We Shouldn’t Expect Much From Republican Senators

How many Republican senators will vote to convict our former president and bar him from running for president again? Paul Waldman of The Washington Post says there won’t be enough of them:

Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial is coming soon. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced Friday that the House will transmit the one impeachment article to the Senate on Monday, clearing the way for the trial to commence. Now begins the wrangling to determine whether 17 GOP senators might join (presumably) all 50 Democrats to convict Trump of inciting the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol.

There’s been lots of discussion about what it would take to get to those 17 votes, in particular whether Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will vote to convict and bring others with him. There are almost certainly many more than 17 Republicans who in their hearts believe that Trump is guilty and would like their party to make a clean break with him. But whether they’ll take that position publicly is a very different matter.

Don’t bet on McConnell, or more than a couple of Republicans, coming through in the end. It’s a tricky political question for them, but the weight of their incentives will push them toward acquittal, no matter their personal feelings about Trump and what he has done to their party.

It’s true that there’s an effort to get them to convict. CNN reports that “dozens of influential Republicans around Washington — including former top Trump administration officials — have been quietly lobbying GOP members of Congress to impeach and convict Donald Trump.” One unnamed Republican member of Congress even said, “Mitch said to me he wants Trump gone.”

Which you might have gathered from the speech McConnell gave the day before Joe Biden’s inauguration. “The mob was fed lies,” he said. “They were provoked by the president and other powerful people.”

But it’s one thing to offer some harsh words about a specific misdeed and another to actually vote to convict the former president. As McConnell surely understands, while he other Republicans might want to make a clean break from Trump, the problem is that there will be no such thing. Any break from Trump will be painful and ugly.

Think of it this way: What does McConnell have to gain from voting to convict Trump, and what does he have to lose? He really has nothing at all to gain, even if he could gather 16 other Republicans to join him. That wouldn’t make his whole party turn the page and walk proudly into its post-Trump future. It would just touch off an internecine war, one that nobody would win.

Loyalty to Trump is still intense within the GOP. “If you’re wanting to erase Donald Trump from the party, you’re going to get erased,” said Trump advocate Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), adding that trying to move forward without Trump would be “a disaster for the Republican Party.”

Graham may be wrong on the second part, but he’s right on the first. If McConnell were to vote to convict and bring others with him, he’d immediately be hit with a tsunami of rage from the right. Talk radio and Fox News would mobilize their audiences to pour down contempt upon a figure that they never much liked or trusted anyway. Enterprising Republican politicians would demand he be removed from leadership.

That’s already happening to Rep. Liz Cheney. In the days since the third-ranking member of the House Republican leadership voted to impeach Trump, she has earned a primary challenge from the right for her reelection. According to Politico, more than 100 House Republicans “have communicated to the leaders of that effort that they would support removing Cheney from leadership on a secret ballot.”

But standing up and saying it was just fine and dandy that Trump spent two months lying to his supporters, culminating with his incitement of a violent attack that could have resulted in the deaths of some of the very people who will be voting on impeachment, is not all that appealing. So Senate Republicans are coalescing around a plan: They can avoid defending what Trump did by finding safe harbor in a procedural objection.

The problem, more and more of them are saying, is that the Constitution doesn’t allow for the impeachment of a president who has left office, and therefore there shouldn’t be any trial at all.

In fact, the Constitution doesn’t say that the president can’t be impeached once he departs. While some legal scholars insist otherwise, the weight of opinion is that his impeachment would be perfectly fine.

But that doesn’t matter; for Republicans it’s an argument of convenience. And it’s one McConnell will eventually join.

When the vote comes, McConnell will deliver a dramatic speech finally revealing his position. He’ll reiterate his criticisms of Trump, for lying about the election and whipping up the crowd.

However, he’ll say, all that’s in the past now. Trump is no longer president. And Democrats are just wasting time trying to score political points when they should be addressing the country’s problems. Therefore, he’ll say with sadness, I feel I have no choice but to vote to acquit.

In so doing, he’ll save himself a lot of grief. The alternative is a gesture that won’t get him what he wants — a truly post-Trump party — but will threaten his own authority and deepen the GOP’s internal divisions. It’s not even a close call.

Unquote.

It’s not true McConnell would have nothing to gain from convicting him. McConnell could immediately insure that the creep couldn’t run for president again, even as a third party candidate. Some Republican senators would love that to happen. But these same senators would prefer that 17 other Republicans vote to convict and prohibit the malignant narcissist from running. They don’t want to be on record voting against their party’s favorite demagogue.

PS: A small group of Democrats [is] pushing the idea of passing a resolution stating that Txxxx violated the 14th Amendment — which forbids federal officials from ever holding office if they “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” against the government — and ban him from running again for president in that manner.

Making a Difference in People’s Lives

The transition to a new president and a new Congress is always a significant moment, but it’s especially significant this year, there being such a stark difference between the old and the new. Paul Krugman discusses the current state of our politics and a piece of legislation that would make an important difference in the lives of millions of Americans:

. . . Biden will take office in a political environment polluted by lies.

Most important, of course, is the Big Lie: the claim, based on nothing whatsoever, that the election was stolen. Has there been anything in U.S. history like the demand from leading Republicans that Biden pursue “unity” when they won’t even say publicly that he won fairly? And polls showing that a large majority of rank-and-file Republicans believe that there was major election fraud are deeply scary.

But not far behind in importance is what I think of as the Slightly Smaller Lie — the almost universal insistence on the right that the mildly center-left leaders of the incoming administration and Congress are, or at least are controlled by, radical socialists. This allegation was almost the entire substance of Republican campaigning during the Georgia Senate runoffs.

One response to this bizarre claim — and it’s not a bad response — would be a Bidenesque “C’mon, man. Get real!” But I’d like to do a somewhat deeper dive by focusing on one particular issue: Biden’s call, as part of his economic recovery plan, for an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Republicans raising objections to Biden’s plan have singled out the minimum wage hike as a prime reason for their opposition, although we all know that they would have found some excuse for objecting no matter what he proposed. What’s striking about this fight — let’s not dignify it by calling it a debate, as if both sides were making real arguments — is that it shows us who the real radicals are.

For what counts as a radical economic proposal? One possible answer would be a proposal that flies in the face of public opinion.

By that criterion, however, Republican politicians are definitely the radicals here. Raising the minimum wage is immensely popular; it’s supported by around 70 percent of voters, including a substantial majority of self-identified Republicans. Or if you don’t believe polls, look at what happened in Florida back in November: even as Trump carried the state, a referendum on raising the minimum wage to $15 won in a landslide.

So the G.O.P. is very much out of step with the public on this issue — it’s espousing what is almost a fringe position. Oh, and it’s a position that is completely at odds with the claim by many Republicans that they’re the true party of the working class.

What if we define radicalism not by opposition to public opinion but by a refusal to accept the conclusions of mainstream economics? Here, too, Democrats are the moderates and Republicans the radicals.

It’s true that once upon a time there was a near-consensus among economists that minimum wages substantially reduced employment. But that was long ago. These days only a minority of economists think raising the minimum to $15 would have large employment costs, and a strong plurality believe that a significant rise — although maybe not all the way to $15 — would be a good idea.

Why did economists change their minds? No, the profession wasn’t infiltrated by antifa; it was moved by evidence, specifically the results of “natural experiments” that take place when an individual state raises its minimum wage while neighboring states don’t. The lesson from this evidence is that unless minimum wages are raised to levels higher than anything currently being proposed, hiking the minimum won’t have major negative effects on employment — but it will have significant benefits in terms of higher earnings and a reduction in poverty.

But evidence has a well-known liberal bias. Did I mention that on Friday, just days before their eviction, Trump officials released a report claiming that the 2017 tax cut paid for itself?

Voodoo economics may be the most thoroughly debunked doctrine in the history of economic thought, refuted by decades of experience — and voters consistently say that corporations and the wealthy pay too little, not too much, in taxes. Yet tax cuts for the already privileged are central to the Republican agenda, even under a supposedly populist president.

On economic policy, then, Democrats — even though they have moved somewhat to the left in recent years — are moderates by any standard, while Republicans are wild-eyed radicals. So why does the G.O.P. think that it can get away with claiming the opposite?

Part of the answer is the power of the right-wing disinformation machine, which relentlessly portrays anyone left of center as the second coming of Pol Pot. . . .

In any case, let’s be clear: There is indeed a radical party in America, one that, aside from hating democracy, has crazy ideas about how the world works and is at odds with the views of most voters. And it’s not the Democrats.

When Seeing Is Not Believing

In case we were thinking that a violent insurrection encouraged by the president to overturn the results of an election he lost might serve as a wakeup call for our Republican friends, here are the opening paragraphs of “How Republicans Are Warping Reality Around the Capitol Attack” (New York Times):

Immediately after the attack on the U.S. Capitol, all corners of the political spectrum repudiated the mob of President Txxxx’s supporters. Yet within days, prominent Republicans, party officials, conservative media voices and rank-and-file voters began making a rhetorical shift to try to downplay the group’s violent actions.

In one of the ultimate don’t-believe-your-eyes moments of the Txxxx era, these Republicans have retreated to the ranks of misinformation, claiming it was Black Lives Matter protesters and far-left groups like Antifa who stormed the Capitol — in spite of the pro-Trump flags and QAnon symbology in the crowd. Others have argued that the attack was no worse than the rioting and looting in cities during the Black Lives Matter movement, often exaggerating the unrest last summer while minimizing a mob’s attempt to overturn an election.

The shift is revealing about how conspiracy theories, deflection and political incentives play off one another in Mr. Txxxx’s G.O.P. For a brief time, Republican officials seemed perhaps open to grappling with what their party’s leader had wrought — violence in the name of their Electoral College fight. But any window of reflection now seems to be closing as Republicans try to pass blame and to compare last summer’s lawlessness, which was condemned by Democrats, to an attack on Congress, which was inspired by Mr. Txxxx.

A Nation-State and Its Enemies

The Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset (1883-1955) had an idea about what a nation is that’s relevant to our current predicaments. This is from Philosophy Now:

Published posthumously in 1960, Ortega’s resultant book Meditación de Europa (Meditation on Europe) discusses the nation-state, its role, and its future. After being forced from his own country by a fascist regime and witnessing two World Wars, it’s hardly surprising that the nation-state was an important topic to Ortega. He believed the issue lay partly in the fact that, whilst the nation-state generates a great deal of fanaticism, we are often incapable of providing an exact definition of one – which however Ortega had already done long ago in The Revolt of the Masses. As he said at a conference in 1951:

“I will repeat it once again: the reality which we call the State is not the spontaneous coming together of those united by ties of blood. The State begins when groups naturally divided find themselves obliged to live in common. This obligation is not violently forced upon them, but implies an impelling purpose, a common task which is set before the divided groups. Above all, the State is a plan of action and a program of collaboration. The men are called upon so that together they may do something. The State is neither consanguinity, nor linguistic unity, nor territorial unity, nor proximity of habitation. It is nothing material, inert, fixed, limited. It is pure dynamism – the will to do something in common – and thanks to this the concept of the State is bounded by no physical limits.”

Just like any enterprise, the nation-state has a set of values, insignia through which it is recognized (a flag), and a general set of customs that unite its members, creating cultural coherence amongst them. The nation-state, however, is built upon diversity, and belonging to it does not mean that sub-groups lose their individuality. Be it Catalonia in Spain or Scotland in the UK, belonging to a nation doesn’t remove their spirit as separate entities. And in the same way, all other groups which make up the members of a state do not lose their identity simply by becoming part of the nation: being Spanish doesn’t imply that you are of any particular faith, age, gender, race, and whilst it may be assumed that you speak Spanish, it is not necessarily your mother tongue. Even borders – which might seem like pretty stable definers of a nation – are the present result of centuries of conflict and negotiations. They have constantly changed throughout history, and there’s no reason to think that they won’t do so again in the future.

So instead of understanding a nation as something static, bound fast together by metaphysical connections, it should be viewed as a dynamic – something we do instead of something we are. Thanks to historical records, we have a documented account of Rome from its beginning until its fall – its lifespan, you might say. We Europeans have also witnessed the birth of our modern nation-states from the ruins of the Roman Empire, including their growth and incorporation of surrounding communities. But nation-states are also prone to shrink, fall apart, maybe even die. As a work in progress, nations are by no means eternal features that exist naturally on the face of the earth, leaving them open to whatever fate we bestow. As dynamic, ever-changing projects, nations must be open to change and to the incorporation of new groups, whose ideas could contribute to solving their problems and reaching their goals.

From Eugene Robinson for The Washington Post:

The biggest problem facing the nation now is not what to do with Txxxx, who will soon become yesterday’s news. The crisis is that more than 70 percent of Republican voters believe — falsely — that there was some kind of widespread fraud in the election. The essence of democracy is accepting both victory and loss as legitimate outcomes.

A GOP that internalizes and retains Txxxx’s conspiratorial worldview is not a political party. It is a dangerous cult. Elected officials who have cynically — or cravenly — gone along with that cult’s lies will not find it easy to reverse course.

Much more important than whether Txxxx is convicted in his coming trial is whether Republicans level with their constituents and tell them that Txxxx is lying.

If Republicans won’t — or can’t — tell the truth about the November election, they are no longer participants in our [nation-state’s] democracy. They are its enemies. 

One Real Bad Chicken

A personal note:

I can’t bring myself to watch the proceedings. I wanted to hear what the good guys had to say a year ago, because the issues were relatively murky. There was a timeline to understand. I wanted to see the argument laid out one step at a time. The case for impeachment this time is simple. 

On top of that, I’ve gotten the gist of the opposition’s argument. Somebody on Twitter summed up my reaction:

Just in awe of the shamelessness of GOP reps who voted to decertify the election results one week ago today standing up and kvetching that a quick impeachment is a reckless application of the House’s procedural powers.

“You’re using this as a weapon, and you’re destroying this little experiment in self-government.” –Rep. Gohmert, referring not to his own attempt to get Pence to unilaterally throw out the 2020 election but to Pelosi not routing impeachment through the proper committees. 

I wonder how many of them will actually vote for the impeachment. So far only five have said they will. More of them would except they’re afraid for their lives. They fear their own voters. They’ve said that in private (of course). They fear their own voters, the ones who could have lynched Pence and Pelosi, and blown up the Capitol if they’d been more competent. An enormous insane bloodthirsty fascist chicken has come home to roost.

Other tweets I’ve been saving. One from Prof. Timothy Snyder:

The claim that Txxxx won the election is a Big Lie. A Big Lie changes reality. To believe it, people must disbelieve their senses, distrust their fellow citizens, and live in a world of faith. 

A Big Lie demands conspiracy thinking, since all who doubt it are seen as traitors.

A Big Lie undoes a society, since it divides citizens into believers and unbelievers.

A Big Lie destroys democracy, since people who are convinced that nothing is true but the utterances of their leader ignore voting and its results.

A Big Lie must bring violence, as it has.

A Big Lie can never be told just by one person. Txxxx is the originator of this Big Lie, but it could never have flourished without his allies on Capitol Hill.

There is a cure for the Big Lie. Our elected representatives should tell the truth, without dissimulation, about the results of the 2020 election. Politicians who do not tell the simple truth perpetuate the Big Lie, further an alternative reality, support conspiracy theories, weaken democracy, and foment violence far worse than that of January 6, 2021.

One from Prof. Paul Krugman:

The basic story of the [Republican Party] is that it was taken over by plutocrats, who invited racists and conspiracy theorists into the tent because they thought it would help them cut taxes. Then they woke up one day and realized that the crazies were in charge.

And one in response to the president’s latest statement on the matter:

If the man had any interest at all in easing tensions and calming tempers, he’d hold a televised press conference conceding the election, communicating that there was no evidence of fraud, that Biden will legitimately take office on the 20th, and there’s no reason to protest it.