Blog Credo

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Thursday, June 21, 2018

What Happens Now?

So Trump kinda sorta changed his immigration detention policy.  He will stop separating families, but his current plan to detain them together is illegal.  His plan will not reunite the children who have already been ripped from their families.  Trump assumed being a hardass on immigrant children would resonate with his base and rally them ahead of the midterms.  Instead, he reaped a whirlwind of condemnation even within the margins of his own party. 

Meanwhile even a shitty immigration bill appears to be dying in the House, because nothing in punitive enough for the Tea Party and their "economic anxiety."  This has been both a shitshow and an unnecessary exercise in arbitrary cruelty towards children.

This entire episode in the Trump Admininstration in a nutshell.

First, there is the performative cruelty masquerading as strength.  "Strength" in Trumpistan is really just bullying behavior intended to slake the bloodlust of his ardent supporters.  "Triggering libtards" is the most important aspect of policy in this White House.  If you make Rachel Maddow cry, you've done your job.  There is no expertise, there is no strategy, there is only the theater of cruelty.

This was entirely created by Trump and the Sessions/Miller/Kelly Axis of Evil inside the West Wing.  But it escaped their control, and it turns out that the theater of cruelty doesn't play well outside the 27% of Deplorables.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Breaking Godwin's Law

Godwin's Law states that the longer an online conversation occurs, the greater the chance that someone will compare their opponent to Hitler.  There is a corollary to the law that states whenever someone makes the Hitler comparison, the conversation is over, and the person making the Hitler comparison has lost the debate.

I have been very reluctant to call the Trump Administration "Nazis."  Nazis represent a uniquely evil chapter in human history, and there is a strong argument that what is happening to children along our southern border is not, in fact, close to the level of atrocity that Nazis committed.  These aren't death camps; this isn't Auschwitz.

The problem with this is that Auschwitz wasn't Auschwitz to start.  Germans created concentration camps, but they didn't invent them.  The Spanish used them against Cubans during the Cuban war for independence.  America used them against Filipinos during the Philippines War. Various countries have used some form of "reservation" system for ethnic minorities, obviously including the United States. The fact that two of those references - the Philippines War and the reservation system, not to mention Japanese Internment camps - are from American history goes a long way to discrediting the line "this is not who we are."  This is clearly who we were.  And it's also who the Nazis were before the Wannsee Conference of 1942 turned concentration camps into death camps. 

The Nazis of 1933-1938 were considered comical and cartoonish by a lot of people. They were dismissed as a threat; Hitler was a punchline.  And slowly but surely German institutions crumbled before the relentless onslaught of Hitler and the Nazi party.  Trump and his minions are like early stage Nazis.  They use language to dehumanize and "other" racial minorities - yesterday, Trump said America was "infested" with foreigners, language straight from the Goebbel's handbook. 

"This is not who we are." 

That sentiment is clearly going to come under great stress. First of all, it's clearly who we WERE.  We did it to the Filipinos, we did it to Native Americans, we did it to the Japanese. We built our national economy on the breaking up of African families in slavery.  It is very much who we were.

In my life time, we have tried to change that.  We apologized for Japanese internment.  We are trying to reckon with our legacy of brutality towards African Americans and Native Americans.  We thought we were making progress towards what Obama always liked to remind us was a "more perfect union."  Trumpistan has stripped away our belief in progress, which scares me.  The gains we have made in our lifetime are real, but they appear more fragile than I would have hoped for. 

My solace is that I do think that this is a breaking point for many Americans.  It's kids.  The counterargument I've heard is that we shrugged off Newtown, and that was white kids.  The problem with that is conflating the Republican Congress with America as a whole.  Americans ARE in favor of many gun control measures, and each shooting reinforces that.  We have - because of the majoritarian nature of Congress - conflated what the Republican base wants with what America wants.  Obama served as a buffer to shield Republicans from the consequences of catering to their base.  They could and did put forth the worst sort of laws and ideas, but Obama was there as a bulwark.  Now that the anti-Obama is in the White House, the Republican id is laid bare for all to see.

They don't like it. 

Yes, Trump will always retain the support of the Deplorables.  It is mathematically impossible for him to fall below 27% support.  And the more decent people call out Republicans, the more Republicans will cling to these loathsome policies. 

But there will be fewer Republicans.

There are two important things everyone must do. 

First, long term, register to vote and vote like people's lives and the future of this country depends on it, because it does.

Second, if you can get to a protest next Saturday, do it.  I've never been a big proponent of street protests, but this is a clear moment it needs to be done.  (Naturally, I'm working, because of course.)

We need to decide where we are on the road to our own Wannsee Conference.  We need to decide which vision of America must survive.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Nancy Pelosi

I've followed Ed Burmilla of Gin and Tacos for a long time.  Followed him on Facebook, eventually getting a friend invite from his personal account.  I arranged for my wife to meet him at the AP US Gov reading last week.  I'm a fan.

So I was really disappointed when basically he advanced the argument that the problem Democrats have right now is Nancy Pelosi.  After different posts that note that Democrats are frozen from every branch of government, his argument is that this is somehow Pelosi and the aging leadership of the Democratic Party's fault. 

Pelosi is, in many ways, a perfect representation of what is best and worst of Democratic politicians.  She was an exceptional Speaker of the House, shephered tough legislation through in a narrow window of time and holding her caucus together.  She is imminently more capable that John Boehner and Paul Ryan, and unlike Denny Hastert, she never molested children.  She's tough as nails, smart as a whip and a very capable inside operator.  She's a perfect technocrat.

She is, however, shitty in front of a camera.  Like many perfect technocrats, she can't tell the sort of story that moves voters.  However, her job should not require that.  She needs only to win her own district and then guide legislation once she has the gavel.  She doesn't seek out the cameras like Paul Ryan, either, but they obviously find her. 

There are a number of good spokesmen and women for the Democrats right now.  I'm increasingly warming to Brian Schatz of Hawaii.  I've always been a big Chris Murphy fan.  Kristin Gillibrand, Cory Booker.  The House is always trickier to make a name for yourself, which is why they usually default to those in leadership positions like Pelosi or Adam Schiff. 

Pelosi is a premier boogeyman for the Republicans.  They run against her because she's liberal, San Francisco, a woman.  But the idea that her age is the problem is laughable, when Republicans elected a 70 year old to the presidency.  The idea that she's the problem is absurd.

Monday, June 18, 2018

One Nation Under God

I just finished Keven Kruse's One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America.  It's a bit of a slow read at first, as he outlines with copious research how various anti-New Deal libertarian business interests bankrolled efforts to align Christianity with libertarian, anti-welfare state politics.  He then moves into the Eisenhower years as Ike worked to increase what became known as ceremonial deism, a sort of non-sectarian religious presence in American life.  It really picks up steam as it narrates the degree to which court cases like Engel v Vitale and Abingdon v Schempp accelerated the culture wars.

What struck by the end was how what started as an appeal by libertarian business leaders to oppose the regulatory and welfare state efforts of the New Deal morphed into what we see from Evangelicals today: outright embrace of authoritarianism.

Evangelicism certainly is fertile ground for authoritarianism, as it represents a religious belief in defering to God, the Bible and the pastor (later Fox News).  The evangelical God is the Lord, the King of Kings and He deserves deference.  It's the God of Leviticus, not the God of Matthew.  It is aggressively populist, too, which he chronicles well in the debate over an amendment to allow prayer in public schools.  The prime opponent to the amendment was the National Council of Churches, made up of educated, more liberal clergy.  To these clergy, with their book-learning, theology and historical knowledge, the idea that the state would create prayers for school children was an assault on the separation of church and state.  To them, that separation allowed for a healthy religious pluralism and prevented the abuses that inevitably follow when the church and state coalesce into an authoritarian whole.  It's no coincidence that Putin has worked to resurrect the Russian Orthodox Church.

The lay people of the church supported the school prayer amendment, because the ban on school prayer was seen as anti-religious.  Even a cursory reading of the Court opinions would reveal this to be false, but your average church goer was not parsing Supreme Court decisions.  To them, there was a very simple (and wrong) equation: no school prayer=attack on religion.

Over time, it was Nixon and his Silent Majority who really aligned the Evangelical community and the Republican Party. I've said it before, but it wasn't Ronald Reagan who created modern conservatism, it was Nixon who created the politics.  Reagan may have introduced new policies, but no one cares about policies.  Nixon told the story, Pat Buchanan helped write the words.

The hypocrisy of Nixon's embrace of religion as he violated America's laws goes unstated in the book, Kruse just skips over Watergate entirely, except to note that evangelicals moved to Carter, and then away from him.  Back then, they were swing votes.  Not anymore.

Evangelicals are currently so commited to their deference to authority that they have supported Trump in everything.  There is a poll out today that has Republicans (which can increasingly be conflated with Evangelical Whites) approving of Kim Jong Un more than Nancy Pelosi.  It's just a few percentage points, but...Jesus wept.  Republicans basically equate a liberal Californian with a despot who executes his enemies with anti-aircraft cannon.  Trump is great because Trump is great.  MAGAMAGAMAGA.

That mindset of "us against them," country against city, "Real America" vs "Coastal Elites" has its roots in the argument over Christianity's place as the national faith.  It has its roots in the slavish devotion of evangelicals to their leaders, no matter how poorly those leaders (Swaggert, Bakker and now Trump) actually follow the tenets of their faith.

I don't know what it will take to disenthrall these alleged Christians from their embrace of a would-be Mussolini.  Maybe putting children into cages.  Maybe putting children into cages is actually "on-brand," given that those children are brown.  Who knows?  Maybe God.  She's not talking.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Another Meeting

Roger Stone had a meeting with a Russian offering dirt on Trump in May of 2016.  All the principles of the meeting, Stone, Henry Greenberg and Michael Caputo, denied to took place.  Now, confronted by text messages, they admit it happened, but was totally not important.

For a witch hunt, there sure are a lot of witches. 

Saturday, June 16, 2018

A Wall We Can Believe In

I've been (slowly) making my way through Kevin Kruse's One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America.  It's been a bit of a slow going, but I just read the compelling chapter on the seminal court cases, Engel v Vitale and Abington v Schempp.  Those cases cemented the idea of separation of church and state, especially anything that smacked of sectarianism. 

These cases were handed down before the Immigration Act of 1965 fundamentally remade the ethnic composition of the United States.  Today only 69% of Americans identify as Christian, and that number is likely inflated by legacy faith expressions.  If you were baptised, you call yourself a Christain, even if you haven't been to church since you grew old enough to say no.  Only 45% of Americans identify as Protestant and only 17% as Evangelical.  Roughly 31% identify either as non-Christian or Unaffliated.

I bring this up because of the grotesque display of what constitutes Evangelical Christianity today.  Specifically, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions invocation of Paul's Letter to the Romans to justify ripping children from their parents along the southern border.  Evangelism has become the Cult of Trump.  And if there is one thing we know about Trump, it's that he craves a cult of personality.

Without necessarily meaning to, the Warren Court created a bulwark against the marriage of religion to a would-be authoritarian seeking to make his word the law.  It won't work for that small sliver of Evangelicals who have aligned their faith with Trump.  Those people are mostly lost to the 21st century anyway.  But for the rest of us...Thanks.

Friday, June 15, 2018

The Fulcrum Of American Democracy

Martin Longman advances a really, really interesting theory.  Basically, he posits that there is about 15-20% of the population who clothe their ignorance in sophisticated disdain for "both sides."  These are the "swing voters" who moved from Obama to Trump.  They routinely move from one party to the other, based on who is in power at any given moment.  They are not making a decision based on policy or ideology, but rather they simply want to throw the bums out, and "the bums" is a moving target depending on who controls the White House.  I suppose you can't count on them 100%, but the constant drumbeat of negative news about Trump is likely to have an impact on these people.

One of the leading insights I've been gaining since 2016 is the idea that everything we think about voting is wrong.  This is what the Sandernistas don't get.  They think that offering some magic policy prescription will somehow flip the script. 

Voters - especially the ones who haven't made up their minds yet - don't give a shit about policy.  A few do, sure.  Most simply vote their tribe.  About 35-40% belong to each of the Red and Blue tribes, leaving the remaining 20% to fluctuate by moving against whatever the prevailing winds are.  Ironically, I would argue that in these polarized times, what we need is a stronger sense of what each party stands for, but unless this 20% decides to pay attention to what the people in government actually do, it's probably useless.  Political junkies naturally miss these people, because they vote, but they do so for reasons that make zero sense to people who are constantly checking their phones for the latest updates. 

This group should swing for the Democrats in November and could deliver one or both Houses of Congress.  But they will swing back again in 2022, because they are morons.


Let's see.  How many Extinction Level Scandals is Trump involved in?

- Bragging about sexual assault on video.
- Campaign finance violations surrounding hush payments to a porn star.
- Violations of every known norm surrounding the Justice Department, including firing James Comey.
- Sucking up to Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin.
- Pretty much whatever he tweets.
- Engaging in barbarous treatment of migrant children on the border.
- Completely screwing up the Puerto Rico recovery.
- Whatever the hell else Michael Cohen was up to.
- Scott Pruit.
-Violations of the Emoluments Clause.
- Helping a Chinese company, ZTE, and then getting a massive loan from China for his business venture in Indonesia.

And of course...

- Working with Russia to undermine Hillary Clinton's campaign.

Now we can add the NY Attorney General indictment surrounding the Trump Foundation.  There is a handwritten note, for Chrissake, in which Trump instructs someone to violate the law. 

Meanwhile, in the realm of the GOP, the main issue is when to shutdown the Mueller probe because...

Fuck you, Republicans. May the stink of this two-bit grifter hang around your party for a generation.

Satire Outpacing Reality

I give you Alexandra Petri.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Proving A Negative

The argument for global trade is primarily an economic one with a dash of collective security thrown in.  You engage in free trade so that each country and region can use their competitive advantages to grow their economy. Competitive advantage might be climate, so Mexican can sell their oranges in the American market and Americans can get oranges in winter.  Perhaps it's labor costs, Mexican labor costs less, but is less skilled, so certain jobs move to take advantage of that.  Additionally, nations that do a lot of business with each other go to great lengths to avoid a war with each other. 

That's pretty much it.

The argument against trade is that it siphons jobs away from "our country" to "their country."  This is undoubtably true.  Of course, every worker is also a consumer.  What you lose in job opportunities, you make up for in cheaper goods. Trying to suss out whether stagnant wages are a result of globalization or regressive taxes and a failure to redistribute wealth is very tricky.  Grueling, pervasive poverty and stagnating wages have a lot of causes - fiscal policy, automation - but globalism is definitely one of the causes.

The "good" part of trade described above is largely invisible.  You see the orange in your hand in January.  You don't see the orange that's not in your hand in January.  You can't "prove" the negative of a reduction in global trade until it happens. 

Trump seems invested in making it happen

Right now, Trump's only real positive is that he has not tanked the Obama Recovery.  Yeah, he got the tax cut and Gorsuch on the bench, but those are partisan goals, rather than national priorities.  Overall national economic health is a national priority, outside of peace, the largest priority. If Trump launches a full-scale trade war, it will almost certainly launch another recession.  As an American, I am appalled by this.  But the damage done by a trade war is easier to unwind economically than a financial crisis.  The 2008 Crisis was a financial crisis that created long lasting pain across the developed world and in many ways led directly to Brexit and Trump.  Both Brexit and Trump are responses to the continued weakness in certain economic regions brought about by 2008. 

What Farage and Bannon did was harness that anger and direct it at "globalization."  This allowed them to demonize both ethnic and racial minorities while blaming the outside world for everyone's problems.  Starting a trade war - one that punishes the global economy - might be what is necessary to "prove the negative" about what happens if you do the thing economists say you should not do. 

No one wants a recession, especially so close to 2008.  But what if we need one to drive home the point about what is actually good about trade?  What if Trump's childish tantrum over Canada and the G-7 is the thing that actually destroys his political movement by giving it exactly what it wants?

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Jeff Flake Is Wrong

Outgoing Senator Jeff Flake gets the occasional attaboy from the political media for making meaningless tweets and speeches against Donald Trump.  Meanwhile, he and McCain could completely change the dynamic in Washington by withholding their votes (Collins could, too) in return for better policy, more name it. 

Recently, with the news of ICE agents ripping children from their families and building tent city concentration camps, Flake asked in dismay, "Is this the GOP?  Is this who we are?"

Well..yeah, dumbass.  Clearly.

Last night proved something once and for all.  Donald Trump IS the GOP.  Look no further than Virginia, where neo-Confederate Corey Stewart won the Senate primary or South Carolina, where Mark Sanford (a very mild Trump critic) lost to a Trumpist candidate

The lesson here is twofold.  First, you can forget about "principled" Republicans doing anything about Trump.  They clearly have to fear their Republican electorate more than the mushy center.  Any effort to call him out will result in a primary loss.  It happened to Sanford; Corker and Flake are retiring rather than lose their primaries.

Second, the greatest threat that Trump may ultimately pose to American democracy is the creation of Steve Bannon's ethnonationalist/white supremacist political party.  The Republican Party is on its way to becoming a "blood and soil" party - a sort of soft facism.  Corrupt, sure, but ultimately one that embraces a racial definition of Americanism.

The obvious solution was put forward by David Roberts at Vox.  If you truly believe what Jeff Flake says that he believes, then you can't vote for Republicans in the general election.  No boutique third party candidacies.  No protest by staying at home.  Both of those might work, but to be 100% sure that the GOP does not turn into solely a white supremacist party, they have to lose - and lose mightily - in general elections.  Perhaps a solid third party would have the same effect.  If you deprived the GOP of 10% of their voters, they would struggle to get over 40% of the vote anywhere. 

But the real check on Trump and Trumpist politics is to vote out as many Republicans as possible.  Show them what happens when you turn your back on essential American political norms and values.  That only happens when the GOP gets slaughtered in the next two general elections.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The Singapore Fling

Here is my expert hot take on the US-PRK summit:


North Korea wanted a handshake meeting with a US president.  They got it.  The US wanted a denuclearized Korean peninsula.  They didn't get it.

But because all of our media coverage - but especially or foreign policy coverage - is so fundamentally stupid, the fact that Trump accomplished no real world goals, only optics, will go unchallenged for a few days.  Trump will get some broad sense of "win" (wait for the "at this moment he truly became presidential" takes), and then as the nothingburger proves to be even less than a nothingburger, people will have moved on. 

Now, if only we could be as solicitous to Canada as to North Korea.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Not Feeling It

I try as much as possible to blog every day.  Keeps me fresh.  Keeps me writing.

The Trump Puke Funnel is just so exhausting though.  I've taken to focusing on an extensive honey-do list, since that gives me at least the illusion of accomplishing things.

Let me know when it's time to go to the barricades.  I've got a minivan than seats seven.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Je Suis Canadian

The Trump Administration has decided that the biggest threat to America is...Canada?  Seriously?  Canada?

Clearly there is only one solution?  It's been a good run, but the US has clearly outlived it's usefulness.  Everything from Northern Virginia to the South, maybe Minneapolis in the middle, and then the Pacific Coast will have to become Canadian.  Trump can rule over the new Red States of America.  However, for the safety of the world the United State of Canada gets to keep all the nuclear weapons.  Red States can keep all the privately owned AR-15s, you know, for liberty. 

What a disgrace...

...and it's going to get worse.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

The Puke Funnel Turns

So, I took a whole day to assimilate the news of Anthony Bourdain's self-demise, and I've been trying to complete a long list of chores.  The upside is that I've been ignoring the news.

The G-7 Debacle has crept into my consciousness.  As we dive deeper and deeper into Trumpistan, the question becomes what will it take to get out.  Domestic institutions have largely survived, primarily because of the Courts and Trump's own incompetence, but we are one Mueller firing away from a constitutional crisis.  It is perhaps internationally that the institutions will crumble first.

America has been the fulcrum for the Western world since 1942 and the entire world since 1991.  We set up Bretton Woods, which created a network of global trade that has created decades of peace in the developed world.  We created the UN and NATO to establish a collective security network that has preserved that same peace. 

Trump is trying to actively align America with the likes of Erdogan, Duterte, Xi and, yes, Putin.  He has broken American promises in the Paris Accord and JCPOA.  He has proved that American foreign policy can be broken, and that could have an impact for years.

Everything is awful all the time.  Isn't it?