Why Trump Can Do Whatever He Wants; or A Heuristic for Understanding Congressional Republicans’ Behavior

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This is what it’s all about. By Thomas L. Hungerford, U.S. Congressional Research Service [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

As the country freaks out over the consequences of its monumentally stupid decision to elect Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States because of EMAILS, it is useful to take a step back and try to understand who actually has the power to do anything about the different disasters unfolding. There’s the judicial branch, which has the final say about the legality and constitutionality of laws or executive orders. Some members of the judiciary have already tried to deal with President Trump’s embarrassingly incompetent executive order (EO) on immigration.

The judiciary can be a check if the Trump administration deigns to follow its orders. Unfortunately, it’s already been reported that some Customs and Border Protection agents may be defying court orders to halt Trump’s EO to deport people with valid visas. We don’t know yet if this is at Trump’s behest or not, but I fear either way it’s a harbinger of rule of law crises to come.

More useful and on more secure footing would be Congress exerting its power to rein in the executive branch. Congress, both the House and the Senate, is controlled by Republicans. Democrats are sidelined until at least 2018, which is when the public will have its first opportunity to mitigate the ramifications of having lost its collective mind in the voting booth last year. Until Democrats take control of at least one chamber, President Trump runs the executive branch at the pleasure of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, and their Republican majorities in the Senate and House. At any time, both chambers of Congress have vast constitutionally appointed powers to direct the activities of the executive branch or otherwise hold it accountable.

Let’s be clear about this. Everything that happens from now on, for better or worse, will be the result of deliberate actions or inactions taken by Republicans and their Congressional leaders. Indeed, the last option in the face of an incompetent or dangerous president – impeachment – is fundamentally a political process that goes first through the House and then through the Senate.

So why aren’t McConnell or Ryan doing anything about Trump so far? One could argue that it is early still and they do not want to handicap the new president and de facto leader of the Republican Party. It’s the “give him a chance” approach we hear from the type of Trump voter/enabler who knows he or she is running out of legitimate defenses of his behavior.

That hypothesis won’t be relevant once the initial honeymoon phase is over. What then? We need to look at what I believe is the single most significant driver of elected Republican official behavior: taxes. The issue of taxes is the institutional Republican Party’s one truly sacred cow. Understanding that the Republican Party exists mainly to shield the wealthy from tax increases – and preferably, cut their taxes – is the key that explains most elected Republican officials’ behavior. If you try to understand elected Republican official behavior without considering taxes, even when taxes seem entirely irrelevant to a given policy debate, you will be lost.

Armed with the knowledge that it’s all about taxes, you can begin to understand why Congressional Republicans have so far refused to curtail Trump’s behavior, even when it conflicts with values a given Republican congressperson or senator claims to hold. Take the EO on immigration, for example. Some Republicans have criticized Trump over this. At any moment it would take only three Republican senators (joining with the 48 senators in the Democratic caucus for a 51-vote majority) to force the Trump administration to enter negotiations over a given Cabinet appointment. If McConnell or Senator John McCain or whoever actually cared about the EO on immigration, they could bring together two or more Republican senators and hold up Rex Tillerson’s nomination for secretary of state to get concessions out of Trump – say, a rescindment of the EO. No such concrete actions have been forthcoming.

Some elected Republicans may criticize Trump over this issue or that one, but notice that they don’t do anything meaningful to try to get Trump to change course. That’s because they are playing the long game on taxes; any real rift with Trump threatens the implicit deal Republicans have made with the president. That deal, from Trump’s perspective, looks like this: don’t impeach me, and I’ll sign whatever you send me. From congressional Republicans’ perspective: sign our tax cuts for the wealthy, and we won’t impeach you. Everything else, and I mean everything else, can be ignored, rationalized, or negotiated.

The question is whether or not there’s a line Trump can cross that scrambles this model. I don’t think there is. We’ll lurch from crisis to crisis as long as Trump is willing to play ball on cutting taxes for the wealthy. After all, cutting taxes on the wealthy is a major part of Trump’s own agenda anyway. It’s not like he and Republicans in Congress disagree on the issue.

This is both the promise of Trump and the nightmare of Trump for Republican officials. They are all on the same page when it comes to cutting taxes for the wealthy, partially paying for it by destroying Obamacare, Medicare, Medicaid, and/or Social Security, and charging the rest to the national credit card. Even better, they are all on the same page when it comes to disempowering women and minorities, eliminating same-sex marriage, restricting access to birth control, and restricting access to the ballot. Trump and congressional Republicans can have a long and happy relationship on all of these issues.

Where Trump doesn’t behave like a traditional Republican – when Trump threatens the rule of law at home, or he threatens free trade and international institutions, or he doesn’t want to maintain U.S. dominance of global affairs, or he may or may not be Russia’s stooge, or he demonstrates no understanding of nuclear war, or he may or may not be sane – these are areas where Republicans are playing with fire. Since they’ve been playing with it for some time already, I really don’t think they’re going to know when to stop.

Some will say it can’t be this simple and shortsighted. It is. Majorities in both chambers of Congress and a president who will sign anything is a rare opportunity and one McConnell and especially Ryan have been waiting for their entire political careers. They are not about to let constitutional crises or basic human decency get in the way of tax cuts. (They also want massive deregulation, but tax cuts are the alpha and the omega.) This is their long game; everything else is just noise.

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Ryan is Going After Medicare, and Trump is Letting Him Do It

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After signing the Medicare amendment, President Johnson said, “American seniors will never suffer for lack of medical care again, unless of course a presidential candidate’s husband took money and used it to help people with AIDS in Africa and also the candidate herself used a private server. Then Americans will have no choice but to elect the candidate who bragged about grabbing women by the pussy, thus empowering the heirs of my political opponents to destroy Medicare.” By White House Photograph Office, President Johnson (1963 – 1969). [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

As mentioned in yesterday’s links roundup, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan wants to destroy Medicare. Unified Republican control of the presidency and Congress now makes his dream possible. The big question is whether Donald Trump will go along with it or not. As is the case with many issues, Trump has tried to have it all possible ways on Medicare. He has recognized its importance and effectiveness in the past, even going so far as to warn that Republicans seeking to weaken or destroy Medicare or Social Security invite electoral ruin. However, Trump and his surrogates maintained flexibility throughout the campaign, promising to look into all these things after taking office should he be elected.

That we never knew Trump’s intentions concerning major life-or-death programs like Medicare is a scathing indictment of the smallness of our elections. But now, Trump needs to govern. He can no longer genuinely (or cynically pretend to) have no idea what he thinks about important programs and policies. It comes as no surprise then, to me at least, that Trump’s president-elect website now adopts Ryan’s language on Medicare. There, he proposes to “modernize Medicare,” which is code for Ryan’s plan to destroy Medicare and replace it with a voucher system that allows seniors to buy private plans. Whatever that is, it’s not Medicare, and we cannot allow Ryan and Trump to claim they’re preserving it by killing it. In fact – and this really galls – what Ryan proposes and Trump appears to support is basically Obamacare for seniors. All of the challenges Obamacare faces increase dramatically when it comes to seniors. I wish I still had any gob to be smacked.

Josh Marshall and his staff  at Talking Points Memo are going to be essential reading on this. Here’s a quick summary of how many Republicans in the House are already on record supporting Ryan’s plan. That is, they voted for it; look here to see if your representative did or not.

Trump could veto legislation that destroys Medicare. Democrats and others who favor saving Medicare need to figure out if they can pressure him on this or not. But since Trump seems to be on board with killing Medicare, it would be much safer to defeat Ryan in Congress. While Republicans have majorities in the House and Senate, there are enough vulnerable members of both that Democrats might be able to forge a coalition with the strength to save Medicare.

Restoring Medicare will be extremely difficult should Ryan succeed in getting rid of it over the next two or four years. But it’s not over yet. This fight is just beginning. It’s one that Democrats can win and if we don’t, we need to make sure Republicans pay for it in future elections.

The best way to start is to call your House representative and your senators. Tell them you know that Paul Ryan has already given interviews in which he insists we have to change Medicare. Describe the plan that Ryan and most Republicans in the House voted on last year – subsidies for private insurance plans – and ask for your representative’s and senators’ positions on that plan. If they don’t have a position, ask them when you can expect to call back and hear one. Let them know you believe Medicare is a vital program for seniors and that you want it to be there for you when you retire (if you’re not on it already). Insist that replacing Medicare with vouchers for private insurance is not Medicare. Be polite but firm; don’t settle for mealy-mouthed horseshit. Republicans in particular will have incentives to avoid staking a clear position. Some will try to get away with not having a clear position at all before a vote. We cannot let that happen. In fact, similar citizen engagement back in 2005 helped Democrats save Social Security from President George W. Bush’s efforts to change it to a private investment account system.

Tuesday Links

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Are you ready for more email scandals? No? Good, you’re in luck because emails are only scandalous when Hillary Clinton or one of her aides sends and receives them. By Loteriademedellin (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Hard to believe the election was already a week ago. Life goes on, but it has been disorienting. A loved one turned off Nirvana’s “Come as You Are” in favor of Creed’s “With Arms Wide Open” the other day. I don’t know anything anymore.

  1. Steve Bannon becoming chief strategist for President-elect Donald Trump’s White House should be the story of the week, the month, the transition period – really, for whatever amount of time he holds power. Ignoring Bannon’s run as head of Breitbart and the white nationalists, racists, misogynists, and anti-Semites who correctly note that Bannon’s elevation also empowers them is whistling past the graveyard.
  2. Paul Ryan wants to destroy Medicare. Many Trump and third party voters don’t understand that’s what they just voted for, because Trump ran on preserving Medicare (as well as Social Security and Medicaid, also likely to be on the chopping block in Ryan and Mitch McConnell’s congress.) Josh Marshall, whose Talking Points Memo helped illuminate George W. Bush’s efforts to destroy Social Security back in 2005, is on the case again. Call your representative, your senators, and even Ryan’s offices in order to find out where they stand and start putting pressure on them to defend Medicare. I would not bet on Trump vetoing legislation. This fight is going to have to be won in the House and/or the Senate.
  3. Vice President-elect Mike Pence is involved in his own email scandal (warning: auto-play video at link). Pence’s situation, unlike the pseudo-scandal of Hillary Clinton’s email, actually has a clear motive. Pence wants to hide communications he’s had around using public money to fight President Obama’s actions on immigration. I look forward to the nation’s new and sincere email management and transparency voters taking Pence to task for his efforts to shield his emails from the public.
  4. Protests against Trump’s election are potentially useful for a few reasons: they can remind the country that neither a plurality nor a majority of the 2016 electorate voted for Trump, they can encourage passion and help build community among protesters, and they demonstrate strength to resist some of the malignant forces Trump’s presidency threatens to unleash. However… violence and/or destruction of property should be condemned. They are not necessary and will only distract from the genuine issues at stake. Also, reports like this one out of Portland, Oregon that find many non-voters among the protesters probably get Trump voters and Clinton voters to agree on one thing, at least: grow up and get your ass to the polls next time. To be clear, I’m not saying you don’t have a right to peaceful protest if you didn’t vote. I’m saying nobody is going to listen to you because in a democracy, you don’t matter unless you vote.
  5. Not sure what to make of the turmoil in the Trump transition team. While bad news for Chris Christie warms the hearts of humans everywhere, the lack of experienced, competent and decent people willing to work for Trump’s government is concerning.

Whomever you voted for, stay informed and hold Trump and his unified Republican government accountable. I plan to provide a links roundup once or twice a week, in addition to writing one or two of my own essays a week. Feel free to share other articles and essays we should read in comments or in an email. Have a great day!

Preliminary Election Aftermath Takes

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The sun rose today and maybe the world isn’t ending. Maybe. By Randolph Caldecott, engraved and printed by Edmund Evans (Library of Congress[1][2]) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Everyone interested in organizing to win future presidential elections will closely study Donald Trump’s path to the presidency. Since vote tallies are still incomplete in some key states, we’ll have to wait to see just how thin the margins were in the battleground states and just how large was Hillary Clinton’s win in the national popular vote. While I look forward to digging into all that later, here are some scattered thoughts about the election so far:

How will Trump Govern?

Trump’s presidency is going to be similar to that of George W. Bush. I expect big tax cuts for the wealthy put on the national credit card. He and the Republican Congress will probably repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and no, they’ve never had a replacement plan and likely never will. The only thing that gives me hope on this point is that they may be cowed by the political repercussions of throwing more than 20 million people off of their health insurance plans.

Trump may get an infrastructure bill in exchange for signing off on all the tax-cutting, entitlement-cutting, and welfare-cutting bills Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell send him. If we get an infrastructure bill, it will also be on the national credit card.

Maybe Trump’s Mexico wall will be the goal of an infrastructure bill or in addition to one. The wall is another priority I’ll be interested to see whether Ryan and McConnell share or not, if it’s actually even a priority for Trump himself. On trade, his incentives will be to forget he ever talked about trade protectionism because Ryan and McConnell won’t move bills on that front. Trump has made vague promises to protect entitlements, but destroying Social Security and Medicare has been a major goal of Republicans going back decades now. Democrats in Congress would make sure Congressional Republicans can’t override a Trump veto, but would he have the guts to veto legislation killing entitlements? Why would he pick that fight with his own party and shatter the dreams of generations of Republicans?

So I doubt Trump will build a wall or restrict trade in any meaningful way. “But Trump’s a truth-telling outsider!” his supporters say. He can’t possibly renege on his most important campaign issues! He can and he probably will. Trump needs cooperation from Congress. Congressional leaders agree with him on tax cuts and repealing the ACA. They’ll give him those things, but trade protectionism and probably the wall are non-starters for Ryan and McConnell.

How does a Trump Presidency Go Badly?

There are two worst-case scenarios for a Trump presidency. One is that Trump and his administration do nothing to stop – or worse, they aid – continued attacks on the rights of minority groups and women. Those attacks may be through law, like how Wisconsin recently made it extremely difficult or impossible for hundreds of thousands of its citizens to vote in this year’s elections. Or those attacks may be violent, carried out by individuals or hate groups. Jim Crow all over again, 21st century style. There are signs this is happening already; see here and here. The second worst case scenario is that Trump gets into a war, either by blundering his way in or starting one deliberately (perhaps to quell scandal). By the way, these worst-case scenarios are not mutually exclusive and come on top of how I predict he’ll govern above.

Any best-case Trump presidency scenario would also have to include Trump himself disavowing hateful rhetoric and dealing forcefully and decisively with attacks on minority rights or violent attacks on minority persons. While Bush was bad in practice on rights issues, he did condemn hateful speech and attacks on minority groups. I hope Trump and the vast majority of his supporters follow Bush’s example there. The obliviousness many have shown to the awful possibilities presaged by Trump’s campaign does not give one confidence.

The Meme That Must End, Now

I see some college-educated whites are already blaming Clinton’s supporters for Trump’s election because they say Clinton’s supporters needed to be taught a lesson about not being politically correct wusses, or something. This is a meme that seems to be getting some traction, and it needs to stop. College-educated whites, you can eat your Trump cake, but you can’t keep it too by blaming Clinton’s supporters for it. By definition, people casting their votes for Clinton were the only ones in the country trying to prevent Trump’s victory. The country can get through a Trump presidency, but it will be harder if his most powerful supporters – college-educated white people – refuse to take responsibility for him and try to mitigate his darker potential consequences.

To riff on this a bit longer, what is it with white people and political correctness? I’m a white dude and I have a vague sense of what being anti-p.c. is all about, but maybe I don’t really understand it. I mean, Facebook friends and acquaintances’ pages are currently filled with some version of the following: I’m sorry but I had to vote for Trump because somewhere there’s a liberal arts college that created a safe space. Another version goes like this: I’m sorry but I had to vote for Trump because black people can say bad stuff in the hip-hop rap but I can’t say those things loudly in a restaurant.

What am I missing? I know my tone here is not conciliatory. These are trying times. But I’d like to hear from people about this. I need someone to explain why my caricature of p.c.-obsessed conservatives is unfair and why progressives’ p.c. concerns are so problematic that they must be fought and rejected.

Wrap Up

I hope the worst-case scenarios don’t happen, obviously. They’re unlikely to occur but only about as unlikely as I thought Trump’s chances at winning the election were: something like 3 to 1 or 2 to 1 odds. I’m more confident that Trump will govern like Bush. That is a feature, not a bug, for many people in this country and while I won’t like it, Republicans have the right to do it after winning the election. They will likely enact policies I don’t like, run an incompetent administration, and produce needless suffering. Of course, I hope I’m wrong about those, too.

It’s important that Trump’s supporters know our worst fears for his presidency. If we cannot agree that minority citizens deserve equal protection and access to our laws as well as freedom from intimidation and violence, well, we know where each other stands. On other policy matters, we can agree to disagree on the merits, but we expect a full and honest accounting of united Republican government performance. I pledge here to admit I was mistaken should Trump have a generally peaceful and successful presidency. I sincerely hope he does.

Donald Trump Defies Expectations Yet Again

Congratulations to Donald Trump, Republican candidates and their supporters for their many victories last night. Obviously, they weren’t the results I was hoping for or expecting. That Trump could and would win the Republican nomination for president has been a major theme of my blogging. And I always thought he had a chance to win the presidency, saying yesterday morning that he still had a 2 to 1 shot at victory. Trump’s win is not shocking, though concerns over the consequences of this election involve their own feelings of shock.

For example, I am one of the people who pays entirely out of pocket for a health insurance plan made available by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). With this law almost certain to be repealed under unified Republican government, how am I going to afford health insurance? I’m paying just under $4000 in annual premium for my serviceable policy this year. If Republicans dismantle the ACA system overnight, as they promised to do, my premium payments may double or triple. And I’ll still be lucky compared to people who needed subsidies or were newly qualified for Medicaid. I’ll scrape the money together somehow. Unless the market for these kinds of plans collapses, in which case it’s back to no insurance.

The ACA is just one item in a long list of President Obama’s accomplishments that will be on the chopping block. There are also climate change regulations, labor regulations, finance industry regulations, and international agreements that Trump and Republicans have promised to undo. In addition, don’t be surprised when Paul Ryan takes an ax to entitlements like Social Security and Medicare and slashes welfare spending.

However, what concern me most are some of the forces that drove Trump to victory. Trump’s campaign became a hotbed of anti-Semitism, a surprising and unfortunate addition to other well-known conservative heartland prejudices against women, African Americans, Latinos, LGBT citizens, Muslims, and immigrants. Even if Trump was sincere in his gracious gestures towards all Americans during his victory speech, can we really keep these dark forces under control? What do they want to do with their newfound power? What do they expect from the president they were instrumental in electing? Trump owes these mongers of hate and bigotry much more than he owes the old school Republicans who just want to cut taxes and deregulate industry. Indeed, many of the old schoolers actively opposed him.

Trump painted a picture of a dystopian America during his campaign. No jobs, no education, constant threats of random violence, government deliberately making citizens’ lives worse, and the only way to get ahead is if it’s at the expense of someone else. If that actually syncs with his supporters’ realities, then I’m sorry for them and I guess they really have been failed by their leadership. Now, the rest of us are left hoping that Trump’s presidency doesn’t turn our own communities into dystopias.

Election Links Roundup

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This copse of trees in Gettysburg, PA represents the high water mark of the Confederacy. By coincidence, I took a weekend camping trip there with my wife and some friends the same time Trump was there for a recent rally.

I gotta say, not a whole lot has changed in this election since I was routinely blogging here twice or three times a week. Since my thinking has not really changed much throughout this campaign, I’m happy to let the following pieces stand in for my laziness these past couple months.

  1. As some in the country are still trying to decide whether their concerns (long-held and genuine, I’m sure) over email and server management practices are worse than their fears of a know-nothing, racist fascist with impulse control issues gaining control over the country’s nuclear arsenal, “Presidential Elections are Not National Psychodramas” is a good place to start. Generally speaking, we’re voting to empower the leader of a particular political party to lead the country. We’re not choosing a best friend.
  2. In a similar vein, “Voting is About Empowering the Political Movement with Which You Agree Most” argues that any given candidate is going to have moral flaws. While I maintain that Donald Trump is an exception to the norm that most candidates who receive a major party’s presidential nomination are fit to serve as president, I won’t argue too much with voters who insist they want Trump to win because they agree with his policies.
  3. In my most widely read piece ever – “An Open Letter to Sanders Supporters” – I make the case that Bernie Sanders and Clinton are part of the same political movement and with Sanders’ defeat looming, his supporters would do well to make their peace with Clinton’s nomination and work to influence her policies. In the end, Sanders acquitted himself very well in defeat, as did most of his supporters.
  4. “Your Vote is Not a Special Snowflake, Except When It Is” is about how voting for a non-major party’s candidate is at best a waste of one’s vote, and at worst it can throw the election to the candidate a voter least prefers. That’s what happened when enough voters in Florida voted for Ralph Nader and swung the presidency to George W. Bush over Al Gore in 2000. I voted for Nader that year and regret that vote to this day. I should add that in this year’s election, third party voters still make up around 6 to 8% of the population. In the infamous 2000 election, it only took 3.75% of all voters to choose third party and produce a worst case result. There’s a little too much volatility out there in the polling, and I agree more with Nate Silver’s relatively pessimistic assessment here that Trump’s odds are more like 2 to 1. I still think he’ll lose, but unfortunately, a Trump victory wouldn’t shock me at all.
  5. My first piece, here, shows that the Democratic and Republican parties have very different agendas. They are in consistently stark ideological opposition to each other. Also, modern elected Republican officials behave in manners that are way out of line with previous norms, and they bear much more of the responsibility for Washington gridlock and dysfunction. There is no significant Democratic behavior that is equivalent. Both sides do not do it.
  6. On Trump, I wrote “Surprise! Donald Trump Appeals to White Nationalists” over a year ago and it holds up well. In “How I Got Trump Right” – well, that one is self-explanatory.

I’ll be going out to vote for Clinton as soon as I finish my coffee. Exercise your right to vote if you haven’t done so already. I urge you to also cast your vote for Clinton. That would be a vote cast for a solid and competent center-left Democratic candidate, and it’s no small thing that she’d be our first female president. On top of those, it’s very important to keep Trump – a know-nothing, racist fascist with impulse control issues – out of the White House. Finally, I urge you to vote a straight Democratic ticket. Especially if you live in a state where there’s a competitive Senate race, vote for the Democrat. It’s important that Clinton have at least one chamber of Congress on her side. Also, it’s becoming clear that Republicans will refuse to let Clinton fill Supreme Court vacancies should they retain control of the Senate. Republicans’ continued obstructionist behavior cannot be rewarded.

 

 

 

Weekend Links

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Is Donald Trump softening? By Daniel Oines from USA (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
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Is Trump fuzzy like this American fuzzy lop rabbit? By Lithonius [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It’s been a tough week for those who would prefer that Donald Trump not become the next president of the United States. Sure, Hillary Clinton is still the clear favorite to win the election, but the anti-Clinton tenor of recent news coverage threatens to make it closer than it might otherwise be. It’d be one thing if there was a good reason for tearing Clinton down. It’s another that many in the media air and publish unjustified insinuations about Clinton while ignoring actual violations of both laws and norms by Trump. He can still win this election, and the media will deserve much of the blame if he does. Follow the links for context and examples:

  • Paul Krugman reminds readers how reporters grading an unqualified candidate on a curve, mostly ignoring that candidate’s falsehoods and ignorance, and dwelling on the opponent’s made up “character issues” helped George W. Bush win the presidency in 2000 over Al Gore.
  • TPM has a reader-compiled list of instances of the NY Times inserting inappropriate opinion into its reporting, suggesting Clinton has done something wrong. Here’s Crooks & Liars on a particularly egregious example from yesterday’s NY Times.
  • Jonathan Chait finds Frank Bruni, one of the NY Times columnists who was guilty of fluffing Bush back in 2000, now blaming liberals for Trump. Chait eviscerates his claim. In fact, liberals were right all along about how dangerously racist and ignorant a bloc of Republican voters was becoming. Trump is certainly not the first leader to come along and give voice to that bloc.
  • Throughout her career, Clinton has had to endure a lot of non-scandals getting inappropriate and/or excessive attention. It’s hard to say whether it’s “the foundation” or “the emails” that qualifies as the most damaging non-scandal this election.
    • “The Foundation” “scandal” is nuts because no accusations based on the actual facts of the case have been made. Indeed, though it is a classic non-scandal of the “no there there” variety, “the foundation” has somehow become shorthand for “those Clintons are just so corrupt” for many people remarkably fast.
    • That’s bad, but what makes “the emails” worse is the fact that Clinton did misbehave. That complicates things. She has apologized and admitted she should have done things differently. Reasonable people can disagree about the severity of Clinton’s misbehavior. What makes “the emails” a non-scandal is that we have yet to hear anyone explain what nefarious intentions Clinton had in the email practices she chose. In fact, Clinton chose to ensure her work emails were retained as required by law, unlike the sainted Colin Powell. Also, the idea that she and her staff were willy-nilly sending classified emails is ignorant of or held with blatant disregard of the facts. At it’s worst, “the emails” is a work process story about Clinton following custom and practice rather than going by the books. It’s no scandal because nobody intended any harm, no harm occurred, and nobody even knows what harm was supposed to ever have been intended anyway. Plus, Clinton agrees she should have behaved differently!
  • Meanwhile, there is a candidate who personally and through his organizations has actually broken the law and misbehaved in ways morally wrong and injurious to others. Just recently we learned of this instance: Donald Trump’s Trump Foundation gave an illegal political contribution to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi after she declined to investigate Trump University for fraud. Not only did Trump’s organization break the law, the facts suggest the people involved went to great lengths to hide what they were doing and are now lying about it. Now that’s a scandal! And nobody disputes that Trump’s foundation violated the law! Yet our mainstream political shows are dominated by parades of doofuses talking about how they feel “the foundation” and “the emails” “raise questions” that contribute to voters’ feelings that Clinton is dishonest.

Of course we should hold those up for election to rigorous vetting and high standards. There’s nothing wrong with investigating Clinton’s past and present in order to understand her record and character. If it turns out that she committed a crime, willfully harmed others, or otherwise behaved in a reprehensible way, then that should be judged accordingly. There’s just no evidence she did any such thing. Making a weekly story about wondering if one of her non-scandals should be a story does Clinton and the country a disservice. It intensifies feelings that she’s dishonest when a fair reading of the facts suggests the opposite.

If new facts come to light, then naturally we’d have to reconsider. Recent facts have shown no wrongdoing on Clinton’s part. Repeated suggestions otherwise are inappropriate editorializations.

I didn’t even get to these issues, so quickly: no, Trump is not softening, and no, Trump is not fuzzy like the American fuzzy lop rabbit.