The Coming Long Winter

Winter is coming. Christmas is coming – and we’ve never had an Ebenezer Scrooge in the White House before – a president who is suspicious of everyone and everything. He has made that clear. Everyone wants our stuff. Donald Trump has 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 – and he can fix that. When someone hits you, hit them back ten times harder. We’ll build that wall and Mexico will pay for it. Muslims will be banned from entering the country – once he gets a few more judges who see things his way. Hit back ten times harder. That way no one messes with you ever again. That’s the way America should deal with the world. He also pulled the United States out of the TPP and will pull us out of NAFTA – which will decimate our auto industry and ruin most American farmers, especially corporate agribusiness, but such details don’t matter when everyone is out to get you. We’ll enter no multilateral trade agreements. We’ll do one-off trade deals with individual nations, screwing over every nation that has be screwing us over for years and laughing at us. They have been laughing at us, even our allies. Everyone is screwing us over – everyone! Everyone is out to get us! It will be America First – a heroically paranoid America, led by an obsessive paranoiac.

Donald Trump wouldn’t put it that way. He’s a man of the people, but Richard Hofstadter warned America about this. The return of what Hofstadter called “the paranoid style in American politics” was inevitable. Obama was the exception, not the rule. Maybe that’s why Donald Trump spent years doing that Birther thing, trying to prove that Obama wasn’t really an American. Trump may have been right.

That makes Donald Trump Ebenezer Scrooge – a man who trusts no one, a man who gives nothing away unless he gets something worth ten times more in return. That’s the Art of the Deal. That has nothing to do with charity. Tiny Tim might qualify for Medicaid. Medicaid is going to be cut. That’s the only way to pay for all those tax cuts or large corporations. Those like Tiny Tim have other options. “Have they no refuge, no resource? Are there no prisons? And the union workhouses… are they still in operation? No? If they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”

Donald Trump really isn’t that mean. He’s not Ebenezer Scrooge. He’s something else:

President Donald Trump’s charitable foundation, which last year admitted violating federal rules on “self-dealing,” is in the process of dissolving, according to newly filed documents reviewed by NBC News.

The move fulfills a promise Trump made last December, when he said he would wind down the Donald J. Trump Foundation to avoid conflicts of interest. New York’s attorney general ordered the foundation to stop soliciting contributions in October 2016.

It seems that our Ebenezer Scrooge got caught running a charity that solicited funds for worthy causes, including himself:

In its previous tax filing in 2015, the foundation acknowledged violating a legal prohibition against a “self-dealing” that bars nonprofit leaders from funneling their charity’s money to themselves, their businesses or their families.

In one section of the 2015 form, as The Washington Post first reported, the IRS asked whether the Trump Foundation had transferred “income or assets to a disqualified person.” A disqualified person could be Trump — the foundation’s president – or a member of his family or a Trump-owned business, The Post reported.

In 2015, the foundation checked yes. For 2016, the foundation checked no.

Then the foundation just gave up, for good reason:

One of President Trump’s golf courses paid back more than $158,000 to Trump’s charitable foundation this year, reimbursing the charity for money that had been used to settle a lawsuit against the club, according to a new tax filing.

The March 2017 payment came after New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a Democrat, launched an investigation into how the Donald J. Trump Foundation collects and disburses funds. The inquiry is ongoing.

The Washington Post reported last year that Trump had used the charity for questionable purposes, including making a political contribution, to settle legal matters involving his for-profit companies and to buy a large portrait of himself that he hung at one of his golf resorts.

And there’s much more:

Of the additional reimbursements, it appears that $25,000 relates to a payment that the Trump Foundation made in 2013 to a Florida political committee called “And Justice For All.” The committee supported state Attorney General Pam Bondi (R).

Charities are not allowed to give to political committees.

After The Post reported the gift to Bondi’s group last year, Trump repaid the money and paid a $2,500 penalty tax to the IRS.

And the Trump Foundation gave nothing to any Tiny Tim. Some worthy causes did get some money – to make this look like a charitable foundation – but this was a scam. Give nothing away unless you get something worth ten times more in return. Scrooge lives. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman doesn’t like Ebenezer Scrooge. He put an end to this.

This sort of thing should make for an interesting Christmas at the White House. Don’t expect talk of “peace and good will to all men” – not when everyone has been screwing us over – everyone. Not when everyone is out to get us. There will be a tree and all the rest, but Donald Trump will not wake on Christmas morning a changed man. He’ll still be Scrooge. Expect nothing more than a long winter.

That’s because the White House is not filled with the Christmas Spirit. The Washington Post reports that the White House is filled with this:

Six months into a special counsel’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, White House aides and others in President Trump’s close orbit are increasingly divided in their assessments of the expanding probe and how worried administration officials and campaign aides should be about their potential legal peril, according to numerous people familiar with the debate.

Some in the West Wing avoid the mere mention of Russia or the investigation whenever possible. Others take solace in the reassurances of White House lawyer Ty Cobb that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III will be wrapping up the probe soon and the president and those close to him will be exonerated. And a few engage in grim gallows humor, privately joking about wiretaps.

These people have other things to worry about:

The investigation reached a critical turning point in recent weeks, with a formal subpoena to the campaign, an expanding list of potential witnesses and the indictments of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates. Some within Trump’s circle, including former chief of staff Reince Priebus, have already been interviewed by Mueller’s investigators, while others such as Hope Hicks – the White House communications director and trusted confidant of the president – and White House counsel Donald McGahn are expected in coming weeks.

One Republican operative in frequent contact with the White House described Mueller’s team “working through the staff like Pac-Man.”

“Of course they are worried,” said the Republican, who insisted on anonymity to offer a candid assessment. “Anybody that ever had the words ‘Russia’ come out of their lips or in an email, they’re going to get talked to. These things are thorough and deep. It’s going to be a long winter.”

It’s going to be a long winter with no Christmas, although the nation’s Scrooge is hopeful:

The president himself, however, has warmed to Cobb’s optimistic message on Mueller’s probe. Cobb had initially said he hoped the focus on the White House would conclude by Thanksgiving, but adjusted the timeline slightly in an interview last week, saying he remains optimistic that it will wrap up by the end of the year, if not shortly thereafter.

Trump’s lawyers have also repeatedly said the president himself is not personally under investigation.

He is personally under investigation of course:

The reassurances from Cobb and others – which seem at least partially aimed at keeping the president calm and focused on governing – are viewed by others as naive.

“The president says, ‘This is all just an annoyance. I did nothing,'” said one person close to the administration. “He is somewhat arrogant about it. But this investigation is a classic Gambino-style roll-up. You have to anticipate this roll-up will reach everyone in this administration.”

And a classic Gambino-style roll-up goes like this:

In any white-collar probe, investigative pressure on low-level officials can lead to guilty pleas and cooperation, generating new evidence and leads about those higher on the chain of command, these people noted. And while that process can stall out if people refuse to cooperate or offer nothing of interest to investigators, there’s no indication that has happened in the Russia investigation.

“I don’t think there’s any reason to believe this is almost over,” said Randall Eliason, a former federal prosecutor who now teaches law at George Washington University. “Based not just on what we’ve seen but also what we know about white-collar investigations generally, this seems to me like it is just getting started.”

And there’s this:

Three separate congressional committee investigations into Russian interference in the election sometimes overlap and track over Mueller’s probe, and pose high-risk complications for Trump aides, politically and legally.

The Senate Judiciary Committee last week alleged that it appeared Jared Kushner had withheld some documents about a Russian gun rights’ activist’s effort to connect a Putin ally and the Trump campaign. Kushner’s lawyers said the committee never asked their client for records of proposed meetings that never happened – but the episode gave the impression Kushner had something to hide.

That does tend to dampen any Christmas spirit:

One White House official said the ongoing investigation has now just become a frustrating part of daily reality for aides, and they attempt to soldier on knowing they personally did nothing wrong.

But some suspect that Mueller’s probe may weigh more heavily on some of their colleagues, especially those who have been compelled to testify before Congress or Mueller’s investigators. More than a dozen, including Donald McGahn [the current White House Counsel] and Vice President Pence, have had to hire lawyers, and some junior aides fear their legal fees will rise to three or four times their annual salaries…

And sometimes, gallows humor creeps into the West Wing.

“When the staff gathers in the morning at the White House now, they jokingly say: ‘Good morning. Are you wired?'” one person close to the administration said.

Jonathan Chait adds this;

When you read histories of the more successful presidential administrations in American history, a phrase you don’t usually come across is “Gambino-style roll-up.”

However, in the face of this mounting evidence and the warnings of some allies, Trump has remained – by Trump’s standards – fairly calm. Obviously, by the standards of a normal president, he is acting like a complete lunatic. But given Trump’s patterns of spewing indiscriminate rage and abuse and lashing out at his enemies in wildly counterproductive fashion, he has conducted himself with notable restraint. Despite his barely concealed impulses, Trump has refrained from mass pardons or attempting to fire Mueller.

The apparent reason for his serenity is that his lawyer, Ty Cobb, has placated Trump with promises that Mueller’s probe would be over soon. “The president himself, however, has warmed to Cobb’s optimistic message on Mueller’s probe. Cobb had initially said he hoped the focus on the White House would conclude by Thanksgiving,” the Post reports.

Thanksgiving – it will all be over by Thanksgiving.

Or maybe not:

By this point, three days before Thanksgiving, it should be relatively clear Mueller’s work is not going to be completed before the turkey is served. The Post notes that Cobb “adjusted the timeline slightly in an interview last week, saying he remains optimistic that it will wrap up by the end of the year, if not shortly thereafter.”

Chait thinks that is nonsense:

The obvious question arising from this report is what happens when Mueller fails to meet the deadline Cobb has arbitrarily set for him? If Cobb has bought time with Trump by blowing sunshine up his ass, at some point Trump will stop believing his lawyer’s absurdly copacetic analysis and start believing the people who are warning him about the Gambino-style roll-up under way. That point might come after Thanksgiving. It might come at New Year’s, or perhaps early next year. At some point, Trump is going to blow.

It’s going to be a long tense winter, but is Donald Trump going to “blow” like some volcano is a cheesy disaster movie? (Think of this one that destroys the local neighborhood here.) Trump can’t be the complete lunatic that Chait says he is. Trump is merely Ebenezer Scrooge.

Trump may be more than that, as BuzzFeed’s Joseph Bernstein reports here:

National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster mocked President Trump’s intelligence at a private dinner with a powerful tech CEO, according to five sources with knowledge of the conversation.

Over a July dinner with Oracle CEO Safra Catz – who has been mentioned as a candidate for several potential administration jobs – McMaster bluntly trashed his boss, said the sources, four of whom told BuzzFeed News they heard about the exchange directly from Catz. The top national security official dismissed the president variously as an “idiot” and a “dope” with the intelligence of a “kindergartner,” the sources said.

A sixth source who was not familiar with the details of the dinner told BuzzFeed News that McMaster had made similarly derogatory comments about Trump’s intelligence to him in private, including that the president lacked the necessary brainpower to understand the matters before the National Security Council.

McMaster couldn’t have said that, and there were the walk-backs:

Both Oracle and the Trump administration heatedly denied the comments that Catz later recounted… Oracle’s top DC operative, who attended the dinner with Catz, also denied that McMaster made the comments his boss later recounted to others. The meeting, Oracle senior VP for government affairs Ken Glueck said, was about China, and “none of the statements attributed to General McMaster were said.” Glueck added that Catz “concurs entirely” with his account of the dinner.

Someone is lying, but no one should be surprised:

Along with White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, McMaster – a three-star general – is often seen as a moderating influence on the president and a steadying hand in an administration staffed with political newcomers and anti-establishment bomb-throwers. Because of their perceived influence over the president, both men and in particular McMaster are widely distrusted by Trump’s base and some loyalist aides and former staffers, and have been the perceived target of attacks in the press.

McMaster’s allegedly dismissive comments are the latest suggestion that at least some of Trump’s senior-most aides see their jobs as containing a president who isn’t up to the task. In October, NBC News and other outlets reported that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called the president a “moron” in a July meeting at the Pentagon. Also in October, Republican Sen. Bob Corker told the New York Times that a group of senior administration officials have banded together to try to keep Trump under control.

Trump may be the complete lunatic that Chait says he is, because he has the intelligence of a kindergartner, but there are other players here:

News of the July dinner first surfaced in August, when Axios reported that Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson decided to support a campaign alleging that McMaster was anti-Israel after speaking with Catz about her meeting with the national security adviser. That decision stemmed, multiple sources tell BuzzFeed News, from comments McMaster made to Catz praising President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran and describing Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory as a major problem…

Catz, who has donated widely to both Republicans and Democrats, and McMaster, who has long been a target of the pro-Trump media and the nationalist wing of the administration for his mainstream positions on foreign policy and his purge of staffers hired by his predecessor, Michael Flynn, are both establishment figures. And yet, according to sources, Catz was so alarmed by the tenor of McMaster’s comments about President Trump and Israel that she confided her concerns to several administration officials, as well as Adelson.

Something is up, and Christopher Woody adds this:

Shanon Weinberger, executive editor at Foreign Policy, suggested the story had been pitched to other outlets, noting on Twitter, “This story is like expired milk. Pushed to enough potential buyers at increasingly discounted price, someone will eventually buy it. But it still tastes bad.”

Kate Brannen, deputy managing editor at Just Security, noted that Ezra Cohen-Watnick – whose ouster from the National Security Council spurred efforts by Trump loyalists to force McMaster out – took a job at Oracle in September. Oracle also hired Josh Pitcock, former chief of staff for Vice President Mike Pence.

“This story smells a bit funky,” noted Jenna McLaughlin, an intelligence reporter at Foreign Policy, adding, “At some point, if you’ve got a bunch of Oracle sources who did not attend an event they’re speaking about, with a history of hating McMaster, telling you things…”

Josh Marshall tries to straighten this out:

McMaster also criticized Steve Bannon, Rex Tillerson and said presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner has no business being involved in national security issues at all. According to Buzzfeed, Catz told one source “the conversation was so inappropriate that it was jaw-dropping.”

Now, let’s stipulate that the President is a dope, many of his top aides are dopes and Jared Kushner has no business being in any position in government at all.

But there’s a detail here that seems pretty germane to understanding the story.

That would be this:

McMaster was brought in to clean up the Mike Flynn mess and over time he fired most or maybe now all the Flynn loyalists as his power in the job grew. Public reports suggest that his biggest and most consistent antagonist was a Flynn protégé named Ezra Cohen-Watnick, a guy who seems to have worked with Rep. Devin Nunes in Nunes’ ‘unmasking’ escapade. McMaster tried to fire him shortly after he took over from Flynn but was blocked by Kushner and Bannon.

Finally, in early August, McMaster canned Cohen-Watnick.

So where did Cohen-Watnick land after finally getting bounced from the National Security Council? Funny you’d ask! He went to work in the DC office of Oracle.

So this was a hit job, but then that may not matter much at all:

To be clear, this doesn’t mean the report is not true. I suspect something like it is true. It may be verbatim true. Who knows?

No one will ever know. Winter is coming. Christmas is coming, and we’ve never had an Ebenezer Scrooge in the White House before, and now we do, perhaps with the intelligence of a kindergartner, and this Scrooge will not wake on Christmas morning a changed man. That will just be another day. It’s going to be a long winter. It may never end.

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What Everyone Now Knows

One thing leads to another when it shouldn’t. Some unfortunate outcomes, in retrospect, were inevitable. No one knew, at the time, how badly things would work out. Donald Trump named Jefferson Beauregard Sessions as his attorney general – that senator from Alabama with a bit of a racist past and that Son-of-the-Confederacy name. That was unfortunate, but the press decided to call him “Jeff” so then the name didn’t matter. So far, so good, but that left an open Senate seat. Alabama Governor Bentley appointed the very strange Luther Strange to fill that seat until the next election. Luther Strange was not the lovechild of Lex Luthor and Doctor Strange from Marvel Comics – he’s just a tall goofy-looking establishment Republican who could work well with Mitch McConnell up in Washington. Then the next election came – the Republican primary that would decide who would run against any hopeless jerk the Democrats would come up with, who would surely lose. McConnell wanted Strange to win that primary. Donald Trump agreed.

So far, so good, but the voters disagreed. Steve Bannon, who at that point had been tossed out of the White House by John Kelly, disagreed. The voters wanted Roy Moore – the former Alabama state judge twice elected to and twice removed from the Alabama Supreme Court, over that statue of the Ten Commandments and then for refusing to recognize the Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage, the founder and president of the Foundation for Moral Law, who says this is a Christian and Christians-only nation, who wants to make homosexual acts of any kind a felony and rid the nation of immigrants, or at least non-white immigrants, and who likes to wave his little pistol around when he speaks – no one will ever take HIS gun away. Moore doesn’t give a damn what any liberal snowflake thinks of him.

Alabama voters loved it. Steve Bannon loved it – this guy was the future of the Republican Party, a defiant antiestablishment man-of-the-people cultural nationalist who doesn’t give a damn what any liberal snowflake thinks about anything at all. Roy Moore was more Donald Trump than even Donald Trump. Roy Moore won easily.

Donald Trump changed his tune. Roy Moore was just fine. Mitch McConnell and all the Washington Republicans changed their tune. They all endorsed Roy Moore in the upcoming general election. They knew his Neanderthal politics might ruin the party, if not contained, but he could be contained. Alabama was Alabama, not all of America. It was possible to sigh and shrug at Alabama – but Roy Moore would vote for tax cuts and all the rest. He’d do, even if he kept saying that the Bible supersedes the Constitution and the law – always. That might make his Oath of Office a bit problematic, but he would do – and Steve Bannon was grinning. The Republican Party was his now. He had forced the Republican Party to accept his racist anti-gay anti-everything cultural nationalist as one of their own.

So far, so good, but then the Washington Post dug around a bit. When he was in his thirties, Roy Moore used to date teenage girls, and he had groped more than a few of them, and one of them had been fourteen, and they all went on record. Yes, he had done that. Then more women spoke to more news organizations. He had stalked teenage girls. He had molested more than a few – and the Republicans up in Washington panicked. His candidacy became a national emergency for the Republican Party, which was already a bit panicked about its standing with voters. It was bad enough being seen as the party of the absurdly wealthy and large corporations, out to screw the poor and the middle class to keep their party’s donors happy, pretending that their odd tax cuts at the top and takeaways at the bottom would really help everyone. Now they would be seen as the party of child molesters – or at best, since there had been only one fourteen-year-old, the party of stalking and sexual assault against women.

Donald Trump was no help. There was that “Access Hollywood” tape. He had bragged about grabbing women by the pussy. He could do anything. He was famous. They’d let him do anything. He had gloated about that, so he’s said nothing much about Roy Moore. He had said the sixteen women who had finally accused him of sexual assault, on the record, were all liars. Roy Moore has said the same thing about the nine women who have now accused him of sexual assault – they’re all liars too. This is a bit awkward – and this same Donald Trump once bragged that he used to walk in on underage teen girls at his “teen” beauty pageants when they were changing, and he saw them all naked, and he loved it, and he could do that, because he owned those beauty pageants. That’s a bit awkward too. There’s nothing that Donald Trump can say about Roy Moore.

So, one thing led to another. Trump named Senator Jeff Session his attorney general, and Sessions’ Senate seat fell open – a safe seat, in Alabama – and then, somehow, the Republican Party was forced to accept a racist anti-gay anti-everything cultural nationalist as one of their own – to Steve Bannon’s delight – and then, somehow, the Republican Party became the party of child molesters and dirty old men, led by a dirty old man in the White House. Trump’s past came back to haunt the party. Some unfortunate outcomes, in retrospect, are inevitable.

Some unfortunate outcomes are unacceptable. Cristina Cabrera reports this:

Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) isn’t beating around the bush.

The Arizona senator was caught telling Mesa Mayor John Giles on a live mic, “If we become the party of Roy Moore and Donald Trump, we are toast” during a Friday night event.

Apparently having zero regrets about his remark, Flake tweeted on Saturday, “No news here. I’ve been saying this to anyone who will listen.”

He was right about that:

Flake has been a vocal critic of President Donald Trump, one of very few within the Republican Party, which culminated in a withering retirement speech aimed at the party leader on October 24.

“When the next generation asks us, ‘why didn’t you do something? Why didn’t you speak up?’ What are we going to say?” he asked. “Mr. President, I rise today to say, enough.”

In response to the speech, the White House said Flake’s retirement is “probably a good move.”

Flake has also spoken out against Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, who faces a growing number of accusations alleging sexual assault and misconduct with teenage girls.

“Just to be clear… If the choice is between Roy Moore and a Democrat, I would run to the polling place to vote for the Democrat,” Flake tweeted.

Trump could not let this stand:

President Trump tweeted Sunday that Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) will vote “NO on tax cuts because his political career anyway is ‘toast.'” He tweeted: “Sen. Jeff Flake(y), who is unelectable in the Great State of Arizona (quit race, anemic polls) was caught (purposely) on ‘mike’ saying bad things about your favorite President.”

That was the exchange. The party of Roy Moore and Donald Trump is toast! No, Jeff, YOU’RE toast! America, Jeff Flake is saying bad things about your favorite president!

Others saw something else:

A leading figure among religious liberals says the candidacy of Roy Moore for U.S. Senate is a struggle for the “soul of the nation.”

The remarks on Saturday by the Rev. William J. Barber come a day after a letter signed by dozens of progressive pastors in Alabama said Moore – dogged by recent allegations of inappropriate conduct toward teenage girls, decades ago – is unfit to serve.

Barber, former head of the North Carolina NAACP, spoke at an anti-Moore rally at the Tabernacle Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, that drew more than 100 people. The event was in direct contrast to a news conference Thursday during which religious conservatives expressed their commitment to Moore, who describes himself as a conservative Christian who hues to family values…

Signs carried by Moore opponents at Saturday’s rally decried his opposition to gay and transgender rights. Moore was also criticized for opposing federally backed health care, assistance for the needy and more.

Barber and other speakers claimed Moore’s campaign is fueled by a perversion of Christianity linked with white supremacy, and Moore is trying to take those forces to the Senate.

There was no discussion of toast, even in the local newspapers:

Three of Alabama’s largest newspapers owned by the same company on Sunday urged voters to “stand for decency” and “reject” Alabama Republican Roy Moore in the state’s Dec. 12 Senate special election…

The editorial appeared on the front pages of The Birmingham News, Mobile Press-Register and The Huntsville Times, which are owned by the Alabama Media Group. The editorial is also featured at the top of the papers’ website, AL.com.

The editorial was straightforward enough:

“This election has become a referendum on whether we will accept this kind of behavior from our leaders,” the editorial said, urging voters to instead support Democrat Doug Jones in next month’s election for the seat Republican Jeff Sessions vacated to serve as President Donald Trump’s attorney general.

“How can we look our neighbors, our parishioners, our colleagues, our partners, or our children in the eyes and tell them they are worth less than ensuring one political party keeps a Senate seat?” it continued. “How can we expect young Alabamians to have faith in their government or their church, when its leaders equivocate on matters as clear cut as sexual abuse?”

“A vote for Roy Moore sends the worst kind of message to Alabamians struggling with abuse: ‘if you ever do tell your story, Alabama won’t believe you,'” the editorial said.

Moore said all those women were lying. Trump said all those other women were lying. Women lie. Everyone knows this, but that’s not all that everyone knows:

The New York Times published a story Saturday detailing Moore’s behavior and frequent visits to a mall in Gadsden, Alabama, when he was in his 30s. The paper quoted Glenn Day, a store manager at the mall in those years, who said that a mall guard asked him to let security know whenever he saw Moore on the premises.

“I can’t believe there’s such an outcry now,” Day told the Times, “about something everybody knew.”

That’s the problem now — what everyone now knows – and the current Alabama Republican governor, Kay Ivey, when asked about her vote for that Senate seat, had this to say:

I’m going to cast my ballot on December the 12th, and I do believe the nominee of the party is the one I’ll vote for. I believe in the Republican Party, what we stand for, and most important, we need to have a Republican in the United States Senate to vote on things like the Supreme Court justices, other appointments the Senate has to confirm and make major decisions. So that’s what I plan to do, vote for Republican nominee Roy Moore.

The Washington Post’s conservative scold, Jennifer Rubin, has this to say about that:

So, she doesn’t believe the women, right? Nope. She said: “I certainly have no reason to disbelieve any of them. The timing is a little curious. But at the same time, I have no reason to disbelieve them.” So, what does she think of the conduct he is accused of committing? “There’s never an excuse for or rationale for sexual misconduct or sexual abuse. It bothers me.” But not enough to put someone she concedes may be a child sex predator in the U.S. Senate. Because … well the courts! Tax cuts!

Rubin seems to understand why Jeff Flake said that a Roy Moore and Donald Trump party is toast:

Ivey says she believes in what the Republican Party stands for. That would be supporting alleged child predators for office? Electing liars (she believes the women, not Moore’s denial) to the Senate? This is the final result of years of win-at-all-cost politics in which no evil (child molestation? murder?) compares to the “evil” of electing a perfectly competent, patriotic member of the other party to office.

When I think of a group that might be called, “Republicans against Predators in Elections” (or whatever), you realize that would now be seen as controversial, an attack on the president. And that’s the nub of the problem.

The party is toast:

Republicans will tell you they support Moore and Trump as vehicles to policy goals. That assumes (falsely) that their policy goals are noble when they are actually unrealistic, unpopular, inconsistent and un-conservative. Run up the debt, say the fiscal hawks. Take away health-care coverage say the GOP “reformers.” Ban Muslims, round up Dreamers and slash legal immigration say the “Constitutional conservatives” and “market capitalists.” Worst of all: Vote for “values,” say the charlatans who backed Trump.

That is the Republican Party now:

In truth, the goals these Republicans care about, if they ever did, have long ago been sublimated (they certainly changed them entirely) to the goal of holding power, of winning. When that is the highest calling they’ll vote for alleged child predators, racists and just about anyone else with an “R” next to his or her name. The result is moral chaos, political malfeasance and gross incompetence. And a President Trump.

Rubin would prefer that her Republican Party adopt these simple rules:

An alleged sexual predator/abuser (whose actions are confirmed by reliable accusations and surrounding facts) should not be eligible for the party’s nomination in a House or Senate race. If elected, the person should be expelled from office by the Ethics Committee.

The party should do everything in its power, including support for a third candidate or a write-in, to prevent the alleged predator/abuser from winning.

If the conduct occurs in office, expulsion is the only appropriate remedy.

If the conduct predated the accused lawmaker’s time in office but is discovered once he is in office (as in the Al Franken situation), the Ethics Committee should consider a full range of options, including expulsion. At the very least, the accused should not be supported for reelection. Parties can and should expel individuals from the party, which is a voluntary association. They can deny anyone the privilege of caucusing with their party or getting assigned to committees.

But that, of course, leads to a different place:

Now, if that seems reasonable, why should the same standard not apply to the president?

In the case of Trump, consider what the appropriate course of action should have been:

Once the mound of allegations came out (from nearly 20 women) the party should have declared him ineligible for nomination. Again, given the voluntary association, it could have excluded him from debates, denied him the ballot line and at the convention taken appropriate measures to release delegates and select an alternative candidate if he had still managed to get a majority of delegates.

If Trump managed to get on the ballot in the general election, the party should have done everything humanly possible, including support a third-party or independent conservative candidate, to ensure he was not elected.

Those steps would have prevented Trump – unfit on these and other grounds – from reaching office.

Of course it’s too late for that, so there’s only this:

What about now that Trump is in office? Impeachment does not seem to be applicable to conduct before election that was known to voters (although more compelling evidence that comes to light in office might be considered). However, other actions, such as censure, are possible. And certainly Trump is unfit on multiple grounds and has committed conduct that should properly be considered in good faith as impeachable conduct

But at the very least, the GOP going forward cannot support for reelection a candidate against whom so many credible complaints of sexual predation have been launched. There is no moral justification for doing so. There is no political barrier to declaring that henceforth, people of Trump’s ilk cannot run under the GOP’s banner.

Otherwise, the party really is toast.

But is Donald Trump toast? That’s a bit more complicated, and the Associated Press’ Nancy Benac and Calvin Woodward address that:

“You can do anything,” Donald Trump once boasted, speaking of groping and kissing unsuspecting women. Maybe he could, but not everyone can…

Now, as one prominent figure after another takes a dive, the question remains: Why not Trump?

There are several answers to that question:

“A lot of people who voted for him recognized that he was what he was, but wanted a change and so they were willing to go along,” theorizes Jessica Leeds, one of the first women to step forward and accuse Trump of groping her, decades ago on an airplane.

The charges leveled against him emerged in the supercharged thick of the 2016 campaign, when there was so much noise and chaos that they were just another episode for gobsmacked voters to try to absorb – or tune out. “When you have a Mount Everest of allegations, any particular allegation is very hard to get traction on,” says political psychologist Stanley Renshon.

And Trump’s unconventional candidacy created an entirely different set of rules.

“Trump is immune to the laws of political physics because it’s not his job to be a politician, it’s his job to burn down the system,” says Eric Dezenhall, a crisis management expert in Washington.

Now Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, accused of assaulting teenage girls when he was in his 30s, is waving that same alternative rulebook.

Moore does want to burn down the system, but it seems Trump has changed his mind about that:

Trump did support moves by the national Republican Party to cut off money for Moore. But he hasn’t said whether he still backs Moore’s candidacy.

Spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders, pressed repeatedly on the matter this week, would say only that Trump “thinks that the people of Alabama should make the decision on who their next senator should be.”

As for the allegations against Moore, Sanders said Trump finds them “very troubling.”

Why? Why this time? And then there’s Bill Clinton too:

Allegations of womanizing, extramarital affairs and abuse dogged Clinton over the course of his political life, culminating in his 1998 impeachment – and acquittal – over his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. He also agreed to an $850,000 settlement with Arkansas state worker Paula Jones, who had accused him of exposing himself and making indecent propositions when he was governor. The settlement included no apology or admission of guilt.

Leading feminists and Democratic-leaning groups stayed loyal to him throughout – though some are rethinking that stance now.

Still, that might not matter:

Even in the current charged environment, when every new allegation can produce screaming headlines, Trump may well be able to go his own way – and take a hands-off approach to Moore.

“Trump’s base likes him when he’s gratuitously ornery: Insulting war heroes, Gold Star families and the disabled have all been good for him, so what does he gain by strongly opining on Moore?” asks Dezenhall. “There’s nothing that I can see, so as a guideline, he doesn’t need to do all that much.”

In other words, so far, so good – but for how much longer can Trump do not much at all? One thing leads to another when it shouldn’t. This started out as a simple thing. Promote Jeff Sessions. A Senate seat then falls open – a safe seat, in Alabama – insert an appropriate Republican – but some unfortunate outcomes, in retrospect, really are inevitable. Everyone knows that, now.

Posted in End of the Republican Party, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Religious Reclamation

All the polling is clear – Americans are turning away from religion, and as the visibility of nonreligious people increases, more and more Americans will just give up on all the talk of who is good and who is evil – all that irritating “holier than thou” stuff. That’s tiresome. Most current religious leaders don’t seem all that holy anyway – just wealthy and smug. No one wants to be scolded by the smug, and there’s the son of Ronald Reagan with his television ads for the Freedom from Religion Foundation – “Ron Reagan, lifelong atheist, not afraid of burning in hell.”

On the other hand, there are the defenders or Roy Moore:

Roy Moore, the Alabama Republican currently facing calls to end his Senate bid amid allegations of sexual misconduct with teenagers, was given a hero’s welcome Thursday by religious activists in Birmingham, Alabama, who blamed the news media for their candidate’s troubles…

Alan Keyes, chairman of Renew America and a former Senate and presidential candidate, said, “I stand with Judge Roy Moore, because he never leaves God out.” … Rabbi Nolson Shmul Leiter, of Help Rescue Our Children and Torah Jews for Decency, said that Roy Moore was working on behalf of religious leaders by standing up to “homosexualist gay terrorists” and “the LGBT transgender mafia.”

 THAT should settle matters, or so they say, but there are the defenders of Al Franken:

Shoplifting is not as bad as grand theft. Assault is not as bad as murder. Saying this doesn’t imply approval of either shoplifting or assault; it’s merely a statement of uncontroversial fact. Likewise, not all sexual abuse is equal. Harvey Weinstein’s rap sheet includes dozens of accusations of groping, forced massages, and possibly rape. Louis C. K. masturbated in front of actresses multiple times. Roy Moore routinely chased after high school girls when he was in his 30s and appears to have aggressively assaulted at least two of them.

By contrast, Franken thought he was joking around but went farther than he should have. It’s no whitewash to say that this is a considerably lesser offense. But if the only response we have to any kind of sexual abuse is to insist on resignation from office and expulsion from public life – mostly to protect our own reputations – we are not acting with any sense of proportionality.

Each side really doesn’t understand the other side, but it doesn’t have to be that way. There are religious leaders who’d rather not defend Moore or Franken. They’d like to take their religion back from the likes of Alan Keyes and Rabbi Nolson Shmul Leiter.

They understand the problem, and one of those religious leaders is Russell Moore, the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. He’s also the author of Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel – “As Christianity seems increasingly strange, and even subversive, to our culture, we have the opportunity to reclaim the freakishness of the gospel, which is what gives it its power in the first place.”

Russell Moore wants to make Christianity strange again, in a good way, and he offers this analysis of the current moral standoff in America:

There’s a common denominator among Democrats and Republicans uneasy about the stories surrounding Sen. Al Franken and Senate candidate Roy Moore. Even those who are willing to speak consistently about both know that they will face fury from some in their respective bases who will tell them they shouldn’t do anything to jeopardize “our side.” This is a dangerous and reckless game, for all of us.

The problem is not that people are unwilling to make moral judgments. The moral relativists become moral absolutists in a moment, across social media or on cable television, and vice versa, and then both revert back again. This shifting of rhetoric isn’t even about differing views of the issues in question.

In short, there’s a lot of nonsense in the air at the moment:

Many progressives will denounce loudly the moral violations of conservatives, sometimes with all the moral certainty of a fire-and-brimstone preacher. Many conservatives who have spoken loudly about virtue and integrity will retreat to “Well, what about the other side?” when the question is about one of their own, with all the relativism of a postmodern deconstructionist in a faculty lounge.

Moore doesn’t like where this is headed:

This ought to alarm all of us, wherever we stand on the political spectrum, because it is an apocalyptic moment in American life – if we define “apocalypse” rightly as a revelation, pulling back the curtain on what has been unseen but present. What we are seeing is that politics is not about putting principles to work for the task of statecraft. Politics is more like a video game, in which the various players adopt parties and politicians as avatars of the self.

And one thing leads to another:

When this is true, it becomes easy enough to deify those on “our side,” because we never even seriously consider whether charges against them might be true. It’s all just incoming pseudo-warfare from the “other side.” That’s why – regardless of whether on the left or the right – many are willing to believe elaborate conspiracies are behind any suggestion of impropriety by someone on their “team.” The character issue doesn’t need to be worked through at all, if one already knows that those who are part of my tribe are saints and those who are part of the other are demons. That’s settled. The issues then are just used insofar as they are useful as footnotes to those already existing pledges of allegiance.

Moore then suggests that this leads to nothing but trouble:

Everyone in American life at least pretends to believe in some objective moral norms. When forced to choose, though, between the objectivity of morality and the idolatry of politics, morality loses, more often than not. This is dangerous because, for one thing, it props up very serious predation on the part of leaders who know that, no matter what they do, there will be at least a fervent cloud of witnesses for their integrity, no matter the evidence to the contrary.

But even apart from the very serious moral damage, the crisis here is one that ultimately will undo even what the enabling moral relativists seem to care most about – their ideological movements. Once the next generation comes to see that progressives don’t really care about “social justice” or that conservatives don’t really care about “family values” except as rhetorical tools, they will walk away, toward something else. Note the collapsing trust in institutions, seen in virtually every survey of younger Americans. Many factors account for this, but one driving factor is cynicism, the idea that institutions are just about keeping power for those who already have it.

If so, Moore argues, the answer to all this cynicism is a simple acknowledgement that some things are right and some things are just wrong:

Moral clarity is its own justification. As an evangelical Christian, I believe we will all give an account at the judgment seat of God. But you don’t have to agree with me on that to see something of what’s at stake when the next generation comes to think that the society around them believes in nothing. When conscience means nothing, all that is left is power. The result is nihilism that, history has shown us, ends up nowhere good.

So this is easy. A thirty-year-old man groping a fourteen-year-old girl is wrong. See, that isn’t so hard. Russell Moore is obviously not related to Judge Roy Moore in any way. The two of them aren’t even distant cousins. Russell Moore wants to take back “Christianity” from the likes of Roy Moore – “Christian, if you cannot say definitively, no matter what, that adults creeping on teenage girls is wrong, do not tell me how you stand against moral relativism.”

On the other hand, there’s Jim Wallis – the president and founder of Sojourners and part of the often-overlooked evangelical left and the wider Christian left (there are such folks) and a “spiritual advisor” to President Barack Obama for those unusual eight years that Obama was in office. Wallis says forget Roy Moore. If Christians want to recover their former status in society, then deal with the real problem. The real problem is Donald Trump:

Many traditions in the history of Christianity have attempted to combat and correct the worship of three things: money, sex and power. Catholic orders have for centuries required “poverty, chastity, and obedience” as disciplines to counter these three idols. Other traditions, especially among Anabaptists in the Reformation, Pentecostals and revival movements down through the years have spoken the language of simplicity in living, integrity in relationships and servanthood in leadership. All of our church renewal traditions have tried to provide authentic and more life-giving alternatives to the worship of money, sex and power – which can be understood and used in healthy ways when they are not given primacy in one’s life.

President Trump is an ultimate and consummate worshiper of money, sex and power. American Christians have not really reckoned with the climate he has created in our country and the spiritual obligation we have to repair it. As a result, the soul of our nation and the integrity of the Christian faith are at risk.

In short, American Christians will never be taken seriously if they stand behind this guy:

Trump’s adulation of money and his love for lavish ostentation (he covers everything in gold) are the literal worship of wealth by someone who believes that his possessions belong only to himself, instead of that everything belongs to God and we are its stewards. In 2011, before his foray into politics, Trump said, “Part of the beauty of me is that I’m very rich.” And in his 2015 speech announcing his candidacy for president, he said: “I’m really rich. And by the way, I’m not even saying that in a braggadocio – that’s the kind of mind-set, that’s the kind of thinking you need for this country.” Later, during the campaign, Trump suggested that our country must “be wealthy in order to be great.”

Wallis sees that at play now:

Lately, faith leaders have spoken out against the proposed Republican budgets and tax plans. The Circle of Protection, a group of leaders from all the major branches of Christianity, of which I am a part, said in a letter to Congress: “We care deeply about many issues facing our country and world, but ending persistent hunger and poverty is a top priority that we all share. These are biblical and gospel issues for us, not just political or partisan concerns. In Matthew 25, Jesus identified himself with those who are immigrants, poor, sick, homeless and imprisoned, and challenged his followers to welcome and care for them as we would care for Jesus himself.” The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, too, has rejected the tax plan, calling it “unacceptable as written” and “unconscionable in parts” as it would enrich the wealthy and shortchange the middle class and the poor. And yet, much Christian support for Trump and his administration continues.

Then there’s sex. Before Trump, Republicans liked to suggest that theirs was a fairly Puritanical party of family values with high standards for its candidates (despite many embarrassing exceptions). But Trump’s boastful treatment of women – including bragging in a video about grabbing their genitals – and his serial infidelity and adultery are clear evidence of his idolatrous worship of sex.

And then there’s race:

When 81 percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump despite his blatant and constant use of racial bigotry for his own political interest, it showed that the operative word in the phrase “white Christian” is “white” and not “Christian.” When white Christians say they did not vote for Trump because of his bigotry but for other reasons, faith leaders of color answer with a damning question: His racial bigotry wasn’t a deal-breaker for you?

And then there’s the Sin of Pride:

Week after week Trump reveals that his leadership is always and only about himself, not the people, the country or even his party – and certainly not about godliness. During his recent whirlwind trip through Asia, for instance, he bragged constantly about his red carpet treatment, and seemed to thrive on the attention and flattery while putting precious little effort into diplomacy. (“They were all watching,” Trump gushed of people who he said called him in droves to congratulate him on the splendor of his visit to China. “Nothing you can see is so beautiful.”) The conflicts between his money, power and governing are always resolved in the same way – by his selfishness; by whatever happens to appeal to him, and only him, in that moment.

And then there’s a bigger issue:

All leaders struggle with these temptations, and public figures must wrestle with them the most. Christians, rightly enough, have never expected perfect leaders – just those who can keep up their end of the moral struggle. But for Trump, there is no moral struggle. He is not immoral – knowing what is right and wrong, and choosing the wrong – he rather seems amoral: lacking any kind of moral compass for his personal or professional life. That’s why the Christian compromise with Trump and his ilk has put faithful Americans at such serious risk.

Wallis argues that this has to stop:

Central to the health of our society is for American Christians to rescue an authentic, compassionate and justice-oriented faith from the clutches of partisan abuse, and from the idolatry of money, sex and power. The word “repentance” in Christian, Jewish and Islamic traditions means much more than feeling sorry about the past; it also means “turning around” to equity and healing personally, and systemically in our institutions of policing and criminal justice, education, economics, voting rights, immigration and refugees, racial geography, housing, and more. Making repentance practical is the spiritual task ahead.

That’s a tall order. American Christians may not be able to rescue an authentic, compassionate and justice-oriented faith from the clutches of partisan abuse – not these days. It might be too late for that kind of religious reclamation.

But there was that New York Times op-ed by an evangelical law professor from Alabama, William S. Brewbaker III, who argued this:

To begin with, sin is a problem from which no one is exempt. If God’s love required the suffering and death of the Son of God in order to redeem us, we should not underestimate the consequences of sin in our own lives. The world is not divided into “good people” and “bad people”; to quote St. Paul, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Or, as the Russian novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote “the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts.”

It is thus wrong to attack one’s critics, as Mr. Moore did recently on Twitter, as “the forces of evil” and attribute their questions about serious allegations to “a spiritual battle.”

Andrew Sullivan, the British-born gay Roman Catholic traditional (think Edmund Burke not Sean Hannity) conservative public intellectual is fine with that:

This is not just an evangelical truth. It is deeply embedded in all of Christianity. No party, no cause, no struggle, however worthy, is ever free from evil. No earthly cause is entirely good. And to believe with absolute certainty that you are on “the right side of history,” or on the right side of a battle between “good and evil,” is a dangerous and seductive form of idolatry. It flatters yourself. And it will lead you inevitably to lose your moral bearings because soon, you will find yourself doing and justifying things that are evil solely because they advance the cause of the “good.” These compromises can start as minor and forgivable trade-offs; but they compound over time. In the Catholic Church, the conviction that the institution could do no wrong, that its reputation must endure because it represented the right side in the struggle against evil, led to the mass rape of children and teens.

The religious right’s embrace of Trump is of a similar trope. It is not some kind of aberration in the transformation of a faith into a worldly and political cause. It is its logical consequence. The Christian right’s support for a sociopathic, cruel, and vulgar pagan was inevitable, in other words, from the moment the Moral Majority was born. If politics is fused with religion, and if your opponents are deemed evil, then almost anything can be justified to defeat them. Sooner or later, you’ll find yourself defending the molestation of a minor – which is why I have long refused to call this political movement Christian, but Christianist. It is not about faith; it is about power.

Sullivan also doesn’t expect an authentic, compassionate and justice-oriented faith to pop up anytime soon, or ever. Jim Wallis is an outlier. That evangelical left and wider Christian left may be Wallis and Obama and maybe twenty other people. American Christians have become what Sullivan calls Christianists. There’s no Christian Reclamation Project afoot. There are only unhappy traditional Christians, writing passionate op-eds and a few books that no one reads. And there’s Ron Reagan, the lifelong atheist, not afraid of burning in hell. He’s the winner here.

Posted in Politicizing Religion, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Now Burning in Hell

There are “scientific Americans” – those who prefer to rely on facts and evidence and reason – and there are “religious Americans” – those willing to take the word of God on all things in life – and each side really doesn’t understand the other side. But that may be too stark a distinction. Americans who prefer to rely on facts and evidence and reason are often Americans of faith, in some things. Those willing to take the word of God on all things in life really don’t take the word of God on everything – they rely on facts and evidence and reason when necessary, or when God seems to have no opinion on this or that. Still, there is a distinction, and writing in Scientific American (of course) Allen Downey reviews how this is working out:

Since 1990, the fraction of Americans with no religious affiliation has nearly tripled, from about 8 percent to 22 percent. Over the next 20 years, this trend will accelerate: by 2020, there will be more of these “Nones” than Catholics, and by 2035, they will outnumber Protestants…

Among people born before 1940, a large majority are Protestant, only 20–25 percent are Catholic, and very few are Nones or Others. But these numbers have changed rapidly in the last few generations: among people born since 1980, there are more Nones than Catholics, and among the youngest adults, there may already be more Nones than Protestants.

The rest is a deep dive into the polling data with lots of charts and graphs – this is Scientific American after all – but the polling data is clear. Americans are turning away from religion, and Downey says that the predictions that this will accelerate are actually conservative:

Survey results like these are subject to social desirability bias, which is the tendency of respondents to shade their answers in the direction they think is more socially acceptable. To the degree that apostasy is stigmatized, we expect these reports to underestimate the number of Nones. As the visibility of nonreligious people increases, they might be more willing to be counted; in that case, the trends would go faster than predicted.

The trends for Protestants and Nones have apparent points of inflection near 1990. Predictions that include earlier data are likely to underestimate future trends. If we use only data since 1990 to generate predictions, we expect the fraction of Nones to exceed 40 percent within 20 years.

And the visibility of nonreligious people is increasing. There’s the son of Ronald Reagan:

For the first time, an ad inviting viewers to join the Freedom from Religion Foundation is airing on multiple cable news networks. The 30 second spot features Ron Reagan proudly proclaiming his atheist views. It originally aired in 2014, but had been refused by CBS, NBC, ABC and Discovery.

They’re airing it now, although the Freedom from Religion Foundation doesn’t have much of a budget, so it doesn’t pop up that often – but when it does pop up it’s a bit startling. America is changing, and that upsets those on the other side of things:

Michael Reagan, the adopted son of the late President Ronald Reagan, is boycotting MSNBC and CNN for airing the commercial featuring his atheist brother. Now a conservative commentator, Michael Reagan took to Twitter to denounce the ad and called for a boycott of media outlets running it. He said his father was “crying in heaven” about Ron’s endorsement of the atheistic organization.

His father is also dead. Things have changed, and the ad is pretty straightforward:

“I’m Ron Reagan, an unabashed atheist, and I’m alarmed by the intrusions of religion into our secular government,” Ron Reagan says in the ad.

“That’s why I’m asking you to support the Freedom from Religion Foundation, the nation’s largest and most effective association of atheists and agnostics, working to keep state and church separate, just like our Founding Fathers intended.”

He ends the ad with a wry smile, saying, “Ron Reagan, lifelong atheist, not afraid of burning in hell.”

A little humor helps. Irony helps. God knows all those “unscientific” Americans are blissfully unaware of irony – because, after all, God knows everything. These people are tiresome. They may be the ones who burn in hell:

The Department of Homeland Security’s head of outreach to religious and community organizations resigned on Thursday after audio recordings revealed that he had previously made incendiary remarks about African-Americans and Muslims while speaking on radio shows.

In a 2008 clip, the Rev. Jamie Johnson, who was appointed by the Trump administration to lead the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, told radio listeners that the black community had “turned America’s major cities into slums because of laziness, drug use and sexual promiscuity.” He also said black people were anti-Semitic because they were jealous of Jewish people, according to audio posted by CNN.

A Homeland Security official confirmed Mr. Johnson’s resignation after CNN published the audio on Thursday. John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, had appointed Mr. Johnson to the department in April during his brief tenure as secretary of Homeland Security.

Oops. God is love. This guy was something else:

In additional audio clips individually recorded between 2011 and 2016, Mr. Johnson attacked Islam, saying on the “Mickelson in the Morning” radio show and other programs that “Muslims want to cut our heads off,” that Islam is “an ideology posing as a religion” and that President George W. Bush made a mistake by calling it a religion of peace.

In another audio clip, Mr. Johnson also said he agreed with the conservative author Dinesh D’Souza that “all that Islam has ever given us is oil and dead bodies over the last millennia and a half.”

That wasn’t in the job description:

As the director of the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, which was created in 2006 after Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma, Mr. Johnson went to disaster areas to help the Federal Emergency Management Agency with faith-based outreach. He also represented the department and FEMA in regular speeches at conferences, churches, schools and civic groups, according to his biography on the department website.

Americans are turning away from religion, for good reason:

“The DHS Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships is driven by one simple, enduring, inspirational principle,” Mr. Johnson wrote on his account’s inaugural post eight months ago. “LOVE THY NEIGHBOR.”

Somewhere, Ron Reagan is smiling. But Jamie Johnson is gone now. That was inevitable. He actually hated his “neighbors” and should have just kept him mouth shut, and that seems to be a general problem:

First daughter Ivanka Trump’s harsh statement about Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore drew some backlash from Breitbart this week.

Breitbart editor-in chief Alex Marlow said the first daughter and adviser should stay quiet, especially given the allegations against her father.

On Thursday’s edition of SiriusXM Patriot’s Breitbart News Daily, he implied that it wasn’t Ivanka’s place to comment.

“Right, especially when there’s been so many allegations against President Trump,” he said.

During the 2016 campaign, fifteen or twenty women said that Donald Trump had groped them or whatever. They had dates and times. They had witnesses. Donald Trump said each and every one of them was a liar. He said he’d sue them all – but course he didn’t. His attorneys probably explained the process of discovery to him. All of the details would be trotted out – in court, on the record. He’d have to explain away all of that, detail by detail, in court, on the record. That’s would transfix the nation for months. That would keep that whole mess alive, no matter who proved what. That would be a disaster.

Donald Trump’s attorneys seem to have told him to just keep his mouth shut, so he did, but his daughter is another matter:

Ivanka Trump spoke out on the allegations against Moore in an interview with the Associated Press earlier this week.

“There’s a special place in hell for people who prey on children,” Ivanka Trump said. “I’ve yet to see a valid explanation, and I have no reason to doubt the victims’ accounts.”

She has no reason to doubt the victims’ accounts? What about those fifteen or twenty women and her father? Ivanka, shut up! What were you thinking?

It’s also hard to see what these people were thinking:

Roy Moore, the Alabama Republican currently facing calls to end his Senate bid amid allegations of sexual misconduct with teenagers, was given a hero’s welcome Thursday by religious activists in Birmingham, Alabama, who blamed the news media for their candidate’s troubles.

But even as he was embraced by supporters in Alabama, the White House moved to put Moore at some distance.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, when asked if President Trump’s endorsement of Moore still stood, said, “If the allegations are true,” Moore “should step aside.”

What about him? Should Donald Trump step aside? This gets tricky:

Trump himself has not addressed the latest sexual misconduct allegations against Moore. Asked directly if the president believes Moore should end his campaign, Huckabee Sanders said only, “The president believes that these allegations are very troubling and should be taken seriously, and he thinks that the people of Alabama should make their decision on who their next senator should be.”

In short, he decided to keep his mouth shut, but facts are facts:

Four women in total have come forward to accuse Moore of pursuing them sexually when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s. One said she was just 14 at the time he brought her to his home and touched her over her underwear and guided her to do the same to him. Another, Beverly Young Nelson, alleged he sexually assaulted her. Moore has repeatedly described these accounts as “politically motivated” and threatened a lawsuit against the accusers and the Washington Post.

Two women, Kayla McLaughlin and Gena Richardson, came forward in a Washington Post story published just Wednesday saying that Moore pursued relationships with Richardson while the two were in high school and working at the Gadsden mall. Richardson said Moore gave her an “unwanted, forceful kiss.”

Perhaps those aren’t really facts, but that’s a lot of something, a mountain of parallel stories from women who don’t know each other, so they are certainly not colluding in some great conspiracy against Roy Moore, not that it matters:

Alan Keyes, chairman of Renew America and a former Senate and presidential candidate, said, “I stand with Judge Roy Moore, because he never leaves God out.”

“Roy Moore stands on the premise that when you come to strip away a man’s rights, you spit in the face of God,” Keyes said to the crowd. “If that’s what they’re doing to him, if when the rights of your representative are stripped away, what is the logical conclusion? That you’re rights are stripped away, that your rights are gone.”

Rabbi Nolson Shmul Leiter, of Help Rescue Our Children and Torah Jews for Decency, said that Roy Moore was working on behalf of religious leaders by standing up to “homosexualist gay terrorists” and “the LGBT transgender mafia.”

This is a bit tiresome, and Roy Moore stood up and said this – “We need moral value back in our country.”

And “love your neighbor” too, perhaps, or at least your neighbor’s teenage daughters. Americans are turning away from religion, for good reason, and Alan Keyes is part of that:

On August 8, 2004 – with 86 days to go before the general election – the Illinois Republican Party drafted Alan Keyes to run against Democratic state senator Barack Obama for the U.S. Senate, after the Republican nominee, Jack Ryan, withdrew due to a sex scandal, and other potential draftees (most notably former Illinois governor Jim Edgar and former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka) declined to run. The Washington Post called Keyes a “carpetbagger” since he “had never lived in Illinois.” When asked to answer charges of carpetbagging in the context of his earlier criticism of Hillary Clinton, he called her campaign “pure and planned selfish ambition”, but stated that in his case he felt a moral obligation to run after being asked to by the Illinois Republican Party. “You are doing what you believe to be required by your respect for God’s will, and I think that that’s what I’m doing in Illinois”

God’s will prevailed. Obama won easily, but Keyes was a sore loser:

Keyes declined to congratulate Obama, explaining that his refusal to congratulate Obama was “not anything personal”, but was meant to make a statement against “extending false congratulations to the triumph of what we have declared to be across the line” of reasonable propriety. He said that Obama’s position on moral issues regarding life and the family had crossed that line. “I’m supposed to make a call that represents the congratulations toward the triumph of that which I believe ultimately stands for … a culture evil enough to destroy the very soul and heart of my country? I cannot do this. And I will not make a false gesture,” Keyes said.

And then Alan Keyes disappeared, but not really:

On November 14, 2008, Keyes filed a lawsuit – naming as defendants California Secretary of State Deborah Bowen, President-elect Barack Obama, Vice President-elect Joe Biden, and California’s 55 Democratic electors – challenging Obama’s eligibility for the U.S. Presidency. The suit requested that Obama provide documentation that he is a natural born citizen of the United States.

Following the inauguration, Keyes alleged that President Obama had not been constitutionally inaugurated, refused to call him president, and called him a “usurper” and a “radical communist”. Keyes also claimed that President Obama’s birth certificate had been forged and he was not qualified to be president.

Alan Keyes is exceptionally tiresome, and now he’s defending Roy Moore, but he really should go after the other guy:

During the time of the 2016 presidential election, Keyes emerged as a strong critic of Donald Trump. He criticized many conservative Christians for supporting “a candidate whose life could be used to illustrate the deceitfully seductive quality of sin summarized in the phrase ‘the glamour of evil.'”

Someone should ask Alan Keyes about that now, but no matter. Things shifted the other way:

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) faced swift condemnation and bipartisan calls for an ethics investigation Thursday after he was accused of forcibly kissing and groping a broadcaster and model while traveling overseas in 2006.

The allegations against Franken by Leeann Tweeden, who traveled with him on a USO trip to the Middle East before he was elected to the Senate, comes amid a growing swell of accusations of sexual misconduct by men in powerful positions.

Beloved by liberals for his fierce attacks on President Trump, Franken found few defenders as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) called for the ethics committee to investigate his actions.

“Sexual harassment is never acceptable and must not be tolerated,” Schumer said in a statement.

Maybe so, but Franken isn’t Moore:

On an online essay published Thursday morning, Tweeden wrote that Franken had forced his tongue in her mouth during a rehearsal for a skit and then groped her while she was sleeping during a flight home – a moment that was captured in a photograph.

“You knew exactly what you were doing,” she wrote. “You forcibly kissed me without my consent, grabbed my breasts while I was sleeping and had someone take a photo of you doing it, knowing I would see it later and be ashamed.”

After initially issuing a brief apology for his behavior, Franken released a lengthier statement expressing contrition.

“I’m sorry,” said the senator, who skipped a series of votes Thursday. “I respect women. I don’t respect men who don’t. And the fact that my own actions have given people a good reason to doubt that makes me feel ashamed.”

Unlike Moore, Franken said he did it. He said he shouldn’t have done it. He was sorry. He even suggested that ethics investigation into himself. And that was that:

Tweeden said she accepted Franken’s apology.

“Yes, people make mistakes, and, of course, he knew he made a mistake,” she said at a news conference in Los Angeles, where she works as a radio news anchor for KABC. She said she would leave any disciplinary action up to Senate leaders and was not calling for Franken to step down. “That’s up to them. I’m not demanding that.”

This is what it came down to:

In his statement Thursday, Franken expressed regret for his behavior.

“I don’t know what was in my head when I took that picture, and it doesn’t matter. There’s no excuse,” he said. “I look at it now and I feel disgusted with myself. It isn’t funny. It’s completely inappropriate. It’s obvious how Leeann would feel violated by that picture. And, what’s more, I can see how millions of other women would feel violated by it – women who have had similar experiences in their own lives, women who fear having those experiences, women who look up to me, women who have counted on me.”

Roy Moore would never say something like that, but Ed Kilgore thinks Franken is as good as gone now:

Franken is almost certainly going down, and the only question is whether he can somehow tough it out until the end of his current term in 2020. The odds are very low that he can, particularly since his entire career in politics and comedy is now going to come under fresh scrutiny for misogyny and/or hypocrisy.

Franken is going to burn in hell now, hell on earth in this case, but Kevin Drum says that is wrongheaded:

There are two problems here. The first is that too many liberals feel that they have to respond in a maximal way to every possible incident of sexual harassment, partly to maintain their own “woke” credibility and partly because they want to make sure conservatives can’t accuse them of hypocrisy. The second problem is that we don’t seem to have any good way of talking proportionately about this stuff.

It seems that Drum is one of those who prefer to rely on facts and evidence and reason:

Not all offenses are the same. Shoplifting is not as bad as grand theft. Assault is not as bad as murder. Saying this doesn’t imply approval of either shoplifting or assault; it’s merely a statement of uncontroversial fact. Likewise, not all sexual abuse is equal. Harvey Weinstein’s rap sheet includes dozens of accusations of groping, forced massages, and possibly rape. Louis C. K. masturbated in front of actresses multiple times. Roy Moore routinely chased after high school girls when he was in his 30s and appears to have aggressively assaulted at least two of them.

By contrast, Franken thought he was joking around but went farther than he should have. It’s no whitewash to say that this is a considerably lesser offense. But if the only response we have to any kind of sexual abuse is to insist on resignation from office and expulsion from public life – mostly to protect our own reputations – we are not acting with any sense of proportionality. We need to start. Listen to Leeann Tweeden, folks.

Tweeden said she accepted Franken’s apology. People make mistakes. She forgives him. She may be the true Christian here. It may be that forgiving him could derail the movement to hold sexual predators accountable, but probably not. He’s sorry. But Roy Moore isn’t sorry, and Donald Trump isn’t sorry – and God is on their side. It may be time to join Ron Reagan, the lifelong atheist, not afraid of burning in hell – because there is no hell. There are only guys like Roy Moore and Donald Trump – right here and right now – and that’s hell enough for anyone.

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Death and Taxes for Real

“The subjects of every state ought to contribute towards the support of the government, as nearly as possible, in proportion to their respective abilities.” ~ Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations: An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations

“Taxes are what we pay for civilized society.” ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes

“The difference between death and taxes is death doesn’t get worse every time Congress meets.” ~ Will Rogers

Taxes may be what we pay for civilized society – for roads and bridges and schools, and police and a court system and prisons to keep us safe, and fireman to put out fires, and a bit of air-traffic control, and maybe a Food and Drug Administration and an Environmental Protection Agency, so no one dies needlessly. Taxes are what we pay for a military too, to make sure that we actually have a nation all to ourselves. But not everyone is as happy as Oliver Wendell Holmes about that. Republicans often say much of this can be privatized – the government doesn’t have to pay for it all – taxpayers don’t have to pay for it all. But last summer the amazing plan to privatize the military, or at least all of our war in Afghanistan, somehow fizzled out – the generals told President Trump that was madness – and the concept of privatizing everything doesn’t really do much for taxpayers anyway. The government would still have to pay all those private contractors, with taxpayer money. It may be that the private sector would be better at doing many of these things. Government agencies are sluggish and commercial entities would have to do a great job if they wanted to make a ton of money. If they do a bad job they can be replaced by another contractor – but either way what they do would be funded by American taxpayers. There’s no way around that.

That makes taxes inevitable, like death, and no one likes either. Republicans often say Americans pay too much in taxes, and they want to do something about that – but keep things humming along anyway. That gets tricky. Michele Bachmann was a rising star in the Republican Party once, in that year when the Republicans were deciding which of them had the best chance of making Obama a one-term president – the year of fifteen or so candidates in twenty or so primary debates. She even led in the polls for a bit, because she was so severely conservative. She didn’t make nuanced arguments. She was all in, and in the Republican debate on November 9, 2011, when asked what percentage of their income Americans should pay in taxes, she did go all in:

I think you earned every dollar. You should get to keep every dollar that you earn. That’s your money; that’s not the government’s money. That’s the whole point. Barack Obama seems to think that when we earn money, it belongs to him and we’re lucky just to keep a little bit of it. I don’t think that at all. I think when people make money, it’s their money. Obviously, we have to give money back to the government so that we can run the government, but we have to have a completely different mindset.

She continued to ramble on a bit, but this may have been the ultimate expression of the Republican mindset – Americans should get to keep every dollar that they earn. That’s their money, not the government’s money.

Everyone had heard that before. Taxation is theft, sometimes necessary, unfortunately, to keep the government running, but theft none the less. No one knew what Michele Bachmann had in mind – perhaps a government funded by voluntary contributions and bingo nights and bake sales, and an occasional car wash – but it didn’t matter. She was gone soon enough. She took the argument too far.

That argument, however, never ends. Republicans want tax cuts – everyone but Oliver Wendell Holmes wants tax cuts – but Republicans want to keep things humming along too. That means that the only question is who gets the tax cuts and who doesn’t. Do large corporations and the very wealthy – the job creators – get the tax cuts? That would jump-start the economy, maybe. Do the middle class and those just scraping by get their taxes cuts, because they’d spend the extra new money immediately, making the economy really hum as they buy what they couldn’t buy before? That makes sense too – but it can’t be both. Someone has to pay to keep the country running. Who will it be?

That’s the current question, and the Republicans are now in trouble:

Uncertainty gripped the Senate on Wednesday over efforts to pass a sweeping $1.5 trillion tax cut after a Wisconsin Republican became the first senator in his party to declare that he could not vote for the tax bill as written, and other senators expressed serious misgivings over the cost and effect on the middle class.

The House is set on Thursday to pass its own version of the tax bill, which would cut taxes by more than $1.4 trillion over 10 years and broadly rewrite the business tax code. But as with the health care debate earlier this year, the Senate emerged as the inconstant ally in President Trump’s pursuit of a major legislative accomplishment in his first year.

That’s where the trouble is, and the issue here is a bit arcane:

Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, came out against both chambers’ tax plans on Wednesday, saying that the bills favored corporations over small businesses and other so-called pass-through entities, whose owners pay taxes on profits through the tax code for individuals.

“These businesses truly are the engines of innovation and job creation throughout our economy, and they should not be left behind,” he said in a statement. “Unfortunately, neither the House nor Senate bill provides fair treatment, so I do not support either in their current versions.”

Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Bob Corker of Tennessee have voiced their own concerns about the tax overhaul and have not committed to voting for the tax bill.

Collins and Corker have more general concerns – Collins with legislation hurting the middle class and those just scraping by and Corker with exploding the debt – but it all blends together and involves Obamacare too:

With the House expected to pass its tax legislation, the fate of the overhaul fell into the hands of Republican senators, who grappled with the political prospects of passing a bill that critics said could undermine the health care system and favored companies over the middle class…

Republican and Democratic senators clashed on Wednesday over changes the Republicans had made to their ambitious tax legislation late Tuesday night, including adding a provision to repeal the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that most people have health coverage or pay a penalty. Republicans also made the tax cuts, for individuals, temporary – to comply with Senate procedural rules requiring that the tax plan not add to the deficit after a decade.

Tax cuts for corporations, of course, would be permanent, but the Obamacare thing was a particular mess:

As the Senate Finance Committee continued its formal drafting of the bill, Democrats attacked Republicans for inserting the repeal of the individual mandate and for imposing a 2025 expiration date for individual tax cuts, even as they would make the corporate tax cut permanent.

“This bill seems to get worse by the hour,” said Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee. “This is not just another garden variety attack on the Affordable Care Act; this is repeal of that law.”

Repealing the health law’s individual mandate would allow Republicans to save more than $300 billion over 10 years, giving them more room to cut taxes. According to the Congressional Budget Office, it would also lead to a reduction of 13 million in the number of people with health coverage, and average health insurance premiums on the individual market would rise by about 10 percent.

Some didn’t think those “little people” should pay for tax cuts for large corporations and the very wealthy – the job creators – and there was this:

In the House, the biggest threat comes from Republicans in high-tax states like New York and New Jersey, who have fought to preserve the deduction for state and local taxes. The House bill allows the deduction of up to $10,000 in property taxes, but that provision has not been enough to win over a number of House Republicans…

At least five Republicans from New York and three from New Jersey have come out against the House bill. Republican leaders could also lose votes from at least a few of their members from California, another high-tax state.

“It’s conceivable they could come up with some last-minute numbers that don’t look so bad,” said Representative Dana Rohrabacher, Republican of California. “But I did not go to my constituents and ask them to vote for me in order to increase their tax load, and the bill dramatically increases the tax load on a big chunk of my constituency.”

The Republicans seem to have written off New York and New Jersey and California. Let those people pay for tax cuts for large corporations and the very wealthy. Republicans don’t need their votes to keep the House and Senate and reelect Donald Trump – they have the South and the Rust Belt. They have their solid angry base. New York and New Jersey and California are full of cultural snobs anyway. They sneer at Duck Dynasty and NASCAR racing. They’re a bunch of urban hipsters and opera lovers. Who needs them?

Kevin Drum says that’s a miscalculation:

Republicans plan to make the personal tax cuts temporary and to eliminate Obamacare’s individual mandate. This means the middle class goes from getting a pittance to getting nothing to getting actively screwed because their Obamacare premiums will go up. If Republicans are wondering why a large majority of Americans think their tax plan favors the rich at the expense of the middle class, this is why.

Jonathan Chait puts that another way, arguing the Republicans have now done the impossible, by actually making tax cuts unpopular:

There was a time when liberal professionals, watching in horror as Republican presidents drove the federal budget into a ditch, could at least count on the semi-guilty consolation of a tax break. And I would indeed be happy to have my tax rate raised for the purpose of reducing the deficit or funding important social needs. But the prospect of paying higher taxes in order to finance gigantic tax cuts for much richer people is a novel misery. The comprehensive awfulness of the Trump administration has extended into new terrain.

The Republican government seems hell-bent on this course. When suburban voters in Virginia registered their fury with the majority party earlier this month, with waves of voters in the Washington suburbs giving Democrats shockingly large margins, Republicans in Congress drew the conclusion that voters were impatient for the tax plan to pass. The election result “doesn’t change my reading of the current moment,” a chipper House Speaker Paul Ryan explained. “It just emphasizes my reading of the current moment, which is: We have a promise to keep, and we have to get on with keeping our promise.” Senator Rob Portman agreed: “I think the lesson is: Let’s get some things done.” Josh Holmes, a former chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, called the election result “a reaction to what’s not being done and a warning sign that they need to move. They don’t have any choice but to do the tax plan.”

That seems absurd, but predictable, and comprehensively awful:

It’s hardly surprising that the Republicans are applying their solution to every problem (recession, inflation, wartime, high budget deficit, high budget surplus) to this particular problem. The perverse thing is that this version of a regressive tax cut comes attached to proposals to inflict pain upon the very constituents who are turning against them. The House Republican tax plan would raise taxes on a quarter of all households, including almost half of all middle-class families. It is especially brutal to middle- and upper-middle-class taxpayers in blue states, because it would scale back the federal tax deduction for state and local income taxes. Republicans gleefully conceived of this feature as a scheme to screw over New York, New Jersey, and California (which have higher than average taxes) while raising revenue that they could plow back into corporate tax cuts. But it so happens that these states also contain some of the most politically vulnerable House Republicans. What they designed as an act of sadism turns out to be an act of masochism.

Again, this is a miscalculation:

Republicans have insisted so many times that their majority depends on passing “tax reform” that news reporters have begun repeating it as though it were simple fact. “After the elections, Republicans understand they have to pass a tax bill in order to show a significant accomplishment,” the New York Times reports.

While it stands to reason voters might reward Republicans for passing some bills, there is no evidence they would reward them for passing this one. Trump’s tax-cut plan is unpopular in both its broad strokes and in its particulars. One recent poll found that one-third of the public support it and half oppose it. Sixty percent believe it favors the rich. Majorities of the public believe corporations and high-income individuals should pay more in taxes. They believe the Republican plan would do the opposite, and they’re right.

And it will only get worse:

As a general rule, the longer Congress delves into the legislative morass on any issue, the more the public tends to dislike whatever it comes up with. This rule stands to be especially applicable to the tax plan. If Republicans want to pass a bill with a simple majority – and they need to, since it would be hard to find eight Democratic senators eager to cut taxes on the rich – they need to structure it as a budget-reconciliation bill. But such bills have certain restrictions. The most pertinent one is that they cannot increase the budget deficit outside the time specified in the budget window, which is ten years.

The last big tax cuts, passed under George W. Bush in 2001, solved the problem by abruptly expiring nine years later. But Republicans don’t want to go through another heartbreaking experience of seeing their beloved tax cuts yanked away. They also want to cut corporate taxes, and even if those are temporary, they will cost the government money after the expiration date.

Republicans’ initial solution to this problem was to replace the lost revenue from cutting the corporate income tax with a new tax on imports. Retailers like Walmart objected, and Republicans gave up. In its place they have … very little. Legislators went scrounging through the tax code looking for breaks that struck them as frivolous. They came up with such items as a tax credit to reimburse small businesses that need to create access for disabled employees, a tax credit for hiring veterans, the tuition waivers graduate students receive, and the tax credit for drug companies performing clinical tests for treatment of rare diseases – which, the New York Times explains, is “central to the business model for such firms and eliminating it could mean that big pharmaceutical companies will have little reason to invest in drugs that help small patient populations.”

That was asking for trouble:

All these savings will create deeply sympathetic victims who will be offering testimony in devastating political ads next year. And for their trouble, Republicans have scraped together barely any savings at all. They are raising taxes on nearly half the middle-class families in America. They are inflicting specific punishment on veterans, students, the disabled and very sick. And they still have no idea how to make the couple hundred billion dollars a year in lost revenue disappear after a decade is up.

Chait, however, understands that they’re in a tight spot:

For decades, economic-policy discussion in conservative circles has consisted of rote repetition of a cult-like mantra about the alleged miracle of the Reagan tax cuts, but there is nothing mystical about congressional Republicans’ motivations. Their donors seem especially intent on making Republican control of government count. If tax reform fails, Senator Lindsey Graham recently warned, “The financial contributions will stop.” Representative Chris Collins reported, “My donors are basically saying, ‘Get it done or don’t ever call me again.’ ”

Gary Cohn, the Trump economic adviser who has endured a series of public humiliations in order to have the chance to enact his vision, recently blurted out, “The most excited group out there are big CEOs, about our tax plan.” In a presidency marked by extravagant and continuous lies, it is strange to hear such blunt truths.

Paul Waldman agrees with that:

The Republicans’ theory about their tax-cut bill goes like this. We absolutely have to pass it, or else our base will be disgusted and our donors will abandon us. The substance doesn’t matter – we’ll get it past complex Senate rules, and even if some provisions look troubling, after it passes we can have a triumphal Rose Garden ceremony and proclaim we’ve delivered prosperity for all. In coming months and years, people won’t remember the details, as long as we keep saying “We cut taxes” over and over again.

That theory is going to be put to the test, and I’m pretty sure it’s going to be proven wrong.

That’s because the details matter and Waldman reviews those details:

The Republican tax bill raises taxes on somewhere between 16 million (Senate version) and 47 million (House version) American households; the difference is mostly because the Senate bill doesn’t get rid of as many deductions as the House bill.

Most of the benefits of the tax bill go to the wealthy and corporations.

It may raise taxes on people with large medical expenses, and parents who adopt children, and people with student loans, and graduate students (these provisions are in the House bill, which ends these deductions, but not the Senate bill).

It raises taxes on people who live in states with significant state and local taxes, because it does away with this deduction (in both versions).

Because it eliminates personal exemptions, it raises taxes on many families with multiple children (in both versions).

It will increase insurance premiums and lead to 13 million fewer Americans with health coverage.

It could trigger a $25 billion cut to Medicare because of existing budget rules.

And those details do matter, politically:

Republicans have convinced themselves that no matter how bad the bill is, not passing anything is worse, so the chances that they’ll allow it to fail are small. But when that day comes, Democrats will know that Republicans just gave them yet another powerful issue to run on in 2018. Expect to hear them say, “Republicans have had complete control of Washington for the past two years – and all they did was raise your taxes and yank millions from health coverage so they could lard another giveaway on corporations.”

Something tells me that might be a pretty effective message.

Democrats might even invoke Oliver Wendell Holmes. Taxes are what we pay for civilized society. Tax cuts for only large corporations and the very wealthy, with the middle class and those just scraping by getting hammered, can end civilized society. That old saying was right. There really is a correlation between death and taxes.

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Contrarian Government

fJust enough voters in just the right places were unhappy with just about everything in their lives. They blamed anyone in charge of anything – anyone in power of any kind – for their lot in life. They had it in for all politicians, and that would include establishment Republicans – and Muslims and “Mexicans” and those Black Lives Matter thugs, who want to kill policemen, and Colin Kaepernick, and gays too, and urban hipsters and the fancy-pants experts and goofy scientists and “Hollywood” – whatever that means. They were a bit paranoid. They’d buy into this conspiracy theory or that – maybe Hillary Clinton really did run a child sex-slave operation out of a pizza shop in northern Virginia, and maybe that did involve cannibalism – and the Russians loved it. They had a building full of trolls outside of Moscow, with fake accounts, pretending to be concerned Americans flooding Facebook and Twitter, reinforcing such things. They could cause trouble. They could amplify the unhappiness. They could ramp up the paranoia. They could mess up America, so they did.

They may or may not have intended to get Donald Trump elected president – that would only be an added bonus – but Donald Trump, early on, sensed what was going on. A critical mass of people hated all politicians? He wouldn’t be one. He’d be vulgar and break all the rules. He wouldn’t be reasonable. He’d be ruthless. He’d fed the paranoia. He’d sow chaos. He staged a guerrilla war to take over the Republican Party. The Republican Party never knew what hit them. He won the nomination, and then it was a guerrilla war to take over the government. He won the presidency – by being against everything, even the presidency.

Then things got tricky. Stephen Kinzer once put that this way – “Guerrilla leaders win wars by being paranoid and ruthless. Once they take power, they are expected to abandon those qualities and embrace opposite ones: tolerance, compromise and humility. Almost none manages to do so.”

Donald Trump has not managed to do that. He is, at heart, a contrarian. If everyone agrees something is so, he will say it isn’t so, even if he knows better. Getting him to admit that the Russians meddled in the last election was like pulling teeth. He finally acknowledged that every single one of our intelligence agencies agreed that the Russians did just that, and that there is all sorts of overwhelming evidence that they did, so he grudgingly said that this did happen, finally – but he was clearly not happy saying that. It was the same when he conceded that Obama was born in the United States – a one sentence statement, and he walked away and wouldn’t take questions.

It’s the same with climate change, and this week it was this:

In late 1992, 1,700 scientists from around the world issued a dire “warning to humanity.” They said humans had pushed Earth’s ecosystems to their breaking point and were well on the way to ruining the planet. The letter listed environmental impacts like they were biblical plagues – stratospheric ozone depletion, air and water pollution, the collapse of fisheries and loss of soil productivity, deforestation, species loss and catastrophic global climate change caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

“If not checked,” wrote the scientists, led by particle physicist and Union of Concerned Scientists co-founder Henry Kendall, “many of our current practices put at serious risk the future that we wish for human society and the plant and animal kingdoms, and may so alter the living world that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know.”

But things were only going to get worse. To mark the letter’s 25th anniversary, researchers have issued a bracing follow-up. In a communique published Monday in the journal BioScience, more than 15,000 scientists from 184 countries assess the world’s latest responses to various environmental threats. Once again, they find us sorely wanting.

“Humanity has failed to make sufficient progress in generally solving these foreseen environmental challenges, and alarmingly, most of them are getting far worse,” they write.

More than 15,000 scientists from 184 countries say that. Donald Trump says the opposite. He’s a contrarian and contrarians have fragile ego structures. If a contrarian has to agree with everyone else then they’re not special at all. They’re nobody, really, or anybody. They might as well be dead. Perhaps most Americans feel this way – they believe in American Exceptionalism – and Donald Trump certainly feels that way. He wants to be special. He wants to run a contrarian government. From now on the American economy will run on coal and fossil fuels. Screw the Paris climate accord. Jobs and national wealth are more important. And what do scientists know anyway?

Contrarian government, however, is a contradiction in terms. Contrarian government isn’t government. It’s chaos. In the Guardian, Damian Carrington reports from Bonn:

The Trump team was heckled and interrupted by a protest song at the UN’s climate change summit in Bonn on Monday after using its only official appearance to say fossil fuels were vital to reducing poverty around the world and to saving jobs in the US.

While Donald Trump’s special adviser on energy and environment, David Banks, said cutting emissions was a US priority, “energy security, economic prosperity are higher priorities”, he said. “The president has a responsibility to protect jobs and industry across the country.”

Other attendees at the summit condemned the argument.

“Promoting coal at a climate summit is like promoting tobacco at a cancer summit,” said Michael Bloomberg, the former New York mayor and a UN special envoy for cities and climate change.

This didn’t go well, but there was one bright spot:

When questioned, just one of the four energy executives Trump’s team chose to speak at the event expressed support for his decision to withdraw the US from the Paris climate agreement.

That was the only bright spot:

The event was interrupted when about three-quarters of the 200-strong audience stood up and began singing in protest. To the tune of God Bless the USA, the mostly young protesters sang: “So you claim to be an American, but we see right through your greed, it’s killing right across the world, for all that coal money.”

The protesters then left, but the panel was heckled, with angry members of the audience shouting “bunch of liars” and “clean coal is bullshit”.

The appearance of an executive from Peabody Energy, the US’s biggest coal miner, was particularly provocative. In 2016, the Guardian revealed the company had funded at least two dozen groups that cast doubt on manmade climate change and oppose environment regulations.

That executive from Peabody Energy was another contrarian – everyone else is wrong – so this whole thing was doomed:

Another panelist, Barry Worthington, executive director of the United States Energy Association, illustrated his points in favor of fossil fuels using future energy projections from ExxonMobil, BP and Statoil. He said US energy companies were already cutting carbon and was the only panelist to back Trump’s Paris pullout, saying: “Frankly, we don’t need the Paris plan.”

But the US event prompted fierce criticism at the climate summit, where countries are working to implement the landmark 2015 Paris agreement. Coal is both the dirtiest fossil fuel and a cause of air pollution that causes millions of early deaths every year.

“If the Trump administration won’t lead, it should at least get out of the way,” said Bloomberg, who is also a backer of “America’s pledge”. That effort saw 20 states, more than 50 big cities and 60 big businesses confirm their commitment to the Paris goals on Saturday – a group that would have the third biggest economy in the world if it were a country.

No one was happy:

Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development in Bangladesh, who advises some of the least developed countries, said: “Any country or company continuing to champion coal and even other fossil fuels from now on would be willfully carrying out a crime against humanity.” Professor Piers Forster, at the University of Leeds, UK, said: “Coal is not clean – it is dangerous. Coal emissions have to rapidly reduce to zero. Those who argue coal has a future are putting the planet under real risk.”

And there are some simple facts here:

Two dozen of the 196 countries backing the Paris agreement have included efficient coal technology in their national contributions to cutting emissions. But predictions for future coal use have the plummeted in recent years as the cost of renewable energy has dropped. In 2013, the International Energy Agency expected coal-burning to grow by 40% by 2040; today it anticipates just 1% growth, while China and India have recently cancelled plans for hundreds of new coal plants.

Andrew Steer, CEO of the World Resources Institute, said the US event was irrelevant: “It is a total distraction. It will not change the overwhelming momentum away from coal. The closing of coal plants in the US has accelerated since Trump was elected. It’s King Canute trying to hold back the tide.”

There is a rising tide:

Earlier on Monday in Bonn, the US’s neighbors Canada and Mexico further isolated Washington by announcing a new partnership with the 15 US states that have pledged strong climate action. Canada’s environment minister, Catherine McKenna, and her Mexican counterpart, Rodolfo Lacy, joined with the governors of Washington and California, Jay Inslee and Jerry Brown, to form a group that will focus on phasing out coal power and boosting clean power and transport.

“We are all in this together,” said McKenna. “The countries that move forward and realize there is a $30 trillion opportunity will be creating clean jobs and growing their economy.”

Inslee added: “Trump is a blip in history. Not one country has expressed that there is any doubt about climate action just because Trump is still a climate denier. He can tweet his fingers off, but he won’t stop us. If you want to grow your economy, focus on the jobs of the future.”

Trump is a blip in history? Maybe so, but he’s special. There’s no one like him. If everyone agrees something is so, he will say it isn’t so, even if he knows better. That’s special.

On the other hand, there was this:

Peabody Energy’s [Holly] Krutka told the audience that technologies to significantly reduce carbon emissions from coal and natural gas would be vital to achieving the goals of the Paris agreement.

“Nations around the world continue to use coal,” Krutka said. “We cannot ignore their emissions or we cannot meet international climate goals.” And she said technology to capture carbon emissions from power plants is “dramatically underfunded.”

Despite the high-profile event, the White House has been silent about that technology, and White House press aides did not respond to a request for comment. The Department of Energy has continued to issue research grants to capture coal emissions, but the White House also proposed halving the funding for the agency’s fossil office, which handles carbon-capture research.

Donald Trump cut the funding. That figures. He won the presidency by being against everything, even the presidency. Contrarian government really is a contradiction in terms.

All of this puzzles Kevin Drum:

If Trump wanted to skip the conference, that would be fine. He’s already committed to pulling out of the Paris agreement anyway. Or, if his team attended but didn’t say anything, that would be fine too. Or if they attended but talked only about the (very) few things they’re doing that are climate friendly.

But to attend a climate conference and use it as a stage for telling everyone that the United States is going to produce lots and lots of coal, and fuck you if you don’t like it? What kind of person does that? Does Trump really think that Appalachian coal miners are ever going to hear about this – or care about it if they do?

Drum just doesn’t get it:

It would be great if Trump announced a massive new push to develop carbon sequestration technology that could be exported to poor countries still reliant on coal. But he hasn’t done that. He just blathers about “clean coal” as if that’s the natural state of anything that comes out of US soil. I’m not sure what the point was of giving everyone in the world such an obvious middle finger, but then, I’m not Donald Trump.

Drum doesn’t understand contrarians, or their fragile egos, but it’s not just Trump. Slate’s Jordan Weissmann reports this:

Faced with difficult budget math that could force them to scale back their tax ambitions, GOP senators have decided to fund some of their proposed tax cuts by repealing Obamacare’s individual mandate. Killing the rule, which requires Americans to purchase health insurance or pay a tax penalty, could save the government $338 billion over a decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office – essentially by dissuading people from signing up for Medicaid or buying federally subsidized coverage on the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges.

Several high-profile Republicans – including Sens. Tom Cotton, Ron Johnson, and Ted Cruz – have been pushing this idea for weeks, and they’ve won support from President Trump, who tweeted enthusiastically about it on Monday…

They still want to kill Obamacare? Isn’t that over? This hapless Congress couldn’t actually repeal and replace Obamacare. They tried. All the Republican alternatives hurt tens of millions of Americans. All their alternatives polled at about a seventeen percent approval rating. Americans hated all their alternatives, and key Republicans bailed. They couldn’t even muster fifty of their own votes for that one last try in the Senate – but Trump had promised something. He’s the ultimate contrarian, and now so is “his” party, and this is something, and Weissmann notes that this might not seem so bad to the public:

The political logic is straightforward. Under the budget they passed, Republicans are only allowed to add $1.5 trillion to the deficit with their tax cuts. This is currently forcing them to make politically awkward choices, like raising taxes on some middle-income families in order to slash rates deeply on corporations. Meanwhile, the mandate is the least popular part of Obamacare, which Republicans have vowed to dismantle anyway, and the White House has suggested that it might just stop enforcing the thing if Congress doesn’t act. Why not sack it and get more money to play with on taxes?

That makes sense, but Weissmann points out the obvious problems:

For one, killing the mandate would leave 13 million fewer Americans with health coverage, according to the CBO, which is why it saves the government money. Some of those uninsured will be young, healthy people who don’t want to spend money on insurance unless the government forces them to. But others are low-income Americans who don’t realize they qualify for Medicaid or Obamacare’s premium subsidies and won’t bother to find out, without the mandate nudging them to go get covered. The CBO thinks Medicaid’s rolls will drop by about 5 million.

Beyond that, ending the mandate will mean higher insurance prices for people who still buy on the individual market. The entire point of the rule is to bring down the average cost of coverage, by forcing more young, profitable customers into the market. It’s unclear how effectively it has accomplished that goal, which may be one reason why the CBO thinks most local insurance markets will survive without it. But the office still thinks that eliminating the mandate will lead to a 10 percent average bump in premiums. Many Americans would end up paying more for their insurance so that Republicans could lavish their tax cuts on Walmart and the Koch brothers. And some, the CBO believes, will be priced out of coverage entirely.

So this fixes things and leaves thirteen million fewer Americans with health coverage, with those with coverage facing a huge spike in premiums. That’s a contrarian fix to a problem that isn’t a problem at all. Contrarian government is a contradiction, but we have a contrarian government:

These consequences may not mean much to most Republicans, who showed a stunning lack of concern about actual health care policy outcomes during their attempt to repeal Obamacare. Others do seem to be a bit concerned: South Dakota Sen. John Thune reportedly said that the deal to kill the mandate also involves passing the bipartisan Obamacare stabilization bill, Alexander-Murray. (Details of this are still sketchy).

But the one thing the GOP does overwhelmingly care about is passing its tax bill, which they view as a last-ditch effort to head off a donor revolt going into 2018. And tying tax cuts to anything that smells like Obamacare repeal seems like it will make that harder.

But this is like Bonn:

The Republican tax plan is not overwhelmingly popular with voters. But the bill hasn’t roused the same sort of impassioned opposition as Obamacare repeal did. The mandate itself may be unpopular. But by targeting what many still consider a key part of Obamacare, Republicans risk rousing all of the same, very pissed-off forces that arrayed against their several attempts to repeal the law earlier this year.

And yet, Republicans appear to have stared into this empty power outlet, thought hard, and decided to stick a fork in it.

Contrarians do that sort of thing. Don’t stick that fork in that empty power outlet? That’s what everyone says, but what do they know? Contrarians are special. Zap.

And there’s this:

The GOP tax bill could trigger automatic cuts worth $136 billion from mandatory spending in 2018, including $25 billion in Medicare cuts, if Congress doesn’t find another way to offset its deficit increases, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

The tax bill would add an estimated $1.5 trillion to the deficit over a decade. Congressional “pay-as-you-go” rules, called pay-go, require that the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) automatically cut mandatory spending if legislation increases the deficit beyond a certain point.

Zap. Those on Medicare get zapped by the contrarians, but there’s more:

Non-exempted accounts would be virtually wiped out. Those include agricultural subsidies, some health funds linked to the Affordable Care Act, Customs and Border Patrol operations and funds in the Student Loan Administration, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a budgetary watchdog group.

Congress could avoid the sequestration by passing a bill to circumvent the pay-go rules, but that would require Democratic support in the Senate, and may lose the support of fiscal hawks in the Republican Party.

A critical mass of Americans was unhappy with just about everything in their lives. They blamed anyone in charge of anything – anyone in power of any kind – for their lot in life. They had it in for all politicians and they seemed to want a contrarian government, one that would do what everyone else said was stupid. What did everyone else know?

They got their contrarian government, but contrarian government is a contradiction in terms. Contrarian government isn’t government. It’s chaos. And it may kill us all.

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Losing the Republican Party

Things go well until they don’t. What wasn’t supposed to happen happens. Winners become losers. This was the weekend that the number one ranked college football team in the country, those Georgia Bulldogs, got blown out by the tenth ranked Auburn Tigers. No one saw that coming. The third ranked team, Notre Dame, the Fighting Irish, got blown out by the seventh ranked Miami Hurricanes. No one saw that coming either. Everything went wrong for those on top. They couldn’t catch a break. Georgia and Notre Dame won’t be in the playoffs for the national championship. And this was the weekend that the Republican Party – finally in control of the House and the Senate and the White House, for the first time since the heady days of Herbert Hoover – and in firm control of thirty-seven of the fifty state governments – saw it all fall apart too. There’s no national championship in politics, but if there were, they’d be out of the running. In fact, there are those who say the Republican Party is over. Turn out the lights. The party’s over – literally.

That may be overstating things, but in football, the end of it all usually starts with one player blowing it – a bad snap, a dropped pass that should have been caught – and then everything that follows somehow goes wrong. There’s always a goat – that one person that begins the cascade of woes. He doesn’t ruin everything. He just sets off the ruin, and it’s the same in politics. For the Republicans, that’s Roy Moore. He didn’t ruin the Republican Party. He just made that ruin inevitable.

Anyone who had played any team sports knows how it goes – try hard to recover from that one boneheaded play and things get worse or worse. Try even harder and lose. It’s the same in politics. The Washington Post’s Sean Sullivan, Robert Costa and Jenna Johnson report on how that seems to be the case with Republicans now:

Senate Republican leaders on Monday waged an urgent campaign to pressure GOP nominee Roy Moore to withdraw from the Alabama Senate race amid allegations of sexual misconduct, declaring him “unfit to serve” and threatening to expel him from Congress if he were elected.

But Moore showed no signs that he was preparing to step aside, even as another woman came forward, accusing him of sexually assaulting her in the late 1970s when she was 16 years old.

The only thing to do is to try harder:

The fusillade from Senate Republicans started Monday morning in Louisville, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) called on Moore to end his run.

“I believe the women, yes,” he said of the allegations leveled against Moore.

Later, National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) issued a written statement going further. “If he refuses to withdraw and wins, the Senate should vote to expel him,” Gardner said. He told reporters afterward that Moore “doesn’t belong in the United States Senate.”

The public comments from top Republican senators marked a dramatic escalation from their initial reactions to Thursday’s Washington Post report detailing allegations that Moore initiated a sexual encounter with a 14-year-old girl when he was 32.

They know things are dire:

The intensifying effort against Moore reflected a growing sense that his candidacy is becoming a national emergency for the Republican Party, which is already deeply concerned about its standing with voters ahead of the 2018 midterm elections. In campaigns far from Alabama, Democrats on Monday sought to tie GOP candidates to Moore to take advantage of the controversy surrounding the former judge.

Still, national Republican leaders and their allies were left without a clear path forward, with no way to remove Moore’s name from the ballot for the Dec. 12 special election. One last-ditch possibility that some GOP officials were pushing was a write-in campaign by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who vacated the seat to join the Trump administration.

Perhaps it was time for desperation that never works:

While top Republicans favor Sessions because they think he would be a widely known and well-liked GOP alternative, unlike other potential contenders, there was considerable skepticism in Sessions’ orbit that he would agree to that idea and leave his current post for his old job.

Others floated the prospect of a write-in effort for Sen. Luther Strange (R-Ala.), whom Moore defeated in the primary in September…

In recent days, senior Trump administration officials have been in touch with Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) and her inner circle, according to several people briefed on the talks. One person described those conversations as “information gathering” so the White House would know where Ivey stands and to keep the channels of communication open.

Governor Ivey could reschedule the election for a later date. Governor Ivey won’t – but there’s a bit of hope there – and there is the president – and no hope:

Since Trump won’t return from Asia until late Tuesday and is still considering his own options regarding how to further address Moore’s candidacy, White House officials have been reluctant to lean on Ivey in any way, the people said.

“It’s tough having him out of town because no one wants to get too far ahead of him,” said one Republican involved in the talks, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe private deliberations.

It seems that everything’s a long shot, calling for a Hail Mary pass:

Gardner’s call to expel Moore if he is elected was Senate Republican leaders’ most aggressive move yet to get the former judge to drop out of the race. But expelling a senator is extremely rare and would require the approval of two-thirds of the chamber to be successful. An actual vote hasn’t happened since 1862.

It was desperation time, and there’s the goat:

Moore was defiant amid the increasing pressure from party leaders. He wrote on social media that McConnell is the one “who should step aside” and that he has “failed conservatives.”

This is Republicans against Republicans now, and things were getting worse and worse:

The war of words unfolded on the same day that Beverly Young Nelson, who turns 56 Tuesday, accused Moore, now 70, of sexually assaulting her and bruising her neck in the late 1970s when she was 16 years old.

Nelson said at a news conference at a New York hotel that Moore, then the district attorney of Etowah County, was a regular at a restaurant, Old Hickory House in the northeastern Alabama town of Gadsden, where she was a waitress, and that he would sometimes compliment her looks or touch her long, red hair. She showed a copy of her high school yearbook that she said Moore signed on Dec. 22, 1977, with the inscription: “To a sweeter more beautiful girl I could not say ‘Merry Christmas.’ ”

On a cold night about a week or two after that, Nelson alleges, Moore offered to give her a ride home from work after her shift ended at 10 p.m. Instead of taking her home, Nelson said, Moore pulled the two-door car into a dark and deserted area between a Dumpster and the back of the restaurant.

When she asked what he was doing, Nelson alleges, Moore put his hands on her breasts and began groping her. When she tried to open the car door and leave, Nelson said, he reached over and locked the door. When she yelled at him to stop and tried to fight him off, she alleges, he tightly squeezed the back of her neck and tried to force her head toward his lap. He also tried to pull her shirt off, she said.

And add this:

“He told me, he said, ‘You’re just a child,’ and he said, ‘I am the district attorney of Etowah County and if you tell anyone about this no one will ever believe you.'”

Moore says it never happened. That yearbook page was shown on every news show, except on Fox News. Things were looking dire:

As Republican senators returned to Washington on Monday, several made clear to the leadership in phone calls and through colleagues that they would support a tougher line on Moore in the coming days and would encourage Trump to join them once he returns from Asia, according to two people familiar with the discussions.

Asked if there was any easy solution to the Moore situation, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) replied: “No.” Then he reconsidered.

“There’s one solution,” McCain said. “He should never be a United States senator.”

That makes some sense, as even more anecdotal evidence surfaced. Charles Bethea writes at the New Yorker that in the late seventies and early eighties, Roy Moore liked to cruise his local mall so obsessively that at one point he got himself banned:

This past weekend, I spoke or messaged with more than a dozen people – including a major political figure in the state – who told me that they had heard over the years that Moore had been banned from the mall because he repeatedly badgered teenage girls. Some say that they heard this at the time, others in the years since…

Greg Legat, who is now fifty-nine and living in East Gadsden, was, from 1981 to 1985, an employee at the Record Bar, a store that was in the Gadsden Mall… Legat says that he saw Moore there a few times, even though his understanding then was that he had already been banned. “It started around 1979, I think,” Legat said. “I know the ban was still in place when I got there.”

Two officers I spoke to this weekend, both of whom asked to remain unnamed, told me that they have long heard stories about Moore and the mall. “The general knowledge at the time when I moved here was that this guy is a lawyer cruising the mall for high-school dates,” one of the officers said. The legal age of consent in Alabama is sixteen, so it would not be illegal there for a man in his early thirties to date a girl who was, say, a senior in high school. But these officers, along with the other people I spoke to, said that Moore’s presence at the mall was regarded as a problem. “I heard from one girl who had to tell the manager of a store at the mall to get Moore to leave her alone.”

That is anecdotal, but Kevin Drum adds this:

This might all be completely factual, or it might be one of those things that lots of people have “heard” but without any firsthand evidence. For now, though, I guess it’s safe to say that nobody will be surprised if this turns out to be true.

As in football, when one thing goes wrong, everything goes wrong. Even the stuff that shouldn’t count somehow counts:

Following accusations that Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama made sexual advances toward a 14-year-old girl when he was 32 in 1979, women began tweeting pictures of themselves when they were 14.

Many of the photos, which several female celebrities have shared, also include accounts of what they were doing at the time instead of dating men twice their age.

Lawyer Catherine Lawson started the #MeAt14 campaign. She said it aims to circulate images of girls who were the same age Leigh Corfman was when Moore allegedly pursued her.

“Show what a 14-year-old looks like. Affirm they’re not capable of consent. Remind people kids deserve protection,” Lawson tweeted.

Among the celebrities participating in the campaign so far are comedian Sarah Silverman, reporter Katie Couric, news anchor Gretchen Carlson, and actress Alyssa Milano…

That’s not fair. Not one of them was there, back then. Or that’s fair. Each of them was fourteen once. They know. And there was this:

The wife of embattled Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore sought Monday to draw attention to an August letter from 53 Alabama pastors supporting him in the GOP primary as allegations of sexual misconduct build ahead of next month’s special election.

The letter, published on AL.com and highlighted on Kayla Moore’s Facebook page, praises the candidate for his “immovable convictions for Biblical principles” and says he suffered “persecution” for his faith by opposing gay marriage as Alabama’s chief justice.

“For decades, Roy Moore has been an immovable rock in the culture wars – a bold defender of the ‘little guy,’ a just judge to those who came before his court, a warrior for the unborn child, defender of the sanctity of marriage, and a champion for religious liberty,” the letter reads.

What are the Republican supposed to with that? Amy Davidson Sorkin suggests 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 – though that one, actually, loops back to Islamophobia, and to President Trump. The President, who first backed Strange, later said that Moore “sounds like a really great guy.”

That is a bit awkward:

The statement from the White House on the Moore story began with the caveat “Like most Americans, the President believes that we cannot allow a mere allegation – in this case, one from many years ago – to destroy a person’s life.” One might read this as a reference to some of the charges that have been attached to Trump himself. And only then did the statement note that “the President also believes that if these allegations are true, Judge Moore will do the right thing and step aside.” If he doesn’t, will the President push him, or just shrug?

This is a mess:

Moore is just another name for the test that the GOP is failing, each day, with Trump. What, in the end, is its reward?

George Will adds this:

Evangelical Christians who embrace Moore are serving the public good by making ridiculous their pose as uniquely moral Americans, and by revealing their leaders to be especially grotesque specimens of the vanity – vanity about virtue – that is curdling politics. Another public benefit from the Moore spectacle is the embarrassment of national Republicans. Their party having made the star of the “Access Hollywood” tape president, they now are horrified that Moore might become one percent of the Senate.

George Will is not impressed – he left the Republican Party when it became Trump’s party and likes it less at it becomes Moore’s party – and Frank Rich argues that the Republican Party has been effectively destroyed.

The idea that the pre-Trump GOP will make a post-Trump comeback to vanquish these forces is laughable. Old-line Establishment Republicans in the Senate and the House, even very conservative ones like [Sen. Jeff] Flake, are engaging in self-deportation, as Mitt Romney might say, rather than face a firing squad in the primaries. The Trumpists will with time expunge the rest, including Paul Ryan (whom Steve Bannon has dismissed as “a limp-dick motherfucker who was born in a petri dish at the Heritage Foundation,” according to Joshua Green in The Devil’s Bargain). It’s a replay of the purge of the 1960s, when the reinvented GOP shaped by Goldwater, Nixon, and the “southern strategy” shoved aside the likes of Nelson Rockefeller and George Romney. Given that 89 percent of Republicans voted for Trump in November and that 80 percent of today’s GOP voters reliably give Trump favorable approval ratings no matter what he has said or done since, that means only a fifth of those Americans identifying as Republicans are (possibly) “Never Trumpers.”

In short, just as they caved to Trump, they’ll cave to Moore:

The remains of Establishment Republicanism are at best a Potemkin village. It’s too little, too late for “the Republican renovation project” floated in October by the former George W. Bush speechwriter and passionate “Never Trumper” Michael Gerson, who imagined that John Kasich, Flake, Ben Sasse, and the like would dream up “a compelling alternative to the Bannon appeal.” History will show that feckless Establishment Republicans repeatedly missed their chance to take back or renovate their party by being too cowardly, too cynical, or too inept to confront Trumpism as it fanned the flames of racial backlash under Palin, the tea party, and finally Trump during the Obama years…

By illuminating a pathway to power that no one had thought possible, and demolishing the civic guardrails that we assumed protected us from autocrats, Trump has paved the way for far slicker opportunists to gain access to the national stage. Imagine a presidential candidate with Trump’s views and ambitions who does not arrive with Trump’s personal baggage, his undisciplined penchant for self-incrimination, and his unsurpassed vulgarity.

Martin Longman sees that too:

What Trump has done was always possible. What stood in the way more than anything else was the lack of someone with the basic lack of decency to give it a try. And, yes, perhaps George Wallace came too early, before Reaganism, automation, consolidation, and globalization had a chance to weaken small-town and rural America to the point where they’d stop believing anything told by anyone with a modicum of responsibility for their plight. Or, perhaps, Wallace was only lacking ostentatious wealth and a hit reality show that could make him look competent.

That is, Trump set the stage for Roy Moore:

What matters now is that Trump won. And, by winning, he showed the way for others to succeed. Whether or not anyone else can repeat his success in an open question, but future Republican candidates will be expected to try.

All the things that Trump exploited and continues to exploit were always options on the table. They went largely untouched because people were unwilling to use them. In particular, no one was willing to attack our institutions like Trump. The media is the most important of these, if only because it’s been discredited in the eyes of Trump’s supporters to the point that they can’t hold him accountable. That makes it possible for Trump to get away with attacking everything else, from prisoners of war and Gold Star families and the Pope, to our intelligence agencies and the congressional leadership of his own party.

It’s absolutely true that the groundwork for this was laid over decades by the conservative movement and eventually the Republicans’ top strategists who chipped away at the media in every way they could devise. When science and expert advice didn’t align with their goals, they invented their own science and expert advice. When the media reported their lies, they created their own media.

They created Roy Moore too, and Longman says that means that the party really is over:

I expect there to be some kind of third party force, probably in the form of a Teddy Roosevelt or more effective Ross Perot character who splits their support and renders them something less than a full member of the two-party system. The Democrats will be the immediate beneficiaries of this, but it won’t necessarily add much to their overall level of support. It’s not unlikely that once the disruption to the system settles out a little that the Democratic Party will be next on the chopping block.

In the interim, we’d see more regionalism and more of a suburban-exurban split in political alliances. Our system isn’t really set up for more than two parties, especially in Congress where new members must choose one side or the other in order to get any committee assignments. We could begin to see strange things, like protracted negotiations involving parliamentary-style haggling in order for the House to settle on a Speaker or the Senate to settle on a Majority Leader. The conservatives could see themselves shunted to the corner as a new center right party with relatively few members finds common cause with center left Democrats to choose a congressional leadership committed to paying our bills on time.

If these things happen, they will come more from necessity than from any new ideology. Monied interests are going to conclude that the GOP can no longer serve their purposes. That’s already happening, which is why you see so many Republicans openly admitting that their donors have had it and will not continue to fund their social conservatism unless they get their corporate tax cuts. For our coastal elites, the cultural humiliation of being aligned with Trumpism is already getting too great to bear…

And pedophiles are too much to bear too. Things go well until they don’t. What wasn’t supposed to happen happens. Winners become losers. That one person begins the cascade of woes. He doesn’t ruin everything. He just sets off the ruin. That’s Roy Moore. He didn’t ruin the Republican Party. He just made that ruin inevitable. Turn out the lights. The party’s over.

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