Donald Trump’s presidency has been unsurprising. One of the least surprising aspects of it thus far is that Nazis, Klansmen, and white supremacists are marching through American streets and assaulting peaceful counter-protestors with impunity.
There is irony in the fact that a clear majority of white people, decrying what they perceive as Democrats’ “identity politics,” joined forces with bona fide Nazis, Klansmen, and white supremacists in 2016 to elect to the presidency a man who cannot perceive anything beyond the grievances generated by his own ego. If the term “identity politics” means anything, it means banding together with one’s racial and cultural group to assert the group’s racial and cultural preferences. Trump made his racial and cultural preferences abundantly clear – immigrants are violent criminals, foreigners cheat us, take our jobs, or are terrorists, women should find a new job if they don’t like being harassed at work, sexual assault by powerful men is fine, this is a Christian nation, African Americans’ lives and communities are hell, and so on. At the same time he was emphasizing these identity issues, Trump failed to develop any actual policies for the economy, international relations, the environment, criminal justice, etc. What is identity politics if it is not a clear majority of white people voting for a candidate who has no substantive policies but who speaks to their shared racial and cultural grievances?
If self-proclaimed nice, respectable Republican voters do not want to be associated with Donald Trump, Nazis, Klansmen, and white supremacists, then those voters need to stop voting to empower them. Maybe most Republican voters are generally good people in their personal lives – and I can attest that many are – but that is not enough anymore, not in the world’s most important democracy.
Voting is a moral duty with moral consequence. Many Republican voters take the duty seriously, but not the consequence. They love to tell us lefties how moral they are, how responsible they are, yet it is Republican voters who elected a know-nothing president in 2000 who then led the country into war on false pretenses. It was Republican voters who elected a man with a fondness for sexual assault to be president in 2016, a man who also was on the side of Nazis, Klansmen, and white supremacists, and knows nothing.
It is long past time for many otherwise decent people in this country to stare at the Republican Party, with clear minds about what it has become, and decide whether it is a mirror image of their own moral selves.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions is doubling down on some of the worst aspects of the War on Drugs. If people think Hillary Clinton’s attorney general would have done this I’ve got coveted spots at Trump University to sell them. Let me know in comments if you need a quote.
The stupidest votes in the 2016 presidential election are the votes that ignored meaningful differences between America’s two major political parties. The worst policies coming out of President Donald Trump’s administration so far are the same policies any generic Republican president would’ve pushed. The fact that Trump has also instigated a constitutional crisis four months into his presidency is actually beside the point.
I don’t blame at all the Trump voter who places high value on her pro-life/anti-choice stance above all else. I don’t blame at all the Trump voter who places high value on being able to purchase any kind of gun or ammunition he wants whenever he wants above all else. I don’t really even blame the white Trump voter whose sense of cultural or racial grievance motivated his vote. At least these people got what they voted for.
The real problem right now is we have a significant bloc of voters in this country who don’t want conservative policies but also don’t recognize differences between the agendas of the two major parties. As long as 10 to 15% of the electorate continues to not understand that the parties are different, we will always be at risk of electing presidents who enact agendas that a majority of the country doesn’t want.
To clarify, this 10-15% of the electorate includes Obama-Trump voters and third party voters for Jill Stein, Gary Johnson, write-ins, etc. Some of these voters will defend themselves by insisting that Democrats should not have made them choose between Trump and Clinton, two equally loathsome candidates in their minds. Loathsome or not, this way of thinking about candidates is entirely divorced from policy considerations and is really a poor way to process one’s voting decision.
I don’t really know what we do about this as a country. Perhaps Trump’s presidency will be a wake-up call. But for now I don’t see any reason to believe that future elections will be different. As a polity I fear we are doomed to suffer the whims of a perpetually significant proportion of the electorate that looks at two candidates and says “sure, that one is an ignorant, moral monster and will destroy affordable healthcare for tens of millions of people, but the other one’s emails…” or in 2000 “sure, that one doesn’t know anything about anything and is lying about his tax cut proposal, but the other one sighed during the debates…”
I have always wanted to use the above title as a headline. I must confess, however, that it’s not my own original language. Peggy Noonan – a former speechwriter for President Ronald Reagan now near the end of a staggeringly long, well-compensated, yet puerile career – is the author. She is the savant who wrote speeches for a president despite reaching at least the age of 50 without knowing how to use a rhetorical question. Noonan wrote it in an evidence-free column for the The Wall Street Journal back in 2000 accusing President Bill Clinton of having nefarious motives for returning the six-year-old Cuban boy Elián González to Cuba. Elián’s mother had drowned while trying to flee with her son from Cuba to the United States. The boy’s father, who was still in Cuba, wanted Elián to return to Cuba. Noonan was speculating that perhaps Cuban President Fidel Castro was blackmailing Clinton into making this decision. Yes, for anyone not alive or politically aware in the year 2000, this was a thing. And yes, it was as crazy as it sounds. Irresponsible not to speculate, indeed.
The point here, of course, is about President Donald Trump, Russian efforts to affect the outcome of the election that made Trump president, and the growing number of people in Trumpland who met or spoke with Russian officials. Several Trumpers at first conveniently forgot that they had met or had phone calls with Russian officials. Caught red-handed, they then conveniently recalled that they did not discuss the campaign or anything substantive during those undisclosed – and again, previously forgotten – contacts. Given just these facts, wouldn’t it be irresponsible not to speculate about why Trumpers are not remembering contacts with Russian officials but then remembering that the contacts were not substantive after confronted with evidence that the contacts indeed took place?
We now know of at least four prominent Trump advisors and officials who communicated with the Russian ambassador amidst denials by the Trump campaign, the Trump transition team, or the Trump Administration. Writing specifically about now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ unprompted lie during his confirmation hearing that he had not met with any Russian officials, veteran muckraker Josh Marshall poses some interesting questions:
Why are there so many unforced errors? Why conceal this meeting? Frankly, why lie about it? As I said, big, big scandals work like this. People who don’t even appear to be that close to the action keep getting pulled under for what seem like needless deceptions. The answer is usually that the stuff at the center of the scandal is so big that it requires concealment, even about things distant from the main action, things that it would seem much better and less damaging simply to admit.
We’ve all heard the old saw: It’s never the crime, it’s the cover-up. This is almost never true. Covering scandals for any length of time is enough to tell you that. People are generally able to make judgments about how much trouble they’re in. We think the ‘cover up’ is worse than the crime because it’s actually very seldom that the full scope of the actual crime is ever known. The cover up works better than you think. The other reason the cover up is a logical response is that it usually works. You only find out about it when it doesn’t. So it’s a good bet.
Let’s put together a narrative:
During the 2016 campaign, Trump invited the Russians to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails and make them public. Trump reveled in the hack of the DNC’s and John Podesta’s emails and used the steady drip of their release to constantly reinforce his main, yet extremely vague, critique of Clinton as corrupt.
The U.S. intelligence community (IC) came to the conclusion that Russia was interfering in the election to help Trump and/or sow chaos in our country. The IC was confident enough to warn the Obama Administration.
The Obama Administration was convinced enough to get the IC on the record with their conclusions and to protect evidence of Russia’s interference and potential Trumper collusion.
Candidate, then President-elect, then President Trump alternately dismissed and questioned the bases for the conclusion that Russia interfered in the election when asked about the issue. When he acknowledged Russia might have been involved, he also claimed it had no effect on the outcome of the election.
The campaign, the transition team, and the Trump Administration all denied contacts between its advisors and officials with Russian officials WHILE those contacts were taking place. ONLY when confronted with evidence that the contacts happened have Trumpers acknowledged them. When finally acknowledged, Trumpers proffered lame “nothing to see here”-style excuses.
Those last two points are key to understanding the Trump Administration. There is always – ALWAYS – another excuse to be made, even if it has no actual relationship to the matter at hand. Whether Russian interference mattered or not to the election outcome – and the evidence suggests it did – that’s not really even the point. A foreign country meddling in an election is a serious national security matter, period. Even if we grant that it didn’t affect the outcome, which we shouldn’t, we want to know how it happened, what its purpose was, and how to counter it.
Perhaps there is a way to reconcile what are known facts with innocent motives – innocent, at least, of deliberately harming one’s own country. Again, I point you to Talking Points Memo‘s Marshall, who has done a lot of reporting on the ties between Trump, Trumpworld, Russia, and Ukraine. Marshall weaves a narrative that fits the facts and absolves Trump (though not necessarily his circle) of any nefarious motives with regard to his own country. However, Marshall recognizes three acute problems with the theory: 1) there are still many facts that have less than compelling explanations, such as Sessions’ actions; 2) these facts are merely what we know now and there are reasons to expect a lot more will come out; and 3) it would almost certainly involve illegal or immoral acts unrelated to matters of betraying one’s country.
There’s an NBC News timeline of relevant events here and a Sessions-specific one here from The Washington Post. For another timeline and some interpretation, I suggest Matt Yglesias’ post from today here
The Republican Party apparatus is having a really difficult day today. First, someone in charge of the Twitter account for the Republican National Committee tweeted out a spuriousquote attributed to Abraham Lincoln. Not long after that, someone else (probably?) at the US Department of Education misspelled the name of W.E.B. Du Bois in a tweet quoting the man about education. In a subsequent tweet apologizing for the misspelling, the tweeter wrote “apologizes” when he or she meant “apologies” and that was then corrected in yet another tweet.
This may seem nitpicky, but it’s symptomatic of a group of people who pay little or no attention to the importance of getting things right. The concepts of fact-checking and context seem utterly foreign to the people staffing our current government. I suppose that’s what happens when few people with a 5th grade education or better seem willing to work for the official Republican Party organization or its president.
It is just inexcusable in 2017 to produce work like that. Do these people not understand that in about ten minutes you can do a fairly thorough source check of a quote, or in literally 0.59 seconds you can get search results about W.E.B. Du Bois and quickly figure out the correct spelling of his name? Do these people not understand that if they are on Twitter, they also have access to fine internet search engines, free of charge, from companies like Google?
KELLYANNE CONWAY, that’s G-O-O-G-L-E Google.
That the US Department of Education is misspelling names and words as if that were its job, and the “Party of Lincoln” is attributing an asinine AND spurious quote to Lincoln – perhaps our greatest political orator – on the man’s birthday are ironies so delicious they almost distract from the real stakes here.
For any conservatives out there, “irony” is the word you use when you actually mean “coincidence” and that’s your free SAT word lesson of the day.
Mistakes like these are actually not mistakes. They are the deliberate work products of people who have no respect whatsoever for the hard work that goes into understanding a topic or a policy. This is how Republicans in Congress spent the last eight years railing against a health care policy that they never understood even at its most basic level. This is how Betsy DeVos becomes Secretary of Education despite her manifest ignorance of public education policy.
Anyway, please find the offending tweets below. And below that, find a Lincoln quote I like that is real.
I know why Republicans don’t like this quote, but let me propose a real Lincoln quote in the false one’s stead:
“This is a world of compensations; and he who would be no slave, must consent to have no slave. Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, can not long retain it.”
There are two reported articles and an opinion piece that, read in combination, really help illustrate the behavior and dysfunction of President Donald Trump’s administration. Heartland whites wanted a government as stupid and ignorant as they are and so far Trump is delivering.
This piece in Politico is just amazing. One of many incredible quotes: “In interviews, nearly two dozen people who’ve spent time with Trump in the three weeks since his inauguration said that his mood has careened between surprise and anger as he’s faced the predictable realities of governing, from congressional delays over his cabinet nominations and legal fights holding up his aggressive initiatives to staff in-fighting and leaks.” Read this story and tell decent people everywhere we were wrong about this guy.
This article in The Washington Post shows how Trump can’t negotiate his way out of a paper bag if threatening to sue is not an option. Trump insisted that the “One China” policy was up for negotiation, and China’s President Xi Jinping basically said “nice try assface I’m not some lowly cabinet-maker you can bully around.” And yes, Trump has bullied cabinet-makers and hundreds of others out of money owed for services rendered.
Josh Marshall, who is essential reading along with his reporters over at TalkingPointsMemo, wrote yesterday about Trump: “Even when legislation is there for the passing, he lacks the focus, interest or skills to get it passed. He is low attention and low energy. Hastily drawn up executive orders, some inconsequential and some unconstitutional, are likely to be the order of the day, only with the Oval Office photo ops with toadies and CEO supplicants thrown in. In other words, it is not a poor man’s but a lazy man’s authoritarianism.” I recommend reading Marshall’s piece in full to also get a sense of how Democrats in Congress are helping to expose the idiocy of our current government.
Keep protesting, calling your representatives and senators, and showing up to their town halls. It’s putting pressure on exactly the right spots. If Trump and his Republican Party can’t get around to considering significant legislation that a clear majority of the country hates until 2018, the midterm elections could be even more interesting.
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.
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.