The Counterattack

This Trump thing has gone on long enough. He was a joke. He was supposed to implode. Okay, he didn’t. Thirty percent of Republican primary voters, more or less, given the day, want him to be the Republican nominee, and then our next president, and with ten or so other candidates in the race, that thirty percent might be enough to get him the nomination. That leaves seventy percent of the party that thinks he’s a dangerous jerk who will ruin the party forever, but who do they have, the third Bush, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, Ted Cruz? On a good day one of them might top out at ten percent, and they don’t have good days.

Trump could win this – the Republican nomination that is. The presidency is another matter, but in the meantime, he’s out there offending everyone in sight – Hispanics, blacks, women, Asians, the Chamber of Commerce and Club for Growth business crowd, and the press. It’s as if he doesn’t want any votes other than those of that exquisitely angry thirty or so percent of the Republican base. That’s a subset of a subset, but still, the supersets – Republicans in general and then the general public – sense that it might be time do something about this blowhard. It’s time for a counterattack.

One of those counterattacks just came from the press:

Network TV news representatives will confer Monday to hash out demands about access to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign after Trump officials last week threatened to “blacklist” reporters who left a designated media “pen” during rallies for the presidential front-runner.

According to people at multiple networks, senior managers from the five leading TV news networks – ABC News, CBS News, CNN, Fox and NBC News – will discuss their response in an effort to push back against what they deem harsh and restrictive behavior by Trump’s managers, including his top aide, campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.

Lewandowski has been a problem:

Lewandowski threatened to pull the press credentials of a CNN reporter, Noah Gray, last week after Gray sought to leave the press pen during a Trump campaign appearance in Worcester, Mass. Gray, an “embed” for the network who has covered Trump for months, recorded Lewandowski’s threat to “blacklist” him and posted it online.

Reporters clashed again with Lewandowski and Trump press secretary Hope Hicks on Friday at an event in Spartanburg, S.C. When the journalists tried to interview voters before Trump’s speech, they were ordered to return to the press pen, under threat of losing their credentials. They later defied an order by Hicks to remain in the press area, a small area bordered by bicycle rack-like barriers, while Trump greeted supporters on a rope line afterward.

This is a freedom-of-the-press thing, in this context:

For many years, candidates and elected officials have restricted reporters to a press zone during public events. The nominal reasons are safety and security, and to avoid disruptions that may occur during a speech if a camera crew were to jostle its way through a crowd.

But Trump’s campaign has enforced even tighter restrictions than is typical, such as ordering media people to stay in the pen before events. Some reporters covering Trump suspect the campaign is clamping down on their movements to block them from recording protests by activists and others during his appearances.

This comes close to press censorship, and one wonders what a Trump presidency would look like, given this:

Campaign reporters who have crossed Lewandowski say he has retaliated by temporarily blacklisting them, assigning them to what he has termed “the doghouse.”

The campaign has also declined to give credentials to reporters from news organizations it has deemed unfriendly. The list includes BuzzFeed, the Huffington Post, Fusion, Univision and the Des Moines Register, the largest paper in the state holding the nation’s first caucus. The latter says it has been kept out of Trump’s events as a result of an editorial the paper published in July urging Trump to withdraw from the race.

That’s a bit Soviet, but these guys have a plan:

By presenting a unified front, the five networks involved in Monday’s discussion will have greater leverage with the campaign than any individual organization… The group wants to seek an agreement with the campaign about how the press pen will be managed, instead of the campaign dictating its terms, according to people knowledgeable about the discussion. They also want campaign officials to stop issuing threats to pull credentials or bar network journalists.

This is not the Soviet Union in 1953 after all. The public figure in question doesn’t get to choose which reporters are allowed to cover him and who they are allowed to talk to – at least that’s how we’ve come to understand how a free press works. The politburo doesn’t get to write the news, not here, not now, and certainly not yet.

Real news is better for the nation. It’s good to know what’s actually going on. One should respect the press, at least a little, but that’s not Donald Trump. Colin Campbell notes what Trump said about the press at his most recent campaign event on Saturday in Birmingham, Alabama. It was all sneers:

On columnist George Will: “George Will, I swear he looks smart because he has those little glasses. If you take the glasses away from him, he’s a dummy. He needs those glasses, those little spectacles.”

On the reporters in the room: “Look at all those guys. Highly paid – highly paid! – guys, of which I think 25% of them are good people, okay? No, it’s true. Look at them.”

On veteran journalist Cokie Roberts: “I saw the other day – I think her name is Cokie Roberts. What a lightweight. She was on ‘Morning Joe.’ ‘Morning Joe’ was saying how well Trump is doing in the polls, the polls. Roberts said, ‘Well, I don’t know.’ Then I was saying to myself, ‘You know, they talk about these people as intellectuals. I’m much more of an intellectual. I’m much smarter than them.'”

On wire-service news outlets: “They usually write bad stuff about me. They don’t even like me, right? Reuters… they all write bad about me. They love to write bad. The good stuff, they don’t want to write. I say, ‘What about that story?’ They say, ‘No, no, we don’t want to write that.'”

On a New York Times report covering Trump’s Muslim-database controversy: “Today, in The New York Times, they had a report on the front page that was false – really false. … I love being on the front page, I’m from New York. New York Times front page! But it’s a false story.”

On the cameramen following a protester being ejected: “You want to see something funny. Look at those cameras. They’re turned around. They’re following the few people that are being thrown out. … Look at those bloodsuckers back there. … They don’t want to show the crowd because they’re dishonest people, I’m telling you. They’re dishonest people. The media is so dishonest.”

More on the cameramen: “These are just lying-people. They’re bad people. The press is really bad. Fan the cameras over here, fellows! Fan the cameras. Show them. Look, they don’t do it. They don’t do it. They don’t do it! They’re very dishonest people.”

On an NBC News reporter who asked him about a Muslim database: “Some little wise guy, he looked like he was 12 years old.”

He can’t control the press, thus they’re dishonest, so of course his people will shut them down – but that night he did say Barbara Walters and Rush Limbaugh were just fine. They show him the proper respect, or something. He really was doing his best Mussolini that night. He has that look too.

But it wasn’t just the press that counterattacked, as there was this:

Nearly a dozen big Republican donors backing different presidential candidates are coming together to help fund an advertising campaign attacking front-runner Donald Trump…

Matt David, spokesman for the group planning the attack, a Super PAC called New Day for America, which is supporting Ohio Governor John Kasich’s presidential bid, said 10 new donors had pledged money in the two days since Politico reported Thursday evening the group’s plans to attack Trump in New Hampshire…

David said New Day for America’s plans to spend $2.5 million on anti-Trump ads in New Hampshire meant the group’s message would achieve something near “saturation” in the state.

It has already received “hundreds of thousands of dollars” from the new donors, and pledges over the past two days add up to more than $1 million, according to David.

Even the big-money supporters of Kasich’s rivals were glad to jump in:

David said his group plans to use ads on TV and radio as well as direct mailings to New Hampshire voters to show them what a Trump presidency would look like, depicting details like the complicated, expensive bureaucratic operations behind efforts to deport millions of illegal immigrants and get all Muslims in the United States to register in a database.

Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog is not impressed:

Oh, brilliant: You’re going to tell angry Republican voters that Trump really can’t deport all the undocumented immigrants and register all the Muslims, policies those angry voters desperately crave? While you’re at it, why not tell some preschoolers that there’s no Santa Claus? That’ll go over equally well.

This is one more reason we ought to raise taxes on the rich: because when it comes to spending money on politics, the rich have no damn sense. We need to save them from themselves.

Perhaps so, but there was a second counterattack being planned:

A well-connected GOP operative is planning a “guerrilla campaign” backed by secret donors to “defeat and destroy” the celebrity businessman’s candidacy, according to a memo reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. …

The most concerted effort is Trump Card LLC, the self-styled guerrilla campaign being launched by Liz Mair, the former online communications director of the Republican National Committee. “In the absence of our efforts, Trump is exceedingly unlikely to implode or be forced out of the race,” according to the Trump Card memo. “The stark reality is that unless something dramatic and unconventional is done, Trump will be the Republican nominee and Hillary Clinton will become president.” …

Ms. Mair, who has ties to the libertarian movement and the GOP establishment, said that donors backing Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Mr. Kasich and Mr. Bush are interested and that some worry that going public could hurt their candidate.

Rick Wilson, a Republican media consultant, said in an interview that he is prepared to make ads for the new group. Mr. Wilson isn’t involved in fundraising but predicted that a number of Republican donors will start bankrolling an anti-Trump effort.

Fine, but this time Kevin Drum is not impressed:

Look, folks: the first rule of fight club is that you don’t talk about fight club. What’s the point of publicly announcing about this strategy? It’s good for the ego, I suppose, but all it does is alert Trump and ruin any jolt of surprise you might get from your campaign. Now reporters are all ready for it, and when it happens they’ll just dissect it dispassionately instead of (hopefully) being dazzled. It’s like the idiots in the Hillary Clinton campaign who decided to alert the world that they planned a campaign to make Hillary look more human. Nice going!

Maybe it’s good to do this anyway, or maybe not:

On the one hand, Republicans deserve every bit of what they’re getting. For years they’ve been actively encouraging the enraged, racially-charged grievance culture that Trump represents, and it’s hard to feel sorry for them now that it’s biting them in the ass. Besides, if Trump does win the nomination, he’s almost certain to lose, and that’s fine with me. Republicans deserve another few years out in the cold.

On the other hand, life is strange, and “almost certain” is not “certain.” What’s more, we’re now at the point where Trump is no longer a joke. Another year of his unapologetic racism and xenophobia could do serious damage to the country – and especially to the targets of his malignant rants. It’s long past time to dump him on the nearest ash heap of history.

As for what’s biting Republicans in the ass here, Slate’s Jamelle Bouie notes what made Trump possible:

In conservative entertainment, race panic sells. And if you’ve watched Fox News at all in the past seven years, followed websites like Breitbart, or listened to conservative talk radio, you’ve experienced it.

During his heyday in 2009, Glenn Beck warned that President Obama had a “deep-seated hatred for white people” and that the Affordable Care Act was a stealth vehicle for reparations. “This is what he said on the campaign trail – he’s not for reparations because they don’t go far enough,” explained Beck to his audience. “We need health care.” Echoing him, Rush Limbaugh urged his listeners to stay alert, since – in the age of Obama – “The days of minorities not having any power are over, and they are angry … And they want to use their power as a means of retribution. That’s what Obama’s about, gang.”

The next year, Fox ran hyped coverage of the “New Black Panther Party,” a small extremist group accused of election intimidation. The actual incident was minor – two men brandishing a nightstick at a heavily Democratic polling place in Philadelphia in 2008 – but Fox’s Megyn Kelly, who hyped the story that year, made it a harbinger of anti-white terror. As David Weigel wrote at the time for Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish, “Watch her broadcasts and you become convinced that the New Black Panthers are a powerful group that hate white people and operate under the protection of Eric Holder’s DOJ.”

During George Zimmerman’s 2013 trial for the shooting of Trayvon Martin, the network moved to constant coverage of “black-on-black” and, especially, “black-on-white” crime. One story – the murder of Christopher Lane, an Australian exchange student in Oklahoma, by a group of black and white teens – received special attention, including segments on an alleged epidemic of black crime against whites. “Look, the most common form of interracial hate crime is black on white,” said Pat Buchanan during a segment with Greta van Susteren. “The idea of racial hate crimes is 40 times more prevalent in the black community than the white community. And nobody talks about it.”

Likewise, at popular right-wing websites like Breitbart and Human Events, writers warned their readers of the “knockout game,” where black teens would attack unsuspecting whites with a knockout punch to the head. “Coming soon to a city near you: The knockout game,” reads one headline among many. On any given day, conservative personalities like Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity are denouncing “thugs” and “thug culture,” while mainstream conservative writers are warning of crime waves sparked by black political activism.

That all happened. Bouie has the links, and then there was the immigration coverage:

Fox personalities, in particular, routinely disparage Latin American and Hispanic immigrants as vectors for crime and disease. “Sadly, people are murdered all the time by illegals,” declared Fox & Friends’ Steve Doocy in one segment. And on his radio show, defending Trump, Sean Hannity has denounced immigrants in similar terms as the presidential candidate. “You want to talk about crime? Well what do you think – who’s coming from Latin America and Mexico? Are they rich, successful Mexicans, Nicaraguans, El Salvador residents? No! Why would they leave if they’re so successful?”

And most recently, Fox News hosted a forum on Islam in public schools, where host Keith Ablow demanded that schools teach students that Muslims are “on the march where they’d like to destroy the United States.”

It hasn’t been pretty, and Trump used it all, because he’s been a reality star:

This material just scratches the surface of the race panic that’s ubiquitous throughout conservative media, from breathless coverage of Black Lives Matter on Fox News (a “hate group” that’s “like the Ku Klux Klan”) and fearmongering on immigrant crime from conservative radio hosts, to race-baiting on conservative websites. And it reaches millions of Americans, many of them Republicans, who listen and watch it as part of their daily lives.

Of course Trump would sound off on immigrant crime and disloyal Muslims and criminal blacks. He is fundamentally an entertainer, and in conservative entertainment, those are the money shots: The stories that capture attention and drive ratings. And on the same score, his supporters – the tens of thousands of people who show up for his rallies – are thrilled to hear them.

No one is going to bring him down, and Trump has an ace up his sleeve anyway:

Property magnate Donald Trump fired a warning shot at the national Republican Party on Monday. The GOP presidential front-runner tweeted that the Republican National Committee was reportedly “getting ready to treat me unfairly – big spending planned against me.”

“That wasn’t the deal!” Trump exclaimed.

The “deal” was an apparent reference to the pledge Trump signed in September to not launch an independent presidential campaign should he lose the nomination. At the time, Trump said that he was happy to sign the nonbinding pledge because the RNC assured him that it would treat him “fairly.” But Trump’s tweet on Monday suggested that he could be trying to use a third-party run as leverage against the RNC again.

And Trump had already moved to conventional media:

He also hinted at the possibility the day before during an interview on ABC’s “This Week.” Host George Stephanopoulos asked Trump about a recent Wall Street Journal report on a supposed “guerrilla campaign” being planned against him.

He asked if that could lead to Trump rethinking his third-party pledge.

“Well, we’ll see what happens,” Trump replied, according to ABC’s transcript. “It will be very interesting. But I’m leading every poll by a lot. It’s not even a little bit anymore, it’s a lot.”

Stephanopoulos pressed Trump again.

“Well, I’m going to have to see what happens,” the candidate repeated. “I will see what happens. I have to be treated fairly. You know, when I did this, I said I have to be treated fairly. If I’m treated fairly, I’m fine.”

That was a threat, a counter-counterattack. If the Republican establishment pulls him down, he’ll pull them down with him. The conservative vote will be split. Hillary Clinton will waltz into the White House. Then they’ll be sorry they ever messed with him.

He’s got them trapped. He’s their man, like it or not, except that the statistician Nate Silver, who’s never wrong about such things, tells us that Trump just isn’t going to be our president:

Right now, he has 25 to 30 percent of the vote in polls among the roughly 25 percent of Americans who identify as Republican. (That’s something like 6 to 8 percent of the electorate overall, or about the same share of people who think the Apollo moon landings were faked.) As the rest of the field consolidates around him, Trump will need to gain additional support to win the nomination. That might not be easy, since some Trump actions that appeal to a faction of the Republican electorate may alienate the rest of it. Trump’s favorability ratings are middling among Republicans (and awful among the broader electorate).

Trump will also have to get that 25 or 30 percent to go to the polls. For now, most surveys cover Republican-leaning adults or registered voters, rather than likely voters. Combine that with the poor response rates to polls and the fact that an increasing number of polls use nontraditional sampling methods, and it’s not clear how much overlap there is between the people included in these surveys and the relatively small share of Republicans who will turn up to vote in primaries and caucuses.

He’s got the vote of the people who think the Apollo moon landings were faked, or at least the same number of people – mighty few – so there’s no need to worry, at least not very much:

If past nomination races are any guide, the vast majority of eventual Republican voters haven’t made up their minds yet. It can be easy to forget it if you cover politics for a living, but most people aren’t paying all that much attention to the campaign right now. …

So, could Trump win? We confront two stubborn facts: first, that nobody remotely like Trump has won a major-party nomination in the modern era, and second, as is always a problem in analysis of presidential campaigns, we don’t have all that many data points, so unprecedented events can occur with some regularity.

So here are the odds:

For my money, that adds up to Trump’s chances being higher than 0 but (considerably) less than 20 percent. Your mileage may vary. But you probably shouldn’t rely solely on the polls to make your case; it’s still too soon for that.

Ah, so this guy isn’t going to be our next president – no way – he’s just going to ruin the Republican Party and cause irreparable damage to the nation, as we tear each other apart over the outrageous things he says, which are believed by enough angry people who are sure to make trouble in the nastiest way. He doesn’t need to be stopped, and he does. That work has finally begun.

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Dark Days Returning

November 22, 2015 – a good day to remember how dark the sixties were. Fifty-two years ago, on November 22, 1963, President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. That was sophomore year in high school. The news came on the speakers in the classrooms – not the usual school announcements. They piped in a live feed from the radio accounts, but we were just kids. We didn’t know what to make of this. And this was suburban Pittsburgh. Dallas was a strange place, far away. Everyone said this was a big deal, and of course it was, but fifteen-year-old kids aren’t much concerned with the fate of democracy in America and what kind of people we really are. Were presidential assassinations unheard of? That might have been covered in some history class, but who was paying attention? And as for the fate of the world, a year earlier, in October 1962, there had been those thirteen days of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The United States had come close to all-out nuclear war with the Soviet Union, and the end of the world. That seemed more likely than not – but then the world didn’t end. The adults worked things out. Any fourteen-year-old kid figured they would. The world was a dark place, but high school kids have their own concerns.

But then there was April 4, 1968 – spring break from junior year in college, back in Pittsburgh to catch up on things at home – and there was no shrugging off the darkness that day. Martin Luther King had just been assassinated. The country really was going to tear itself apart, as if all the protests about the Vietnam War hadn’t been enough. This was the final straw. We really were a nasty and brutal people. At twenty you notice such things, but sometimes there is a bit of light. There was President Kennedy’s younger brother Bobby, and he provided that light:

Earlier that day Kennedy had spoken at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend and at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. Before boarding a plane to attend campaign rallies in Indianapolis, Kennedy learned that King had been shot. When he arrived, Kennedy was informed that King had died. Despite fears of riots and concerns for his safety, Kennedy went ahead with plans to attend a rally at 17th and Broadway in the heart of Indianapolis’s African-American ghetto. That evening Kennedy addressed the crowd, many of whom had not heard about King’s assassination. Instead of the rousing campaign speech they expected, Kennedy offered brief, impassioned remarks for peace that is considered to be one of the great public addresses of the modern era.

He also got to the heart of the matter:

“When you teach a man to hate and fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs or the policies he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies, to be met not with cooperation but with conquest; to be subjugated and mastered. We learn, at the last, to look at our brothers as aliens, men with whom we share a city, but not a community; men bound to us in common dwelling, but not in common effort. We learn to share only a common fear, only a common desire to retreat from each other, only a common impulse to meet disagreement with force.”

We can have no more of that, not now. The crowd dispersed quietly, but the riots did follow all across the country, just not in Indianapolis, and Bobby Kennedy himself was assassinated later that summer, and then there were the riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and then Richard Nixon was elected president. Then things really got dark – the war extended with massive bombings and “incursions” into Laos and Cambodia, and the students at Kent State shot dead by the Ohio National Guard, and finally, Nixon resigning in disgrace.

That resignation didn’t change much. Gerald Ford was wrong. Our long national nightmare wasn’t over. The darkness never lifted. Politics became acrimony. Reagan sneered at welfare queens. Newt Gingrich reinvented Congress as an institution of confrontation and tantrums, where nothing got done, on principle, and the other guys were evil incarnate. Fox News was created to reinforce that, to sneer at the “pinheads” on the other side of things. The other side fought back with Keith Olbermann and then Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, and, at present, Bill Maher. Mockery replaced discourse, and then after 9/11 we went to war. We adopted torture as official policy. Renaming it Enhanced Interrogation was a bit of a joke. But those who had issues with that or with what we did in Iraq, or anywhere else, became traitors, or at best, total fools.

Bobby Kennedy had given a fine speech in Indianapolis, but what difference had it made? The darkness had returned almost immediately, but on the night of Tuesday, July 27, 2004, Barack Obama gave the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, and that brought back the light:

There is not a liberal America and a conservative America – there is the United States of America. There is not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America – there’s the United States of America.

The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too: We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don’t like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States, and, yes, we’ve got some gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq.

The politics of cynicism leads nowhere. Hope was the answer, not simply “blind optimism” but hope:

It’s the hope of slaves sitting around a fire singing freedom songs. The hope of immigrants setting out for distant shores. The hope of a young naval lieutenant bravely patrolling the Mekong Delta. [Kerry] The hope of a mill worker’s son who dares to defy the odds. [Edwards] The hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too.

Hope! Hope in the face of difficulty! Hope in the face of uncertainty! The audacity of hope! In the end, that is God’s greatest gift to us, the bedrock of this nation.

This was the Bobby Kennedy speech on steroids and the speech that made Obama president. At least it set the terms of his presidency, and unlike Bobby, no one assassinated Barry. Obama lucked out there, and he’s had eight years to spread the light – everyone matters in America, even gay folks, and unarmed black kids who keep getting shot dead by the police, and those “illegal” immigrants who might make good citizens if we’d only fix our laws. Even those refugees fleeing Syria for their lives deserve some help. And maybe we could stop calling each other names and talk to each other like civilized human beings and work things out on all sorts of issues.

None of that really worked out, but it was a bit of light, and now it’s going to go out. Obama’s time is up, and the darkness is returning:

Yesterday, at a Donald Trump rally in Birmingham, AL, a local activist named Mercutio Southall Jr. started shouting “Black Lives Matter!” as Donald Trump spoke. What followed was a physical altercation between Southall and Trump supporters, captured on camera by a CNN reporter in the crowd. The video makes it a little hard to tell how the fight started, but by the Washington Post’s account “a white man punched and attempted to choke” Southall.

On Sunday morning, Fox News host Ed Henry asked Trump about the incident: “of an African-American protester from Black Lives Matter who appears to have gotten roughed up.” At first, Trump appeared to be ambivalent about the term “roughed up,” but then he warmed up to it: “Maybe he should have been roughed up.”

His actual words were these:

I will tell you that the man that was – was I don’t know you say roughed up; he was so obnoxious and so loud, he was screaming. I had 10,000 people in the room yesterday, 10,000 people, and this guy started screaming by himself and they – I don’t know, rough up, he should have been – maybe he should have been roughed up because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing. This was not handled the way Bernie Sanders handled his problem, I will tell you, but I have a lot of fans and they were not happy about it. And this was a very obnoxious guy, who was a troublemaker, was looking to make trouble, but I didn’t get to see the event.

He didn’t get to see the event, but what are you going to do? He also seems to be implying that these are the people who want “their” country back and they’re pissed off by this Black Lives Matter thing. This event is not only understandable – the guy should have shut the fuck up – but it’s probably justified. If so, other things may be justified:

Trump supporters have gotten physical with protesters at several other events this fall. A protester was dragged out of a Trump rally in Miami. A Trump supporter ripped up a protester’s sign. A Trump bodyguard was filmed sucker-punching a protester outside Trump Tower in early September. And at a rally in DC, photographers captured a Trump supporter pulling a protester’s hair.

And there was this:

In August, two Boston men were arrested for beating a homeless Latino man with a metal pole. One of them told police, “Donald Trump was right – all these illegals need to be deported.” When Trump was asked about it at a New Hampshire press conference, he initially said he didn’t know about the incident and then added: “I will say that people who are following me are very passionate. They love this country and they want this country to be great again. They are passionate. I will say that, and everybody here has reported it.”

He loves that passion. It took him two full days to tweet out that he would never condone violence, and his followers seem to have understood that was a sop he was throwing out to all the politically correct bleeding-heart liberal fools out there, to get them to shut up, and also a bit of covering his ass legally. It was a bit of wink-wink nudge-nudge. They have his implicit permission to beat the crap out of those who disagree with them, and who disagree with him, but he also might want to remind them not to wear brown shirts.

Obama’s leaving. The darkness is returning, and Kevin Drum lists the things that Donald Trump has been saying these days:

The Obama administration is deliberately sending Syrian refugees only to red states as an act of political retribution.

Obama wants to take in 200,000 Syrian refugees, despite being told repeatedly that he’s off by a factor of ten or twenty.

If you’re a Christian refugee from Syria, the Obama administration won’t let you in. Obama only wants Muslim refugees.

We should have tight surveillance on mosques and might need to close some down.

We may have to think about creating a government registry of all Muslims.

On 9/11, there were thousands of people in Arab sections of Jersey City cheering when the World Trade Center went down.

That last claim is interesting:

It’s a scene that, as Donald J. Trump describes it, would seem to be seared into the American consciousness.

“I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down,” he told a crowd in Birmingham, Ala., on Saturday. “And I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down.”

No news reports exist of people cheering in the streets, and both police officials and the mayor of Jersey City have said that it did not happen. An Internet rumor about people cheering in the streets, which said it was in Paterson, not Jersey City, has been denied numerous times by city and police officials.

But when pressed on Sunday by George Stephanopoulos in an interview, Mr. Trump emphatically stuck to his story.

“It did happen, I saw it,” Mr. Trump said. “It was on television. I saw it.”

When reminded that police said it didn’t happen, Mr. Trump again insisted that he saw it.

“I know it might be not politically correct for you to talk about it, but there were people cheering as that building came down — as those buildings came down. And that tells you something,” he said. “It was well covered at the time, George.”

But he lost a buddy on that:

In New Hampshire on Sunday, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey said he had no recollection of state residents celebrating the terror attacks in 2001.

“I think if it had happened, I would remember it,” Mr. Christie said.

Drum is curious about all this:

Trump has said that we’re going to have to do things that were “unthinkable” a year ago. Considering the list of things he apparently believes are perfectly thinkable right now, that sends chills down your spine. And yet, this man continues to lead the GOP race and appears to be gaining momentum… How does this happen?

Here’s how:

A big part of it is because other high-profile Republicans are too cowardly to fight back. Nearly every Republican governor has jumped on the vile, big-talking bandwagon of refusing to allow any Syrian refugees to settle in their states. Every Republican presidential candidate favors a ban on accepting further Muslim Syrian refugees. Jeb Bush thinks we should only accept Christian refugees from Syria. Ted Cruz isn’t a fan of “government registries” but otherwise thinks Trump is great. Straight-talking Chris Christie dodges when he’s asked if existing Syrian refugees should be kicked out of New Jersey. Marco Rubio dodges when he’s asked if we might have to close down mosques.

Overall, with the semi-honorable exception of Jeb Bush, no Republican candidate has been willing to seriously push back on either Trump’s old Mexican demagoguery or his shiny new Muslim demagoguery. All this despite the fact that Mexican immigration is down and the United States hasn’t suffered a significant attack from overseas terrorists in over a decade.

All it took to wake this latent hysteria was some terrorist activity in other countries. God help us.

Drum would rather not embrace the darkness, and might not like this:

Donald Trump says if he’s elected president, he’ll bring back enhanced interrogation techniques like waterboarding for enemy combatants.

“I would bring it back, yes. I would bring it back,” Trump said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday.

Trump said waterboarding is tame compared to what Americans face when they’re captured by Islamic extremists.

“You know, they don’t use waterboarding over there; they use chopping off people’s heads,” he said. “They use drowning people. I don’t know if you’ve seen with the cages where they put people in cages and they drown them in the ocean and they lift out the cage.”

“I think waterboarding is peanuts compared to what they’d do to us, what they’re doing to us, what they did to James Foley when they chopped off his head,” Trump added, referring to the slain U.S. journalist.

He said he would “absolutely bring back interrogation and strong interrogation.”

Why? Even the Dick Cheney crowd could never document even one instance when waterboarding, or any other torture mechanism they ever used, came up with any useful information at all – because it doesn’t work. People will say anything to make it stop, anything at all, anything they hope you want to hear. Torture produces wild guesses at what will please the torturer, which is why confessions and evidence from torture has never been admissible in almost any legal system. But then Trump doesn’t address what he’d hope to learn. It simply feels righteous, and it says something about us. We torture people for no reason at all. Back off, or you’ll feel the pain. What American doesn’t want to say that to the rest of the world?

And then there was this:

Earlier on Sunday afternoon, Trump did his weird version of a manual retweet of an image depicting a man (in this context, assumed to be black), with a bandana over his face pointing a gun sideways towards a list of wholly fabricated statistics.

The image alleges that 97 percent of African-Americans were killed by African Americans, while only 1 percent of murdered African-Americans were killed by police. These two statistics are demarcated from the rest in blue and red ink respectively. It also claims 81 percent of whites who are killed are killed by blacks, which is pure race-baiting at its most ignorant. The numbers in this erroneous image are attributed to the “Crime Statistics Bureau – San Francisco,” and reflect 2015 data.

For one thing, a “Crime Statistics Bureau” does not exist. The FBI is responsible for this data and they have yet to release a report on 2015, because, well 2015 is not over yet.

Secondly, whoever made that image did so with the intent of lying about the percentage of white Americans killed by black Americans. In 2014, that number was 14 percent, not 81 percent.

Additionally, in the graphic, only 16 percent of whites are killed by other whites. In the same FBI report, it clearly states that 82.3 percent of whites are in fact killed by other whites, which is very similar to the number of blacks killed by blacks (89.9 percent).

No one knows where Trump comes up with any of this stuff, but Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog suggests this:

If you’re the kind of person who receives and retransmits this sort of undigested, unverified alarmist nonsense on a daily basis, then of course you’re going to feel especially alienated by your country. Look at all those murderous, white-hating black people! Look at all those defiant Muslims dancing for joy right under our noses in our own country while real Americans suffer!

Donald Trump is exactly like everyone’s email-forwarding racist uncle. No wonder everyone’s email-forwarding racist uncle plans to vote for him.

By the way, everything can be traced back to its origin on the net. Trump found that graphic on a neo-Nazi website – for what that’s worth – and there’s this:

According to a 1990 Vanity Fair interview, Ivana Trump once told her lawyer Michael Kennedy that her husband, real-estate mogul Donald Trump, now a leading Republican presidential candidate, kept a book of Hitler’s speeches near his bed.

“Last April, perhaps in a surge of Czech nationalism, Ivana Trump told her lawyer Michael Kennedy that from time to time her husband reads a book of Hitler’s collected speeches, My New Order, which he keeps in a cabinet by his bed … Hitler’s speeches, from his earliest days up through the Phony War of 1939, reveal his extraordinary ability as a master propagandist,” Marie Brenner wrote. …

When Brenner asked Trump about how he came to possess Hitler’s speeches, “Trump hesitated” and then said, “Who told you that?”

Oops. And now Donald Trump is far ahead in all the polls. The sixties were a dark time. These times somehow seem darker.

Posted in Donald Trump, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Final Descent

The nation is always in decline. At one point it was rock ‘n’ roll – Elvis swiveled his hips and all decency had been abandoned, until one Sunday night Ed Sullivan booked him for a few numbers and told America that he was “a fine young man” – and America calmed down. Sullivan did the same thing for the Beatles a few years later. They were fine young men too.

These things happen. Everyone was outraged by the flappers in the twenties – young women who had abandoned all decency and modesty – but the Times of London in 1816 was outraged by “the indecent foreign dance called the Waltz” and offered this:

National morals depend on national habits: and it is quite sufficient to cast one’s eyes on the voluptuous intertwining of the limbs, and close compressure of the bodies, in their dance, to see that it is indeed far removed from the modest reserve which has hitherto been considered distinctive of English females. So long as this obscene display was confined to prostitutes and adulteresses we did not think it deserving of notice; but now that it is attempted to be forced upon the respectable classes of society by the evil example of their superiors, we feel it a duty to warn every parent against exposing his daughter to so fatal a contagion.

But couples waltzed anyway and the world didn’t end. All that was good and decent didn’t suddenly disappear, and no one now gets what all the fuss was about. Someone’s always saying the world is going to hell, but their evidence for that is often questionable. Still, now and then, the evidence mounts that all that is good and decent really is disappearing, that the nation may really be in some sort of final descent – but that usually has nothing to do with popular culture. It’s political. The country’s not working anymore. Our leaders, or those who wish to be our leaders, have lost all sense of decency and democracy itself. Kevin Drum points out that this week ended with America going to hell:

Ben Carson compared Syrian terrorists to rabid dogs, suggesting this means we’d be wise to avoid all dogs.

Marco Rubio made some strained analogy to Nazis because… Nazis.

Donald Trump wants to keep a database of Muslims. All Muslims? Only newly arrived Muslims? Who knows?

Ted Cruz wants to ban all Syrian refugees except Christians.

Jeb Bush thinks that’s a great idea too.

John Kasich has proposed that we create a Department of Judeo-Christian PR.

Carly Fiorina, Ron Paul, and Chris Christie all want to flatly ban Syrian refugees.

Suddenly we’re a theocracy with closed borders, and Drum can only add this:

We’ve seen variations of “Can You Top This?” before, perhaps most notably in 2012 regarding illegal immigration. That’s probably no coincidence. But that was before Donald Trump joined the field of presidential wannabes and upped the stakes considerably. Now they’ve gone from merely odious to actively loathsome.

What’s the answer? I think maybe Ben Carson has the right idea. These guys are like rabid dogs, which means that it might be wise for us to simply avoid all Republicans. You can’t be too careful, after all.

Drum recommends this Washington Post item for the details of what was said by each of these folks, but he does note Jeb Bush’s comments on Donald Trump’s plan to create a Muslim registry in the United States:

Trump’s solutions are “just wrong,” Jeb Bush said Friday… “It’s not a question of toughness. It’s manipulating people’s angst and their fears. That’s not strength. That’s weakness,” Bush said in an interview on CNBC’s Squawk Box.

“And look, campaigns are important for sure. We’re electing a president, but there are things that are important as it relates to the values that we have as a country that make us special and unique, and we should not and we will never abandon them in the pursuit of this fight. We don’t have to. We can protect our freedoms here.”

Drum is almost pleased by that:

Good for Bush, though it’s a low bar to oppose a national registry for everyone of a specific religion. I don’t think Bush will be the only one to choke on that notion. Still, he was clear about his opposition, and clear about why it’s wrong.

It’s too bad he’s taken this long. He could have been a voice for sanity from the start and set himself apart from the crowd. At this point, though, it would just make him look tentative and indecisive. He lost a chance to do the right thing and possibly get a big payoff from it.

But that same Politico item also adds this:

Asked to clarify the difference between that idea and what the Nazis did to register Jews in Germany, Trump told an NBC reporter “You tell me.”

But in another interview published Thursday night, Trump denied saying that Muslims would have to carry identification cards.

“I didn’t say that. I never said that,” Trump told a Des Moines Register columnist in Newton, Iowa.

In the same interview, Trump again called New York City’s decision to stop monitoring mosques in April 2014 a “big mistake.”

“Something’s happening that’s really evil, really bad and it’s coming out of that area and it’s so unfair to so many Muslims that are such great people,” he told the Register.

By Friday afternoon, Trump clarified once more that a reporter had raised the issue of a database and that he did not raise it on his own.

Trump tweeted this:

I didn’t suggest a database-a reporter did. We must defeat Islamic terrorism and have surveillance, including a watch list, to protect America.

What Jeb Bush thinks doesn’t matter much, but Bush is not entirely alone:

Speaking with reporters in Concord, New Hampshire, Carson expressed a desire for a “database on everybody who comes into this country,” not Muslims specifically.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea to treat anybody differently. One of the hallmarks of America is that we treat everybody the same,” he added, remarking that picking out individual groups sets “a pretty dangerous precedent, I believe.”

Cruz, at a media availability in Sioux City, Iowa, called himself “a big fan of Donald Trump’s but I’m not a fan of government registries of American citizens.”

“The First Amendment protects religious liberty, I’ve spent the past several decades defending religious liberty,” Cruz said.

In his own statement, the Ohio governor John Kasich called the notion “that someone would have to register with the federal government because of their religion strikes against all that we have believed in our nation’s history.”

“It is yet another example of trying to divide people, one against the other. Donald Trump is unable to unite and lead our country,” he said.

Okay, that’s not so bad, and there’s this guy:

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio sought to distance himself by articulating a more precise position on monitoring terrorist threats, telling Fox News’ “The Kelly File” on Thursday evening that radicalism needs to be targeted wherever it lives, whether it means closing down a mosque or “a café, a diner” or “an Internet site.”

“The bigger problem we have,” Rubio continued, “is our inability to find out where these places are because we’ve crippled our intelligence programs, both through unauthorized disclosures by a traitor in Edward Snowden, or by some of the things this president has put in place with the support even of some from my own party to diminish our intelligence capabilities. So whatever facility is being used – it’s not just a mosque – any facility that’s being used to radicalize and inspire attacks against the United States should be a place that we look at.”

In the same interview, Rubio responded to the notion from President Barack Obama and other Democrats that evaluating refugees from Syria and Iraq on the basis of a “religious test” is playing into the terrorists’ narrative.

That’s a little more subtle, slightly but not really removing religion from the equation, but then there’s this:

During an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity on Thursday night, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) continued to rail against President Obama for continuing to support the U.S. plan to bring Syrian refugees to the U.S., noting that terrorists would be encouraged to lie by the “religious philosophy in Islamism” in order to enter the U.S. posing as a refugee.

“It really is remarkable that twice this week, President Obama has attacked me directly,” Cruz told Hannity, referring to the President’s remarks bashing Cruz’s proposal that the U.S. only allow Christian refugees from Syria into the U.S. “Obama, instead of defending this nation, just attacks you and me and every American who wants to keep this nation safe.”

And those who want to keep America safe understand Islam. Muslims lie about everything. That’s at the core of their religion. What any of them say on their application for refugee status will be a lie. You can’t trust any of them, ever.

That’s not a useful thing to say these days, and Josh Marshall sees a descent into madness here:

Over the course of just a few days Donald Trump has gone from saying that we might have to close down mosques and create a Muslim registry to saying that not only will we do this but we have to do it and anything less is an utter capitulation – in other words, rapidly evolving from refusing to rule out a draconian policy to affirmatively endorsing it to being its leading advocate. Some of this seems rooted in Trump’s personality and improvisational campaign style. Sometimes a reporter prompts the discussion and Trump refuses to rule it out. But once he’s floated an idea as a potential part of his no nonsense, no excuses agenda, it’s never long before the momentum of his self-assertion brings him to say he’ll definitely do it and to dare anyone else to outdo him on it. …

So on Monday he’s saying he’d “strongly consider” shutting down mosques. And then just a day later he’s saying he’d “absolutely” close them down. With his Muslim ID card and database, Wednesday he said he wouldn’t rule out creating such a system. By the end of the day he was telling NBC News he would “absolutely” create such a system.

But he is who he is:

Once he christens an idea as a tool of presidential badassery, it’s only a matter of days until he comes out and says that he’s ‘absolutely’ going to do it. …

The pattern with Trump is genuinely fascinating to observe, and so predictable as almost to be comical. But this is no longer a matter of Trump yakking on about building a gilded 100-foot wall along the southern border and having Mexico agree to pay for it. Trump is now proposing things that sound like they put millions of American citizens and resident aliens on a road to something like the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

Cruz is just trying to keep up? As Drum noted, all the other candidates try to keep up with Trump, and Chris Cillizza argues that Trump is playing a dangerous game here:

As for Trump’s tweet, there’s a big difference between a reporter asking a question – that is, after all, what reporters do – and a reporter “suggesting” the idea of a database to track Muslims. Blaming the reporter for asking the question makes very little sense. Politicians are asked questions all the time on premises with which they disagree. The right response is to say: “No, I don’t think we need a database or anything like that. What we do need to do is secure the border and build a border wall.”

Trump elided over that and simply accepted the premise of the question. That’s not the reporter’s fault. That’s Trump’s fault.

And that matters:

Viewed more broadly, it strains credulity to think that Trump just keeps being misunderstood or misinterpreted. The better – and more accurate – explanation is that Trump is purposely ambiguous in many of his proposals and his answers to questions from the media. That vagueness allows people to take from his statements what they will – without Trump ever having to answer for some of the more sinister meanings that might be contained in his words. …

There is no chance he is accidentally walking down these dangerous rhetorical roads. Instead, he provokes purposely, but always with the possibility of plausible deniability. And so far, it’s working.

The world is going to hell, at least for some people:

It was never this bad, not even after 9/11.

That’s what many Muslims and Arab-Americans are saying about the tenor of comments made by presidential candidates on down to local officials about how to treat adherents of Islam in the wake of ISIS’ rampage in Paris last Friday. …

“We are operating in an atmosphere of hysteria and fear,” said Ibrahim Hooper, national communications director for the Council on American Islamic Relations. “I have never seen it like this, not even after 9/11.”

No good can come of this:

“The sense we get now is that it’s not only worse for Arabs and Muslims,” said Abed Ayoub, national policy director at the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. “The sense we get now is that it’s worse for all immigrant and brown communities as a whole.”

Ayoub said the current climate stands in stark contrast to the broad political reaction that followed the September 11, 2001, attacks, in which terrorists killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington. At that time, Republican President George W. Bush endeavored to tamp down anti-Muslim sentiment.

Six days after the Twin Towers fell, Bush spoke at the Islamic Center, a famous mosque and Islamic cultural hub in Washington, in defense of American Muslims and Islam.

“The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam,” he said. “That’s not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace. These terrorists don’t represent peace. They represent evil and war.”

“If George W. Bush was running today and saying the things he said about Muslims, he would be an outcast in the Republican Party,” Ayoub said with a half chuckle. “To his credit, he struck the right tone when speaking about this issue.”

That was only half a chuckle, for good reason, and Conor Friedersdorf sees this:

Over the last several years, Christians in the United States have become increasingly alarmed about threats to religious liberty. Among other things, they don’t want their nonprofits forced to provide contraception to their employees or their believers forced to provide services like photography or baking for same-sex unions. Even the people most invested in those fights should see that positions held by Trump would pose a far greater threat to their religious liberty were he elected.

The forced registration of any faith group is so abhorrent that it can only be described by words we generally avoid to preserve their integrity for moments like this: Trump’s position is nakedly prejudiced, proto-fascist, and un-American. It would be troubling even if he expressed his views off-the-cuff, without having thought them through. It is more worrisome in the context of a previous interview where he declared that “we’re going to have no choice” but to shut down some mosques in the United States, and a town hall in which he failed to challenge – and arguably encouraged – a voter who asked him about getting rid of Muslims in the United States.

That went like this:

Voter: We have a problem in this country. It’s called Muslims. We know our current president is one.

Trump: Right.

Voter: You know he’s not even an American.

Trump: We need this question. This is the first question!

Voter: But anyway, we have training camps brewing where they want to kill us. That’s my question, when can we get rid of ’em?

Trump: We’re going to be looking at a lot of different things. A lot of people are saying that, and you know, a lot of people are saying bad things are happening out there. We’re going to be looking at that and plenty of other things.


This record ought to make Trump anathema to anyone who has concerns about religious liberty in America. Had he aimed his remarks at any Christian denomination, his candidacy would effectively be over because of the backlash. The fact that his positions pose a stark threat to the religious liberty of Muslim Americans ought to be enough to provoke a backlash. Insofar as it leaves some Christians unmoved, they might reflect on how much damage would be done to their religious liberty if a president of the United States successfully set a precedent for a religious registry or empowered the government to shut down places of worship. …

The current leader in the Republican Party’s presidential primary is now unambiguously on record with positions incompatible with religious freedom in America. How many voters will cast ballots for a man like that?

Many will, and Heather Parton sees why:

Unfortunately, the nervousness coursing through society after the terrorist attack in Paris has made this kind of talk sound less unreasonable to more people, and we had the Congress yesterday struggling to find a way to appease voters who were calling into their offices demanding that refugees be denied entry into the country. All but two of the Republicans in the House and a total of 47 Democrats voted for a bill that would require the heads of DHS, the FBI and the DOJ to personally sign off on each refugee’s file.

Democratic Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard from Hawaii voted with the Republicans and explained on MSNBC that this would sooth the fears of Americans to know that these very high level officials were personally vouching for each and every refugee. This is obviously a disingenuous explanation of the purpose of the bill. This new requirement will have the effect of sending all the refugees currently awaiting their determination to basically start anew. Requiring these officials to sign off on each applicant will slow down the process to a very slow trickle, or what Speaker Paul Ryan called “a pause.”

The Democrats provided enough votes to override a presidential veto.

Forty-seven Democrats would join in for a reason:

They fear being called “soft on terrorism.” A bunch of hysterical voters who listen to demagogues on cable TV and talk radio called their offices to demand they put a stop to this foreign threat. Rather than be leaders and try to calm the waters, they just went with the flow, knowing that this legislation is unlikely to become law, but wanting to be able to tell their constituents they voted to bar refugees from our shores and keep the children safe. (Well, the good American children anyway – Syrian children will not be so lucky.)

She calls this a soulless sort of politics:

This isn’t a highway bill or a tax hike. It’s an issue of life and death. These are votes that should be taken on merit, not political calculation (which very often turn out badly – ask Hillary Clinton). And feeding this xenophobic beast in an environment in which the frontrunner of the Republican Party is endorsing government registration of American Muslims is a very risky business. This kind of thing can get out of hand quickly.

We are going to hell, but Kevin Drum isn’t so sure:

Congress has already passed two SAFE Acts and considered two more over the past couple of decades, so apparently it’s a pretty popular acronym. This time around it stands for the American Security against Foreign Enemies Act, and it’s a strange beast. It’s designed to show that Congress is responding to the alleged threat from Syrian refugees, but it actually does nothing much at all. Vetting doesn’t change, procedures don’t change, and no limits are placed on the number of refugees we can accept. All it does is require the administration to formally certify the procedures already in place – and force three top officials to personally sign off on every Syrian or Iraqi refugee.

In other words, it’s basically a fraud. It will create a short pause in the refugee program while some poor schmoe who draws the short straw goes through the make-work of drafting the “certification” procedure and getting it approved, and that’s about it.

So there are two ways of looking at this:

It’s a cowardly bill that panders to unwarranted fears instead of trying to calm them.

It’s basically a craven but noble lie. It pretends to do something in order to mollify the masses and prevent something worse from passing, but it really does very little and is moving slowly enough that it might just die of its own accord.

Really it’s both. It’s cowardly for sure. On the other hand, refugees are the latest excuse for shutting down the government in a few weeks, and a bit of cheap symbolism might be a small price to pay for removing it.

It’s not worth fretting about. If it passes the Senate and goes to Obama, and then Obama vetoes it, and then Congress overrides that veto, it won’t change much of anything. This will add one more layer of approvals to a process that already takes eighteen to twenty-four months. Let the Republicans have their symbolic victory. Now, for the first time, they’re saying we should be more like the French:

On Saturday Brigadier General Tony Tata told Fox News’ Sean Hannity, “President Hollande today showed more leadership in one day than President Obama has in seven years.” Tata continued. “Our Commander in Chief, his first responsibility is to protect the citizens of the United States at home and abroad and you don’t do that by underestimating the enemy. And that impacts foreign and domestic policy. You gotta be kidding me, we’re gonna bring Syrian refugees here?” …

On Sunday afternoon, Fox News contributor John Bolton said, “I think we have to start with the recognition that this attack in Paris was an act of war, which French President Francois Hollande has been very forthright in saying – unlike our leadership – and that the way that you respond with an act of war is by the use of force.” …

Even anchor Bill Hemmer, who surprisingly editorialized about the weakness in Obama’s remarks, said Tuesday night of Hollande, “It may sound Orwellian. But if you listen to President Hollande, he’s willing to go as far as necessary to get this country back on a safety and security footing soon.” Dana Perino said the same day, “Their approaches to handling ISIS could not be more different.”

That wasn’t exactly true:

In a move that puts the heated U.S. debate over taking in Syrian refugees in perspective, French President Francois Hollande declared on Wednesday that his country would accept 30,000 Syrian refugees over next two years. He announced this at a gathering of mayors from French cities, where he received a standing ovation. …

Hollande said that “30,000 refugees will be welcomed over the next two years. Our country has the duty to respect this commitment.”…

Hollande said it was France’s “humanitarian duty” to honor its commitments to refugees, even in the wake of the chilling terror attacks on Friday, claimed by the Islamic State, which killed at least 129 people. “We have to reinforce our borders while remaining true to our values,” the French president said.

Fox News then fell silent on the matter. What was there to say? Friedersdorf saw it. We have become nakedly prejudiced, proto-fascist, and un-American. The French have now become more American than we are. We are the ones in that final descent. Someone’s always saying the world is going to hell, and sometimes they’re right.

Posted in Syrian Refugee Backlash, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Never Choosing Sides

Reporters shouldn’t choose sides:

CNN global affairs correspondent Elise Labott has been suspended for two weeks, a source at CNN confirmed to POLITICO.

Earlier on Thursday Labott had tweeted about the House voting on a bill that would make it harder for Syrian refugees to enter the United States.

“House passes bill that could limit Syrian refugees. Statue of Liberty bows head in anguish,” she wrote, linking to a CNN article on the vote.

Several critics, including the Washington Post’s Erik Wemple, said the tweet showed bias.

Yes it did, but then that wasn’t said on air, but then Tweets are public and she works for CNN so it might as well have been said on air – and CNN must know that a clear majority of Americans want us to stop letting in any Syrian refugees. A few of those who killed all those people in Paris might have slipped into France with the refugees fleeing for their lives from Syria, although that’s not certain. The mastermind of that operation, now dead, and all the other guys, were born and raised in France or Belgium, but perhaps it’s best to be safe not sorry.

That’s what the Republicans have been saying, and now thirty-one states say they will refuse to accept Syrian refugees, even though they cannot actually do that. The federal government, not each state, determines refugee status. Those are the rules, and once legally here, those folks can move from state to state like anyone else. Still, the executives at CNN must know the mood of the country, and know that their advertisers, who fund all they do, will walk if CNN offends a clear majority of Americans.

It’s best not to take sides. In fact, it’s necessary. If one side says the earth is flat and Elvis is alive and Obama was born in Kenya, report that. And report that the other side says that’s not true. And then report what each side says their evidence is, and what people on the street are saying about that, and what “important” people are saying too, and then leave it at that. The nation will eventually decide which side is full of crap, and then you can report that. But keep your opinions to yourself.

Oh, and in terms of those now fleeing for their lives from Syria, with nothing, never ever say the Republicans are big meanies, and ruining everything America ever stood for. Report that many are saying that, shrug, and then book a few guests who will say that the Republicans are the only ones keeping us safe and those other guys hate America. Then go home and drink heavily. You don’t matter.

There is, however, evidence that the CNN suspension was symbolic:

Some media watchers questioned the punishment (though others pointed out that with the Thanksgiving holiday next week Labott likely had time off anyway). Last year CNN anchor Carol Costello joked on air that audio of a brawl involving Bristol Palin was “the best minute and a half of audio we’ve ever come across.” Costello later apologized for the remarks but was not taken off the air.

That was minor. Elise Labott had to be taken off air. This was major. Bristol Palin wasn’t tearing the country apart. This issue is, as seen in this local news report from Virginia:

Spotsylvania’s Muslim community is well-established, having roots that date back 30 years, and Samer Shalaby was there to update members of it about plans for the construction of a new mosque. However, two unknown men arrived at the meeting and began shouting at the civil engineer, one of them yelling “this is evil!”

The other was more specific, informing Shalaby and his guests that “every one of you are terrorists. You can smile at me. I don’t care what you say – every Muslim is a terrorist.”

When some of those in attendance attempted to inform the man otherwise, they were told to “shut your mouth. I don’t want to hear your mouth. I will do everything that I can do to keep you from doing what you’re doing. It will happen. That will happen.”

Many in the meeting applauded the men’s violent outburst, with some telling WUSA9 that they’re concerned the new, larger mosque might be used to house Syrian refugees.

There are two ways to report this. These two were true patriots from far away who generously dropped by to set things right in this little town, or they were two racist bigots, and bullies, out to slap quite ordinary and harmless people around, because they could. Or you simply report this happened and leave it at that, or report that this also happened:

Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy welcomed to his state Wednesday a family of Syrian refugees diverted from Indiana because of security concerns raised by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.

“It is the right thing, the humane thing to do,” Malloy told reporters. “Quite frankly, if you believe in God, it’s the morally correct thing to do.”

The family of three fled from Syria to Jordan when their 5-year-old son was less than 1 and is the first family to be redirected after 26 governors objected this week to accepting Syrian refugees, according to the New York Times.

The status of a family of four that was supposed to arrive Dec. 10 in Indianapolis, where they have friends, is in limbo as Catholic Charities weighs how to respond to Pence’s request that the family be directed elsewhere.

“There’s still just a lot of information that we’re all waiting on,” said Heidi Smith, director of refugee services for Catholic Charities Indianapolis. “In the meantime, there are refugees that have no control of their lives and no place to go and nobody wants them. And we have to think about what it would be like to be in their shoes.”

Do we have to think about what it would be like to be in their shoes? Ben Carson says we have to think about something else:

Ben Carson likened Syrian refugees fleeing the country’s bloody civil war and Islamic State violence to dogs on Thursday.

Speaking to reporters following a campaign stop in Mobile, Alabama, Carson stressed that the United States wants smart leaders who care about people, but noted there should always be a balance between safety and humanitarian concerns.

“For instance, you know, if there is a rabid dog running around your neighborhood, you’re probably not going to assume something good about that dog, and you’re probably gonna put your children out of the way,” Carson said. “Doesn’t mean that you hate all dogs by any stretch of the imagination.”

Continuing his analogy, the Republican presidential candidate said that screening refugees is like questioning how you protect your children, even though you love dogs and will call the Humane Society to take the dog away to reestablish a safe environment.

No one quite knew what he was saying, but they got the general idea. All Muslims are dogs, really, and some of them are rabid, unfortunately, but he likes dogs, generally.

ISIS will love this. The (sometimes) leading Republican candidate for president called Muslims dogs, even if he didn’t really, as this was just a badly-chosen metaphor. That won’t matter. They’ll loop a clip of this in all their new recruiting videos, but then Donald Trump opened his campaign by saying that Mexicans, at least the ones who sneak across our border, are rapists and murderers and drug dealers – some of them may be good people – he doesn’t know, really – but they are who they are. He has also assured Republicans, repeatedly, that he would get one hundred percent of the Hispanic vote, because they all love him. All the polling shows they hate his guts, but at least he didn’t call them dogs. Perhaps that counts for something.

These guys are a bit divisive, as the New Yorker’s John Cassidy notes here:

On Monday, Chris Christie, another struggling candidate, argued that the first priority was securing the homefront, which meant that the United States couldn’t risk allowing in any more Syrian refugees – not even young children who had lost their parents. “I don’t think orphans under five are being, you know, should be admitted into the United States at this point,” the New Jersey Governor told Hugh Hewitt, the conservative talk-show host.

For heartlessness, illiberalism, and irresponsibility, Christie’s statement seemed hard to beat. But Donald Trump, the Republican frontrunner, isn’t one to concede defeat easily. Speaking to Sean Hannity, of Fox News, on Tuesday, Trump said that, in order to forestall possible attacks on American soil, the federal government might have to close down mosques. “Nobody wants to say this, and nobody wants to shut down religious institutions,” Trump said. But, he continued, “There’s absolutely no choice. Some really bad things are happening, and they are happening fast.”

In an interview with Yahoo News, which was also carried out on Tuesday, Trump expanded on his ideas for preventing another terrorist attack on this side of the Atlantic. “We’re going to have to do things that we never did before.” he said. “And some people are going to be upset about it, but I think that now everybody is feeling that security is going to rule. And certain things will be done that we never thought would happen in this country in terms of information and learning about the enemy. And so we’re going to have to do certain things that were frankly unthinkable a year ago.”

Is that so? Here’s the full context of Trump’s interview with Yahoo’s Hunter Walker:

Yahoo News asked Trump whether his push for increased surveillance of American Muslims could include warrantless searches. He suggested he would consider a series of drastic measures.

“We’re going to have to do things that we never did before. And some people are going to be upset about it, but I think that now everybody is feeling that security is going to rule,” Trump said. “And certain things will be done that we never thought would happen in this country in terms of information and learning about the enemy. And so we’re going to have to do certain things that were frankly unthinkable a year ago.”

Yahoo News asked Trump whether this level of tracking might require registering Muslims in a database or giving them a form of special identification that noted their religion. He wouldn’t rule it out.

“We’re going to have to – we’re going to have to look at a lot of things very closely,” Trump said when presented with the idea. “We’re going to have to look at the mosques. We’re going to have to look very, very carefully.”

Is that scary? Kevin Drum blames the reporter for that:

Donald Trump is still Donald Trump, trying to gain attention by saying obviously outrageous things. But his latest outrage looks a little contrived. …

It would be one thing if Trump floated the idea himself of warrantless searches and special IDs. It’s quite another if a reporter brings them up and Trump tap dances a little bit. Needless to say, in a better world Trump would have explicitly denounced all these ideas. Obviously we don’t live in that world. Still, the only thing Trump actually said here is that we’re going to have to look at a lot of things very closely. The rest was just a reporter fishing for a headline.

So, don’t make too much of this:

To state the obvious: no, we don’t need to do anything that was “unthinkable” a year ago. As my colleague Miles Johnson notes, “Of the 745,000 refugees resettled in the US since the September 11 terrorist attacks, only two have been arrested on terrorism-related charges.” The American Muslim community has been instrumental in preventing jihadist violence in the US since 9/11, and to deliberately alienate them, as Trump and many other Republicans are proposing, is just about the most dangerous thing we could do.

We know how to fight dangerous people. We know how to fight terrorism. And we don’t have to shred the Constitution to do it. Instead of fishing for headlines and stoking the latest round of fatuous fearmongering from Republicans, maybe we’d be better served if reporters started asking them hard questions instead.

Cassidy isn’t so sure:

The Mexican government is sending us their criminals and murderers. Deport eleven million undocumented immigrants. Cut the tax rate to ten per cent or less for anyone earning under a hundred thousand dollars a year. Megyn Kelly is a lightweight. Ben Carson’s youthful anger problem can be compared to child molestation. Since so much of what Trump says is hot air, it’s tempting to dismiss all of it as mere rabble-rousing or showboating.

In this case, however, it’s surely time to call him out – and some people are already doing just that. Picking up on the Yahoo interview, the Raw Story ran an article headlined “Trump Crosses the Nazi Line: Maybe Muslims Should Wear Special ID Badges.” A headline at Jezebel referred to Trump as “A Literal Fascist.” On Twitter, the astronomer and author Phil Plait commented, “There comes a time when decent, thoughtful, responsible people point out that this is, in fact, what Hitler did.”

Yeah, the Jews had to wear those little yellow Stars of David, but Trump was only spitballing solutions to the problem, so cut him a break, or don’t:

It is important to be careful with language, which Trump often isn’t. Walker’s account at Yahoo makes it clear that he was the one who brought up the possibility of registering American Muslims or making them carry special identification, and that Trump didn’t endorse these proposals. But Trump didn’t dismiss them, either, even after stories appeared attributing the ideas to him. And he did tell Walker that some measures previously considered “unthinkable” were going to be necessary, such as closing down mosques, and that “security is going to rule.”

To some extent, Trump may simply be seeking to maintain an edge over his GOP rivals in an atmosphere that is bordering on hysteria. … But there is a difference between playing politics and deliberately targeting an entire religious group.

But then Trump didn’t back off:

On Thursday night, Trump confirmed that if he were elected President, he would establish a database to track Muslims in the United States. “I would certainly implement that. Absolutely,” he told NBC News after appearing at a town-hall event in Iowa. Trump said that American Muslims would be legally obligated to sign up for the database and added, “It’s all about management. Our country has no management.” He also sought to link the proposed database to the debate about immigration, saying, “It would stop people coming in illegally.”

Cassidy doesn’t think so:

That’s more Trump bluster, of course. Forcing every Muslim in the country to register for some sort of database would do nothing to secure the borders or stanch the flow of undocumented migrants. It also wouldn’t prevent the possibility of some radicalized and disaffected American youths deciding to join the jihadi cause. Indeed, by stigmatizing an entire religious community, it would make such behavior more likely.

And now Cassidy is worried:

Trump must know that his proposals don’t make sense, but he’s pushing on regardless. He has moved from rabble-rousing to demagoguery, or something even uglier. And this time, sadly, we have no option but to take him seriously.

And Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog adds this:

Is Drum saying that Republicans won’t stoke fear unless reporters goad them? If he thinks that, he and I have been living in very different Americas, and not just since Friday’s attacks in Paris. Yes, ask Republicans hard questions – but in all likelihood they’ll just respond with the same poll-tested talking points. Then, two years from now, we could wake up with one of these people in the Oval Office executing plans to oppress innocent Americans in ways even Trump never dreamed of. (Back in 2000, we didn’t George W. Bush was going to do what he did, did we?)

So why not prod and provoke the sons-of-bitches? If they have a sense of decency and respect for American ideals, they’ll make short work of the questions. And if not, forewarned is forearmed.

Ask Donald Trump hard questions? Jessica Taylor reports that it’s not that easy:

Donald Trump continued to ratchet up his fiery rhetoric at a campaign event in Massachusetts Wednesday evening… Before the rally, Trump repeated a claim that President Obama wants to bring 250,000 Syrian refugees into the country, which he has followed up by asking if Obama is “insane.” The administration has a plan to bring in just 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next year. Fewer than 2,000 refugees have entered the country from Syria since 2012, as the screening process takes 18 to 24 months on average.

Trump argued that most Syrian refugees were “tough-looking cookies” and not women and children – even though the State Department says only 2 percent of Syrian refugees are men of fighting age – and he said their entry “could be the great Trojan horse of all time.”

He can say anything and, if good reporters don’t take sides, it will be reported without comment as to whether any of it is true, because we have to take him seriously now, or else:

He was interrupted sporadically by protesters who were in the crowd of 10,500, holding signs that read “Migrant Lives Matter” and “Immigrant Lives Matter,” according to the Washington Post.

But once reporters there tried to document the protesters being hauled away, they were stopped by Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who yelled that the media had to stay in their “pen.”

When CNN reporter Noah Gray tried to move to film the protesters, Lewandowski turned to spokeswoman Hope Hicks and said, “Hey: Tell Noah, get back in the pen or he’s fucking blacklisted,” according to the Post.

Should CNN report that? Of course they should. That wouldn’t be taking sides. It happened. Trump’s folks were interfering with the free press trying to cover actual news – but then Fox News would report that CNN refused to play by the quite reasonable rules and was trying to make Trump look bad, because CNN is like that, as everyone knows. But CNN did suspend Elise Labott for that Tweet about the Statue of Liberty bowing its head in anguish. Does that count?

Everyone knows reporters drink heavily. This is why.

Posted in Donald Trump, Objective Reporting, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

American Mockingbirds

Derision isn’t persuasion, and mocking someone’s absurd views will not shame them into changing those views. They’ll just get angry that you made them look bad and then find any way they can to show you that they’re right. They’ll admit nothing, and if, in the end, they really cannot justify what they have contended, they’ll fall silent, or mock you right back. Perhaps they’ll call you names. Bill O’Reilly would end up calling Jon Stewart names – a hack, a fool – or he’d point to his own ratings. More people watch him than ever watched Stewart, which doesn’t have anything at all to do with his contention of the moment, that there’s an actual War on Christmas or whatever. But that doesn’t matter. No one will concede anything when mocked.

We’ve had years of this. O’Reilly sneers at liberals, but they don’t watch his show so they won’t change their minds about anything he says. They may hear about it later. They’ll dismiss it. Stewart and Stephen Colbert for years made gentle and often subtle fun of conservatives of all kinds, and each week Bill Maher still sneers at the same crowd and mocks them mercilessly, but that doesn’t matter either. They’re not paying attention. Each side is speaking to their own folks. It’s a bit tribal and a bit of a public service. Provide your folks with a way they can pat themselves on the back. They need that. Tell them they’re not crazy, the other guys are.

That’s comforting in these trying times. No one will ever agree on anything, but they will feel fine – right and righteous – and our public life comes to a standstill. Public debate about the issues of the day isn’t debate at all, if it ever was. Few are skilled in argumentation – laying out an argument and explaining its rationale, then offering verifiable supporting evidence for that argument, then considering objections and dealing with those, ceding points that are well made and adjusting for those, until the argument is rock solid and everyone agrees. That’s hard work. It’s easier to quarrel in quips. People generally quarrel because they cannot argue, and prefer to offer, for your approval, the force of their argument – they really, really, really believe it – not its grounds, to paraphrase G. K. Chesterton of course.

This is intensified in an election year. Republicans want to make Obama, and by extension all Democrats, look timid and weak and confused, and not careful but cowardly. They’ll be the “real men” here, and after what happened in Paris they know that’s a winner, because Americans are angry and frightened. The guy who says be careful in what you do, because bad things could happen if you get what you want, can be painted as morally reprehensible – something had to be done and he wouldn’t do a damned thing, or wouldn’t do enough of what everyone now thinks he should have done, and the bad guys are going to kill us all. Vote Republican.

This is a useful campaign narrative. Refusing to take in even one Syrian refugee fleeing the hell we set in motion over there, unless they’re Christian, will radicalize another generation of young Muslims, now certain that white Christian America hates Muslims. That’s rather obvious, but Dana Milbank reviews the current state of play:

Gov. Bobby Jindal on Monday signed an order trying to get his state of Louisiana to block the settlement of any Syrian refugee, while Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, proposed we “wake up and smell the falafel” and said House Speaker Paul Ryan should resign if he can’t block the refugees’ arrival. Candidates Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul and John Kasich also joined the jingoistic bid to block Syrian refugees.

In a particularly pernicious twist, Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz both floated the notion Sunday of admitting Christian refugees from Syria but not Muslims.

The religious test for refugees originated, as nasty things often do, in the mouth of Donald Trump, who proclaimed in July – falsely – that Christians fleeing Syria “cannot come into this country” but Muslim refugees from Syria “can come in so easily.” Trump, later alleging – again falsely – that President Obama wanted to admit 250,000 Syrians, said he would deport refugees, who he speculates are “mostly men” and perhaps part of an Islamic State terrorist plot. (On Monday he said he would “strongly consider” closing mosques.)

This isn’t just talk: In September, Rep. Mike McCaul (Tex.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, led a group of Republicans in introducing legislation that would legalize discrimination against Muslims fleeing Syria by giving priority to Christians and other religious minorities.

And then there are all the governors trying to keep Syrian refugees from their states, and Milbank is not happy:

This growing cry to turn away people fleeing for their lives brings to mind the SS St. Louis, the ship of Jewish refugees turned away from Florida in 1939. It’s perhaps the ugliest moment in a primary fight that has been sullied by bigotry from the start. It’s no exaggeration to call this un-American.

But it’s understandable:

Perhaps the GOP hopefuls are having trouble differentiating themselves from Obama on the broader issue of Syria. For all the criticism of his approach to the Islamic State, several supposed alternatives are things that have already been tried: airstrikes, arming the opposition, Special Forces, social-media propaganda. Other ideas would require combat ground troops in Syria, which no candidate but long-shot Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) has championed.

There’s a solid case to be made against Obama’s handling of the Islamic State that doesn’t require Republicans to go nativist.

Maybe so, but there’s this:

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) addressed President Obama directly while speaking to reporters Wednesday, telling him to “come back and insult me to my face.”

Cruz was responding to Obama’s recent criticism of Republicans suggesting there be a religious test for Syrian refugees seeking entrance to the country, a plan he called “shameful” and “not American” while in Turkey for the Group of 20 summit.

“If you want to insult me, you can do it overseas, you can do it in Turkey, you can do it in foreign countries. But I would encourage you, Mr. President, come back and insult me to my face,” Cruz said, staring directly into the camera.

Cruz got even more schoolyard, challenging the President to a debate any place, any time.

“Let’s have a debate on Syrian refugees, right now. We can do it anywhere you want. I would prefer it in the United States and not overseas,” the Republican presidential candidate said. “We’ll do it on any station.”

Cruz also called Obama’s remarks “utterly unfitting of a President.”

He later said that the president “does not wish to defend this country” and so on – but Cruz is on solid ground:

Most Americans want the U.S. to stop letting in Syrian refugees amid fears of terrorist infiltrations after the Paris attacks, siding with Republican presidential candidates, governors, and lawmakers who want to freeze the Obama administration’s resettlement program.

The findings are part of a Bloomberg Politics national poll released Wednesday that also shows the nation divided on whether to send U.S. troops to Iraq and Syria to fight the Islamic State, an idea President Barack Obama opposes, and whether the U.S. government is doing enough to protect the homeland from a comparable attack.

Fifty-three percent of U.S. adults in the survey, conducted in the days immediately following the attacks, say the nation should not continue a program to resettle up to 10,000 Syrian refugees. Just 28 percent would keep the program with the screening process as it now exists, while 11 percent said they would favor a limited program to accept only Syrian Christians while excluding Muslims, a proposal Obama has dismissed as “shameful” and un-American.

Paul Waldman is puzzled by this:

Before we go any farther, we should acknowledge a simple fact: If you’re concerned about stopping ISIS from committing an act of terrorism in the United States, the 10,000 Syrian refugees who will be admitted after a rigorous vetting process is one of the last things you should be worried about. It’s possible (though far from necessary) for a member of ISIS to get to Europe by posing as a refugee, since large numbers of Syrians are somewhat chaotically making their way to places like Greece, and once they’re on European soil they can move freely between countries. But the process of getting to the United States as a refugee is completely different.

You can’t just get in a rubber boat on the Mediterranean coast, wash up in Manhattan, and be allowed to stay. Someone who wanted to come to the U.S. to commit a terrorist act could do so with a student visa or a tourist visa; there’d be no point in going through the lengthy, multi-layered vetting process to gain refugee status, which involves both the United Nations and the U.S. government, and requires up to a two-year wait. That isn’t to say we shouldn’t thoroughly check those refugees seeking to come here. But that’s exactly what we’re already doing, and will continue to do.

I assume (perhaps naively) that most of the politicians rushing to stoke fears of refugees have some understanding of those basic facts. But they’ve seen their political opportunity and they’re seizing it, with some truly ugly ideas and rhetoric about supposedly dangerous foreigners who need to be kept out to keep us safe.

But there’s this:

There is one way this period of fear-mongering could come back to haunt the Republican Party. While for the moment their anti-immigrant sentiment has been directed away from Latinos and toward Muslims, don’t think Latino voters (along with Asian-Americans and many other groups) aren’t paying attention. Next fall, when the Republican nominee comes before those voters and says, “We want to be an inclusive, welcoming party where you can find a home,” these minorities won’t have forgotten the vile anti-refugee rhetoric we’re hearing today. And the GOP’s task of winning more Latino votes than they have in the last couple of elections – without which they absolutely cannot take back the White House – will be that much harder.

But for now it is ugly:

Following comments that his city should reject refugees in the way the U.S. interned Japanese-American citizens during World War II the mayor of Roanoke, Virginia, has lost his spot on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s Virginia Leadership Council.

Davis Bowers had been on the Virginia committee since early October, but a Clinton source confirmed he is no longer on the committee.

A Clinton campaign spokesman slammed Bowers’ comments in a statement.

“The internment of people of Japanese descent is a dark cloud on our nation’s history and to suggest that it is anything but a horrible moment in our past is outrageous,” said Josh Schwerin, a Clinton campaign spokesman.

Are these people, and a clear majority of Americans, crazy? Should we call them crazy? Keven Drum thinks not:

Here’s the thing: to the average person, it seems perfectly reasonable to be suspicious of admitting Syrian refugees to the country. We know that ISIS would like to attack the US. We know that ISIS probably has the wherewithal to infiltrate a few of its people into the flood of refugees. And most voters have no idea how easy it is to get past US screening. They probably figure it’s pretty easy.

So to them it doesn’t seem xenophobic or crazy to call for an end to accepting Syrian refugees. It seems like simple common sense. After all, things changed after Paris.

Mocking Republicans over this – as liberals spent much of yesterday doing on my Twitter stream – seems absurdly out of touch to a lot of people. Not just wingnut tea partiers, either, but plenty of ordinary centrists too. It makes them wonder if Democrats seriously see no problem here. Do they care at all about national security? Are they really that detached from reality?

It might be time for argumentation, not snarky quips:

The liberal response to this should be far more measured. We should support tight screening. Never mind that screening is already pretty tight. We should highlight the fact that we’re accepting a pretty modest number of refugees. In general, we should act like this is a legitimate thing to be concerned about and then work from there.

Mocking it is the worst thing we could do. It validates all the worst stereotypes about liberals that we put political correctness ahead of national security. It doesn’t matter if that’s right or wrong. Ordinary people see the refugees as a common sense thing to be concerned about. We shouldn’t respond by essentially calling them idiots.

And then he got slammed on Twitter:

Mockery is a reasonable response to the ridiculous.

It’s the equivalent of the Japanese internment hysteria, it deserves ridicule.

“Syrian terrorists” may be an existential threat, but gun waving rednecks are more likely to shoot me. Mock them? Gimme a break!

Many “ordinary” voters are racists and know-nothings who do not want to be educated or calmed. Listen to callers on talk radio.

Let’s remember that it is politicians we are mocking.

Those are just a few of them, and Drum isn’t happy:

Sure, this is just Twitter, not exactly famous for reasoned and thoughtful debate. Still, what’s disheartening about this is that I don’t think there’s any disagreement on substance here. We all agree that we should accept Syrian refugees. We all agree that screening ought to be rigorous. We all agree that Republican fearmongering should be fought.

There are really only two disagreements. The first is whether fear of Syrian refugees is even understandable. … I’d suggest that anyone who thinks these concerns are just ridiculous bedwetting is pretty far out of touch with ordinary folks.

Second, how should this fear be addressed? Here’s the problem: people won’t even listen to you unless they think you take their concerns seriously. That’s why, for example, liberals mostly dismiss conservative posturing about race: we don’t believe they even take the problem of racism seriously in the first place. And probably the best way to convince people that you don’t take a problem seriously is to mock it.

That’s the real problem here:

Maybe it’s true that we’re only mocking some of the most egregious politicians. And maybe it’s true that they deserve it. But who cares? Ordinary voters won’t make the distinction – they’ll just hear the mockery – and it doesn’t matter what anyone deserves. What matters is what works. On issues of interest only to wingnuts, go ahead and mock. We’re not going to persuade them of anything no matter what. But on issues like this, where a quite understandable fear is shared by a broad slice of the electorate, mockery is death. We can persuade these folks, and the way to do it is to acknowledge the problem and then fight the fear with facts.

Will it work? Maybe, maybe not – but it’s got a way better chance than mockery does.

But what if we only know mockery? What if both sides only know mockery? Drum also addresses that:

President Obama’s remarks yesterday are a pretty interesting case study of both the strength and weakness of mockery as a political tool. First, here’s what he said about refugees at a press conference in the Philippines. I have a reason for including a very long excerpt, but feel free to skim it since the details aren’t that important.


Because you have this vibrant, modern, open, diverse, tolerant Western city that reminds us of home, that reminds us of our own cafes and our own parks and our own stadiums, I understand why the American people have been particularly affected by the gruesome images that have happened there.

And it is important for us to be reminded that we have to be vigilant, that rooting out these terrorist networks and protecting the homeland is hard work, and we can’t be complacent or lulled into thinking somehow that we are immune from these kinds of attacks. That’s why we built an entire infrastructure over the last decade-plus to make it much harder for terrorists to attack us; to go after terrorists where they live and plan these attacks; to coordinate with our partners and our allies; to improve our intelligence. All the work that we’ve been doing in our intelligence communities and our military over the last decade is in recognition of the fact that this is something we should be concerned about and we’ve got to work hard to prevent it.

But we are not well-served when, in response to a terrorist attack, we descend into fear and panic. We don’t make good decisions if it’s based on hysteria or an exaggeration of risks. I think the refugee debate is an example of us not being well-served by some of the commentary that’s been taking place by officials back home and in the media.

Understand, under current law, it takes anywhere from, on average, 18 to 24 months to clear a refugee to come into the United States. They are subjected to the most rigorous process conceivable. The intelligence community vets fully who they are. Biometrics are applied to determine whether they are, in fact, somebody who might threaten the United States. There is an entire apparatus of all of our law enforcement agencies and the center that we use for countering terrorism to check and ensure that a refugee is not admitted that might cause us harm.

And, if anything, over the last several years that the refugee crisis has emerged in Europe, we’ve been criticized that it is so cumbersome that it’s very difficult for us to show the kind of compassion that we need to for these folks who are suffering under the bombings of Assad and the attacks of ISIL. They’re victims of this terrorism.

And so if there are concrete, actual suggestions to enhance this extraordinary screening process that’s already in place, we’re welcome — we’re open to hearing actual ideas. But that’s not really what’s been going on in this debate. When candidates say, we wouldn’t admit three-year-old orphans – that’s political posturing. When individuals say that we should have a religious test and that only Christians — proven Christians — should be admitted – that’s offensive and contrary to American values.

I cannot think of a more potent recruitment tool for ISIL than some of the rhetoric that’s been coming out of here during the course of this debate. ISIL seeks to exploit the idea that there is a war between Islam and the West. And when you start seeing individuals in positions of responsibility, suggesting that Christians are more worthy of protection than Muslims are in a war-torn land, that feeds the ISIL narrative. It’s counterproductive, and it needs to stop.


That was the first two minutes of Obama’s remarks. He acknowledged the problem. He also acknowledged that a renewed fear of terrorism in the wake of the Paris attacks was understandable. He explained that our screening process for Syrian refugees is extremely stringent. He said he didn’t want to play into the hands of ISIS by stoking fear of Islam, and he criticized politicians who did so. No mockery – just plenty of education and some tough words for partisan fearmongers.

But then Obama said this:

And I would add, by the way, these are the same folks oftentimes who suggest that they’re so tough that just talking to Putin or staring down ISIL, or using some additional rhetoric somehow is going to solve the problems out there. But apparently, they’re scared of widows and orphans coming into the United States of America as part of our tradition of compassion. First, they were worried about the press being too tough on them during debates. Now they’re worried about three-year-old orphans. That doesn’t sound very tough to me.


That’s mockery. And here’s the problem. Obama started off by speaking for a full two minutes calmly and rationally – exactly what I think he should have done. Then he briefly offered up a bit of mockery. I actually think that’s okay too because it was prefaced with a deep and sustained acknowledgement of the problem at hand.

But can you guess how much of that first two minutes has been quoted? Can you guess how much of the mockery has been quoted? That’s right: barely any of the former and mountains of the latter.

This is hardly surprising. The explanatory stuff is boring. How many of you read it all the way through? The mockery, on the other hand, is short and it makes great copy. Of course that’s what everyone is going to focus on.

On the bright side, this means Obama got some press and the liberal base got stoked. On the downside, it means that your average reader got the impression that Obama tossed out a few jibes at Chris Christie and Ted Cruz and that was it. You don’t even have to quote him out of context to make it look like he doesn’t really care much about fears of refugees.

That means that mockery is dangerous:

Used on its own, it makes ordinary people feel like you’re clueless and condescending. But even if you do it right, as Obama did, the way it’s reported can end up having the same effect. And that effect is exactly the opposite of what liberals would like to accomplish.

That’s useful to remember, but it’s also useful to remember what Drum also notes – mockery is short and it makes great copy. That’s what everyone is going to focus on, because even when done well, argumentation is pretty damned dull. People not only don’t quarrel because they cannot argue. They don’t argue because, when they do, everyone tunes out, and of course, now, we’re used to derision as debate. We’ve come to think of them as the same thing, which makes both Bill Maher and Bill O’Reilly insufferable. And the Syrian refugees will just have to die.

Posted in Uncategorized, Political Discourse | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Misunderstanding the Problem

Tuesday, November 17, 2015, President Obama was in the Philippines and still frustrated with the Republicans, who seem to want a new war in the Middle East and are calling for a halt to the entry of any Syrian refugees, because they’re afraid of them, so he lashed out:

“At first they were too scared of the press being too tough on them in the debates,” said Obama per the pool report. “Now they are scared of three year old orphans. That doesn’t seem so tough to me.”

Obama also argued that he “cannot think of a more potent recruitment tool for ISIL than some of the rhetoric coming out of here in the course of this debate” than the idea of discriminating against Muslim refugees.

“ISIL seeks to exploit the idea that there’s war between Islam and the West,” Obama said “and when you start seeing individuals in position of responsibility suggesting Christians are more worthy of protection than Muslims are in a war-torn land that feeds the ISIL narrative. It’s counterproductive. And it needs to stop.”

That won’t happen. There is disagreement about what to do about ISIS, and everyone has an opinion, from bombing them out of existence to… bombing them out of existence. Everyone seems to have settled on that, with the Republicans screaming at Obama to bomb them more, like the French and Russians are now doing, and screaming at his pointing out that he really is bombing them more, and their saying no you’re not, and him saying yes I am, and so on and so forth. It’s exhausting. They want a quick fix and he wonders what comes after all the bombing and suggests we think about that very carefully. It’s not that simple. What would follow ISIS? They say it is that simple – and we’ll worry about that stuff later. Either way, bombing is involved.

This is to be expected in an election year. They want to make Obama, and by extension all Democrats, look timid and weak and confused, and not careful but cowardly. They’ll be the “real men” here, and after what happened in Paris they know that’s a winner, because Americans are angry and frightened. The guy who says be careful in what you do, bad things could happen if you get what you want, can be painted as morally reprehensible – something had to be done and he wouldn’t do a damned thing, or wouldn’t do enough of what everyone now thinks he should have done, and the bad guys are going to kill us all. Vote Republican.

This is a useful campaign narrative. Refusing to take in even one refugee fleeing the hell we set in motion over there, unless they’re Christian, will radicalize another generation young Muslims, now certain that white Christian America hates Muslims – but we’ll worry about that later. Get rid of ISIS and then Assad in Syria and you create a power vacuum. Hezbollah will head north from Lebanon and fill that vacuum, or angry young men will form a new ISIS with a different name and then we’ll have to fight them – but we’ll worry about that later. We’ll wipe ISIS off the face of the map. Don’t worry about what comes next. We got rid of ISIS – and that’s that.

Cool, but even late-night comics know better than that. The night before Obama lashed out in the Philippines, on “The Late Show” when Stephen Colbert sat down with Bill Maher, we got this:

Maher began his appearance by arguing the only way to wipe out groups such as Islamic State is to “wipe out the idea” that motivates them – an idea that Maher believes is held by many mainstream Muslims, not just the extremists.

“We have to change those ideas, women as second-class citizens, gay people don’t deserve to be alive,” he said. “These are mainstream ideas unfortunately.”

The remarks, typical of Maher’s anti-religious standpoint, prompted an observation from Colbert.

“They say at a dinner party you should never talk about sex, politics or religion. Have you ever been invited to a dinner party in your life? Are there things you won’t talk about?”

That got a big laugh, but perhaps we should talk about this, because Maher is implying that there’s been a misunderstanding here. Maher is implying that ISIS isn’t that new caliphate being created in the wastes of Syria and Iraq. That’s the secondary effect of an absurd theology. And the terrorists in France and Belgium and everywhere else are not ISIS either. They too are the secondary effect of a warped theology. That’s what you get when people think that way, and the ISIS leaders are not ISIS either. As with al-Qaeda, we use another Hellfire missile from a Predator drone (we do name things well) to take out yet another key ISIS leader, this time a big one, and then there’s another leader the next day. Nothing changes. We haven’t wiped out the idea. We have gone after secondary manifestations of an idea – a very bad idea.

But how do you fight an idea? Late-night comics know. You fight ideas with counter-ideas, and with irony and ridicule – not bombs. You turn a bad idea into a bad joke, and everyone laughs, which makes it a great joke. Nonsense cannot survive the ridicule of logic, but that might not be necessary, because Maher might be wrong about which ideas are mainstream ideas:

Recent attacks in Paris, Beirut and Baghdad linked to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have once again brought terrorism and Islamic extremism to the forefront of international relations. According to newly released data that the Pew Research Center collected in 11 countries with significant Muslim populations, people from Nigeria to Jordan to Indonesia overwhelmingly expressed negative views of ISIS. …

In no country surveyed did more than 15% of the population show favorable attitudes toward Islamic State. And in those countries with mixed religious and ethnic populations, negative views of ISIS cut across these lines.

In Lebanon, a victim of one of the most recent attacks, almost every person surveyed who gave an opinion had an unfavorable view of ISIS, including 99% with a very unfavorable opinion. Distaste toward ISIS was shared by Lebanese Sunni Muslims (98% unfavorable) and 100% of Shia Muslims and Lebanese Christians.

What we have in ISIS then is a relatively small band of fanatic jerks everyone hates, but a large enough band of jerks to cause mayhem around the world, wedded to a very bad idea, a version of Islam that appalls most Muslims – and ISIS is that idea. To borrow the words of the Catholic catechism, they are the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual… really bad idea. And we need to defeat that idea.

Bill Maher may not be able to help that much – he’s a comic – but there is this woman:

Janine di Giovanni is an author, award-winning foreign correspondent, and current Middle East editor at Newsweek. She is a regular contributor to The Times, Vanity Fair, Granta, The New York Times, and The Guardian. Di Giovanni is also a consultant on Syria for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and a Senior Policy Manager/Advisor at the Centre for Conflict, Resolution and Recovery for the School of Public Policy at Central European University.

That’s impressive, and while Maher does the late-night shows, di Giovanni has been making the rounds on the morning cable news shows in their coverage of the Paris attacks, and Heather Parton transcribes what she said to Thomas Roberts on MSNBC the morning after Maher spoke to Colbert:

Di Giovanni: I think we have to understand first of all what ISIS wants more than anything is to provoke retaliation. They don’t like to see unity. The thing they fear the most is a cohesive society of people living together united. So, for instance, the photographs of Germans welcoming refugees into their society to make it more of a mixed society is terrible for them. They want a society, a country, a caliphate that is extreme Islam.

Roberts: When we talk about the country or the territory, they don’t have that. What they have is the territory that borders between Syria and Iraq. If that is stripped from them Janine, do they fall away?

Di Giovanni: Personally, I believe that you cannot destroy their ideology. Even if we took Raqqa tomorrow, if we crushed it, I have to point out there is one thing about the bombing of Raqqa, there are five hundred thousand civilians who are inside Raqqa. It’s not just ISIS who is suffering. It’s civilians that have been overcome by them. But even if we took out Raqqa tomorrow, how do you destroy this ideology which is sweeping so many youth, which is recruiting so many, if they have what is a very sophisticated social media, as we know, and their psychology is very appealing to those who are downtrodden, who are disenfranchised from society.

So what I’m saying Thomas is even if we can stop a caliphate – they’re not going to get to Mecca, which is what they want – we still have to deal with the underlying reasons of where they came from and why they prey on countries like France which they see as weak because there are divisions here between the Muslim populations which is the highest is all of Europe. They saw that as an opportunity and that’s why this operation was horrifically and tragically successful.

In short, take their land, bomb the crap out them, but understand you cannot destroy their ideology. ISIS is the ideology, not the land or the membership – and she points out that if we keep squabbling with each other, about how many bombs to drop and refugees and whatnot, we’re only playing into their hands. We have to have a better idea than they have.

Parton adds this:

If you have even the slightest bit of common sense this is all something you can easily discern by just reading the newspapers. But on cable TV she’s the equivalent of the Oracle of Delphi for pointing out that this problem isn’t just a matter of “taking out those bastards.”

It would be really helpful if these people would not feed the revenge fantasies of the American right wing which is playing into the terrorists’ hand so perfectly they might as well join the jihad and get it over with.

That is, however, the way we’re heading. In the Washington Post, Jeffery Guo writes about the likelihood that the Paris attacks will inspire reprisals against Muslims:

“This is precisely what ISIS was aiming for – to provoke communities to commit actions against Muslims,” said Arie Kruglanski, a professor of psychology at the University of Maryland who studies how people become terrorists. “Then ISIS will be able to say, ‘I told you so. These are your enemies and the enemies of Islam.'” …

The researchers see the Paris attacks increasing radicalization in two potential ways. First, the killings project power and prestige, burnishing ISIS’s image and attracting those who want to feel potent themselves.

Second, the attacks will escalate tensions between Muslims and non-Muslims. They have already led to some anti-Muslim activity, and will likely provoke more. Not only will these events make Muslims in the West feel marginalized, but they will also provide extremist propagandists with examples of Western oppression.

That’s kind of obvious, and Kevin Drum is dismayed:

What really gets me about this is not just that it’s true. It’s that we’ve seen this movie before with Al-Qaeda. We know perfectly well that it’s ISIS that wants to turn this into a war of civilizations, just as Al-Qaeda wanted to do. It’s no secret. Why are so many conservative hawks so willing to play along with this?

More generally, it’s astonishing – or depressing, take your pick – how soon we forget what we learned just a few years ago. Should we send a massive force into Anbar to crush ISIS once and for all? Well, we’ve tried that before. Remember? We sent a massive force into Iraq and, sure enough, we toppled Saddam Hussein’s regular army units pretty quickly. Then, despite a huge military presence, the country fell apart. The Sunni insurgency lasted for years before it was finally beaten back. Then the Shiite government of Iraq decided that fealty to its Shia supporters was more important than uniting their country, and before long Anbar was in flames again, this time with ISIS leading the charge.

And now:

You want to take out ISIS? Me too- but if you want to do it fast in order to demonstrate how tough you are, it’s going to require 100,000 troops or more; it will cost hundreds or thousands of American lives; and the bill will run to tens of billions of dollars. Remember Fallujah? It took the better part of a year and nearly 15,000 troops to take a medium-sized city held by a few thousand poorly trained militants. Now multiply that by ten or so. And multiply the casualties by 10 or 20 or 30 too. This isn’t two armies facing off on the field of battle. It’s house-to-house fighting against local insurgents, which isn’t something we’re especially good at.

Still, we could do it. The problem is that President Obama is right: unless we leave a permanent occupying force there, it will just blow up yet again – especially if we take Ted Cruz’s advice and decide we don’t really care about civilian casualties. Having defeated Al-Qaeda 2.0, we’ll end up with Al-Qaeda 3.0. Aside from a permanent occupation, the only thing that can stop this is an Iraqi government that takes Sunni grievances seriously and is genuinely willing to govern in a non-sectarian way.

This isn’t just a guess. We went through this just a few years ago. But everyone seems to have forgotten it already. Just send in the troops and crush the bastards! That worked great against the Nazis. It doesn’t work so great in Iraq.

It seems no one was reading The Onion back in late 2011:

With the United States facing a daunting array of problems at home and abroad, leading historians courteously reminded the nation Thursday that when making tough choices, it never hurts to stop a moment, take a look at similar situations from the past, and then think about whether the decisions people made back then were good or bad.

According to the historians, by looking at things that have already happened, Americans can learn a lot about which actions made things better versus which actions made things worse, and can then plan their own actions accordingly.

“In the coming weeks and months, people will have to make some really important decisions about some really important issues,” Columbia University historian Douglas R. Collins said during a press conference, speaking very slowly and clearly so the nation could follow his words. “And one thing we can do, before making a choice that has permanent consequences for our entire civilization, is check real quick first to see if human beings have ever done anything like it previously, and see if turned out to be a good idea or not.”

This isn’t hard:

“It’s actually pretty simple: We just have to ask ourselves if people doing the same thing in the past caused something bad to happen,” Collins continued. “Did the thing we’re thinking of doing make people upset? Did it start a war? If it did, then we might want to think about not doing it.”

In addition, Collins carefully explained that if a past decision proved to be favorable – if, for example, it led to increased employment, caused fewer deaths, or made lots of people feel good inside – then the nation should consider following through with the same decision now.

Follow closely here:

While the new strategy, known as “Look Back before You Act,” has raised concerns among people worried they will have to remember lots of events from long ago, the historians have assured Americans they won’t be required to read all the way through thick books or memorize anything.

Instead, citizens have been told they can just find a large-print, illustrated timeline of historical events, place their finger on an important moment, and then look to the right of that point to see what happened afterward, paying especially close attention to whether things got worse or better.

“You know how the economy is not doing so well right now?” Professor Elizabeth Schuller of the University of North Carolina said. “Well, in the 1930s, financial markets – no, wait, I’m sorry. Here: A long, long time ago, way far in the past, certain things happened that were a lot like things now, and they made people hungry and sad.”

“How do you feel when you’re hungry? Doesn’t feel good, does it?” Schuller added. “So, maybe we should avoid doing those things that caused people to feel that way, don’t you think?”

It’s too bad this is satire:

While many citizens have expressed skepticism of the historians’ assertions, the majority of Americans have reportedly grasped the concept of noticing bad things from earlier times and trying not to repeat them.

“I get it. If we do something bad that happened before, then the same bad thing could happen again,” said Barb Ennis, 48, of Pawtucket, RI. “We don’t want history to happen again, unless the thing that happened was good.”

“When you think about it, a lot of things have happened already,” Ennis added. “That’s what history is.”

And there’ this:

In Washington, several elected officials praised the looking-back-first strategy as a helpful, practical tool with the potential to revolutionize government.

“The things the historians were saying seemed complicated at first, but now it makes sense to me,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), who reversed his opposition to oil-drilling safety regulations after checking past events and finding a number of “very, very sad things [he] didn’t like.” “I just wished they’d told us about this trick before.”

If only these had been real historians six years ago and everyone had said “Oh, so THAT’S how it works! Cool!”

But that’s not how it works, and ridicule cannot fix that. So we’ll bomb what we think is ISIS but isn’t – because ISIS is a bad idea, not the new scattered caliphate or the terrorists – and we’ll probably send in troops, and many will die making sure the others guys die, and then, in a year or two, we’ll get the same thing with a new name – Bob, perhaps. And then we’ll have to bomb Bob, because we misunderstood the problem in the first place. We do need to get better at understanding the actual problem. But that’s not likely.

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Falling Asleep Again

Friday the Thirteenth was the horror movie in Paris – the massive terror attacks that shook the world, because that wasn’t a horror movie at all. That was quite real, and ISIS is a whole lot scarier than Freddy Krueger anyway. Real people died. ISIS is no longer trying to establish a caliphate in the wastes of Syria and Iraq – they’re losing ground there. They’ve shifted tactics. It will be terror attacks in the West, killing lots of civilians. The idea now seems to be to establish a caliphate that’s not geographically specific – it will be a free-floating state of mind, and severely theocratic. Object and you die. It really doesn’t matter where you are.

No one expected this, but then came Monday the Sixteenth – President Obama was in Turkey for a G20 summit. All the world leaders were there, except François Hollande, who stayed back in France to deal with the national crisis there, so this was a chance to hear what they’d say about what everyone was going to do about this new world we seemed to be in. What would America do? America has the resources to do big things, a military ten times larger than everyone else’s combined, and one of the few major economies that is actually working reasonably well. America could fix this, or at least lead in the fix. That’s what everyone always expects. That’s what we always do. Obama held a press conference – he’d explain what it would be this time. All would be well.

Obama did hold the press conference – but this too shook the world. Well, not really – it shook the politic world over here. The hyper-conservative Hugh Hewitt quoted President Obama – “What I’m not interested in doing is posing or pursuing some notion of ‘American leadership’ or ‘America winning.'”

That was outrageous, as Kevin Drum notes:

Goodness! That sure sounds pusillanimous. I wonder how Obama can stand to look at himself in the mirror each – oh, hold on. What’s that? There’s more to the quote?

There is, as Obama said this:

What I’m not interested in doing is posing or pursuing some notion of “American leadership” or “America winning,” or whatever other slogans they come up with, that has no relationship to what is actually going to work to protect the American people, and to protect people in the region who are getting killed, and to protect our allies and people like France.

And there’s even more:

My only interest is to end suffering and to keep the American people safe. And if there’s a good idea out there, then we’re going to do it… But what we do not do, what I do not do, is to take actions either because it is going to work politically or it is going to somehow, in the abstract, make America look tough, or make me look tough. …

We’ll do what’s required to keep the American people safe. And I think it’s entirely appropriate in a democracy to have a serious debate about these issues… But what I’m not interested in doing is posing or pursuing some notion of American leadership or America winning, or whatever other slogans they come up with that has no relationship to what is actually going to work to protect the American people, and to protect people in the region who are getting killed, and to protect our allies and people like France. I’m too busy for that.

Kevin Drum sighs:

I guess this is going to be “You didn’t build that” all over again. I can hardly wait. Elsewhere, Donald Trump is crowing that (a) Obama just told Putin how important the Russian airstrikes against ISIS have been and (b) now we’re attacking the oil, just like he said a long time ago. “I TOLD YOU SO!” he tweeted. Except that (a) Obama actually told Putin he would like Russia to start striking ISIS, and (b) we’ve been attacking ISIS oil convoys all along. According to the Pentagon, we’ve carried out three or four airstrikes per week against ISIS oil infrastructure. And anyway, didn’t Trump actually recommend that we encircle the ISIS oil fields?

Not that it matters:

We’re now entering a period in which conservatives are going to start playing “Can You Top This?” on ISIS. A week ago they talked big but were afraid to actually commit themselves to any serious action. Now, we’re in a war of civilizations and soon they’ll be outbidding each other on how many divisions they’re willing to ship overseas and how best to describe the complete and total inaction that the appeaser Obama has been engaged in.

I think I’m going to go take a nap.

That’s not allowed, and elsewhere Drum says this:

We’re in a war of civilizations. If you won’t say Radical Islam, you aren’t serious. We need to fight them there so we don’t have to fight them here. They hate us for our freedoms.

I really hoped I’d heard the last of this nonsense around 2003, but I guess not. The sensibility of the post-9/11 war-blogs is back, along with all the overweening confidence in amateurish geo-religious belligerence that fueled them the first time around. But at least this time, in the midst of the panic, we have a president who says this when he’s asked about committing more ground troops to the fight against ISIS:

“We would see a repetition of what we’ve seen before: If you do not have local populations that are committed to inclusive governance and who are pushing back against ideological extremists, that they resurface unless you’re prepared to have a permanent occupation of these countries.”

Drum takes that further:

The war against ISIS will be won when Iraq gains the political maturity to provide a working army that’s not merely a tool of the endless Sunni-Shia civil war in the Middle East. We could turn Anbar into a glassy plain, and all that would happen is that something worse than ISIS would crop up.

There’s a lot we can do to defeat ISIS, and most of it we’re already doing. Airstrikes? Check. Broad coalition? Check. Working with Arab allies? Check. Engage with Sunni tribal leaders? Check. Embed with the Iraqi military? Check. There’s more we could do, but often it’s contradictory. You want to arm the Kurds and create a partnership with the Iraqi government? Good luck. You want to defeat Assad and ISIS? You better pick one. You want to avoid a large American ground force and you want to win the war fast? Not gonna happen.

Everyone needs to face reality: This is going to be a long effort, and there are no magic slogans that are going to win it. Unfortunately, they can make things worse.

Obama actually faced that, as Salon’s Jack Mirkinson notes here:

“Why can’t we take out these bastards?” CNN’s Jim Acosta asked President Obama at a press conference on Monday. Acosta’s language may have been rougher than some might have used, but he was speaking for a press corps whose thirst for an apocalyptic confrontation with ISIS has been let loose by last Friday’s attacks in Paris.

Mirkinson sees the establishment reverting to its default position:

The Sunday shows were dominated by such talk. NYPD commissioner Bill Bratton turned up on both CBS and ABC’s Sunday shows, warning darkly that if spy agencies couldn’t monitor cell phone communications, ISIS might be able to attack New York more easily. Unsurprisingly, he was met with little skepticism. ABC viewers were then treated to the sight of Bill Kristol, a pundit who would invade his local grocery store if he had a problem with it, calling for 50,000 American troops to combat ISIS.

On Monday morning, subscribers to Politico’s highly influential Playbook newsletter were greeted with Mike Allen’s pronouncement that the best person to listen to about Paris was former deputy CIA chief Mike Morell, now on the CBS payroll. If they turned on Allen’s favorite show, MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” they could have seen Joe Scarborough ask James Stavridis, the former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, if NATO should go to war with ISIS. Surprise! Stavridis thought that was a great idea.

And it’s not just here:

British viewers watching Sky News on Sunday were treated to one of the more blatantly warmongering interviews you are likely to find anywhere, as anchor Dermot Murnaghan demanded that Diane Abbott, a left-wing member of the opposition Labour party, sign up to British bombing in Syria. “Even if it’s just a gesture, why not join?” he asked – a stunningly casual way to discuss deadly military action – adding later that any strategy to combat ISIS should involve “trying to kill as many of them as you possibly can.”

Mirkinson is not impressed:

Listen to the language being used here. “Kill as many of them as you possibly can.” “Take out these bastards.” This is the hyper-macho language of some two-bit action movie, not a foreign policy strategy. It’s also evidence of the way that a supposedly “objective” press can reinforce one very narrow view of the world through its own ideological insularity.

It has been said many times before, but it’s worth saying again: what do these people think has been going on all this time? Despite the current narrative that paints Obama as some pacifist hippie, the US is currently conducting military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia and god knows where else. We have been in Afghanistan for 14 years. We have been in Iraq for 12 years.

What has any of this gotten us? For one, it got us ISIS. It should hardly be controversial to say that the rise of ISIS is directly connected to the American-led destabilization of the Middle East. It didn’t even exist a few years ago. Does Jim Acosta seriously believe that more of the same would stamp it out?

Killing a lot of the bastards isn’t going to work:

It now appears that the overwhelming majority of the people involved in the Paris attacks were Europeans, people whose relative luxury and safety in the world were nevertheless overwhelmed by intellectual and ideological forces whose complexity far outmatches the force of any weapon. Does Bill Kristol think we should pulverize Belgium back to the Stone Age?

It takes ideas and emotions of immense and terrible power to convince someone that they should murder people in a concert hall one by one, or blow themselves up outside a stadium. How many bombs, how many guns, how many troops, how many Orwellian tactics do the hawks now crying out for “something to be done” think will be useful in fighting that ideology, when decades of war has helped to fuel it?

Drum wants to take a nap, but this is like falling asleep again. Killing a lot of the bastards isn’t going to work? Didn’t we figure that out in Vietnam?

Maybe not, and the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent has more:

In September, not long after Ben Carson suggested that Islam is incompatible with the Constitution and that he wouldn’t want a Muslim president, GOP Rep. Steve King of Iowa – one of the most prominent spokesmen for restrictionist Republicans – opined that Carson’s comments would be the opposite of a liability among Iowa Republican voters. “I wouldn’t expect those remarks would hurt Dr. Carson in Iowa,” King said. “I think they help him.”

It later turned out that King may have been right: A Bloomberg/Des Moines Register poll subsequently found that more than two thirds of likely Iowa Republican caucus-goers said that it would be unacceptable for a Muslim to be president only on the basis of religion.

This comes to mind, now that Donald Trump has responded to the Paris terrorist attacks by amplifying his previous call for stepped up domestic surveillance of Mosques in the United States.

Trump did say that:

“You’re going to have to watch and study the mosques, because a lot of talk is going on at the mosques,” the GOP presidential candidate said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

“And from what I heard, in the old days – meaning a while ago – we had great surveillance going on in and around mosques in New York City,” Trump added… He also suggested that he would consider shutting down some mosques in the U.S. in order to defeat ISIS, reiterating a point he made during an interview last month on Fox Business.

“I would hate to do it, but it’s something that you’re going to have to strongly consider because some of the ideas and some of the hatred, the absolute hatred, are coming from these areas,” Trump said.


The terror attacks, naturally, have inspired a lot of chatter about the impact they will have on the 2016 presidential race. Will this now be a foreign policy election? Are Democrats now going to be on the defensive, since after all Republicans are always presumed to have the advantage on national security issues? Did the Democrats damage themselves horribly by refusing to use the words “radical Islam” at Saturday night’s debate?

Perhaps some religions just cannot be practiced in America, or this particular one, if we want to be safe, and Sargent sees the Republicans pressing their advantage now:

Ted Cruz has warned that “ISIS plans to bring these acts of terror to America,” and he has called for Muslim Syrian refugees to be barred from entering the United States. Jeb Bush has similarly said that our focus should be on Christian refugees. This drew a very sharp response today from President Obama, who decried the notion of a “religious test for which person who’s fleeing from a war-torn country is admitted,” adding that “we don’t have religious tests to our compassion.”

Meanwhile, Marco Rubio now claims that “we won’t be able to take more refugees,” and Ohio governor John Kasich is now calling for an end to their admission, too. This last one is particularly interesting, given that Kasich has defended his decision to expand Medicaid in Ohio on the grounds that he wants to be able to defend his treatment of the poor when he comes face to face with St. Peter, which is to say, he’s running as the race’s most unabashedly compassionate conservative.

However, to my knowledge, none of the other candidates has gone quite as far as Donald Trump has now done in suggesting we may need to close down some mosques in the United States.

He is unique, but Heather Parton sees this:

It’s been obvious for some time that the Republicans were gearing up for a national security election. Part of this is simply because they’re desperate and this is one issue on which they are almost always seen as having an advantage. They have portrayed Democrats as weak on defense for decades, often using gendered tropes to drive the point home, so the prospect of facing a woman in the general election offers them an unprecedented opportunity to drive home that theme in ways that feel both familiar and new.

It simply took them a bit to get where they are now:

When Jeb Bush entered the race, it was clear that the establishment believed that enough time had passed for people to forget their last disastrous turn at the helm and they could start beating their war drum once again. Up until this past weekend, they had been nibbling around the edges of the ISIS debate mainly because there just aren’t any simple answers. Sen. Lindsey Graham was the designated hysteric on the issue, pretty much fashioning an entire presidential campaign around repeated warnings that terrorists are coming to America to kill us all. (The fact that his candidacy is mired below one percent might speak to the fact that nobody cared about that – but it’s more likely the messenger than the message.) Most of the field had subsumed their usual fear-mongering over foreign threats into the immigration debate, particularly with the emergence of Donald Trump and his deportation and wall-building scheme. His rhetoric of “criminals and rapists” infiltrating our country hits the same hot nerve as Graham’s handwringing and Trump offers a much more satisfying solution.

And then there was the Friday the Thirteenth in Paris that changed everything:

Republicans were all forced to respond. Graham, naturally, came out with his patented dead-eyed pithy pearl clutching – “If you really want to make a difference, go into Iraq and Syria with an international coalition on the ground and destroy these guys. Every day they’re allowed to survive is a day that we can get hit.” …

There’s no word on how this would make an attack like Paris less likely, but Graham’s not the only one who persists in believing that bombing, invading and occupying Middle Eastern countries is the solution to terrorism around the globe. One might think they would have reevaluated this assumption after our experience with invading Iraq – and the many terrorists it created and acts of terrorism that followed – but they clearly haven’t.

It is like falling asleep again, and she adds this:

From what I’m gathering this morning the press is getting their Prada flak jackets ready and they’re ready to embed for the invasion. In fact, they have completely lost it, particularly since President Obama came out this morning and acted like a sane person instead of bellowing about a clash of civilizations and promising to kill everyone in sight. They are all extremely disappointed that he didn’t join them in their bloodlust.

CNN’s Jim Acosta is, and Parton is puzzled:

Everyone seems to believe that this is a very, very “sophisticated attack” that was put together by mad geniuses who are so lethal that our entire civilization is at risk if we don’t start bombing and invading abroad and turning our own countries into police states immediately. In other words, they are all ready to do exactly what these terrorists want them to do.

Well, Obama addressed that too:

Obama also pointedly addressed the issue of whether the United States and other countries should continue to accept refugees, given the fact that one of the participants in the Paris plot may have come in with Syrian migrants. He said the United States would continue to accept more refugees from Syria and elsewhere, though “only after subjecting them to rigorous screening and security checks.”

“Slamming the door in their faces would be a betrayal of our values,” he said. “Our nations can welcome refugees who are desperately seeking safety and ensure our own security. We can and must do both.”

Without directly naming GOP presidential candidates, the president blasted political leaders for suggesting the United States should accept only Christians fleeing Syria. He alluded to the fact that some of these same politicians namely Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), whose father fled Cuba decades ago – had benefited from America’s willingness to accept refugees.

“And when I hear folks say that, well, maybe we should just admit the Christians but not the Muslims, when I hear political leaders suggesting that there would be a religious test for which person who’s fleeing from a war-torn country is admitted, when some of those folks themselves come from families who benefited from protection when they were fleeing political persecution, that’s shameful,” he said, his voice rising. “That’s not American. That’s not who we are. We don’t have religious tests to our compassion.”

Then he invoked the Big Guy:

The president noted that the world’s most prominent Christian leader, Pope Francis, did not frame the Syrian refugee crisis in the same terms as several Republican leaders.

“When Pope Francis came to visit the United States and gave a speech before Congress, he didn’t just speak about Christians who were being persecuted, he didn’t call on Catholic parishes just to admit those who were of the same religious faith, he said protect people who were vulnerable,” Obama said. “And so I think it is very important for us right now, particularly those who are in leadership, particularly those who have a platform and can be heard, not to fall into that trap, not to feed that dark impulse inside of us.”

That won’t fly now:

Ted Cruz, for his part, laughed before telling reporters in Sun City, S.C. what he thought about the president’s comments.

“It is one of the saddest things we’ve seen for seven years, that President Obama has consistently abandoned and alienated our friends and allies and has coddled and appeased our enemies. And that is never more true than with radical Islamic terrorism,” he said. “Both President Obama and Hillary Clinton want to define the enemy as some sort of abstract and ill-defined violent extremism. That means they cannot direct a strategy to defeat it because they cannot acknowledge who they’re fighting.”

That was followed by a headline concerning the Senate – Cruz to offer bill banning Syrian refugees – and one concerning the new Speaker of the House – Huckabee calls on Ryan to prevent entry of Syrian refugees, or to step down – and then this – More than half the nation’s governors say Syrian refugees not welcome:

More than half the nation’s governors – 26 states – say they oppose letting Syrian refugees into their states, although the final say on this contentious immigration issue will fall to the federal government. States protesting the admission of refugees range from Alabama and Georgia, to Texas and Arizona, to Michigan and Illinois, to Maine and New Hampshire. Among these 26 states, all but one have Republican governors.

Funny how that works, except for this:

Authority over admitting refugees to the country, though, rests with the federal government – not with the states – though individual states can make the acceptance process much more difficult, experts said.

American University law professor Stephen I. Vladeck put it this way: “Legally, states have no authority to do anything because the question of who should be allowed in this country is one that the Constitution commits to the federal government.” But Vladeck noted that without the state’s participation, the federal government would have a much more arduous task.

“So a state can’t say it is legally objecting, but it can refuse to cooperate, which makes thing much more difficult.”

Expect that, with Chris Christie saying that not even three-year-old orphans will be welcome in New Jersey, which he said to Hugh Hewitt, which is where we came in.

This really is like falling asleep again. It’s 2003 and the run-up to the Iraq war again. We have to go fight them over there so we don’t have to fight them here, even if now they’re here, and over there, there’s no there, there. But we’re hearing the same things, and we’re also getting a version of the white supremacy thing from the late fifties, with the Syrian refugees as the new niggers – dangerous folks, even the three-year-old orphans. Didn’t we wake up from those two bad dreams long ago? We did, we did – but America is getting sleepy again. It happens.

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