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USA: failed state

Seoul (credit here)

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It’s not yet but is on the way—and will definitely become one in the unthinkable event that the orange-haired idiot manages to steal the November election and/or his political party keeps control of the Senate and tightens its grip on the federal judiciary. I fortunately live in a robust state, which, one may be sure, will never fail. Last night Emmanuel Macron addressed the French nation—watched by 25 million (over half the adult population)—his first since the pandemic began. He spoke for 26 minutes, which was twice as long as he needed to (a common affliction of French people, particularly highly educated male ones), but was good and reassuring. Frenchmen and women know that their government is 100% mobilized over the crisis and is acting calmly and professionally.

As for the United States, it is, of course, another matter altogether. On this, please read Julia Ioffe in GQ “on how hollowing out the government has endangered America”: “Trump voters wanted to blow up the system. Well, here we go.”

When you finish that, go to the brilliant essay in New York magazine by David Wallace-Wells, “Coronavirus shows us America is broken.” This one is a must.

If Wallace-Wells somehow doesn’t convince, please meditate on the post in Digby’s Hullabaloo blog, “The CDC Director is a hard core wingnut Trumpie.”

The USA may not yet be a failed state but it is definitely becoming a banana republic.

And à propos of banana republics, when you have 37 minutes to spare, watch the documentary released by Brave New Films last September, “Suppressed: The Fight to Vote,” on how the fascistic Republican Brian Kemp successfully suppressed hundreds of thousands of votes in the 2018 election in his bid to become governor of Georgia. Voter suppression is, it should be said, an old story in the United States, practiced in the present era—and the US here is alone among advanced democracies—exclusively by the Republican Party and in many states it controls—and without which it would lose many of those states.

On Trump stealing the election (see above), this is how it will happen.

Banana republic, like I said.

UPDATE: Continuing in the above vein, see the piece by The New Republic’s excellent staff writer Alex Pareene, “The dismantled state takes on a pandemic.” The lede: “Conservatives won their war on Big Government. Their prize is a pandemic.”

Also check out the analysis by Aleem Maqbool on the BBC website, “Coronavirus: Why systemic problems leave the US at risk.” The lede: “As the coronavirus spreads across the US, tens of millions of Americans may not seek medical help either because they are uninsured or undocumented. That puts everyone in society at greater risk.”

2nd UPDATE: On the tightening Republican grip on the federal judiciary, The New York Times has an important investigative report (March 14th) by reporters Rebecca R. Ruiz, Robert Gebeloff, Steve Eder, and Ben Protess, “A conservative agenda unleashed on the federal courts.” The lede: “President Trump’s imprint on the nation’s appeals courts has been swift and historic. He has named judges with records on a range of issues important to Republicans — and to his re-election.”

Also see Dahlia Lithwick’s column (March 13th) in Slate, “Former judge resigns from the Supreme Court Bar: In a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts, he detailed why he’s lost faith in the court.”

3rd UPDATE: Slate editor and writer Dan Kois has a gratifying slash-and-burn piece (March 14th) asserting that “America is a sham,” in which he details how “[a]ll over America, the coronavirus is revealing, or at least reminding us, just how much of contemporary American life is bullshit”…

4th UPDATE: Anne Applebaum—who leans to the center-right—has a powerful essay in The Atlantic (March 15th) on how “The coronavirus called America’s bluff: Like Japan in the mid-1800s, the United States now faces a crisis that disproves everything the country believes about itself.”

5th UPDATE: Following in Anne Applebaum’s vein, see Never Trumper ex-Republican Max Boot’s column (March 18th) in The Washington Post, “The coronavirus shows how backward the United States has become.”

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This is my first post on the US presidential race in four months, which in no way signifies that I have not been following it. Au contraire, I have been riveted to the campaign—borderline obsessed—exchanging views on it regularly with friends and others via email and social media. I watched the first eight debates in full (en différé; catching the highlights of the last two) and have intended to offer my 2¢ on the race at a number of points, but it’s perhaps just as well that I didn’t, as whatever I would have had to say would have been obsolete within a week and with me possibly changing my mind as well.

One thing I did not change my mind on, even momentarily, was Elizabeth Warren, whom I supported 100% from the outset. I am deeply saddened by the failure of her candidacy and early exit, which just seems so unfair, as she has been without question the most impressive candidate of the lot (a case well made by Michelle Golberg and Ezra Klein)—and ever more so after other impressive ones (notably Kamala Harris and Cory Booker) quit the race—with the best, most thoroughly thought-out policy positions and an impeccable discourse on combating corruption in the deeply corrupt American system and tackling inequality. She was also clearly the candidate who could best bridge the gap between the moderate and progressive lanes of the Democratic Party. She’s a great communicator in addition and is, quite simply, a good person—and in this, the utter, total antithesis of the unspeakable current president of the United States.

As to why Warren’s candidacy failed, she did commit errors, e.g. getting tangled up in questions over the financing of Medicare-for-All and not specifying from the outset that this was a long-term objective—to be realized by the end of her second term—not a policy goal that could be imposed by executive fiat the day she took office. She also probably talked too much about transgender issues. And calling for a ban on fracking was not wise, as this would win her no swing votes in November but could create complications in key swing states. The media’s erasure of her after the Iowa caucuses was real (I noted it almost right away). And despite her compelling personal story, of growing up in a lower middle class family in Oklahoma, her image as the candidate of the “wine track”—of educated liberals, i.e. people like myself and the great majority of Americans with whom I interact (a mere slice of the electorate)—got locked in.

And then there was sexism/gender, which was incontestably a factor, discussed in numerous articles, notably Caroline Fraser’s in the NYRB, ‘Warren in the trap,’ though the issue needs to be nuanced. The notion that Americans are somehow not ready to elect a woman as POTUS, which I have come across countless times on social media, but also in my US entourage, exasperated to no end, as not only is it so utterly wrong but is, moreover, complete bullshit. Insofar as this matter needed to be laid to rest, it was in the 2016 election, when the otherwise unpopular Hillary Clinton—the lightening rod of so much antipathy on both the right and left—nonetheless won 48.2% of the national popular vote—2.1% more than her opponent—only losing the Electoral College in a freak accident foreseen by almost no one and following an October Surprise (the Comey letter) that, according to polls, cost her 2% of the overall national vote. Case closed. Had Mme Clinton’s campaign not ignored Michigan and Wisconsin and/or had the Comey letter never been sent, she would have won the election and we wouldn’t be having this conversation. As for Warren, many Democratic voters who were otherwise fine with her assumed nonetheless, for some incomprehensible reason, that other people—whom they did not know and based on no evidence—would not vote for her precisely because she was a women, so that Warren was ergo not “electable.” This crazy reasoning clearly undermined her candidacy.

Quoting Michelle Cottle in the NYT:

Last summer, a poll on perceived electability by Avalanche Strategies found that gender appeared to be a bigger issue than “age, race, ideology, or sexual orientation.” When voters were asked whom they’d pick if the primaries were held today, Mr. Biden came out ahead. When asked whom they would make president with the wave of a magic wand, without the candidate needing to win an election, voters went with Ms. Warren. Women were more likely than men to cite gender as a concern.

Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight lamented that such anxiety can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. “So there are a lot of women who might not vote for a woman because they’re worried that other voters won’t vote for her. But if everyone just voted for who they actually wanted to be president, the woman would win!”

On Elizabeth Warren making a great president—which she certainly would—the ultra-rightist polemical bomb-thrower Ann Coulter paid her this back-handed compliment:

We’ll never know, alas.

BTW, the entire Democratic Party owes Elizabeth Warren a big thank you for her demolition of the billionaire ersatz Democrat and troll Michael Bloomberg in the Las Vegas and Charleston debates, which effectively put paid to his attempt to buy the party’s nomination. Had Warren not done to Bloomberg what she did—had his candidacy thereby gained traction and eclipsed Joe Biden’s—the Democrats would have faced near certain disaster in Milwaukee in July, not to mention nationwide in November. Democratic officials who endorsed Bloomberg should hang their heads in shame.

Here’s an article just up in The New Yorker by Benjamin Wallace-Wells, “Elizabeth Warren’s American leadership.”

On the two candidates left standing—who would have ever thought this even a week ago?—The Nation’s Joan Walsh has this to say:

This has been my sentiment from the very beginning, of being dismayed by and opposed to the late septuagenarians Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden running for the presidency at their age—and crowding out the rest of what was a very good field. As I have said countless times, it is simply not reasonable for a man in his late 70s to be doing this. But alas, that’s where we are.

On Bernie, who barely a week ago looked to be the prohibitive favorite for the nomination, vanquishing the fragmented moderate lane and leaving Warren in the dust, I have been deeply conflicted. On domestic policy and most foreign, I have practically no differences with Bernie. He can give a speech and I will agree with every last word of it. His values and objectives are mine. As to qualms about “electability,” I have been more-or-less persuaded—or tried to persuade myself—by data-backed analyses positing that negative partisanship has become so determinant in US elections, and there are now so few swing voters left, that Democratic Party voters will turn out for their candidate against Trump regardless of his or her identity, including for Bernie. “Vote blue no matter who.” Much has been written on this, the latest in TNR by the very smart number-crunching political scientist Rachel Bitecofer (profiled in Politico), “Hate is on the ballot: The hidden dynamic that’s transformed our politics—and will loom large in the 2020 election.” And Matthew Yglesias made a strong argument on how “Bernie Sanders [could] unify Democrats and beat Trump.” Supporting this have been Bernie’s consistently robust head-to-head poll numbers against Trump (more so than any other candidate save Biden). So not to worry about Bernie Sanders in November.

But still. Strong polling in the winter does not necessarily carry into the fall. And while 90+% of Democratic voters—spearheaded by the army of enthusiastic millennials and Gen Zers—will certainly turn out for Bernie to beat Trump, it is legitimate to fear that at least some of the moderate Republicans (notably suburban women) who defected to Hilllary Clinton in 2016—and voted Democrat in the 2018 midterms, enabling the party to take back the House—would not bring themselves to vote for the “socialist” Sanders, that they would abstain or even go for Trump. To the retort that such a fall-off would be compensated by increased turnout of young voters—and the fervent support for Bernie by millennials and Gen Zers is impressive indeed—political scientists David Broockman (UC-Berkeley) and Joshua Kalla (Yale) threw cold water on this contention in a widely-read piece in Vox dated Feb. 25th, “Bernie Sanders looks electable in surveys—but it could be a mirage: New research suggests Sanders would drive swing voters to Trump—and need a youth turnout miracle to compensate.” The upshot: Bernie’s strong poll numbers have been predicated on a level of youth turnout that has, in fact, never materialized. Not that it couldn’t but a campaign is taking a big risk in banking its election prospects on this happening. And we are in fact witnessing a lower youth turnout compared to older cohorts in the primaries and caucuses so far; the young people have not been showing up at the polls for Bernie in the numbers announced (Seth Ackerman, the executive editor of the Uber-gauchiste Jacobin webzine, has posted a frantic, 4,000-word response to the Brookman-Kalla paper, which he calls “bunk” and “nonsense,” but that I had a hard time following, abandoning it around the 2,000-word mark).

On Bernie’s political baggage from the 1970s and ’80s—e.g. support for the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party (whose candidate—disclosure—I voted for in the 1976 presidential election), honeymooning in the Soviet Union during the Gorbachev era, drunkenly singing Woody Guthrie songs while cruising down the Volga, etc—this is no big deal IMO. Only a few ageing boomers care about who said or did what during the Cold War—and it’s pretty unlikely that anyone’s vote would be swung on this. As for Bernie’s extolling Cuba’s 1960s literacy program, pundits and others decreed that he had, in one fell swoop, ceded Florida’s 29 electoral votes. Perhaps, though, in point of fact, Florida is going to be a hard state for the Democrats in any case, with all the well-to-do Republican-voting retirees moving there and massive voter suppression targeting Democratic-leaning minorities. While Bernie did take care to call the Cuban regime “authoritarian”—no, it’s more than that: totalitarian is more like it—his finding positive aspects in it was still highly problematic, pointing to a blindness on the American left—and particularly the boomers among them—on the subject of left-wing Latin American regimes. While not too many still support the Cuban Communists outright, there’s still a lot of apologizing for that indefensible regime—of blaming the state of Cuba’s economy on the US embargo, which is utter BS—or simply withdrawing into silence when the matter is raised. For US lefties—and Bernie for much of his adult life—US imperialism was/is the enemy, so any regime in its cross hairs couldn’t be entirely bad. But in fact, there is nothing in the Cuban Revolution to defend (and please don’t tell me about the health care system or literacy, which (a) we don’t have the full story on and (b) do not require dictatorships to achieve positive results). It has been a disaster from A to Z (if one would like an elaboration on this, go to the ‘Americas’ category on the sidebar, click, and scroll). It is likewise with Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas in Nicaragua (a cause célèbre of the US left in the 1980s, and which included myself). And don’t even talk about Venezuela.

As Masha Gessen wrote in The New Yorker, “Here’s what Bernie Sanders should have said about socialism and totalitarianism in Cuba.”

So Bernie’s words on Cuba were an unforced error on his part. As with Elizabeth Warren on fracking, they will win him not a single vote but create needless problems for his eventual general election prospects.

This points to a big qualm I and others have about Bernie, which is his ideological rigidity and overall persona. Situating him on the French political spectrum, he would be a frondeur Socialist of the 2014-17 era, a rough equivalent of Benoît Hamon (my candidate in the 1st round of the 2017 election). But he has just a little bit of Jean-Luc Mélenchon in his personal style, which is a problem, as JLM is—and this is an objective fact—one of the most detestable, insufferable personalities in the French political class. Now I don’t want to push the comparison too far—I would never say that Bernie is detestable or insufferable—but quite a few Democratic voters—if my Twitter feed is anything to go by—do seem to feel this way. As Paul Krugman tweeted the other day:

Bernie’s big problem isn’t that he’s a progressive; it’s that he’s a progressive with an attitude: calling himself a socialist when he isn’t, denouncing anyone who raises questions as a corporate tool. This thrills his followers, but scares off key constituencies.

While Bernie has gotten along fine over the years with his colleagues in Congress and is capable of some political flexibility, he strikes one as a “my way or the highway” politician (as is JLM), not a big tent compromiser (thus his attacks on the despised Democratic “establishment”). And as Krugman observed, this has indeed put off many Democratic Party primary voters—including more than a few Warren supporters—witnessed by the surge to Biden on Tuesday.

And the problem here goes well beyond Bernie. It’s also his hardcore fanaticized base: the famous Bernie Bros; his massive Twitter army of young white male punks. Unlike the candidate, these white male punks are indeed detestable and insufferable, and are causing important prejudice to their champion. Many, many Democratic voters, including older progressives, cannot stand them.

The bottom line is that in order to win in November, the Democratic Party—indeed any party—must be united behind its candidate. If the Dems come out of Milwaukee divided or with a lot of bad feelings, they will definitely lose in November to a Trump whose party is 100% devoted to him. If Bernie were to somehow win the nomination and unite the party—which, pour mémoire, he still declines to call himself a member of—for the general election campaign, he would stand a good chance of winning. But that simply does not look likely in view of the resistance to him by a large portion of the party’s base—the majority of which remains in the moderate lane—not to mention by the party’s elected officials—and with many congresspersons up for reelection likely distancing themselves from his ticket, which would not help anyone win. In this respect, there is no comparison with Trump and the Republican Party in 2016, whose base quickly became Trump’s and with elected Rs falling into line (and whom Trump has cultivated and flattered behind the scenes, and giving them everything they wanted policy-wise while he’s been at it). This is not in the offing with Bernie and the Democratic Party.

Another bottom line: the American left is simply not ready to come to power. If Bernie were to win the White House, he would, as Ann Coulter said above, not get anything done. Even in the event (unlikely) that the Dems were to take back the Senate with him heading the ticket, a President Sanders would not be able to get much of his legislation through Congress. With Mitch McConnell at the helm, he would get nothing through. Disillusionment would set in, the Dems would likely be routed in the 2022 midterms, and with Bernie, in view of his age, a probable lame duck from the get-go. A Sanders administration would almost certainly not work out. If the left is to come to power, it needs to build up from the bottom, to take state legislatures and dramatically increase its representation in Congress. In other words, the left has to do what the movement conservatives did in the Republican Party over the past five decades—taking over one GOP state organization after another and finally conquering the national party, as they did with the Tea Party in 2010, and crowned with the ‘divine surprise’ of 2016.

Bernie Sanders is a historical figure, as Michael Tomasky justly put it, who has almost single-handedly pulled the Democratic Party to the left over the past four years. But if the left is to win the White House, it will be with one of his protégés, not him. #AOCin2032.

On Sleepy Joe Biden: I won’t say much about him here, as, barring unforeseen rebondissements or some stunning coup de théâtre, he is going to be the Democratic Party nominee (FWIW, Nate Silver today rates this an 88% probability)—and can all but seal the deal with a win in Michigan next week—so there will be ample occasion to do so down the line. Just a few points.

First, Biden is, as we all know, carrying a lot of baggage from his five decades in Washington, e.g. opposing busing in the 1970s and palling around with segregationist senators, Anita Hill, the Iraq war, calling for cuts to Social Security, to name just a few. Having recently seen the movie Dark Waters, I shuddered imagining the heavy-lifting Biden must have done in the Senate—and perhaps even as V-P—in favor of DuPont. But none of this matters today. It’s water under the bridge. Nothing that Biden did in past decades as Senator from Delaware will inform what he does as president of the United States in the third decade of the 21st century. In short, Biden’s record as a politician in the political distant past will be irrelevant in the 2020 election against Donald Trump.

Second, it is now commonplace to observe that Biden’s positions today are well to the left of Obama’s in 2008 or 2012. He’s a professional politician—i.e. malleable and opportunistic—generically liberal, and will go with the flow of his party. If the gravity of the Democratic Party is on the center-left—which is further to the left than what it was ten years ago, not to mention twenty or thirty—then that’s where Biden will be. On this, please read the commentary by the right-leaning Peter Suderman in the libertarian, not progressive website Reason, “Joe Biden is no moderate: [He] is a classic big-government liberal.” Sounds good to me.

Third, Biden, given his age, will be a transitional figure, a placeholder for whomever the Gen Yers and millennials put forth after him. One may assume that, in the White House, his staff, along with the Democrats in Congress, will play a central role in formulating policy. On this, journalist and IR policy intellectual David Rothkopf had an interesting tweet storm the other day, which begins:

As you who follow me know, I was not a @JoeBiden supporter at the outset. I have been energized and inspired by @kamalaharris and @ewarren since the beginning of the campaign. But with the inevitability of @joebiden as the candidate now clear, I’d like to share a brief anecdote.

Biden is surrounded by excellent advisors, some of the very best and the brightest in Washington. I’ve spoken to several of them over the past few months and their commitment to him and their reasons for supporting him have been quite thought provoking and persuasive.

A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with @RonKlain, a close Biden aide, formerly his chief of staff, and one of those folks in DC whose views I value above most others. He described that he too, like me, shares some deeply held progressive beliefs.

He underscored that Biden shared many of them too. But then he explained that in his very sensible view, advancing those beliefs began with defeating Donald Trump. You have to protect our system and defeat the enemies of serving the people as job one.

To read the rest, go here.

Fourth, I have been insisting from the very beginning that the Dem ticket will need to have a woman and Afro-American. No need to explain why car ça va de soi, i.e it goes without saying. With Biden the nigh inevitable nominee, his running mate will thus need to be an Afro-American woman. The name that automatically rolls off everyone’s lips is Stacey Abrams. Sure. Why not? She does, however, seem to be situated in the moderate lane of the party, so it would be more politic of Biden to choose a high-profile progressive, and who could energize Bernie’s disappointed supporters. My candidate, whose name I have been touting to no one in particular over the past couple of weeks: Ayanna Pressley, a Bernie-compatible Warren supporter and bona fide member of ‘the Squad’. Any objections?

Fifth, the Democratic Party will be united behind Biden. Sanders supporters will faire la gueule, i.e. sulk, but they’ll turn out and vote for him in sufficient numbers to eject Trump. Of course they will.

Sixth, Biden is not an antipathetic person. No one despises him. As The Washington Post’s humor columnist Alexandra Petri reminded everyone, “Joe Biden is fine!”

Seventh, the big concern with Biden is cognitive decline. As everyone has observed, he shows signs of not being all there. But then, that’s an even bigger concern with his opponent. God save America (and the world).

A couple of comments on the other candidates who dropped out this week, both of whom have brilliant political futures.

Pete Buttigieg: I am relieved that it was Biden and not him, as he was reminding me a little too much of Emmanuel Macron, which is not a compliment. In the future he will be well-advised to move away from neoliberalism, of advocating reducing budget deficits and the public debt.

Amy Klobuchar: After her brilliant performance in the New Hampshire debate, I declared to friends in an email loop that she would have my vote if Warren left the race, to which a friend replied with a reminder of her numerous non-progressive positions. Better that she stay in the Senate.

À suivre.

UPDATE: For the record, the best analyses I’ve seen of Super Tuesday and Bernie Sanders’ counter-performance are the excellent Eric Levitz’s in New York magazine, “Bernie’s revolution failed. But his movement can still win,” and Ron Brownstein’s in The Atlantic, “Bernie Sanders gets a rude awakening.” The lede: “Super Tuesday’s clearest message: While the senator has inspired a passionate depth of support, the breadth of his coalition remains too limited to win the nomination.” This latter observation is central: Bernie’s left-wing base is simply too narrow to underpin a governing Democratic majority. Numerically-speaking, it comes nowhere close to the third of the American electorate that fanatically supports Trump.

Well worth the read is Esquire’s invariably spot-on Charles P. Pierce, “Elizabeth Warren was more of a threat to the money power than Bernie Sanders.” The lede: “This is not a country that is ready for what she called, endlessly, ‘big, structural change.’ This is a country fearful of any kind of change at all.”

2nd UPDATE: A smart political science friend with whom I exchange views on US politics (and we invariably agree) had this social media comment on my post (which he otherwise thought a “great analysis!”):

One small disagreement: While I like your possible VP picks, and I agree that a woman of color would be best for a number of reasons, I think that Kamala Harris would be a great pick, and one Biden is apt to feel more comfortable with. I think he will want to address concerns about his age and mental and physical health by picking someone with the experience to allow her to “do the job right away.” And if party unity becomes a problem (God, I hope you’re right about that) I think Biden would feel pressure to pick Warren.

Yes, I entirely agree on Harris, who would be a great pick. Some lefties would whine and kvetch—bringing up her record as San Francisco DA (which is completely irrelevant)—but it wouldn’t sink the ticket.

As for Warren, I think she’d be better and more effective staying in the Senate, particularly if the Dems take it back. Attorney General with carte blanche would also be a good place for her.

3rd UPDATE: Another point on the Elizabeth Warren/sexism thing that I neglected to mention above. We all know that women in politics—and particularly the ambitious ones—are raked over the coals and subjected to double standards and negative stereotypes in a way that men are not. This is the case *everywhere*. But it has not prevented women from being elected to the highest executive office (president or prime minister) in all sorts of countries and on all continents. There is no reason why it should not be likewise in the United States, whose society is, until proof to the contrary, no more sexist than, e.g., Argentina, Chile, Great Britain, Germany, Slovakia, Liberia, Sri Lanka, Burma, New Zealand, etc. etc.

4th UPDATE: Here’s a corrective by Nancy LeTourneau in the Washington Monthly (Mar. 6th) on “The disinformation campaign being launched against Biden,” for which “[t]here is no data to support the allegation that he is in cognitive decline.”

5th UPDATE: The NYT’s Sabrina Tavernise has a must-read piece (Mar. 7th): “A Sanders voter, weary of debt at 29: ‘I have nothing to lose’.” The lede: “Brian Michelz has never worn a political T-shirt or been to a campaign rally. But when he voted for the first time in his life, it was for Bernie Sanders. What will he do if Mr. Sanders loses?”

6th UPDATE: Robert Reich explains in The Guardian (Mar. 8th) that “Older people who feel unsafe seek the familiar. That’s why they’re flocking to Biden.”

7th UPDATE: Economists Erica Groshen and Harry J. Holzer have a useful op-ed (Mar. 4th) on the Brookings Institution website on “Bernie’s populism – and what it says about the job market.”

David Corn of Mother Jones had an excellent next-day Super Tuesday post-mortem that I had missed, “Sanders said it takes a revolution to beat Trump. On Super Tuesday, most Democrats disagreed.”

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[update below]

My goodness, people have been flipping out since yesterday with the publication of the New York Times/Siena College poll—headlined on the NYT website and bylined by the redoutable number-cruncher Nate Cohn—showing Trump, with the election a year-to-the-day away, to be in a strong position vis-à-vis the top three Democratic candidats—and particularly Elizabeth Warren—in the six battleground states that are sure to decide the winner. The collective hand-wringing, indeed panic and despair, among liberals and progressives on social media, plus in email exchanges with friends, has been something to behold. To this may be added the finger-wagging “I told you so!” by Biden-supporting pundits and friends who have been warning that the Dems are courting certain disaster next November if they lurch to the left with Warren (and there’s a fixation on Warren over Sanders, who tends to be discounted—I have been guilty of doing so myself—though that may be premature). One such self-satisfied center-hugging pundit—whom I follow and normally like—is New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait, who entitled a commentary à chaud, “Poll shows Democrats have been living in a fantasy world,” and tweeting “The Democratic field has proceeded in blissful unawareness of the extremely high chance that Trump will win again.”

What poppycock. A few points. First, the NYT/Siena College poll is just one poll—”a new data point, but not a definitive one,” dixit Ruy Teixeira—and which may or may not be an outlier. That it could indeed possibly be this is suggested by Trump’s +6 margin over Warren in Michigan (sample of 501 RVs and MOE of 5.1%), which is hard to believe, as not only has there never been a poll in that state with such strong numbers for Trump but the Emerson poll of Michigan voters released Nov. 3rd (1051 RVs and MOE of 3%) has Warren with a +8 lead over Trump.  One of these polls is clearly way off (pour l’info, FiveThirtyEight gives Emerson a grade of B+). In view of the sample size and MOE, not to mention MI’s polling history, I’ll wager that the way off one is the former—and particularly in view of news like this.

Second, the election is a full year away, which is, to employ that cliché, an eternity in politics. And it’s still three months to the Iowa caucuses. As Nate Cohn writes:

There is a full year before Election Day, and a lot can change. Ms. Warren is an energetic campaigner. She could moderate her image or motivate young and nonwhite voters, including the millions who might not yet even be included in a poll of today’s registered voters. Mr. Biden could lose the relatively conservative voters who currently back him; the president could be dealt irreparable political damage during the impeachment process.

The impeachment process: It’s hard to see how Trump comes out of that—assuming he survives it—without sustaining at least some damage to his standing in public opinion. Cohn, however, adds this:

But on average over the last three cycles, head-to-head polls a year ahead of the election have been as close to the final result as those taken the day before.

If it had been over, say, the past ten cycles, that would be a history giving cause for concern. But three? Just because Real Madrid has won the Champions League title three times in a row doesn’t necessarily mean it will win a fourth. Three is not sufficient to establish a loi des séries.

Third point. Jonathan Chait and others are simply wrong that Democrats have been Pollyannas deluding themselves about Trump’s potential electoral strength. Democrats, who are congenital worrywarts when it comes to national elections, have been more than aware that the 2020 campaign is going to be hard-fought and that despite their incontestable advantage in the national popular vote, the Electoral College now structurally favors the Republicans—and Trump in particular, with his cultural appeal in the Rust Belt. N.B. the analyses last July by Nate Cohn and Dave Wasserman, which were received by Dems like a five-alarm fire, of the growing skew in the EC, that the Democrats could win the national popular vote with an up to 5% spread but still fall short in a tipping state like Wisconsin, which is “balanced on a knife’s edge,” thus losing the election. And it is indeed the case that the demographic evolution of Wisconsin, Ohio, Iowa, even Minnesota—not to mention Florida, with all the Republican-voting retirees moving in—are not trending the Democrats’ way. To say that Dems don’t fully understand this is absurd.

Anyone who knows or follows me knows that I have been confident for the Dems’ chances in ’20, though do not categorically exclude the appalling possibility that the orange-haired idiot could win. He clearly has a number of factors in his favor, as enumerated in my July 12th post “Can Trump win in ’20?,” among them the power of incumbency, his party united behind him, no serious primary challenger, and a fanaticized base—of a fourth to a third of the electorate—such that the American political system has not witnessed on a national level in memory. And then there’s the money, of which Trump has an almost unlimited amount, and a campaign that will be/is far more professionally-run than in 2016. And his campaign—with its shock army of evangelicals—will invest massively in turning out every last voter inclined to vote for him, including lower class whites who abstained in 2016 and/or may not currently be registered—and discourage/suppress voters inclined to vote against him.

It won’t win Trump the popular vote but could the EC, to which the Democrats will have no choice but to massively invest in their own base strategy, of mobilizing Afro-American and younger millennial voters to the max—including the millions of potential voters who will have turned 18 over the previous four years—and combating Republican efforts at voter suppression. It will be base vs. base—and as I keep reminding everyone, there are more of us than there are of them, including in the states that will get us past 270 EVs.

Yes, Trump could hypothetically win the EC even with a 5-point deficit in the popular vote. But if it’s more that? Utterly unlikely. FYI, the spread in the national vote today at Real Clear Politics is Biden +9.3, Warren +6.1, and Sanders +6.8. Voilà.

On the (hugely exaggerated) progressive vs. moderate dispute, one thing Warren/Sanders detractors get wrong is that this will at all matter in the general election campaign. The fact is, Trump and the Republicans will set out to shred the Democratic nominee regardless of who s/he is. Sleepy Joe will be torn to pieces, Pete Buttigieg will be mauled in countless ways, Amy Klobuchar and Michael Bennet—should either pull off a miracle surge during the primary season—will be tarred as wild-eyed liberals, if not outright socialists. No matter who the Democrat is, s/he will be demonized by the Republicans and Trump state propaganda (Fox, etc). Whether or not the Democrat is viewed by pundits and mainstream media as a “moderate” or “progressive” does not and will not matter to Republican voters. To them, they’re just Democrats, period.

À propos, Sean Freeder—a very smart and insightful political science doctoral candidate at UC-Berkeley—posted this comment on a Facebook thread yesterday:

[I]f being “centrist” is what beats Trump, then we are truly all in trouble, as NO ONE running is centrist by 2016 standards. As cute as it is to keep calling Biden centrist, if a candidate with his policy platform had run in the 2008 primary, he would have been the most liberal candidate in the race by far, perhaps excepting Kucinich. The party has already moved far to the left over the past several years, but no one seems to treat that as true.

The moderate label we give to Biden is a relative one, not an absolute one. Stacks of research demonstrate that most voters dont have stable policy preferences, or know virtually anything about the candidates who run in primaries. “Moderate” voters prefer “moderate” Biden because they think he and they are moderates, but neither of these things are true. They just like the label moderate, and those to whom it is applied, because it sounds “reasonable”. Warren has a year to convince voters that she’s not a wide eyed extremist, and that her plans are in the dead, dull moderate middle of virtually any other left party in the world.

Tout à fait. On voters not having stable policy preferences, one may add that the vast majority have little to no knowledge or interest at all in the details of policy. Paul Waldman, in his WaPo column yesterday, “Democrats have a dangerous misconception about policy and campaigns,” underscored this point. Money quote:

Try to recall a time when a single policy issue not only made a significant difference in the outcome of a presidential election, but it was because one candidate had a more popular position on it than the other. It certainly isn’t what got Donald Trump elected. Or Barack Obama, or George W. Bush, or Bill Clinton, or George H.W. Bush, or Ronald Reagan.

Sure, there were arguments about policy in those elections. But voters don’t keep a scorecard on which they tick off points of agreement and disagreement with both candidates, then total up the results to decide their vote.

Presidential campaigns “are fought on character and broad themes,” not policy, which is one reason why the attacks on Elizabeth Warren’s Medicare-for-All plan, while perhaps valid, are, from the campaign standpoint, irrelevant. What Warren needed to do was come up with a plausible-sounding plan that does not raise taxes on the middle class—to deprive her Democratic opponents and, later, the Republicans of a sound bite on that, to be endlessly played in attack ads—and which she has clearly done (if Paul Krugman and Ezra Klein say her plan is serious and passes the test, that settles the matter for me). All Warren has to do now is defend her plan on the stump and in debates, and parry the attacks on it by Buttigieg, Klobuchar et al, which she will do no problem (pour mémoire, Warren is fast on her feet and sharp as a whip). And when the debate gets technical (which is not too likely with Trump), voters’ eyes will glaze over, with debate moderators eventually tiring of the health care issue and moving on to something else.

And if Warren wins the nomination, she will no doubt pivot toward the center in the general election campaign, as Will Wilkinson of the libertarian Niskanen Institute—who is critical of some of Warren’s positions—submitted in a tweet storm 2½ weeks back. One may be confident that she will assure voters nervous about losing their employer-based insurance that there will be no sudden, brutal transition. And once in the White House, inshallah, those with an even minimal knowledge of how American government works know that President Warren will not be able to implement her M4A plan by executive order. Congress will have a say in it—i.e. almost the entire say—and that even if the Dems win a decisive majority in the Senate and abolish the filibuster, there is no chance that M4A will be adopted in anything resembling its present form. Moderate senators (Michael Bennet et al) will take charge and pass a more modest bill (at minimum, reinforced ACA with a public option), and Warren will be fine with that, as she knows how Congress and legislation works. Her M4A plan, which people are dumping on, is all about firing up the base, moving the Overton window, and setting out a long term vision, which will be realized down the line via incremental reforms (and as it’s Elizabeth Warren, she of course needs to have a plan). Pundits know this, which is why the current polemics over the issue are so ridiculous.

Warren presently has Wall Street in a panic, as one reads. Nice. This no doubt makes “moderate” Democrats very nervous but none have, so far as I’ve seen, taken on Warren on this one…

I have a lot more say on the Dems, on Bernie (toward whom I am warming), Biden (who I really wish were not in the race), Buttigieg (if he knocks off Biden for the moderate slot, so much the better), and others. La prochaine fois.

À suivre. In the meantime, check out the current head-to-head numbers in the key swing states.

UPDATE: Yale University political science professor Jacob S. Hacker argues, in a NYT op-ed (Nov. 5th), that “Elizabeth Warren is asking the most important question on health care: How can we move from a broken system to one that covers everyone, restrains prices and improves outcomes?”

For the record, Lawrence Summers says in a WaPo op-ed that “Warren’s plan to finance Medicare-for-all pushes into dangerous and uncharted territory.”

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Lock him up!

Magnet on my refrigerator

[update below]

That’s what the crowd chanted at Nationals Park in Washington Sunday night (game 5 of the World Series) when the wanker’s presence (in a stadium luxury box) was announced, as everyone has heard by now. How gratifying. Certain belles âmes in the mainstream media and Democratic Party establishment deplored the stadium taunting, equating it with the “lock her up!” chanting at Trump rallies aimed at Hillary Clinton. Talk about a false equivalence. In addition to the fact that Trump directed the chanting himself at his rallies, Hillary Clinton never committed a single crime or even misdemeanor, or was ever indicted for a thing—and, as we know, has been definitively cleared of any legal impropriety in the emails business. As for Trump on this score, his serial criminality requires no explanation or elaboration at this point. The man has been in and out of court for decades, been sued by dozens (perhaps hundreds; who’s counting?), and spent millions on lawyers defending himself, counter-suing others, and gaming the system. That he has avoided prison up to now is proof in the pudding of a certain corruption in the American judicial system, where money—how much one has—really does count.

But justice will ultimately be served, inshallah, and with Trump locked up for many years, after a fair trial, of course, hopefully preceded—wouldn’t it be nice—by the perp walk and in handcuffs. And with his real estate empire liquidated and name effaced from every edifice. His conditions of imprisonment should be comfortable—we don’t want to be vindictive—but with no Twitter or television, except for MSNBC in the evening (plus Al Jazeera if he likes). Juste un rêve…

It’s a foregone conclusion that Trump will be impeached by the House, though conviction by the Senate looks most unlikely. But maybe not. A number of commentators and pundits, conservatives among them, have speculated that enough Senate Republicans could indeed vote to convict in the end. E.g. Peggy Noonan, who has not been suspected of Never Trumpism and, ça va de soi, knows a lot of Republicans in Washington, had a noteworthy op-ed, dated Oct. 17th, in The Wall Street Journal, “The impeachment needle may soon move: The mood has shifted against Trump, but the House has to show good faith and seriousness.” It begins:

Things are more fluid than they seem. That’s my impression of Washington right now. There’s something quiet going on, a mood shift.

Impeachment of course will happen. The House will support whatever charges are ultimately introduced because most Democrats think the president is not fully sane and at least somewhat criminal. Also they’re Democrats and he’s a Republican. The charges will involve some level of foreign-policy malfeasance.

The ultimate outcome depends on the Senate. It takes 67 votes to convict. Republicans control the Senate 53-47, and it is unlikely 20 of them will agree to remove a president of their own party. An acquittal is likely but not fated, because we live in the age of the unexpected.

Here are three reasons to think the situation is more fluid than we realize.

First, the president, confident of acquittal, has chosen this moment to let his inner crazy flourish daily and dramatically—the fights and meltdowns, the insults, the Erdogan letter. Just when the president needs to be enacting a certain stability he enacts its opposite. It is possible he doesn’t appreciate the jeopardy he’s in with impeachment bearing down; it is possible he knows and what behavioral discipline he has is wearing down.

The second is that the Republican leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell, told his caucus this week to be prepared for a trial that will go six days a week and could last six to eight weeks. In September there had been talk the Senate might receive articles of impeachment and execute a quick, brief response—a short trial, or maybe a motion to dismiss. Mr. McConnell told CNBC then that the Senate would have “no choice” but to take up impeachment, but “how long you are on it is a different matter.” Now he sees the need for a major and lengthy undertaking. Part of the reason would be practical: He is blunting attack lines that the Republicans arrogantly refused to give impeachment the time it deserves. But his decision also gives room for the unexpected—big and serious charges that sweep public opinion and change senators’ votes. “There is a mood change in terms of how much they can tolerate,” said a former high Senate staffer. Senators never know day to day how bad things will get.

The third reason is the number of foreign-policy professionals who are not ducking testimony in the House but plan to testify or have already. Suppressed opposition to President Trump among foreign-service officers and others is busting out. (…)

A six to eight week Senate trial, with all that will be revealed during that interminable period and Trump melting down daily… Does one imagine that all but two or three GOP senators will remain with him to the end, and particularly if his approval rating descends below 40%?

In writing last Friday on “the collapse of the president’s defense,” Benjamin Wittes—editor in chief of Lawfare and a Senior Fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution—observed that

Polls are unmovable until they move. Cracks in the wall are mere cracks until the wall comes down and we realize the bricks were actually just the spaces between the cracks. Senators are a fickle lot, and when the winds shift, they can shift suddenly.

The Washington Post had a report yesterday co-authored by Robert Costa—the National Review’s Washington editor before joining WaPo and who knows the congressional GOP comme sa poche—with the title, “‘It feels like a horror movie’: Republicans feel anxious and adrift defending Trump.” One notes this bit:

The GOP majority is in play in 2020, with Collins, Joni Ernst (Iowa), Cory Gardner (Colo.), Martha McSally (Ariz.) and Thom Tillis (N.C.) each facing tough campaigns and grappling with polls in their states showing independent voters souring on Trump and open to impeachment.

“At some point, McConnell is going to have to perform triage to save the majority,” said Rick Wilson, a longtime GOP consultant and Trump critic. “How the Senate Republicans handle everything is all going to come down to how threatened Mitch feels and how worried he is about losing Colorado, North Carolina and a few other states. And if Trump’s numbers keep dropping, that decision is going to come sooner than later for him.”

On calculations over the outcome of next year’s Senate races, Henry Olson—a senior fellow at the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center—had some interesting observations in his Oct. 23rd WaPo column, “Trump is blowing his defense against impeachment.” E.g. this:

Trump is too personally tied to [the Ukraine] scandal to deny responsibility, but he could admit that he displayed poor judgment and pledge to turn over a new leaf. That might help him in the court of public opinion.

That’s not going to happen, though, because it runs counter to the pattern of Trump’s entire adult life. He built his public reputation as the man whose skill and will get him what he wants. Whether it’s in business, dating and marrying beautiful women, or “draining the swamp,” the entire Trump mystique is built around the idea of the daring, infallible “stable genius” who lives the life of power and luxury that most people only dream of. This is the character he has created for himself, and he is incapable of changing the script now.

Trump is Trump. He’ll never change. Olson concludes:

That both elites and average voters might be outraged by [Trump’s] decisions [to abandon the Kurds in Syria and hold the G-7 summit at his property near Miami] never entered his mind because he rarely tries to persuade people rather than sell himself to a niche market.

You can get rich and powerful marketing to a niche market. The Trump brand wasn’t for everyone, but it was attractive to enough people to fuel his real estate and product-branding enterprises. The Trump political persona clearly alienates millions of people, but it attracts millions of others. These people like the vision of Trump the president peddles, and like any good niche marketer, he keeps giving his acolytes what they want.

The trouble for Trump is that presidents can’t win without building larger coalitions. Trump won in 2016 because he persuaded that election’s swing voter — the person who disliked both him and Hillary Clinton — that “Never Hillary” was better for that person than “Never Trump.” Those people form the core of the person he needs to talk to now, and they aren’t buying the idea that the Democratic investigation is worse than what Trump appears to have done.

This conclusion spells near-certain doom for Trump if it persists. Trump’s reelection strategy has clearly been to rerun the 2016 campaign: hold the Trump base and coalition together and demonize the Democratic nominee, terrorizing the voter in the middle to reluctantly choose him again. That person, however, is unlikely to do that if he or she has already concluded that Trump’s actions regarding Ukraine are so bad that he should be removed from office through impeachment.

Trump’s character made him famous and gave him the presidency. Unless there’s more behind the mask he has created, however, it will also likely lead to his political demise.

If Trump is doomed in November 2020, so too will be the Republican majority in the Senate. If Trump goes down, he will make sure to take Moscow Mitch, Lickspittle Lindsey, and the rest of the wretched GOP band with him. When this becomes clear during the Senate trial, if not before, one may presume that the latter will do what they need to do, with the (illusory) hope that a President Pence will enable them to sauver les meubles and keep their majority.

But if Trump does survive the Senate trial, thus making it to Nov. ’20, does one really think that, after all we will have been through, he will clear 270 EVs and after a general election campaign dominated by the policy details of Medicare-for-All, or Democratic proposals to amend Section 1325 of Title 8 of the U.S. Code? Come now.

À suivre.

UPDATE: The Washington Post has a report from Florida (Oct. 31) by national correspondent Griff Witte, “Is Trump’s base breaking over impeachment? The tale of a congressman’s defiance suggests not,” that will throw cold water on the prediction/hope that GOP senators will vote to convict Trump.

And National Review editor Rich Lowry has an opinion piece (Oct. 24) in Politico, “The fantasy of Republicans ditching Trump,” that makes a lot of sense. He may well be right, alas.

 

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Describing Trump

This one has been making the rounds on social media, and which merits reposting on AWAV. Someone on the popular question-and-answer website Quora asked, “Why do some British people not like Donald Trump?” A witty and insightful writer from England named Nate White wrote the response below, which is as spot-on a description of Trump-the-man as one will find:

A few things spring to mind.

Trump lacks certain qualities which the British traditionally esteem.

For instance, he has no class, no charm, no coolness, no credibility, no compassion, no wit, no warmth, no wisdom, no subtlety, no sensitivity, no self-awareness, no humility, no honour and no grace – all qualities, funnily enough, with which his predecessor Mr. Obama was generously blessed.

So for us, the stark contrast does rather throw Trump’s limitations into embarrassingly sharp relief.

Plus, we like a laugh. And while Trump may be laughable, he has never once said anything wry, witty or even faintly amusing – not once, ever.

I don’t say that rhetorically, I mean it quite literally: not once, not ever. And that fact is particularly disturbing to the British sensibility – for us, to lack humour is almost inhuman.

But with Trump, it’s a fact. He doesn’t even seem to understand what a joke is – his idea of a joke is a crass comment, an illiterate insult, a casual act of cruelty.

Trump is a troll. And like all trolls, he is never funny and he never laughs; he only crows or jeers.

And scarily, he doesn’t just talk in crude, witless insults – he actually thinks in them. His mind is a simple bot-like algorithm of petty prejudices and knee-jerk nastiness.

There is never any under-layer of irony, complexity, nuance or depth. It’s all surface.

Some Americans might see this as refreshingly upfront.

Well, we don’t. We see it as having no inner world, no soul.

And in Britain we traditionally side with David, not Goliath. All our heroes are plucky underdogs: Robin Hood, Dick Whittington, Oliver Twist.

Trump is neither plucky, nor an underdog. He is the exact opposite of that.

He’s not even a spoiled rich-boy, or a greedy fat-cat.

He’s more a fat white slug. A Jabba the Hutt of privilege.

And worse, he is that most unforgivable of all things to the British: a bully.

That is, except when he is among bullies; then he suddenly transforms into a snivelling sidekick instead.

There are unspoken rules to this stuff – the Queensberry rules of basic decency – and he breaks them all. He punches downwards – which a gentleman should, would, could never do – and every blow he aims is below the belt. He particularly likes to kick the vulnerable or voiceless – and he kicks them when they are down.

So the fact that a significant minority – perhaps a third – of Americans look at what he does, listen to what he says, and then think ‘Yeah, he seems like my kind of guy’ is a matter of some confusion and no little distress to British people, given that:

  • Americans are supposed to be nicer than us, and mostly are.
  • You don’t need a particularly keen eye for detail to spot a few flaws in the man.

This last point is what especially confuses and dismays British people, and many other people too; his faults seem pretty bloody hard to miss.

After all, it’s impossible to read a single tweet, or hear him speak a sentence or two, without staring deep into the abyss. He turns being artless into an art form; he is a Picasso of pettiness; a Shakespeare of shit. His faults are fractal: even his flaws have flaws, and so on ad infinitum.

God knows there have always been stupid people in the world, and plenty of nasty people too. But rarely has stupidity been so nasty, or nastiness so stupid.

He makes Nixon look trustworthy and George W look smart.

In fact, if Frankenstein decided to make a monster assembled entirely from human flaws – he would make a Trump.

And a remorseful Doctor Frankenstein would clutch out big clumpfuls of hair and scream in anguish:

‘My God… what… have… I… created?

If being a twat was a TV show, Trump would be the boxed set.’

Brilliant.

On a somewhat sobering note, Peter Beinart’s latest, typically insightful piece in The Atlantic is entitled, “The two psychological tricks Trump is using to get away with everything: His brazen attempts to redefine the norms of acceptable conduct work for a reason.”

IMHO Trump will not get away with this, i.e. what he will be impeached for. His luck will run out. Inshallah.

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The impeachment inquiry

I was going to offer my initial thoughts on the impeachment inquiry ten days ago but got distracted by Jacques Chirac (see previous post). Two immediate comments. First, it’s about time. Finally. Second, the (flawed) arguments by pundits and skittish Democrats against trying to impeach Trump—that it would be opposed by a majority of the public, surely fail in the Senate, and end up reinforcing the Mad King and his reelection chances—are now obsolete. They have been overtaken by events. One thing is certain: like Brexit, we have no idea how this thing is going to play out. But one other thing is also certain, which is that there will necessarily be a succession of revelations during the House inquiry that are highly damaging to Trump—as a sociopath and lifelong con man who should have been sent to the slammer many years ago, how will it be otherwise?—making impeachment an all but foregone conclusion. And does anyone seriously believe even at this early stage—with support for impeachment spiking in the polls and Trump melting down daily and flailing hysterically—that even in the event that the Senate does not vote to convict—which looks like the probable outcome at present but who knows?—that Trump will come out of the process politically strengthened? And moreover, given that he is piling on the provocations and manifest illegality daily, is certainly clinically psychotic—and likely in the early stages of dementia—and with a staff of bootlickers, lickspittles, and lackeys; in short, people who are, objectively speaking, not very smart? Or, as they would say over here, qui ne sont pas des fins stratèges ou des flèches? Come on.

It is now well understood by erstwhile impeachment skeptics that, with the revelation of the Trump-Zelensky telephone conversation, Nancy Pelosi had no choice but to finally open an impeachment inquiry. And all the more so as even non-Never Trump conservatives suggested that the Ukraine affair has pushed Trump into impeachment territory. The consequences of a Democratic failure to act would have been disastrous, signaling to Trump that he could commit unconstitutional or illegal acts with impunity—and with the Democrats looking like castrated eunuchs and Trump’s fanaticized supporters exulting. As Will Wilkinson—the very smart vice-president of the libertarian Niskanen Center think tank—put it in an excellent NYT op-ed, impeachment simply became “imperative.”

In one of the best essays of the past week, the conservative lawyer George T. Conway III (husband of Trump spinmeistresse Kellyanne, if one didn’t know), writing in The Atlantic, submitted quite simply that Trump is “unfit for office” and with his malignant “narcissism mak[ing] it impossible for him to carry out the duties of the presidency in the way the Constitution requires.” Conway’s piece is long but essential reading.

On how the impeachment inquiry endgame may play out, writer and ex-SCOTUS clerk Dean Gloster, who represented two “high-functioning narcissistic sociopaths” in his former career as a lawyer—who describes himself as “the guy the awful people came to after they’d screwed up so badly in front of federal judges with their first lawyers and wanted saving”—offered some experience-based thoughts in a must-read Twitter storm, and with some pointers for Trump’s flunkies and henchmen whom Adam Schiff will be serving with subpoenas. In his view, it will be sauve qui peut.

As to how Adam Schiff’s committee should pursue the hearings, Trump-loathing onetime Republican operative Rick Wilson, who’s always a pleasure to read, has these recommendations in his September 25th Daily Beast column, entitled “Five simple rules for impeaching our president: Battle on and for TV, ignore the old rules, expect the worst from Republicans, cause pain, and let the pros work.”

Rule 1: This is a battle by, for, and of television.

Donald Trump is a reality-TV star. It’s all he understands. It’s the only thing that penetrates that gigantic bone dome concealing his tiny lizard brain. The hearings must be public, televised, media-friendly, and done in a way that emphasizes the scope and intensity of this investigation. Remember, America elected this orange jackhole in large measure because they saw him pretending to be a CEO on a reality-TV show. If Congress provides moments of critical gravity on-air, preferably live, Trump’s brain will melt.

Rule 2: Ignore the old rules. Trump certainly will.

The first rule of Trump Fight Club is that there are no rules. The real battle to come is one of spectacle, drama, loud noises, and made-for-TV confrontations, not careful legal proceedings and meticulous fact-finding. Democrats shouldn’t be trying to make an air-tight legal case; they should be making a vivid, powerful, political and public case against Trump’s lawbreaking, greed, and sleaze. Don’t get caught up in the petty details; work the big, brash picture.

Trump is playing to his strength. As a man without shame, his only goal is to create a larger explosion, a bigger shock, a more powerful emotional response. He’s playing to his base; if Democrats are playing to the New York Times editorial board, they’re fucked.

Rule 3: Expect fuckery from the Republicans.

Play back every hearing in the past year where Fredo Nunes, Jim Jordan, Matt Gaetz, Mark Meadows, or any other member of the Deep State Douche Caucus rolled out some bizarre attack utterly unrelated to the actual investigation.

They’re going to ramp this up by a factor of a million, using every procedural trick in the book to blow up every hearing. The chairmen of these hearings need to drop the goddamn hammer on these jerkoffs, and hard. Suspend rules, crack skulls, cut corners—just keep the conversation and the camera on the Trump scumbags in the dock for questioning.

Don’t expect any heroes from the GOP; Republican members view him with more fear than loathing, and that’s the ballgame. Some true believers will be there to detonate themselves in service to the Dear Leader; they’re the Trumphadi caucus, and guys like Gym Jordan are one televised hissy fit from strapping on a bomb vest and charging the gate at Chappaqua. Once the filing deadlines for the GOP primaries have passed, you might have a little more luck but, until then, expect nothing but trouble.

Rule 4: Cause pain.

So far, no one from Trump’s world has felt the slightest bit of pressure or pain from contempt, lying, withholding information, evading subpoenas or being a Trumpian cocknozzle. When sinister Trump-world shitbird Corey Lewandowski lied his ass off before the House Judiciary Committee and verbally abused members of Congress, he did everything but take a dump on Jerry Nadler’s desk, and still walked away scot-free. If the shoe was on the other partisan foot, Lewandowski would have been perp-walked out of the room and strip-searched in the Rotunda.

If “inherent contempt” isn’t in the Democrats’ playbook right now, then forget impeachment and plan for a season of stonewalling. So what if the law is vague or there’s going to be a big old habeas corpus fight? You’re looking for the video clip of some Trump fuckwit being heaved off his feet and dragged out of the hearing room in contempt, not a legal-eagle panel on MSNBC nodding sagely.

You have to attack Trump’s weak spots; his money, his taxes, and his kids. Raise the stakes for all of them. Press harder. Be more cruel and more determined, because the other side most certainly has decided to lie and stonewall until you lose patience. Drag all of them, even the most tangential characters in Trumpworld.

Rule 5: Let the professionals work.

I know every member of Congress wants to be the star of the impeachment hearings. That’s not how this game works. They need to treat this like a televised trial, not like a goddamn press availability at the East Bumfuck Rotary Club.

The Democrats need to get professional, outside prosecutors to serve as the lead interrogators for every Trump witness. Pipe-swinging attorneys asking meaningful and high-risk questions to the Trump witnesses is better television, better lawyering, and better at wrecking Trump’s headspace than the five-minute-rule boredom of normal hearings.

And one more rule, mostly for the press: Stop taking the bait.

The president of the United States of America is, as you may have noticed by now, a lying liar who lies. The people around him are more of the same.

You’re not required to edit his word salad into coherent video or quotes. You’re not required to cover every one of his lunatic accusations as if it were gospel fact. If Trump makes an outrageous claim, he depends on the reporters around him to merely amplify what he said and not to call bullshit. This is how Trump has hacked the media system to his advantage. Even his lies, when reported, are believed as truth.

It’s past time for the press to call bullshit. No one is required to report verbatim the details of the president’s outrageous lies, only that he told them.

Those are the new roles, to win a fight that is going to be long, bloody, and painful. We’re still at the beginning of the beginning, as much as we may wish otherwise.

Trump deserves impeachment. America deserves a Democratic Party that has the strength, discipline, focus, and determination to carry it off.

In his follow-up October 2nd column, “Trump is going to burn down everything and everyone, and Republicans, that means you,” Wilson begins:

Donald Trump’s Oval Office performance-art masterpiece Wednesday was one for the ages, a pity-party, stompy-foot screech session by President Snowflake von Pissypants, the most put-upon man ever to hold the highest office in the land. If you watched his nationally televised press conference, Trump’s shrill, eye-popping hissy fit scanned like the end of a long, coke-fueled bender where the itchy, frenzied paranoia is dry-humping the last ragged gasps of the earlier party-powder fun.

Between calling Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) a panoply of Trumpish insults (and for the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee to be held for treason), engaging in his usual hatred of the press, talking about Mike Pompeo’s intimate undergarments, and quite obviously scaring the shit out of Finnish President Sauli Niinisto—who looked like he was the very unwilling star of an ISIS hostage video—Trump spent the day rapidly decompensating, and it was a hideous spectacle. All the Maximum Leader pronunciamentos won’t change the reality that Donald John Trump, 45th president of the United States, has lost his shit.

In private, Republicans are in the deepest despair of the Trump era. They’ve got that hang-dog, dick-in-the-dirt fatalism of men destined to die in a meaningless battle in a pointless war. They’ve abandoned all pretense of recapturing the House, their political fortunes in the states are crashing and burning, and the stock-market bubble they kept up as a shield against the downsides of Trump—“but muh 401(k)!”—is popping.

You want to know why so few Republicans have held town-hall meetings since early 2017? Because Trump is the cancer they deny is consuming them from the inside out. They see the political grave markers of 42 of their GOP House colleagues—and several hundred down-ballot Republicans—booted from office since 2017 and know that outside of the deepest red enclaves, they’re salesmen for a brand no one is buying.

How I wish I could write with such flair. To read the rest of Wilson’s column, you’ll have to plunk down $29/year or whatever it is to get behind The Daily Beast’s paywall (it’s worth it).

One big question—and over which there is much disagreement—is the scope of the impeachment inquiry, of whether or not it should be narrowly focused on the Ukraine affair or expanded to take up the countless number of impeachable offenses Trump has committed. I’m undecided, as there are strong arguments for both. Basically I’ll go with whatever it takes to get the SOB out of there (and preferably in handcuffs). Another question, which many had not thought of (myself included), is what will happen in the Senate if Trump is impeached. It has been assumed that the Senate will hold a trial, as it is presumably supposed to under Article II Section 4 of the constitution, but certain analysts have said that Mitch McConnell, as majority leader, could decide to not hold one, to simply ignore the House’s articles of impeachment. McConnell has assured that Senate rules do obligate it to take up impeachment but still, he could try to quickly dispatch with the matter. In a lengthy interview with the excellent Dahlia Lithwick, who writes on courts and the law for Slate, Walter Dellinger—former acting solicitor general and emeritus professor at Duke Law School—specified that the presiding officer at a Senate trial would be Chief Justice John Roberts, not Moscow Mitch, which would engender a different dynamic. And several Republican senators in purple states facing potentially tight reelection races next year—in IA, CO, AZ, ME, NC—may deem it prudent not to go on record as trying to nip in the bud a Senate trial before it has run its course. So what happens in the Senate could be quite interesting.

There’s much more to say about this obviously but I’ll leave it there for now. À suivre.

Map tweeted by Trump and response.

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[update below]

Dayton too. The latter one was a garden-variety American massacre, committed by an angry white male, who shot up a crowded place—that may or may not have been chosen at random—and with a legally acquired semi-automatic rifle. If such weapons of war could be as easily procured in, say, France—where there are plenty of angry white males—as they are in the US, does anyone doubt that we would see a dramatic increase in massacres there (and of murder more generally)?

The El Paso massacre was different. As one knows, this one was racially motivated. It was an act of terrorism targeting a particular ethnic group—and a group that has been the target of racism, hatred, and dehumanization by the President of the United States since he announced his candidacy four long years ago. Trump has spoken of Mexicans and Central Americans in the same terms as the Rwandan Hutu Interahamwe did of Tutsis in 1994 (as “cockroaches”) and Nazis did of Jews. Trump’s words are “poison,” as a commentary by a conservative pundit headlined today. Trump is poison. The El Paso Walmart terrorist was morally aided and abetted by Trump. Trump bears moral responsibility for the massacre. And one may be utterly certain that there will be more to come—possibly even more so once the unspeakable SOB is gone. On this, Paul Waldman has a chilling column in The Washington Post (August 5th) on “[h]ow Trump’s biggest broken promise will make white supremacist terrorism even worse.” The angry, heavily-armed white men out there will be even angrier when their man is no longer in the White House—and having failed to build his wall or rid the country of Muslims and others from “shithole countries.” A future President Warren-Biden-Harris-etc needs to start thinking now about how s/he will deal with an inevitable upsurge in domestic terrorism such as the United States has not witnessed in anyone’s lifetime.

On the antecedents of white American nationalist terrorism, historian Thomas Meaney has a must-read review essay in the August 1st London Review of Books, simply entitled “White Power,” in which he discusses two new books, Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America, by Kathleen Belew, and Revolutionaries for the Right: Anti-Communist Internationalism and Paramilitary Warfare in the Cold War, by Kyle Burke. One learns in the essay that the armed white nationalist movement in its present form was born with the Cold War and America’s military interventions and other imperialist ventures over the decades, most notably the Vietnam War, and with veterans later freelancing as mercenaries to fight Soviet-backed insurgencies across the globe (one reads about the monthly magazine Soldier of Fortune, which I would periodically look at with morbid curiosity in the 1970s and ’80s). With the end of the Cold War, new generation white warriors acquired experience in Afghanistan and Iraq. In short, there are a lot of violent men out there in the American heartland—and no doubt in big blue cities too—who are racist, like to kill, and possess the heavy weapons to do so on a large scale. Again, El Paso is just the beginning.

Kathleen Belew, who teaches history at the University of Chicago, has an op-ed in The New York Times (August 4th), “The right way to understand white nationalist terrorism.” The lede: “Attacks like that in El Paso are not an end in themselves. They are a call to arms, toward something much more frightening.”

One may also profitably read Slate political editor Thomas Scocca’s commentary (August 4th), “Where taking the concerns of racists seriously has gotten us.”

UPDATE: Brian Beutler, the smart editor-in-chief of Crooked, has a smart comment (August 6th), “Members of the press, WTF indeed!,” in which he takes off from Beto O’Rourke’s impromptu reaction to a clueless journalist’s question. This passage in the piece is particularly noteworthy:

One recent incident that attracted relatively scant attention connects [Trump’s] racist incitement with his other nefarious activities: his unlawful intrusion in the war-crimes case of Eddie Gallagher, the Navy SEAL who fatally stabbed a teenage ISIS fighter, posed with his corpse, then threatened to kill anyone who reported him. Trump helped secure Gallagher’s acquittal, then ordered the Navy to strip the prosecutors who tried him of the achievement medals they were awarded for doing their jobs well. The Gallagher case became a right wing cause célèbre, saturated with jingoism and Islamophobia, which is surely why Trump first took interest in it. But what purpose did he serve by punishing war-crimes prosecutors whose superiors determined they had acted appropriately? Why would the president want to communicate to certain favored, dangerous people that they have his permission to be violent, and that those who stand in their way will be scorned, abused, or purged? It is easier to look away than to connect the dots, because if the president has truly fascistic ambitions—if he has abused his power to recruit violent sympathizers in the military or civilian life with the lure of immunity—then conventional journalism lacks the language to say so.

Read the whole thing here.

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