClearPolitics Average. But assume that [Chris] Christie drops out and his support swings her way, assume that the current polling underestimates how many independents vote in the G.O.P. primary, assume a slight sag for Trump and a little last-moment Nikkimentum, and you can imagine your way to a screaming upset — Haley 42, Trump 40.

Then assume that defeat forces Trump to actually debate in the long February lull (broken only by the Nevada caucus) between New Hampshire and the primary in Haley’s own South Carolina. Assume that the front-runner comes across as some combination of rusty and insane, Haley handles him coolly and then wins her home state primary. Assume that polls still show her beating Biden, Fox News has rallied to her fully, endorsements flood in — and finally, finally, enough voters who like Trump because he’s a winner swing her way to clear a path to the nomination.
Right -- that could totally happen. (/s)

Douthat would like this outcome because he dislikes Trump and shares many of Haley's beliefs, particularly on the subject of abortion. Gail Collins, by contrast, is a pro-choice liberal, yet today, in conversation with her colleague Bret Stephens, she's having Haley fantasies too:
Gail: Maybe it’s my desperation that creates these imagined scenarios in which Haley impresses New Hampshire voters, who are always up for a script in which they get to pick the new star. And then the campaign gets a real jolt when Christie drops out and gives her his endorsement.

Bret: I like this fantasy. Say more.

Gail: Then Haley starts a serious campaign that draws terrific interest among rich Americans who don’t want a president who has to spend half his time in court trying to prove that he didn’t actually try to fix the last election, that his real estate empire isn’t just a fairyland of debt, that — I could go on. If Haley could get the serious-alternative attention and funding, it’d be quite a ride.
Collins adds, almost as an afterthought:
And oh, did I mention that I’d be thankful if she rethinks her position on a six-week abortion ban bill?
Apart from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?

Haley has been, as they say, "threading the needle" on abortion:
At the most recent Republican debate, in Miami this month, Ms. Haley said that as president, she would sign an abortion ban of any length passed by Congress. But she also echoed her belief that Republicans would not find enough votes to do so. Instead, she said Americans should “find consensus” where possible on issues such as banning abortions later in pregnancy, promoting adoption and access to contraception and not criminally charging patients who get abortions.

“Stop the judgment,” she said. “We don’t need to divide America over this issue anymore.”
But she wants a decent showing in the Iowa caucuses, so she told an audience in that state on Friday that she would have signed the bill banning abortion after six weeks in her state if she'd still been governor when it was passed.

This bill passed in May. It's effectively a ban, because women are rarely able to determine that they're pregnant and arrange for an abortion within the first six weeks of pregnancy, but it isn't an absolute ban, so today the libertarian-leaning Times opinion writer Jane Coaston is full of praise for Sandy Senn, one of five female state senators in South Carolina who blocked a complete abortion ban.
Some members of the party have had enough. In South Carolina this year, State Senator Sandy Senn was one of three Republicans who, along with a fellow Democratic senator and an independent senator, filibustered efforts to severely restrict abortion in the state. The “sister senators,” as they call themselves, were ultimately unsuccessful in preventing a six-week abortion ban from taking effect. Ms. Senn says that she does not want women to have abortions, but believes voters must have a say, and that there must be a more moderate path on policy. “It should not be a bunch of old men in the South Carolina Legislature deciding their fate,” she told me.
But here's the problem: If you elect Republicans to legislative majorities, then there won't be "a more moderate path on policy," ever. There will never be enough "sister senators" to stand up to abortion extremism, just as there'll never be enough to stand up to gun extremism or anti-renewable energy extremism or pro-plutocrat extremism.

(This isn't the first time Coaston has looked at the GOP and imagined that she saw hopeful signs of abortion moderation in an unlikely place -- here's a piece she wrote for Vox in 2019 titled "Why Some Anti-Abortion Conservatives Think Alabama’s Abortion Law Goes Too Far." These signs didn't amount to much -- abortion is completely banned under an Alabama law that was passed that year and declared constitutional after the Supreme Court's 2022 Dobbs decision.)

You know what I'm not seeing in the Times opinion section? Any excitement about Andy Beshear, who was just reelected as governor of Kentucky as an pro-choice Democrat. But I guarantee you that if Virginia governor Glenn Youngkin had gotten the GOP legislative sweep he so desperately wanted, there would have at least a dozen puff pieces about him in the Times opinion section. The search for a "nice" Republican is never-ending, and will continue.

Sunday, November 19, 2023


Donald Trump likes to tell his followers, "They're not coming after me. They're coming after you — and I'm just standing in their way." It's not true -- he's the one charged with 91 felonies -- but his fans believe what he says.

I've begun to suspect that the dire warnings about a second Trump term are the mainstream equivalent of this message from Trump. And judging from the polls, it looks as if many swing voters don't believe Trump is coming after them, so it doesn't seem to matter to them that Biden is standing in the way.

This month, the press has issued many dire warnings about a second Trump term. We read this in The Washington Post:
Donald Trump and his allies have begun mapping out specific plans for using the federal government to punish critics and opponents should he win a second term, with the former president naming individuals he wants to investigate or prosecute and his associates drafting plans to potentially invoke the Insurrection Act on his first day in office to allow him to deploy the military against civil demonstrations....

In private, Trump has told advisers and friends in recent months that he wants the Justice Department to investigate onetime officials and allies who have become critical of his time in office, including his former chief of staff, John F. Kelly, and former attorney general William P. Barr, as well as his ex-attorney Ty Cobb and former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Mark A. Milley....

In public, Trump has vowed to appoint a special prosecutor to “go after” President Biden and his family.
I think this is alarming, but many ordinary citizens undoubtedly feel that this doesn't affect them. They're not members of the Biden family. They're not ex-officials or aides who got on Trump's bad side during his term in office. They're probably not planning to take to the streets on Inauguration Day if Trump wins.

AP reports:
Trump would try to strip tens of thousands of career employees of their civil service protections. That way, they could be fired as he seeks to “totally obliterate the deep state.” ...

Trump ... would immediately direct U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to undertake the largest domestic deportation operation in American history. He would target people who are legally living in the United States but harbor “jihadist sympathies” and revoke the student visas of those who espouse anti-American and antisemitic views.
If you're not a federal employee, you probably don't see how the reclassification affects you. And if you're not an immigrant or a green-card holder, Trump's immigration crackdown is unlikely to harm you.

The Economist has also raised an alarm:
The Economist said in its annual "World Ahead" guide Thursday that another four years of Trump in the White House would be "more damaging" than his previous term.

"China and its friends would rejoice over the evidence that American democracy is dysfunctional" and Beijing "could easily miscalculate over Taiwan, with catastrophic consequences."

And Russian President Vladimir Putin "would have an incentive to fight on in Ukraine and to pick off former Soviet countries such as Moldova or the Baltic states," according to the outlet.
But no one is certain how China will react to a second Trump term. And voters may assume that a rampant Putin is a small price to pay for gas under $3 a gallon (and that the former will probably lead to the latter).

And, generally speaking, a president who threatens democracy might not frighten an electorate that thinks the democracy we have isn't doing a very good job for them.

Journalists at elite media outlets are focused on threats to people at their own level, such as current and former government officials. If we want swing voters to be afraid of a second Trump term, we need to identify threats they can relate to. Otherwise, we can't expect them to believe that the risks are too great.

Saturday, November 18, 2023


This is good, I suppose:
A torrent of prominent brands halted their advertising on X on Friday, dealing a massive reputational blow to Elon Musk’s social media company after his public embrace this week of an antisemitic conspiracy theory favored by White supremacists.

The high-profile advertiser revolt includes some of the world’s largest media companies, such as Disney, Paramount, NBCUniversal, Comcast, Lionsgate and Warner Bros. Discovery, the parent of CNN.

X also reportedly lost Apple, according to multiple news outlets....
But I'm sure most of these companies will be back next year, if not sooner. Remember an earlier round of corporate virtue-signaling?
In the aftermath of the Jan. 6, 2021 riots ... dozens of companies including Walmart, Comcast and Lockheed Martin said they would either suspend political donations entirely or specifically cut off Republicans who echoed Trump’s stolen election claims or voted against certifying the election results.

But over the next two years, amid a contentious midterm battle, less than half of those companies kept those promises for a full election cycle....

POLITICO identified more than 100 companies and business groups that pledged to suspend or review donations or take the events of Jan. 6 into account when making future political contributions.... Campaign finance records show that more than 70 of those companies’ affiliated political committees resumed donations to at least one member who voted against election certification.
Corporations are not our friends. If a corporation has continued to advertise on the increasingly troll-dominated, Nazified Twitter/X for the past year and now says it needs to stop, that pause will last only until the public outrage blows over. I hope some of these advertisers will make the pause permanent, but I'm not holding my breath. I see more and more relatively high-profile individuals bailing on the site, and that's good, but everyone with a sense of common decency should leave. That won't happen, though, and Twitter/X will endure in Muskified form well into next year, if not beyond. At this point, whether by design or not, Elon Musk's financial losses are like Charles Koch's donations to right-wing groups: money spent with no thought of direct financial return, in the hope of having a profound influence on the culture. Sure, Musk would also like to turn a profit, but he's getting out of Twitter much of what he wants to get out of it. We don't have to help him.

Friday, November 17, 2023


Yesterday, in the Opinion section of The New York Times, Pamela Paul published a piece titled "Progressives Aren't Liberal." It's pretty much what you'd expect from her:
More reactionary still is the repressive nature of progressive ideals around civil liberties. It is progressives — not liberals — who argue that “speech is violence” and that words cause harm. These values are the driving force behind progressive efforts to shut down public discourse, disrupt speeches, tear down posters, censor students and deplatform those with whom they disagree.
I will note that the link Paul attaches to the words "speech is violence" takes you to an opinion piece by Jonathan Turley that doesn't quote anyone saying "speech is violence." It does quote a heckler at an Ann Coulter speech at Cornell who said, "Your words are violence." I wonder whether Paul knows that in 2002 Coulter said to a sympathetic interviewer, “My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building.”

But Paul wouldn't object to that joke about a terrorist bombing aimed at the company that employs her, right? She says it's "reactionary" to believe that "words cause harm." Oh, wait, sorry -- she doesn't actually believe that, as we learn from a later paragraph in her column:
(One might argue that it is similarly illiberal for universities to suspend or cut funding to student groups that support Palestinian rights, as several have done, though those actions often came after chants by the groups that administrators considered threatening toward Jews.)
PAMELA PAUL: It's reactionary to think that words cause harm, and it's illiberal to censor students and deplatform them because you disagree with what they say. ALSO PAMELA PAUL: It's fine to shut down student groups because of their chants.

But the readership of The New York Times is dogmatically left-wing, so surely this column must have been met by howls of outrage! Right? Well, no, not really. Of the eleven comments that have received 400 or more reader recommendations, only two are in any way critical of the column. Here's the most-recommended comment (1548 recommendations):
Thank you! I've been struggling to understand why progressives often rub me the wrong way. I wondered if I was missing something, but this article helps me understand why I am a proud liberal, but not a progressive.
Here are excerpts from other highly recommended comments:
This is 100% true. The progressive movement of the 2020s is a terrifying regime of exclusion, division, alienation, racial primacy, and ideological totalitarianism. If you dare to question progressive catechism in the slightest, prepare for excommunication and extreme retribution. And now they are veering into MAGAesque violence and disruptive tactics — they have become the very people they despise.


A liberal wants to make society better and tries to do so. A liberal priorities virtuous action.

A progressive wants to engage in performative acts so that everyone knows that they want to make the world better. A progressive prioritizes virtue signaling.


Agreed. I no longer call myself progressive for exactly these reasons. These loud purity police have become intolerable, but how do we take back the reins for moderation?


Thanks, Ms. Paul. I increasingly believe that many members of the very young generation who like to think of themselves as woke, or progressive, are not only not liberal, they're not even left-wing.

I see their bigotry--their ageism ("Ok, Boomer"). I see their ageist misogyny. (They even turned the word millions of older women are called, "Karen," into a slur--which is no different from turning the word for someone's skin color or religion into a slur, and associating those slurs with ridiculous caricatures to try to exert control. And yes, before anyone protests at the comparison, older women have been discriminated against for as long as there has been a patriarchy--mocked, sidelined, and even burned alive *en masse* as witches whenever they spoke up or otherwise opposed the patriarchy. Don't these kids know that lumping people into groups and using slurs is bigotry in its purest form?)

I hear their absolutist, black-and-white, with-us-or-against-us, good-or-evil speech and and am reminded, appallingly, of other such concrete thinkers of history who believe they, and only they, have right on their side. There are many ways to describe such people, but "left wing" isn't one of them. Nor is "liberal." And if the world they are advocating for is "progress," then god help us all.

I'm tired of hearing the media describe these absolutist, free-speech-hating, cancelling, and now even pro-Hamas kids as "left wing." On the contrary, they're as far to the right as they come.


I'm glad to see this finally articulated. The modern progressive no longer seems to share truly liberal values. As a liberal, I've always considered the core of my values to be fairness and compassion. Modern progressivism is more akin to an outrage machine, always looking to create clear sides on every issue, or to compare hatred between groups like it's a badge to be the most marginalized. Liberals condemn injustice everywhere while the new progressives seem to thrive on its continued existence- and consider any belief opposed to theirs so inconceivable, they shout down all other voices. I suppose the political spectrum is a circle, if you go either way far enough all you get is totalitarianism and ignorance.


Excellent essay. You have described my once progressive self and now liberal self exactly. Progressives have lost their way. They obsess about their identities instead of universal health care. I’m sorry to say that to me progressives have grown increasingly hostile towards anyone who dares to challenge them. They have no interest in working with liberals and moderates. Anyway, I’m no longer homeless; I’ve found a home with liberals.
This is the target audience for the Times: people who tell themselves they lean left because they hate Donald Trump, support abortion rights, and invite their gay relatives to Thanksgiving without flinching, but who are barely on the left, if they're there at all.

It's fine to be troubled by some of what takes place on the left, but Paul's disgust rises to the level of monomania, and her readers' gleeful agreement with her suggests that whether they realize it or not, they'd be more comfortable with a President Trump than a President Ocasio-Cortez. That's not liberal.

Thursday, November 16, 2023


Why is Joe Manchin saying nasty things about Donald Trump?
West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, days removed from announcing he won’t seek reelection, said Wednesday that if the nation’s voters give former President Donald Trump another term in the White House, “he will destroy democracy in America.”

... Manchin had harsh words for how the two-party system is currently functioning.

... But Manchin reserved his harshest comments for Trump.... Manchin said it would be “dangerous” to give Trump another term.

“You can’t have this visceral hatred spewing out of every time you give a speech, denigrating Americans,” he said. “And the only good American is the one that likes you and supports you; the only fair election is the one you win; the only laws pertain to everybody but you.”
Why, if you were Joe Manchin, would you reserved your harshest comments for Trump? Because you want Trump elected.

I'll explain: If you knew your No Labels campaign had no chance of winning the presidency and you wanted to win over voters who usually vote Democratic more than you wanted to win over voters who usually vote Republican, what would you do? You'd insult the Republican candidate. Manchin voters will be people who, by definition, don't like either Trump or Joe Biden -- but if they were forced to choose between those two, some of them would prefer a Trump victory. Insulting Trump is a way of ensuring that those voters reject Manchin. Since the point of No Labels is to get Trump elected, I'm sure Manchin, who seems very likely to be the group's candidate, will keep talking like this until Republican-leaners thoroughly reject him.

But wait -- hasn't No Labels said it wants a Republican at the top of the ticket? Yes, that's what The New York Times reported last month:
The group’s chief executive, Nancy Jacobson, has told potential donors and allies that the No Labels candidate will be a moderate Republican, according to three people familiar with the conversations. That decision would rule out Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, a Democrat whose flirtation with the idea has prompted a wave of angst within his party.
And yet it sure seems as if Manchin is making the most high-profile bid to be at the top of the No Labels ticket.

No Labels has told its donors -- many of whom are rich Republicans -- OMG! If we put a Democrat at the top of the ticket, we'll elect Trump!

We're meant to read that as Elect Trump? Heaven knows we wouldn't want to do that! But if that's what their donors actually want -- which I assume is the case, given the fact that Trump was very pro-business, pro-fossil fuel, and anti-regulation when he was president -- then No Labels is signaling that a ticket topped by Manchin is precisely how Trump gets elected. (Remember, this scheme was hatched when it was widely assumed that Trump couldn't win on his own.)

So both Manchin and No Labels are warning against the dangers of a second Trump presidency in order to elect Trump. It's obvious.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023


Oh, damn -- Zandar (Jonathan David Mott) has passed away, way too soon, according to a final post on his blog from his father. He was always one of the most perceptive bloggers out there, and I'll miss hearing from him as the world goes to hell. He was only 48. It's not fair.


It looks as if the entire Republican Party needs to be put in the time-out chair -- former House speaker Kevin McCarthy has been accused of deliberately elbowing a fellow House Republican in the kidneys, House Oversight Committee chairman James Comer said in a hearing that a blue-suit-wearing Democratic colleague who had criticized him "look[s] like a Smurf," and Oklahoma senator Markwayne Mullin, a former business owner and mixed martial arts fighter, challenged a witness at a Senate hearing to a fight because the witness had criticized and baited him on Twitter.

Senator Mullin was, of course, given the reward every Republican in Congress receives after a viral act of toxic masculinity: an appearance on Fox News prime time. Sean Hannity awarded the accolade:
Hannity told Mullin his popularity with the people of Oklahoma would “probably go up tenfold” due to the altercation.

“He called you out. You called him out for calling you out. And that’s kind of old school the way it used to be,” he told the senator.
It's not "the way it used to be" in the Senate, unless you think the brutal caning of anti-slavery senator Charles Sumner in 1856 was the Senate's high-water remark.
Hannity also recalled getting into fistfights almost every day with his friends when playing sports as a child...
Almost every day? Seriously, dude?
... and wondered why that kind of behavior is frowned upon these days.
I'm sure you can guess what word is coming.
“You know, when all of a sudden did we become that woke that the thought of two people, one responding to a threat directly, saying ‘OK, you threatened me. Here’s your opportunity. Take me up on it?’” he added.

According to Mullin, “It’s political correctness.”
"Political correctness"! Wow, that's old school.

The witness, Teamsters president Sean O'Brien, is not entirely blameless here:
Mullin read aloud O'Brien's original tweet at the hearing Tuesday: "Greedy CEO who pretends like he’s self made. In reality, just a clown & fraud. Always has been, always will be. Quit the tough guy act in these senate hearings. You know where to find me. Anyplace, Anytime cowboy."

The tweet also said "#LittleManSyndrome" and showed a photo of Mullin at a debate where he was standing on a pedestal at a podium.
But when he challenged Mullin to a fight, that wasn't a threat. He didn't say, "I'm coming to get you." He challenged Mullin (who didn't have to rise to the bait), and he did so on a social media site that's now a grimy back alley in a bad neighborhood.

Mullin is a member of the U.S. Senate. Mullin is supposed to have some respect for the institution.

But that great patriot Sean Hannity is fine with Mullin's outburst:
Then, Hannity upped the machismo, telling Mullin he believes “any other response kind of would have been a little gutless.”

Mullin added, “If I didn’t do that, people in Oklahoma would be pretty upset at me... I’m supposed to represent Oklahoma values.”
Fox News has always been like this. It was like this two decades ago, when Bill O'Reilly was the channel's biggest star precisely because he viciously attacked the people he disagreed with. But if you remember the mainstream-media take on Fox at the time, it was that Fox was a normal news organization, if perhaps a smidge to the right, and while its commentators could occasionally tiptoe two over the line, the channel overall was a serious purveyor of reliable information. Republicans fully embraced Fox, while Democrats and the rest of the media mostly gave it the kid-glove treatment, even as it became increasingly toxic.

And that's how we became a country where a Trump presidency became thinkable, and behavior like Senator Mullin's came to be seen as admirable.

Tuesday, November 14, 2023


As part of his never-ending quest for attention, Donald Trump has recently been using language that echoes Nazi rhetoric -- calling his political opponents "vermin," promising that he'll "root out" these enemies, warning that the "threat is from within." Some media outlets didn't respond to this with alarm and were accused of "normalizing" Trump, as if that ship didn't sail years ago. (At this point, with one presidential term under his belt and another one likely, maybe we need to accept that Donald Trump is normal in America -- that, despite President Biden's denials, Trump is "who we are.")

The press eventually did express concern about Trump's words. The headline in The Washington Post was "Trump Calls Political Enemies ‘Vermin,’ Echoing Dictators Hitler, Mussolini." The New York Times (belatedly) and Joe Scarborough joined the condemnation. So now the press isn't "normalizing" this rhetoric.

It may not make any difference. The country seems prepared to vote on two issues: consumer prices and whether the current president looks like an oblivious Mr. Magoo in news clips. To most Americans, nothing else matters. Maybe I'm too pessimistic and this really will make the scales fall from some potential Trump voters' eyes, though over the past eight years, nothing has.

But we do need to talk about it. We should be worried about Trump's Nazi rhetoric primarily because it makes clear that he's being advised by people -- Stephen Miller in particular -- whose principal response to the Nazis is envy. This specific language is coming from them, not from Trump.

(Yes, I know that Trump reportedly had a book of Hitler speeches by his bedside many years ago, but come on -- it was a book. Do you really think he read it? Maybe he paged through it, but can you imagine him studying it? By contrast, Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon have clearly studied Hitler. They knew what they were invoking when, I presume, they recommended these words and phrases to Trump. I don't believe Trump knew.)

The fact that Trump's advisers want him to sound like a Nazi suggests that they genuinely want him to act like one when he's back in the White House. The fact that Trump enthusiastically recites the words they recommend suggests that he might carry out the policies they recommend.

"Vermin" is new for Trump. It isn't his go-to dehumanization word. In his years on Twitter, he never used it. He didn't use it in any of his public utterances as president.

Trump's favorite dehumanization word is "animal." In 2018, during an immigration roundtable, Trump referred to members of the Salvadoran crime organization MS-13 as "animals." When he was criticized for this language, he promised to keep using the word, and the White House issued a statement that called Ms-13 members "animals" eight times. (The headline of this official presidential document was "What You Need to Know About the Violent Animals of MS-13.")

The words "animal" and "animals" appeared frequently in Trump's Twitter feed -- in reference to terrorists, headline-grabbing murderers, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad ("Animal Assad"), and people who attack Confederate statues.

Some journalists criticized this dehumanizing language, but the criticism had little impact on how voters perceived Trump -- those who loathed him agreed with the criticism, while those who didn't waved it off, often using the dismissive phrase "mean tweets" (short for "I can put up with a few mean tweets if that's what it takes to save our country.")

Maybe the response to Trump's new language will be different -- but I worry that we're still looking for the nonexistent magic bullet that will bring him down, the way we argue that Trump could have been beaten in this year's primaries (or the 2016 primaries) if someone had just found the right way to "take Trump on."

Let's keep talking about the Nazi language and the totalitarian plans for the second term. It might change some minds. But I won't be surprised if an "abnormalized" Trump is just as popular as the normalized one.

Monday, November 13, 2023


We know that Donald Trump wants his second term to be an authoritarian nightmare for his enemies. If he wins, our only hope might be an administration that can't actually do what Trump and allies like Stephen Miller have planned.

Axios reports:
Former President Trump's allies are pre-screening the ideologies of thousands of potential foot soldiers, as part of an unprecedented operation to centralize and expand his power at every level of the U.S. government if he wins in 2024....

Hundreds of people are spending tens of millions of dollars to install a pre-vetted, pro-Trump army of up to 54,000 loyalists across government to rip off the restraints imposed on the previous 46 presidents.
We're told that many of the hires have "very unconventional and elastic views of presidential power and traditional rule of law." I'm sure that's true. We're also told that they're "smart, experienced people." I have my doubts about that, especially when I read this:
The most elaborate part of the pre-transition machine is a résumé-collection project that drills down more on political philosophy than on experience, education or other credentials.

Applicants are asked to "name one person, past or present, who has most influenced the development of your political philosophy" — and to do the same with a book.

Another query: "Name one living public policy figure whom you greatly admire and why."
If you're as old as I am, this might sound familiar, because it's how the George W. Bush administration hired people to oversee Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein:
To pass muster with [Jim] O’Beirne, a political appointee, applicants didn’t need to be experts in the Middle East or in postconflict reconstruction. They did need, however, to be a member of the Republican Party.

O’Beirne’s staff posed blunt questions about domestic politics: Did you vote for George W. Bush in 2000? Do you support the way the president is fighting the war on terror? Two people said they were even asked their views on Roe v. Wade.

Many of those chosen to work for the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), which ran Iraq’s government from April 2003 to June 2004, lacked vital skills and experience. A 24-year-old who never had worked in finance was sent to reopen Baghdad’s stock exchange. The daughter of a prominent neoconservative commentator and a recent graduate from an evangelical university for home-schooled children were tapped to manage Iraq’s $13 billion budget, even though the former had no accounting background and the latter lacked experience managing finances of a large organization.
That's from a 2006 Washington Post article by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, who would go on to write a book about what went on in Baghdad's so-called Green Zone. The publisher's description of the book, Imperial Life in the Emerald City, noted that the young hires "spent the crucial first year of occupation pursuing goals that had little to do with the immediate needs of a postwar nation: flat taxes instead of electricity and deregulated health care instead of emergency medical supplies."

That might be our best hope if Trump wins again: that his top aides will hire inexperienced zealots who spend so much time trying to dismantle the government that the FBI can't solve crimes and the Social Security Administration can't distribute checks. And I know that the MAGA revanchists don't want government to work, but if they create a situation that's like a permanent government shutdown, even politically disengaged normies might feel frustration and anger, all while the zealots -- who never expected to have to do stuff while they were busy dismantling stuff -- struggle to accomplish tasks that would have been easy and routine for the bureaucrats they've pushed out.

Maybe it won't work that way, but we can hope.

Sunday, November 12, 2023


Responding to the recent Ross Douthat column about Joe Manchin's possible (likely?) presidential bid, Paul Campos of Lawyers, Guns & Money writes:
The “manifestly too old” thing about Biden is at this point just completely weird. Biden is barely older than Trump, and Trump seems vastly less coherent, even by his incredibly degraded standards.
I should be used to this perspective by now -- it's shared by most liberal commentators, and probably by most of you -- but it baffles me.

Of course Trump is only a few years younger than Biden. But voters aren't telling pollsters that Biden is too old and Trump isn't because they're misreading actuarial tables. They're saying it because the clips of Biden that they're seeing on the news and on social media frequently look like the ones collected here:

Do you really find it baffling that many Americans look at this and conclude that Biden lacks the energy and mental capacity to be president? Rightly or worngly, this is what their judging him on. (And I agree that it's the wrong way to assess him -- he's never been a good speaker, he's spent a lifetime fighting a stammer, and his strength as a president derives from a lifetime of experience dealing with issues similar to the ones he's facing now. I've said that his team should bring a film crew into the White House and generate some footage of that Biden, the one who, we're told, thoroughly and sometimes rudely interrogates aides so he can be fully informed on every issue he has to deal with. But until that happens -- and it probably won't -- clips like the ones above define Biden's public image.

There's a near-universal belief among liberals that Biden's mental fitness to be president is self-evident, as is Trump mental unfitness. But it's strange to be told this by Campos, who elsewhere in the post alludes to a post he wrote in 2020 in which he described his "Ariana Grande theory of politics."
I just reviewed all the songs that hit #1 on Billboard Hot 100 chart in the years I was in high school. (1973-77). There were 150 such songs, and I found I was able to immediately sing (or “sing”) 147 of them without hesitation....

I then did the same exercise for the years 2015-19. This group featured only 55 songs — apparently the supply of #1 hits has declined dangerously — and I recognized in some way a total of five of them....

The Ariana Grande Theory of Politics is this: The large majority — maybe the vast majority — of people in this country know things about politics like I know things about Ariana Grande. I know Ariana Grande is a pop music singer. Can I sing any of her songs? No. Could I pick her out of a lineup of young women pop singers? No. But I do know she’s a singer....

And here’s my happy thought: While there’s no denying there are millions of fanatical supporters of Donald Trump’s ethno-nationalist griftomatic Fascism for Dummies (redundant obviously), there are many, many more Trump voters who are like me and Ariana Grande. They don’t ... really know anything about politics. They don’t really pay attention. They’ve heard a few things here and there, but that’s ... pretty much it.
Right. And that why it's absurd to say that people can obviously tell Trump is mentally unfit to serve and Biden is fit. Most people don't understand the careful work Biden and his team have done managing the international alliance against Vladimir Putin. They don't understand how nimbly Biden outmaneuvered Kevin McCarthy in order to avoid a debt-ceiling crisis. They don't see the work Biden is doing on a hundred different issues. They just see that stammering, shuffling old man.

And they don't recognize Trump's profound ignorance because they don't know much more than Trump does. They don't know that windmills don't cause cancer. They don't know that dozens of courts gave Trump the opportunity to present his case for a rigged election, and he failed every time. (I think one reason we can't put the question of the 2020 election to rest is that legal decisions are perhaps the worst possible medium of communication in a TikTok/Instagram era -- they're not easily excerpted in video clips, they're written in dull and incomprehensibly jargon-y language, and the authors of the rulings genarrally go out of their way not to be public figures.)

I've said before that Trump still has the ability to do insult comedy. People who don't know much about politics watch that and conclude that his mind is sharp. They also watch the calculated way he goads people -- judges, prosecutors, opposing politicians, media figures -- and they see that it usually works. When he attacks someone, it's news. If he can push people's buttons this effectively at age 77, you can't blame people for thinking he still has all or most of his marbles.

Well-educated people see Biden doing things that will pay off in the future -- on infrastructure, green energy, drug prices, and, we hope, overseas conflicts. Low-information voters see war and economic insecurity, the latter caused by prices that have risen recently and haven't dropped. And then they recall good economic times in Trump's first three years and assume he was the reason, and not just the beneficiary of a presidency that begin at the ideal point in the long recovery after the 2008 crash.

And now here's a headline that just popped up:
Trump Compares Political Foes To ‘Vermin’ On Veterans Day—Echoing Nazi Propaganda
This is reprehensible, obviously. But notice what's happening: Trump used a word (which clearly was dropped in his speech by a speechwriter or aide, probably Stephen Miller), and that word is now stirring up exactly the kind of media firestorm Trumps always wants to stir up. Whether you like it or not, his words have power. Biden's words don't. And that's why voters make a distinction between these two old men.