Breaking the Cycle

Brian Beutler of the Crooked site has an excellent article called “Boycotting Republicans Isn’t Enough”. This is most of it:

Republicans spent the full eight years of the Obama presidency making arguments they didn’t believe, claiming to be outraged about things that didn’t really outrage them, fabricating controversy out of things they knew to be uncontroversial. They spent four years pretending to believe an attack in Benghazi, Libya that killed four Americans was a historic scandal, eclipsed only by the revelation (which they also didn’t really care about) that Obama’s secretary of state used a private email account to do work. When they were rewarded for this plain-as-day bad faith with control of the entire federal government, they immediately forgot about Benghazi, ignored botched operations for which Trump bore responsibility, and continued to use private email and encrypted third-party communication applications with impunity.

It’s a matter of absolute certainty that if voters “boycott” Republicans in sufficient numbers to throw control of government to Democrats, Republicans will return to the same playbook. They will feign remorse over having lost their way, then demand credulity from the public when they insist they genuinely care about deficits, that the next Benghazi is a real scandal, that every downward tick of the stock market should be laid at the feet of the Democratic president. Alongside that, they will continue engaging in partisan attacks on any mediating institution—whether the Congressional Budget Office or the FBI—that confounds their political ambitions.

The Republican Party isn’t going to “right itself or implode” unless that kind of unprincipled behavior is rendered toxic. It should be considered disreputable outside of movement conservatism to work for Fox News or for the same [Republican National Committee] that propped up Trump, and then backed Roy Moore in Alabama. If you conduct yourself the way Devin Nunes has conducted himself as Trump’s agent atop the House Intelligence Committee, you shouldn’t just have to worry about losing your seat, but about your name being dirt.

I can dimly envision how that might happen, but hold almost no hope that it will.

The institution with the most direct power to shape post-Trump Republican politics will be the Democratic Party. Obama came to power having promised to transcend partisanship and amid multiple national crises. For these reasons and others he determinedly avoided the kind of retrospective inquiries that might have boxed Republicans into accounting for their Bush-era political sins; for how they contributed to corruption, the salesmanship of the Iraq war, the torture regime, the financial crisis and so on.

Republicans do things a bit differently. When Republicans gain power—even against the will of the voting public—they aim to crush their political enemies. Obama’s signature legislative initiative transferred billions and billions of dollars from blue states to Trump states to help the citizens of the latter afford health care. Months after it passed, Republicans captured governments in multiple swing states, where they set about dismantling public-sector unions, suppressing the Democratic vote, and gerrymandering congressional districts, to guarantee themselves enduring power, whether their constituents approved of their governance or not. In December, just a year after losing the national popular vote by a substantial margin, Republicans designed their signature legislative initiative to inflict maximal punishment on the Democratic voters of high-tax blue states.

Warfare between the parties has been asymmetric in large part because liberals generally reject these kind of nakedly antidemocratic power grabs. But Democrats could be more determined to win political fights than they are.

After Trump, Democrats could adopt a more aggressive approach than they have in the past, on the fool-me-twice principle. They could abolish the filibuster, expedite legislation to widen the franchise and reform campaign finance laws, right Mitch McConnell’s theft of a Supreme Court seat, and conduct oversight of the institutions of government Trump corrupted. They could set up a commission to examine, the role of propaganda in American media, and report out how and why, under Trump, the Republican Party entered a de facto partnership with hostile foreign intelligence to influence American politics.

I think they can and should do all of these things and more, so long as they can be done on majoritarian and representative bases.

But to truly marginalize the GOP’s political style would require a level of cooperation from many conservatives that doesn’t exist, and a level of buy-in from generally non-partisan institutions—the media, the bureaucracy, corporate America, and civil society—which have proven ill-equipped to defend themselves from Republican efforts to co-opt or discredit them.

Corporate America has giddily joined a banana republic-style public relations campaign to thank dear leader Trump for his corporate tax cuts, and portray them as a boon to workers. Mainstream journalists are so petrified of bad-faith accusations of liberal bias that many of them genuinely can’t grasp how hostile the American right is to the vocation of journalism, or how to report on bad-faith in the public square more generally….

Which is all to say, even if post-Trump Democrats refuse to turn the page, other powerful institutions and individuals will do so happily.

In a world where Sean Spicer remains respectably employable, corporate America loves regressive tax cuts, mainstream news outlets refuse to make pariahs of people who seek their destruction, and the cult of false equivalence remains the analytic foundation of political journalism, voters can “boycott” Republicans in historic numbers, only to watch Republicans return to power unreformed a few years later.

Another thing we could do is convince a progressive billionaire or two to buy Fox News and get it out of the right-wing propaganda business. To quote Mr. Beutler, however: “I can … envision how that might happen, but hold almost no hope that it will”. The best we might hope for is that Rupert Murdoch, age 86, drops dead and his heirs aren’t as satanic as he is.

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Democrats and Republicans

Today, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the leader of the Democrats in the House of Representatives, gave the longest speech in the history of the House, which goes back to 1789. After it was discovered that the House rules allow party leaders to speak as long as they want, Pelosi stood and spoke for a little over eight hours.

The longest speech in the history of the U.S. Senate lasted 24 hours. It was given in 1957 by a racist Southerner in opposition to that year’s Civil Rights Act. At the time, he was a Democrat (because most Southerners were), but he became a Republican after passage of the 1964 Civil Rights act (as most Southerners did). He remained a Republican for the next thirty-nine years.

That basically sums up our two political parties. A woman wants people illegally brought here as children to be protected against deportation and to have a chance to become American citizens. A man wanted to stop everyone from having equal rights, especially black people.

Mapping the 2016 Election

As the president and his co-conspirators plumb even deeper depths of evil and stupidity, it’s worth reminding ourselves how a serious candidate for Worst Person in the World got his new job. A good way to start is to take a look at this new map from the xkcd site. Each little blue person represents roughly 250,000 people who voted for Clinton. Each little red person represents the same number who voted for the evil, stupid guy. (There are also a few little gray people who represent third-party voters.)

xkcd

As you can see, the blue voters are clustered on the coasts and around Chicago. The red voters are spread more evenly around the country. There are 263 blue people vs. 252 red people. That roughly corresponds to the fact that Clinton got 66 million votes while her opponent got 63 million.

Since the United States tries to follow its 228-year old Constitution, however, each state actually held its own separate presidential election. Unfortunately, the Terrible Person won more states (30 to 20 for Clinton), including many of the relatively empty states in the western part of the country. Since almost all of those separate elections were and continue to be “winner-take-all”, whoever won a given state received all of that state’s “electoral” votes, no matter how large or small their margin of victory was. 

Thus, Clinton got 55 electoral votes for winning California by a very large margin and the Worst Candidate got 46 electoral votes for winning Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin by very small margins. (Which shows that if you want to become president, it’s better to win lots of states, even by very small margins, instead of winning fewer states, even by very large margins.)

So, after all the electoral votes from all the states were added up, the Very Stable Genius won a big victory in the “Electoral College” (304 electoral votes to 227) and an important new job, despite getting three million fewer votes nationwide.

If nothing else, next time you see a map like the one below, showing who won America’s 3,000 counties, keep in mind that it’s a poor way to represent an election, assuming the election is based on people voting, not cows or tumbleweeds.

990px-2016_Presidential_Election_by_County.svg

Summarizing the Situation

David Frum, a conservative, summarizes the situation for The Atlantic:

Who and what Donald Trump is has been known to everyone and anyone who cared to know for years and decades. Before he was president, he was the country’s leading racist conspiracy theorist. Before he was the country’s leading racist conspiracy theorist, he was a celebrity gameshow host. Before he was a celebrity gameshow host, he was the multi-bankrupt, least trusted name in real estate. Before he was the multi-bankrupt least trusted name in real estate, he was the protege of Roy Cohn repeatedly accused of ties to organized crime. From the start, Donald Trump was a man of many secrets, but no mysteries. Inscribed indelibly on the public record were the reasons for responsible people to do everything in their power to bar him from the presidency.

Instead, since he announced his candidacy in mid-2015, Donald Trump has been enabled and protected.

The enabling and protecting not only continues. It accelerates.

Before the Saturday morning tweets, what should have been the biggest story of the week was Trump’s success at mobilizing the Senate and the FBI to deploy criminal prosecution as a weapon against Trump critics. The Senate Judiciary committee—the Senate Judiciary Committee! The committee that oversees the proper enforcement of the law!—formally filed a criminal referral with the Department of Justice against Christopher Steele, the author of the infamous dossier about Trump’s Russia connections. The referral was signed by the committee’s chairman, Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, without even notice to Democrats on the committee, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein said; a startling abuse of majority status and a sharp departure from the norms of the Senate, especially a 51-49 Senate.

The Department of Justice can ignore such a referral. It’s ominous, however, that on the very same day, the FBI obeyed Trump’s repeated demands and reopened a long-closed criminal investigation into the Clinton Foundation. The FBI has come under relentless abuse from Trump, who complains about its refusal to do his will. Is it now yielding?

We also learned this week from The New York Times that aides to the Attorney General sought damaging information on Capitol Hill about FBI director Comey, indicating close cooperation between the White House and Main Justice to exert political control over the country’s chief law enforcement agency.

Michael Wolff [author of Fire and Fury] has drawn the most indelible picture yet of Donald Trump, the man. But the important thing about Trump is not the man; it’s the system of power surrounding the man.

In 2016, there were voters who genuinely, in good faith, believed that Donald Trump was a capable business leader, moderate on social issues, who cared about the troubles of working class white America—and would do something to help. There may well still be some people who believe this—but nowhere near enough to sustain a presidency.

What sustains Trump now is the support of people who know what he is, but back him anyway. Republican political elites who know him for what he is, but who back him because they believe they can control and use him; conservative media elites who sense what he is, but who delight in the cultural wars he provokes; rank-and-file conservatives who care more about their grievances and hatreds than the governance of the country.

After quoting much of David Frum’s article, Heather Digby Parton of Hullabaloo summarizes the situation too:

I had thought that maybe there were some Republicans who actually cared about the nation or at least cared about the integrity of the constitution and the Congress. There are not. A handful have said something but they voted with him and continue to help him expand his power by delivering that tax cut victory which, by the way, any of them could have stopped simply by saying that it raised the debt too much.

They didn’t have to do it. They really didn’t. They are all complicit.

It’s true that the Republican party has been complicit for years in creating a political environment that allowed an ignorant madman to become president. But they could redeem themselves in this moment and they are not doing it.

That scares me just as much as Trump. In order to enact their agenda, the Republican Party is enabling Trump’s authoritarian instincts. And that goes beyond the racism and xenophobia on which he ran. For most of them, that’s a very natural thing to do since they’ve always shared them. But I thought there might be a few elected officials whose paeans to freedom and the constitution were based upon some underlying principles. And I guess I assumed that a handful would be a tiny bit concerned about Russia interfering in the election and possibly compromising the president — even if he was a Republican.

It’s clear that every last one of them was full of shit.

Finally, Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post also summarizes the situation:

We have a vice president elected specifically to take over if the president is incapable of serving; the 25th Amendment does not say “but in a pinch, let the secretaries of defense and treasury run the show.” What we have is a type of coup in which the great leader is disabled. He is propped up, sent out to read lines written by others and kept safely away from disastrous situations. This is not how our system works, however.

We’re playing with fire, counting on the ability of others to restrain him from, say, launching a nuclear war and, nearly as bad, jettisoning our representative democracy. Vice President Pence, the Cabinet and Congress have a moral and constitutional obligation to bring this to a stop.

Since all the evidence says Pence, the Cabinet and the Republicans in Congress will not only ignore but take a giant crap on their obligations, we need to stay informed, communicate, show up (e.g. Women’s March on January 20, 2018), donate (e.g. to the Democratic Party), make sure we’re all registered to vote and vote every time we get the chance (especially on November 8, 2018).

Don’t let the bastards grind you down!

Whither the Grand Old Party?

Jennifer Rubin writes a blog for The Washington Post called Right Turn. It’s advertised as “Rubin’s take from a conservative perspective”. But in recent months she’s been churning out articles with titles like today’s “Americans as a Whole Haven’t Lost Their Minds, But the GOP Has”. That makes perfect sense, of course, because the Grand Old Party is no longer “conservative” in the traditional sense. It’s become the party of radical reactionaries and know-nothings.

Citing an opinion poll that contains bad news for the Republicans, she writes:

Voters say 47 – 38 percent, including 44 – 32 percent among independent voters, that they would like to see Democrats win control of the U.S. House of Representatives in the 2018 Congressional elections.

Americans, it turns out:

  • Are not bamboozled by his NFL and flag histrionics;
  • Do not think it’s all the media’s fault;
  • Know he is not making America great (stressed and anxious maybe, but not great);
  • Have figured out he’s botching most policy matters — and is a bad person to boot; and
  • Don’t buy into his race-baiting act.

Americans are neither brain-dead nor moral vagrants. In voting for him many probably hated Hillary Clinton more, engaged in wishful thinking about Trump and/or figured incorrectly a rich guy and his friends must know how to do things. But they do not like him now, and that speaks very well of the American people.

The bad news is Republicans overwhelmingly like him, his policies, his distractions, his character, his racial appeals, etc. Among Republicans 79 percent approve of his performance, 79 percent think he is honest (!), 85 percent think he cares about ordinary Americans, 62 percent think he is level-headed (!!) and perhaps worst of all, 78 percent think he shares their values.

Now, it’s possible that having voted for him these Republicans don’t want to admit he is, as LeBron James eloquently put it, a bum. But it’s also possible that a declining share of voters identify as Republicans but that those who do, by and large, live in a Fox News-created political universe in which Trump is just the best. They refuse to see Trump as a bigot or an incompetent narcissist. They believe what he tells them about immigrants, the world and the “liberal elites.”

The question that many #NeverTrump Republicans or now former Republicans face is whether that GOP base has become so divorced from their own world view that they cannot consider themselves Republicans any longer. To be a Republican these days is to be at the very least an apologist for Trump and at the worst a cultist. Maybe these Trump fans were always there in the party, but now they are the dominant voice…. [Note: Crazy right-wingers, now known as “Trump fans”, have indeed always been there.]

It doesn’t seem possible that logic or experience will change the minds of the 75 percent to 80 percent of the GOP who remain in Trump’s quarter…

Rubin concludes that “distressed Republicans and ex-Republicans” have three options, because “the GOP that was, is no longer”:

(1) “Recruit new non-Trumpkins to the GOP (but which Americans would want to join?!) to out-vote Trump’s base” 

(2) “Start a new center-right party (with an invitation out to moderate Democrats)” 

(3) “Set up shop across the aisle as [conservative] Democrats”.

Option (1) is clearly a non-starter, so it’s not worth thinking about. Option (2) could happen if a conservative billionaire or two gave up on the Republican Party and made a serious, highly-publicized effort to recruit candidates and get them on ballots nationwide, although finding a significant number of Republican politicians with the courage to suddenly leave their party sounds highly unlikely.

That leaves option (3). Rubin thinks this would depend on “the direction the Democrats take (will it be the party of Sen. Bernie Sanders or the party of Truman/JFK/Bill Clinton — policy-wise, that is)”. If the Democratic Party moves further to the left, it will make it more difficult for Republicans and ex-Republicans to switch. On the other hand, if conservatives move to the Democratic Party in serious numbers, the party won’t move to the left. It will stay where it is or move to the right. 

In the meantime, Democrats continue to do well in special elections at the state level. Maybe some Republican voters are already switching:

Democrats on Tuesday flipped two seats in special state elections in Florida and New Hampshire.

Earlier this month, Democrats flipped State House seats in New Hampshire and Oklahoma, replacing Republicans in two districts ahead of the 2018 midterm elections….

Since Trump’s election, Democrats have flipped eight GOP-held seats at the state level, and Republicans have yet to flip a seat in 27 special elections.

These results suggest that the Democrats may make even more significant progress in statewide legislative races in Virginia and New Jersey in November, less than six weeks from now.

A Smart, Informed Journalist Interviews Hillary Clinton

Ezra Klein, the editor-in-chief of Vox, interviewed Hillary Clinton for 51 minutes this week. I thought she avoided answering one question. It was something like, how would you rate American voters in general? Aside from that, I was tremendously impressed. It is a tragedy that she lost.

A few topics discussed:

16:00  How the media handled the presidential campaign

17:45  Healthcare, including the important distinction between universal care, which should be our goal, and single-payer, which is only one way, and probably not the best way, to get universal care

26:30  American politics today

36:00  The 2016 election

42:00  How women voted

44:50   The effect of the Comey letter plus the Electoral College, voter suppression and dangers ahead.

 

Something Encouraging For a Change

In today’s news, Senator Turtle Face (formally known as Addison Mitchell McConnell, Jr., Republican of Kentucky) delayed the vote on the “Less Money for Health Insurance Equals More Money for Rich People” bill. Presumably, he didn’t have enough Yes votes to pass legislation that nobody (except him and a few rich people?) likes.

This will either give the Republicans a few days to find the necessary Yes votes, or it will give opponents of the bill (of which there are many) the chance to create more No votes. Since the Senate Majority Leader had planned a quick vote on a bill he tried to keep as secret as possible, the postponement appears on balance to be a welcome development.

Proving again that he is indeed the Master Negotiator, the President put on a show at the White House today with Republican Senators, at which he announced:

This will be great if we get it done. And if we don’t get it done, it’s just going to be something that we’re not going to like, and that’s OK, and I understand that very well.

As far as we know, the President has not yet demonstrated in a single case whatsoever that he has any understanding at all of the the American healthcare system, the Affordable Care Act, or the Republican effort to repeal or replace it. Clearly, he is a Big Picture guy.

Consistent with the possibility that this is not Hell, some observers think the Republicans’ struggles are a sign of better things to come. Paul Waldman of The Washington Post writes:

The Republican health-care bill is not dead yet, but it’s in rough shape. Whether it passes or not, it has been an utter debacle for the GOP, making the Affordable Care Act they’re trying to undo more popular than ever, energizing the Democratic base, complicating the relationship between President [DT] and Congress and sowing justified distrust of Republican motives among the broader public.

It has also done something else: moved the debate on health care in America to the left and made single payer much more likely.

Even if the Senate bill fails, Republicans give up and move on to tax reform, and the status quo remains in place, this debate will have had profound effects on our politics. While the Democratic Party may have been moving to the left on health care anyway, its momentum in that direction may now be unstoppable. And the entire country will be more receptive than ever to the arguments Democrats will make. This, by the way, will also be the case if the GOP repeal effort succeeds, because it will make so much that people hate about our health-care system a lot worse.

Let me point to one politician as an illustration. For years, Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s position on single payer has essentially been “Maybe someday” — not opposed to it, but focused in the short term on the more urgent priority of defending and enhancing the ACA. But in an article in today’s Wall Street Journal, we learn that she is now ready to take that plunge:

“President Obama tried to move us forward with health-care coverage by using a conservative model that came from one of the conservative think tanks that had been advanced by a Republican governor in Massachusetts,” she said during an interview in her Senate office last week. “Now it’s time for the next step. And the next step is single payer.”

Warren is not going to be the last Democrat to take this step. In fact, any Democrat who runs for president in 2020 — and there will be a lot of them — will have a hard time explaining to the primary electorate why they don’t want single payer, and most or all of them will probably say they do.

We can make an analogy with what happened in the GOP after the failure of comprehensive immigration reform [in 2013]…. The situations aren’t exactly the same, but … a dramatic political failure — whether it’s yours or the other party’s — can have profound effects on the choices politicians make about how to approach the electorate. And it’s important to understand that while there are some Democratic politicians who emphatically favor single payer and would be unsatisfied with anything less, most of them would be willing to advocate for a range of policy options, depending on what looks politically achievable and what their base demands at a particular moment.

All the ups and downs of the past eight years, from the beginning of the debate on the ACA to the end of the debate on Republican repeal plans, hold many lessons for Democrats who are still eager to address the problems in the American health-care system. Among other things, we know that voters are risk-averse, that they’re extremely sensitive to out-of-pocket costs, that they want security and that arguments about the glories of the free market aren’t going to be persuasive to them. After seeing how desperately unpopular this Republican plan is, Democrats are going to be much less afraid to defend government health care and advocate its expansion.

And they know that whatever they propose next has to be simple and understandable. We can debate whether the ACA had to be as complex as it was, but next time around, no Democrat is going to believe that you can take on President Trump with a technocratic approach to health care. Saying “Here are the 10 tweaks I’d make to the ACA” isn’t going to cut it.

That isn’t to say that whatever plans they propose won’t be fully fleshed out under the hood, but they’ll have to be presented in a way that is easy for voters to understand. And, yes, Republicans will cry about “Washington bureaucrats making decisions for you,” but Democrats are less likely to be intimidated. Ask your parents or grandparents on Medicare how they feel about their coverage — Medicare is the most popular health insurance program we have, and it’s run by Washington bureaucrats.

It’s important to keep in mind that “single payer” isn’t one thing — if you look around the world at highly developed countries, there is a spectrum of health systems with various levels of public and private involvement. But what they have in common is that they achieve universal coverage while working better and costing less than ours. We could well have 15 Democratic presidential candidates proposing 15 different kinds of single payer. Some may be highly socialized systems — what Bernie Sanders would likely advocate if he runs again — but the ones that are most appealing could be hybrid systems of the kind that have been successful in countries such as France. The way it works is that there’s a government plan that covers everyone’s basic needs, but you can also buy supplemental private insurance to get as many more benefits as you want.

Among the advantages of a hybrid system is that one can actually see a path from where we are now to there. That path runs through Medicaid, which now covers nearly 75 million Americans. What if we auto-enrolled everyone under 65 in Medicaid — it’s there if you need it, but if you have different insurance you’d prefer, go ahead and use that instead. No one would be without coverage. Private insurance would evolve into something you buy to fill in the gaps and get perks that Medicaid wouldn’t provide. Instead of covering all your health care, employers could provide the supplemental private insurance.

As a political matter, you could sell this as something that we could transition to over an extended period, and as a system that satisfies the goals of both liberals and conservatives. Liberals get the universal coverage and security they want, and conservatives get the freedom they want — if you’re rich enough to buy a supplemental plan that includes deliveries of Dom Perignon during any hospitalization, go right ahead.

That isn’t to say that Republicans wouldn’t resist and there won’t be more intense arguments about health care, because they would and there will be. But by handling this debate so terribly and proposing something so monstrous, Republicans have opened up the space for Democrats to go much further than they’ve been willing to before. It’s not impossible to foresee Democrats winning the House in 2018, then taking the presidency and the Senate in 2020 — and then taking the first steps toward making single-payer health care in America a reality. 

End quote.