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

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Freaking Cannibals

With the predictability of the sun rising, Leftists have freaked out over Tom Perez's selection as DNC chair.  One writer I really respect called him a "neoliberal shill."  Others have said that the "table needs to be overturned" and all the DNC routed.

This is why we can't have nice things.

First of all, the idea that Perez is anything but a progressive is ridiculous.  He was an excellent Assistant AG for Civil Rights and an excellent Secretary of Labor.  I really hoped that Clinton would have picked him for her Veep slot, before she selected walking dad-joke and Smurf cosplay enthusiast Tim Kaine.  Tom Perez is an excellent choice.  Keith Ellison would have been an excellent choice, too.  Who freaking cares?

Predictably, the election became a re-litigation of the primary between Sanders and Clinton. Ellison was an early supporter of Sanders, whereas Perez supported Clinton, so the contest became viewed through that lens, especially by the die-hard Bernie supporters.

At the heart of the Sanders dead-enders is an important fallacy that they need to confront.  Among those saying that Perez was a neoliberal shill was the idea that the Democratic party had to move further left to win elections.

Further left.

I'm guessing their evidence for this is based on two things: spotlight fallacy and post hoc ergo propter hoc.

The spotlight fallacy precedes from the idea that an observation of a small, unrepresentative sample extends across the entire group.  In this case, a Leftist assumes that because everyone in their social circle is also a Leftist, and because they are often disheartened by the centrist impulses of Democratic candidates, then EVERYONE must be disheartened by the centrist impulses of Democratic candidates.

Post hoc ergo propter hoc says that because one event follows another, it must have been caused by the previous event.  Democrats nominated a technocratic left-of-center candidate and lost, after rejecting the socialists candidate.  Therefore, nominating a technocratic left-of-center candidate is why they lost.

They no doubt look at Trump's rhetoric over free trade and see an echo of Leftist criticism of free trade and assume that this is why Trump won.  They hate TPP and NAFTA, Trump's rhetoric agreed with them, therefore, Trump's victory was a product of his trade positions.

This, I think fundamentally misreads why Trump won.  When you listen to Trump voters they are clearly two different groups: Trump supporters and Clinton haters.  The Trump supporters are clearly not motivated by positions on issues in any logical way.  Trump hates who they hate, so Trump is there guy.  These are the people who look at Trump's shitstorm of a first month and think he's doing a good job.  When he bars certain members of the press from a briefing, they applaud that.

You will NEVER convince a Trump supporter to vote for a Democrat.

The Clinton haters are a variety of people.  Some are just bog-standard Republicans.  Some are poorly informed suburban swing voters who figured there just had to be corruption there somewhere or why else would Comey have written that letter?  Some are those whose economic anxiety did lead them to vote for Trump.  They blamed politicians for their problems and Clinton was a politician and Trump wasn't.

You aren't going to win many Republicans, but you certainly aren't going to win any moving further left.  Those suburban GOP-leaning voters are already turning on Trump.  That's why his numbers are cratering already among whites with college degrees.  

That leaves the economically anxious as a group of people who can be persuaded to vote for a Democrat.  In fact, many of them did vote for Obama and then flip to Trump. You can make an argument that you can woo them with more left leaning policies, except Clinton offered them those left leaning policies.  The problem is that they don't believe anyone who is a "politician."  Even though Trump was and is a historically dishonest candidate and president, Clinton was Clinton.  Despite being verifiably honest, she was seen as dishonest, because she was a politician and because she was Hillary Clinton.  You can solve the second problem by not nominating Hillary Clinton.

The question of embracing leftist populist economics is that this group of people won't believe you, because they assume that all politicians are lying.  Hell, they assumed Trump was lying to them, and are surprised that he might actually gut their Obamacare.  Trump's rampant mendacity will only reinforce the idea that "all politicians lie."  So your plan for universal college tuition or single payer health care or nationalizing the banks is hinged on getting these people to believe you, when they are hard-wired not to believe you.  Alternately, they believe that you are really just trying to give everything to "those people."  Remember, white people get government services and brown people get welfare.

This all sounds pretty bleak. I don't think it is.  Trump won about as much support as Mike Dukakis won.  He has shown zero aptitude for governing.  He has yet to be tested by a real crisis, not of his own making.  He might still be exposed in the ongoing Russia scandal.

The job of the DNC chair is not to woo the guy with Gadsen Flag decal on his truck and the Confederate flag t-shirt.  It's to woo his sister, who doesn't vote, but likes the nice gay man who she works with at the florist shop.  Or whose heart bleeds for those poor refugee children, but doesn't see what she can do about it.

Democrats have more support, that support is simply poorly lumped into certain geographic areas.  The job of the DNC chair will be to increase outreach in those suburban tracts where people are pretty horrified at living in Trumpistan.  Flip the suburbs and return the rural areas to 35-65 as opposed to 20-80 losses and you win the White House, the House and the Senate in the next four years.

Tom Perez and Keith Ellison both know this.  Both are going to work for it.  Stop with the circular firing squads.  Sanders lost.  As a certain liberal group says, "Move On."

Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Bloated Man Behind The Curtain

I'm reluctant to endorse conspiratorial "evil Bond villain" hypotheses about people like Steve Bannon.  I find those theories lazy and chock full of rhetorical fallacies.  However, I do think much of what we see that is so very troubling about the Trump Regency can be laid at Bannon's feet.  Peter Daou lays out the structures pretty well.

Bannon and Trump overlap in one critical regard: they are both chaos agents; they both see conflict as the purpose of power, rather than a negative side effect.  Trump shares enough of Bannon's ethnonationalism to allow him to cede important parts of his presidency to the crypto-fascist running his administration.  Because Trump is too lazy and intellectual deficient to manage his own administration, beyond the broad rhetoric of his campaign-style rallies, Bannon is free to more or less set the agenda.

I'm guessing yesterday's decision to ban CNN, the NY Times, BBC and Politico from the briefing is a decision that came from Bannon and was heartily endorsed by Trump.  Trump needs an foil, an enemy to give him energy and purpose.  Since most institutions in DC are either held by the GOP or -like the intelligence community - have the ability to serious fuck his shit up, Trump has to find an enemy that is simultaneously strong enough to be a legitimate target and institutionally weak enough to be a ready punching bag.  The media are perfect.  People already don't like or trust them, so attack them.  The people that are upset by this are the sort of centrist tote-baggers who clutch their pearls and fret about norms, but have largely abandoned Trump already.

Plus, the damage that Trump might be doing to himself is irrelevant to Bannon.  Bannon clearly sees himself and his role as separate from Trump, who is really a useful tool for Bannon's plans to remake western political institutions in an ethno-nationalist model.  Hence the attacks on the EU, NATO, the UN and basic institutions like the press and the courts.

Bannon - unlike the impulsive Trump - has a plan.  Here is a critical passage about the media:

"They're corporatist, globalist media that are adamantly opposed to an economic nationalist agenda like Donald Trump has," he said. "Here's why it's going to get worse: Because he's going to continue to press his agenda. And as economic conditions get better, as more jobs get better, they're going to continue to fight. If you think they're going to give you your country back without a fight, you are sadly mistaken. Every day, it is going to be a fight. And that is what I'm proudest about Donald Trump."

Here we can see both the political insight and the economic folly of the Trump/Bannon agenda.  Economic nationalism is unlikely to lead to better economic outcomes.  We are about seven years into the recovery from 2008.  We are starting to see real wages rise.  However, if they are serious about a border tax/tariff and we combine that with stripping away oversight of Wall Street, then we can anticipate inflationary pressures from a tariff, job losses as other country's throw up tariffs, financial fraud and the inevitable slackening of growth that comes at the end of a recovery.

If they really think protectionism will lead to more jobs, then they are about 80 years behind the times.  It's possible that modern economics are wrong and these two untrained yahoos are right.  Bannon and Trump share one area of expertise: media manipulation.  That's not the same as economics.

Bannon's role will be interesting to watch.  He lacks the political clout of Trump and Trump's relationship with the Trumpenproletariat, and if they can find him being disloyal to Trump, he could be jettisoned.  He is quite literally the immediate problem.  Getting rid of him won't solve everything, but it would be a nice first step.

Friday, February 24, 2017

If You're Keeping Score At Home

Bill Clinton - who holds and held at the time no elective or appointed office - met with Loretta Lynch in an airport one day.

Reince Priebus - White House Chief of Staff - tried to interfere with an ongoing FBI investigation.

But...Benghazi!  Emails!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

All Quiet On The Wastrel Front

Someone took away Der Gropenfuhrer's Twitter account?  It's been unusually quiet from the White House.  There could be several reasons:

1) They are hunkering down and trying to figure out how to run a government.  I imagine Reince Priebus and Jared Kushner eating pad thai and pouring over a copy of Government For Dummies.

2) We are exhausted.  The press and the Resistance are simply too exhausted over the past month.  So is the Trumpenreich.  Trump has the energy and attention of a toddler, so he's probably just napping.

3) His staff are learning to control him.  There was a report in Politico I won't link to that suggests that the staff are starting to control the flow of information to Trump in order to keep him placated.

Whatever the reason, Friday is coming, and it seems about time for a major scandal to hit the news or Trump to issue a confusing and contradictory executive order that screws everyone up.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Marginalia

There are people who will support Trump no matter what, the 27%. The question is, to what degree do we need to understand and reach out to those people?  There is a decent argument that the answer is: not at all.

The persuadable Trump voter exists.  The persuadable Trump supporter does not.  There are those who - foolishly - felt that Trump could be trusted because he simply wasn't Hillary.  Decades of smearing Clinton paid off, combining with Comey's unprecedented interference to toss the presidency to the Shitgibbon by narrow margins.

Many of those voters will abandon Trump - are abandoning Trump - as the cascade of scandal and dysfunction continues.  If the media can uncover true links between Trump and Russia, that will erode his support even more. Town halls are erupting in unrest.  The heat is building.

As for the hard core Trump supporters, fuck'em.  They will never be convinced; evidence will simply convince them of the opposite.  Plus, keep in mind this:

You mobilize a fraction of that lower right cohort and you start to flip not only the White House in 2020, but the House (and possibly the Senate) in 2018.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Come See The Violence Inherent In The System

Jon Chait lays out the flavors of Trump's authoritarianism.  I do think that - faced with, as Chait describes him, a pseudoauthoritarian - the institutions that will best protect liberal democracy are ones that liberals and leftists especially are suspicious of: federalism and markets.

Chait focuses on the markets, as  he notes that Matt Yglesias has a plausible scenario whereby Trump uses the regulatory machinery of the federal government to co-opt and punish firms that please or displease him.  The problem, as Chait notes, is that Trump is losing that battle.

Corporate America is largely educated, urban and interested in the younger markets.  Trumpistan is largely under-educated, rural and old.  There isn't a lot of overlap there.  The Trumpenproletariat is a distinct minority of the population, and they grow smaller each year as the actuarial table exerts its inexorable force on older Americans. The idea that Trump could co-opt large swaths of industry seems excessively alarmist.  First of all, these companies do business elsewhere. Sucking up to Trump won't only make their stock fall (Hey, Uber) but it will shut off markets in Europe.

The problem, as I was trying to convince someone on Facebook, is not that there aren't more left of center voters than right of center.  The problem is that these voters are poorly distributed for our electoral system.  Trump's margin for re-election is razor thin, if not impossible without some force majeur.  But the real power of "the Resistance" is that they possess the wealth and numbers.

I've been wondering what a slide into true Putinism would look like in America, and inevitably it comes down to violence.  It would take an act of violence on a 9/11 scale to allow Trump to suspend civil liberties, and even then, I don't think it would work.  Trump is simply illegitimate in ways that Dubya wasn't.  Remember, Bush was falling below 50% right before 9/11, because of his poor handling of stem cell research and some other issues.  Trump is there already, and those that disapprove of him REALLY disapprove of him.

I'm somewhat more worried about civil violence.  On both sides.  Political violence is a symptom of broken politics.  If a democratic polity is functioning, there is no need for violence.  The truly disenfranchised and silenced might resort to rioting, if only because they are truly disenfranchised and silenced.  Or anarchists, but fuck those guys.  As the left and right pull further apart and the rhetoric gets hotter and hotter, I can see a landscape where violence enters our politics.  That's genuinely scary.

Remember, Hitler needed the Reichstag fire to seize power.  We can't allow our anger over Trump to lead to a new Reichstag fire.

Shaping The News

President Asterisk elicited much mirth and memes when he incorrectly noted that Sweden had suffered a terrorist attack that it didn't suffer.  It was the Bowling Green Massacre all over again.

Until last night, when riots broke out in a predominantly immigrant neighborhood in Stockholm.  If you read the piece, you'll get a sense of how out of whack the report on Fox News was that Trump based his erroneous statement on.  It was selectively edited, it has no corresponding statistical evidence to back it up and it's largely the work of a journalist who has a point to make rather than a story to report.  What Trump said at his little Nuremberg rally this weekend was factually and substantively false.

But then...you get these riots.  In some ways, these are no different from the sort of riots we see in American ethnic neighborhoods, when the populace feels that they are being oppressed rather than served by the police.  Whatever the reason - maybe it was just a bunch of drunk teenagers - this feeds into Trump's apocalyptic narrative of a world in flames.  The Rinkeby riots will resonate throughout right-wing media and reinforce Trump's support in those quarters.  The lack of chronological accuracy won't be noted, because the larger purpose of right wing media isn't accuracy, it's advocacy.  And that advocacy involves keeping the populace fearful enough to embrace authoritarian solutions.

Trump presents a conundrum for his opponents.  If you violently resist his regime by rioting, you feed into his narrative.  If you acquiesce to his presidency, you risk normalizing a profoundly unfit president.  Riots always feed into the authoritarian power structure.  It allowed capital to crush the Knights of Labor after Haymarket Square.  It allowed reactionary forces to crush left wing dissent during both post-war Red Scares.  It drives the authoritarianism expressed by Trump's supporters.

Bad things happen.  They happen for various reasons.  One of those reasons can be the incompetence and belligerence of Trump's administration.  It really doesn't matter.  Anything can be used as a tool and excuse to increase the power of the Leader.

Kind of hooked on the devil's horns here.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Lie Down With Dogs

The story of Trump's involvement with some seriously shady Russian intelligence and/or crime figures is very complicated.

It is therefore unlikely to get far in a media culture that is devoted to the superficial and easy to understand.  That's why prostitutes peeing on a bed will be remembered and Trump's connection to shady people likely gets washed down the memory hole.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Payoff

Just why did Putin screw up American democracy, aside from shits and giggles?

So he could have a compliant regime put back into power in Ukraine.

The Disappearing Trump Voter

At various times over the coming months, as Cheeto Benito's outrages mount and multiply, we will be reminded that millions of people voted for them, and we need to be respectful of their feelings.  We get a taste of that here.  I won't respond to the particulars, since Martin Longman does it so well.

What do we owe Trump voters?  Again, Longman makes the case that voting for Trump is not the same as voting for McCain or Romney or Dole.  The decision to pull the lever for Trump must've been hard for some of them.  As Jeffrey Medford says in the Times piece, they wanted a better Republican, but there wasn't one on the offing.  The point of the moral outrage is that Trump was uniquely disqualifying as a candidate.  Many people, including a substantial majority of those who cast their ballots, saw that Trump was uniquely disqualifying as a candidate.  The idea that you could excuse what he was saying in order to justify lower tax rates or a Supreme Court judge or whatever the hell your rationale was...that IS morally offensive.

As Trumpistan unfolds before us, some of those who reluctantly voted for him are expressing their profound regrets.  Fine, but you own this.  Don't expect attaboys for unleashing Twittler on the world, just because you now regret doing it.

As for the Deplorables who continue to think he's doing a great job, (Can you get a load of the guy in this video?) there really isn't much that can be said or done.  Some of them might sour on Trump if the economy craters, but right now, the Obama economy is humming along.  A trade war or the killing of ACA might throw off some supporters, but Trump voters are uniquely invulnerable to facts and empirical evidence.

There is also the fact that Trump voters are largely the uneducated.  Trump's popularity numbers are underwater with African Americans, Hispanics and Whites with college degrees.  It is only whites without college degrees that still have a favorable opinion of him.  Having a college degree doesn't make you intelligent, but it does - hopefully - open your mind up to more than one possible reality.  Finally, Trump voters are older than the population as a whole.  The actuarial table should take care of some of them over the next three and a half years.

I have little worry that if the election were re-held today, Clinton would win.  Those suburban, college-educated Republicans who fretted over her emails would not be able to cast their votes for this tangerine-colored clown.

At least... I hope so.

UPDATE:  Charlie Pierce, of course, says it better:


And, please, for the love of god, ye editors and news directors throughout the land, enough with the expeditions into the heartland to talk to people who helped bring this down upon themselves and on us. These folks have nothing new to say. They voted their id and their spleen and they're still on a high from that. Some guy in a café in Dubuque wants to say that he voted for this president* because he "tells it like it is," or because he thinks the steel mills are coming back? Can you watch that rally in Florida and believe that these opinions have any real merit?
"You gotta keep his con even after you take him," Henry Gondorff warned. "He can't know that you took him." Until they realize how badly they've been taken, what's the point in all these stories? You're listening to people in love with their own delusions. It's not even magical realism because there's no magic and nothing's real.

Friday, February 17, 2017

When You've Lost Shep Smith

Actually, you haven't lost anything more than Shep Smith.  Smith has always been the voice of reason over at Fox News.

One has to wonder if the steady accumulation of WTF moments from Cheeto Benito will eventually convince his dumb assed supporters that Trump is a dangerous lunatic.

OTOH, he "loves the poorly educated."  And why not?  They are all he has left.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

He's A Lunatic

Trump had an unhinged press conference today.  Everyone's talking about it.  It's yuge.

Anyway, here's a graph of word salad from the Orange Palin:

Well, I had nothing to do with it. I have nothing to do with Russia. I told you, I have no deals there, I have no anything. Now, when WikiLeaks, which I had nothing to do with, comes out and happens to give, they're not giving classified information. They're giving stuff -- what was said at an office about Hillary cheating on the debates.
Which, by the way, nobody mentions. Nobody mentions that Hillary received the questions to the debates. Can you imagine -- seriously -- can you imagine if I received the questions? It would be the electric chair. OK, he should be put in the electric -- you would even call for the reinstitution of the death penalty, OK. 

This is remarkable in two ways.  First is his consistent need to re-litigate his campaign with attacks on Clinton.  That's...remarkable.

But I want to focus on his categorical denial of involvement with Russia.  If it's true, OK.  But Trump opens his mouth and lies fly out.  He can't help himself.  He's never been under the sort of scrutiny that a president lives under.  Never.  Not even during the campaign, which was the least transparent in modern times.

The CIA and NSA likely know the extent of Trump's business dealings with Russia.  He just categorically denied any business contacts.  Is he lying?  Who knows.

But if he is, I bet we find out soon.

Priorities

The Republicans are more concerned with the leaks that led to Flynn's ouster than the content of the leaks and the possibility that Russia had a mole on the NSC. They really are the Party of Nixon, not the Party of Reagan.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Shit Is Getting Real

If you want to read the most cogent and insightful analysis of the ongoing Russian influence scandal, just read Martin Longman.  He makes - and has been making for weeks - the argument that the intelligence "community" has basically launched a slow motion coup against Trump.  He describes this as both terrifying and necessary.  Quite a few other authors have noted that the "Russian might blackmail Flynn" story is ridiculous, because blackmail only works if the two parties involved share a secret.  Once Flynn's involvement got to the White House, there was no blackmail.

What there was instead was a lack of response from Trump.  This gibes with current reporting that the Trump team was in close contact with Russia prior to the election.  And, now we know, after the election.  Some of this reporting about Paul Manafort and Carter Page was known, in fact they both resigned under a cloud of suspicion.

Needless to say, the rank incompetence of the Trump team stands in sharp contrast to the actions of the Deep State security apparatus who are really good at this.  Therefore, if there is more and more damaging information to come, it will continue to come at regular intervals.

For instance, I can see a circumstance where the NSA or CIA has information about that shady Rosneft stock sale.  There are rumors that Trump has been given major stock holdings in the Russian oil company.  That's how you start.  You launch some rumors.  Let the Trump team deny them.  Then you drop a story over a couple of days that slowly erodes the White House's credibility.  That's how they took down Flynn.  If this theory is right, it could also extend to Trump.  Again, I don't think the Deep State will take down Trump out of spite or because he's an idiot, baby-handed manchild with the intellectual capacity of a tired four year old.  They will do it, because they think he is compromised and a threat to national security.

Obviously, this is not the way we are supposed to handle these things.  If Trump is truly compromised, and circumstantial evidence continues to mount around him, then ideally the Congress would exercise its prerogatives as a co-equal branch of government and investigate the President, perhaps leading to his impeachment and removal from office.  The GOP Congress has shown almost no desire to do their oversight job. There are a few exceptions like Bob Corker, but I think we can hold of re-writing Profiles in Courage until we see actual hearings.  If they happen, they will almost certainly happen in the Senate, as the House is full of craven halfwits and cynical partisans.

As Ed Burmilla writes(and he wrote this about the Pee Pee Memo), Congress doesn't like this guy anyway.  The smarter ones have taken a "wait and see" attitude, but that is starting to wear thin.  If - as I suspect - there are more and more leaks coming, if we are about to see Trump's financial connections to Russia, then we could see them abandoning Trump en masse, as President Dense becomes a perfectly palatable option.

Seriously.

If we are in the midst of a well-orchestrated coup by the Deep State against Trump, he might not last until Memorial Day.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The First Scalp

Michael Flynn is a paranoid conspiracy nut who should never have been National Security Adviser.  It is a categorically, objectively good thing that he is gone.

The question that now hangs over the White House is a famous one: What did the President know, and when did he know it?  Josh Marshall and the Washington Post both suggest that the White House has known for weeks about Flynn's lying about his contact with Russia and the extent of those ties.

The question becomes one of incompetence versus evil.

Is the Trump Administration so chaotic and poorly run that they can't be bothered with allegations that their freaking National Security Adviser might be a Russian mole?  Or did they know, but thought that it was cool?

Either answer to that question is disturbing as hell.

My guess is incompetence, but I'm basing that primarily on the bizarre scene at Mar-A-Lago where the President's national security team was reading classified documents in an open dining room, using unsecured cell phones as flashlights.  However, given Trump's open fascination and closeness with Putin, I can't rule out evil.  We also know that Trump has the attention span of a beagle on meth and can't be bothered to learn anything that can't be retweeted.  So perhaps he was simply under Flynn's thrall.

Again, all answers are disturbing as hell.

What's more, is that these allegations probably have very little resonance outside the Acela corridor and the Deep State, permanent national security apparatus.  The yokels and rubes who elected this shitgibbon are just waiting for America to be great again by kicking out the Messicans and putting agitators in their place.  Oh, and the resurgence of coal and manufacturing jobs.

Meanwhile, Democrats need to keep making this about Republicans, because they are enabling Cheeto Benito and abandoning their commitment to the country and the Constitution.