Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

DeRay Mckesson and Black Lives Matter

October 20, 2019

DeRay Mckesson is a Baltimorean who got activist during the Ferguson protests and is prominent in the “Black Lives Matter” movement. He wrote a book, On the Other Side of Freedom: The Case for Hope. I wanted to like it.

The opening chapters reminded me of when an opposing lawyer called my first major brief a “Proustian stream of consciousness.” It wasn’t a compliment. (I was the sidekick on that brief; the next I wrote alone, more coherently.) Mckesson seems to string together a flood of thoughts as they occur to him, with no organization or clear line of argument.

The third chapter is much better, focusing on police vis-a-vis blacks. Mckesson’s basic point is that the police have little accountability. We hire them to uphold our laws but they become a law unto themselves. The book explains this in detail, examining local police contracts, negotiated by their unions, geared toward protecting cops against any misconduct charges, by creating roadblocks for complaints.

But a point strangely missing here is that while many cops are sincere public servants aiming to do good, too often police work attracts the wrong sort. Who see the badge as a license to assert their manhood by swaggering with weapons, to be a bully, to vent what are really antisocial proclivities. Or just plain racist ones. Whites may be oblivious to this police brutality because they don’t bear its brunt.

Which brings us to the chapter on white privilege. Here again, unfortunately, the author throws together a welter of ideas, many really rhetorical non-sequiturs, with no coherent line of argument. The “white privilege” trope is polemical jiu-jitsu. It’s not that whites enjoy some special status. What they get is what everyone should get — human privilege. The problem is blacks not receiving it. A simple concept unspoken in Mckesson’s treatment.

“Black Lives Matter” is not a negation of other lives mattering. It’s black lives mattering as much as others. Recognizing the reality that for most of our history, and even now in many places and many hearts, they matter less. Mckesson never says anything so straightforward. The point, like so much else, gets lost in all his verbal gymnastics.

Nearing the book’s middle, I realized that two words in particular were weirdly absent: slavery and lynching. They finally did get a passing mention. But Mckesson first unfolds a bizarre analogy to a stolen lottery ticket, enriching the thief and his descendants, while the victim’s remain poor. As if losing an unearned lottery windfall is remotely comparable to the suffering of slavery and lynching.

A Martian reading this book would not realize that enslavement was the foundational experience of African-Americans. And that during the Jim Crow century, thousands of blacks, often (or mostly?) innocent, were lynched, often with hideous barbarity, to “keep them in their place” through plain terror. In Georgia in 1918, Haynes Turner, an innocent man, was lynched. His wife protested to authorities. She was then arrested, and turned over to a mob, stripped, hung upside down, soaked with gasoline, and roasted to death, her belly slashed open to pull out her unborn child, who they stomped to death.

It’s as though Mckesson can’t bring himself to talk plainly about such things. Odd, considering all his assertions that America isn’t truly confronting its race situation, actually one of his key themes. He ends the chapter saying this: “Whiteness is an idea and a choice. We can choose differently. We can introduce new ideas to replace it.”

What?? Maybe I’m too dumb to grasp what he’s talking about there. Or maybe it’s just meaningless word spinning.

Mckesson too often gets tangled in such rhetorical knots and convoluted concepts. He says Charleston racist killer Dylann Roof didn’t get called a “terrorist” to somehow avoid holding him accountable and to “preserve this lie” that crimes by blacks reflect racial pathology whereas white people’s crimes are “just the errant actions of individual actors.” What??

The author’s indictment encompasses most whites, few (if any) meeting his stringent wokeness test, hence being part of the problem in his eyes. Too broad a brush, methinks. Meantime, notwithstanding his mention of Dylann Roof, he says little about burgeoning white nationalist ideology, egged on by Trump, which is coming to be recognized as the nation’s number one terrorist threat. Even absent continued shootings, this poison’s spread could tear the country apart. Mckesson has no answer.

The antepenultimate chapter is a breath of fresh air. Starting it, I sat up and realized this immediately. No more cutesie rhetorical pyrotechnics but clear eloquent honesty — about his growing up gay and how he’s come to terms with it.

But thinking about the book as a whole — this may seem strange for me to say now — what it really is is poetry. Poetry isn’t necessarily linear. It’s more about feeling than argument. I can see Mckesson performing a lot of what he wrote in a poetry slam. But as a book trying to actually elucidate a subject, it really didn’t work for me.

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Impeachment and the party of rule-breaking

October 17, 2019

Trump’s Northern Syria retreat is shredding U.S. national interests. Our longtime Kurdish allies, thrown to the wolves, are now aligning with the Syrian regime and its Russian backers, empowered together with Iran. Likewise ISIS, with thousands of its fighters, formerly imprisoned by Kurds, back in action. After first greenlighting Turkey’s attack, now Trump seeks to punish it; Europeans too denounce it. This endangers their deal for Turkey’s harboring millions of Syrian refugees. If they’re expelled into Europe, the political fallout there will be ugly. While the newly exploding Syrian humanitarian nightmare is making yet more refugees — 160,000 fleeing at last count. What a stupid unnecessary disaster.*

But Trump is being impeached for a different foreign policy travesty. Unjustifiably withholding vital military aid, voted by Congress, to extort Ukraine’s leader to help Trump’s re-election by concocting smears against an opponent. There’s no question of fact or even interpretation; Trump’s own account of the key phone call amounts to a confession. And that call, we now know, was part of a broader plot to suborn Ukraine. Giuliani played a key role; our Ukraine ambassador was fired for not playing ball.

Not only is seeking foreign help in a U.S. election flatly illegal, the Constitution furthermore specifies bribery as one impeachable offense. Trump clearly solicited a bribe — in the form of election help — in exchange for releasing the aid. Compounded by attempted cover-up, and defiance of Congressional authority. The House of Representatives has no choice about impeaching, it’s a duty. And it’s not a “coup” or attempt to undo the last election. The Constitution prescribes elections; it also prescribes impeachment for serious misconduct.

So will Republican senators vote to convict Trump? No. Over 80% of Republican voters still love him, despite everything. The Economist’s “Lexington” columnist, on U.S. politics, nods to the idea that Republican officeholders actually hate much of what Trump is about, but political cowardice keeps them in line. However, based on his conversations with these folks, it seems they actually don’t object to Trump’s behavior all that much.

Republican senators would actually be smart to unite and take the opportunity of impeachment to rid themselves of this Trump affliction. But they won’t because they’ve drunk his Kool-Aid. Lexington quotes social psychologist Jonathan Haidt that Republicans “have now dug themselves into a position that they can’t leave without admitting that they sold out morally.” A Devil’s bargain.

I used to blame our political divisiveness more on lefty Democrats demonizing Republicans. But now Republicans have proven them right after all, living up to their worst stereotypes, and repaying the demonization with a vengeance. It’s a relatively new and scary feature of America’s political landscape. The idea of politics as blood sport, and anything — anything — is justified for your side to win. Rules shmules. Laws shmaws. Truth shmooth.

This goes with the idea that the other side does the same — no, worse. An idea now implacably embedded in, particularly, Republican heads. Thus every objection to Trump administration misconduct is met with “what about Hillary? What about Bill?” or the like. There’s even a name for this: whataboutism. This kind of thinking defines today’s Republicanism.

Were the Clintons angels? Certainly not; as a Republican myself I criticized them plenty. And one might point out that two wrongs don’t make a right. Yet only a mind pathologically blinded by partisanship could equate Clinton transgressions with Trump’s monstrously greater ones. (Let alone deny the latter altogether.) The Clintons skirted rules — Trump drives a Mack Truck through them.

He’s found he can flout not only our unwritten societal norms of civic conduct, but even actual laws, with impunity. He’s done it throughout his life, and contempt for rules and standards is an organizing principle of his presidency. This does not make him some sort of admirable free spirit like a ’60s counterculture character. It’s deeply corrosive of the glue that holds society together and keeps us from barbarism. No democracy can endure this way.

It’s true that while Republicans imagine Democrats are worse, Democrats see Republicans as worse. Yet in fact there’s no symmetry between the parties here. Because Democrats do not, in their minds, justify any rule-breaking on the basis that Republicans are worse. They don’t justify it at all. But Republicans do justify it, based on that deranged notion of equivalence. They actually do believe two wrongs somehow make a right.

Lexington also cites a poll, shortly after the 2016 vote, wherein two out of three Republicans agreed that America needed a leader “willing to break some rules if that’s what it takes.” An even greater percentage today, he thinks, would say that, based on their total support for the rule breaker in chief.

Lexington furthermore suggests that Republicans, deep down, realize that with their shrinking base of older, whiter, less urban and more religious voters, they cannot maintain power through playing fair. Thus their despicable voter suppression tactics. While Democrats, in contrast, believe that in fair elections with broad voter participation, they’ll prevail.

The column concludes that how Republican senators vote on impeachment “will decide more than the president’s fate. It will decide whether theirs is now the party of rule-breaking.”

* Erdogan would not have invaded without Trump’s assent. As usual with foreign dictators, the Great Dealmaker got nothing in exchange.

 

 

Strangers in Their Own Land: Understanding America’s right

October 14, 2019

Since 2016 I’ve striven especially hard to understand what’s happening in America. Arlie Russell Hochschild is a Berkeley professor who, in the same quest, immersed herself with “Tea Partiers,” as told in her 2016 book, Strangers in Their Own Land. Every Democrat should read it.

In the Tea Party’s heyday, I was still a Republican and could understand, even sympathize with it. But how did it transmogrify into blind support for a lying con man with ruinous divisive policies? Including a trillion dollar annual federal deficit — blowing off the Tea Party’s ostensible signature issue?

Our most basic ideological divide has long been that Democrats look to government to address societal problems, while Republicans don’t want government meddling in our lives. The Tea Party — a driving force among Republicans — demonized government as an outright enemy. This was a backlash against Obama’s presidency. Yet his administration was hardly radical. His real offense seemed to be governing while black. More broadly, Tea Partiers saw government as working more for non-whites, outsiders, and moochers than for good ole true-blue hard-working Americans.

 

Hochschild went to Louisiana, to dive into the culture she sought to understand. And this is really a matter of culture. Most people tend to situate themselves psychologically within a culture and shape their personal identity from it. Politics is part of this. In fact, as told in Bill Bishop’s book The Great Sort, many Americans gravitate into communities of like-minded people, accentuating the red/blue divide.

Hochschild sought to unravel what she deemed a “Great Paradox.” That people most hostile to government are often the ones most apt to need it. She focused particularly on the environment, especially pollution, Louisiana being one of the worst affected states, with widespread human harm. Yet Louisiana Tea Partiers opposed EPA pollution regulation. Louisiana also ranks at the bottom on measures like poverty, health, education, etc. Federal money helps. This too they oppose.

But this doesn’t seem so paradoxical to me. Hochschild discusses Thomas Frank’s 2004 book, What’s the Matter With Kansas (which I’ve unfavorably reviewed). Frank was exasperated at people voting against their economic interests (as he saw them). But how often are we told (by lefties) that homo economicus is a mythical creature? While people do sometimes pursue perceived self interest, life is more complicated. Voters are often expressing values rather than interests.

So you can oppose big government despite suffering from pollution. Yet Republicans actually favor bossy government when it suits them, like prohibiting abortion. Indeed, Hochschild notes that they’re fine with thusly regulating women’s lives, but not man stuff like motorcycle helmets, liquor, and of course guns. And also keen for regulation when aimed at blacks. A local Louisiana law regulates how they wear their pants. Talk about intrusive government. Louisiana has the nation’s highest percentage of people incarcerated, and those are disproportionately black.

What right-wing Louisianans mainly dislike is the government in Washington. Not only physically distant but, more importantly, culturally distant. There’s a fundamental sense that the elites calling the shots in America lately have not been their kind of people.

Hochschild discusses one big Louisiana environmental disaster, the 2012 Bayou Corne Sinkhole. Locals felt state officials were asleep at the switch and did nothing for them. Feeding their general cynicism about government. But Hochschild sees that attitude itself as the cause of state government being weak in the first place.* They want minimalist government, yet want it doing the job. That may again seem contradictory, but only partly. There’s a sense that government can’t be trusted to do what’s right. Maximalist government that gets the job done is something of a fantasy too. Hochschild herself lists some big ways government has betrayed her liberal values, while saying her “criticisms were based on a faith in the idea of good government.” Talk about paradoxes.

Underlying everything is what Hochschild calls “the deep story” — the “feels as if” story — embodying these Louisianans’ “hopes, fears, pride, shame, resentment, and anxiety.” Valorizing work as a source of personal honor. The grit of enduring — including enduring the pollution harms discussed. Religion is a big factor, their endurance strengthened by believing God has their backs. This is part of the cultural divide too, vis-a-vis secular coastal liberals.

And key to the “deep story” is the idea of “line cutting.” People see themselves lined up for the American dream by working hard and playing by the rules. It’s very tough and many feel stuck; maybe even slipping back in the line. And then others are allowed to cut ahead of them. Often by government, taking from good hardworking people and giving it to less worthy ones. Especially ones “not like us.” Blacks especially, but also immigrants, and women, even animals (endangered species). Obama was seen, and the Democratic party in general is seen, as on the side of those line cutters.

While the left resents the rich, the right resents government beneficiaries. And rubbing salt in the wound is disrespect, offending their sense of honor, cultural marginalization, being called backward, racist, etc. They don’t consider themselves racist; don’t use the N-word or hate blacks. Hochschild says it’s more like belief in a natural hierarchy, with blacks at the bottom, and whites’ self-worth based on distance from that bottom.

She notes half of all government benefits actually go to the richest 20%. And blacks have not in fact jumped the queue — in recent decades, statistics show, if anything they’ve fallen further behind whites economically. Women have moved up but still lag behind males. So who are the real line cutters? Robots. (Automation and technological change, that is.)

Democrats need to make clear they’re for fairness for everyone. Not just ethnic minorities, women, LGBTs. But especially hard working Americans. Should explicitly disavow condoning “line cutting.”

Having written in 2016, Hochschild tacks on a section about Trump — who exploited the “deep story.” With Trump, they no longer feel like strangers in their own land. This is not about issues or policies so much as feelings. (Thus the deficit is forgotten.) It’s the music, not the lyrics. Trump does seem to speak their language, yet it’s less about Trump himself than the solidarity they feel with fellow Trumpers. He is a totem, a symbol. It’s really a battle of their culture against the other one they consider degenerate. “Send her back!” served as a battle cry, intensifying their sense of unity in moral superiority.

All this Hochschild likens to an anti-depressant drug, even a drug giving them a high. Which they don’t want to lose.

They’re (mostly) not bad people. Reading this book made me feel a lot of empathy for them. I can understand why they feel the way they do about Trump, and refuse to let go. Yet it’s a national tragedy that they’ve so blinded themselves to fall for so wicked a man, so bad for the country they so love. Who’s in many ways the biggest line-cutter of them all.

*She cites data showing red states generally, due to weaker regulation, tend to have worse pollution problems than blue states.

Defining deviancy down and Trump’s reality inversion storm

October 5, 2019

“Defining deviancy down” was a Daniel Patrick Moynihan trope. When something once deemed intolerable becomes tolerable. Like births outside marriage. And anything Trump.

His presidency has been a national blow-out of defining deviancy down, shredding previous standards of civic propriety and decency. It’s been sent into overdrive as Trump lashes out against impeachment.

He was always the biggest liar ever. Now he’s unleashing a reality inversion storm. To give his backers something — anything — to say. Irrespective of reality. (While some Trump-loving fools regurgitate his garbage, few Republican officials do. Most are hunkered down cringing in silence.)

Trump’s crime is unarguable: subverting U.S. foreign policy for illegitimate personal aims: unjustifiably holding up Congressionally-mandated military aid to Ukraine to extort help in smearing a political adversary. Seeking such foreign involvement in a political campaign was illegal even without the added element of screwing with our foreign policy to get it. (It’s also emerged that Trump demanded a Ukrainian promise to “investigate” Biden in exchange for his meeting President Zelenskiy.)

But Trump’s war cry is that the real criminal is: Biden! (With his typical penchant for extremist rhetoric, he’s even said Biden deserves the electric chair.) He’s got his claque of defenders braying Biden! Biden! Biden! Never mind no shred of evidence of any Biden misfeasance. It’s simply yet another Trump fraud: reality inversion.*

Russia was proven to have unlawfully subverted our 2016 election. Trump had just finally wriggled out of culpability (thanks to Mueller being an ass before Congress). You might think he’d take care to avoid repeating the ordeal. Yet the day after Mueller’s testimony, Trump’s on the phone to Ukraine, unabashedly soliciting more foreign election interference.

And when that blows up, bigly, what does he do? Publicly asks yet another country, China, to interfere in our election by “investigating” Biden. That too is part of his reality inversion storm: doing this rotten thing so openly makes it seem not criminal but mere business as usual. Defining deviancy down.

By the way, if Biden really were guilty of anything, is it Ukraine or China we should trust to investigate? Rather than American law enforcement — which Trump has conspicuously not mobilized? More upside-downness.

Let’s look at the rest of Trump’s reality inversion regarding impeachment:

1. The whistleblower’s report was hearsay, second-hand, he didn’t personally hear the Ukraine call. But the White House’s own memorandum of the call’s content confirms exactly what the whistleblower reported. It’s the smoking gun.

2. The whistleblower is partisan, a hack, a spy, a traitor. The person is a CIA professional, whose sober detailed report bespeaks that professionalism and civic responsibility. Trump’s own national intelligence chief vouched for its propriety and the urgency of the concerns it expressed. And anyhow, see #1 above. (Also note that Trump’s threats against the person probably violate the federal whistleblower protection law.)

3. The whistleblower’s report incorrectly characterized the phone call. See again #1 above. Trump and his creep squad have actually never identified one thing incorrect in the report.

4. There was nothing improper in the call anyway. So why did White House officials immediately scramble to cover it up by moving the records from their normal repository to a highly restricted server? Which Trump and company have neither denied nor explained.

5. There was no quid pro quo. If Trump didn’t explicitly mention the hundreds of millions of dollars in aid that he’d just suspended, this might seem bizarre given its critical importance to Ukraine. But he did stress America does a lot for Ukraine before saying, “Do us a favor though.” President Zelenskiy surely got the message.

6. Adam Schiff lied about what Trump said in the call. Schiff was clearly not purporting to give a verbatim recap, but an interpretation of what was really going on: extortion. Which was accurate. (See #5 above.)

7. Schiff knew about the whistleblower before it became public. If so — so what? How does that exculpate Trump? In fact, the complaint’s public revelation was delayed because the administration tried to bury it — another violation of law.

8. Democrats seek to undo the 2016 election. This has been a constant whine against every criticism of Trump. (And a ridiculous one — as if Hillary could somehow be installed as president.) Meantime, the Constitution prescribes impeachment for presidential high crimes and misdemeanors. That has nothing to do with the prior election. Or do Republicans believe that, once elected, a president is unaccountable for anything he does? Trump’s denouncing a constitutional procedure as “a coup” is a direct assault upon our democratic institutions.

Moynihan also famously said everyone is entitled to their own opinion but not their own facts. If we cannot cut out this cancer from our body politic, we’re dead.

* Trump also seems to believe a wacky conspiracy theory that Ukraine had some convoluted role in “fake news” about 2016 election hacking, mentioned in his Zelenskiy call. His own reality is inverted.

 

No more presidential primary “debates”

October 3, 2019

These are not debates. A debate entails a question argued by two opposing sides. These presidential primary “debates” are joint interviews, yet with candidates given too little time to seriously answer. More like mud wrestling.

In theory, democracy is served when voters get an opportunity to assess candidates. However, these sorts of “debates” incentivize candidates to showcase their differences in all the worst ways, that don’t actually help us select a leader. The leadership qualities we should seek, and those that shine on the debate stage, are very different. In some ways even antithetical.

Perhaps this is what we should expect in this infotainment age; in 2016 it seemed voters were actually picking a celebrity reality performer. Not a joke — it’s really the only way to make sense of Trump’s election in light of the two main candidates’ respective debate performances.

The same dynamic has operated in the Democratic debates thus far. They are structured to reward “gotcha” bullying tactics. Exemplified by Julian Castro’s hit on Biden. Castro was gotchaed on his own petard when the facts vindicated Biden.

(Reminds me of Messala in the chariot race with Ben Hur.) Good for that, but it doesn’t negate what pushed Castro into it.

If the aim were really to inform voters about candidates, we should ditch this debate stage thing in favor of a series of in-depth one-on-one conversations with well-versed journalists. Of course that would be boring TV. The true aim is not to inform viewers but titillate them into staying tuned through the commercials. With the equivalent of chariot races.

I’m talking here about a multi-candidate field. Debates between two finalists for the November elections stand differently, and it does make some sense to size them up side-by-side. I would not want to lose that. But that assumes voters are capable of properly evaluating what they see, with a sense of civic responsibility. Again, 2016 makes that doubtful.

One focus for Democrats has been assessing which candidate(s) could go toe-to-toe with Trump in debates. As though Trump won in 2016 thanks to formidable debating skill. And why assume such debates will occur in 2020? No law requires them. They used to be customary, but so were candidates releasing tax returns. Trump would actually have far more to lose than to gain from debates, not needing them to convey his message. He will come up with some bullshit pretext to avoid debating.

On the other hand, his narcissistic delusionality may extend to imagining himself handily crushing any debate opponent. Maybe he even believes he did win the 2016 debates. But on the third hand, that 2016 history may show debates don’t matter after all.

Impeachment and its aftermath

September 28, 2019

The whistleblower’s complaint is devastating. Read it. A thoroughly researched, detailed report,* showing Trump abused his office, broke the law, and harmed national security by extorting a foreign leader to get dirt on a political opponent. The White House immediately realized the problem, with a cover-up to “lock down” normal records pertaining to the Zelenskiy phone call (not the only call covered up). Only the whistleblower report forced disclosure.

The phone call was preceded by Trump’s order to suspend hundreds of millions in aid to Ukraine. For that, he has since given two successive and inconsistent explanations. Both shown to be lies. The State Department judges that interfering with this vital aid harmed national security, by impairing Ukraine’s defense against Russia, and compromising our relationship with an ally.

The aid suspension was not explicitly mentioned in the phone call. But surely such a consequential matter loomed over it when Trump told Zelenskiy “do us a favor.” This was clearly extortion. When Zelenskiy denied he’d been pressured, he was sitting beside Trump in a hostage video, visibly still under pressure.

It was more than just the one phone call. The story also includes, for example, the firing of America’s ambassador to Ukraine, a professional foreign service officer, for phony reasons, when the real aim was to advance Trump’s effort at enlisting Ukraine in smearing a political opponent. Trump, in the call, continued to trash, and even threaten consequences for, our own ambassador.

His calling the whistleblower a biased political hack, “almost a spy,” and traitor, is also ridiculous and disgraceful. He actually even openly threatened the person, implying a death penalty. This apparently violates the federal law protecting whistleblowers. The report makes clear this is a conscientious public servant deeply disturbed by what was happening. That it was a CIA officer detailed to the White House adds credibility. Trump’s own (acting) Intelligence Director, in his Congressional testimony, vouched for the complaint’s propriety. Considering the risks he/she faced, the whistleblower is a courageous hero.

The phone call also shows Trump still continues his deranged obsession with Hillary’s e-mails, which he brought up.

By the way, that Ukrainian prosecutor, whose firing Biden (among many others) urged, was himself part of the problem, actually obstructing Ukraine’s anti-corruption efforts. The whistleblower report details this too. It’s now confirmed by Ukraine’s former foreign minister, directly contradicting Trump’s false statements. (There’s still not a shred of evidence of Biden wrongdoing.)

Trump’s lashing out, calling the entire news media liars, saying Representative Adam Schiff “lies, lies, lies,” and on and on, is disgusting. He will say anything — absolutely anything. His own credibility is below zero.

Notice that for all the Republicans crying “witch hunt!” — none actually defends what Trump did.

The House will impeach him. Will it just be Ukraine, or the entire vast rap sheet? The latter is tempting, but it’s probably best to focus on the one crime that’s so clear and horrible, giving Republicans less space to muddy the issue.

What generally constrained politicians’ conduct in the past was not so much the law per se as a basic cultural standard. Trump either never got the memo, or else saw it as no barrier, and drove a truck through it. The lesson this teaches is dire for our society’s future. Impeachment at least tries to send a corrective message.

McConnell now says (there was doubt) the Senate would in fact hold a trial. Why not, when he’s got the votes for acquittal? While Republicans have only a slim Senate majority, it takes two-thirds to remove a president. They won’t deny Trump the chance to crow “exoneration.”

A rational McConnell might tell his caucus: “Rather than go down with a sinking ship, let’s all be together in voting the fucker out. Our own damning verdict should break the spell he has over our voters. We can take our chances with Pence. At least we’ll be able to look our grandkids in the eye.”

But Republicans are too far gone for such sanity.

So impeachment will fail, making the move politically hazardous for Democrats. But political calculation isn’t everything — there’s such a thing as civic duty. Faced with presidential crimes of this magnitude, House Democrats will be doing the right thing.** If Republicans refuse to do likewise, refusing to put the country above loyalty to (or fear of) a very bad man, it’s on them. But it will disgrace America.

And if you think we’ve had vicious political polarization, just wait. The coming year was already going to be a Big Ugly, with Trump devoid of scruples doing and saying anything to win (assisted by Russian disinformation). Of course an impeachment drama will escalate the partisan frenzy.

I have supported Biden, believing him the best positioned to defeat Trump, but also because his moderate, sensible viewpoint would make him a good president. The latter remains true even if the former is impaired; the Ukraine smoke probably hurts Biden even with no fire. (Republicans are already running anti-Biden ads with this smear.) This boosts Warren’s chances, which were already rising.

Misogyny will work against Warren in the general election, of course, as will her left-wing positioning. Her plan to abolish the private health insurance of 160 million Americans may thrill lefties but scare most Americans. Republicans will scream themselves hoarse crying “socialist!” But with doubtful effect, as the real issue is Trump; the naive may buy the notion of a good president hampered by evil enemies conspiring against him, but far more will just be fed up with the ugliness Trump himself so clearly incites. A solid majority of Americans now judges him intolerable. Biden, or even Warren, will be seen as far more palatable, and will win by a comfortable margin.

Large enough, hopefully, to overcome Russian hacking, inevitable Republican cries of foul (when almost all the chicanery will again have been their own), and even Trump’s efforts to defy the result and somehow cling to office.

But Trump and Republicans will not slink away. One reason I prefer Biden over Warren is that he’d be more emollient vis-a-vis Republicans, giving them less cause for ugliness. Though Heaven knows they’ll need little cause. The vicious partisan guerrilla war that’s deepened over the past quarter century will continue.

You might think Republicans would be chastened by defeat and introspective about how they went off the rails with Trump. But by now their psychological pathology is too deeply embedded to change. If anything, defeat will only embitter them more. A Warren presidency in particular will further nutsify them.

I would like to think the Trump stench will ruin the Republican brand and condemn the party to permanent minority status, especially as its base of older, whiter, less educated, xenophobic, rural and hypocritical bible-thumping voters inexorably dies off. However, voters tend to have short memories, and don’t generally vote with eyes fixed on the past. But Republicans may actually remind them of it with their 2024 candidate — Donald Trump — Senior or Junior. Who or what will stop either from getting the nomination? That should destroy the Republican party once and for all.

Good riddance, says this former 53 year Republican.

* Its clarity everything Mueller’s report should have been.

** They should move it along as swiftly as possible, to close the book on it before the election season gets fully underway.

Cuomo and “Fusion Voting” in the Democratic People’s Republic of New York

September 26, 2019

“Fusion voting” refers to candidates running on multiple ballot lines. For example, Republican and Conservative (a frequent combo). It’s obvious the Conservative Party is free to nominate a candidate also running as a Republican. And obvious that votes on both lines should count together in that candidate’s total.

Obvious? Not so fast. This is Andrew Cuomo’s Democratic People’s Republic of New York.

New York’s governorship is probably America’s most powerful, because our Court of Appeals has ruled that the governor may put any policy whatsoever in the state’s annual budget proposal, and the legislature has only an up-or-down vote on the whole package. This virtually neuters the concept of division of power, and checks and balances. Especially when the legislature is controlled (as now, and likely forever) by the Governor’s party. This is an imperial governorship.

Maybe OK if the governor happens to be an angel of virtue. But we have Andrew Cuomo.

Now he’s bypassed the legislature entirely by setting up a commission to institute public campaign financing. The commission’s plan won’t be tweakable by the legislature. They can only throw it out entirely. Fat chance.

Needless to say, the majority of the commission was handpicked by guess-who. Its chair is Jay Jacobs, who also happens to chair the State Democratic party. Handpicked by guess-who.

And guess what else the commission has under consideration? Outlawing fusion voting. As if that has anything to do with campaign finance.

Cuomo publicly insists he has no dog in the fusion voting fight. Dishonesty incredibly approaching Trumpian heights.*

Cuomo is royally pissed at, in particular, the Working Families Party. This is a left-wing outfit (credit them for clever branding on the name) that backed his primary challenger Cynthia Nixon in the last election. Cuomo wants all these third parties gone.

Now, he can’t just outlaw them. That at least is obvious, even in the DPRNY. (At least I think it is.) But he can eviscerate their clout by outlawing fusion. If the WFP cannot endorse a Democratic candidate and add its votes to that candidate’s total, its leverage with the Democratic party disappears. Its political mojo collapses.

Cuomo plans to run for a fourth term. Killing the WFP will greatly boost his chances. No dog in the fusion voting fight?

I believe in democracy. I believe a political party should be able to nominate whoever it wants, and have those votes count. And I believe a major change to our election system — especially one that so undemocratically restricts political parties — should not be rammed through by a handpicked body with virtually no accountability to legislators or voters.

*Also lately, regarding his planned $25 fee to replace all license plates over ten years old, Cuomo relentlessly insisted the $25 had been set by the legislature, and it was up to them to change it. In fact, the legislature had stipulated a fee UP TO $25, and it was entirely Cuomo’s decision to charge the maximum. Public outrage forced him to back down.

Trump, Biden, and Ukraine

September 24, 2019

We always knew he’d do this — concoct some phony lie to smear Biden. Reprising his “crooked Hillary” shtick, while Trump himself was the crookedest ever.

Worse yet, his Biden smear is actually of a piece with his own abuse of power. Trying to get a foreign leader to help mess up his political opponent. While $250 million in aid was under suspension — on Trump’s own order, right before his phone call with Ukraine’s president. Even if the aid wasn’t explicitly a quid pro quo for smearing Biden, bringing up the latter (reportedly eight times) in that phone call was still totally improper. Abusing foreign policy like this is arguably treasonous. Compounded by refusing to give Congress the whistleblower’s complaint about it, as the law expressly requires. And of course, while insisting the phone conversation was perfectly fine, Trump refuses to release a transcript.

For the record, there’s not a shred of evidence suggesting Biden or his son did anything corrupt with respect to Ukraine. And notice Trump never actually specifies the supposed misdeed. But that doesn’t stop the Great Liar from spewing out against Biden his usual hyperbolic imprecations — “disgusting,” “disgraceful,” and so forth. While accusing the whistleblower of political bias, and of course the press too, when it won’t swallow his bilge, instead starting another “witch hunt” against him. Trump even said that in a fair system, Biden would get the electric chair. He actually said this.

Enough. I have opposed impeachment because it would politically backfire, allowing Trump to crow vindication when the craven Republican Senate refuses to convict him. But if Trump’s manifest malfeasances don’t incur the Constitution’s impeachment remedy, then that’s a dead letter; our democratic system wrecked by extreme partisanship. Let it be on Republicans’ heads.

Is it possible there are still Americans so blinded by partisan tribalism they cannot distinguish between a thoroughly decent, honest, public-spirited human being like Biden, and the scum of the earth that is Trump?

Dan Rather on “What Unites Us”

September 15, 2019

Dan Rather, at 87, is still actively in the news game, running an outfit called “News and Guts.” He appeared recently in Albany, discussing his 2017 book, What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism, with the NY Writers Institute’s Paul Grondahl. The book doesn’t mention Trump.

Rather said he’s an optimist by nature and experience. This, he averred, is not “fuzzy brained” but rooted in a confidence in the American people doing the right thing (after exhausting all the alternatives, Churchill said). But Rather believes it’s something we must do day in and day out. And we are in very perilous times. With certain persons — for ideology or power — seeking to exploit our divisions. We’ve gone far down the road of enabling them.

Rather was asked about parallels to 1960s societal divisions, and Watergate. I remember them well. This is different. Rather noted that the Watergate crimes involved no foreign enemies. Nixon went down because Republicans then still had the integrity and true patriotism to put country above party. And through all the ’60s social turmoil, I never saw so many Americans so impervious as now to facts and reason. Never so many moved by hate.

Rather’s aim is to give us the strength to overcome our divisions by reminding us of certain core values most Americans share:

Rule of law (applied equally to all); one person one vote; leadership in science and discovery; and empathy and compassion.

But this high-minded litany made me queasy because here in fact is the heart of what ails us.

Rule of law? We’ve seen a direct assault upon our key rule-of-law institutions like the FBI, Justice Department, and Judiciary. Crimes dismissed as “hoaxes;” even unambiguous crimes shrugged off; laws twisted to favor the powerful.

One person one vote? Preventing opponents from voting, and gerrymandering to dilute their votes, are integral to the cynical Republican playbook.

Science and discovery? Trump and Republicans are actively anti-science, not just on climate and environmental matters, but a whole range of others. Now even weather forecasting.

Empathy and compassion? Seriously? Treating suffering refugees, especially innocent children (and indeed other disadvantaged people) with a vicious calculated cruelty. Rather spoke of skeptics doubting a nation with our ethnic and cultural diversity could work. For a while it did. But history shows playing on such divisions is playing with fire.

Rather also talked about a free press, crucial to a democratic society; something every tinpot dictator tries to undermine. They kill many courageous journalists. You might think a free press too would be a shared American value. Today, not so much — “the enemy of the people.”

And how about opposing Russian aggression? Not so much either. Not even Russia’s attack on our own society.

Upholding human rights globally? No again. Instead, standing with murderous tyrants.

Just plain truth as a shared value? Twelve thousand documented lies by Trump and counting. A war on the very concept of truth.

Or how about just plain civility and decency? Nope. “Grab them by the pussy.” Here too the standards and norms that used to prevail in American civic life have been shredded.

Far from uniting us, each and every one of the mentioned values are tossed aside by a sizable part of today’s American population. For what? For the sake of some other enduring values? No, instead it’s just for the sake of their tribe winning. And indeed it’s the trashing of those fundamental values that defines their tribe. Blinded by their partisan tribalism.

What’s happening here is mirrored in Britain, whose society and institutions are being torn apart by partisan antagonisms over Brexit.

Rather seems to believe America will somehow right itself. But both here and in Britain, I think the poison will persist for decades.

Religion and voting

September 9, 2019

Trump was elected by a minority, with three million fewer votes than Clinton. But hardly over half of those eligible voted; so Trump was elected by only about a quarter. And those who did vote were not even a representative sample of the electorate.

They were older than average (younger people are far less likely to vote). And they were more religious.

America is actually growing less religious, though you wouldn’t know it from politics — because of religious voters’ inflated electoral clout. Those answering “none” when asked their religion now actually outnumber evangelical Christians. The latter have shriveled to just 15% of America’s population. But because they almost all vote, they were 26% of the 2018 electorate. Whereas the nonreligious are now a quarter of the population, but were only 17% of 2018 voters.

And while evangelicals are only 26% of the electorate, they overwhelmingly back Republicans, thus constituting half the Republican vote. So Republicans kowtow to evangelicals.

It’s younger people in particular who are losing religion. Back when practically everybody was a believer, nonconformism didn’t even seem like an option. But once nonbelief reached a certain threshold, then it did begin to look like a real alternative. And a very attractive one given all the ways religious belief defies rationality. Humans aren’t perfectly rational, but nor are they impervious to rationality.

This has played out much more fully in most modern European nations. Once the mystique of religion was pierced, with emergence of a critical mass of nonbelief, the bottom fell out. In America, however, the First Amendment and separation of church and state created a more vibrant religious landscape, attracting congregants in ways that stodgy old European churches failed to do.

But meantime, American religion has actually grown more extreme, with higher proportions of Christians being evangelicals and biblical literalists, thus less credible to thoughtful people. Furthermore, Christianity’s blatant politicization soils its image — especially when mobilized on behalf of policies that make a mockery of Christ’s teachings, and a leader who is a vile creep. Rendering evangelicals’ moralistic posturing a ludicrous travesty.*

For older people, extricating themselves from religion can be a wrenching struggle, shaping their personal identity. Younger people often don’t experience that, because religion never resonated with them to begin with. And just as they increasingly disengage from the whole religion thing, they also often disengage from politics and the public square. It just doesn’t interest them. The disappearance of civics education is likely a factor, but it seems a broader cultural phenomenon. Voting is not something their peer groups do; no cachet of coolness. It’s a form of communal participation that lacks meaning for them. There’s also the nastiness and conflict of today’s politics, which is a turn-off. And nonvoting is easy to rationalize — balancing the time and hassle of voting against the virtual certainty that a single vote won’t change anything.

I vote not because I imagine it will change the outcome, but rather precisely because it does represent civic engagement. It’s the one sacrament I perform.

Not long ago I’d have said the disengagement by others actually reflects something positive — politics seen as not mattering much to people’s lives. A welcome development after centuries in which it mattered too much, with much at stake. Our society having settled down into an equilibrium where political differences fell into what was really, in the big picture, a narrow range, and it didn’t matter that much which party won. “Politicians are all alike” did have a kernel of truth.

Hence many were lulled into a mindset of being freed to ignore politics. Unfortunately that has changed, but many younger people haven’t gotten the memo. Many don’t seem to grasp how profoundly Trump is transforming America, altering the core of what this nation is all about. Then again, too few Americans still understand that story itself any more.

Russia’s factually proven 2016 election subversion included pushing the meme — especially to blacks and younger people — that voting is a sham, a waste of time, meaningless, all politicians are bad, and even that non-voting is somehow the right thing to do, to “protest” a corrupt system. Yet another effort to suppress the Democratic vote.** Russians, and other pro-Trump forces, will surely try this again in 2020, if anything more aggressively. We must not let this insidious ploy succeed.

* Trump wants to end restrictions on tax-exempt churches endorsing candidates. I say let them shackle themselves to Republican corruption and sink together.

** Blacks were targeted with messages falsely guiding them to vote online — or even the day after the election.