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

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Crisis

I was on the road Monday and not able to keep up with James Comey (of all people) basically inform us that the FBI and Justice Department feel it's very possible that members of the Trump campaign coordinated with the Russians to help win the election.  To a certain degree - to an observant person looking at the Trump campaign - this is unexpected.  Paul Manafort, Roger Stone and Michael Flynn all have deep and important connections to Putin's government and the cronies that surround him.  So when Comey said there was an ongoing investigation, my first response was..."No shit."  We've also heard secondhand accounts of senior members of Congress being briefed behind closed doors and coming away ashen faced and disturbed.  There is more than smoke here.

Let's take a moment to clarify: I don't personally believe that Trump was involved with Russia, in the conspiratorial sense.  His management style is "hand off" in the extreme.  It isn't that he was working hand in tiny, tiny glove with the FSB, but rather that he hired guys like Manafort, Stone and Flynn to work on his campaign precisely because they have the same worldview he does; this is a worldview that is very sympathetic to Moscow. Trump didn't tell them to work with Russia, but their shared admiration for Russia and Russians led inevitably to this situation. Again, that Trump is close to many Russians is incredibly clear from available evidence.  That alone doesn't make him guilty of anything.  All it did was create a worldview sympathetic to very dangerous and illiberal regime, which led him to hire men who are very much tied to that regime.

And then Moscow helped him win.

I don't think anything that I've said above is contradicted by the public record.  Whether this is "bigger than Watergate" remains to be seen, but it's already the biggest scandal since Iran Contra, unless you count the lies that led us into Iraq as a "scandal" or how you feel about presidential blow jobs.  It does not figure to get smaller from here.

However, having said that we certainly seem to be in a place where a foreign and hostile power helped throw the election to the loser of the popular vote is not the scariest thing about this week.

What was terrifying to me was the behavior of the GOP Congressmen who were questioning Comey.

From the beginning to the end, their primary concern was on those who were leaking information about Trump, Trump's people and Russia to the press.  In other words, they were more concerned about the people making Trump look bad than the possibility that Russia tilted the election towards their favorite candidate with the active collusion of the Trump campaign.

I mean...holy shit.  THAT'S what you're worried about?

David Roberts has a long read about the level of epistemlogical closure on the Right.  It is worth your time.  I'll wait....

The primary focus of the piece is on what the media should do in the current environment of post-factual America.  Ironically, while he rightly focuses on the corrosive effect of "fake news" and hyper-partisan, conspiratorial media (and rightly places much of that on the Right), he neglects to really connect it to actual governance.

He makes the point that the Right basically gave up on a central tenet of liberal democracy: agreed upon objective facts. He also rightly points to Gingrich and Fox News and the primary vehicles for this.  This means two big things: there is no inoculation possible once you have the disease and the disease makes you do bad things.

First, once you believe that all the media lies and all politicians lie, then you won't believe the Washington Post, when they report something you disagree with.  You can find a contradictory story on InfoWars or Breitbart, so there libtards!  Because facts themselves are up for debate, who cares what the facts say?  I remember having a brief online argument about the unemployment rate with a Trump supporter.  He basically said that the Labor Department was lying, because they wanted to help Obama (and Clinton).  Because they had a motive, they naturally committed the deed.  There simply was no factual information, no agreed upon reality that I could draw on to contradict his firmly held belief.  I mean, why wouldn't Obama tell the Labor Department to warp the unemployment rate?  I mean aside from the laws and norms that govern American politics.

The problem is that the modern GOP simply does not give a shit about those rules and norms.  Since projection is perhaps their most powerful psychological force, they naturally assume that liberals don't care either.  There is no "good faith" common ground anymore.

The second part is what we are seeing in Congress this week.  The AHCA is a terrible, terrible bill designed to immiserate millions of Americans in order to reduce taxes on the rich.  But the GOP has to do it, because they've come to believe that ACA is the "worst thing since slavery."  We heard some dingbat from Texas compare Obamacare to a tumor that had to be cut out.  Which is a shame, because since Texas didn't expand Medicaid, it probably can't afford to have the surgery.

When you shut yourself off from objective reality, you write horrible laws like AHCA.  You then deny the CBO score.  And the verdicts of the AMA, the hospitals and the insurance companies and pretty much anyone who disagrees with you.

This is where we are. That's more terrifying than any individual policy or tweet or vote or even Supreme Court nominee.  The very idea of liberal republican government - America's original idea - is teetering on the precipice of a Breitbart-fueled tempestuous sea, because the idea of political competition via free and fair elections based on the positions of the candidates....that's seeming quaint right about now.

Absent an agreed upon objective truth, democracy in America cannot work.

In the weeks and months to come, the following will most likely happen: the AHCA will die - either tomorrow or in the Senate; the GOP will find a way to cut taxes for the rich; the investigations into the election will continue.

If AHCA dies in the House, it will be because it is too generous to the poor, but if it dies in the Senate, it will be because it's a shitty bill and the margin for error in the Senate is too small.  Plus, you can't gerrymander a state, so a Senator has to worry about the center as well as her right flank.

The ultimate fate of the AHCA is secondary, in some ways, from the GOP mania to reduce the tax burden on the rich.  The Trump administration is already accommodating the desire of big business to reduce regulations everywhere.

Once they get their tax cuts, you can make a case that the GOP Congress will no longer need Trump, and if the investigations proceed to uncover even worse allegations, they could rupture with Trump out of self-preservation (if not love of country).

Last Monday's questioning by GOP members of Congress was not encouraging on that score.

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