According to a Majority of the Supreme Court, the Earps and Doc Holliday Were the Bad Guys at the O.K. Corral

The Smithsonian Magazine offers a brief history lesson regarding gun control:

Marshall Virgil Earp, having deputized his brothers Wyatt and Morgan and his pal Doc Holliday, is having a gun control problem. Long-running tensions between the lawmen and a faction of cowboys … will come to a head over Tombstone’s gun law.

The laws of Tombstone at the time required visitors, upon entering town to disarm, either at a hotel or a lawman’s office. Residents of many famed cattle towns, such as Dodge City, Abilene, and Deadwood, had similar restrictions. But these cowboys had no intention of doing so as they strolled around town with Colt revolvers and Winchester rifles in plain sight…

When the Earps and Holliday met the cowboys on Fremont Street in the early afternoon, Virgil once again called on them to disarm. Nobody knows who fired first….

The “Old West” conjures up all sorts of imagery, but broadly, the term is used to evoke life … in small frontier towns – such as Tombstone, Deadwood, Dodge City, or Abilene, to name a few. One thing these cities had in common: strict gun control laws.

… Frontier towns by and large prohibited the “carrying of dangerous weapons of any type, concealed or otherwise, by persons other than law enforcement officers.” Most established towns that restricted weapons had few, if any, killings in a given year.

But Justice Clarence Thomas and his reactionary colleagues have their own view of history. From Talking Points Memo:

Thomas, writing for the majority, slapped down New York’s 100-year-old concealed carry licensing scheme Thursday on the grounds that it has no historical analogue. [Wait, doesn’t a law that’s 100 years old have some history on its side?]

Government interest — like protecting the safety of its citizens — is not enough to get around the all-expansive Second Amendment, he writes. To be legitimate, a gun regulation must have a historical cousin….

The notion is farcical on its face: there must be some 18th or 19th century law mirroring any modern-day gun regulation, even for weapons that the people of that time could not have imagined existing?

Justice Breyer, joined by Justices Sotomayor and Kagan, focuses his dissent on the patent ludicrousness of determining constitutional rights solely through historical precedents.

“Will the Court’s approach permit judges to reach the outcomes they prefer and then cloak those outcomes in the language of history?” he ponders, before sketching out his argument that his conservative colleagues have done just that.

Breyer lays out his own list of cases ranging from English precursors to early American laws all the way up through U.S. law in the 20th century. He lists cases that he argues support New York’s licensing scheme, many of which the conservative majority found some reason to reject: “too old,” “too recent,” “did not last long enough,” “applied to too few people,” “enacted for the wrong reasons,” “based on a constitutional rationale that is now impossible to identify,” “not sufficiently analogous,” Breyer reels off.

“At best, the numerous justifications that the Court finds for rejecting historical evidence give judges ample tools to pick their friends out of history’s crowd,” he writes….

[This decision] rings similar to Justice Samuel Alito’s draft opinion overturning abortion rights, which roots much of its argument in cases where abortion access was not protected in the country’s earliest days, and before. He asks [Americans] to unflinchingly accept that a constitutional right for women is only valid if it existed in a time when women were considered much less than full citizens.

To sum up, David Roberts on Twitter:

[The Supreme Court] is just going to keep doing stuff like this, worse & worse & worse….A tiny group of hyper-ideologues, forcing the rest of us to live medievally. That’s the current status quo trajectory….

“Neither the broad American public nor the center-left Democratic & media establishment understands or appreciates how [fucking] lunatic the right has gotten” is something I’ve been saying for two decades now. Was always true & still is.

A Few Immediate Reactions to Our Renegade Right-Wing Supreme Court’s Latest Dictate

From Mark Joseph Stern of Slate:

The Supreme Court’s fourth and final opinion of the day is in Bruen. In a 6–3 opinion, [Clarence] Thomas writes that New York’s strict limits on the concealed carry of firearms in public violates the Second Amendment.

Thomas’ opinion for the court dramatically expands the scope of the Second Amendment, blasting past ostensible restrictions laid out in Heller to establish a new test that will render many, many more gun control laws unconstitutional.

Before today, about 83 million people—about one in every four Americans—lived in a state that strictly limited concealed carry to those who had a heightened need for self-defense. Now, zero people live in such a state.

Thomas’ opinion for the court suggests that judges may NOT consider empirical evidence about the dangers posed by firearms when evaluating gun control laws. They may only ask whether a modern regulation has some analogue that is rooted in American history.

It’s difficult to overstate how devastating Thomas’ opinion is for gun control laws. This goes so, so far beyond concealed carry. The Supreme Court has effectively rendered gun restrictions presumptively unconstitutional. This is a revolution in Second Amendment law.

From Paul Waldman of The Washington Post:

Just getting started reading the gun decision, but every sentence so far makes clear what a joke and a scam “originalism” is. It continues to amaze me that anyone takes it seriously.

It’s just one assertion after another about how what people thought in 1790 is sacrosanct, except when it isn’t, but also here’s a novel way to think about 1790, but also that doesn’t matter either. It’s Calvinball as legal reasoning. The bad faith is just incredible.

[Note: Calvinball is a game invented by Calvin and Hobbes. Calvinball has no rules; the players make up their own rules as they go along.]

From yours truly and Matt from the UK:

Isn’t the entire problem here that you’re paralysed by your constitution, because it makes the question into exegesis of this supposedly infallible document, rather than actually analysing the problem and considering what to do about it?

Excellent point. We are paralyzed by a document that’s 230 years old and difficult to amend. But we are also paralyzed by right-wing judges (i.e. politicians) who use this vague notion of “originalism” (what the founders intended) to justify their contemporary political beliefs.

Yes, but then ‘originalism’ is possible because of the written form. Without one, my country has no equivalent paralysis. Plenty of our own constitutional problems, of course, but they don’t really result in regular spree killings in schools.

Yes, having a written constitution is clearly a constraint, being old & difficult to amend adds to that basic constraint, and having a Supreme Court with too much power & too many political hacks issuing dictates makes it even worse. (My answer assumes there can be degrees of paralysis.)

The Exhilaration of Incoherence?

My vacation from the national news is now nine days old. It’s boring at times, but not too bad. The only bit of “news” that’s slipped through is that (1) the president said something especially bad (which wasn’t news at all) and (2) what he said may have been that his supporters should break the law by trying to vote more than once (he thinks that voting two or three times is much easier to do than it is).

What follows isn’t really news, therefore. It’s news analysis that I found interesting. From Varun Gauri at Three Quarks Daily:

The style and rhetoric of the Txxxx era appears to be historically unique, the result of the narrow and unexpected electoral victory of a man who honed his skills performing as a reality TV idiot savant. But I believe that the rhetorical style of Txxxxism — nonsense, incoherence, giving truth the middle finger— will outlast Txxxx.

When people say that Txxxxism will outlive Txxxx, they usually refer to the political economy. Typically, they mean [for example] that rising levels of immigration and the coming emergence of America as a majority-minority nation evoke nostalgia and a politics of resentment . . . But I think that it is not only the structural forces that are likely to endure, but also the trappings of Txxxxism, what we think of as its ephemera — the circus atmosphere, the sensation that up is down, the experience of having fallen through the looking glass.

To understand the appeal of rhetorical Txxxxism, first consider a few stylized facts. First, as Ezra Klein has argued, Txxxx’s poll numbers are amazingly stable. Despite the loss of more than 180,000 Americans to Covid-19, an unemployment rate over 8%, and rising racial tensions, Txxxx’s approval rating hardly moved, from 41% in late to 2019 to 42% today. His support is only loosely tied to facts on the ground. . . .

Second, nor is Txxxx’s appeal about his policy goals. It’s not as as if the administration has set out a series of appealing policy initiatives, only to be frustrated by checks and balances or federalism. There are barely any policy goals to speak of. . . . Apart from appointing conservative Supreme Court Justices skeptical of abortion rights, there are hardly any policies even on the agenda that carried Txxxx in 2016, including comprehensive immigration reform, the opioid crisis, and urban violence. Instead, what we see is theater for xenophobes . . .

Third, Republican partisans appear to support an idealized version of the man. Despite Txxxx’s notorious cable TV watching habits and frequent golf trips, 66% of Republicans believe him to be a “harder worker” than any president in history. Despite the barrage of lies and millions in federal tax dollars directed to his own business interests, 72% believe him to be “honest and trustworthy.” Despite not appearing to know how World War 1 ended or who Frederick Douglass was, and advocating bleach and other quack cures for covid, 77% believe he understands “complex issues.”

It’s as if support for Txxxx is the coat of arms for his coalition. Republican partisans support each other supporting Txxxx, whatever they think of Txxxx himself. They recognize each other and constitute a group through their Txxxx support. They support the idea of Txxxx. He’s the flag around which they rally.

How does this work? Larry Bartel’s recent survey of Republican partisans is revealing. It finds that anti-democratic attitudes among Republicans (e.g., using force to save a traditional way of life) are strongly correlated with ethnic antagonism; they are much more weakly correlated with political cynicism, partisanship, cultural conservatism, and even affection for Txxxx himself. In other words, support for the norm busting of Txxxxism is less about the man himself and more about the ethnic advancement, and the identity, of the group supportive of norm busting.

Like support for a military coup, the rhetorical style of Txxxxism, whose salient aspects are a flaunting disregard for facts and truth, even the exhilaration of incoherence, is a form of norm busting. It is an attack on standard forms of discourse. It is also an implicit attack on the function of key institutions, including the scientific establishment (which identifies facts), the media (which filters facts), and the political parties (which translate facts into policies).

The pleasures of this kind of norm busting, provocative incoherence, are the pleasures of trolling. Incoherent provocation leads supporters of traditional norms to become indignant, and squander energy trying to make sense of contradictory and truth-free statements. It’s delicious to see defenders of key institutions (like me) get their knickers in a twist. It’s fun, a minor form of sadism, to “own the libs”. . . .

The rhetorical style of Txxxxism shows that the coordinating focal points for the Republican coalition can even be devoid of semantic content. Txxxxian Republicans recognize each other, and constitute themselves as a group, when they troll the outsiders by flaunting incoherence. Those actions are also a power play — the demonstration that coordination is laughably easy; coherence and language and messaging are superfluous.

It has long been understood that there is a psychic payoff to coordination without discourse; the use of symbolic rituals, as Durkheim described, can create collective effervescence and a sense of group belonging. But what is happening here is not only coordination without discourse but coordination against discourse. Republican partisans are demonstrating that power does not arise from discussion; it arises merely from will and mutual recognition. Political power is that easy for us, the trolls seems to say. We know ourselves, even without words. . . .  

The Republican coalition has long struggled to overcome elements of incoherence in its ideology, though perhaps no more than the average large-scale political coalition — the support for small government sits uneasily with a massive military as well as with the religious regulation of private life. But what we are witnessing now is qualitatively different. Although there may be continuities with the history of anti-scientific positions in the party, current events have the quality of a self-conscious political discovery. That is why I believe the exhilaration of incoherence will remain significant in Republican discourse.

Txxxxism has shown that a largely homogenous group in the United States can coordinate, and recognize itself as a political actor, by flaunting incoherence. Txxxx’s successor may or may not be performer, a reality TV personality more interested in showmanship than policy. But because this approach is relatively inexpensive (a leader doesn’t need to invest in learning policy or persuading people about their positions), democratic (anyone can troll), and pleasurable for supporters, the next Republican leader will be tempted to use the rhetorical style of Txxxxism, or face challengers who do. Flaunting incoherence is fun, fast, and cheap . . .

Unquote.

I don’t understand the psychology of people who openly deny reality, flaunting incoherence but also flaunting their ignorance and their willingness to lie. Coherence, knowledge and honesty tend to make a person look better. Putting that aside, the author may be right about  future Republican candidates trying to copy Txxxx, but they’ll never find anyone as good at self-serving incoherence as he is. The guy has a remarkable talent/pathology. It will be extremely hard to match.

King Donnie the Deplorable Puts On a Show

Mao Zedong, formerly known to most of us as Mao Tse-Tung, was known to the Chinese people as Chairman Mao, but also as the Great Leader, the Great Teacher and the Great Helmsman, among other appellations. Next to Mao, North Korea’s “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-il seems rather modest. Hitler was officially known as Führer und Reichskanzler (“Leader and Chancellor of the Reich”). Mussolini was informally known as il Duce (the Leader). 

In the New York City tabloids, the Orange Menace used to be known as The Donald. Perhaps he’s satisfied now with simply being the President, the Commander-in-Chief  and (with due sarcasm) the Leader of the Free World. But if today’s meeting of the cabinet offers a clue, there’s at least a Blessed Leader or Master of All He Surveys in his (and our) future.

According to White House reporter John Harwood of CNBC, the President opened the proceedings just how you’d expect:

He began with an opening statement laced with the sort of wild, self-congratulatory boasts that are his trademark. 

“Never has there been a president, with few exceptions … who has passed more legislation, done more things,” Trump declared, even though Congress, which is controlled by his party, hasn’t passed any major legislation.

He hailed his plan for the “single biggest tax cut in American history,” even though he hasn’t proposed a plan and Congress hasn’t acted on one. He said “no one would have believed” his election could have created so many new jobs over the past seven months (1.1 million), even though more jobs (1.3 million) were created in the previous seven months.

Typically, a president’s initial comments mark the end of on-camera coverage of White House Cabinet meetings, with administration aides then escorting members of the small press “pool” out of the room. But Trump invited reporters to remain as he called on his senior-most advisers to “go around, name your position” and say a few words about the administration’s work.

Later, on Twitter, Harwood wrote: “In covering [the White House] over 4 decades, I’ve never seen a [President of the US] elicit flattery from aides like Trump today”.

According to The Washington Post:

… White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus spoke up to thank Trump “for the opportunity and blessing that you’ve given us to serve your agenda and the American people.”

Priebus said he was offering words on behalf of everyone in the room. But one by one, pretty much everyone else seated around the table took the opportunity to lavish their leader with praise, too, as the media looked on.

“It’s an honor to be able to serve you,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

“I am privileged to be here,” said Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta. “Deeply honored.”

“What an incredible honor it is to lead the Department of Health and Human Services at this pivotal time under your leadership,” Tom Price, secretary of that department, added when it was his turn to speak. “I can’t thank you enough for the privileges you’ve given me and the leadership that you’ve shown.”

Brian Beutler of The New Republic described it a more subjectively:

[He] assembled his entire cabinet at the White House on Monday, and, in a display of dominance and humiliation like none I’ve seen in an advanced democracy, invited everyone in attendance to go around the table praising Dear Leader before the press corps. The whole creepy-bordering-on-obscene spectacle lasted about 11 minutes.

[A video of the entire 11 minutes is provided]

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao looks like she’s been taken hostage, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis (the only one who didn’t essentially swear loyalty to Trump) is clearly pissed, and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus sounds desperate to keep his job (reportedly, he is). 

It’s been clear for years that everyone who agrees to work for Trump eventually abases themselves, but it usually isn’t as plain as it is here, with multiple supplicants surrounding him, essentially being ordered to humiliate themselves.

Remember how King Lear begins? The old guy meets his daughters and asks “Which of you shall we say doth love us most?” Goneril goes first:

Sir, I love you more than words can wield the matter;
Dearer than eye-sight, space, and liberty;
Beyond what can be valued, rich or rare…

Cordelia doesn’t have much to say, but Regan does:

I profess myself an enemy to all other joys,
Which the most precious square of sense possesses;
And find I am alone felicitate
In your dear highness’ love.

Of course, Lear proceeds to lose his mind and eventually drops dead from all the stress he’s endured. If only life in Washington was that simple.

The Scariest Disaster Movie Ever, Plus Some Philosophical-Psychological Analysis

Coming soon to a country near you:

bullshitnado_trump

This terrific poster is from an article at Daily Kos. 

The article at Daily Kos is a summary of another article: “On Bullshit and the Oath of Office: The ‘LOL Nothing Matters’ Presidency”.

The thesis of both articles is that the Orange Menace doesn’t simply lie. He shovels bullshit at an alarming rate. 

And what is the difference between lies and bullshit? The authors cite the distinction made pretty famous by the philosopher Harry Frankfurt:

Lying [is] an act undertaken intentionally to obscure the truth and which therefore must be performed with a knowledge of the facts… Bullshitting [is] an act undertaken without any relationship to truth whatsoever.

Hence, when the Orange Menace claims he was always against the war in Iraq, he might be lying. He knows he wasn’t against it, but wants us to think he was. Or he might be bullshitting. He doesn’t remember what he thought about the war and doesn’t care. Today he says he was against it. Tomorrow he might say he was for it. It’s all bullshit.

Personally, I don’t find Frankfurt’s distinction very helpful. But if pressed to decide, I’d say the O.M. is more of a liar than a bullshitter. The evidence is that his falsehoods are always self-serving. He doesn’t simply make stuff up to fill the air. He makes stuff up that he thinks will make himself look wonderful.

People find it hard to believe he’s merely a liar because he’s such an obvious liar. Rational observers can’t believe anyone outside of an institution can lie so blatantly, so they conclude that he doesn’t know what’s true and what isn’t. 

I conclude that it really doesn’t matter. He lies and bullshits and is mentally ill.