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, April 30, 2017

The Leftovers

The Leftovers is the weirdest thing on television, and I mean that in the best possible way.  It feels like what Lost might have been in a different universe.

The 100 Days

Sure, it's arbitrary.  But it was Trump's own standard and he failed it.

In the Department of Wishful Thinking, Martin Longman suggests that Trump should just quit already.  It is, however, based on logic and precedence, and therefore irrelevant to Trump.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Would You Like To Know Why I Hate Wall Street?

This is why I hate Wall Street.

The Murdoch Crime Family

All Don Corleone Rupert Murdoch wanted was for his son Michael Lachlan to go legit and become Senator Corleone a multiplatform media mogul.

But the Murdochs are coming to see that empowering Jabba the Hutt cosplay enthusiast Roger Ailes has led to a potentially bruising series of lawsuits against the toxic workplace that was and is Fox News.  Bill O'Reilly is out and if Sean Hannity isn't a serial workplace harasser, I'd be shocked.

Josh Marshall puts it best:
If you’ve watched Fox for years and you found that it wasn’t a hotbed of sexual harassment, pervasive racist attitudes and a generalized sixty-something faux-bro “alpha” culture, you’d have to think you had been scammed, that the big screen talent were somehow hypocrites and frauds.

How does Fox move past the very real dilemma that its product IS the politics of white guys who are pissed they can't let their id gallivant through the workplace anymore?  How does the slow ascension of the more cosmopolitan sensibilities of James and Lachlan Murdoch change the fundamental nature of Fox News?

Several thoughtful conservatives have noted - in David Frum's words - that "We thought Fox News worked for us and it turns out we worked for Fox News."  You simply do not get Donald Trump without the soaked in fear, rage filled screechings of the Fox News culture.

I think Trump forces a reckoning within Republicans at some point.  If so, Fox could be the conduit, but only if they morph from "Angry Old White Republicans" to "Thoughtful Conservative."

Let's see which way they go.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Carnivorous Cycle

One of Obama's greatest strengths as a president was his indifference to the 24 hour news cycle.  He was uniquely adept at filtering out the signal from the noise.

E.J. Dionne suggests that Trump has a signature genius at distracting the new cycle.  This is true.  This is also largely irrelevant.  Josh Marshall rightly points out that Trump's presidency is obsessed with one thing: winning.  Jon Chait notes that Trump is largely controlled by television.

What Chait and Marshall prioritize over Dionne is the idea that what a president DOES is what matters.  Winning the news cycle is ephemeral.  Winning a policy battle is a lasting achievement.  As Marshall and Chait note, Trump has no core beliefs, no primary agenda.  As a result he is a captive of events.  His desire to win means that the actual substance of winning isn't important.  In a hypothetical situation where Democrats win control of the Congress in 2018, Trump could very easily sign a climate bill just to sign a climate bill.  Yay.  But he could also wind up signing something extraordinarily damaging just to sign something.  Boo.

Dionne gets around to this at the end of his column, noting that Trump's ability to distract from the various scandals doesn't mean the investigations into said scandals are defunct.  Jason Chaffetz's surprising decision not to run in 2018 could free him up to be especially critical of a Republican who is uniquely unpopular in Utah.  If Chaffetz decides to really go after Flynn and Page and the other cast of apparatchiks, this could provide all sorts of problems for Trump.

These scandals aren't going away.  The lack of the GOP to agree on much of anything isn't going away.  The need for Democratic votes in the Senate to do anything important isn't going away.

Lots of people left of center bemoan how much they miss Obama.

Maybe they should start acting like him.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The One Thing Republicans Care About

They want to cut taxes on the rich.

That is their Alpha and Omega.  They don't care about deficits (unless a Democrat is in the White House).  They don't care about the white, working class, except as votes every two years.

They care about cutting taxes on the rich.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Bravo

Matthew Yglesias notes that Trump voters aren't that important.  Trump won slightly more of the popular vote than Michael Dukakis did. Those that voted for him will likely not abandon him, because people don't want to admit mistakes of that magnitude.  A few who did vote for him will abandon him either by switching their votes or not voting for him, because he's a colossal fraud and failure.  If Trump loses 5% of his support - and there are no strong third party candidacies - then Democrats should be in a very strong position in 2020, providing they nominate someone with a touch more charisma.

Also, frankly, Trump voters are older and some of them will die before 2020.

Efforts to flip those revanchist Trumpenproletariat are largely doomed.  Getting them NOT to vote might be the best strategy.

Overall, however, the levels of support for Trump is low and getting lower.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Sunday, April 23, 2017

France

Today, the French go to the polls to elect a new president.  Francoise Hollande won't run as he is very unpopular, so the field is wide open.  And I mean wide open.

France has an unusual electoral system - though one that I really like.  You have a wide open first round with every possible party represented.  It's similar to a "jungle primary" in that you have to get 50%+1 to win in the first round to win outright, but different in that in our system there are really only two parties. In France, it might make perfect sense to vote for the Green Party in the first round, but then change to the Socialists in round two.

Anyway, France's election features four main candidates.  One is a hard left candidate - Jean-Luc Melenchon - who wants to impose a maximum income (basically a 100% tax over a certain income).  Another is the main center right's candidate - Francois Fillon - who has been tainted by corruption allegations.  The least radical candidate appears to be Emmanuel Macron, a political neophyte who at least doesn't want to blow everything to shit. Which brings me to Marine Le Pen.  Le Pen - along with Melenchon - favors withdrawing from the post-World War II stabilizing institutions (NATO, the EU) while adding in some lovely racism directed at the "non-French" Muslim minority.

Needless to say, there is more evidence that Russia is trying to get these two to the next round.  What happened with Trump is not unique; the Russians have been monkeying around in Europe's elections for years apparently.  This is why it was European intelligence agencies were quicker to pick up Russian ratfucking on behalf of Trump.  They are used to seeing it.

What is interesting is exactly HOW Russia activates these anti-global candidates - from Trump to Nigel Farage to Geert Wilders to Marine Le Pen.  They basically open the box labelled "Atavistic Fears of Others" and let the unspoken fear (of Muslims mostly) combine with the toxic after effects of the Great Recession to bring to power (or not in the case of Wilders) groups that would withdraw from the organizations that threaten Russian sovereignty.

Basically, if you want Europe to remain Europe, you'd better hope that Fillon and Macron advance to the second round today, although I HOPE that if even one of them advances, France will rally around that person to oppose Le Pen or Melenchon.  With America adrift and clueless internationally, we need a strong Europe to hold the line.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

We Are Ruled By Morons

Apparently we are headed towards at least a 50-50 shot at a government shut down.  Given that Republicans control both ends to Pennsylvania Avenue, this is a remarkable achievement in Derp.  How the hell do you fail the basic task of governance?  Oh. Because we are ruled by morons.

On some levels, the continued dysfunction of Trumpistan has to take a toll on the Republican party's favorablity rating.  On the other hand, there are quite a few people who would vote for Satan himself, if he had an "R" next to his name.

It's been a nice run, America.

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Grey Lady

Scott Lemieux is collecting reviews of the execrable first blush, tell all gossip rag about 2016.  Here he looks at the NY Times and then he looks at the Washington Post.

The undeniable truth is that many political scribes are closer to my professional education than they should be.  I have an MFA, the acquisition of which led me to a greater understanding of how stories work, even what is a story and what isn't.  Political reporters of a certain class tend to favor their narratives.  This was most clear in their treatment of Clinton.  They had a story about her and it was easy to push every slight and slander into that narrative.  The Comey Letter worked so well, because it gibed so well with the narrative the political press had been pushing about Hillary Clinton for 25 years.  The essential accuracy of that narrative was besides the point.

As Nate Silver noted, the press is doing some soul searching about how the covered Trump, but not how they covered Clinton.  Trump defied convention.  That was the narrative, and it had the benefit during the campaign of being true.  Now, however, Trump has become a GOP caricature, but I wouldn't count on the political press to point this out.  The fact that his populism has been increasingly demonstrated to be hollow and rhetorical won't penetrate the narrative.  I would imagine Hillary-haters on the Left will be especially loath to relinquish the idea that Trump's appeal is based on racial and social grievance rather than economic populism of the Sanders variety.

The press will be considering at length how they covered Trump 2016 and will miss Trump 2017: Ayn Rand Edition.  Meanwhile, their utter failures in covering Clinton will go unexamined.  That's not catastrophic, because Clinton won't run again.  But the broader disease of "both sides do it" is killing the ability of the press to tell the truth.

Here's the truth as near as I can see it:

- Hillary Clinton was a cautious technocrat who was the victim of a quarter century smear campaign by the Right Wing Wurlitzer.
- The Press treated the accusations with more respect than they deserved, under the Clinton Rules.
- Trump was GREAT for networks like CNN that cover politics like sports.
- Aggrieved white people voted their emotions and hatred, because they got conned by a con man who convinced them he cared about them, when he manifestly doesn't give two shits about anyone but himself.
- The press covered the controversy rather than looked at how these two people would govern.
- We are not going to be governed by a shitgibbon for 3 years and 9 months.

Print THAT, New York Times.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

This Is Good

CNN is breaking our politics.

Ossoff Runoff

Democrats came unbearably close to winning the special election in GA-06 to replace current HHS Secretary Tom Price.  This is Newt Gingrich's old seat and a bastion of suburban Southern Republicanism.  Jon Ossoff took 48% of the vote, but that will necessitate a run-off in June with Karen Handel.

The odds are long that Ossoff can hold off a united Republican field in June, as the dynamics of a jungle primary with a large number of Republicans running favored Ossoff in this round only.  However, there are two questions.  First, CAN the GOP unify around an insider candidate like Handel?  Much of the Trump GOP is motivated by a revulsion with GOP insider politics.  That's why the GOP field was so fractured.  How many populist votes can Ossoff siphon off?  Probably not many.  But how many populist GOP voters stay home in June?  That's critical.

Second, is the news for the GOP expected to get any appreciably better between now and June?

GA-06 was always a long shot.  Democrats probably have a better shot at the Montana At-Large seat.  But it does show a partisan shift towards Democrats that could be critical in November 2018.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Not So Good

President Erdogan of Turkey is basically constructing a dictatorship in his country.  This, needless to say, is intensely troubling for American policy in the region.  That hasn't stopped Cheetoh Benito from praising Erdogan's power grab, because he admires the power, one grifter to another.

In many ways, Turkey's retreat from democracy into personal rule is yet another casualty of the decision to invade Iraq in 2003.  The American invasion was designed to "drain the swamp" of Middle Eastern politics.  (Funny how the swamp drainers always seem to bring more snakes with them.)  By disturbing the status quo - the theory went - you could attract jihadists to Iraq where you could kill them and create a new paradigm of democratic rule in a region.  The Bold Thinkers among neoconservative foreign policy "experts" felt that "creative destruction" would end the sort of political environment that spawned Al Qaeda and 9/11.

Yeah, so 15 years later, Iraq is a mess.  That mess spilled over into Syria, along with the millions of Iraqi refugees that flooded into that country.  The Syrian Civil War - exactly the sort of creative disruption the neocons wanted - has led to the rise of ISIS and the worst humanitarian disaster since Pol Pot, maybe World War II.  All of this chaos on Turkey's southern border fed Erdogan's appeal as a strong man who can bring order to Turkish politics and security to the Turkish state.

First, this is worth considering as a warning about the current Tangerine Nightmare in the Oval Office.  He has promised to be a disruptive force in Washington and the world.  America is an unusually large bull in the global china shop, and if we start running around thrashing norms and causing "creative destruction" we will see more of the sort of dynamics that we are seeing in Turkey.  Let's take Korea for instance.  If we get a war on the Korean peninsula, we will see massive casualties in South Korea (currently emerging from the roiling turmoil of an impeachment process) and the possibility that even with an Allied victory the country could lapse into dictatorship as it struggles to integrate the impoverished, dysfunctional North.  Similarly, if Japan suffers from North Korean missile strikes, they could move to an even less democratic form of government and re-militarize, including nuclear weapons.  That, in fact, could happen even short of a war.

Democracy is not inevitable, and chaos is a real accelerant towards dictatorial rule.  As Trump runs around creating uncertainty and instability, he undermines the global institutions put in place at the end of World War II - mostly by the United States - that seek to create the global stability that allows democracy to thrive.

When you see these (young) chaos agents like this fool in the United States, what you are seeing is a generation far removed from the horrors of global disorder.  Even the ever present threat of nuclear warfare that I grew up with has been subdued.  All those clamoring for a revolution have no freaking idea what they will unleash.  They should look to Iraq and Syria to see what happens when you overturn the existing institutions of the state in a capricious manner.  You get chaos, then you get a dictatorship.

In the specific case of Turkey, Trump's coziness with a new authoritarian is hardly surprising.  We know authoritarianism is perhaps his only constant orientation.  However, Turkey's move away from democratic norms could push it further from NATO (any hope of the EU died years ago).  From an American point of view, Turkey has been an increasingly unreliable ally in the war on ISIS.  At what point does Turkish intransigence and rejection of European norms open the door to the West supporting Kurdish independence?

An independent Kurdistan is more or less a reality in northern Iraq, and the Kurds are really our only ally in the region, aside from Israel (who are hardly steadfast in their support of America's interests).  A deft foreign policy team could leverage Erdogan's power grab into the creation of a democratic Kurdish state with reciprocal defense agreements with the US.  Of course, we don't have a deft foreign policy team, and the creation of Kurdistan would be another act of creative destruction.

From 1989-2016, the world was governed more or less by global integration and a steady move towards more democracy.  In 2003, the US rashly unleashed instability in the Middle East, and that has led to all sorts of unpleasant outcomes, from the Ahmadinjad presidency in Iran, to the Syrian Civil War to the rise of ISIS and now the collapse of democracy in Turkey.  The US is also now led by an ignorant buffoon who distrusts the global institutions most able to sustain order.

We are so very, very screwed.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Race And Trump

Really interesting data being released today about the 2016 election.  Basically, racists were more likely to vote for Obama than Hillary Clinton, because Democratic racists weren't being "activated" by guys like Romney and McCain.  Trump appealed directly to their sense of racism - which mostly revolved around their idea that white people can't catch a break because of all the "reverse racism."

Trump also did really well among low income voters.  My guess is that there is an overlap between those low income voters and voters who feel that special programs for black people are keeping them poor.

Their racism is less directed at black people and more directed at their sense of racial grievance that black people are somehow benefiting from government in ways they aren't.  The fact that black people are NOT benefiting from these mysterious government programs is simply not registering.

The Madman Gambit

Nixon famously had Kissinger present to the Soviets and Chinese that he was dangerously unbalanced and could be provoked into war at any moment.

Trump seems to be upping the ante on this gambit.  The problem is, North Korea is a poor target of the Madman Gambit.  What, exactly, would we gain from striking North Korea?

Anyway, right now the only thing stopping a nuclear war on the Korean peninsula is the calm and measured leadership of Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un.

Enjoy your spring day...

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Journalism Or Performance Art?

What are we to make of this?

I really don't like conspiracy theories.  But this one is SOOOOO fun!

Actually, keep an eye on Boris Epshteyn.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Cleek's Law

Cleek's Law states: Today’s conservatism is the opposite of what liberals want today, updated daily. This seems like snark, but it's really consistently applicable.

Take a look at this tweeted poll result.  Comparing 2013 to 2017, Democrat's support for air strikes in Syria goes from 38 to 37%.  In other words, about 37-38% of Democrats are what we might label "liberal interventionists."

Republican support for those strikes was 22% in 2013.  After Trump made some rubble bounce, support for air strikes soared to 86%.

If Republican support for policy can basically be determined by whether that policy has a "D" or an "R" next to its name, then there really is NO Republican policy.  Not to the Republican voting populace.  This might explain why the first 100 days of the Trump administration has been an unmitigated disaster.  Sure, the White House is a bundle of dysfunction, but the House is, too.

All the GOP knows how to do is oppose.  That leaves them vulnerable to wild variations in policy and no set plan.

Remind me again why Donald Trump is some crazy outlier to GOP politics?

Friday, April 14, 2017

Nice Lede

Ryan Cooper begins with, "It's tough to grapple with the apparent fact that the president of the United States is a dolt."

It gets better from there.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Mobbed Up

Josh Marshall makes a great point about the Trump/Russia story.  What we are already discovering about Trump's Russian mafia ties is a huge story in and of itself.  The more we seek to find some Robert Ludlum novel at the heart of the story, the less we realize what we are staring in the face.  The President of the United States has extensive ties to the underworld.

What's even more worrying is that we may never find that Ludlum novel, which would seem to exonerate Trump.  But he's not innocent.  We just need to figure out exactly what he's guilty of.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

A Bad Week For National Socialism

First, can we all take a moment to consider the entertainment offered by Sean Spicer on a daily basis?  And can we hope against hope that Melissa McCarthy is free this Saturday night?

Spicer's tone deaf comments proved he was not good at his job.  His immediate impulse to double down and dig himself deeper into his rhetorical hole proves that he is truly incompetent and yet also representative of the Trump White House.  NEVER SURRENDER.  Except today, he's having to apologize.

Meanwhile, tea leaf readers in DC are counting the hours until Steve Bannon gets the ax.  Bannon's influence was primarily in shaping the rhetoric of the Trump campaign and White House.  My guess is that he was behind the language in Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III's speech that was too extreme even for AG Sessions.  Bannon is the poet of Trump's dystopian hellscape.  He is not, nor has he ever been, a policy thinker or a competent political manager.  He's a bomb thrower.

Trump, or perhaps Co-President Jared Kushner, has had enough of the bomb throwing.  It would be tough to see who has Bannon's back right now, beyond Stephen Miller and Sebastian Gorka.  Purging the White House of those three would give Spicer some breathing room, too.

In my dream world, they fire Bannon, who immediately turns on Trump with the venom that only he can.  Bannon knows, perhaps, where some of the bodies are buried with regards to Russia.  Plus, Bannon has always said his desire was to create an ethno-nationalist party within the heart of the GOP.  If he get booted from the GOP, I certainly hope he creates his American Party to draw his voters away from the GOP.  Last night's special election in Kansas suggests that the current dysfunction in Trumpistan has about a 20 point effect on the margins of victory.  Ten points is a landslide; twenty is a fundamental realignment.  Siphon off 5-10% of Republican voters into the American Party, and Democrats will romp.

Hey, a guy can hope.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Populists

I'm reading Richard Hofstadter's The Age of Reform because I'm a great big nerd.  Plus, Fargo doesn't start for a couple of weeks and Game of Thrones isn't on until freaking July.  So, Hofstadter, it is.

I'm wrapping up his examination of the Populists, and he half makes a point that is clearer today than when he wrote back in the 1960s.

The Populists were radical visionaries, with an agenda that largely defined the later Progressive Era.  However, Hofstadter has always argued that the Populists were not true revolutionaries, but rather harassed small businessmen.  I think they WERE perhaps revolutionaries, but as mechanization and urbanization both increased their markets, they moved from being a Jeffersonian agrarian force for democratic accountability to basically a version of the Southern Lords of the Plantation.  They went from harried subsistence farmers on their 300 acres to agribusiness men on 2000 acres.  The less fortunate farmers were pushed off the land into cities or tenancy.

For a long time and even to this very day, the stranglehold that demographic distribution gives to rural voters has basically empowered a retrograde force in American politics.  For a moment, there was the Kansas rebellion that Thomas Franks writes about, but that was only a moment.

The sticks have always been the sticks - not much interested in social progress, thank you very much.  They care about their economic interests, as everyone does, and for a few years that meant embracing some fairly forward looking ideas.  But as "they got theirs" under Wilson and FDR, the farmers sank back into their natural conservatism.

And then Pennsyltucky gave us Trump.

Super.

Special Elections Blues

There are a few special elections coming up in Kansas and Georgia especially, though we have one for our state assembly seat.  Both the Kansas and Georgia seats are WAY closer than they should be, given that they are Republican Safe districts.  I mean...Kansas?  The GOP has been forced to mobilize money and assets to shore up what should be easy victories.

Special or off-year elections are usually referenda on the party in power, and this obviously suggests that Trump will be a YUGE drag on the Republican ticket in 2018.  On the other hand, I worry that if Democrats come close in both these elections, but don't win any of them, it could be demoralizing for a party whose natural reflex seems to be to become demoralized.

Obviously, I hope they win both and scare the crap out of the GOP, but I'm worried more air will be let out of the sails of the resistance when the overwhelmingly partisan nature of these districts manifests itself.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Someone Check Trump For A Pulse

Rick Wilson just stuck a shiv in his guts.

What The Fact?

So I read the WaPo's fact check of Susan Rice's claim - and the Obama administration's claims in general - about the removal of chemical weapons from Syria.  Basically, they engaged in careful parsing of their words to spin their agreement in the best possible light.

The agreement pulled out the "known" chemical weapons, while leaving some hidden weapons in place.  That's what Rice said.  As with so many things in Syria, there were simply no good options.  The negotiated settlement probably got rid of more chemical weapons than strikes would have.  Certainly, they got rid of more chemical weapons that Trump's rubble bouncing last week did.  That's what Rice said.

Nevertheless, in a blatant case of Both Sides, the statement was given "Four Pinocchios."  Basically, they took Rice's spin and said it was a blatant lie, even though it was factually accurate within the parsed limits of the language.  They equated measured spin with the daily blatant bullshit spewing from the White House.

This is why we can't have nice things.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Much Ado About Nothing



As the Syrian missile strikes come clearer, what is obvious is that these strikes did jack shit.  We warned Russia, who warned Syria.  No military assets seemed harmed.  And how is it that we dropped over 25 tons of explosive munitions on an airfield and it's already operational again?

As I said, the strikes were probably necessary.  However, Trump needs to "win" at all costs.  It seems pretty clear we made some rubble bounce, but unless we see some shift in Syrian behavior, this was "security theater" again.


Saturday, April 8, 2017

Game Of The Thrones

Josh Marshall has a nice piece on the palace intrigue surrounding Joffrey Trumpratheon, First of his Name.

I thought the strikes on Syria were proportionate and possibly even necessary.  Trump is so erratic, you had to show you mean to stand by your red lines.

The part I didn't like was the sickening way some media figures - including Fareed Zakaria, who should know better - felt that bombing the shit out of an airfield was Trump's "presidential" moment.  There is an overwhelming impulse on the part of the political press to normalize Trump.  They have been waiting for Trump to "pivot" for over a year now.

Trump is never going to be normal.  He's a 70 year old walking collection of pathologies and poor character traits; this is who he is.  But if Kushner and the "Jewish Banking Conspiracy" (Marshall's term) succeeds in overthrowing Steve Bannon, we will once again here how Trump is "growing into the office" and "pivoting to the center."

And then 24 hours later, he will start a trade war with Bermuda over some misbegotten tweet.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Ugh

Left wing groups are mobilizing to primary Democrats who aren't sufficiently hostile to Trump's bombing campaign in Syria.

Politically, you're setting yourself up to be categorized as objectively pro-Assad.  Great job.

I warrant when the polling comes out, these strikes will be seen pretty positively by everyone but the more pacifist Left.  This is why a lot of rural Americans feel you have nothing to say to them.

Serious

There isn't much to argue against what Martin Longman says here.

Was striking the Assad regime appropriate after the chemical weapons attack?  Probably.  Should it have been done in 2013?  Maybe, though Obama was able to negotiate away most of the Syrian weapons stockpiles.  The problem is that chemical weapons are cheap and easy to make, so getting rid of them once doesn't mean you've gotten rid of them for good.

The problem is that we have no Syrian policy and likely there is no Syrian policy to have.  Aside from the Kurds, there is no group in this conflict who we can call our friends.  Not even Turkey, frankly, who have embarked on an authoritarian course and seem to tolerate the worst elements of the Syrian Civil War.

There is no way you can arrive at a solution to this mess that does not involve a serious deus ex machina.  Getting rid of Assad won't stop the factional fighting, keeping Assad will insure there is never any peace.  Conquering ISIS would only shift the belligerence to Kurds vs. Baghdad vs. Damascus vs the Rebels.

The bombing of the Syrian airbase feels very much like Dealing With Dictators 101: The Lesson of Munich.  Assad can't be deterred, goes the reasoning, so he must be smacked around a little.  This is true to a degree.  Dictators often only listen to the persuasion of force. Assad's regime is monstrous.

I can't bring myself to criticize this decision, unless I want to make petty (but accurate) points about Trump's hypocrisy.

The real issues are twofold: What comes next for Syria and what comes next for the Trump Administration?

In Syria, as I noted, there are no good solutions, barring a miracle.  Waiting for miracles is a poor strategic plan.  What do we do next?  What if Assad launches a chemical attack on Kurdish forces and kills an American serviceman?  We've already upped our ground forces supporting the anti-ISIS coalition, what happens if we get dragged into the Syrian war even more?  This episode proves that Trump is both impulsive and easily manipulated.  These actions go against what Trump was saying o the campaign trail, and some of his supporters are furious.  These actions were prompted by pictures of victims of the attacks.  But there have been previous pictures that left him unmoved  What changed?

There are Hawks in Trump's cabinet, including his SecDef and NatSec adviser.  These are the guys who "want to take the gloves off."  The result of this has been that the US has increased the number of civilian casualties we are creating with airstrikes.  I guess killing civilians with cluster bombs is more humane than killing them with sarin gas?  Clearly, the Hawks used these images to get Trump to backtrack on his previous position on Assad.

If he's that easily manipulated once, he can be again.

Secondly, I imagine Trump will see a bump in his poll numbers for being "strong."  Obama rightly understood that "being strong" was often a quick high.  And like a nice hit of meth, it made you feel good for a moment, but it often led to both negative repercussions in the long run, as you needed to get your fix.

Trump's presidency is historically unpopular.  That unpopularity spreads across the political spectrum.  These attacks will shore up some support among GOP Hawks and his numbers will bump upwards a little.  If he notices this, he will reach for this literal weapon every time his numbers sag.  We have seen the militarization of our foreign policy establishment, but now we are on the verge of militarizing our domestic politics.  This is a critical step in the creeping authoritarianism that Trump represents.

Or maybe not.

The strikes on Syria were - if not a good idea - not a bad idea.  There is a logic to them, though the represent exactly the DC Playbook that Obama worked to resist for 8 years.  Like saving your Closer for the 9th inning is the "Book" in baseball, it's a decision that usually isn't second guessed, except by people who are thinking more creatively.  You rarely catch shit for following "the Book."

The YUUUGE question is what comes next.  My first guess is that nothing happens.  Trump gets simultaneously distracted and pleased with himself for his poll numbers creeping upwards.

But keep an eye on the people beating the war drums.  And keep an eye on Trump when his poll numbers start to slip again.

This was McMaster's play, not Bannon's.  It's pretty clear the Hawks are back in charge.  Let's see what that means in the long run.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Ultimate Trumpism

Trump's assertion that he has had the "most successful 13 weeks in the history of the presidency" may be the most Trumpian utterance yet, as Jon Chait notes at the link above. His presidency has been an objective failure at everything, except executive order to destroy the regulatory state and now Neil Gorsuch.  Legislatively, he's been a complete and utter failure.

And, yeah, he's only been president for 11 weeks.

Honestly.  Is he non compos mentis?

Deep State Vs. Derp State

Josh Marshall is most likely right.  After 100 chaotic days, the national security state - as typified by McMaster - is slowly regaining control of at least the foreign policy part of the Trump White House.

This makes one hopeful that we won't enter into any catastrophic wars by accident.  If we do, it will be more by design...

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Hoo Boy

There are actually people on the left of the environmental movement who decry the use of consumer pressure to change policy?  I mean, that's an actual thing?  This is Purity Politics at its most perverse.

Right now, the purchasing power of the Liberal Coastal Elites is probably as important or more so than the rule of law as promulgated through the Courts.  It is absolutely toxic to be a business leader who embraces Trump. And it looks like consumer pressure could be the thing that takes down Bill O'Reilly.  I'm not overly concerned about HOW that happens.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Prestige

In a magic trick, the Prestige is the showmanship that goes around the "trick" to distract the audience and sell them on the trick.

These revelations about Susan Rice are an example of a Prestige. Rice did absolutely nothing wrong.  Of course, she did nothing wrong in the Benghazi incident, but...BENGHAZI!11!  We now have Rand Paul parroting these attacks, which will bounce around the Fox News Echo Chamber and create their own narrative in support of that which there is no support: Obama spied on Trump.

Once again, the test will be whether the media lets them get away with this shit.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Unmasked

Greg Sargent makes a fundamentally important point: Donald Trump is unpopular because his agenda is unpopular.  He also makes the next important follow up point: Trump's agenda is basically the GOP/Paul Ryan agenda.  Immiserating the poor is a fundamental position for much of the GOP.  It turns out most people aren't all that into cutting government to the bone.  Sure, you can find people for whom keeping America basically a white, Christian country overrides their economic self-interest, but as Scott Lemieux points out, white nationalism is a form of self-interest, too.

The thing is that Trump's governing coalition is in shambles and his electoral margin of victory was razor thin.  I can't see any way that they can get an ACA repeal or tax reform through the Congress.  They will likely be able to push through some horribly regressive tax cuts, but that's about it.  That and Trump's efforts at massive deregulation.

The thing is, massive tax cuts for the rich and deregulation are really only popular with a very, very few Americans.  Hating on brown people brings in a lot more.  But not 50%.

The essential meanness, callousness and incompetence of the GOP has been largely shielded over the past decade by Democratic control of first the Congress, then the White House.  As Democrats controlled the agenda from 2006-2010, they created policies that were disruptive - combined with the Little Depression of 2008.  But they did tangible good for people. From 2008 onward, the GOP functioned solely as an opposition party.  I saw an incredible stat that roughly 75% of the House GOP has not been part of a governing majority that controlled the White House.  In effect, they never had to govern.

Obama was the animating force of the GOP resurgence.  However, now that he is gone, the basic unpopularity of the GOP's active agenda is being exposed.

I know that policy rarely is important to voters.  Sadly.  But cruelty married to incompetence is not a very good recipe for electoral success.

The Shadow Governance Problem

Barack Obama did a lot of laudable things with executive orders that never really got a lot of play.  Trump is issuing a lot of executive orders, that I would not describe in any way shape or form as laudable.

But executive orders exist in the shadows.  They don't have the impact of legislative victories.  Obama at least had his first two years in office to win big victories.  Trump doesn't appear to be headed in that direction.

And it's showing up in the polls.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Wall

WaPo has an article about how Democrats look to be in a more favorable position come government shutdown and budget time.  TL;DR: The Freedumb Caucus is unlikely to support the Trump budget or a continuing resolution to keep the government open.  So in order to keep the government working DESPITE HAVING CONTROL OF BOTH HOUSES OF CONGRESS AND THE PRESIDENCY, the GOP will have to reach out for Democratic votes.

This is, in part, the continuation of the Republican Civil War, and the assumption - which could very well be false - is that it will continue into the budget-writing process.  There could also be the same dynamic with health care, in that moderate Republicans can't sign off on Trump's ridiculously draconian budget either.

One thing that stood out was the double-edged sword that Democrats are faced with.  The left wing of the party wants a McConnell-style Party of No strategy that denies the Republicans ANY victories and forces crises on a government that seems ill prepared to handle them.

That's not necessarily a bad strategy.

However, it's a strategy that has two big flaws.  The first is that Democrats believe in good governance.  McConnell could make the government fail, because the GOP message is that government is a bad thing and it fails all the time.  You muddle the message of "We can make government work" if you are helping to make government fail.  Maybe.

The second seems to be where do you draw the negotiation line?  The article lists a few things that Democrats will absolutely insist on in any budget that has their fingerprints on it. Planned Parenthood is one, and that's probably smart, because funding PP is actually pretty popular outside of the hard core anti-abortion crowd.

The big fight, it seems, will be over the defense budget and the border wall.  Democrats have said that a huge increase in defense spending at the expense of needed programs across the board is a non-starter.  Frankly, many Republicans agree.  Except for the maroons in the Freedumb Caucus, most GOP Congressmembers can agree that, say, the CDC is a good thing to fund.  And let's not kill Big Bird while we are at it.  Again, they are wrestling with the reality of what their campaign rhetoric has been versus the reality of governing.

Presumably this means that they can slash Trump's defense budget and re-apportion money to needed programs.  Which brings us to the Wall.

The Wall looks like is is becoming a proxy for all of Trump's agenda.  He's not going to reform health care (Who knew it could be so complicated?); he's not going to be able to reform the tax code, which is more complicated than health care.  That leaves that "f%^#ing wall" to quote Vicente Fox.

The Wall has an atavistic hold on Trump supporters.  During his rallies, whenever Trump felt the crowd slipping away from him, he would pivot to talk about the Wall <applause> and how Mexico would pay for it <wild applause>.  The Wall was the great symbol of how Trump would be their hero against those murky brown hordes pouring over the border, which is why Cleetus Down The Road is abusing the Oxycontin.  Or something.  Hating on the Mexicans was less about over racism - although it was overt racism - and more about finding something or someone to blame for the fact that Cleetus Down The Road is hooked on Oxycontin and Mabel is taking disability, even though she's fine and all the stores that I went to when I was growing up are closing down and the jobs are gone, and Junior is still at home and... Well, basically the hollowing out of small town America.

The fact that this hollowing out is very real, doesn't mean that Mexicans are to blame.  In fact, time and again small town people are horrified when ICE agents show up and grab THEIR Mexicans.  The Wall was not about taking Jorge back to Mexico, it was about stopping the idea of "bad hombres" who are always somewhere else doing godawful things.

For Trump and Trump supporters, the Wall is everything.  Trump has to realize at some level that retreating from the Wall is not an option.  It would be the ultimate betrayal of the 37% who still think he's doing a good job.

From the Democrats point of view, therefore, beating Trump on the Wall would be awesome.  Many of the saner members of the GOP are not interested in spending billions on the 2nd century BCE technology of a wall. Budgets are about priorities, and it's not their priority.  It's a colossal waste of money.

And yet....

That f*&^ing wall is indeed really popular.  For people who don't see why we DON'T have a wall, opposing a wall is just PC bullshit.  The Wall is popular because walls are easy to understand.

Democrats don't need to win rural districts, necessarily.  They just need to lose them by closer margins.  Making the Wall the centerpiece of your resistance to Trump risks cementing those voters to him.  Resist the Wall be all means, but don't make THAT the rhetorical centerpiece of your resistance.  Focus on how the GOP budget will gut assistance to those communities.

I am not, not have I ever been a Sandernista.  But at some point Democrats need to start speaking the language of class over the language of race, ethnicity and gender.  The Wall is a race and ethnicity touchstone.  Democrats should absolutely oppose it.  But opposing the wall shouldn't be the focal point.  It should be preserving needed social programs like public health and addiction services or environmental protections.  Oppose the Wall quietly (except on Univision and Telemundo), while speaking an inclusive language of class.

That's how you create a wave in 2018 and 2020.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Who Are These People?

At what point do we finally agree to agree that "powerful conservative" really just means "raving psychopath"?

Draining The Swamp

There is little doubt that Trump is a populist, and much of his appeal to his WWC base was his stated desire to "take on" elites in DC.

Recent revelations about the people surrounding Trump show that Trump may have run as a populist, but he's governing as exactly the person Democrats said he was: a plutocrat who has nothing in common with the people who voted for him but the shared contempt for certain groups of people.

The GOP as a whole has demonstrated - once again - that their primary function in DC is to funnel money and power upwards to the 1%.  The decision to allow telecoms to sell consumer data is just bizarre politics.  Who supports this?  The American Shit Sandwich Act that the Zombie Eyed Granny Starver from Wisconsin puked up was a terrible, terrible bill.  Who supports this?  The coming deficit-financed tax cuts for the 1%...Who supports this?

Charlie Pierce famously contrasted the Occupy movement with the Tea Party by saying that at least Occupy was screaming at the right buildings.  There is a fair amount of evidence that those rural WWC voters supported Trump in a bizarre "only Nixon can go to China" gambit that only a guy like Trump - already rich and used to buying influence - could "drain the swamp" and remove those who are rich and buy influence.

Trump's continued collapse in the polls is at least in part - if not in whole - some of his supporters coming to grips with the fact that they have been conned.  The health care debate stripped the scales from at least some of their eyes.  The question everyone, but especially Democrats, should be asking is how low can Trump go?  It's not even three months into his presidency.  So far he has treated us to the Russia scandal, a failed travel ban, a failed health care plan and a massive deregulation plan.

Democrats and the press have focused mostly on the first three elements of that agenda: Trump's scandals and incompetence.  At some point, they need to pivot and focus on what he's actually accomplished, as typified by rolling back the regulations on coal ash and worker protections and financial regulations and internet privacy.  This is going to be at least two years of unparalleled corporate giveaways.  Trump exists to be a conduit of government largesse to the 1%, including, of course, his own family.

Democrats need to start constructing this case and repeating it over and over again.  The Russia Scandal should probably be re-sold as Trump selling out America to benefit wealthy Russian and American investors (which it probably is) rather than a treasonous conspiracy (which it probably isn't).

The key to creating wave elections in 2018 and 2020 is to reshape the debate over Trump's faux populism.  He and the GOP are not on your side, Bubba.  That HAS to be the message.  Right now, there is so much noise surrounding Trump it's tough to pick out just one chord.

Time to create a chorus.