Add the Evil to the Rank Stupidity and It’s Even Worse

Where to begin?

From NPR: In a significant shift, the Trump administration says the entirety of the Affordable Care Act should be struck down in the courts. Previously, the administration had pushed to remove the law’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions but had not argued in court that the whole law should be struck down.

The change was announced in a two-sentence letter from the Department of Justice to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which said that the ruling made in December by a district court judge in Texas “should be affirmed.” In that case, District Judge Reed O’Connor declared the ACA unconstitutional. He ruled that a 2017 change in federal tax law eliminating the penalty on uninsured people invalidated the entire health care law.

From The Washington Post: At the Casa Ismael clinic for HIV-positive men with severe health complications, the staff used to immediately change patients’ diapers after they were soiled. But last week, [the] clinic administrator … told the nurses that had to stop. To save money, the nonprofit clinic, which relies on its patients’ food-stamp money for funding, will ask patients to sit in diapers in which they have repeatedly urinated, sometimes for hours.

The Casa Ismael clinic is short on funds in part because of cuts in food stamps that hit about 1.3 million residents of Puerto Rico this month — a new crisis for an island still struggling from the effects of Hurricane Maria in September 2017….

A senior administration official with direct knowledge … described Trump’s stance: “He doesn’t want another single dollar going to the island.”

Meanwhile, the nonsense continues:

From columnist Greg Sargent: Have we really learned nothing from the first two years of the Trump presidency?

Welcome to the new narrative: President Trump and Republicans are “turning the tables” and going “on offense” against Democrats and the media, who, we are told, should be groveling for forgiveness in the wake of Attorney General William P. Barr’s brief summary of the special counsel’s Russiagate conclusions.

Unfortunately, there are scattered signs that some in those quarters are taking this far too seriously. We’re seeing news accounts suggesting media coverage of the Russia scandal may have overreached; columnists demanding introspection from journalistic colleagues; and analyses that overestimate the degree to which Trump can now claim victory over Democrats. Some accounts hintat angst among Democrats about how aggressive an investigative posture to strike going forward.

It’s amazing this needs to be stated, but here goes. This “new offensive” from Trump and Republicans is saturated with nonsense from top to bottom, and it is designed to get the media to back off of its entirely legitimate scrutiny of Trump, and to get Democrats to retreat from their entirely legitimate efforts to impose oversight and accountability.

Trump has spent the past two years screaming “WITCH HUNT!” and “FAKE NEWS!,” even as he and his congressional allies have absurdly cast the investigations as corrupt based on one fake “scandal” after another. Throughout all this, what’s actually happened is that one revelation after another has emerged detailing startling criminality among those in Trump’s inner circle and extraordinary corruption and abuses of power by Trump himself.

Much of the current discussion and journalistic handwringing has the effect of badly downplaying the significance of what has emerged in the past two years, and the potential for more damaging information to emerge. And it doesn’t adequately reckon with the rot of bad faith at the core of what’s driving this new “turn the tables” offensive — an effort to chill continued efforts to unearth that information, through legitimate scrutiny and oversight. We know this, because we’ve seen it for two years.

Remember: All we know about the Special Counsel’s report is what the president’s hand-picked Attorney General has said about it. Presumably, it’s true that the Special Counsel didn’t exonerate the president regarding obstruction of justice. Otherwise, the Attorney General’s letter would have said it did. Presumably, it’s true that the Special Counsel didn’t find enough evidence to say the president was part of a criminal conspiracy with the Russian government. We need to see the Mueller report now.

But we already know there was collusion between the campaign, various Russians and Wikileaks. That’s because, despite what the president and his defenders would like us to believe, “collusion” means “secret agreement or cooperation, especially for a DECEITFUL OR ILLEGAL purpose”. As the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee says, the evidence for collusion (and obstruction of justice) is “in plain sight”:

“There [is] a big difference between whether there was evidence of collusion — and I think that evidence is in plain sight — and whether you can establish proof beyond a reasonable doubt of a criminal conspiracy,” he told CNN.

Schiff also questioned whether Attorney General William Barr would be able to come to an unbiased conclusion about special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings.

“You have [an] attorney general who applied for the job by talking down any potential obstruction conviction or indictment who then went to a Senate confirmation and refused to recuse himself,” Schiff said. “He has now done the job he applied for, which is attempt to exonerate Mr. Trump. That ought to deeply concern people.”

Asked Schiff tonight if he would drop his probe after Mueller didn’t find a Trump-Russia conspiracy, and he said: “Our investigation has always focused on counterintelligence issues, that is, is the president or anyone around him compromised in some way. That work has to go on.”

Of course it does, and it will, despite the president’s absurd claim that he’s won a race that isn’t over.

Sometimes the Rank Stupidity Gets You Down

This is one of those times. Special Counsel Robert Mueller gives the results of his two-year investigation to the new Attorney General William Barr. Two days later, Barr issues a four-page letter that is supposed to summarize Mueller’s findings.

The letter mentions that Mueller found a significant amount of criminal activity and referred several items to other officials for further investigation, but gives the impression that the president himself didn’t do anything wrong. The president and his supporters declare total victory. No collusion after all! Millions absorb the headlines. Media figures blame their colleagues for giving Mueller’s investigation too much attention, for misleading the public, for being too tough on the president.

But it’s bullshit.

First, consider who wrote the letter and who concluded that Mueller didn’t find enough evidence of obstruction of justice. William Barr is a Republican lawyer who delivered an unsolicited 19-page memo to the Justice Department and the president’s lawyers in June, in which he argued that Mueller’s inquiry into obstruction of justice was “fatally misconceived”. Barr claimed that, given the nature of their authority, it’s extremely difficult for presidents to obstruct justice. He saw no reason to conclude that our current president committed a crime, even though the president tried in various ways to limit investigations into his own activities by, for example, firing the head of the F.B.I. Lo and behold, six months after Barr issues his memo, the president selects Barr to be his new Attorney General (after firing the previous Attorney General because he wasn’t sufficiently loyal).

Barr’s letter says another Republican official, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, agreed that Mueller’s evidence was insufficient. But last May, Rosenstein wrote a memo that purported to explain why the president fired the head of the F.B.I. He claimed James Comey’s dismissal had nothing to do with the Mueller investigation, even though the president admitted on national television that Comey was fired because of “this Russia thing”. Rosenstein now concludes that no obstruction of justice occurred, even though he played a questionable role in the president’s behavior that’s at issue.

Now consider the Barr letter itself. It helps a lot to pay close attention to the actual wording of a document like this, even though nuance doesn’t easily translate into headlines. My first impression was that Barr was making this argument. (1) Mueller didn’t find evidence that the President was part of a criminal conspiracy with the Russian government. (2) The president cannot be accused of interfering with an investigation if the investigation fails to find sufficient evidence of an actual crime. (3) Since we are not accusing the president of criminal conspiracy, we can’t accuse him of obstructing the investigation to see if said conspiracy occurred.

I don’t know about you, but that sounds fishy to me. But who knows? They say the law is an ass.

So it was good to see similar reactions to Barr’s letter. William Saletan offers a close reading of the letter at Slate. His article is called “Bill Barr’s Weasel Words”. Everyone who is interested in this fiasco should read his article. He highlights ten instances in which Barr’s language is suspicious or simply misleading. This may be the most important, since it underlies everything else:

“The Russian government.” … Mueller says his investigation didn’t prove that members of the Trump campaign “conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” The sentence specifies Russia’s government. It says nothing about coordination with other Russians. Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, gave campaign polling data to Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian associate who has been linked to Russian intelligence. Manafort, Donald Trump Jr., and Jared Kushner met secretly in Trump Tower with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Kremlin-connected lawyer. But neither Kilimnik nor Veselnitskaya is part of the Russian government….

(There were more than 100 meetings between campaign officials and various Russians. Everyone in the campaign, including the president, pretended that none of these meetings occurred.)

Saletan’s main conclusion is that the letter doesn’t show the president to be innocent. Instead, it shows that Attorney General Barr defined criminal behavior in such a way that it didn’t apply to what the president did.

Another article worth reading was written by Neal Katyal, a law professor who drafted the special counsel regulations under which Robert Mueller was appointed. His article is called “The Many Problems with the Barr Letter”. Here’s how it begins:

On Sunday afternoon, soon after Attorney General Bill Barr released a letter outlining the Mueller investigation report, President Trump tweeted “Total EXONERATION!” But there are any number of reasons the president should not be taking a victory lap.

First, obviously, he still faces the New York investigations into campaign finance violations by the Trump team and the various investigations into the Trump organization. And Mr. Barr, in his letter, acknowledges that the Mueller report “does not exonerate” Mr. Trump on the issue of obstruction, even if it does not recommend an indictment.

But the critical part of the letter is that it now creates a whole new mess. After laying out the scope of the investigation and noting that Mr. Mueller’s report does not offer any legal recommendations, Mr. Barr declares that it therefore “leaves it to the attorney general to decide whether the conduct described in the report constitutes a crime.” He then concludes the president did not obstruct justice when he fired the F.B.I. director, James Comey.

Such a conclusion would be momentous in any event. But to do so within 48 hours of receiving the report (which pointedly did not reach that conclusion) should be deeply concerning to every American.

The special counsel regulations were written to provide the public with confidence that justice was done. It is impossible for the public to reach that determination without knowing two things. First, what did the Mueller report conclude, and what was the evidence on obstruction of justice? And second, how could Mr. Barr have reached his conclusion so quickly?

Mr. Barr’s letter raises far more questions than it answers, both on the facts and the law.

As headline writers suggest that everything is rosy in Trump World, and the president pretends he’s been the victim all along, we need to keep in mind that we haven’t seen the actual Mueller report, we haven’t heard Barr and Mueller testify before Congress, and we don’t know how the many other investigations into the president’s activities and associates will turn out. It is way too soon for anyone to hold a parade in the president’s honor. This isn’t the end, it’s just the end of the beginning.

Fourteen Felonies?

Michael Cohen, the president’s former “fixer”, testified before the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday. He described the president as a racist, a conman and a cheat — no news there. He also said the president is a criminal — ditto.

But Ken Gude, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, performed a public service by attempting to list “the incredible number of felonies that Cohen directly implicated Trump in”. We don’t know for sure if the president committed all these crimes. On the other hand, Cohen was merely answering questions, not telling us everything he knows about the president’s illegalities. Nonetheless, it’s an impressive collection of felonious behavior:

1. Conspiracy to defraud the United States (collusion) – Cohen’s allegation that Trump and Stone spoke about the impending Wikileaks release of [Democratic National Committee] emails before they were released with [Roger Stone] asserting to Trump that he had communicated with [Julian Assange of Wikileaks].

2. False statements – In response to a written question from Mueller, Trump reportedly denied ever having spoken to Stone about Wikileaks. Cohen said this is false.

3. False statements – In response to a written question from Mueller, Trump reportedly denied knowing about Don Jr’s Trump Tower meeting with Russians. Cohen said this is false.

4. Campaign finance violations – Cohen provided a check that shows that Trump reimbursed him for the $130,000 he paid to Stormy Daniels to conceal their affair.

5. Conspiracy to defraud the United States (election fraud) – Cohen alleged that Trump directed him and Allen Weisselberg of the Trump Organization to conceal his affair with Stormy Daniels with the intention of fraudulently influencing an election.

6. False statements on a loan application – Cohen brought Trump’s partial financial records for 2011-2013 that Cohen alleged showed that Trump falsely inflated the value of his assets to obtain a loan in order to purchase the Buffalo Bills.

7. Insurance fraud – Cohen alleged that Trump would make false insurance claims.

8. Tax fraud – Cohen alleged that Trump would knowingly provide inaccurate lower values of his properties in order to fraudulently obtain tax benefits.

9. Witness tampering – Cohen said that Trump’s threatening tweets were an attempt to intimidate him, saying Trump could do “a lot” to hurt him and his family.

10. Suborning perjury – Cohen says that in a meeting in the White House, Trump indicated that he wanted Cohen to provide a false message saying “No Russia. No collusion.”

11. Suborning perjury – Cohen says that Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow edited his Congressional testimony to falsely shorten the duration of the negotiations on the Trump Moscow project.

12. Obstruction of a Congressional proceeding – The witness tampering and the suborning perjury constitutes obstruction of a Congressional proceeding.

13. Perjury – Cohen says that Trump’s 2013 sworn testimony that he wouldn’t recognize Felix Sater was clearly false, explaining that Sater had an office on the same floor as Trump in Trump Tower.

14. Illegal use of charity assets for personal benefit – Cohen alleged that Trump directed him to get a straw bidder to buy a portrait of Trump at an auction and that Trump then directed the Trump Foundation to reimburse the fake bidder with its assets.

Cohen testified in closed sessions on Tuesday and Thursday. Might he have described a few more felonies? Let’s put it this way. If our legal system works as it should, the Donald will spend his twilight years living in confined quarters at the government’s expense.

Two Times the Fendertones Have Replicated the Beach Boys

The Fendertones are a group of singers and musicians who get together every so often to recreate recordings by the Beach Boys. Their performances not only sound great, they reveal how many voices and instruments Brian Wilson wove together when he was making classic records in the 60s.

First up, “Kiss Me Baby”, a beautiful song with an unfortunate title. It’s from The Beach Boys Today!, the group’s eighth studio album, released in March 1965. Wikipedia says “the album signaled a departure from their previous records with its orchestral approach, intimate subject matter, and abandonment of themes related to surfing, cars or superficial love”. It’s one of their best albums and “Kiss Me Baby” is one of their best songs. Here are the Fendertones doing it only forty-nine years after The Beach Boys Today! (I see I posted this video five years ago. I must like it a lot.)

Next is “Surf’s Up”. Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks wrote this non-surfing song for the Smile album, which was supposed to be finished in 1967. The Fendertones recreate it with the help of two actual (aged) Beach Boys and some of the non-Beach Boys who helped Wilson finish Smile in 2004. That album, Brian Wilson Presents Smile, scratched a 37-year-old itch and was greeted with euphoric reviews.

Understanding Identity Politics

If you’ve heard the phrase “identity politics” and think maybe liberals and progressives engage in it too often, this long article by Sarah Churchwell, a professor at the University of London, will put your mind at ease. She shows how identity has been key to American politics since colonial times:

We hear a great deal these days about how the right’s hostility to “identity politics” . . . enabled the rise of Donald Trump. In this framing, the election of 2016 was a populist backlash of ordinary voters against an increasingly aberrant left that has allowed itself to be distracted by narrow questions about groups whose niche concerns do not rightly pertain to the proper functioning of democracy. Their identity-based complaints are marginalizing the left, leaving it out of touch with the troubles of Middle Americans, who primarily worry about how to pay the bills….

This argument is made not only on the right. Liberal academics . . . have recently chided progressives for championing causes like Black Lives Matter and transgender rights, thus provoking . . . the “left-behind” Trump voters. The counterblast from these left-behind Americans will, they argue, defeat progressivism, which needs to get practical and focus on regaining power through calls to commonality, rather than difference . . . because identity politics “absolves liberals of not recognizing how their own obsession with diversity has encouraged white, rural, religious Americans to think of themselves as a disadvantaged group whose identity is being threatened or ignored…. they are reacting against the omnipresent rhetoric of identity, which is what they mean by ‘political correctness’. . .”

The good news for anyone feeling perturbed is that it simply isn’t true that identity politics represents the end of America or of liberal democracy. Nor is it true that identity politics began on the left … The United States was founded on identity politics, per The Economist’s description: political positions based on ethnicity, race, sexuality, and religion. There are no pre-identity politics, just as there are no pre-identity economics, in a country in which political, economic, and legal rights were only ever granted to some identity groups and not to others. The only thing new about “the omnipresent rhetoric of identity” is the voices that have been added to it, reshaping it in ways that alarm and affront those who used to be its sole authors. But it was always omnipresent.

Virtually every major event in the long and troubled history of the United States was a direct consequence of identity politics. Start whenever you think America begins, and power struggles based on identity will be staring you in the face, starting with the genocide and forced resettlement of indigenous peoples by European migrants. A handful of those migrants, traveling on the Mayflower, called themselves “Separatists” and decided to start a new society based on their religious beliefs, in which church membership would be a requirement of political representation. That’s identity politics.

Black people were enslaved, white people were free: it takes a colossal set of blinders to keep from seeing that as identity politics. Political judgments and legal decisions based on identity underwrote white supremacy from the start: measuring African Americans as three-fifths of a human is identity politics, a logic that led to the one-drop rule, the Dred Scott decision, Jim Crow segregation, and the Birther movement, to name just a few of the most consequential instances. Electoral colleges were established in order to solve the “problem of the Negroes,” as James Madison put it, rigging the number of electors a state received in order to put a white supremacist thumb on the constitutional scale. Insofar as identity politics helped elect Donald Trump, electoral colleges seem a more proximate cause than debates over gender-neutral bathrooms.

That The Economist did not even notice that its checklist of identity politics skipped gender altogether is both ironic and typical. In 1776, Abigail Adams famously pleaded with her husband to “Remember the Ladies” in drafting the nation’s new code of laws. [She warned him] against putting “unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands” because “all Men would be tyrants if they could”…. John Adams replied by telling her thanks, but he preferred male privilege: “We know better than to repeal our masculine systems.” The masculine systems established by the framers meant that women didn’t get the vote until 1920, still earn a fraction of what men earn, and remain subject to a state asserting control over their bodies that it doesn’t assert over male bodies. That is identity politics.

Prof. Churchwell goes on to examine the history of populism and anti-elitism in America, and the notion of the “common man”:

From Jefferson’s ideal of the yeoman farmer to Jackson’s resourceful frontiersman, from the rugged individualist cowboy to the blue-collar steel worker, this was the nation’s backbone, the salt of the earth: national identity forged through a mythic conceptualization of the “common man” as a “real American” who lived in the “heartland” or, as time went on, “Middle America.” These rhetorical associations continually cemented the idea that there was something central to American life about this particular identity, while other identities were marginal, fringe, extreme, or alien.

By the twenty-first century, . . . [two Republican] candidates in a row were elected in part because they successfully deployed the populist stylings and demeanor of the “common man,” despite their inherited wealth and elite education.

Her conclusion:

Difference is a fact of life, to which divisiveness is only one response. Inclusiveness is another: not just tolerating but celebrating difference, fighting for the rights of all, not just the few. To be a truly representative democracy, America will need to stop thinking in terms of the representative common man.

She recommends thinking in terms of common decency instead.

At Least Some in Public Life Are Saying It

Charles Pierce writes for Esquire and doesn’t hold back. He thinks the newspaper headlines didn’t capture the essence of our president’s appearance in the Rose Garden on Friday.

I fear they missed the story that was staring them right between the eyes…. To wit:

The President* is A Delusional Maniac With Sawdust Pouring Out Of Both Ears.

My sweet bearded Lord, what a performance. I don’t know what my favorite part was. It might have been when he admitted to NBC’s Peter Alexander that he was only declaring an emergency because he wanted to get his mitts on the money as fast as possible. It might have been the moment when he recalled how Barack Obama told him that he was planning on launching a “very big war” on the Korean Peninsula (And this was after the president* said he wouldn’t speak for Obama, and then made up a bullshit story about him.)

Was it is the revelation that Shinzo Abe of Japan had nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize? Was it the way he repeatedly hung Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen out to dry, telling the reporters that the statistics on immigrants and crime produced by DHS didn’t match up with the secret “stats” he has? It may have been when he shouted out his favorite wingnut celebrities, and then said that not only did he not know Ann Coulter, but that he hadn’t talked to her in a year. Oh, OK. If you wanted to produce a commercial to sell the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, this was it.

Mr. Pierce then quotes the president regarding his phony national emergency.

It wasn’t what he said, but the way he said it. He lapsed into a sing-song cadence that was half-middle-school-taunt and half-serial-killer. No president in my lifetime ever did voice acting, let alone a voice that made you want to make sure he was kept away from the White House cutlery. The man is not all there. Everybody knows it. If your uncle behaved like the president* behaved on Friday, you’d hide his car-keys, lock up the booze, and drive him to the neurologist.

Jack Holmes, also of Esquire, agreed.

In the future, assuming there is one for this country or this species, we will look back and marvel at how the White House press corps questioned our King Lear of a president as if he were Otto von Bismarck. Over and over again, reporters sit through an incomprehensible deluge of various phrase-like objects and unfinished sentences and then stand up, one by one, to ask this guy about his China policy or whatever. It’s a kind of collective suspension of disbelief, where everyone in attendance at one of these nationally disgraceful press conferences agrees to pretend that the president is not, in fact, an old man whose brain is rapidly atrophying due to a debilitating level of cable news consumption.

Does that seem harsh? Is it untoward to state the obvious—that the President of the United States is a Fox News Grandpa who gets the lion’s share of the modicum of information he actually retains from the various blabbering heads that praise him all day through the teevee?

… The president is an experiment: he is a low-information voter, a talk-radio caller jumped up on confusion and resentment towards a changing world—not to mention ill-gotten gains—whom We, The People saw fit to make the planet’s most powerful man. [Fox News “personality”] Sean Hannity is briefing the President of the United States on what’s happening in the world. God help us all. Don’t ask him about his budget, for Christ’s sake. Ask him what the three branches of government are.

But he wasn’t done. It is quite simply impossible to wrap your head around the vast depths of the paranoid delusion and public display of non compos mentis that was on show in the Rose Garden this fine February Friday. So just concentrate on this part, here, where the president admits—while announcing he’s declared a national emergency—that there is no national emergency, he just felt like speeding things up….

This is insanity. It’s not a “national emergency” if you don’t really need to declare a national emergency, you’re just mad that Congress didn’t give you more money for your Big, Beautiful Wall. It’s time we all stopped pretending that the president is merely ignorant or rude or even crooked, and start to process the fact that he ain’t all there. How much more will he be allowed to destroy as he thrashes about on the border between his long history of skirting the law and his growing romance with the phantasmagorical as the lights begin to dim in his creaky attic?

Instead of treating this guy with respect, media people and politicians should acknowledge what most of us have known for a long time. He is seriously unfit and should be removed from office forthwith.

How Much Respect Do Authoritarians Deserve?

Someone recommended an article called “Authoritarianism Is Not a Momentary Madness, But an Eternal Dynamic Within Liberal Democracies”. It was written by two psychologists, Karen Stenner and Jonathan Haidt, and appears in a collection of essays called Can It Happen Here?: Authoritarianism in America, edited by Cass Sunstein. I read it. .

The thesis of the article comes in two parts. The first is that roughly one-third of Americans have an “authoritarian” personality. By this, they mean that a certain percentage of human beings consider values like uniformity and obedience to be extremely important.

Authoritarianism inclines one toward attitudes and behaviors … concerned with structuring society and social interactions in ways that enhance sameness and minimize diversity of people, beliefs and behaviors. It tends to produce a characteristic array of … stances, all of which have the effect of glorifying, encouraging and rewarding uniformity and disparaging, suppressing and punishing difference. Since enhancing uniformity and minimizing diversity [affects other people] and requires some control over their behaviors, ultimately these stances involve actual coercion of others (as in driving a black family from the neighborhood) and, more often, demands for the use of group authority (i.e., coercion by the state).

… Authoritarianism is far more than a personal distaste for difference. It becomes a normative worldview about the social value of obedience and conformity (versus freedom and difference), the prudent and just balance between group authority and individual autonomy. This worldview induces bias against different others (racial and ethnic outgroups, immigrants and refugees, radicals and dissidents, moral “deviants”), as well as political demands for authoritative constraints on their behavior. The latter will typically include legal discrimination against minorities and restrictions on immigration, limits on free speech and association, and the regulation of moral behavior (e.g., policies regarding abortion and homosexuality, and their punitive reinforcement) [184-185].

Personally, I don’t think this is an acceptable outlook on life. It sounds misguided, stupid, even immoral.

The authors don’t see it that way. They view the existence of a substantial subset of human beings with this personality type as a fact of life. It’s just the way some people are. One of the authors, Linda Stenner, puts it this way in the first sentence of her book, The Authoritarian Dynamic: “Some people will never live comfortably in a liberal democracy”. By “liberal democracy”, she means a nation like ours, a “nation of immigrants”, in which we, the majority at least, celebrate individual freedoms (as stated, for example in a “Bill of Rights”) and the diversity of our fellow citizens.

This brings me to the second part of the authors’ thesis. They argue that the rest of us should treat the authoritarian minority’s views with more respect.

Democratic enthusiasts and multiculturalists sometimes make the mistake of thinking we are [all] evolving [into] more perfect democratic citizens. This is why the populist “wave” strikes many observers as a momentary madness that “comes out of the blue”, and why the sentiments that seem to fuel these movements are often considered merely the products of frustration, hatred, and manipulation by irresponsible populist leaders — certainly not serious, legitimate preferences that a democracy must attend to.

When authoritarians raise concerns about, say, the rates or sources of immigration, they are not actually saying “I’m scared I might lose my job”, but in fact, “This is making me very uncomfortable and I don’t like where our country is headed”. Moreover, “Nobody will let me say so, and only [this Trump-like figure] is listening to me”. Our sense is that if Trump had not come along, a Trump-like figure would have materialized eventually….

The gleeful reactions of Trump’s supporters to his “strongman” posturing attested to their anger and bitterness regarding the “political correctness” of the “liberal elite”, and the pleasure they seemed to derive from watching someone like “us” finally sticking it to “them” [211-213].

All right. It’s pretty clear that a third of our fellow Americans are uncomfortable living in a liberal democracy and would prefer that more of us looked and behaved like they do. In practical terms, what should the rest of us do about it?

In the case of immigration, the authors suggest that current immigration policy doesn’t take into account that millions of Americans, the authoritarians among us, would prefer less immigration or more tightly-controlled immigration.

If citizens say they’re concerned about the rate of immigration, we ought to at least consider the possibility they they’re concerned about the rate of immigration [and not racists]….Common sense and historical experience tell us that there is some rate of newcomers into any community that is too high to be sustainable… some newcomers are more difficult to integrate than others… some might, accordingly, need to be more carefully selected, or more heavily supported…. Ignoring these issues is not helpful to either the hosts or the newcomers. It is implausible to maintain that the host community can successfully integrate any kind of newcomer at any rate whatsoever, and it is unreasonable to assert that any other suggestion is racist [213-214].

One problem with this paragraph is that hardly anyone, nobody in Congress anyway, maintains that we should allow in “any kind of newcomer at any rate whatsoever”. To claim otherwise is to adopt the Republican lie that Democrats are in favor of “open borders”. The fact is that we already have lots of border security and many restrictions on who can live here. The debate concerns the amount and type of border security and the number of people who should be allowed to immigrate, from which countries, and with which restrictions, as well as what to do with immigrants who don’t have permanent resident status (“green cards”).

Another problem is that the authors suggest there is a golden mean that will be broadly acceptable to the American people, whether they have authoritarian personalities or not: “Frank consideration of these matters is the key to broad acceptance of immigration policy” [214]. It isn’t clear at all that opponents of immigration, especially immigration from the president’s “shithole countries”, would approve of immigration policy that is acceptable to the majority of the population. All authoritarians may not be racists, but a good percentage of them must be. Otherwise they wouldn’t be so uncomfortable with people who are “different”. Seriously, isn’t being uncomfortable with masses of people because they don’t look like you or speak your language a pretty good definition of “racist”. So what kind of immigration policy would be acceptable to the average authoritarian Trump supporter, racist or not, and how would it differ from current policy?

If there is one thing we could do in order to foster broader acceptance of immigration policy, it would be to make the facts about immigration clear to more people. Having a president who constantly lies about immigration and immigrants doesn’t help. Neither does having “news” channels that broadcast those lies over and over. If more people knew how legal immigration works and understood the facts regarding illegal immigration, we might achieve broader approval of immigration policy. But it will never be possible to convince large numbers of people who are made uncomfortable by “difference” that a reasonable immigration policy is a good idea. We should be able to live with that, however, as long as we have elections and our representatives do their jobs.

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