How It Is and How It Got This Way (26 Days)

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Our new Supreme Court Justice, Bart O’Kavanaugh, the noted liar, aka the Keg Meister, took a hard line in his first appearance with the court. He said an immigrant who committed a minor crime thirty years ago and did his time is still subject to being locked up. Even his right-wing colleague, Neil Gorsuch, didn’t go that far:

The question in the case was whether the federal authorities must detain immigrants who had committed crimes, often minor ones, no matter how long ago they were released from criminal custody. Justice Kavanaugh said a 1996 federal law required detention even years later, without an opportunity for a bail hearing.

“What was really going through Congress’s mind in 1996 was harshness on this topic,” he said.

But Justice Gorsuch suggested that mandatory detentions of immigrants long after they completed their sentences could be problematic. “Is there any limit on the government’s power?” he asked.

Now we know O’Kavanaugh will take bad behavior seriously even if it happened thirty years ago, as long as it allows him to make life difficult for an immigrant. 

For more ugly truths about the Supreme Court, “How It Is and How It Got This Way (27 Days)”, go here:  An Ingenious Device for Avoiding Thought.

Stay Angry, Get Involved (29 Days)

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David Leonhardt of The New York Times is royally pissed but sees a way forward:

“Decades ago, a businessman built a fortune thanks in large measure to financial fraud. His corrupt gains helped him become famous. He then launched a political career by repeatedly telling a racist lie, about the first black president secretly being an African….”

More at  An Ingenious Device for Avoiding Thought.

Are We Near the Bottom Yet?

[Copied from the blog I’m intending to update in the future: An Ingenious Device for Avoiding Thought:]

A minority President who only wants to represent his supporters has nominated a judge to the Supreme Court who has promised to take his revenge on the liberals and progressives he accuses of conspiring to fight his nomination. I bet no judicial nominee in recent American history has displayed a similar lack of judicial temperament during his confirmation hearings. Judge Kavanaugh’s lies and falsehoods may also have set a record.

This means we now have an unfit President who tells lie after lie selecting an unfit judge who won’t tell the truth about his life or his beliefs. We should all believe Kavanaugh, however, when he says he intends to have his revenge. Meanwhile, the Republican majority insists on treating a glorified job interview as if it’s a criminal trial where the defendant must be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Democrats raised relatively few objections when this President nominated a staunch reactionary to the Supreme Court last year. Justice Neil Gorsuch now occupies a seat the Republicans successfully held open for a year, denying Obama’s highly respected nominee, Merrick Garland, a hearing. No women accused Gorsuch of assaulting or otherwise mistreating them. Yet the Republicans blame the Democrats when women do come forward to complain of Kavanaugh’s behavior. Are we near the bottom yet?

For further reading:

Shamus Khan, professor of sociology at Columbia University, explains that Kavanaugh is lying because of his upbringing [The Washington Post]. 

Alexandra Petri asks a rhetorical question in capital letters: “HOW DARE YOU DO THIS TO BRETT KAVANAUGH?” [The Washington Post].

Megan Garber discusses the “pernicious double standards” that protect the privileged from the consequences of their drinking and bad behavior [The Atlantic].

Nathan Robinson analyzes some of Kavanaugh’s testimony in detail and concludes that “this man shouldn’t serve another day as any kind of judge” [Current Affairs]. 

Jennifer Rubin, a conservative columnist, argues that “if we want to protect the Supreme Court’s integrity, Kavanaugh should not be on it [The Washington Post].

Eliot Cohen, professor of strategic studies at Johns Hopkins University, complains that his Republican Party has abandoned conservatism and that’s unfortunate for all of us [The Atlantic].

Even the editors of America, the Jesuit review, explain why the Kavanaugh nomination should be withdrawn [America]:

We continue to support the nomination of judges [who support a “textualist” interpretation of the Constitution]—but Judge Kavanaugh is not the only such nominee available. For the good of the country and the future credibility of the Supreme Court in a world that is finally learning to take reports of harassment, assault and abuse seriously, it is time to find a nominee whose confirmation will not repudiate that lesson.

November 6th, the date of the mid-term election, is only 37 days away. There may still be time to register to vote. You might be able to vote by mail. If we are going to have any checks and balances on the current administration, we need to elect Democrats up and down the ballot.

Okay, one more:

James Fallows explains what the President and Kavanaugh have in common. It isn’t pretty [The Atlantic].

A Brief Note On What May Happen

Jasmin Mujanović, a political scientist, wrote the following on Twitter yesterday:

Assume for a second that the US is in the midst of a constitutional crisis (it is). Notice how the stores are still open, your bus completed its usual route and the game is still on? That’s what makes genuine crises terrifying, because they (co)exist for so long within our normal expectations of life.

They continue to do so all up until the point that they don’t. When the news is no longer something you can turn off, when it’s on your street, at your kid’s school, in your community, it’s too late for “resistance”. Then it’s largely a matter of individual survival.

That’s why both scholars of authoritarianism/sectarianism and/or survivors of such regimes have implored you to organize and inform yourself now, when it is still “normal”, when it’s still “someone else’s” child, when it’s a question of archaic rules of order.

The last two days have brought credible allegations of major dysfunction and crisis within the US government. There are fundamental questions regarding the integrity/legitimacy of the 2016 election. It’s unclear what, if any, steps have been taken to secure the mid-terms.

The fact that it is unclear who is genuinely in charge, what the civilian/military chain of command is, what would happen in event of a major security crisis, suggests the situation has already catastrophically deteriorated.

Until there is a concerted and consistent civil society and Congressional effort to restore accountability and leadership in the White House, it is difficult to see any of this ending without major instability of the sort unlike anything Americans have seen in generations and possibly ever.

Mr. Mujanović is probably too pessimistic. Somehow the federal government will continue to muddle through despite having a dangerously unfit person in charge of the Executive branch and a supine majority in charge of the Legislative. But there is no guarantee.

That’s why it is crucial that the Democrats take at least one house of Congress in the upcoming election. If that happens, at least half of Congress will once again take on its constitutional role and operate as an equal branch of the government. 

The midterm election is only 61 days away. We all need to do what we can in order to elect Democrats up and down the ballot. We need to encourage all reasonable people to register and vote. That’s how we can begin to address the current crisis,  restore some sanity to the federal government and avoid the dark future Mr. Mujanović fears.

Avoiding Individual-1 for the Most Part

I’ve mostly blogged about politics since the beginning of the crisis (you know, the crisis known as “Individual-1”). Other topics haven’t seemed worth writing about.

But, even though Individual-1 is still happening, I haven’t posted anything lately. That’s because, two months ago, I took a break from American politics. At the end of June, I stopped reading the digital front pages of The Washington Post, The New York Times and the U.S. edition of The Guardian. I also stopped looking at New York Magazine‘s “Daily Intelligencer” and Twitter. I was sick of my mind being polluted by the latest Individual-1 “news”. 

Instead, I began looking at international or “world” news. (Even in the U.S., we’re part of the world, right?) I’m told my mood improved, which shouldn’t have been a surprise, even though some American news made it through. For instance, The Guardian puts selected American stories on their international page. And any other contact, direct or indirect, with the rest of humanity meant that I might be exposed to the latest turmoil and trouble.

Helped along by last week’s positive legal developments, I started looking at U.S. news again. I didn’t immerse myself in it as much as before, but this wasn’t a great idea. Even limited exposure has been depressing. This means I probably won’t be writing much until the November election — an event on which hope for America’s redemption rests.

Before going, however, I’ll mention a few articles I’ve come across that are worth reading.

First, philosophy professor Bryan Van Norden explains why people have a right to speak, but not necessarily to be heard. He argues that some people aren’t entitled to an audience:

Access to the general public, granted by institutions like television networks, newspapers, magazines, and university lectures, is a finite resource. Justice requires that, like any finite good, institutional access should be apportioned based on merit and on what benefits the community as a whole. There is a clear line between censoring someone and refusing to provide them with institutional resources for disseminating their ideas. 

In other words, outlawing speech is a bad idea, but that doesn’t mean all opinions are equal or deserve equal time in the “marketplace of ideas”. Otherwise, (quoting the philosopher Herbert Marcuse) “the stupid opinion is treated with the same respect as the intelligent one, the misinformed may talk as long as the informed, and propaganda rides along with education, truth with falsehood”. And it becomes far easier to produce a political crisis like Individual-1.

On a related topic, a former Prime Minister of Australia writes about “the cancer eating the heart of Australian democracy”. The cancer he’s referring to is Rupert Murdoch, whose media empire “operates as a political party, acting in pursuit of clearly defined commercial interests, in addition to his far-right ideological world view”. Murdoch and his outlets like Fox News are one big reason why politics is so screwed up in the U.S. (Individual-1), the United Kingdom (Brexit) and Australia (five prime ministers in five years). Contrast that with politics in two other English-speaking nations, Canada and New Zealand. Their politics is a much more rational affair. Is it a coincidence that Murdoch doesn’t propagandize in either of those countries?

This week, James Fallows pointed out that it would only take one or two Republican senators to “serve as a check on [Individual-1’s] excesses”. As of now, the Republicans have a mere one-vote margin in the Senate. They will be ahead 51 to 49 after the late Senator McCain is replaced. As Fallows says:

Every [Republican] swore an oath to defend the U.S. Constitution, not simply their own careerist comfort. And not a one of them, yet, has been willing to risk comfort, career, or fund-raising to defend the constitutional check-and-balance prerogatives of their legislative branch.

On a related topic, Brian Beutler explains why there is a natural alliance between Individual-1 and Vladimir Putin (who, of course, is no longer a Communist):

For the white nationalists in [the Republican] coalition [including the president himself], Putin seeks a global alliance of white nationalist parties, and is meddling in elections world wide to help those parties gain political power. But … even more garden variety conservatives see their interests and Putin’s coming into alignment. Putin is deeply hostile to LGBT people, and frames his hostility in religious terms. The Russian economy is built on a broken foundation of fossil fuel extraction. American conservatives aren’t killing journalists and … opposition leaders, but they are hostile to journalism and democracy, and increasingly comfortable with both propaganda and exercising power through minority rule…. Russia’s political identity is shaped by its aggrievement over the crumbling of its once-vast empire. The American right is similarly revanchist—not over lost territory, but lost demographic dominance and privilege.

For now, the GOP’s congressional leaders remain nominally committed to the western alliance, and to treating Russia as an adversary. But they will not check [the president] as he advances the opposite view. Elite conservative opinion is already shifting on the Russia question, and should Trump ever convince a majority of Republican voters that he’s right about Russia, the congressional leadership will follow suit. Putin seems to grasp that, too. What we’re seeing, across several different plot lines, is that in many ways Moscow understood Republicans better than Republicans understand themselves. 

But let’s conclude with some good news. In an interview with The Atlantic, Senator Elizabeth Warren discusses “two aggressive proposals for overhauling American business”, i.e. making capitalism work the way it’s supposed to:

One [of her proposals] is the Accountable Capitalism Act, which would require the largest corporations to allow workers to choose 40 percent of their board seats. [This] is meant to provide an antidote to short-term thinking in the biggest businesses—and to short-circuit the ease with which CEOs make decisions that enrich themselves at the expense of workers and the underlying health of their firm. A similar system exists in Germany, and it goes by the name “codetermination.”

A second set of proposals is what Warren calls the Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act. Warren has called for a frontal assault on lobbying, including a lifetime prohibition that would prevent federal officeholders (including the president, members of Congress, and Cabinet secretaries) from ever becoming paid influence peddlers. Her argument is that lobbying undermines the functioning of markets, by permitting corporations to exert outsize control over the regulatory state and use government to squash competitors.

It’s also good news that there are only sixty-nine days until the midterm election. On November 6th, we can quicken the demise of the Republican Party. We should make the most of the opportunity.

Mussolini and Hitler Were Both Elected

In the Italian election of 1924, Benito Mussolini’s National List, a coalition of fascists and nationalists, won 65% of the vote. Mussolini immediately became Prime Minister. He then gradually took total control of the government. In 1926, after a 15-year old boy tried to assassinate him, Mussolini banned all non-fascist political parties. Mussolini’s National List was dissolved, since it was no longer needed. It had no competition. Italy wouldn’t hold another multi-party election until 1946.

In the German presidential election of 1932, Adolph Hitler lost to the incumbent, Paul von Hindenburg. In a parliamentary election a few months later, Hitler’s National Socialist German Workers’ Party won the most seats. With the Nazis and other far-right parties having a majority in parliament, von Hindenburg appointed Hitler as Germany’s Chancellor. Before Hitler, the Chancellor was a relatively weak position. Hitler immediately began accumulating power. The Reichstag fire in February 1933 contributed to Hitler receiving the authority to make laws on his own, without involving parliament. In 1934, Hindenburg died and Hitler assumed total control of the government.

In the American presidential election of 2016, Donald Trump received fewer votes than his opponent but became president anyway. Since then, he has attacked the press, the Department of Justice and the FBI. He has threatened to end an investigation into his campaign’s relationship with Russia. He has expressed his admiration for foreign dictators and continues to claim that millions of people voted illegally in 2016. He has not done anything to investigate or inhibit Russian interference in the next election. He has ignored the law by continuing to profit from his personal business. His latest offense was to take thousands of children from their parents and lock them up with no plan to reunite them. The Republican-controlled Congress, supposedly an equal branch of the government, has done nothing at all to stop him.

We take comfort in the fact that the president is incompetent. He doesn’t seem to have the skills necessary to obliterate a democracy and the rule of law like Mussolini and Hitler did. But what if there is a terrorist attack before November? Or an assassination attempt? Would the president declare a national emergency and delay the election? Would the Republican Congress do anything, considering that they’ve done nothing to stop him so far? Would Fox News finally draw the line?

I’ve avoided the news for the past four days. Maybe things have taken a major turn for the better. If so, nobody has told me. Assuming things have continued on their downward slide, we may have a long way to go before we hit bottom.