For the Temporarily Embarrassed Millionaires

“Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”

That’s Ronald Wright in his collection of lectures on societal collapse – A Short History of Progress – which was followed by What is America?: A Short History of the New World Order – which means that Wright likes to keep things short, but not sweet.

Has America ever been what it thinks it is? That question keeps coming up, in this case from the outside looking in. Wright was born on London – the one in the UK and not the one halfway between Detroit and Toronto in one of the duller parts of rural Ontario – and now he lives in British Columbia. Wright is now thoroughly Canadian – where they have single-payer Medicare for all, so no one worries about going bankrupt when the kid needs a tonsillectomy. Canada also has a robust social safety net. Everyone chips in so no one is left behind. It’s just the decent thing to do, as is taking in all those Syrian refugees. They need help. Canada needs new citizens, who, feeling welcomed, not feared, chip in too, to make things better for everyone. They start businesses. They run for office. They even show up and cheer at hockey games. Everyone wins – and Canada also has Justin Trudeau, not Donald Trump – a thoughtful gracious mensch, not an angry insecure bully. All of that may skew Ronald Wright’s perspective.

Wright is not an American, but has America ever been what it thinks it is? The rest of the world wonders about that, and Ed Pilkington in The Guardian offers A Journey through a Land of Extreme Poverty: Welcome to America – a long and detailed tour of sorts:

The UN’s Philip Alston is an expert on deprivation and he wants to know why forty-one million Americans are living in poverty. The Guardian joined him on a special two-week mission into the dark heart of the world’s richest nation…

Professor Philip Alston is an Australian academic with a formal title: UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights.

This is the UN examining what is obviously a third-world country and the whole thing is a bit depressing:

His fact-finding mission into the richest nation the world has ever known has led him to investigate the tragedy at its core: the 41 million people who officially live in poverty. Of those, nine million have zero cash income – they do not receive a cent in sustenance.

Alston’s epic journey has taken him from coast to coast, deprivation to deprivation. Starting in LA and San Francisco, sweeping through the Deep South, traveling on to the colonial stain of Puerto Rico then back to the stricken coal country of West Virginia, he has explored the collateral damage of America’s reliance on private enterprise to the exclusion of public help.

Think of it as payback time. As the UN special rapporteur himself put it “Washington is very keen for me to point out the poverty and human rights failings in other countries. This time I’m in the US.”

And it’s one grim story after another, including this one from here in Los Angeles:

Ressy Finley, 41, was busy sterilizing the white bucket she uses to slop out in her tent in which she has lived on and off for more than a decade. She keeps her living area, a mass of worn mattresses and blankets and a few motley possessions, as clean as she can in a losing battle against rats and cockroaches. She also endures waves of bed bugs, and has large welts on her shoulder to prove it.

She receives no formal income, and what she makes on recycling bottles and cans is no way enough to afford the average rents of $1,400 a month for a tiny one-bedroom. A friend brings her food every couple of days, the rest of the time she relies on nearby missions.

She cried twice in the course of our short conversation, once when she recalled how her infant son was taken from her arms by social workers because of her drug habit (he is now 14; she has never seen him again). The second time was when she alluded to the sexual abuse that set her as a child on the path towards drugs and homelessness.

Given all that, it’s remarkable how positive Finley remains. What does she think of the American Dream, the idea that everyone can make it if they try hard enough? She replies instantly: “I know I’m going to make it.”

A 41-year-old woman living on the sidewalk in Skid Row is going to make it?

“Sure I will, so long as I keep the faith.”

What does “making it” mean to her?

“I want to be a writer, a poet, an entrepreneur, a therapist.”

She is one of those temporarily embarrassed millionaires. Almost all of those profiled seem to think of themselves as temporarily embarrassed millionaires, but not all, and Pilkington sees the ongoing problem:

The casting off the yoke of overweening government (the British monarchy) came to be equated in the minds of many Americans with states’ rights and the individualistic idea of making it on your own – a view that is fine for those fortunate enough to do so, less happy if you’re born on the wrong side of the tracks.

Countering that has been the conviction that society must protect its own against the vagaries of hunger or unemployment that informed Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and the Great Society of Lyndon Johnson. But in recent times the prevailing winds have blown strongly in the “you’re on your own, buddy” direction. Ronald Reagan set the trend with his 1980s tax cuts, followed by Bill Clinton, whose 1996 decision to scrap welfare payments for low-income families is still punishing millions of Americans.

The cumulative attack has left struggling families, including the 15 million children who are officially in poverty, with dramatically less support than in any other industrialized economy. Now they face perhaps the greatest threat of all.

As Alston himself has written in an essay on Trump’s populism and the aggressive challenge it poses to human rights: “These are extraordinarily dangerous times. Almost anything seems possible.”

Anything seems possible. Things could get worse. Things just got worse:

Congressional Republicans secured enough support Friday to pass their massive tax plan, a measure that would deliver a major legislative victory to President Trump and his GOP allies and make tax changes affecting nearly every American family and business.

Passage appeared certain after two critical holdouts, Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), said they would vote for the bill next week.

Those two did make their stand:

Rubio was the key piece of a complicated and shifting political puzzle that the White House and GOP leaders spent months trying to solve, as all Democrats vowed to oppose the bill and a handful of Republicans made strident demands.

The Florida Republican insisted on an expansion of the child tax credit in exchange for his vote, and GOP leaders relented, growing a benefit for working-class families.

Congressional Republicans didn’t like that much. There was no way to pay for that small increase for working-class families and keep the package within the cost limits that allowed them to pass this with only fifty-one votes in the Senate, ignoring the Democrats. Rubio was being a pain, but there was a way out. They had lowered the corporate tax rate from thirty-five percent to twenty-one percent. They added one hundredth of one percent to that twenty percent to cover Rubio’s populist posturing. Large corporations wouldn’t even notice that, and there was this:

Corker’s support was unexpected, as he had opposed an earlier version of the tax bill two weeks ago amid concerns about its additions to the deficit. But Friday he said that he viewed the bill as a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” that, combined with changes to immigration and trade policy, would help the economy.

Corporations would thrive. The makers of toothpaste and toilet paper would thrive, and hire more folks, maybe. They could also use the money they now would save to automate everything, to eliminate jobs – but with lower or no labor costs they’d make big money anyway, so all would be just fine. Corker is a “big picture” guy.

But the picture is still cloudy:

Under the tax plan, Americans would lose the personal exemptions that often dictate how much money is withheld from their paychecks. They would instead pay taxes through a new regime that exempts a higher level of income from taxation and then subjects much of the rest to lower rates. Many more Americans would have access to the child tax credit, but they would also face a new cap on the federal deduction for state and local tax payments.

On net, Republicans believe that the bill would lower most people’s taxes. But many Americans – particularly those in high-tax states such as New York, New Jersey and California – would see their taxes go up.

That’s a political calculation. States like New York, New Jersey and California are full of liberals who always vote for Democrats. Those states are already lost. Republicans are writing them off. That’s not the real America, and that’s beside the point anyway:

The tax plan has enormous benefits for many businesses, with a permanent and sharp reduction in tax rates that Republicans promise would trigger more economic growth, new hiring and higher wages.

It also would change the tax system for households, temporarily lowering rates and creating new limits on deductions; this is expected to reduce taxes for most Americans but could still lead millions to owe the government more.

Those millions are in states like New York, New Jersey and California. Let them whine. Those who aren’t real Americans should pay more, but it’s not that simple:

The bill was originally pitched as a sweeping tax cut for the middle class, but it changed over the course of several months as Republicans demanded a variety of alterations.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) extracted more tax cuts for businesses whose owners file their taxes through the individual income tax code.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and other East Coast Republicans demanded changes that would allow Americans to deduct up to $10,000 in state and local taxes, restoring some of the deduction after the Senate initially sought to scrap it entirely.

House Republicans tried to cap the mortgage interest deduction to the interest paid on up to $500,000 in new home loans, but they acquiesced eventually to a $750,000 cap – still lower than the current limit of about $1 million.

A number of GOP donors complained that the bill could push their taxes up, so Republicans agreed to a late change that would cut the top tax rate to 37 percent (down from 39.6 percent) for income above $600,000 for a married couple filing jointly.

That last change was a surprise. There’s no plausible microeconomic or macroeconomic argument for lowering taxes on that top bracket – that’s expensive and helps no one – but those are the donors that make Republican political careers possible. Congressional Republicans aren’t dummies, and the rest was just a series of adjustments:

Many of the changes to the tax code that Republicans initially sought were dialed back or removed.

They had proposed allowing multinational companies to bring cash held overseas back to the United States at a 12 percent tax rate, but they raised the rate to 15.5 percent in the final agreement as a way to generate more revenue.

They opted against imposing taxes that would have hit graduate students, and they did not strip away tax benefits for families who adopt children.

They had proposed to eliminate the estate tax and the alternative-minimum tax for individuals, but those changes proved too costly, and the final plan would exempt more families from these taxes but not get rid of them.

There’s much more but that’s the gist of it, and America’s Canadians were not happy:

Democrats have blasted the bill, saying it would shower corporations with lower taxes at the expense of driving up the debt and giving only temporary and uneven benefits to the middle class. The tax-rate cuts for individuals and households would expire after eight years, while most of the cuts for corporations would be permanent.

“This is daylight robbery,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). “And with every iteration the GOP tax scam becomes even more cowardly, outrageous, dishonest, brazen theft from middle-class families, giving money from them to the richest people in our country and to corporations. It’s a monumental con job.”

Perhaps so, but this may not seem like a monumental con job to all those temporarily embarrassed millionaires out there. Their condition is only temporary after all. One day they’ll be millionaires too. Why would they object to any of this?

Michael Tomasky has some objections:

You think this is bad, think about what’s next. What are next are cuts to Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, and other domestic spending programs. Because this is the Republican formula:

Pass massive tax cuts for the top one percent. Run up the deficit. A year or two later go, “Oh my God, look at the deficit! This proves that spending is just out of control!” Start taking the axe to entitlement programs and the domestic discretionary budget.

That’s how it works, ever since supply-side became part of conversation.

Tomasky then offers his own “short history” of that:

Ronald Reagan cut taxes and ran up deficits like mad, tripling, quadrupling them over Jimmy Carter’s level. George H. W. Bush raised taxes a little, but the economy was so in the doldrums that the deficit was still bad. Along came Bill Clinton, who had to fix it. He raised taxes. He did investments. He got the economy humming. He eliminated the deficit. He gave George W. Bush a surplus.

Then Dubya cut taxes – twice – and started two unfunded-mandate wars. Up shot the deficit again. Ach, they all said! These deficits! We must cut spending. And bring Social Security under control. But they never did cut spending, and popular will against Bush’s Social Security privatization scheme was so strong that that one died on the vine fast. Meanwhile they turned the banking system into a casino, and that crashed.

Then came Barack Obama, who, again, had to fix it. He wasn’t able to, quite enough, because his stimulus package should have been much larger than political realities allowed. But he did reduce the deficit substantially. As a percentage of GDP, it went from the 10 percent Bush handed him to around 2.5 percent. And he oversaw 75 consecutive months of job growth. He handed Donald Trump exactly the economy that 14 months ago Trump was saying was a disaster but now is saying is beautiful.

Tomasky says that’s how it always works, and how it’s working now:

Now, thanks to the GOP, we’re about to open another gash in the deficit. They’ll try to slash away, but I hope and think that by and large they won’t succeed, because if you thought this tax bill was unpopular, wait till you see what happens when they start openly talking about tinkering with people’s nursing home care (Medicaid), prescription drug benefits (Medicare), and fixed pension distributions (Social Security).

And so a Democrat may well get elected in 2021, inheriting a mess from Trump. A deficit. Maybe a bad economy. And it will be on the Democrat to fix it again. And he or she will. But only to a point. The Republicans, then in opposition, will obstruct and not allow the next Democrat to really fix things, because Republicans will know deep down that public investment would fix the economy, but they’ll rail against it on the grounds that it will… increase the deficit! So they will try to engineer things so that the recovery is tepid, so they can get the Democrat out and cut taxes for the rich one more time and balloon the deficit and start the whole grim process again.

That’s the game. It feels like we’re fated to play it for the next fifty years.

Perhaps so, but Fareed Zakaria thinks this tax bill is extraordinarily awful:

If the Republican tax plan passes Congress, it will mark a watershed for the United States. The medium- and long-term effects of the plan will be a massive drop in public investment, which will come on the heels of decades of declining spending (as a percentage of gross-domestic-product) on infrastructure, scientific research, skills training and core government agencies. The United States can’t coast on past investments forever, and with this legislation, we are ushering in a bleak future.

The future is the United States as third-world country, and this tax bill would assure that:

The tax bill is expected to add at least $1 trillion to the national debt over the next 10 years, and some experts think the real loss to federal revenue will be much higher. If Congress doesn’t slash spending, automatic cuts will kick in unless Democrats and Republicans can agree to waive them. Either way, the prospects for discretionary spending look dire, with potential cuts to spending on roads and airports, training and apprenticeship programs, health-care research and public-health initiatives, among hundreds of other programs. And these cuts would happen on top of an already difficult situation. As Gary Burtless of the Brookings Institution points out, combined public investment by federal, state and local governments is at its lowest point in six decades, relative to GDP.

This, then, is not the time to cut taxes:

The United States is at a breaking point. In August, the World Bank looked at 50 countries and found that the United States will have the largest unmet infrastructure needs over the next two decades. Look in any direction. According to the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, the United States has almost 56,000 bridges with structural problems (about 1,900 of which are on interstate highways), and these are crossed 185 million times a day.

Another industry report says that in 1977 the federal government provided 63 percent of the country’s total investment in water infrastructure, but only 9 percent by 2014. There’s so much congestion in America’s largest rail hub – Chicago – that it takes longer for a freight train to pass through the city than it takes to get from there to Los Angeles, according to Building America’s Future, a public interest group.

And then there’s the decline in funding for research:

A recent report in Science notes that for the first time since World War II, private funding for basic research now exceeds federal funding. Research and development topped 10 percent of the national budget in the mid-1960s; it is now less than 4 percent. And the Senate’s version of the tax bill removed a crucial tax credit that has encouraged corporate spending on research, though the House-Senate compromise version will probably keep it. All this is happening in an environment in which other countries, from South Korea to Germany to China, are ramping up their investments in these areas. A recent study found that China is on track to surpass the United States as the world leader in biomedical research spending.

All of this adds up, and maybe it takes an outsider looking in to see what has been going on:

When I came to America in the 1980s, I was struck by how well the government functioned. When I would hear complaints about the IRS or the Federal Aviation Administration, I would often reply, “Have you ever seen how badly these bureaucracies work in other countries?” Certainly compared with India, where I grew up, but even compared with countries such as France and Italy, many of the federal government’s key offices were professional and competent. But decades of criticism, congressional micromanagement and underfunding have taken their toll. Agencies such as the IRS are now threadbare. The Census Bureau is preparing to go digital and to undertake a new national tally, but it is hamstrung by an insufficient budget and has had to cancel several much-needed tests. The FAA lags behind equivalent agencies in countries such as Canada and has been delayed in upgrading its technology because of funding lapses and uncertainties. The list goes on and on.

And so does his column. He agrees with Ronald Wright. Has America ever been what it thinks it is? The rest of the world wonders about that, and Zakaria adds this:

America has fallen into extreme partisanship and embraced a know-nothing libertarianism that is starving the country of the essential investments it needs for growth. Those who vote for this tax bill – possibly the worst piece of major legislation in a generation – will live in infamy, as the country slowly breaks down.

And the UN Special Rapporteurs on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights will come and go and file their reports, as this country slowly breaks down. How did it come to this? Why is this crew in charge of things now?

The answer to that may be that all the temporarily embarrassed millionaires in dire (temporary) straights voted them in. Democrats told them they were the exploited proletariat, rightly so, but that offered no comfort. Republicans told them they were simply incipient millionaires, and one day…

That day will never come. This will never end.

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Calling It Quits

Charles Dickens is sometimes useful:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…

And no one knew which it was. That was Dickens writing in 1859 about the situation in London and Paris just before and then during the French Revolution – a terrible and terrifying time – but much like all times. Dickens noted that the world is always a mess. The details vary. Various odd characters come and go, some evil, some virtuous, but only the names change. They’re all the same characters everyone knows, one way or another. And no one knows how things will turn out – much like these times.

Dickens is useful. Obama was the spring of hope – Obama’s one-word summary of his view of the situation at the time. Trump is the winter of despair. He told America that everyone is out to get us. He told America to sneer at the rest of the world – to get angry and get tough. The world was laughing at America. Mexicans and Muslims were laughing at us. So were China and Canada – and blacks and the gays and the urban hipsters and the fancy-pants experts and the goofy scientists and all “politicians” were laughing at Real Americans. The theme of his inauguration speech was “American Carnage” – and that nightmare, where America is going directly to hell, had to end. He could fix that. When someone hits you, hit them back ten times harder. That’s what one does in desperate times, when one is in despair, and America was in despair. It was the worst of times.

That was the general idea, but the response to that idea has not been what Trump expected. Many found what he was saying vile. Some would rather quit than fight that angry battle:

Discomfort with the term “evangelical” began in some quarters with the Moral Majority in the Reagan years, which helped make “evangelical” synonymous with the Republican Party. Ever since, evangelicals have disagreed with each other about mixing faith and politics.

Such debates intensified last year when President Trump was elected with the overwhelming support of white evangelical voters after a vitriolic campaign that alienated many Americans. Most recently, after Senate candidate Roy Moore drew strong majorities of white evangelicals in Alabama despite reports of his pursuit of teenage girls when he was in his 30s, some Christians across the country said they weren’t sure they wanted to be associated with the word anymore.

There are limits:

Even two of the grandchildren of Billy Graham, the famed evangelist who helped popularize the term, are abandoning the word. “The term has come to represent white Republicans and sometimes close-mindedness and superiority,” said granddaughter Jerushah Armfield, a writer and pastor’s wife in South Carolina.

Jen Hatmaker, a Texas-based author with a large evangelical following, sees “a mass exodus” from the label in her community. “The term feels irreversibly tainted, and those of us who don’t align with the currently understood description are distancing ourselves to preserve our consciences,” she said.

The term in question has been irreversibly tainted, with not just with disregarding apparent child molestation and Trump’s crass ass-grabbing ways, but with overt racism as well, so it may be time to call it quits:

In recent years, Americans have expressed more positive feelings toward nearly all religious groups, except for evangelicals. In a 2017 Pew Research Center poll, Americans expressed greater approval than in 2014 for every religious group – Jews, Catholics, mainline Protestants, Mormons, Muslims, atheists and more – except for evangelicals.

The writing is on the wall – just like in the Bible – so it was time to call it quits on this Trump thing.

And as Aaron Blake reports, others are calling it quits too:

Will Paul D. Ryan call it a speakership after the 2018 election? After the Huffington Post pointed to such speculation Wednesday, Politico reported Thursday that Ryan has indeed “got his eyes on the exits.”

The latter story has enough caveats that were Ryan to decide to stick around for a while, it wouldn’t really be wrong. The denials from Ryan’s (R-Wis.) office thus far don’t seem to really dispute its central claims.

Ryan is being coy, but Blake sees this:

Ryan’s rumored exit makes plenty of sense. He is a man who took that job, after all, even as he repeatedly insisted he didn’t want it. At the time, conservatives effectively forced then-Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) out, and there didn’t seem to be anybody else who could win the support of both sides of his party.

That may have been a bad move:

If the job was thankless for Boehner, Ryan was about to find out just how much more thankless it would become. While Boehner had to deal with an unruly caucus, Ryan has found himself having to deal with an unruly and unpredictable Republican president as well. Frequently during the campaign and since, Ryan has been asked to answer for President Trump’s conduct. While his answers are usually meant to deflect and he’s outwardly declined to comment at times on Trump’s comments and tweets, it is clear this is not fun for him. For a guy who built a reputation as a policy wonk more interested in being chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee than House speaker, he has found himself dealing with Trump’s perpetual reality-show dramas as much as policy details.

Ryan has been forced to say that he was sure that Trump really didn’t mean it when he said the CIA was a bunch of Nazis. Trump really didn’t mean it when he said that those marching alongside the neo-Nazi white nationalists in Charlottesville were “fine people” too. Trump really didn’t mean it when he hinted that Senator Gillibrand was a slut, a total whore who once dropped to her knees and “serviced” him in exchange for small campaign contributions, and she loved it. Trump is just a bit careless with his words. Let’s talk about tax policy. Ryan has been doing his best to change the subject.

Of course he wants to quit:

Trump’s presidency may have seemed like a golden opportunity for Ryan in one way, though. The GOP, after all, has joint control of Congress and the presidency, and for a guy who has long dreamed of entitlement reform and making conservative fiscal policy a reality, the chance is there in a way Ryan couldn’t have expected when he took the job in late 2015.

Trump has already turned Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) into a pariah with a newly imperiled majority, and it seems only a matter of time before the House’s failure to meet Trump’s expectations causes him to truly turn his fire on Ryan too. (Nobody around Trump is guaranteed loyalty, especially if they make him look bad.) And, not only that, but given Trump’s problems, Ryan cannot even be sure he will be able to stay speaker in 2019, given Republicans could well lose the House.

Given that, why not spend the next year going for your golden goose – entitlement reform – and not worry about having to stay in a job that you never really wanted and might not even exist next year?

Ryan can get entitlement reform done. Even the Republicans now admit the new tax cuts won’t pay for themselves. They will add more than a trillion dollars to the deficit, but that’s the plan. Point to the exploding deficit and vow that something must be done, so do it. Hand Medicaid over to the states and let them do what they will, with mostly their own money. Phase out Medicare. Phase out Social Security. Don’t spend any of that money. The deficit will then shrink back to something more manageable. Ryan can do that, and then leave, and leave Trump far behind.

Jonathan Chait wonders about that:

Nobody has explained how Ryan is going to get the Senate to pass cuts to Medicare, which is even more popular than Obamacare, which he tried and failed to cut. The cuts may focus on more vulnerable programs targeted to the very poor, like nutrition and housing assistance. It would be a final, fittingly Ryan-esque blow against the takers after having returned to the makers a large chunk of their hard-earned, or hard-inherited, wealth. But even that will be a difficult task in a chamber that will soon have just 51 Republicans.

But that can be done:

Ryan could not stomach the thought of working with President Hillary Clinton. Working with an authoritarian bigot who would sign his bills was more palatable. Ryan’s beliefs about the immorality of economic redistribution are his highest political ethic. He may care about things like assaulting women, textbook examples of racism, and the president being secretly paid by Russia. But he cares more about economic liberty, which boils down to protecting the makers from the takers.

He can do that, and leave, but McKay Coppins reports on those who cannot call it quits:

Washington Republicans have put the fiasco of Alabama’s special election behind them, but their electoral nightmare may just be beginning.

Roy Moore’s stunning defeat Tuesday night was met with quiet sighs of relief throughout the GOP establishment, where the culture-warring ex-judge and accused child abuser was widely regarded as radioactive. Yet even as Moore’s political obituaries were being written, party strategists were bracing for the army of Moore-like insurgents they expect to flood next year’s Republican primaries.

Indeed, Breitbart News chief Steve Bannon has already pledged to field challengers for every incumbent Republican senator up for reelection next year (with the exception of Ted Cruz). And even if Bannon fails to deliver on his threat, many in the GOP worry that experienced, fully-vetted candidates are going to struggle to beat back a wave of rough-edged Trump imitators who lean into the white identity politics that the president ran on in 2016.

That puts those who can’t quit in deep trouble:

While Republicans in the political class will no doubt cite Moore’s loss as proof that their party needs to nominate stronger, more mainstream candidates next year, it’s far from certain that primary voters on the ground will heed such pleas from the swamp.

“What’s the lesson here?” one GOP consultant asked me on the eve of the Alabama election, on condition of anonymity so as to speak with candor. “Don’t entrust our nominations to loose cannons? We’ve been fighting this battle since 2010 and no one learns anything from it. Did we not learn that from Christine O’Donnell? Did we not learn that from Sharon Angle?”


Angle, for example, waged a strange and reckless campaign in Nevada and ultimately blew a chance to unseat Democratic Senator Harry Reid. Her candidacy would be remembered primarily for her claim – instantly debunked, and nationally ridiculed – that the threat of encroaching Sharia Law constituted a “militant terrorist situation” in the cities of Dearborn, Michigan, and Frankford, Texas. Meanwhile, O’Donnell (who is most famous for her “I am not a witch” campaign ad) defeated a former governor and nine-term congressman in the Republican primary, and then got blown out in the general.

As then, so now:

“You are going to have more fringe candidates continue to run,” said Nick Everhart, a Republican consultant based in Ohio. “And nationally, you’ll inherit their problems as a party unless you distance yourself and say no. That’s the question I have: At what point does the national party have to say, ‘Just because you win the nomination doesn’t make you ours’?”

Everhart, who made his name in political circles by advising Tea Party-aligned outsider candidates, acknowledged that such a move would only deepen grassroots anger. “Part of the problem is we’ve trained our base to only respond to very specific messaging. We’ve fine-tuned what these people need to hear.”

In any case, he said, the institutional GOP can only do so much to control the quality of its candidates… “There’s no remedy for this,” Everhart concluded. “There’s no magic wand or way to fix it.”

There’s only calling it quits and walking away from this mess and this is a mess:

The mother of Heather Heyer, the 32-year-old woman killed after a man drove a car into a crowd of people marching against a white nationalist rally last summer in Charlottesville, Va., said that she’s had to hide the site where her daughter’s ashes are interred.

Susan Bro, Heyer’s mother, told The Daily Beast that her daughter’s ashes were at an unmarked, “completely protected” site that is not open to the public in an effort to shield the grave from the white supremacists who have threatened her family, she said.

“It’s a symptom of hate in society that you should have to protect your child’s grave, for Pete’s sake,” says Bro. “So, I’m protecting my child now.”

She said she is also keeping the location a secret to protect people working there.

How did it come to this? That’s easy:

Bro has reportedly blocked President Trump’s attempted calls to console her family, following his controversial comments saying there were “very fine people” and blame on “many sides” of the rally, and holds him partially responsible for her daughter’s death.

“I’m starting to come to that conclusion because he definitely pushes forward a hateful agenda,” she said, when asked if she holds Trump responsible.

She’s not alone:

PPP’s newest national poll finds that a majority of voters think Donald Trump should resign from the Presidency because of the allegations of sexual harassment against him. 53% think Trump should step down to just 42% who think he should remain in office. 53% of voters believe the women who have accused Trump of harassment, to 31% who think they aren’t telling the truth.

It’s time for Republicans to quit Trump when a majority of voters think Donald Trump should resign, because the tide is turning:

The political climate continues to be shaping up very well for Democrats in 2018. They have a 51-40 lead on the generic Congressional ballot. The Republicans in Congress have a terrible brand – Paul Ryan’s approval rating is 23/58 and he comes out looking good in comparison to Mitch McConnell who is at 13/61.

One thing that’s not helping the GOP is the tax bill – only 29% of voters support it to 49% who are opposed. And by a 23 point margin voters say they’re less likely to vote for a member of Congress next year who supports it – 49% say support for the tax bill makes them less likely to vote for someone, to only 26% who consider it a positive.

And the more tuned in to the tax debate voters are, the worse it gets for Republicans. Among those who say they’ve heard ‘a lot’ about the tax plan 62% oppose it, and that group of voters gives Democrats a 63-33 advantage on the generic House ballot. Only 26% of voters think the middle class and small businesses will be the primary beneficiary of the bill, with 61% thinking it will be the wealthy and large corporations.

It may be time to call it quits on this, and to call it quits on this too:

A few weeks ago Donald Trump suggested that a ‘Fake News’ trophy be given out to the most dishonest TV network. We asked voters who they thought should win this and Trump’s own network of choice Fox News came out as the clear winner at 41% to 30% for CNN with NBC at 6%, CBS at 2%, and ABC at 1% barely registering.

Trump rants about fake news and voters know what actual fake news is, and there’s this:

Voters wish Barack Obama was still President instead of Trump 56/39. Trump is also losing badly to all the Democrats we tested against him in early 2020 match ups. He’s down 54-40 to Joe Biden, 53-40 to Bernie Sanders, 50-40 to Cory Booker, 51-42 to Elizabeth Warren, 47-40 to Kirsten Gillibrand, and 46-40 to Kamala Harris.

Now add these tidbits:

Only 38% of voters think he’s honest, to 57% who say he’s not… 55% flat out call him a liar, to only 39% who disagree with that characterization… 62% of voters still want to see his tax returns, to 31% who say it isn’t necessary… 51% of voters believe Trump is mentally unbalanced, to 44% who say they think he’s mentally stable.

And there’s this:

For the first time we find a majority of voters – 51%- support impeaching Trump to 42% who are opposed.

Ryan is right to call it quits and head back home, especially given the Washington Post’s new revelations:

In the final days before Donald Trump was sworn in as president, members of his inner circle pleaded with him to acknowledge publicly what U.S. intelligence agencies had already concluded – that Russia’s interference in the 2016 election was real.

Holding impromptu interventions in Trump’s 26th-floor corner office at Trump Tower, advisers — including Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and designated chief of staff, Reince Priebus — prodded the president-elect to accept the findings that the nation’s spy chiefs had personally presented to him on Jan. 6.

They sought to convince Trump that he could affirm the validity of the intelligence without diminishing his electoral win, according to three officials involved in the sessions. More important, they said that doing so was the only way to put the matter behind him politically and free him to pursue his goal of closer ties with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin.

“This was part of the normalization process,” one participant said. “There was a big effort to get him to be a standard president.”

But as aides persisted, Trump became agitated. He railed that the intelligence couldn’t be trusted and scoffed at the suggestion that his candidacy had been propelled by forces other than his own strategy, message and charisma.

That may be delusional and also dangerous:

The result is without obvious parallel in U.S. history, a situation in which the personal insecurities of the president – and his refusal to accept what even many in his administration regard as objective reality – have impaired the government’s response to a national security threat. The repercussions radiate across the government.

Rather than search for ways to deter Kremlin attacks or safeguard U.S. elections, Trump has waged his own campaign to discredit the case that Russia poses any threat and he has resisted or attempted to roll back efforts to hold Moscow to account.

His administration has moved to undo at least some of the sanctions the previous administration imposed on Russia for its election interference, exploring the return of two Russian compounds in the United States that President Barack Obama had seized – the measure that had most galled Moscow. Months later, when Congress moved to impose additional penalties on Moscow, Trump opposed the measures fiercely…

Trump has never convened a Cabinet-level meeting on Russian interference or what to do about it, administration officials said. Although the issue has been discussed at lower levels at the National Security Council, one former high-ranking Trump administration official said there is an unspoken understanding within the NSC that to raise the matter is to acknowledge its validity, which the president would see as an affront.

That’s the gist of the Post’s massive backgrounder, and Jonathon Chait adds this:

This is an account of Trump as a petulant child, unable to think strategically or advance beyond his feelings of self-worth…

Both the Post and the New York Times reported last month on Trump’s habit of insisting even in private on defending obvious lies: that Barack Obama is not American, that Trump won the popular vote, that the voice on the Access Hollywood tape is not Trump’s. Surely Trump knows what he said to Billy Bush. He was there.

Trump either lies to absolutely everybody in his inner circle, or has the absolute power of self-delusion, sufficiently strong that his most apparently sincere protestations of his innocence mean nothing at all. The president might truly “believe” – whatever such a word means in relation to Trump – he is the victim of a witch hunt or that his enemies are using Russia to discredit his “massive landslide.” He might legitimately feel insulted by any mention of Russian hacking, and truly unable to assimilate foreign-policy discussions on an adult level. But it’s quite possible his hair-trigger anger over the subject of Russia is a tactic designed to close off a subject on which his guilt runs very deep.

Paul Ryan got it right. He will be calling it quits. Republicans should run like hell from this guy, and Nancy LeTourneau adds this:

I don’t believe that our founders ever envisioned the election of a president so mentally unfit for office that he is unable to address a major national security threat because to admit its existence would damage his ego. To be honest, it’s boggling to me that I am actually writing a sentence like that. And yet, here we are.

This situation is compounded by the fact that Trump’s election came during a time when the Republican Party controls both houses of Congress and has previously demonstrated that they are more than willing to take unprecedented steps to put party over country in order to maintain power. When it comes to this particular dereliction of duty on the part of the president, or any other example, they are not likely to take any action to correct the problem.

It is hard for me to imagine how much more of this our country can take over the next three years.

Dickens is useful. It is the worst of times. It may be time to call it quits, but for the first time a majority of voters support impeaching Trump. That’s the alternative to everyone calling it quits.

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An Alabama After-Action Report

The military does after-action reports, a boring bureaucratic task after everything is all over – what went wrong, what went right, what were the lessons learned. Men of action find this tedious. Fight the next battle. All battles are different – but senior officers, and those above them, know better. What worked well can be replicated, and should be replicated. What didn’t work should never be done again. And all of this should be on file, for future planning. Do the tedious paperwork, and there has been a lot of paperwork filed since our last helicopter left the roof of our embassy in Saigon in April 1975 – because lots of things went wrong. America doesn’t lose wars. America lost that one. That should never happen again. So, don’t fight wars in faraway places against an enemy you don’t really understand, for ambiguous reasons, with unclear goals about what comes next, with victory, if there is one.

No one paid attention. Iraq wasn’t Vietnam, but it was. No one consulted the files. Bush and Cheney were men of action. President Gore would have consulted the files, but there was no President Gore. President Kerry would have consulted the files. John Kerry fought in that war. He saw the mistakes. As the war was winding down, in front of a congressional committee, he asked his famous question – “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” But there was no President Kerry. John Kerry later did what he could as Obama’s secretary of state – too late to keep America out of Iraq – but he did what he could elsewhere. We didn’t send troops into Syria. We got Iran to suspend its nuclear weapons program for at least ten years – with guarantees – so we didn’t go to war with Iran. What doesn’t work should never be done again. Men of action hated him – but he had learned the lessons of Vietnam.

Curiously, the definitive Vietnam after-action report came from H. R. McMaster – Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies that Led to Vietnam – his 1997 book based on his PhD thesis at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill:

The war in Vietnam was not lost in the field, nor was it lost on the front pages of The New York Times, or on the college campuses. It was lost in Washington, DC even before Americans assumed sole responsibility for the fighting in 1965 and before they realized the country was at war… It was a uniquely human failure, the responsibility for which was shared by President Johnson and his principal military and civilian advisors.

McMaster was blunt. McNamara and Johnson, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, didn’t provide a successful plan of action to pacify the Viet Cong insurgency or defeat the North Vietnamese Army. They came up with military actions intended to indicate “resolve” or to “communicate” – which didn’t work. The problem was “sparsely detailed, confusing, and conflicting military objectives” caused by “arrogance, weakness, lying in pursuit of self-interest and abdication of responsibility to the American people.”

Arrogance, weakness, lying in pursuit of self-interest and abdication of responsibility to the American people sounds a lot like the Trump administration. McMaster became Trump’s National Security Advisor in 2017 – twenty years after his book was published, after he finally had become a Lieutenant General. He may be biting his tongue now. He’s seen this before.

And Trump is losing his war:

Donald Trump’s current job approval rating is the lowest registered in the Monmouth University Poll since he took office, with the biggest drop coming from independent women. Most voters think that the president has not been successful at moving his agenda through Congress and feel his decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel will destabilize the Middle East. Monmouth’s initial generic House ballot match-up for the 2018 election finds Democrats holding a 15 point advantage over Republicans.

This is serious:

President Trump’s current job rating stands at a net negative 32% approve and 56% disapprove. This marks his lowest rating in Monmouth’s polling since taking office in January. Prior polls conducted over the course of the past year showed his approval rating ranging from 39% to 43% and his disapproval rating ranging from 46% to 53%.

And this is specific:

The decline in Trump’s job rating has come much more from women – currently 24% approve to 68% disapprove – than from men – currently 40% to 44%. In September, Trump had a 36%-55% rating among women and a 44%-42% rating among men.

The gender gap in the president’s rating crosses party lines. Republican women (67%) are somewhat less likely than Republican men (78%) to give Trump a positive rating. These results are down by 9 points among GOP women since September and by 5 points among GOP men since the fall. The biggest drop has occurred among independent women – just 14% currently approve of Trump’s job performance, which is down by 25 points since September. Among independent men, 31% approve of Trump, down 10 points. Democrats’ ratings of Trump have held steady at just 8% approval among Democratic men and 7% among Democratic women.

And there’s this:

Other poll results show that only 24% of Americans feel the country is going in the right direction while 66% say it is headed down the wrong track.

And there’s this:

On a more academic note, given the results from yesterday’s special election in Alabama – if Roy Moore had won the race for U.S. Senate, 75% of Americans believe the Senate ethics committee should have investigated his past relationships with teenage girls and 58% say the Senate should have held a vote to determine whether Moore was qualified to be seated.

Trump backed a man everyone hated. That calls for an after-action report. Ron Brownstein provides one:

Roy Moore was a uniquely flawed and vulnerable candidate. But what should worry Republicans most about his loss to Democrat Doug Jones in Tuesday’s U.S. Senate race in Alabama was how closely the result tracked with the GOP’s big defeats last month in New Jersey and Virginia – not to mention how it followed the pattern of public reaction to Donald Trump’s perpetually tumultuous presidency.

What doesn’t work should never be done again, but it was done:

Jones beat Moore with a strong turnout and a crushing lead among African Americans, a decisive advantage among younger voters, and major gains among college-educated and suburban whites, especially women. That allowed Jones to overcome big margins for Moore among the key elements of Trump’s coalition: older, blue-collar, evangelical, and nonurban white voters.

This was the same equation that powered the Democratic victories in the Virginia and New Jersey governors’ races. The consistency of these results suggests that Democrats are creating a powerful coalition of the very voters that polls have shown are the most disenchanted, even disgusted, by Trump’s performance and behavior as president.

That points to a clear near-term threat in 2018 for Republicans. It also crystallizes the risky long-term trade Trump is imposing on his party: He is improving the GOP’s standing among groups that are almost all shrinking in the electorate, at the price of alienating groups that are growing.

That’s just plain dumb, or at least a misreading of Alabama:

Jones won in a state where Republicans enjoy as dominant an overall advantage as they do virtually anywhere. Last year, Trump carried Alabama by nearly 590,000 votes. Since 2008, the only statewide race Alabama Democrats have won is a single public-service commissioner position that year; no Democrat carried more than 41.4 percent of the vote in any statewide race in 2014 or 2016. And no Democrat has won an Alabama Senate seat since 1992, when Richard Shelby did it before switching his political allegiance to the Republican Party.

Jones contradicted that history by consolidating the groups most dubious of Trump. The granite foundation of his victory was his huge performance among African Americans, who gave him 96 percent of their votes and accounted for 29 percent of all voters, according to exit polls reported by CNN. That was a slightly better showing, on each front, than even Barack Obama managed in 2012, according to the exit poll conducted that year, the most recent one in the state. In counties with large African American populations, Jones exceeded not only Hillary Clinton’s share of the vote in 2016, but also, in some cases, bested her lead in raw votes – an incredible gain in a nonpresidential election. Although rarely discussed, the state’s growing Latino and mixed-race populations also put an important thumb on the scale for the Democrat; they represented about 5 percent of voters.

And it didn’t stop there:

Jones next posted a solid advantage among younger voters. He carried about three-fifths of those ages 18 to 29, and also about three-fifths of those ages 30 to 44. Jones’s advantage with minority voters partly explains that edge, but he also ran nearly 15 percentage points better with whites under 30 than with their older counterparts.

And there’s this:

The final piece explaining Jones’s win was the substantial inroads he made with college-educated whites, especially women. Jones won 40 percent of those voters. While by national standards that’s not a great number, it’s exactly twice as large a share as Obama won in Alabama in 2012. Jones lost college-educated white women by just 7 percentage points; in 2012, Obama lost them by 55 points. Obama won fewer than one in five college-educated white men; Jones pushed that slightly past one in three. In counties with large concentrations of well-educated voters – such as Madison, which includes Huntsville; Shelby, near Birmingham; Lee, the home of Auburn University; and Tuscaloosa, the home of the University of Alabama – Jones consistently ran about 20 percentage points ahead of Clinton.

There weren’t enough angry old high-school-dropout white folks to overcome all of that, and that should have been a lesson learned already:

Moore’s own words and actions provided plenty of provocation for minorities, Millennials, and college-educated whites. But these key groups moved the same way in November’s major elections. In both the New Jersey and the Virginia governors’ races, Democrats won about 70 percent of Millennials and half of college-educated whites, and they enjoyed solid turnout and preponderant margins from nonwhite voters. In all three states, the core Trump groups of older, blue-collar, evangelical, and rural whites remained loyal to Republicans (although Moore’s margins with those voters eroded slightly relative to Mitt Romney’s in 2012). But they couldn’t match the impassioned turnout among the groups hostile to Trump.

Maybe no one on the Trump team wrote an after-action report on all of that back then, but they should have:

“Anti-Trump fever is now so strong among Democrats, young voters, and independents that the GOP is likely to face a surge in turnout on the Democratic side that will make the 2018 midterms lurch toward the demographics of a presidential year,” says longtime GOP strategist Mike Murphy, who advised Attorney General Jeff Sessions when he first won his Alabama Senate seat, in 1996. “That is a looming disaster that could well cost the GOP control of the House. We are in a Trump-driven worst-case situation now.”

This is a Trump-driven worst-case situation, just like the Johnson-McNamara-driven worst-case Vietnam situation that McMaster identified, and Brownstein sees this:

One of the clearest messages from 2017’s big contests is that other Republicans are now closely bound to their volatile and vitriolic president. Exit polls showed that among voters who disapproved of Trump, the Democrats won 82 percent in New Jersey, 87 percent in Virginia, and 93 percent in Alabama. Few congressional Republicans have tried to establish much independence from Trump, yet in most places he is even less popular than he was on Tuesday in Alabama, where exit polls showed voters splitting evenly over his job performance. After Alabama, Republicans up and down the ballot face urgent choices about whether they will continue to lash themselves to the mast of Trump’s storm-tossed presidency.

That’s a terrible choice, full of terror actually, and a good way to generate a Republican civil war, which Politico’s Alex Isenstadt reports has now begun:

Democrat Doug Jones’ victory in Alabama – far from settling the score between the McConnell and Bannon wings of the Republican Party – instead touched off another round of internecine GOP infighting over who’s to blame for the party’s loss in one of the most conservative states in the country.

This is a dispute of which after-action report is correct:

From the outset, the race served as a proxy war between the tight-lipped Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a paragon of the party establishment, and Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist who has dedicated himself to disrupting everything McConnell represents.

Now, both sides are blaming the other for Tuesday’s loss, with each painting the results as a case study in the other’s political ineptitude. Bannon has argued from the outset that Republican leaders have positioned themselves against the president, determined to thwart his agenda. But McConnell and his allies are using Tuesday’s results to tell the president – whom Bannon helped to cajole into the race on Moore’s behalf – that his former chief strategist is a political liability.

Let the artillery salvos begin:

Jones’ victory “unmasked Steve Bannon’s incompetence,” said Josh Holmes, a former McConnell chief of staff and top political adviser. “What has been exposed here is that Steve Bannon has been the most harmful person to the Trump presidency in all of politics – Republican or Democrat.”

Karl Rove told Fox News that Bannon, despite the hype about his political genius, did little more in Alabama than rant and rave “about the so-called establishment in Washington. Not a winning message.”

But no:

“Team Mitch did everything in their power to endanger our majority in the Senate and threaten the passage of the Trump agenda by ensuring the outcome that we saw last night,” said Andy Surabian, a spokesman for Bannon, who went on to accuse the Senate majority leader of gloating “about the fact that the Republican nominee in Alabama was defeated.”

And so it goes:

Prior to the election, McConnell told associates that he wanted to destroy Bannon politically, according to one person familiar with the Republican leader’s thinking. Their goal: to curtail his influence ahead of the 2018 midterms, in which Bannon has vowed to recruit candidates to knock off McConnell-backed incumbents.

Bannon is supporting Danny Tarkanian, who has vowed to unseat Nevada’s Republican senator, Dean Heller, as well as former New York congressman and ex-convict Michael Grimm, who is trying to recapture his old House seat.

McConnell hopes Tuesday’s outcome will put a dent in those efforts. His allies argue that Bannon is a charlatan – a man who has sold himself to the president as the guru of the Trump movement who possesses a preternatural understanding of the president’s political base only to drive the president into a ditch in Alabama.

“Bannon hurt Trump by giving him poor advice,” said Scott Reed, a political strategist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The results in Alabama, Reed said, “hurt the Trump movement.”

And then there’s the feckless man in the middle:

Trump’s victory did little to settle the debate over who controls in the GOP. In fact, the president now appears to be caught in a tug-of-war between McConnell and his establishment allies, some of whom urged him to endorse Sen. Luther Strange in Alabama’s Republican primary, and Bannon, who eventually convinced him to intervene on Moore’s behalf.

And that led to this:

President Donald Trump claimed Wednesday morning that he knew Republican Roy Moore, who he endorsed ahead of Tuesday’s special Senate election in Alabama, would be unable to win because “the deck was stacked against him!”

Trump tried to claim Wednesday morning that he had been right all along about the race, because he had initially endorsed Luther Strange, who ultimately lost to Moore, in the Alabama primary.

“The reason I originally endorsed Luther Strange (and his numbers went up mightily), is that I said Roy Moore will not be able to win the General Election,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “I was right! Roy worked hard but the deck was stacked against him!”

Trump said he had been right all along. Which time, when? No Republican knew. But that was Trump’s after-action report.

That’s okay. Move on. They lost that Senate seat, but they can still pass their massive tax bill that the public hates, to prove something or other, to someone, but as Paul Waldman notes, the loss of that Senate seat complicates matters:

This morning, Democrats held a press conference to demand that the Republicans put off final votes on the GOP tax bill until Doug Jones can take his seat in the Senate. “It would be wrong for Senate Republicans to jam through this tax bill without giving the duly elected senator from Alabama a chance to cast his vote,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

You will be shocked to learn that Mitch McConnell and other Republicans are unpersuaded. Instead, Jones’s win has only made it more urgent that they pass their tax bill immediately. They’re running out of time, and they’ve got lots of problems to solve. Complete failure is a greater possibility right at this moment than it has been at any point in the process.

And that led to this:

House and Senate GOP leaders have forged an agreement on a sweeping overhaul of the nation’s tax laws. That paves the way for final votes next week to slash taxes for businesses and give most people tax cuts starting next year.

Top GOP aides say the deal was reached on Wednesday. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the deal. Details still need to be drafted and assessed by congressional scorekeepers but the final House-Senate compromise is on track to be unveiled this week.

Waldman is not impressed:

It seems pretty obvious that Doug Jones’ victory freaked them the heck out. They’re in a panic to pass a tax bill while they still can.

That’s because they’re in trouble here:

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) already voted against the Senate version of the tax bill, so if he doesn’t change his vote, that would mean they couldn’t lose any others. But what emerges from the conference committee will inevitably move in the direction of the House bill, which is full of cruel provisions that punish middle class people in order to help corporations and the wealthy.

That would put them in danger of losing Susan Collins (R-Maine), who said she voted for the Senate bill only because she got promises that its elimination of the individual health insurance mandate would be made up for with the passage of other bills to stabilize the insurance markets.

Pretty much everybody except Collins herself thinks she got played and those bills are never going to pass, particularly in the House. She’s coming under huge pressure to change her vote, and let’s not forget that this is already one of the most unpopular pieces of legislation in history.

That’s why they cannot let Doug Jones vote on this:

While it’s possible that the compromise bill will remove some of the more horrifying provisions, it’s certain to retain many of them, and perhaps insert some new ones that make it even more clear who wins and who loses. All of that will be the subject of plenty of news reports as journalists and experts pore over the details, which will likely serve to make it even less popular than it is now.

That makes it all the more urgent for Republicans to pass it this week, no matter how much of a turkey it is. But you could easily imagine Collins getting spooked and John McCain or someone else objecting to the haste with which it’s being jammed through, which would be enough to kill it.

There’s a solution to that problem, but it looks like Republicans closed it off when they were frantically rewriting the bill at the last moment before it passed the Senate.

That may be a bad move:

As they frantically put that bill together, what are the chances it’ll be free of provisions that the public is going to recoil at the sight of? Writing a gigantic, sweeping reform of the tax system in just a few days might enable you to pass it before opposition can coalesce and mobilize, but it also might cause just enough relatively sane senators to want to hit the pause button.

Right now though, that’s a risk Republican leaders are willing to take. They’re desperately hoping that they can pass their bill before anyone realizes what it actually does. They’re going to hand the bill to their caucuses in both houses and give them only a couple of days to decide whether to vote on something with gigantic implications for every American. It may succeed, but it’s a big gamble.

It may be time for H. R. McMaster to pull Trump aside and mention that he once wrote a book about how “arrogance, weakness, lying in pursuit of self-interest and abdication of responsibility to the American people” led to total disaster – an after-action report on what went wrong long ago – and suggest that Trump read that book. What doesn’t work should never be done again. And then McMaster can look for other work. Men of action don’t read after-actions reports. And history repeats itself.

Posted in Republicans in Disarray, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Stars Falling On Alabama Last Night

Breaking news shouldn’t break late in the evening. There will be more to say in the morning, but something was up. Some wag at the jazz station out of Long Beach was playing Stars Fell on Alabama – a sappy love song from the thirties that somehow became a jazz standard. Louis Armstrong recorded a version of it. So did Cannonball Adderley with John Coltrane, and so did Art Tatum, and Erroll Garner, and Stan Getz, and even Sonny Stitt. Billie Holiday had her searing version of that song – but Ricky Nelson and Jimmy Buffett recorded it too. That song has legs, and good chord changes, but it’s still sentimental fluff – “We lived our drama, we kissed in a field of white, and stars fell on Alabama last night.”

Yeah, yeah – love is wonderful. Love can transform everything. Shooting stars flash across the sky. Stars fall gently to earth. That can happen even in the most unlikely of places, even in Alabama, of all places. Whatever – and that old song hummed along on the radio – the Stan Getz version – but that was a mystery. Why that song? Why now?

It was political commentary. Late in the evening, back east, there was drama in Alabama, in its field of white, or Old South whiteness, and stars did fall from the sky:

In a stunning setback for the Republican Party, Democrat Doug Jones was elected Alabama’s next senator Tuesday, flipping a deeply red state after a campaign that showcased the increasing power of sexual misconduct allegations and the limits of President Trump’s political influence.

Jones’s victory in a part of the Deep South that has not elected a Democratic senator since 1992 was a dramatic repudiation of his opponent, Roy Moore, a former state judge twice removed from office. Moore responded to allegations that he made sexual advances on teenagers when he was in his 30s by describing his campaign as a “spiritual battle” against a conspiracy of Republican and Democratic leaders in Washington.

There was no conspiracy of Republican and Democratic leaders in Washington. Moore was just a jerk, and he’s still a jerk:

After the race was called by the Associated Press, Moore declined to concede defeat, saying he believed that the margin of victory could narrow enough to trigger an automatic recount. “Realize that when the vote is this close it’s not over,” he said. “We also know that God is always in control.”

The Alabama Republican Party said it would not support Moore’s push for a recount.

The Alabama Republican Party was in control, not God, and they’d been embarrassed by this man far too much already, but this does change everything:

Jones’s victory portended the head winds facing Republicans in the 2018 midterm elections, coming just a month after a historic Republican wipeout in the battleground state of Virginia. With Jones in office, Democrats will have a credible, if still difficult, path to retake control of the Senate two years into Trump’s term.

The result could also become a factor in upcoming legislative battles, as Republicans will have one less vote in the narrowly divided Senate in 2018.

But there is a fix for that. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell – who never liked Moore in the first place – said the Republicans will pass some sort of tax bill before the end of the year and then, after that’s out of the way, swear in Doug Jones. That will limit the damage, but that doesn’t limit the damage to Donald Trump and his provocative best buddy:

Trump won Alabama with 62 percent of the vote in 2016. He attempted to lead a late rally for Moore in the closing weeks of the election, recording a robocall, hosting a rally in Florida near the state line and repeatedly warning Republicans to avoid electing a Democrat.

The president’s former chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, all but adopted Moore as the public face of his insurgent effort to topple the congressional leadership of the Republican Party. Bannon appeared at both of Moore’s rallies in the final week, and he deployed the full force of his Breitbart News operation to support the campaign.

It did not work. In the end, Jones won about 50 percent of the vote compared with about 49 percent for Moore, with Jones benefiting from strong African American turnout and a white share of the vote about twice as large as Barack Obama won in 2008.

It seems that some stars fell in Alabama, not on Alabama:

Exit polls showed a steep drop in support for Trump since his victory in 2016. Just 48 percent of voters approved of the president’s job performance, higher than the national average but well below the levels of 2016, when Trump adopted Alabama as one of his favorite locations for large rallies. It was the second time in two months that the state flouted Trump’s endorsement. Republican primary voters also rejected Sen. Luther Strange, the president’s choice in the September runoff.

Trump’s star is falling, even in Alabama, and this didn’t help:

Democrats were aided by senior congressional Republicans who dropped their endorsements of Moore after the allegations of misconduct surfaced, including hardline conservatives such as Sen. Mike Lee (Utah) and Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.). McConnell had promised to open an ethics investigation if Moore won.

The Republican National Committee also pulled out of the race after the allegations surfaced, with Trump’s initial blessing, but then reengaged in the final week of the campaign at the president’s direction.

The Republican National Committee hitched their wagon to the wrong star, as they say, and the Washington Post’s resident anti-Trump conservative, Jennifer Rubin, sees how this will play out:

Trump, having been rebuffed twice by Alabama voters (after backing Luther Strange, who lost in the Republican primary, and then Moore), emerges a weakened, somewhat pathetic character. In a state he won with over 60 percent of the vote last year, his approval in exit polling was 48 percent, with disapproval at 47 percent. His party rebuked him on Obamacare repeal and now failed to carry his candidate over the finish line – in Alabama, of all places. With political impotence may come a Trumpian outburst – or string of outbursts – and a greater willingness among Republicans in the House and Senate to defy him. It’s every man and women for himself or herself in 2018.

In short, expect Trump to lash out, and expect almost all Republicans to ignore him, or worse, to finally call him a fool, and Rubin sees this too:

The defeat of Moore will intensify focus on Trump and his accusers as well as miscreants in Congress. With the resignations of Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) and Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), the tide had clearly turned in favor of credible accusers. Given the swift and fierce reaction in response to Trump’s demeaning tweet virtually calling Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) a prostitute, watch for emboldened Democrats to demand an investigation of Trump’s alleged sexual misconduct. That may well be a key issue in 2018. The president may now have more to fear from female senators than from Robert S. Mueller III.

Expect a formal investigation of Trump’s sexual nastiness, and expect this too:

The GOP is spared the ordeal of seating Moore in the Senate, but at the price of narrowing their margin to 51-to-49. This makes passage of the tax bill that much dicier and puts Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), already under fire for support of the first version, in a precarious position. Does she swallow the phony spin and the bogus analyses or stand firm in support of the Obamacare exchanges and fiscal prudence? Expect the onslaught against Collins to intensify.

And expect this:

This may be the beginning of the end of Stephen K. Bannon’s self-perpetuated myth that he’s a brilliant strategist. He managed to lose a Senate seat in Alabama. As a result, his efforts to primary mainstream GOP incumbents may fall flat and suffer from a shortage of funding. The GOP establishment lives to fight another day.

And expect this:

We pray the defeat of Moore initiates some soul-searching in the GOP, a determination to hold to moral and intellectual standards and to reject, if not Trump, then Trumpism. If pure, undistilled Trumpism is a dud in a deep-red state, perhaps Republicans will conclude it is a failed political philosophy for the country at large.

As in that old song, wondrous things can happen, even in the white fields of Alabama, although, as Dan Balz points out, not wondrous things for Republicans:

The stunning victory by Democrat Doug Jones was a devastating blow to a party wracked by divisions and intraparty rivalries and a humiliating defeat for President Trump.

For some Republicans, the fact that the controversial and flawed Roy Moore will not be their new senator from Alabama came with some measure of relief. But the consequences of that outcome will reverberate over the coming months in one legislative battle after another. An already razor-thin margin in the Senate becomes even more tenuous for the party in power.

Beyond that, the tumultuous election served to expose further the fissures, fault lines and rivalries that have only widened in the 13 months since Trump captured the White House. The election provided the capstone to a year of tumult inside the GOP, and at a time when the party controls the levers of power in Washington and states across the country, the Alabama campaign was one more reminder that this is a party facing a major identity crisis and no easy answers for how to resolve it.

The party was either going to be the party of Trump and Bannon and candidates like Roy Moore, or it was going to be the party of Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan and candidates like Luther Strange, but it couldn’t be both. Half the party hates McConnell and Ryan and mocks them mercilessly, Bannon eggs them on, and sometimes Trump egged them on. The other half of the party hates Trump and Bannon – or will now. With those two nothing gets done, and Balz puts that this way:

Many Republicans will privately be pleased to see Bannon and even Trump get their comeuppance. But that doesn’t resolve the split within the party over the direction it should take. As long as Trump is president, this is the division and the reality that Republicans will live with – an uneasy coalition at best.

And the Democrats look on, and pick up another Senate seat, which Balz sees as the real problem:

It’s always easy to overstate the importance of a single election and no doubt that’s the case even for Alabama. But this is one contest that seemed to bring together much of what is in the forefront of the political debates, from the popularity and influence of the president to the fractured Republican Party to the issue of sexual harassment. For Republicans, it was a bad night, no matter how it was measured. The question is where they go now.

No one knows where they go next, and now no one may care. Something else is going on, and the New York Times’ Ross Douthat sees this:

It was not so much a rejection of the Trump agenda as it was a rejection of the whole Trumpian mode of politics, which since our president’s election has consisted of a trebling down on the most unattractive features of his campaign style, a fervent commitment to “triggering the libs” shorn of any populist substance, and a cocksure assumption that any Republicans who aren’t in it for the liberal-triggering care enough about judges and abortion or their tax cuts or the soaring stock market to swallow hard and go along.

Roy Moore, in this sense, was Trump’s Trump – the man who took this mode of politics to 11 and beyond. The president has harassment accusations; the judge had mall-trawling accusations. Trump is a race-baiter; Moore was a stock character from a message movie about Southern bigotry. Trump’s populism mixed reasonable grievances in together with some stupid ones; Moore’s populism was the purest resentment. And like Trump but much, much more so, the Moore campaign relied on the assumption that Republicans who didn’t care for who he was and what he represented simply had nowhere else to go.

So while Moore’s defeat is, yes, specific to him, specific to the statutory rape accusations and all the rest of his problems as a candidate, it’s also a pretty clear foretaste of what you get when you distill white identity politics to a nasty essence and then try to build a coalition around it. You get massive Democratic turnout, black turnout in particular, slumping Republican turnout, and a whole lot of write-in votes from people who should be your supporters. You get Democrats winning elections in the most unlikely places. And you get, quite probably, a Democratic majority in the House and perhaps even the Senate.

The New York Times’ Frank Bruni is fine with that:

For more than a year now, virtually all Democrats, many independents and even a significant share of Republicans have looked at President Donald Trump’s conduct and governing priorities and felt that they were suddenly in a foreign land. I count myself among this stunned and despairing group.

We saw decency in retreat. We saw common sense in decline. We saw a clique of unabashed plutocrats, Trump foremost among them, brazenly treating the federal government as a branding opportunity or a trough at which they could gorge. We saw a potent strain of authoritarianism jousting with the rule of law.

And we saw many Americans, including most Republican leaders, either endorsing or quietly putting up with this, to a point where we wondered if some corner had been turned forever.

That’s still an open question. But Alabamians provided a partial answer on Tuesday, showing that there are limits to what voters will tolerate, in terms of the lies they’ll believe, the vices they’ll ignore and the distance they’ll stray from civilized norms.

Moore, an accused child molester who sugarcoated slavery and seemed intent on some sort of extreme Christian theocracy, was simply too far.

And it was about time:

Democrats began this year in a state of panic and confusion, their party diminished almost unimaginably over the course of Barack Obama’s presidency. Republicans hold both chambers of Congress. They control many more state governments than Democrats do. And though they gave their presidential nomination to a ludicrous and offensive candidate – an amoral showman – they won the White House nonetheless.

But now, as Trump completes a crazily turbulent first year in office, Democrats are on a streak – or certainly feel that way. Last month, the party’s candidate handily won the governor’s race in Virginia, where heavy Democratic turnout translated into huge gains for Democrats in the state legislature. Alabama adds to that…

And stars did fall on Alabama:

Apart from their tortured relationship with Trump, Republican leaders caught a break here. While their Senate majority now shrinks to one vote, they won’t have to welcome a senator who’s another stain on a party that can’t bear any more of them.

But Democrats are the bigger victors. Scratch that: Americans are. If Alabama isn’t beyond redemption, then the country isn’t, either. To use a word that Moore would appreciate: Hallelujah.

Use that word, or just sing that old song – “We lived our drama, we kissed in a field of white, and stars fell on Alabama last night.”

That’ll do, but there will be more to say in the morning. This news just broke. Now what?

Posted in Republicans in Disarray, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Persistence of Reality

Philip K. Dick put it this way – “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”

He would say something like that. He wrote science fiction, but science fiction that was more than science fiction – he wrote novels about how reality is slippery. Go ahead. Believe something really isn’t so. That “something” can’t be so. Wait a bit. That “something” won’t go away. It was so all along. The oceans rise. Hurricanes get more and more intense and each one breaks a new record for size and intensity. More and more of everything west of the Rockies goes up in flames every year. Go ahead, stop believing in climate change, if you believed in it all in the first place, but it doesn’t go away. Reality is like that.

Two years ago it was this:

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) has, once and for all, disproven climate change. While “eggheads” at “science laboratories” were busy worrying about how the increase in heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere was leading to a long-term upward shift in temperatures and increased atmospheric moisture, Inhofe happened to notice that it was cold outside – weirdly cold outside. So cold, in fact, that water falling from the sky had frozen solid.

So he brought some of this frozen water into the Capitol and onto the Senate floor to show everyone, but mostly to show the eggheads.

He held up a big snowball. That snowball proved all that climate change stuff was nonsense. Inhofe was, and still is, chairman of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee. Case closed. And then he pointed out the window. Look! See! The earth is flat! Anyone can see that!

No, he didn’t point out the window and say that. That was only what everyone expected he would do next. Everyone understands Republicans. Philip K. Dick understood Republicans.

But there is that which won’t go away, and two years later there is this:

What initially looked like an impish dig at President Trump by French President Emmanuel Macron over climate policy has turned into a concrete plan.

First, when the Trump administration proposed slashing federal science budgets and then, on June 1, when Trump pulled the United States out of the Paris climate accord, Macron took to social media to offer (in perfect English) to greet with open arms – and research dollars – American scientists worried about the political climate as well as global warming.

Macron urged worried climate scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs to see France as a “second homeland” and to come work there because “we all share the same responsibility: make our planet great again.”

It seems that Emmanuel Macron was serious:

Two years after the Paris climate accord was adopted, the French government is unveiling a list of 18 “laureates” – 13 of them working in the United States – who have won a “Make Our Planet Great Again” competition for research grants awarded for as long as five years. They include professors and researchers at Cornell University, Columbia University, Stanford University and other institutions.

It seems there are those who prefer reality:

“For me, the chance to work on some very exciting science questions with my French colleagues and not be so dependent on the crazy stuff that goes on in Congress and with the current administration is honestly very attractive,” Louis A. Derry, a professor of Earth and atmospheric sciences at Cornell, said in an interview. “But it can be embarrassing to try and explain what is going on at home right now.”

That’s okay. No one will ask anything about what’s “going on at home” – because it really doesn’t matter anymore. No one will ask about the definitive Inhofe Snowball. There’s work to do:

The French government’s offer attracted 1,822 applications, nearly two-thirds of them from the United States. France’s research ministry pruned that to 450 “high-quality” candidates for long-term projects. A second round of grants will be awarded in the partnership with Germany.

There is that which won’t go away. Deal with it. Laugh about that definitive Inhofe Snowball late in the evening, over cognac at the Flore, and then get back to work in the morning.

There are, however, lots of other things that won’t go away. The laws of gravity won’t go away. Repeal those and everyone can fly – but gravity won’t go away. No one is going to fly, and it may be the same for the laws of political gravity. Say something outrageous, something that offends almost everyone, and fall to earth. There are things that end political careers. Don’t insult America’s definitive Vietnam war hero, John McCain. Don’t say he wasn’t really a hero – especially if you dodged the draft and stayed home and got even richer in those years. Do that and it’s over. And don’t insult a Gold Star family who lost a son who fought for us all. Don’t say they’re Muslim ingrates who have no right to question you. Do that and it’s over. And don’t get caught on tape bragging about groping women, and when more than a dozen women come forward and say that you did just that, and they have the dates and times and places, don’t call them all liars and sluts or whatever. Do that and it’s over – but the laws of political gravity don’t seem to apply to Donald Trump. He did all those things, and he flew on. Al Franken got far too touchy-feely with a number of women long ago, and the laws of political gravity brought him down – but those same laws won’t bring down Donald Trump, or his new best buddy, Roy Moore, who seems to have hit on teenagers long ago, and seems to have gotten far too touchy-feely with a fourteen-year-old girl. Call them all liars. The laws of political gravity don’t apply.

That’s the theory, but some things won’t go away:

Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York told CNN on Monday that President Donald Trump should resign over allegations of sexual assault.

“President Trump has committed assault, according to these women, and those are very credible allegations of misconduct and criminal activity, and he should be fully investigated and he should resign,” Gillibrand told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in an exclusive interview.

“These allegations are credible; they are numerous,” said Gillibrand, a leading voice in Congress for combating sexual assault in the military. “I’ve heard these women’s testimony, and many of them are heartbreaking.”

If he does not “immediately resign,” she said, Congress “should have appropriate investigations of his behavior and hold him accountable.”

She wasn’t alone:

Later on Monday, Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon also called on Trump to resign in a tweet, encouraging Capitol Hill to investigate. Two other Democratic senators – Cory Booker of New Jersey and Jeff Merkley of Oregon — called for Trump’s resignation over the weekend.

Gillibrand and the others were simply saying that the laws of political gravity are universal, and that led to this:

Responding to UN Ambassador Nikki Haley saying Sunday that Trump’s accusers “should be heard,” Gillibrand said Monday, “Not only should women be heard, but they should be believed.”

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders responded to Haley’s comments at the news briefing Monday, where she reiterated that Trump “thinks it’s a good thing that women are coming forward” but noted that he denies the allegations.

But still, the laws of political gravity don’t apply here:

“As the President said himself, he thinks it’s a good thing that women are coming forward but he also feels strongly that a mere allegation shouldn’t determine the course,” Sanders said. “And in this case, the President has denied any of these allegations, as have eyewitnesses … several reports have shown those eyewitnesses also back up the President’s claim in this process, and again the American people knew this and voted for the President and we feel like we’re ready to move forward in this process.”

What eyewitnesses? No one knew who they were. They’ve never been mentioned before. Some team at the White House just got a new homework assignment. Find eyewitnesses to all the events in question, eyewitnesses who will say the events never happened.

That’s a tall order given this:

Three women who’ve accused Donald Trump of sexual harassment and assault held a press conference in New York on Monday morning to call for a congressional investigation into the president’s alleged history of sexual misconduct.

“In an objective setting, without question, a person with this record would have entered the graveyard of political aspirations, never to return,” said Rachel Crooks, who has accused Trump of grabbing and kissing her without her consent in an elevator in 2005. “Yet here we are with that man as president.”

Reality is that which just won’t go away:

None of the allegations presented on Monday are new. Crooks and Jessica Leeds, who joined her at the press conference, made their stories public in a New York Times piece published in October 2016, a few days after the leak of an Access Hollywood recording that included Trump bragging about groping and kissing unsuspecting women. At the press conference, Leeds said that after being seated next to Trump on an airplane and enduring his unwanted groping both over and under her clothes, “that was the last time I wore a skirt traveling.” The third accuser, former Miss USA contestant Samantha Holvey, also spoke out before the 2016 election, accusing then–pageant owner Trump of meandering backstage while the contestants were getting dressed and inspecting each woman before they went onstage. Trump bragged about “inspecting” the pageants in an appearance on the Howard Stern Show in 2005.

Now, the women said, they hope the country is more ready than it was last fall to believe their accounts and force Trump to answer for his alleged crimes.

Things did change:

In recent months, since bombshell reports of Harvey Weinstein’s decades of sexual abuse appeared in the New York Times and the New Yorker, dozens of men in entertainment, politics, media, law, and the restaurant industry have been exposed as serial harassers. Many observers, including me, have wondered whether the allegations against Trump would have been treated differently if they had been revealed during this cultural moment of increased scrutiny of sexual violence. “The Weinstein story hit, and it was like an explosion in a shingle factory: Things were flying all over the place,” Leeds said on Monday. “And it became apparent that in some areas, the accusations of sexual aggression were being taken seriously and people were being held accountable. Except for our president.”

And the context here was deadly too:

The three women also appeared Monday morning on the NBC talk show of Megyn Kelly, who has likewise made headlines for accusing a powerful man – in her case, former Fox News chairman Roger Ailes – of sexual misconduct.

Ailes joined the Trump campaign as an informal advisor after Fox News fired him. Trump said he didn’t see how Ailes did anything wrong at Fox. Ailes, a rather dissolute obese old man, then died. Everyone forgot him, and he doesn’t matter and some things don’t go away:

In the interview, Holvey recalled her shock at Trump’s election win despite several public accusations of sexual harassment and assault. Seeing 53 percent of white women vote for Trump “hurt the most,” Holvey said. “We’re private citizens, and for us to put ourselves out there to try and show America who this man is, and especially how he views women, and for them to say ‘meh, we don’t care’ – it was, it hurt,” she continued. “And so, you know, now it’s just like, ‘Alright, let’s try round two. The environment’s different. Let’s try again.'”

That produced the same result:

The White House addressed the Kelly segment with a statement, calling the claims by all three women “false.”

“The American people voiced their judgment by delivering a decisive victory,” the statement read, imputing the accusers with “political motives.” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders recently affirmed that the Trump administration has “been clear” on the fact that all of Trump’s accusers are lying “from the beginning.”

In short, Trump won the election – so the American people rendered their verdict – these women are liars – but they think not:

More than 20 women have accused Trump of sexual harassment and assault, many of which are far more severe than the alleged misdeeds that were leveled against Sen. Al Franken, who was pressured to resign his Senate seat last week, before an ethics inquiry he requested could even begin. At Monday’s press conference, Crooks said that if Republicans in the Senate were willing to investigate Franken after several women said he forced kisses on them or groped them during photo-ops, “it’s only fair that they do the same for Trump.”

So, really, the American people rendered no verdict, but there still may be no hope here:

When reporters asked the accusers what they hoped might come of a congressional ethics probe, none of the three women had an answer. Crooks and Holvey both said Trump should resign his office, and then admitted that the chances of him doing so were nearly zero. None expressed interest in joining the lawsuit of Summer Zervos, who is suing the president for defamation for calling her and her fellow Trump accusers “liars.” The best outcomes the women could come up were vague notions of shifting attitudes about sexual assault and an indictment of Trump in the “court of public opinion,” in Crooks’ parlance.

There’s little hope there:

Even though Trump was elected more than a year ago in a culture that discussed sexual assault somewhat differently, the Republican Party – and Republican voters – have continued to support the Senate candidate Roy Moore amid mounting evidence that he made a habit of preying on teenage girls in his 30s. Public conversations about men who abuse their power to demean women have changed since Crooks, Leeds, and Holvey first told America about their encounters with Trump. The priorities of the party that got him elected have not.

The party repealed the laws of political gravity long ago – if they can be repealed:

White House aides have warily watched the Me Too movement sweep Capitol Hill, opting to repeat rote denials about allegations against the president. The president’s advisers were stunned Sunday when one of the highest-ranking women in the Trump administration broke with the White House line and said the accusers’ voices “should be heard.”

“They should be heard, and they should be dealt with,” Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said in a CBS interview. “And I think we heard from them before the election. And I think any woman who has felt violated or felt mistreated in any way, they have every right to speak up.”

Haley’s comments infuriated the president, according to two people who are familiar with his views but who spoke on condition of anonymity because they aren’t authorized to speak publicly about private conversations.

The man hates political gravity. Why can’t he fly? Perhaps he should not ask that question:

Some Trump aides, advisers and outside confidants are privately grappling with how to navigate the charged national environment over sexual misconduct, which may not pass anytime soon, and an increasingly aggressive Democratic Party.

Some outside Republicans close to the president said they are increasingly uneasy about his ability to withstand a revived spotlight on his behavior toward women amid the dramatic attitude shift happening nationwide in response to accusations of sexual misconduct against men from Hollywood to Capitol Hill. A number of Trump associates are also wary of the potential political costs if the president goes on a sustained attack against his accusers.

Trump has no good options here, because gravity is real enough:

In phone calls and meetings in recent days, people in Trump’s orbit have deliberated over how best to defend against more than a dozen women who have leveled specific claims against him – while also taking seriously claims of sexual assault and harassment and not seeming to dismiss women, according to two people who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk frankly about the private discussions. There have also been conversations about how the issue could linger through next year’s midterm campaign season and how to handle that possibility, one outside adviser said.

Some things just won’t go away. Reality is a bitch, with that word taking on many meanings here.

Paul Glastris notes the implications of that:

The polling on this one is pretty hard to deny: Republican voters are flatly more willing to tolerate sexual predators among their elected officials than Democratic voters are. You can try to chalk that up to demographics – that GOP voters are older, whiter, and more resistant to feminism and forgiving of men’s misbehaviors. But the variability of their tolerance – 71 percent of Republicans say a Democratic congressman accused of sexual harassment should resign from office, but only 54 percent would demand the same of a Republican, a far bigger partisan swing than Democratic voters show – gives the game away.

If Roy Moore wins in Alabama and is not expelled by the Republican-led Senate (and it looks like he won’t be); if Republican leaders and commentators continue to stonewall in the face of growing calls to further investigate Donald Trump’s record of sexual assault; and if Democrats continue to purge the boors and abusers within their own ranks despite the political costs (which, though less high so far than for Republicans, is not nothing), it’s going to be noticeably more difficult for even the most both-siderish reporters and commentators to maintain their silence about the asymmetric polarization that is, practically speaking, the single most powerful force reshaping American politics and policy.

That’s political gravity at work. Gravity doesn’t go away. Climate change is real enough. These women are real enough. Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away. Reality is a bitch. And Donald Trump cannot fly.

Posted in Trump and Women, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

All the Dead Poets

No, it wasn’t like Dead Poets Society – that Robin Williams movie where Williams plays that eccentric and inspiring English teacher who frees young minds through famous poetry and classroom theatrics. It wasn’t like that. It was more of a grind – grading endless shallow and incoherent student essays on this and that, and then spending endless hours trying to explain how to say something useful, clearly, to sullen kids who would rather be someplace else. The kids never did form a “Dead Poets Society” to meet secretly and read Yeats and Byron to each other, although one year a few of them, on their own, did form a Dickens Society. They wanted more Dickens – Great Expectations hadn’t been enough for them – but that was the exception. These kids focused on the expected. They knew what came next. They’d grow up to be doctors and lawyers and business leaders, or scientists, or salesmen, or they’d run the family concrete business. There’d be no poetry. William Carlos Williams once said “it is difficult to get the news from poems yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there” – but they’d take that chance. Let someone else seize the day.

There were exceptions. One of them actually became a prep-school English teacher. Someone has to be Robin Williams. One defied his parents and headed off to the Rhode Island School of Design and then formed the group Talking Heads with Brian Eno. One joined a cult and ended up in jail. One now knows everything there is to know about fine wine. Another edits a major magazine about everything automotive and green. One runs a major recording studio that every classical musician eventually uses. Perhaps there’s poetry in all of that – but none of them ended up in politics. There’s no poetry in politics. Politics is a nasty business.

That wasn’t always so. There was Bobby Kennedy in Indianapolis the night Martin Luther King was assassinated:

For those of you who are black and are tempted to be filled with hatred and distrust at the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I can only say that I feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man. But we have to make an effort in the United States; we have to make an effort to understand, to go beyond these rather difficult times.

My favorite poet was Aeschylus. He wrote: “In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”

What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness; but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or they be black.

Bobby Kennedy really did quote Aeschylus to that stunned crowd of weeping and angry black men and women, and the rhythm of his own words was poetry of a political sort, and there was Obama in Boston in 2004:

The pundits, 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 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.

We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.

In the end, that’s what this election is about. Do we participate in a politics of cynicism, or do we participate in a politics of hope?

That poetry, of a political sort, propelled Obama to the presidency, where he spent eight years learning that old lesson. You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose. Obama seemed to hate that lesson, but he did what he could. And he didn’t stop with the poetry. It is difficult to get the news from poems yet men really do die miserably every day for lack of what is found there. That’s also a political statement.

That’s also irrelevant now. There’ no poetry in politics now, not in these Trump years, although now one of those prep-school students from long ago is now running for Congress, perhaps to bring the poetry back:

I have decided to run as a moderate Republican because, while both parties have a strong heritage, it is the Republican Party that has lost its way. It has turned away from Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt and so many other great leaders.

Today the Republican Party has been overtaken by leaders more interested in protecting their personal power than serving the people who put them into office.

Today’s Republican Party has become the Party of big money and special interests.

Today’s Republican Party is led by people who confuse bullying and angry tweeting with strong leadership.

Martin Hewitt wants to take the party back. He wants to unseat the Republican incumbent in a heavily Republican district in New Jersey – Trump’s man through and through – perhaps because Martin misses the poetry of Abraham Lincoln, at Gettysburg, and Theodore Roosevelt’s flashing teeth and cheerful bully-pulpit trust-busting exhortations – not that their “poetry” came up in those English classes long ago. Still, those are the “dead poets” in this case. Obama brought their seize-the-day soaring and useful poetry back into politics. Hillary Clinton was all dull and deadly prose, inspiring no one – she couldn’t manage that. And then Donald Trump simply killed all the patriotic poetry of civic life. Think of it as murder.

Amy Davidson Sorkin details the crime:

When Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House spokeswoman, was explaining last week why President Trump had chosen to endorse Roy Moore in this week’s special election for the U.S. Senate, in Alabama, she made the decision sound natural – and perhaps, in the current political moment, it was. Moore may be facing multiple allegations that he preyed on teen-age girls (he has denied “sexual misconduct”), but Trump, Sanders said, sees him as “a person that supports his agenda.” That prompted a reporter to wonder how much of an agenda they shared. Does Donald Trump, he asked, “agree with Roy Moore that Muslims should not be allowed to serve in Congress?”

“I haven’t asked him about a past statement from Roy Moore,” Sanders said. Her answer just about summarizes the nihilism of Trump’s Washington, where, when questioned whether the President would ban a religious group from Capitol Hill, his spokeswoman won’t say for sure without checking.

So much for poetry, and so much for this political party:

In less than a year in office, Trump has led the GOP into situations and alliances so degraded that the Party may never fully recover, even as he watches an investigation into Russia’s possible interference in the 2016 election, led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, move ever closer to his immediate circle. Last week, Donald Trump, Jr., refused to answer questions before the House Intelligence Committee about his conversations with his father, and a plea deal that Mueller struck with Michael Flynn, the former national-security adviser, indicates that Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, may be under scrutiny, too. Mueller may also have turned his attention to records related to Trump’s finances. Last Monday, the day that Trump endorsed Moore, Axios reported that one of the President’s lawyers, echoing Richard Nixon, had suggested that what might count as obstruction of justice for others would not in Trump’s case – because if the President does it, it isn’t really a crime. But each day dawns with a possibility that Trump will disgrace the Presidency more than he already has, whether he is insulting Native Americans or mangling relationships with our most trusted allies.

All of these things, piled on top of each other, should appall Republicans, but Sorkin notes that they don’t:

There have been a few eloquent protests from members of Congress who are retiring or seem to think that they have nothing left to lose politically. After the Washington Post first published reports of Moore’s predation, several Republicans denounced him, and the Republican National Committee pulled out of a joint fund-raising agreement with him. But, last week, when Trump let the RNC know that he was supporting Moore, it began pouring money into his campaign. “The President says jump and the RNC jumps,” a Party official told the Wall Street Journal.

The Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, for his part, backed away from his own previous condemnation of Moore, saying on Face the Nation, “The people of Alabama are going to decide a week from Tuesday who they want to send to the Senate. It’s really up to them.” There had been talk that McConnell and his colleagues might help mount a write-in candidacy, or take some other measure to block Moore. Polls showing that Moore still had a good chance of beating the Democratic challenger, Doug Jones, apparently persuaded McConnell to rethink his position.

That’s the “tell” here:

McConnell’s acquiescence is all the more striking since he has become a useful symbol of the Party establishment that Moore professes to oppose. Last Tuesday, at a rally in Fairhope, Alabama, which Steve Bannon, the President’s former chief strategist, also attended, Moore told the crowd that he knew that Trump was “trying so hard” to do everything he had promised during the campaign – end Obamacare, tear up NAFTA, build the wall. He was just being held back by the likes of McConnell.

Yet Moore, for all his talk of independence, was also selling himself as a party-line voter. What made the special election special, he said, was that “we’re going to see if the people of Alabama will support the President.” (He warned his audience that Jones is not only a Democrat but had been “a Barack Obama delegate.”)

If his project in Washington would be loyalty to Trump, that would make him, by current standards, a fairly typical Republican. Indeed, one of Moore’s priorities, in addition to getting Americans to “go back to God,” is the tax bill that McConnell is struggling to pass. Trump had framed his own support for Moore in terms that McConnell would appreciate, tweeting, “We need his vote on stopping crime, illegal immigration, Border Wall, Military, Pro Life, V.A., Judges 2nd Amendment and more.” But what does it mean to “need” Roy Moore’s vote?

That is the essential question here:

It’s possible, given the formalities of each process, that the winner of the Alabama race will be seated in the Senate before a vote on the final version of the tax bill is taken. If Doug Jones manages to win, the speed with which a final bill would be pushed through, to avoid having him vote on it, might stun even Washington. With or without Moore, however, the bill is an extraordinarily sloppy and reckless concoction: its benefits are concentrated at the top, and it casually sabotages the health-insurance system. The cost will be in untreated illnesses and unpayable medical bills. In the tally of amorality, for McConnell to accept being mocked by Moore on the campaign trail, and then have lunch with him on Capitol Hill before the roll call, may be nothing more than a rounding error.

If so, this is just nihilism:

The Republicans have a fifty-two-seat majority, meaning that Moore’s presence would be helpful but, in terms of control of the chamber, not decisive. What would they tolerate in order to secure the fifty-first vote? Put another way, if the Party is willing to give its money and its credibility to protect a candidate accused of molesting teenagers, what might it talk itself into doing to protect the President? Robert Mueller may be interested in the answer.

In an earlier column, Sorkin asked this:

What litmus tests does the Republican Party have these days? Islamophobia evidently wasn’t enough to end its support of Moore, but neither, apparently, were his imprecations that homosexuality should be criminally punished and that the Supreme Court’s marriage-equality ruling was worse than the Dred Scott decision; or his record of being twice removed from the Alabama bench for defying, and ordering other judges to defy, federal courts, once regarding a Ten Commandments monument outside his courthouse, and once for his attempt to deny marriage equality to Alabama couples; or that the foundation he formed has hosted “Secession Day” events; or his brandishing of a gun on a stage at a political rally; or his comments about the Bible superseding American law; or his belief in birtherism…

So, what would they tolerate in order to secure that fifty-first vote? There are other matters:

Alabama Republican Senate nominee Roy Moore appeared on a conspiracy-driven radio show twice in 2011, where he told the hosts in an interview that getting rid of constitutional amendments after the Tenth Amendment would ‘eliminate many problems’ in the way the US government is structured…

Moore also faced criticism for comments he made in September at a campaign rally. According to the Los Angeles Times, when asked by a black member of the audience when he thought the last time America was great, Moore answered, “I think it was great at the time when families were united – even though we had slavery – they cared for one another. Our families were strong, our country had a direction.”

This is what Republicans will now tolerate:

Moore made his comments about constitutional amendments in a June 2011 appearance on the “Aroostook Watchmen” show, which is hosted by Maine residents Jack McCarthy and Steve Martin. The hosts have argued that the US government is illegitimate and who have said that the September 11, 2001, attacks, the mass shooting at Sandy Hook, the Boston bombing, and other mass shootings and terrorist attacks are false flag attacks committed by the government…

The host agreed with Moore, before turning his attention to the 14th Amendment, which was passed during the Reconstruction period following the Civil War and guaranteed citizenship and equal rights and protection to former slaves and has been used in landmark Supreme Court cases such as Brown v. Board of Education and Obergefell v. Hodges.

“People also don’t understand, and being from the South I bet you get it, the 14th Amendment was only approved at the point of the gun,” the host said.

And that Nineteenth Amendment gave women the right to vote, damn it!

Trump has said Moore is a “great guy.”

Others have had enough:

When Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama came hat in hand to Capitol Hill last month to ask his state’s senior Republican for help raising money, Sen. Richard C. Shelby had a blunt reply.

“I told him he could raise it himself, you know, like I did, you know, like everybody else,” said Shelby, who has about $10 million cash in his campaign account, with no prospects of a competitive reelection.

Maybe the party can be saved:

The striking rebuff was no surprise to those who know Shelby well. Since the surfacing of allegations of Moore’s sexual misconduct, Shelby has publicly bucked President Trump and the rest of Alabama’s statewide Republican leaders by vocally opposing Moore’s candidacy, which he warns could hurt the state he has spent his life transforming.

“He thrives on controversy, seems to me. And I think you can’t be a formidable, effective senator if you’re so controversial your colleagues avoid you,” Shelby told The Washington Post in an interview last week, after casting an absentee ballot for an unnamed Republican write-in candidate instead of Moore. “That’s the bottom line.”

Shelby couldn’t be clearer:

Shelby says he had concerns about Moore long before the allegations of sexual misconduct. One concern was Moore’s willingness as a judge to disobey judicial orders with which he disagreed, a tactic that led state officials to twice remove Moore from the bench…

Another concern of Shelby’s is the effect that Moore’s candidacy, and possible election, would have on the reputation of a state. Over 30 years, through earmarks and other legislative maneuvering, Shelby has directed hundreds of millions of dollars to Alabama to help re-create it as a forward-leaning, business-friendly destination for the high-tech manufacturing, biotechnology and aerospace industries.

“I think the image of anything matters,” Shelby said. “It’s not 1860. It’s not 1900. It’s not 1940. It’s not 1964 or 1965. It’s 2017. And Alabama in a lot of ways is on the cutting edge, on the cusp of a lot of good things.”

Shelby is, in fact, leading the pragmatists:

Friends and allies of Shelby describe the significant turmoil Moore has caused in the state’s political and business elite. Business leaders have expressed concern that the current campaign could hurt the branding of the state, which has been experiencing significant economic gains in recent years.

“We want to be attractive to the smartest people in the country,” said Fines “Fess” St. John, an attorney in Cullman, who sits on the board of the University of Alabama and has worked with Shelby. “I’m sure the senator is concerned that something that distracts from that narrative doesn’t help us.”

Shelby is also fighting what his party has become:

Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore’s campaign strategist on Sunday said the state’s upcoming special election is a referendum on President Donald Trump.

“This is Donald Trump on trial in Alabama,” Moore’s campaign strategist Dean Young said on ABC News’ This Week.

He said voters who cast a ballot for Democratic candidate Doug Jones are “voting against the President who they put in office at the highest level.”

“Judge Moore’s going to go to Washington, Judge Moore is going to win and I highly doubt there’s going to be a Senate investigation,” Young said, referring to the possibility of a Senate Ethics Committee probe into numerous women’s allegations of sexual misconduct against Moore.

So this election is a referendum on “President” Donald Trump. He is our president. It’s also a referendum on what the Republican Party has become – not the party of the eloquent Abraham Lincoln or the cheerful bully-pulpit pf Theodore Roosevelt – just the party of the narrow and cramped anger of small men. There’s no poetry in that, and yes, it is difficult to get the news from poetry, and men really do die miserably every day for lack of what is found there – what is human in us, what is shared by all of us – but there’s no reason to die miserably every day. Seize the day. Start a Dead Poets Society. And pay attention in English class. One guy, long ago did. He might end up in Congress.

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More Motiveless Malignancy

Hollywood is still full of young dreamers from Iowa or Idaho, so Hollywood is full of acting schools. There’s the Stella Adler Theater with its acting school on Hollywood Boulevard – next door to the rather creepy Hollywood Wax Museum. That’s a bit ominous. Down on Santa Monica Boulevard there’s the Lee Strasberg Theater and Film Institute with its Marilyn Monore Theater – she studied with him – in the Ukrainian section of town known as Little Odessa and across the street from a strip mall with a 7-11 and a laundromat. There are more. None of them are particularly glamourous. Young dreamers pinch their pennies to go to these places to learn their craft, as they say. Acting is difficult. How does one become a completely different person for a few hours, six nights a week, with a matinee on Sunday, or day after day on a movie or television set?

That’s the craft. These young dreamers are told that they have to understand the character they will play, deeply, and the key to that is obvious. What is the character’s motivation, really? What’s really going on? What inner demons drive that person? Understand that and the appropriate tics and mannerisms follow, and maybe an Oscar.

That’s the theory. That’s also difficult. There’s the repertoire. Shakespeare created one of the all-time nasty guys in Othello – that curious little fellow Iago, that foul little man who drives all the action. Iago is the center of the play – a role that’s an actor’s dream – but there’s no reason anywhere in the text that explains why he wants to break up Othello’s marriage to Desdemona. There’s nothing in it for him. He doesn’t have the hots for Desdemona. He has no ambitions. He doesn’t want to usurp Othello. He seems happy to just mess things up, for no reason at all – perhaps because he can. It may be no more than that. Samuel Taylor Coleridge called that Iago’s “motiveless malignancy” – a dead end. There are such people. Shakespeare was anticipating The Joker in the second Christopher Nolan Batman movie – some people just want to see the world burn.

Donald Trump may be one of those people. The UN Partition Plan (United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181) on November 29, 1947, divided Palestine into two states, one Arab and one Jewish. Jerusalem was to be designated an international city administered by the UN, to avoid conflict over its status – and the world has considered it an international city ever since. Israel captured East Jerusalem, with its mosques, from Jordan during the 1967 Six-Day War and said that East Jerusalem was Jerusalem too, and that the whole city was theirs. They set up their government there. The international community rejected the annexation as illegal and treats East Jerusalem as Palestinian territory occupied by Israel. No one recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The city hosts no foreign embassies – but Donald Trump announced that he’ll move our embassy to Jerusalem – something no US president has dared to do before. The city hosts no foreign embassies, but now it will host ours, and Donald Trump said the United States now recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital – even if no one else does. It will be the United States and Israel against the world. Trump did not explain why he did this. He just did this.

Some people just want to see the world burn, and now it is burning:

Scores of Palestinians were injured Friday in the Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank by Israeli live fire and rubber bullets as thousands took to the streets in the second day of protests against President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Two Palestinians were reported killed, one a 30-year-old man during the street clashes in Gaza. In the West Bank, Palestinian stone-throwers were met by Israeli soldiers firing tear gas and rubber bullets.

And then things got serious:

Israeli warplanes struck Hamas military targets in northern Gaza in retaliation for missile attacks launched against the southern Israeli city of Sderot. Several cars were damaged, but there were no casualties. Two of the missiles failed to reach Israeli territory.

As NPR’s Daniel Estrin reports on the airstrike, “Palestinian health officials say at least one Palestinian was killed, and at least 15 were wounded including two infants. One is reportedly in critical condition.”

And this had to happen:

There were confrontations in Jerusalem itself as several hundred Palestinians gathered for Friday prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third-holiest site. At the walled Old City gates, worshippers chanted “Jerusalem is ours, Jerusalem is our capital!” Scuffles between protesters and police were reported.

And then things spread:

The protests rippled throughout the Muslim world and beyond. The Associated Press reports that thousands denounced Trump’s decision in neighboring Jordan’s capital of Amman, as well as in Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Egypt, Algeria, Turkey, Iraq, Iran and other Muslim countries.

The actions come in response to a call for three “days of rage” by the Palestinian Fatah movement and other groups. That group’s militant rival, Gaza-based Hamas, has called for a third intifada.

Palestinian groups are calling for more protests on Saturday while Israeli government ministers are pleased with Trump’s decision.

Israeli government ministers are the only ones pleased with Trump’s decision:

The United States faced blunt and sometimes withering criticism from friends and adversaries alike at the United Nations on Friday over President Trump’s declaration that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and his plans to move the American Embassy to the highly contested holy city.

The rebukes, made at an emergency Security Council meeting called over Mr. Trump’s announcement, constituted an extraordinarily public denunciation of American policy on the world’s most prominent diplomatic stage, leaving the United States alone on the issue among the council’s 15 members.

One by one, the ambassadors of Sweden, Egypt, Britain, France and Bolivia, among others, reiterated their view that President Trump’s announcement had subverted the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a longtime bedrock of the United Nations position on resolving it. Some, like Bolivia’s ambassador, Sacha Sergio Llorenty Solíz, demanded that the body take action, “otherwise the Security Council will become an occupied territory,” he said.

This really is the United States and Israel against the world, and the United States is not explaining anything to anyone:

Nikki R. Haley, the American ambassador, defended President Trump’s decision, asserting that Jerusalem has been the capital of Israel since its founding in 1948, “despite many attempts by others to deny that reality.”

Danny Danon, the Israeli ambassador, who, along with the Palestinian ambassador, had been invited to address the council, was Ms. Haley’s only supporter during the meeting. He called Mr. Trump’s announcement “a courageous decision.”

Others disagreed:

The Palestinian ambassador, Riyad H. Mansour, urged the Security Council to reaffirm its position on Jerusalem in a new resolution and said that the United States decision “disqualifies its role as a just broker for peace.”

Others simply gloated:

President Trump lapped up the festivities at the White House Hanukkah celebration just one day after he bucked years of American foreign policy to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Trump entered The East Room to cheers and addressed the crowd saying he knew there were a lot of happy people in the room before declaring “Jerusalem” according to pool reports.

Trump, who shared the origins of Hanukkah, and allowed his grandchildren to light the two Menorahs in the room, credited the Jewish people for their faith and resilience.

“No force has ever crushed your spirit, and no evil has ever extinguished your faith – and that is why the Jewish people shine as a light to all Nations,” Trump said, before highlighting Jerusalem again.

Let the world, outside the East Room of the White House, burn, and because Donald Trump is Donald Trump, he had to stick it to those who didn’t want the world to burn:

While attendees celebrated the major policy shift and enjoyed kosher snacks and wine five days before Hanukkah, Democratic legislators and Jewish figures who were previously critical of Trump were left out in the cold.

“It’s deeply unfortunate that the White House Hanukkah Party – a bipartisan event bringing together Jewish and non-Jewish leaders alike to celebrate the Festival of Lights since 2001 – has turned into a partisan affair under this administration,” Representative Nita M. Lowey of New York said in a statement to the New York Times.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union of Reform Judaism, was not invited after he criticized the president for his response to the far-right rally in Charlottesville, Va.

He also slammed Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which has set off clashes in the West Bank along with protests across the Middle East.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs said the wrong thing. All those people said the wrong things. They weren’t invited to the party. They had to be humiliated, and they were, perhaps, but there was this:

While Trump is known for holding a grudge, a spokesperson for Melania Trump, whose office oversees social events, said the celebration this year was “meant to be more personal than political.”

Many a wife cleans up after her boorish lout of a husband, but Josh Marshall sees something else here:

I’ve been watching coverage of the Jerusalem decision today on the cable networks, especially CNN. It’s telling, almost painful, watching real experts trying – really trying – to interpret this decision as part of an effort to push the peace process forward. Maybe Trump’s gotten some secret concession from Prime Minister Netanyahu in exchange for this? Maybe this is the game changer that can free up the current impasse?

Forget that, because Marshall sees nothing but motiveless malignancy:

These are the kind of things it would make sense to think if you had a normal US President – the idea that you would just do something like this purely to gratify the Republican base, spurred by the President’s boredom and desire to upset people. That’s all unthinkable. Yet that is pretty clearly what is going on here.

Trump is Iago, simply a nasty little-minded man:

I would say that this is 90% political and a matter of satisfying the President’s need for an act of self-assertion. The other 10% does slightly fall into the category of forward-moving gambits. It’s one you need to be exposed to the more extreme right-wing variants of Zionism to be familiar with.

It basically goes like this: What keeps the conflict going is Israel’s and the international community’s indulgence of unrealistic expectations on the part of the Palestinians. The path to peace is to make it totally clear, with established facts, that the Palestinians will essentially get nothing. Nothing here would be defined as a few autonomous self-governing zones within the West Bank under over-arching Israeli security control. No capital or even foothold in East Jerusalem. Not even a demilitarized version of sovereignty. No geographical contiguity – nothing. Basically the right to self-govern in civil matters in the parts of the West Bank where there are too many Palestinians to outnumber with Israeli settlers. Once Palestinians expectations are set to a realistic level, you can get down to negotiations.

That is nasty, but maybe that’s not all of it:

There are needless to say, a number of problems with this theory. But you hear it a lot as a sort of guiding theory of the case on the Zionist right. I would count it as 35% profoundly misguided idea, 65% mendacious self-assertion. That’s probably what the top Trumpers are telling themselves.

Mendacious self-assertion is, of course, another name for motiveless malignancy, but Marshall sees more:

I would be remiss if I didn’t note the obvious. Not only did the President put the region’s issues in the hands of his neophyte son-in-law. He put it in the hands of a settlement activist. Obviously nothing possibly good can come of this.

Some people do just want to see the world burn, and Andrew Sullivan adds more detail:

I have to say I roll my eyes at the various attempts to explain President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state, and to make plans to move the U.S. embassy there. Is it an attempt to shake up the region to make peace more possible – or merely a strategic concession to reality? Why would Trump give the Israelis such a gift while asking nothing in return? That’s what Tom Friedman ponderously asks. And how on earth does it help the U.S. in navigating the entire region, since it guts any American pretense at even the appearance of neutrality? The earnest questions are everywhere.

This is like being in a Hollywood acting class. What is this character’s motivation, really? What’s really going on? What inner demons drive this person? Understand that and everything becomes clear, and Sullivan thinks he has found Trump’s inner demons:

The reason for this move is self-evident. The Trump administration believes in the project of Greater Israel, and the right of just one people to control all the territory from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean. They believe this as a theological and moral imperative, and all other diplomatic considerations take second place.

Who are the key figures who hold this belief? Jared Kushner, the dauphin who has dedicated his short adult life to obliterating any concept of a Palestinian state, the U.S. ambassador David Friedman, whose commitment to Jewish supremacy in Greater Israel has always been total, and Mike Pence, whose theological conviction is that Israel must be made whole and eternal (and the Palestinians wished away) if the Second Coming is to arrive.

Sometimes, Occam’s razor really helps. There is no need to wonder why this has happened. It has happened because this is now U.S. policy: the extirpation of the Palestinian cause and the complete conflation of America’s national interest with Greater Israel’s in the region. This is what Sheldon Adelson paid for and what Ralph Reed demands. And this is what they will get.

Sullivan maintains the details bear that out:

Take the absurdity of Kushner as an envoy to both sides. Appointing him to oversee an Israel-Palestine two-state solution is like appointing David Duke to resolve America’s racial tensions:

“According to tax records, the Charles and Seryl Kushner Foundation donated at least $38,000 between 2011 and 2013 to the American Friends of Beit El Yeshiva, the fundraising arm of a Jewish seminary in Beit El, a West Bank settlement. The Beit El Yeshiva Center is associated with Arutz Sheva, also known as Israel National News, a news organization affiliated with the Jewish settler movement… In 2012 and 2013, the Kushner family foundation donated a total of $15,000 to the Etzion Foundation, which operates three Orthodox Jewish study institutions in West Bank settlements. In 2011, the family donated $5,000 to Ohr Torah Stone, an Orthodox Jewish educational institution in the West Bank settlement of Efrat.”

For much of that time, Jared Kushner was a co-director of the foundation, a role – surprise! – he failed to disclose before his appointment. Kushner, moreover, has continued to fund West Bank settlements even after assuming his current role, as ProPublica reported on Wednesday: “The charitable fund made a donation of at least $18,000 at the ‘Master Builders’ level to American Friends of Beit El Yeshiva Center, according to a donor book distributed at the group’s annual gala Sunday evening.”

That Manhattan gala was attended by John Bolton (scheduled for a meeting with Trump today in the White House), and featured a promotional video about the radical settlement. Set to action-movie music, the short film “showed high-school-age youth training in the settlement’s military academy. ‘Beit El is very important because it establishes our claim that God gave us this land,’ said Karen Frager, an activist who spoke on a video shown on stage.”

So now this makes sense:

And who, for years, was the head of this charity? I give you David Friedman, who is now U.S. ambassador! I mean seriously. What more do you need to know?

And add this factor:

The policy is complemented by a cynical alliance with fundamentalist or authoritarian Sunni states, like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, against Iran and Shiite Islam … because targeting Iran is Israel’s primary foreign-policy objective (along with ending the nuclear deal) and getting these regimes to abandon any support for the Palestinians is critical to the legitimization of Greater Israel. Hence the “peace” plan Kushner has discussed with his fellow plutocratic scion, the Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman: “a Palestinian state with only ‘moral sovereignty’ and noncontiguous territory and without East Jerusalem as the capital; no Israeli settlement evacuation; and no right of return for Palestinian refugees.”

That is, a few apartheid-style Bantustans for the Palestinians; the designation of Abu Dis, a Jerusalem suburb already cut off by Israel’s wall, as their metaphorical “capital” and an end to any reasonable two-state solution at all.

And this, of course, has been the de facto U.S. policy for quite a while, because it has been AIPAC’s top policy goal for ages.

Sullivan is thorough, and he misses the last guy:

To see how entrenched this is, it’s important to remember that a two-term president, Barack Obama, was unable even to get a temporary pause in the pace of the intensifying annexation of the West Bank, and that Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer wanted Trump to go even further and use the word “undivided” to describe Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. When Trump says this decision is merely about recognition of reality, he is, in other words, half-right. But it is not recognition of the reality of the Middle East.

The reality of the Middle East is that it is now burning. And Donald Trump loves it. He’s the Joker and he’s Iago – and one day some actor will have to play Donald Trump in a movie about these years. That won’t be easy. What’s the character’s motivation? What inner demons drive this person? Understand that and the appropriate tics and mannerisms follow, and maybe an Oscar. Or maybe there’s no movie. We may not live that long. Trump’s motiveless malignancy could get us all killed.

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